Friday, September 08, 2006

Speaking for Monet

Monet House, Exterior, Giverny, France

"I paint because there are flowers in the world." These are the paraphrased words of Claude Monet, renowned artist and superstar of the Impressionist Movement of painting. His famous works are displayed in all of their splendor at Paris' Orsay, Marmottan and Orangerie museums. To see a LOT of Monet's works in one place, those are the places to go.

If not in Paris, we can savor the beauty of one, or a few, of his paintings in virtually any large museum in the world. His legacy of art speaks for itself, worldwide.

In addition, the house and gardens that provided the environment for so much of his work are today a sort of Monet museum unto themselves. The vibrant colors throughout the house and garden beckon to current-day visitors in the same way that they spoke to Monet over 100 years ago.

Recently, I discovered a book that took me back, on a virtual visit, to the Monet house and gardens in Giverny, France. Color photographs leap from pages, splashing vivid memories of gardens, dining room and kitchen onto my reminiscing mind's eye!

How stunning, to be in Giverny, a short ride from Paris, in Monet's Garden. It is a place that draws you in and helps you to FEEL those words of Monet's about flowers. In the shimmering light, always so intriguing to the artist, the landscape still seems to be calling out to be painted.

MONET'S TABLE, by Claire Joyes, Simon and Schuster Publishers, 1989,takes us to yet another dimension of Monet's world. He appreciated cooking -- loved it, in fact, enough to create his own collection of cherished recipes by persuading his family and friends to commit them to paper. The recipes, like Monet's interests, reflect international dishes and ingredients. Just as so many of us do today, he returned from international trips with a headful of favorite food memories -- and often, a handful of recipes.

Recipes from A to Z, from appetizer to dessert, have been selected by Monet's descendants from his collection and compiled by Claire Joyes, the wife of his great-grandson, in this delightful book. Imagine the aromas of these dishes, wafting through the rooms of the charming house in Giverny. Visualize steaming plates being carried to the dining room table, set in its tones of yellow and blue, harmonizing beautifully with the chrome-yellow walls, creamy-yellow chairs and blue-toned Japanese-art-prints decor of the dining room.

All of that imagining is facilitated, of course, by the multitude of photographs of garden, house, foods and handwritten recipes in the book. Fortunately for we cooks, the recipes have all been translated into English, converted into American weights-and-measures by well-known French chef Joel Robuchon, and faithfully word-processed so that we won't have to struggle to read the rather artistic handwriting of the original collection (even if we could read French!). How delightful, though, to be able to see an original, yellowed, recipe page from the master artist's kitchen.

Bringing to mind, once again, how much charm -- how much of the real person -- is brought to bear by the handwritten word. Somehow, it's hard to imagine future generations looking at a USB memory stick of great grandmother's recipes and exclaiming, "Oh, can't you just SEE her at the stove?" (Yes, I CAN hear you saying, "Put a photo of grandma on the memory stick with the recipes!")

Monet lived to a ripe age and spent most of his years surrounded by an extensive family and many friends. The weekend meals in Giverny, especially in the summer, included many art, government and literary friends from Paris and abroad.

At that time, Monet spoke to the world in his art, through his gardens and by means of his devotion to shared food. By means of all three of those elements, that legacy continues. Today, as then, his art, Giverny gardens and recipes all speak for Monet.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Peaches and Herb - Revisited

White, Freestone Peaches

Trivia Question:

What pop group from the 1960's and 70's earned the nickname "Sweathearts of Soul" with hits like "Let's Fall in Love" and "Close Your Eyes"?

(No guesses? Or are you one of those clever people who knew the answer right away?)

Here's a Hint:

The answer is food-related! And no, it's not the Beatles -- even as gregarious an eater as the Ingredient Sleuth hasn't termed beetles (and it's spelled with an 'e' rather than an 'a' anyway) a food just yet!

(Give up?)

The Answer:

Peaches & Herb!

If you've finished groaning, after that introduction, we can proceed to the topic at hand -- peaches! Here we are, well into the depth of summer (ask anyone in the hot zone that seems to exist everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere this year), and peaches are available in all of their juicy abundance.

Originating in China, then migrating along the ancient Silk Road to Persia and the Mediterranean by 2000 B.C., the pretty, pink blossoms of peach trees now grace fields and back yards worldwide. Where blossoms glow, peaches grow!

As modern cultivars, peaches are typically classified as either "cling" or "freestone" based on the characteristics of the peach flesh surrounding the stone. In cling peaches, the flesh clings to the ridgy-surfaced stone; in freestone peaches, the flesh pulls away cleanly from the stone.

Many say that cling peaches are sold primarily for commercial canning purposes, and, as a result, do not appear routinely on grocers' shelves as fresh fruit. I find that NOT to be true, however.

