Sunday, November 16, 2014

Noodle Soup Saga

I've been really into noodle soup lately if you haven't noticed. I have to write a book about it, and so I've started systematically recording every version I cook for breakfast. Some are simple, some extraordinarily complex and time consuming. This week I decided to just change little things in the basic recipe to see if I could taste the subtle differences. It's not something I've ever done before: cooking the same basic dish every day. As you can imagine, the differences are vast, just one ingredient different makes all the world of difference.

This week began with beef broth, buckwheat soba and a dollop of leftover lamb chili that was laced with pho flavors. Then on Tuesday was a quick ramen in chicken broth with coconut, tomato, lime and sriracha. I actually had a packet of instant ramen and just threw away the chemical packet. Still, very quick. Wednesday was a gorgeous mung bean, chicken broth and again tomato, lime, sriracha, cabbage, scallions. Nothing like the one the day before. Then Thursday was fish stock, rice cellophane noodles, lemon, parsley, carrots and cabbage. It's amazing how switching lemon for lime and parsley for cilantro changes the entire dish. Saturday there was almost nothing left in the house, but wheat noodles, chicken stock, and much like the day before, but with a hit of fermented salgam suyu, changed everything. Sour and beet/red carrot-flavored.

Today was the killer. An 18 hour stock cooked overnight on low in the oven. Mostly duck necks and vegetable ends. With arrowroot starch vermicelli. I never knew there was such a thing! Some shiitake mushrooms, cilantro, leftover chicken breast. It was slick with meatiness. No chili or acid, since I just wanted the stock to shine through. This bore no relationship to versions I made earlier in the week. Do you think there's the making of a whole book here? I'd say so!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

M/S Bjørnvag - Floating Restaurant

I don't think I've ever written a restaurant review, but this one was so out of the ordinary, I can't help myself. It is indeed a tiny restaurant on a boat, the M/S Bjørnvag in Trondheim, Norway. Despite this sunny picture, it was dark at about 5:00. All of 10 people were served a kind of Nordic Kaiseki meal. Two people in the kitchen, the owner/chef and a helper. The whole thing took about 4 or 5 hours. And there was a LOT of beer/wine/aquavit through it all too.

There were 9 courses in all. First a pile of tørrfisk, which was perfectly fitting (shredded stockfish, dried but not salted) some seaweed flakes and crispy fried fish skin, the I swear tasted like pork rinds. Then stockfish in another guise, cooked with a kind of chili oil. Third was a bread made from beer lees, spent barley and a little packet of steamed trout that the owner caught with cubed vegs. The fourth course was the most interesting, a wedge of Greenland seal on pumpkin. I can't really describe the flavor, not fishy at all, but in texture a little grainy and chewy like grass-fed beef. I would eat it any day of the week if I could.

Potatoes with trumpet chanterelles stood on their own as a course. And trust me if you have never had potatoes in Scandinavia, it's worth the trip. The sixth was a rolled leg of kid with orange sauce, roasted vegetables and everything seasoned with pine shoots. Remarkable combination of flavors. Seven was little blood pancakes with wedges of cured pig fat. Eighth was a plate of charcuterie and cheeses: bellota, lamb sausage, tetilla, goat, and a blood and kidney sausage that was very tasty. Apple tart with black currant sauce from the chef's mom's yard to end. And of course aquavit.

Each was a tiny course and it was spread out so well that you never tired of anything, and each course enticed the palate to continue. Every course followed the other nicely too, the cured meat and cheese definitely went better toward the end than beginning. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world in winter, this place is highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Food Studies San Francisco University of the Pacific

Well, This has been about a decade in the making. But it is happening in the fall 2015. And I need students!!

So please click on the facebook page  

visit the university website and get anyone you know to apply!

Send any inquiries directly to me


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Noodle Soup Book

Yesterday when I got to work, I had several important meetings, exams to grade, writing assignments to work on, but the obsession took hold of me. Noodle soups must become a book. Thank you anonymous commentator you requested it here! So I spent a few hours writing a proposal and sent it off to my agent. Fingers crossed.

