5/25/12

Farmers Market May 2012


Here is a pretty picture of some things we got at the farmers market: Collard Greens and Red Russian Kale. Scallions, two kinds of radishes. Wild arugula and fresh chamomile; big bunches of each. $6.00 total.

(Flanking the produce, potted herbs: Basil, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary.)

For a definitive and exhaustive source for herbs, Well-Sweep Herb Farm.

5/18/12

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Product Stylist (Baker) Michele T. Fillion / MicheleDesigns

If you grow rhubarb in your own garden you probably have the same issue as the guy who planted too many zucchini plants. The adage is: If you grow zucchini, you know who your friends are. Those squash multiply and grow like rabbits. You're always trying to give it away. Get it now, the thing about the friends? (It means that they don't want it either.)

Rhubarb isn't quite the same, just that it grows profusely. Most folks you would try to give it to would probably not even know what to do with it. So, you can keep it as an ornamental, but the stalks are delicious cut into pieces and simply stewed and sweetened with sugar.

For another use, here is a most absolutely guaranteed to get raves recipe for rhubarb coffee cake. The cake itself is moist and crumbly, a fruity juicy burst in every bite.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Cream together in a bowl:

     1/2 Cup unsalted/sweet Butter
     1 1/4 Cup firm packed light or dark Brown Sugar
     2 whole Eggs
     1 tsp. Vanilla extract

Incorporate into above mixture:

     1/2 Cup Buttermilk
     2 Cups All Purpose Flour
     1 tsp. Baking Soda
     1/2 tsp. Salt

Add:

     2 1/2 Cups Rhubarb chopped in 1/2" pieces.

Pour batter into:

     9" buttered and floured square pan

Top with a mixture of:
    
     1/3 Cup Brown sugar
     1 tsp. Cinnamon
     1 T. melted sweet Butter
     1/2 Cup Walnuts chopped (optional)

Bake:

Preheated oven at 375 F
35-40 minutes

Serve:

     Warm or room temperature
     Dust with Powdered Sugar (optional)

There's more to this Cat on Rhubarb.


What's Your Rhubarb?


If you don't know the expression, look it up. OK, it means what's your gripe, squabble, quarrel. Just like in, "What's your beef?" (Jerkey!) Without getting into a whole research thing about the origin of how rhubarb is associated with squabbles, we surmise it has something to do with how it is so sour tasting. Like, So, what's curdled your cream?" Is that an expression? 

Whatever. We have no quarrel with rhubarb. It is the ruby jewel of the summer garden. We just snagged some at a roadside farm stand. At $1.99 per pound (City folk, eat your heart out.), we bought a whole big bunch. The photo above is our own set of stalks just before cutting and stewing. Dig that color. It just screams vitamin C. And, it's alliterative relative, vitamin K. So, eat more rhubarb.

Rhubarb is not all that easy to find. It is not in high demand as far as this Cat can see. It is definitely still one of the items on the ever-shorter growing list of truly seasonal items. It's a vegetable, but classed and treated like a fruit. Also, it sometimes fetches too high a high price in the supermarket. And, it's fairly quick to lose it's vigor on the shelf. We prefer fresh cut from the garden. It requires some careful cleaning and trimming. A little labor intensive. But the results are worth it.

Yet, so simple to cook. Just stew cut up rhubarb for a short time in a little clean water, sweetened with good sugar (not beet sugar, which has a taste we don't like) and there it is. Careful with the amount of sugar. You want to keep that tartness factor in play. Half a cup of sugar to about 2-3 quarts of cut rhubarb does it for us.

Spoon warm over some rich strawberry ice cream. A dessert that rules.



Here's everything you need to know about rhubarb.

And, here's an excellent recipe for Rhubarb Coffee Cake. It's Cooky Cat tested and APPROVED!


Today's Question #10


The answer is . . . "How to eat a stroopwafel"

The Dutch treat stroopwafel is a thin pizelle type waffle filled with a caramel "syrup" (stroop). Recently we visited Burt Halpern at the Touch of Dutch. For 27 years he and his bride Susan have been selling all things Dutch from their little jam packed store in Belvediere, New Jersey. Always busy, "no advertising."


When we go, it's for the licorice and the cookies. Burt clued us in to the proper method for the morning coffee and stroopwafel. You warm the cookie and its caramel filling by placing it thusly over a cup of hot coffee. Or tea. Or, a quick careful exposure in a toaster, toaster oven, heated skillet. Warm and melty, that's the Dutch way. And, it's Gouda***.