Many times, after making a nice, slick cut around the circumference of the peach, then doing that opposite-direction turn of the two halves, I grimace as I discover that the peach is as tightly attached to the stone as before I made the cut! A Cling Peach! I then proceed with more cuts, wedging off thin slices of peach, one by one. Still just as delectable, albeit a bit more drippy -- and best not tried if the consumer is wearing long sleeves -- the peach slices eventually find their way to mouth or serving dish.

Freestone peaches are simpler and much better for lunch boxes, picnics, and virtually all applications, in my way of viewing the world (in which I prefer dry wrists to peach-juice wrists!). The flesh of the peach slips easily away from the stone and is ready for use without delay.

The flesh of the peach, in both cases, may be either yellow or white. Those with a true sweet tooth will likely prefer the white-fleshed varieties; the yellow varieties typically provide an extra little acidic tang.

Both yellow- and white-fleshed peaches often have red on their skin. As a result, peach identification, at the market, is best accomplished by faithful reading of the grocer's signage -- and perhaps of those pesky little glued-on stickers.

Today's recipe makes splendid use of freestone peach halves. From the recent cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld (HERBAL KITCHEN: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, 2005), the recipe develops the flavors of the peaches by roasting and enhances them with the zing of herbs, nuts and sugars.

Roasted Peaches filled with Almond and Tarragon
(8 servings)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped tarragon
¾ cup sliced almonds
4 large ripe freestone peaches

Preheat the over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat together the butter and both sugars in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, or in an electric mixer, until there are no lumps. Beat in the egg and then the flour. Stir in the tarragon and almonds.

Split the peaches in half and remove the pits. Arrange the peaches cut side up in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them. Divide the almond filling into 8 equal portions and mound each in the cavity of a peach half. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the filling spreads over the top of the peaches and becomes well browned and crisp. Cool the peaches slightly. Serve them warm in shallow bowls with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Herbal improvisations: In place of the tarragon, add ¼ cup chopped anise hyssop leaves. Fresh green fennel seed is also good in this dessert; use 2 teaspoons chopped soft seed.

** NOTE: This recipe was authorized for reprint by the Ingredient Sleuth with the express permission of the author, Jerry Traunfeld, and the publisher.

The pleasing blend of flavors in this dish seems to me to be in complete harmony with the concepts of yin and yang of peaches' native China! The balance of all the flavor components is simply grand. And the caramel-crisp nut/herb topping is eye-rollingly luscious!

Eating these peaches while they are still warm is heavenly. Oozing-sweet peach juice, melted butter-caramel, roasted-rich nuts and bright, slightly-licorice fennel -- flavor explosions, texture contrasts. A dish that made my mouth water WHILE I was eating it! Every bite called for another.

The HERBAL KITCHEN cookbook is grand, as well. Mr. Traunfeld grasps the concept of HOW we gardeners -- especially herb gardeners -- cook! He knows that we eyeball our herb beds/containers/windowsills and think, "Hmmm, I have a lot of lovely tarragon right now. I wonder how I should use it."

Then, we pull down a cookbook from a shelf and start browsing. In the HERBAL KITCHEN, not only do we find recipes, sweet and savory, that make wonderful use of herbs but also a quick, ready reference for answers to our herbal cultivation questions.

What herb gardener, somewhere along the way, hasn't asked himself, "I need to harvest some of that oregano. Now, do I cut it WAY back, or only halfway down the stem." Most of the time, I find answers to such gardening questions much more easily in the HERBAL KITCHEN than in a gardening book. This is not surprising, I think, simply because Mr. Traunfeld is a chef. He knows what we "cookers" are thinking!

As the head chef at The Herbfarm Restaurant ( in Woodinville, Washington, for over 15 years, Jerry Traunfeld creates herb-inspired Northwest menus each week. He has received the James Beard Award for Best American Chef in the Northwest and Hawaii.

Was it a favorite song from Peaches & Herb that inspired this delectable dish? Likely not, though every time you prepare Roasted Peaches filled with Almond and Tarragon, you may find yourself humming "Let's Fall in Love" -- mentally adding, "With peaches and herbs!"

Monday, July 31, 2006

Got Bottles?

Early morning breezes ruffled the hair of the milk-man as he walked through the neighborhood. As he (were there ever any milk-women, inquiring minds want to ask?) moved from house to house, and from truck to sidewalk, the jingle of glass bottles accompanied his every step.

Jangling in two pitches, the milk bottle sounds came forth in the bass range for full bottles, and in high-alto/low soprano for the empties! The sound of house doors opening, then closing, in harmony with their own sets of bottle jingles, followed quickly upon the milk-man's departure.

