Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beer Braised Lamb

Do you find that you only talk about recipes you hardly ever make? This is the third time this month that we're having beer braised lamb, and yet, all I've talked about are things like doughnuts that I eat about twice in three years.

The weather certainly has something to do with how frequently I put bony chunks of meat in a pot and simmer them all afternoon. I'm wearing sweaters and cats, see. The rest of you who are eating salad and peach ice cream can just save this recipe till your winter comes along.

You can use any properly bony cut of lamb for this dish, which is why it's economical. Things I have tried that work well: lamb neck pieces, lamb ribs, miscellaneous "bone-in stewing lamb," and lamb shanks. Shanks tend to be a bit spendier and frankly I don't know why, when lamb ribs are so much more unctuous.

Beer Braised Lamb

This recipe feeds two people with the possibility of some leftovers.

Take a pound of bony lamb, rinse it, and put it in a large heavy pot. Add a couple of sprigs of rosemary, a roughly chopped onion, plenty of salt and pepper, and the better part of a bottle of strong, sweet beer.

Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer at least four hours. During the last hour or so, check the level of liquid in the pot. If it's still deep and thin, let it simmer uncovered for a while. As the beer reduces, it will thicken and caramelize into an unctuous sauce. Yeah, I like that unct.

Note: if you double this recipe, don't double the beer! More meat in the pot will make the liquid level higher anyway, and if you add more beer it won't reduce and caramelize in time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Doughnut Bread Pudding

You're right. Nobody ever has too many homemade doughnuts just sitting around waiting to be made into doughnut bread pudding. Nor would I ever dream of recommending that anyone make doughnuts just for turning into bread pudding. But should the unthinkable occur, consider that doughnut bread pudding is nothing other than a good rich dough, fried in lard, glazed, and baked in a custard; i.e., sublime.

For my cookbook release party on Thursday, Mama and I made eighty-odd doughnuts according to the directions for overnight-risen potato doughnuts in the book.

Half we glazed with the standard glaze, and half with the maple glaze (this time I browned the butter in the maple glaze recipe, a charming variation).

We only brought a dozen back home, and those quickly dwindled to half a dozen. But after a day or two, the unthinkable happened: the doughnuts ceased to be perfect. And a doughnut that is anything less than perfect really has no reason to exist. So I made bread pudding.

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice six or seven stale homemade doughnuts in half like bagels and place them on a rack. Put them in the oven until they're lightly toasted, flipping them if need be.

Meanwhile, beat 5-6 eggs in a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of vanilla, half a teaspoon of salt, a grating of nutmeg, a few tablespoons of maple syrup (inversely proportional to the amount of glaze on the doughnuts), and a quart of rich milk. Beat well.

Pull the toasted doughnuts from the oven and let them cool. Butter a 9 x 13" baking dish. Find a slightly larger roasting pan to use as a water bath, and bring a kettleful of water to a boil.

Arrange the doughnut halves in the buttered baking dish and pour the egg mixture overtop. Let the doughnuts soak in the custard for 15 minutes or so, turning them to sop it up on all sides. When they are nicely soggy, cover the dish with tinfoil and place it in the larger roasting pan in the oven. Pour hot water in the roasting pan about an inch deep. Bake 45-50 minutes, until the custard is mostly set, but still a bit runny in the middle. Let cool for half an hour and serve warm or refrigerate.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Upcoming San Francisco Events

The Lost Art of Real Cooking, good food, wine, and company: next week at two events!

On Thursday evening, I'll be at 18 Reasons with my co-author, Ken Albala, and our illustrator (my mother) Marjorie Nafziger. Wine and lots of good food -- Ken is bringing homemade salami, pickles, cheese, and bread. I'm bringing homemade doughnuts, butter, and koji pickles! My mother will have prints and cards of her illustrations available. July 22, 7:00-9:00 p.m. 593 Guerrero Street (just off of 18th Street). $5 for 18 Reasons members; $10 for non-members. 18 Reasons is a non-profit event space for the celebration of art and food. More about 18 Reasons.

On Saturday afternoon, I'll be at Omnivore Books on Food, again with Ken and Marjorie. We'll read and talk about the book in one of my favorite bookstores ever. It's entirely dedicated to cookbooks -- new, used, and antiquarian. July 24, 3-4 p.m. 3885a Cesar Chavez Street. Free. More about Omnivore. A write-up on SF Weekly.