***Since 1784 when a baker from Gouda created this delight the Dutch have been enjoying them with their morning hot drink.

Here is a montage of the licorice treats we brought back from Touch of Dutch. Notice the coins (muntdrop) are embossed with Guilders, and now also Euros.










5/12/12

Drop the Pop


If you are looking for an alternative to those high fructose sugar rich, artificially flavored soda pops with who knows what the hell else, look no further:

Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider

IT IS SIMPLY DELICOUS.

Now go get some. See for yourself.

It also makes a great gift . . .

5/11/12

Breakfast Vernacular


Some things are so usual in our daily experience that we take them for granted; worse, though, we assume the usual as the normal. It's an easy confusion. Like our Uncle Stash, he's a habitual drinker so for us his being drunk is what we call normal. He, however, in his debilitating habit, is not normal. Just usual.

Take this pledge, "From now on I will be ruthlessly vigilant to not confuse what is usual for what is normal." Otherwise, you might not be able to tell the normal even if it bit you, you know where.

Now to breakfast. The point will come right home if we consider the breakfast menu at the average American diner. At its core: eggs, many styles; meats, a choice mainly of bacon, ham, or sausage; pancakes, French toast, or waffles; toast; coffee or tea; and juice. Oh yes, cereals; hot and cold. Alright, there are fancy things like Eggs Benedict, but even still, we're talking eggs and bacon (Canadian) on top of that still excellent classic the English Muffin. I know, I know: Hollandaise. Net, net we are attempting to make the point that when you say "breakfast" what we've been talking about comes to mind. Not Chili Con Carne, or Linguine with Clam Sauce.

We love all these breakfast food choices. In fact, who was it that said, "Breakfast is the best meal of the day anywhere in the USA." Our friend David Wronski, but he can't substantiate being the original author of that truism. Just a firm grasp of the obvious as far as we can tell. Breakfast, anywhere in this land is a good meal. And, a good deal. Unless you like to go to the Brasserie in Manhattan. The breakfast there will be great, and the bill as well.

We cannot talk breakfast choices without mentioning, yet again, the best corned beef hash in the universe is at the Summit Diner in Summit, New Jersey. They don't call it Summit for nothing. It's a destination kind of meal. (If you can top their corned beef hash, then pray inform this kitty.)


But, did you ever think, how come this particular standard vernacular set of items for breakfast in America? Traditional is the word also used. For a change, today we had a bowl of homemade chicken soup for breakfast. Are we unAmerican? Would people who heard of this snigger in disapproval? We speculate the regular breakfast menu comes from the time when down on the farm you served a stick to your ribs first meal of the day. We're not pitching to change America's food ways. Just to notice that breakfast is still mainly a farmer kind of thing. Hearty,  keep the fire stoked for a good morning's labor in the field.

But, nowadays, a lot of people either skipping breakfast or having a pastry and a cup of joe notwithstanding, we might want to just step back and reflect on how we look at breakfast in the first place.

It does seem that for most people breakfast foods should be rather bland, as in not spicy. The word isn't quite right, but think oatmeal and think about how first thing you don't want to jazz your palette. That's not always the case but we assert it's usual to go plain first thing in the morning.

Here are some ideas for you to branch out into new territory. The guiding principle is simply to not limit your morning meal choices. Sometimes a slice of cold pizza and a Pepsi is just the right thing. Sort of a "hair of the dog" food-wise.

Try Buddha's Delight. A very healthy, satisfying yet light meal that will get you going. For the gents, let's just say it has all the properties of a powerful "front end lifter."

If you do want to go spicy, then Enlightenment Soup is your ticket. It's reported to have been regularly served in prisons in India. And, you don't hear of prison escapes there, do you? So, there must be something to it. Also, a staple of an ashram we know. It promotes liberation. Prisons and ashrams, you could call this savory breakfast cereal a double duty dish. Unless, of course, you are an Advaita Vedantist. Then, what's the difference.


5/8/12

Cooky Cat Blitzes Williams Sonoma

Mr. Cat feels it's high time that Williams Sonoma pays proper respect. We envision his future looking something like this.


If you are a Cooky Cat regular, then we have a request. (If you are not a Cooky Cat regular, then you sir or madam . . . ARE NOT REGULAR. Do you smell what this kitty is kookin'?

So whoever you are, next time you are at Willaims Sonoma drop the name. Better, "Cooky Cat sent me!" It's true you know, so don't feel reticent about making that proud claim.

