Monday, May 26, 2008

Can't say I miss Teresa Heinz

I've been thinking about this ketchup recipe since December. Without warning and with varied intensity, it would flicker across my field of vision. Sometimes I was on my imaginary island, smoking a cigar, sipping cognac, and spreading it over grilled steak. Sometimes, I was in the middle of America, spinning through a county fair, high off my recent win for best ketchup. Sometimes, I was alone, standing over a stove, dipping caramelized onions into it and eating them with my hands. It was my ketchup fantasy carousel of those long, cold, winter months. It was mine.

I couldn't wait until the tomatoes were riper. It's memorial day weekend, and at least metaphorically, that's summer. And I have to say, making this ketchup was no less filled with fantasy than fantasizing about making it. The moment I lifted the cover off the pot, five minutes into the process, I was once again in The Holiday Snack Bar in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island - my little corner of Jersey. My mom's family had a beach house there since 1958, ten years after the Snack Bar opened its doors. For a long time, the sleepy town's summer renaissance meant little more than sand in the Belopolsky girls' bathing suits, kid productions of South Pacific, Jersey corn, blueberries, and the occasional breakup of the neighborhood mobster cartel. Hey, it was Jersey.

A lot had changed when I got to know my mother's Beach Haven, but the Holiday Snack Bar remained. The horseshoe bar. The finished, shellacked puzzles of Coca-cola pastorals hung on the walls. Unbelievably vertical lemon meringue pie in the center of the bar. Incredible burgers. And, at intervals along the wrapped, thick wood counter, little brown bowls of chopped fresh onions and their relish waiting for you along with, what else, ketchup. It was a place for a believers - of what, I don't know. But the smell of this ketchup was so much like the inside of that bar, I just may believe in time travel.

Spicy Tomato & Horseradish Ketchup
from The Cook's Book, makes about 3 cups

4.5 lb ripe plum tomatoes, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped tart apples
6 whole cloves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 in piece of fresh horseradish root, peeled and grated

Put the tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, and apple in a nonreactive pot with the cloves, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and pulpy and the mixture has reduced by one third, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Using the back of a ladle, press the mixture through a fine sieve and into a clean pan.

Add the remaining vinegar, the sugar, and horseradish. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then simmer until the ketchup is thick (it's going to be a little watery compared to what you're used to, folks), 40 minutes or so. Pour it into a sterilized mason jar and seal, then let cool before using. It can keep for up to six months in a cool, dry place. Once you open it, you have to refrigerate it. That's just the way it goes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


So this one Thanksgiving it was our family's job to make the pies, and my small duty was to get the cloves. I went to the food store, I grabbed the first thing I saw with the word "cloves" on it, and I hurried home thinking my work was done.

Well, sort of. I had bought whole cloves, instead of ground. Whole cloves may be dried flower buds, but their name comes from the Latin word clavus, for nail. It’s indicative. They’re small, rock-hard, spiky little creatures that are good for piercing the skins of oranges and bringing spicy back to your mulled cider. But you really can't make our pumpkin pie until you've ground the suckers.

Thwarted from returning to the store by horizontal rain, it became clear that we would have to make do. We had no mortar and pestle. We had no coffee grinder. I've never forgotten the fury of grinding a handful of cloves one at a time in an American Girl doll mortar and pestle I had unearthed from the back of my closet. That day I labored with "colonial" kitchen gear made for a 24-inch doll named Felicity. Pumpkin pie kind of lost its magic.

Now, this weekend I wanted so badly to make bombolone, the Italian donut I learned at culinary school. (The day we failed at panettone we were consoled by fluffy donuts piped with jam and pastry cream. Not bad.) The thing is, all my recipes from culinary school are in grams, and I don't have a scale. Can you see where I’m going with this?

My dad has a grain scale for measuring arrowheads (oh yeah). It’s, uh, hand held and decidedly not digital. I clipped a plastic bag to it and measured and converted… oh, it’s not even worth explaining the tedious details. It was the clove incident of 2002 all over again. Anyway, it came out all wrong, because after I let the batter proof and cut it into little discs, it fried without poofing up into a flaky doughnut. More like a dough-puck, I’d say.

Still, they tasted fried and with a dusting of confectioner's sugar, a little jam and pastry cream -- well, who wouldn't be happy with even a donut-like thing on Sunday morning? What I've got of the recipe is pretty much what you can see in the photograph. Fry the disks in a mild vegetable oil for just a short while until they rise to the surface, puff up (hopefully) and turn a nice golden color. Better luck than I, my scale-toting friends.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tack attack, brandish your angel keychains

It's sentimental. It's Sandra Lee. It's like a good cry to Boyz II Men. Generally, I think food should look like what it is and avoid gimmick. But, lord, I've discovered that prosciutto and pea shoots kind of look like a rose if you wrap them together right. And I like it. Over to the dark side go I.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm writing my finals,

and I already miss Mamoun's.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Running from lawnmowers

Everything green makes me sneeze, itch and feel perturbed. Oak pollen covers the screens. A lawnmower circles our little house like it's riding out the dawn of a new, sheared age, careening and sending clouds of allergens into the air. I'm allergic to the earth.

In an effort to remember that I like living with other living things, I've been searching for redeeming green. For example, Silvie brought home limes from the co-op in profusion, and I like putting brown sugar on them and just suckling. What's more green than limes? And mâche, oh mâche, pictured above, which I just learned is also called lamb’s lettuce, is incredible. And green tea – I've been drinking Arogya's Organic Dragon’s Well tea made from Chinese Long Jing leaves. I even took a cup of it and sat outside! In the grass!

So, generally, I think green tea is an overplayed and overrated ingredient right now (case in point: the soured green tea frozen yogurt I tasted in an sterile New York shop yesterday), but I had some old (really old) matcha in the pantry and saw a recipe from Marc at No Recipes for matcha green tea frosting, and I wanted to adapt it.

But then, of course, frosting needed something to frost, so I found an old recipe from Gourmet magazine, the first recipe I ever really made by myself – chocolate chip cookies. This time I left out the chocolate chip cookies and about ½ of the butter, from which the simplest cookie resulted. Then Anna, Andrew and I proceeded to take some artistic liberties with the matcha frosting.

Never before have such grotesque scenes alighted the faces of cookies. The greenish slop was so unappetizing that Anna pushed two cookies together so as not to see the celadon drops – and a sandwich was born. They actually didn't look that bad. After a fine dusting of confectioner’s sugar and powdered matcha tea, they even looked purposefully, uh, cute.

So we ate them and watched Planet Earth, and that made me feel both better and worse about being allergic to our planet. Caves are so cool. Sugar solves most everything.

Simple Butter-Sugar Cookies

1/t tsp baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-p flour
2/3 cup white sugar
½ stick butter
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp hazelnut extract (it’s your call on this)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the wet ingredients, then add the dry ones. I don’t remember how long I cooked them – maybe 10 minutes.

Matcha Green tea frosting
Stir together:

1 tsp. matcha
1 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. cream
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

It's critical that you let the cookies cool before adding the frosting otherwise it will get runny and even more ghastly unappetizing.