Was it really so very long ago that these sounds were heard throughout the land? In fact, the answer is an emphatic "No!" Even now, in some neighborhoods, the milk truck arrives at the door with fresh dairy products. Sadly, these neighborhoods are no longer common.

Recently though, there has been a resurgence in the availability of the distinctive flavor of milk in glass bottles. After decades of residence in wax cartons and plastic jugs, milk has once again appeared on store shelves in bright-and-sparkly glass bottles.

In southern California, the Wild Oats, Henry's and Whole Foods grocery chains now offer glass-bottled milk, from nonfat to whole and steps in-between, on a regular basis. Sometimes, even raw (gasp! AND hooray!), unpasteurized milk is offered.

Prompting this question in the Ingredient Sleuth's brain:

"Do people really KNOW how GOOD milk in glass bottles tastes?" Or have we forgotten what the REAL THING really has to offer?

In these times of renewed interest in sustainability and organics, both for preservation of the environment AND because foods just plain TASTE so much better in their fresh and unaltered states, people seem to be in a process of rediscovery.

That white beverage in the glass bottles does seem to have a flavor that is uniquely its own. Even in its lowfat versions, there is a depth of flavor -- and a pleasantly-sweet component -- that is hard to duplicate.

Hmmm, let's see, what does it remind me of -- just there, at the tip of my tongue? Ah yes! Sweet-and-fresh butter, honeyed ice cream, pungent cheeses. So THAT'S how all those good things come to taste so delicious. (Another one of those "well duh" moments, in the making!)

They are made from milk!!! Not that imitation stuff, sort of a scaled-back version of itself, that has stood around in waxy or plastic-y environs for days and days and days. But real, fragrant, wholesome milk, just as as the cow made it for us. Meant to be enjoyed sooner, rather than later, without contact with artificial flavors of any kind.

As a treat, even if not for every day -- and sometimes even in place of ice cream -- this Sleuth likes nothing better than a tall, ice-cold, glass of the REAL THING! THEN, and only then, one really can say "GOT MILK!" And perhaps, play a little xylophone-like song on the bottles as well!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wine Overboard!

Imagine a beautifully-sunny, summer afternoon. The neighborhood lake is dappled with sunlight while bright splashes of color mark large, inflatable rafts -- some bright blue, some blazing yellow, others shocking pink. Motorless, the rafts silently carry two or three people each across the shallow lake, most simply drifting in the light breezes.

Suddenly, a shout breaks into the transcendent feeling of calm. "Oh no!" calls an occupant of the most sedately-colored raft (the baby blue shade blending into the dreamy blue color of the lake itself). "My wine glass (plastic, of course) just went overboard and it was almost full!"

If you, like the Ingredient Sleuth, feel the gnawing twinge of loss at this thought, imagine further how European vintners must be feeling right about now. An article run this week (June 8) in the online edition of the London-published "Times" newspaper discusses the European Commission's upcoming proposals for reforms of the EU's wine industry.

To improve the competitiveness of European wines, the commission recommends paying farmers to put 400,000 hectares of vineyards idle (at the cost of 2.4 billion Euros), thereby limiting the amount of grapes produced. These vineyards cover a wide area of Europe and multiple countries will be affected, the article states.

Why would such drastic actions would be proposed?

Simply stated, there are more grapes and wine being produced than can be sold. Right now, there is the equivalent of a year's production of wine without demand. It is waiting, in barrels, to be turned into petrol! Some unused wines are turned into brandy, others into disinfectant. The article estimates that nearly 25% of all Spanish wine ultimately is used for industrial purposes at this time.

Competitive pressures, of both quality and quantity, continue to grow as so-called "New World Wines" from Australia, South Africa, South America and the United States lay claim to their share of the worldwide market. Without climbing onto my soapbox and bemoaning the progression of yet another facet of our lives to the incursion of the conglomerate (while maybe a little moaning ....), I still have to think of the small producers who will likely bear the brunt of these potential reforms.

People who do difficult labor, climbing on steep hillsides (like the one in today's photo of a German hillside vineyard) to care for and harvest grapes from vines that have represented a family's identity for generations, will surely be affected. Could not these grapes be diverted to some NUTRITIONAL purpose, with commission money being spent instead to redirect that FOOD content to the starving areas of the world? Could not the vines be allowed to grow, rather than plowed under, protecting their future NOURISHMENT potential?

Surely, wise minds have considered these issues? In any case, it is shocking to consider a billion bottles of wine going to waste -- especially when each of us can relate to our individual disappointment at losing only one glass.

For now, as we lift our glasses to toast, I will be thankful that THIS particular glass of grape-filled wonder found its way to its true destiny. It, and the work that went into it, is truly appreciated. Cheers!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Egg-zactly Like Mama!

