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. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cooking With BU Students Live

Latest update on the cooking as food history pedagogy: I went to Boston and got to cook with everyone in person this weekend. Most of the students I've never met. Those who live far away and a few others couldn't make it, but otherwise a nice dozen. I decided we would cook some 13th century Yuan Dynasty recipes, a selection of which is in my reader under the title Yin-Shan Cheng-Yao. The whole is in A Soup for the Qan, which has just come out in a new edition. What really attracted me to the recipes is the influence I've looked at often from medieval Baghdad going west to Europe, but this one goes east, under Mongol Rule, to China. So ingredients like mastic, chickpeas and saffron appear.

Most of them were pretty good, one recipe for chicken morsels with (handmade) vermicelli was spectacular, and sharp with szechuan pepper corns. A lamb and mastic soup was ok, probably would have been very good with more concentrated stock and the lamb cooked longer. Steamed poppy seed buns left a little to be desired for, but I think tweeking could make them great. Weirdest of all though was  a carp soup. It was clearly a pain to clean as you can see here. The stock turned out gray and the fish tasted muddy. Maybe it was just this fish, but I'm really hoping the students wont be scared into thinking people in the past had no idea what they were doing. I myself am wondering about carp.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Online Food History Class #3 Apicius

Hic est Patina Zomoteganona. That just means a plate of sauce in a frying pan, or something like that, made of any sort of fish. I've never cooked it before, but I think among Apicius' best.

Here's a really loose translation. Raw fish in a pan (this is wild salmon), add oil, liquamen (fish sauce), cooked down wine, and a bundle of fresh coriander and leek. Cook, then pound pepper, lovage, oregano, the cooked down bundle in a mortar, and pour in cooking liquid then (keep pounding) and pour back in the pan. Let fish cook through, add an egg and stir to temper, until thickened, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

The combination of flavors are exquisite. Whoever actually wrote this recipe knew exactly what he or she was doing.

Unfortunately adobe connect did not work at home, maybe my old computer or crappy connection. Shame with such great material the technology totally failed. On an off and after an hour or so I quit. But the fish tastes great. Try it!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cooking Therapy

Just as there are professional disciplines of Music Therapy and Dance Therapy, is there also such a thing as Cooking Therapy? Well if not, there should be. So if you find yourself alone and depressed, here's what to do.

First pour yourself a big martini with your favorite olive. Two olives. Then look in the fridge and cabinets and contrive to make the most difficult dish you can with whatever is at hand, a recipe you have never done before. First a pair of turkey thighs I cured a two weeks ago called out to me. I pan roasted them. The effect is almost exactly like ham. This was cooled and diced finely.

Then I found some sweet potato flour (camote) from Peru, which I thought might make a fetching noodle. Well it did indeed. I rolled it out and made ravioli stuffed with the turkey, about 3 or 4 inches across. And then I fried it in the strained turkey fat, so really nice and crispy, like a pot sticker, but quite sweet and delicate. Chopped tomato and a little cilantro on the side. I like the American theme. Does it work as therapy? I don't know. But it tastes good and is a really good distraction.