When Williams Sonoma hires Cooky Cat and they start stocking the full line of Cooky Cat approved cookware etcetera, etcetera, then followers (in good standing, that is . . . no negative comments, please) will get the usual steep discount.
Buddha's Delight


Here is something that will blow Mr. Mark Bittman's mind. A recipe with permutations on permutations. If you don't know Mr. Bittman, he writes on food. Besides cook books and television, he has a regular gig with the Sunday NY Times Magazine where he  outlines structurally the possible variations on a particular theme. Think something in the ballpark such as, "Having your way with eggs . . . 21 ways." We just made that one up, but it's funny, no? Or, "Beef . . . in a soup, in a burgoo, in a pie, in a taco, in a casserole. On and on. So here, Mr. B; we see you, and we raise you.

If you want to get a sense of Mr. Mark Bittman's standing with Cooky Cat, just think of the Seinfeld/Newman dynamic: Bittman! 

Also, as far as what you may already think about the name Buddha's Delight. Never mind that stir-fry mix of ordinary vegetables by that name at many Chinese restaurants. We go for "Chinese" looking for a taste of the exotic and unusual. Not a medley of vegetables any Tom, Dick or Harry could snag at the corner grocery store. There's broccoli and then there's Chinese broccoli. Not to mention a host of so many other wonderful and healthy fresh garden vegetables that seem only to arrive on the plates of those Chinese diners sitting at the table next to yours. You say, "I'll have what they're having." The waiter say, "You no likey. Taste funny." Funny, huh? "You talk funny!"

If you want to make a huge impression in a Chinese restaurant and gain instant cred, order off the menu some stir fried bean sprouts. Yes, stir fried bean sprouts.  Eyebrows will be raised and you will be cross examined. But, stick to your guns. By the way, stir fried bean sprouts are delicious. No worries. But, it is an item that only the die hard and cognoscenti would order. Trust us, they will be duly impressed. Doors will open, as if by magic.

Here is something that is guaranteed to delight the fat man, Buddha that is; or, just about anyone with a big appetite for something healthy, satisfying, and light. That's light, as in "en-light-ened." That's when you get so absorbed in the wonderfulness of this dish that the universe dissolves and you become one with what's in your bowl.

Notice, we did not say plate. Bowl. This is a bowl dish. It comes from a friend who of necessity found himself cooking on a hot plate in a single pot. He's managed to come up a bit in the world since that downfall. So let's not be concerned with his lousy, miserable story of shame and rejection. Just to say, he had it coming. For no particular reason, we interrupt to give a shout out to friend David Wronski. Let's just say, the shoe fits.

We call this dish Buddha's Delight because it is based on the notion of ONE. It's cooked in one pot, with one of several of the following classes of ingredients. By the way, this is a "structural" way of looking at things, and we acknowledge Mr. Mark Bittman for his expertise in this area. Most people are not familiar with structural thinking in general much less in the kitchen. The opposite of structural is the particular. As in, a "Paint by the Numbers" kind of approach to life in general and life in the kitchen in particular. That's fine, but you don't want to be cooking off a recipe all the time. That makes for a difficult shopping experience; not to mention, if you have to have a particular item, you wind up paying more and also maybe getting less quality than you would like because that's what they have. Alternatively, you could select things at the market based on what's in season and fresh and high quality and at a good price. Then back home you take stock (we're not talking broth right now) and envision what you've brought home might combine to make. Or, going back to the store situation, you could let yourself be inspired (Buddha would like it if you did) and see what's on the shelf that strikes your eye or tickles your fancy. (Cooky Cat loves to be tickled fancy. But that's for another post.)

Now, just to get you started on this new, enlightened approach to meals.

The bare bones structure of this dish is . . .

ONE each of the following:

4+ quart cook pot
Grain/ Grain Based
Protein
Firm Vegetable
Leafy Vegetable
Bean/Legume/Pulse (fresh or precooked)
Sauce
Condiment
Seasoning
Spice
Garnish
Element of Interest

The amounts can be scaled according to the number being served. The 4+ quart pot is for 1-2 servings, move up as necessary.

Here is the basic, and classic Buddha's Delight from our friend who set out on his own path of enlightenment.