"There was a big eggplant who lived in a stew, she had so many children, she didn't know what to do!" A thousand pardons to the old nursery rhyme, but really, storing "old" eggplants in a "shoe" just doesn't sound very appetizing, does it?

Though, if one DID store eggplants in a shoe, quite a lot of them could easily be made to fit -- IF they were of the miniature variety. It is very tempting to refer to the mini variety as "baby" eggplants, especially on Mother's Day weekend!

Some of these babies look "egg-zactly" like their Mama, in miniature. Actually though, miniature eggplants may be one of several distinct varieties and not necessarily the younger specimens of standard eggplant.

Those shown in the photo are usually referred to as Italian or Baby Eggplants. Understandably, they look exactly like their larger counterparts, with dark-and-shiny deep-purple skin -- just baby-sized.

Other small-format eggplants include Italian Rosa Biancos, which are white-violet in color; Chinese eggplants, which are pale violet, slim-sized; and Thai Apple eggplants which are round, green and the general size and shape of a small apple.

Sometimes Japanese eggplants are simply picked at a very young stage. Small, and slim, these medium purple eggplants are not miniatures in the strict sense of the word. Though that does make them "baby" eggplants by definition, I suppose!

With thinner skins and fewer seeds, miniature eggplants are generally sweeter and more tender than the larger varieties. Their edible skins add a good fiber dimension to their nutritional profile.

Reflecting today's interest in heirloom vegetables, a larger assortment of miniature eggplants is reappearing in backyard and truck gardens. Eggplants of many descriptions are available year round, though the peak growing season in the U.S. is from July to October.

Just this weekend, I found miniatures available for the first time this season at my local farmer's markets, just in time for Mother's Day. Florida, New Jersey, California and Mexico are home to the major North American sources.

Eggplants are great flavor sponges. They love to combine with more-intense flavors such as tomatoes, onions, garlic and/or cinnamon. Herbs, with their intrinsic depths of flavor, are another particularly-good pairing with eggplant.

The miniature eggplant varieties are so easy to use because they are thin-skinned and don't need to be peeled. A quick wash and slice, and they are ready to march straight into a waiting cook pan like obedient little soldiers who are all dressed up in their best, colorful uniforms.

My tried-and-true quick-roast method always works beautifully and is my "go-to" preparation method. I just trim off the tops of the little eggplants, halve them lengthwise, put them onto a baking sheet, drizzle them with some good extra-virgin olive oil, and then top with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon and woodsy herbs (I think that rosemary and thyme blend especially well).

In the oven (or toaster oven -- mini veggies being VERY comptible with mini ovens!) at 400 to 425 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes, these little mini-halves roast up caramelized, lightly-brown and delicious. The "to the tooth" component of soft eggplant flesh contrasted with slightly-chewy skin, popped into the mouth for satisfying little flavor explosions, is the extra pleasure of the mini eggplant format.

Of course, mini eggplants are great additions to pasta sauces, soups, casseroles and quicker-cooking stews, just as larger-format eggplants are. Their subtle flavor simply seems to meld compatibly with so many other ingredients. To maintain the pretty color and pleasing texture of the skin, they simply should be added near the end of the cooking process.

The quesions of why eggplants are called "eggplants" is similar to the old chicken-and-egg question. Hmmm -- are all "eggy" things questionable and unanswerable? Some state emphatically that eggplants are so named because the most-common, Italian version is shaped like an egg. Others contend, just as strongly, that eggplants received their name because a traditional preparation method involves dipping slices into beaten eggs and then frying.

The Ingredient Sleuth is wise enough to sidestep that debate. Or perhaps to combine it! My reaction to it is simply to slice up miniature egg-shaped eggplants into omelets and frittatas and even scrambled eggs! If one "egg" product is good, the combination of two HAS to be even better!

I'm sure that the baby eggplants' mothers, like all Mamas, would be ever so proud of them for playing so well with other ingredients! If all those little baby eggplants DID live with their mother in the stew, I'm sure that THEY would know WHAT to do!

Bon appetit -- and Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mitsuwa Japanese Market

Near the coast, here in southern California, we are experiencing weather of the "premature" variety. The infamous "June Gloom" typically brings cloudy-and-damp-and-foggy conditions to locations within several miles of the ocean -- during June. If lucky, the phenomenon gives way to our usual sunny conditions by late morning or early afternoon. If not so lucky, the gloominess -- what my Aunt Cathryn would call a "dumpy day" in the Midwest -- hangs in there all day.

