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Monday, December 24, 2012

Write With Me: Life of Pi and a Samosa Recipe for Trevor Dolan

Well, well. It's Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and ...) all over the land and celebration is at hand, though this has been a challenging year for hope, to say the least. And yet we must. 
Yes, we must. 

Can stories help us here? How about a crackling fire, gathered loved ones, and a Potato Samosa?

While you enjoy and warm, let me share a book that was very influential in my love of writing stories. The Big Treasure Book of Christmas. One of my favorite stories in the book is "The Animal's Christmas." No this is not exactly the Animal's Christmas Eve, a Golden Book that retells the Manger Story from the animal's perspective, though of course, there is nothing wrong with that book. No, this "The Animals Christmas" is about the animal's life in the woods and their perspective.

Connected to this memory is another story, a newer one, but the threads of allegory join it all together, as well as a beautiful Cauliflower and Potato Samosa! A few day's ago we went to see Life of Pi. Now this was a powerful film and the Animal allegory at the heart of it, speaks loudly to how we listen and learn and need to tell stories to translate and understand and perhaps own the stories of our lives. Near the end of the film, Pi asks the writer and the audience, which story do you prefer?

Here then is The Animal's Christmas - from the 1953 "The Big Treasure Book of Christmas," art by Dellwyn Cunningham, arranged by Dorothy B. Collins.

"Do you know that the animal's in the woods celebrate Christmas too? They do not have their Christmas tree in a house. But Mother Nature decorates a little fir tree that stands in a clearing in the forest. She dusts the tree with shiny snow and sprinkles bright icicles on the tips of the branches. Like magic, the plain little fir tree is changed into a Christmas tree that glistens and sparkles in the moonlight."

Now I can't say for sure that these animals are going to retreat back to their dens to eat Samosa, but I think it's a nice connection to offer an Indian dish open to interpretation, for remembering, and celebrating the Life of Pi and the Life of Trevor Dolan. 

Samosas with Cauliflower and Potato for Trevor Dolan

Trevor Dolan was full of love for telling stories and creating in the kitchen. This Indian dish was often made during an Asian week of kid-chefs cooking and was often revised, as he was known to do so gleefully and successfully. And so his story goes and goes on. And on. 

makes 28 small ones or three large open face ones

1 head cauliflower, cut into fleurettes
6 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1” fresh ginger root, minced
½ tsp. each cardamom, whole cumin and mustard seed, ground
½ tsp. chili powder

2 tablespoons each fresh arugula and cilantro, chopped (from Seeing Stars Farm)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
½ tsp. salt
8 t. softened unsalted butter
12-14 t. ice water

for the filling:
make first as it needs time to let the flavors develop
blanch the cauliflower first and then boil the potatoes. fry the onion in a small amount of oil with the mustard, cumin seed, ginger, and chili powder. add to the cooked potato and cauliflower. mix well. set aside.

for the dough:
in a medium bowl mix the 2 flours and the salt. cut in the butter until mixture resembles small peas or coarse meal. using a fork stir in the water until a dough forms.

on a floured surface, roll out the dough and begin cutting rounds, using a round biscuit cutter, until you have 28.

Option 1: if the filling is still hot – bake or fry the dough separately and then plop the potato and cauliflower filling directly on top for an open-face samosa.

Option 2: Roll to ¼’ thickness and cut the dough into large squares, place on parchment lined sheet pans and spread with the cooled filling, bake at 375 for 30 minutes. When cooled top with the chopped cilantro and arugula.

Option 3: fill each round with 2 teaspoons of the filling, brush the edges with water, fold and seal the samosas. Arrange on parchment lined sheet pans. Get ready to fry the filled samosa’s. using the very large cast iron frying pan, heat an inch of oil in the pan and when hot, fry the dough by slipping 5-6 samosas into the oil at a time and frying 3-4 minutes on a side. drain on a paper towel lined tray and continue until all are fried.

serve hot or room temp with garnish. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Write With Me: Fry An Omelette and Pour a Glass of Wine

Don't you just love learning about  

once-upon-a-time-dishes of "old world" cuisine? 

From Elizabeth David's classic book " An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" she mentions a 
wealth of lesser known but interesting books and people; some very spicy and piquant "dishes"with a decidedly old world vein running through them. 

Please consider these for the hard to please Culinarian on your list this holiday season. And 
perhaps for your own library as well. 

A Little Tour of France by Henry James

Written in 1884 about a six week long trip when Mr. James traveled through Tours, Bourges, 
Nantes, Toulouse, and Arles the book paints a delightful picture of the Old Provinces of France.Henry sums it up nicely when he says that "France is not Paris, and Paris is Not France."

So very true, even today!

