What's on my Plate?

Truffles, White Alba

Submitted by John on Thu, 11/25/2021 - 16:00

"White Italian Truffles"White truffles, Tuber magnatum, are even more expensive than black truffles, and they are used differently. They are seen more in northern Italian cuisine than anywhere else. The two you see here, one ounce each, cost $590 in November 2021!

Norwegian Stockfish

Submitted by John on Sun, 01/24/2021 - 22:28
Cod is consumed all over Italy even though it is not caught in Italian waters. Stockfish is North Atlantic Cod caught and dried in Norway; it has been part of Italian cuisine for centuries since it was brought by Norman conquerors a thousand years ago.

It's especially used in the winter and in interior areas where it's harder to get fresh fish. Stockfish (stoccafiso) has to be refreshed just like Salt Cod (and many of the recipes are the same), but stockfish is even dryer so it must be refreshed for a coupe of days or more.

There are lesser grades used in West African cooking, but for Italian cooking you want the expensive Grade A. I got this bag from an importer in Houston, so the dried fish travelled thousands of miles to get to my kitchen!

Moroccan Dinner

Submitted by John on Wed, 02/27/2019 - 02:27
Fish Tagine

We had our old friends Jim and Peg Baker over for dinner, after reconnecting with them over the Old Colony Club's 250th Birthday Gala. They wanted something on the lighter side, and something with an exotic flair. I suggested Moroccan, and they accepted. 

For personal reasons, I added a non-Moroccan cocktail and dessert, which I will explain below. 

My Le Souk Aquafish tagine

Here's what we had:

Truffles, Black Winter or Perigord

Submitted by John on Sun, 02/12/2017 - 21:48
a large black truffle (Tuber melanosporum)

These days, truffles are paradoxically ubiquitous and exceedingly rare, and it's easy to spend good money on the wrong thing.

Truffles also lose their awesome flavor very fast if they are not used immediately or stored properly. That investment is easily lost. 

Here's what I have learned.

The first thing to know is that there are several kinds of truffles. The grand old recipes of Europe normally call for only two varieties: 

Corn

Submitted by John on Mon, 05/25/2015 - 20:51

The Puzzle of Terminology

Flint Corn, of the variety Floriani Red

Our colonial forebears did the best they could to confuse their descendants about the role of corn in their foodways. In the first place, to the English settlers, corn was the word for any grain, including barley, wheat, oats, and rye. They did not know about maize, commonly known to us as corn. When reading old texts about food and farming, it's easier to think of "corn" as grain.

When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, they soon learned that their "corn" did not fare well under New England growing conditions. They were lucky to be introduced to maize, which had long been cultivated by the Native Americans.

A Rhode Island Jonnycake with Honey

The colonists referred to the Native Americans as Indians, so they naturally referred to this strange Native American grain as Indian corn, or simply Indian. The colonial dessert called Indian pudding is called that not because it was made by Native Americans, but because it is made with Indian, their word for corn. A popular bread of the time made with both rye and corn was known as ryaninjun.

Types of Corn

Beans

Submitted by John on Sun, 03/08/2015 - 16:58

Boston Baked Beans in the traditional beanpot

Beans are one of the Three Sisters, the trio of local foods that supported the Pilgrims and other early settlers. Thanks to their hardiness, easy cultivation, and excellent storability, beans soon became a core component of colonial New England cuisine. In fact, beans became so identified with New England that Boston became popularly referred to as Beantown.

Beans are a climbing plant. Today if you grow beans in your garden, you probably let them climb a beanpole. The Native Americans had a clever way to save space in (and dig less of) that stony New England soil: they also grew corn, and used the cornstalks as beanpoles.

You can find a lot of interesting information about beans in this article from the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine. The beans part starts in the fourth paragraph and continues to the end of the page.

Soak Beans Overnight

Fresh green beans can be steamed right from the garden, of course, but the great value of beans is their ability to be dried, stored and transported over primitive roads with low risk of spoilage.

New England Heirloom Turnips & Rutabagas

Submitted by John on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 19:29
Three Varieties of New England Turnips

The humble turnip has sustained humans and livestock for millennia in areas of poor soil and and short growing seasons. From this unromantic root has sprung all sorts of confusion; I will try to put some of that straight here.

The first point of confusion is the difference between turnips and rutabagas. They are genetically closely related and can interbreed. Culinarily they are often very similar, and can often be interchanged in menus. In general, turnips are smaller and grow faster than rutabagas. Some turnips can be eaten raw as salad turnips

Many of us remember turnip with dinner as we were growing up, and it was yellow-orange on the inside. That "turnip" is probably a rutabaga of the Joan variety.

So turnips are white and rutabagas are yellow? It's not that simple. There are white-flesh rutabagas.

How about the outside color? Some have green tops and others have purple tops. Unfortunately for armchair taxonomists, both rutabagas and turnips have varieties of either color. 

Sous-Vide Cooking

Submitted by John on Mon, 06/30/2014 - 01:27

The display on a home-made sous-vide cookerSous-vide cooking is a technique, not a recipe. The principle is to cook a piece of meat slowly at a carefully controlled temperature no higher than the final cooking temperature of the interior of the meat. This results in supremely tender meat.

The steak cooked in the homemade cooker below reached an internal temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit after an hour and 53 minutes in the cooker. 

Something Fowl

Submitted by John on Tue, 02/11/2014 - 13:59

Light and Heavy FowlI was preparing a recipe that called for a fowl. That's not so unusual; fowl are tough old birds, stringier and better suited for the stockpot than for roasting or frying. Fowl are used instead of younger birds when flavor is important and tenderness is not.

But I encountered an unexpected complication. At Compare Foods in downtown [[nodetitle:Worcester]], I found Fresh Heavy Fowl and Fresh Light Fowl - what to do? The heavy fowl was much more expensive per pound (although still cheap), but I had no other clues. So I came home and did some more research. Here's what I learned.

Heavy FowlChickens are raised for meat or for laying eggs, and the birds that are bred to be good at one are not so well suited for the other.  Of course, the ones bred for meat come from eggs, too, but those eggs are laid by big meaty mamas.

When either type reaches the end of her laying life, it is slaughtered for fowl. The meat-producer chickens become heavy fowl and the egg-producing chickens become light fowl. Since you're looking for flavor, the heavy fowl is the superior choice for stocks and stews. 

Christmas Mexican Lasagna

Submitted by BBQ_Mike on Fri, 12/20/2013 - 02:58

Christmas Mexican Lasagna, photo by BBQ_MikeThe title of this post is Christmas Mexican Lasagna. Why would I call this Christmas Mexican Lasagna?

Christine and I are experiencing our first married Christmas together. In just a few short weeks we will be heading out on our postponed honeymoon. Between Christmas and the upcoming honeymoon vacation we are working at hoarding some extra money for gifts and our travel plans.

Like most people, we put stuff in the freezer and forget it. It is so easy to do! We are looking for ways to not spend money so I decided to go Freezer Diving. There is a lot of really "cool stuff" in there that really should be used up.  

Assembling the lasagna, photo by BBQ_MikeI found a pound of ground turkey sitting in there. What do you do with ground turkey?

Christine likes ground turkey and I find it very bland. We could spice it up with a chipotle rub and make burgers, mix it with some stuff and make turkey meatloaf but I have done that and still find it very bland. It is not really exciting.