The all-day variety of June Gloom has been in evidence here for a couple of weeks now. Of course, it is still far from June, but the weather calendar here and in many parts of the world seems confused of late! In times of dumpy weather, my thoughts inevitably turn to comfort food. The tried-and-true meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, sauerkraut and dumplings (my Germanic heritage coming to bear), baked potatoes and chicken. Steaming soups and stews warm heart, soul and body.

For a bit different take on that approach, I like to keep some nifty Japanese ingredients at-the-ready in my pantry. On a moment's notice, those quick-serve noodle bowls are ready to warm up the chilliest of gloomy glumness. The automatic rice cooker gets into the act and sends the fragrance of light-and-white or brown-and-nutty rice throughout the house. The curry-mix packets turn my mundane protein leftovers into a stomach-warming trip to the other side of the world!

My favorite location at which to restock my Japanese ingredients is Mitsuwa Marketplace ( Locations are sprinkled near major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. For me, the nearest store is in Costa Mesa. That location, at just a stone's throw from the popular South Coast Plaza shopping mall, is a special type of shopping complex all its own.

In addition to a large grocery store, the complex features a Japanese book/video/music shop, cosmetics counter, Japanese health goods and vitamin shop, appliance shop and a baked confections counter. From time to time, temporary counters are set up to allow vendors to offer clothing, jewelry and sometimes even those terrific slip-on sandals with dozens of little bumps all over the inside of the sole to allow the do-it-yourself approach to foot massage!

On top of all that, I have had the pleasure of spending countless happy moments at the pottery and dishware shop, admiring (which all too often has turned to purchasing) a huge array of small-and-colorful dishware, teapots, lacquerware and chopsticks. The delicate Japanese designs of that dishware seem to amplify the flavors of every food they grace. Steaming miso soup just tastes better, somehow, when sipped from a gleaming, lacquerware bowl.

Right across the aisle from all of these dazzling retail offerings, a mini food court of Japanese restaurants beckons. The requisite display of those kitschy, plastic, look-alike foods helps Japanese-heritage and other customers make their selections for a tasty meal. Though one needs to order and pick up one's meal at a counter, the ever-careful pairing of food with serving ware is maintained by these restaurants. Pretty dishware makes the meal seem tastier -- and MUCH more Japanese -- than it ever would on a plasticized paper plate!

In most cases, eating before grocery shopping always seems to damp down my spending a bit. At the Mitsuwa Marketplace, my reaction is the exact opposite! Inspired by all the good, Japanese food that I have just eaten -- and all of the delicious items that I have just seen at tables all around me -- I hit the grocery aisles ready to load up on everything I can to enable myself to recreate the same dishes at home!

As if I weren't inspired enough already, weekends at the Mitsuwa grocery feature lots of samples to introduce new products and special offers. How CAN they taste so delectable when I am already SO stuffed from my lunch?

In addition to the huge variety of staple products, the produce, fresh fish and meats, prepared sushi, bakery and liquor departments offer tasty specialties. A charming little alcove houses a mini teahouse counter, staffed with a knowledgeable expert to help with any questions about Japanese teas or the formal Japanese tea service.

As I emerge from this treasure trove of Japanese culture, loaded down with plastic bags filled to the brim with more new flavors to try, I always marvel at what a great, small world our planet has become. Comfort -- and comfort food -- has shown up virtually on my doorstep from around the world. That's enough to drive an Ingredient Sleuth's June Gloom packing!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Hard-Boiled (Egg) Story

In my neighborhood, eggs seem to grow on trees! Giant, colorful eggs sprout once a year, in springtime, at just one house on the block. I’ve always wondered what the homeowners DO with all those eggs? And just how tall IS that Easter Bunny, to be able to attach the eggs to such a big tree? And, which DID come first, the tree – or the eggs?

Without delving deeper into this little piece of fiction, or into the infamous and unanswerable chicken-or-egg-first question, let’s just enjoy eggs for what they are and focus for a moment on this week’s favorite: the hard-boiled Easter egg. Whether delivered by the Easter bunny in baskets or buckets or on trees, these tasty hard-cooked, versatile eggs can be eaten from breakfast to dinner and all times in between.

Many different variations of cooking method have been promoted, from time to time. The most-common method simply involves placing eggs into a saucepan wide enough to allow them to sit in one layer without crowding, deep enough to allow one inch of water to cover the top of the eggs and a couple of inches more space to allow for boiling froth.

Over high heat, bring the eggs and water just to a full boil. Then, remove the pan from the heat immediately and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let the eggs stand in the pan, covered for 15 minutes. Then, pour off the hot water and run cold water over the eggs to stop them from cooking and to make peeling easier.

Shelling hard-cooked eggs is also made easier by using eggs that are at least several days old, gently tapping the entire surface of the shell against a flat surface and peeling from the large end. Some people like to peel eggs under running water to further assist in the shell-removal process.