Elizabeth David's other book "French Provincial Cooking" , check that link for an original and 
signed copy of FPC for anywhere between 1 and 3 thousand dollars. 

French Provincial Cooking includes a story about the first female chef to earn three Michelin stars, Eugenie Brazier or as she is known, La Mere Brazier. In Lyon, there was a grand tradition of women in the professional kitchen  ~ the "Meres" of Lyon were respected and renowned. 

Gault-Millau guidebook co-founder Christian Millau said at the time of her death in 1977. 

"She was an anti-big restaurant, anti-big cuisine person, and their spirit is the same."

Elizabeth David also mentions another work, "Black Mischief", in which a famous Azanian banquet menu is noted. Famous, not for its culinary and goodly extravagance, but for it's dereliction. As you may have guessed "Black Mischief" is not for the squeamish, mind you.

And one more Author to round out our menu. 

Turns out Elizabeth was great friends with Norman Douglas (a rather interesting, if not 
downright scandalous character) whose travel books were written during the Golden Age of 
Travel, which is to say while travel was a welcome adventure. Of course it may be true as well, 
that some of Mr. Douglas's travel was escapism as he seemed to have perfected leaving just 
when he was wanted by the authorities. 

Douglas was well-known for a novel, South Wind, where his character, Count Caloveglia, goes on about the qualities necessary to a good cook.

In "Siren Land- A Celebration of Life in Southern Italy" Douglas makes an explosive 
denunciation of Neapolitan Fish soup.

In "Alone" - another travel book on Italy, there is a passage where he describes pre-1914 
macaroni. And in another section ---

"We found a "restaurant" where we lunched off a tin of antediluvian
Spanish sardines, some mouldy sweet biscuits, and black wine. (Adistinction is made in these parts between black and red wine; theformer is the Apulian variety, the other from Sulmona.) During thisrepast, we were treated to several bear-stories."

Mr. Douglas preferred the study of authenticity, seen also in his work, "Old Calabria" and 
"Late Harvest."

Also published posthumously, was his "Venus in the Kitchen," - a cookery book concerning 
aphrodisiacs written under the pen-name of Pilaff Bey. 

If you've got similar finds from this era, please share your recommendations!

And since a foray into Cookery Books (and especially Venus in the Kitchen) would never be 
complete without cooking, I give you a most appropriate recipe that I learned in Tuscany; 
Naked Ravioli. What a great dish for this time of year. Decadent and Simple. 

You will not soon forget .....

gnudi ravioli with béchamel and bittersweet chocolate

gnudi refers to the fact that theses ravioli are sans pasta, in other words, naked! believe me; you won’t miss the pasta at all - not with the unctuous béchamel sauce and the grated bittersweet chocolate. make this dish today! 

1 pound spinach or Swiss Chard, I like Fickle Creek Farms
12 ounces ricotta
3 eggs
1-1/4 cup flour
few gratings of nutmeg
3 tablespoons parmesan

basil béchamel sauce

béchamel (french) or besciamelli (italian) is one of two creamy mother sauces. the b sauce, as i call it, uses an onion pique, an onion that has a bay leaf nailed into it with a few whole cloves. the other creamy sauce, the v sauce, or veloute, uses stock instead of milk, but both are thickened with a roux.

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 large sweet onion, peeled and quartered
bay leaves and whole cloves (2 each is plenty)
1 sprig fresh thyme
4-5 fresh basil leaves
salt and white pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

gnudi sauce  
2 cups béchamel sauce
4t parmesan
2/3 cup grated pecorino
2 bay leaves
4 ounces half and half
white pepper

garnish: grated bittersweet chocolate

for gnudi ravioli
cook spinach in very little water. drain and squeeze out all excess water. chop finely. place in a large mixing bowl and add ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and flour. blend well. mix and ½ hour in the refrigerator.
bring to boil large pot of salted water. lower to simmer. season spinach mixture with salt and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. form ravioli by using a spoon or using floured hands. drop a few at a time into water. they will drop the bottom and then float to the top when done. let simmer 20-30 seconds. remove with slotted spoon or ladle and place in an oven-proof dish until ready to serve. pour gnudi sauce over and toss gently, and serve with extra parmesan cheese.

for sauce:
make the roux by melting the butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. stir in the flour well till there are no lumps.  cook over low heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. then bring the half and half to a boil with the onion and the herbs. cover and let this infuse for about 10 minutes.  strain the half and half into the roux, in its original pan, and mix. bring to a boil, and then simmer gently, for 15-20 minutes. adjust thickness with half and half or by cooking a little longer.

then, for the gnudi sauce add the pecorino, parmesan, bay leaves, milk, and white pepper to the béchamel sauce. heat till well combined, simmer for five to ten minutes. serve over ravioli. dust with grated bittersweet chocolate at 
table, passing the block among the diners. 

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