Books will be available for sale at both events. I would love to see you at either one!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Lost Art of Real Cooking (& Lacto-Fermented Jicama Pickles)

The Lost Art of Real Cooking is a real book! You can get it here.

Yesterday, I got off the train from Oregon and just like that, all of a sudden, I was a published author. I was also tired, smelly, grumbling at the fog, and oddly nervous.

Is it odd to be nervous about book releases? Particularly, cookbook releases? It's not like I've just published The Collected Love Letters of Thirteen-Year-Old Rosanna (which, incidentally, would be a longer book than I'd like to admit). But still, reading over this cookbook, I find myself thinking, "I said that? But it's so opinionated! How bold!" and I shiver. Not that I don't hold those opinions, of course. But I've had a bit too much practice actively suppressing my opinions in the short-sighted belief that they would only stir up contention if I uttered them. I was nervous. I sidestepped controversy, nodded and said "hmm." I was afraid of being engaged. And now, there's a permanent record of my cooking opinions, in a book! So I'm nervous.

If only I had so actively suppressed my romantic opinions at the age of thirteen.

Certainly it's not very odd to be nervous about live radio interviews. Can you conceive of something more nightmare-and-fever-inducing to an introvert than a live radio interview? It's like talking on the telephone. Times a billion. Of course it's always worth it afterwards, when I'm glowing in the knowledge that the gracious interviewer was actually interested in my book and what I had to say, and that there were many stupid things I could have done and said but didn't. Then I play the interviews back, and notice how my voice sounds so girly and breathless, and wish all over again that I were one of those people who can be effortlessly warm and funny at once.

Like Ken, my co-author. You should listen to an interview he did for Good Food on KCRW today. You can find it here, sometime in the future when it airs.

Now I'm wondering if I'm supposed to confess this timidity, or not! I should be bold and forthright, shouldn't I?

Here's something decidedly bold: jicama pickles! I've only ever had vinegar-pickled jicama before, but it was good enough to convince me that lacto-fermented jicama pickles would be sublime. (It is one of my opinions that lacto-fermented pickles are superior to their vinegar equivalents.)

It took them almost a month to ferment at cold room temperature, but as soon as I got back from [sigh] Oregon, I stuck my nose in the crock and was rewarded with the beautiful aroma of mature lacto-fermentation. They had a little mold growth, which I skimmed off before ladling them into a jar for refrigerator storage. They're delicious right now -- snappy crisp, briny -- but I know they'll only improve as they age in the fridge.

There is one problem. Jicama is a starchy vegetable. The starch from the cut jicama has dissolved into the brine, turning it milky and unpleasantly viscous. Perhaps I should have rinsed the jicama very well after I cut it, to wash off its external starches. Without trying that method, I'm suspicious that more starches would have simply seeped out during fermentation. Or perhaps I should rinse the pickles now, before serving. But that makes me sad, because usually I treasure the brine nearly as much as the pickles (there's nothing like brine in a salad dressing!). Perhaps after I eat the pickles the starches will settle, and I can decant or siphon some clear brine off the top.

Jicama Pickles

Take two or three large jicamas. Clean and peel them and cut out any bad spots. Cut them into sticks about 1/4" wide. (Here you might try rinsing them.) Peel several cloves of garlic and pick the stems from a couple of dried chilies. Pack everything into a medium-sized crock. Mix a tablespoon of salt with a cup or two of water. Pour the water over the cut jicama just until it covers it. Place a clean, flat-bottomed weight inside the crock on top of the jicama. A half-gallon jar filled with water works well, depending on the size of your crock. The closer your weight comes to the edge of the crock, the better (air exposure = a place for mold to grow). Cover everything with a tea towel or layered cheesecloth to keep out bugs, and secure with a rubber band.

Put the crock in a dark, warmish place. Here in San Francisco, that means the cupboard over my refrigerator. If you're anywhere else that actually has a summer, you should probably seek out a relatively cool place. For the next few weeks, check on your pickles every so often. Skim off any visible mold and let them ferment until they start to smell like pickles. Transfer them to a quart jar, pour the brine overtop, and refrigerate. You can eat them now, or let them keep curing. They will only get better.