The following delicious recipe using hard-boiled eggs comes from the LIDIA’S FAMILY TABLE cookbook (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York, 2004), by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich with David Nussbaum. Techniques and recipes from this book are also featured in Ms. Bastianich’s syndicated PBS-TV series.

Both the TV show and the cookbook allow aspiring Italian cooks to spend some virtual time in Lidia’s kitchen and learn the techniques that she uses – the ideas and methods that were passed to her through her family and that she has developed for use in her highly-popular restaurants in New York City, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Starting from the basics, Ms. Bastianich describes beloved Italian everyday favorites and then progresses to tried-and-true variations, improvisations and cook-to-cook tips – just as she would if standing next to a cooking enthusiast in her own kitchen. As she so often says on her TV show, she doesn’t want people to be a slave to the recipes but just to get ideas to use in their own cooking. A devoted author and nationwide lecturer, she also provides lots of information and ideas at her website:

So, let’s gather up those hard-cooked Easter eggs and get started!

(Serves 6 or more)

1 large head cauliflower (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
½ teaspoon or more salt
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 tablespoons or more white wine vinegar
¼ cup or more extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Tear off all the outer leaves attached to the base of the cauliflower; reserve any tender green leaves. Cut out the bottom core, and snap or slice off all the big florets from the inner stem. Cut the florets into 1-inch chunks or thick slices (don’t break them up into tiny florets).

Bring 3 or 4 quarts of water in a large pot to the boil, drop in the florets and reserved leaves, and cook, uncovered, at a steady boil for 5 minutes, or until cooked through but not soft. Lift out the cauliflower, spread the pieces out in a colander, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Cool to room temperature.

Before serving, slice the eggs in wedges, and cut the wedges into 2 or 3 pieces each. In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, another ¼ teaspoon salt, and grinds of pepper. Put all the cauliflower in the bowl, and tumble to dress all the pieces. Scatter the egg pieces over the top, and fold them in. Taste, and adjust the seasonings.

Arrange the salad on a serving platter, or portion on salad plates.

*Copyright Note*: Lidia Bastianich specifically authorized this recipe reprint, by the Ingredient Sleuth, in this posting.

The additional notes to the recipe indicate that this dish is good as a first course, a side dish or a partner with broccoli for a supper dish. As Lidia says, “At my grandma’s house, we used to have this kind of salad many a time, with a slice of homemade bread and some good cheese, for supper.”

The LIDIA'S FAMILY TABLE cookbook is filled with photos -- of beautiful food and of four generations of Lidia’s family-- showing the ways in which food serves as an integral part of the family's routine, creating an ongoing interaction among all generations. For the Ingredient Sleuth, those photos and the explanations never fail to bring a smile. Somehow, Ms. Bastianich has managed to capture, in book format, those person-to-person encounters that magnify all good cooking and good food.

As the Easter baskets are gathered and the pyramid of colorful eggs is placed lovingly in that bowl in the refrigerator, I hope that today’s recipe comes in handy. Enhanced by the addition of just a few additional ingredients, those eggs of the hard-boiled variety will be ready to be gobbled up by eager salad eaters in no time!

Happy Easter, buon appetito -- and as Lidia says at the close of every TV show, "tutti a tavola a mangiare!" (All to the table to eat!)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

This Moment's Pastry!

The hand-lettered sign in the lighted display case, red letters on a cream-colored card edged in black, was intriguing:

Patisserie du moment

"Pastry of the moment" is the literal English translation. What a great concept!

Of course, we are familiar with the idea of "soup of the day" so "pastry of the day" wouldn't be very surprising. But, "Pastry of the Moment"? Now that's an idea that the Ingredient Sleuth can wrap her brain around!

The setting, of course, was a French-speaking locale, in this case Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport. For a change, I had time to spare upon my arrival there, at the end of my Paris visit. What better way to pass the time as I waited for my departure than to visit just one more eatery!

Front and center, in the display case next to the cash register, the pastries glistened. Croissants, brioches, some savory, some sweet. But just there, right in the front, was the astonishing item: patisserie du moment!

You have to LOVE the idea of a pastry of the moment -- at least if you LOVE pastries half as much as I do! It's not simply sufficient to have a featured pastry of the DAY. Let's feature them at a moment's notice!

Undoubtedly, this designation provides additional opportunities for the baker to feature more items, more frequently. In addition, the baker doesn't have to be concerned with just how many of any one item to have on hand. When the first pastry (and moment) has disappeared, another can't be far behind! Or, as a more-pedestrian explanation, maybe it is just a great marketing tactic: feature the same item all day, but make it APPEAR extra-fresh by calling it the pastry of the moment!