The plan is to go global with it. The Asian family of soups is easily recognized. And so are the Italian. Oh tortellini in brodo. What you see here is actually leftover spaghetti soup. I mean it was spaghetti in sauce and I just added some broth. Really phenomenal with fresh tomatoes and parsley thrown in. Then of course there's chicken noodle soup and all its eastern European cousins. Spaetzele too I guess. Fideo soup in Spain.

But the question I have is what other cultures can be represented here? Are there whole other families of noodle soups I don't know of? I plan to exclude proper dumplings, but maybe I shouldn't. Are there South American, African noodle soups? Or from anywhere else?  There must be!    

Sunday, October 19, 2014

1000 Mornings of Noodle Soup

For reasons I cannot explain, I think I am going to embark on an odyssey of noodle soup every morning for 1000 days' breakfast. For the past 20 years I have eaten cold cuts, cheese, olives, toast, tomatoes, pickles, a kind of deconstructed sandwich. For a decade before that it was exclusively pancakes - which led to the dopiest little book I've ever written and the one that always gets mentioned first when I am introduced. Be careful what you write is all I can say.

Anyway, time to move on. Noodle soup calls. It all started in Boston this past summer when I had a beautiful kitchen in a highrise dorm for a few weeks and not a single utensil or vessel. I bought a tiny cheap pot and had noodle soup for breakfast. Not ramen in miso, but a kind of Vietnamese rice noodle spicy red soup, not pho, but something like it. It was SO good for breakfast.

Since then I've been making stock, freezing it, making noodles or buying them dried and fresh, just to get a sense of the range of flavors. And the world of noodle soup is ridiculously immense. But trust me, cilantro, lime, fish sauce, a chopped tomato and a shot of sriracha makes anything taste good. So this is my next batch. It's a pho base, with beef neck, ribs, lamb bones, and a lot of duck necks that were bought for like 3 dollars a big bag. I think I'm going to make a fish stock too to keep around - the lobster shell stock I made this past week was incredible.

My first shot at using alkali (koon chun potassium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonate) was not a complete failure, but the dough couldn't be pulled. Or even rolled out on a board. I used bread flour and some wheat gluten, assuming that really high gluten was what I needed. Nope. The crank roller turned it into flat noodles which are ok, but not yellow, slippery or properly chewy. I NEED a good recipe!! These are edible but not worth wrestling with. I'll work on it. In the meantime, I will have a great intense home made stock in the morning that will last a couple of weeks. And a range of noodles to throw in, rice, mung bean, buckwheat, etc. I am SO excited!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cooking A Sephardic Dinner

A handful of people came last week to cook with me a Sephardic meal. Surprisingly all 7 of us stuffed into the kitchen quite well together, flour flying everywhere. I tried to do things from memory rather than follow historic recipes, and I think we wandered a bit into Turkish food, but that's where my grandmother's family was from. Of course there was raki. There were also yaprak - stuffed grape leaves (using those from my grapes which were old and tough, oh well) and great bourekas with spinach and feta, hummus and babaganouj, flat breads, and some fabulous kifteh made with hand chopped lamb and leeks. I love those. Baby artichokes were great too.

But this is the dish that sticks out in my mind. A sea bass actually from Turkey. I scaled and gutted him (THANK YOU PODESTO'S FOR CARRYING WHOLE FISH!) Lightly dusted with flour and fried in olive oil. Along with it onions were fried and golden raisins. A dash of cinnamon and then a good splash of white wine vinegar. It should marinate a few hours. My grandmother called it pesce in vinagra, though you might recognize it as escabeche.

Now what relationship this might have to the Medieval Baghdadi al-Sikbaj or to Peruvian ceviche, let alone to Tempura or English Fish and Chips, I wont speculate. But apparently they are all distant cousins.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Food in Time and Place

How nice! Look what just appeared on my desk. It's book #22. Coedited with Paul Freedman and Joyce E. Chaplin.

It includes great chapters by Gene Anderson, Jessica B Harris, Charles Perry, Jeff Pilcher, Amy Bentley, Frederick Douglass Opie, Krishnendu Ray, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Amy Trubek, Fabio Parasecoli, Peter Scholliers among others!

I'm really pleased with how this turned out. UC PRESS ROCKS! And so does the AHA for official sponsorship. I take it as formal recognition of the field of food history.