In any case, at the moment that I happened to stroll in, the featured item was apple tart. And, as billed, it did taste very fresh, with the anticipated juicy apples on a buttery bed of pastry. Just the thing to fortify myself for that walk to the departure gate, through the jetway and down the aisle of the plane.

A lovely slice of delicious apple tart to remember contentedly as the engines roared, wheels rolled, and the beauty of the French countryside glistened (once again, it was raining as I departed Paris) beneath us.

And a reminder of oh-so-many lovely moments in the City of Light.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Eating on Stilts in San Clemente?

There are so many great things to eat and drink, so much pretty scenery to see, all over Southern California. What a fabulous thing it is to combine all three in one experience!

In the city of San Clemente, for example, a well-known and well-patronized surfing beach offers plenty of entertainment for those who are less water-inclined than the blond and bronzed surfers! Oceanfront streets feature restaurants for a wide variety of tastes and budgets.

Slices of pizza, assortments of sushi, and pita sandwiches are just a few of the "ingredient" options available for beach picnics. Curving slightly, the street facing the San Clemente Pier is hilly and picturesque. Grassy areas, complete with picnic tables, are available for impromptu picnics! Wide-and-sandy beach is also ready and waiting for picnic-basket (or carryout-sack!) dining.

For restaurant dining, complete with all the trimmings, additional restaurants may be found along the oceanfront street and throughout the city. On the pier itself, two restaurants even offer above-water dining! What a pleasure it is to listen to ocean waves lapping underneath you as you sit at your table, perched high above the water.

Look east while you eat and see steep hillsides, palm trees and pastel houses. Look west to find surfers, sailboats, possibly a dolphin or two if the season is right and, of course, the blue Pacific for as far as your eye can see. Look north or south and enjoy visions of miles and miles of sandswept beachfront. There really isn't a bad side of the table, scenery-wise, in this setting.

It's kind of like gazing -- and eating -- on stilts. But, even better, your hands are free for knives, forks and goblets!

Happy travels and bon appetit,

Marilyn, The Ingredient Sleuth

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cross the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano!

Just across the train tracks from the Amtrak station in San Juan Capistrano, the Los Rios Historic District lies waiting. It's not a long walk -- some of the buildings back right up to the train tracks.

Charming indoor/outdoor restaurants -- one of them complete with English Tea Service as an option to its regular menu of lunch and dinner choices -- and small gift shops comprise the "retail" spaces. Housed in houses (is that redundant?), the historic charm of these establishments is palpable.

Next door to retail spaces, more houses from San Juan Capistrano's early days, many still occupied by families, round out the neighborhood. One homestead even allows visitors to tour its barnyard areas and enjoy viewing the animals.

If the adobe construction and design didn't tip one off, the huge trees and other greenery (from cacti to bougainvillea) would leave no doubt as to the historic nature of the block-long district.

It is always a joy to "follow the swallows" to Capistrano -- and to follow them across the tracks to the Los Rios Historic District!

Happy travels & bon appetit!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

INDEX to Ingredient Sleuth Blog

Dear Readers:

In recent months, the “Search This Blog” feature has ceased to operate effectively on the Ingredient Sleuth blog. (The software that I use to publish the blog is under revision by the provider and updates to this search feature are in progress -- so there's still hope!)

To assist readers – and myself – in retrieving recipes and info published to-date, I have put together the following Index of Topics, Articles and Dates. I hope that this will make it possible for you to easily delve into the archives to find specific material.

A link to the index will continue to be available in the sidebar under "Links" as well.

Fingers are crossed, hoping that the search feature is operational again very soon! Bon appetit!

Marilyn, The Ingredient Sleuth

INDEX – Topic/Title/Date

Almonds, Green (Green Almonds: Baby-Fresh!): April 8, 2005
Artichokes (Artful Artichokes): October 21, 2005
Baguettes (Baguettes, Baguettes, Everywhere): October 14, 2005
Balsamic Vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena): August 12, 2005
Beets (In Beet-historic Times): May 13, 2005
Caramel, Spreads (Caramel-icious in Any Language!): June 24, 2005
Casseroles (Casserole Construction): September 16, 2005
Chick Peas (Chick Pea Flights of Fancy): July 29, 2005
Cookbook, Vintage (A Cookbook Gem/Family Favorites): October 28, 2005
Chocolate (Some Chocolate Helps!): May 27, 2005
Claro’s Italian Market, Limoncello (So THAT’S Italian! And lemon-y!): July 22, 2005
Coconut Milk (The Coconut Connection): April 22, 2005
Cucumber, English (Cook as a Cucumber, Even in August): August 5, 2005
Eggplants, Miniature (Egg-zactly Like Mama!): May 13, 2006
Eggs, Hard-Boiled (A Hard-Boiled Egg Story): April 15, 2006
Endive (Endive’s Identity Crisis): April 15, 2005
Farmer’s Markets (Farmer’s Markets – and V.I.!): April 29, 2005
Fennel (Can’t Put Fennel in a Funnel): January 6, 2006
Feta Cheese (Fridge-Friendly Feta): March 5, 2005
Figs (Figs – Unwrinkled!): July 1, 2005
Fish, and Door County Fish Boil (A True Fish Story): April 1, 2005
Flatbreads (Space-Saving Bread): September 9, 2005
Gazpacho (The Soup of Seville – Via Sheboygan): August 19, 2005
Heirloom Vegetables/Tomatoes (Tomatoes of Heritage): August 26, 2005
Herbs of Provence (Magical Herbal Helpers): March 11, 2005
Honey (Honey, You're Not Too Sweet): January 15, 2005
Japanese Grocer (Mitsuwa Japanese Grocery): May 4, 2006
Lavender (Lavender: A Magic Carpet of Scent & Flavor): June 3, 2005
Mattern German/European Market (Hiking Food – Austrian Style!): May 20, 2005
Milk (Got Bottles?): July 31, 2006
Monet Cookbook (Speaking for Monet): September 8, 2006
Mushrooms (Marinated Mushrooms): November 29, 2004
Olive Oil (Andalucian Hillside .../Striking Oil): Nov. 27 & Dec. 1, 2004
Pastries (This Moment's Pastry): March 25, 2006
Peaches (Peaches and Herb -- Revisted): August 12, 2006
Pumpkin (The Great Pumpkin Pie): November 18, 2005
Radicchio (A Great Red Head – Radicchio, That Is): February 25, 2005
Radishes (Radishes – For Looking and For Eating): July 15, 2005
Rice (Rice Makes the World Go ‘Round!): March 24, 2005
San Clemente, CA (Eating on Stilts in San Clemente?): March 18, 2006
San Juan Capistrano, CA (Cross the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano!): March 16, 2006
Second Harvest Donations (New Math Grocery Shopping): September 2, 2005
Squash Blossoms (Squash Blossom Bonanza!): June 10, 2005
Swiss Chard (I’ll Leaf It to You to Decide!): March 17, 2005
Tomato Paste (Paste Pitch – No More!): May 6, 2005
Trader Joe's Market (Trader Joe’s – A Southern California Institution): December 4, 2004
Vegetables, Miniature (Egg-zactly Like Mama!): May 13, 2006
Vegetables, Miniature (Veggies – In Miniature!): February 17, 2005
Whole Foods Market (Whole Foods Market): November 11, 2005
Wine, Organic (Wine Aid – Organic and Otherwise): July 8, 2005
Wine, Surplus (Wine Overboard!): June 10, 2006
Wine (Red Bicyclette (TM) Wine): February 3, 2005
Yogurt (Yogurt Tales): November 4, 2005

Friday, January 06, 2006

Can't Put Fennel in a Funnel ...

Fennel bulb, fronds trimmed Posted by Picasa

Q: "Fennel. Is that what they make fennel cakes out of?"
A: "Those aren't fennel cakes. They're called funnel cakes!"

Q: "Fennel. Are those the decorative tips at the ends of curtain rods?"
A: "Those aren't fennels. They're called finials!"

Q: "Well then, what the dickens IS fennel?"
A: "Thought you'd never ASK!"

Fennel is a member of the parsley family. It is sometimes referred to as sweet fennel, Florence fennel or finocchio. Its flavor is mildly reminiscent of licorice or anise -- but smoother, I think. It is used widely in the cooking of Provence and Italy and is available in great abundance throughout the fall and winter. Most major supermarkets are now part of the "fennel scene."

Fennel bulbs should be firm, the stalks straight and firm and the feathery fronds green and fresh. Often, the stalks will already have been removed at the grocery. In that case, be sure that the cut ends are fresh looking, not dry and white. Brown spots or signs of splitting are definitely to be avoided!

The stalks may be used in soups and stews -- the frondlike leaves are useful as an herb. But, it is the bulb that is the main fennel event. It is great cut into wedges, doused with the ever-popular extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, salt and pepper, and roasted.

Braising works well too -- slices or wedges are placed in a saucepan with just enough boiling liquid to barely cover. Broths, tomato sauce or wine work great! If you prefer firmer veggies, sautee rather than braise.

Raw, in salads, or steamed, fennel maintains all its healthful attributes to the max! It is high in vitamin C, low in calories and contains several grams of fiber per cup of raw slices.

All in all -- use it any way you like. Just can't put it through a funnel to make cakes out of it! (Having said that -- I wonder what would happen if one were to grate or grind it and make fritters with it. I may just have to try that!)