Classic ("Poor Boy") Buddha's Delight
(per serving amounts)


Buckwheat Soba Noodles (4 oz. per serving)
Tempeh (quarter package / 2 oz./ cut into small cubes)
Broccoli, fresh/one medium head/cut into florets and stalk peeled and roll/miso cut
Spinach, fresh/big handful/rough chopped
Butter = Sauce (1 Tablespoon)
Tamari = Condiment (2 teaspoons)
Scallion = Garnish (one / thin diagonal slices)
Jalapeno = Element of Interest (3-4 paper thin slices)

Procedure:

Fill pot 2/3 full of water, bring to boil.
Add soba noodles, stir to keep separate
After each addition let contents come back to boil 
Add broccoli pieces (boil)
Add tempeh pieces (boil)
Add spinach (boil)
Finally, when contents return to boil (8 minutes approx.) cooking is complete.
Drain contents of pot
Return to pot
Add butter to melt in
Add tamari
Serve in a bowl
With scallion and chili slices

Enjoy, contemplating the simple wonderfulness of it all. Be a Buddha!

So, that's the bare bones treatment. Structure if you will. Now don't be so literal that you wouldn't switch things based on what you happen to have. We went to Whole Foods and didn't like their $8 per 8 oz. soba noodle price. Instead, some organic whole wheat linguine. Or, instead of broccoli, why not zucchini. Like that. Because, once you have the structure, you can modify, improvise, and add in as the spirit moves you. Buddha would.

For example, here is the Buddha's delight we served recently. Of special notice is the sauce, made with blond miso and sesame tahini, one third to two thirds respective proportions.

Buddha's Delight (expanded version)

Whole Wheat Pasta
Tempeh
Firm Tofu
Zucchini (Roll / "Miso" cut)
Burdock Root (Roll / "Miso" cut)
Dinosaur Kale (aka Tuscan kale, Lacinato kale, black kale, cavolo nero)
Thin sliced Chinese pork sausages (went off the vegetarian wagon)
Fresh Mung Bean Sprouts
Chopped Parsley (could just as easily have been cilantro leaves)
Thin slices of Scallion
Each serving topped with a poached egg

THE Sauce: +++
Blond Miso (1/3)
Sesame Tahini (2/3)
Tamari (to taste)
*Sesame Oil
*Cooking Wine (Chinese Shao Xing cooking rice wine)
*Wasabi paste (for a kick)
* optionals

+++ THE Sauce, by the way is killer, straight up with miso, tahini, and tamari; salt to taste (careful the miso and tahini bring some saltiness). If you want, you could factor in along with the sesame tahini some peanut butter, creamy or crunchy.

But, the idea isn't for you to do the same thing, but to see this as an example of how the basic recipe can be creatively interpreted, expanding based on your tastes, what's on hand or at the market. Also, don't limit yourself to one of each type. For example, with the firm vegetable element (if you want one in at all) you could have broccoli and carrots, or cubes of a winter type squash.

All that notwithstanding, go try the above set of ingredients, just as listed; it'll rock. (The burdock might be a little tricky to find. But if you do, it's definitely worth it. See article on "Velcro Salad.")

Cooky Cat tested it, after all.

For your delight, the Buddha in you!

Here's a spicy version on YouTube. . . 

Finally, bringing it all together . . .

5/6/12

Today's Question #9


Regarding the above, there are three kinds of culinary types. Those who know what the heck it is and those who don't. That's two, you say?

Well, first there's those who don't know. Read on.

Then there are those who know and use one, and those who know but don't even own one. If you fall in the latter group, read on.

It's a stainless steel steamer basket/tray used in a large covered pot or covered skillet what to for steaming vegetables. Those things are available everywhere and cost very little.

It is a must have. So, for those two out of three that don't have one. Get one. Tell the clerk Cooky Cat sent you. (Then try to explain the reference.)



5/3/12

Recently there has been a rather spirited dispute with a fellow culinary maven. You know who you are.

Cooky Cat only states the classical wisdom:

5/2/12

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
Żubrówka [ʐuˈbrufka] - Bison Grass Vodka


The Żubrówka [ʐuˈbrufka] is a rye based vodka flavored with bison grass which can only be produced in Poland at the Bialystok distillery. It has a distinctive aroma of new-mown hay.


On our way back from Europe recently we brought some back. Our bottle is distinctive in that it has a furry “bison hair” wrapper. How cool it that!

Żubrówka goes back before the Middle Ages and Bison Grass is said to give vitality and stamina. The power of the bison! It's considered an aphrodisiac. You've heard the expression, "The Hair of the Dog"? This dog got some hair!

You should know that the traditional Żubrówka made with real Bison Grass is not imported into the United States. Bison Grass contains coumarin, a moderately toxic substance banned by the FDA based on clinical tests with animals. There are some brands imported into the United States which do not contain coumarin but reportedly have a similar taste to the real deal Żubrówka.

We are not in any way recommending use of any banned substances, for legal and health reasons.

For our own part we make homemade Żubrówka with a few straws of Bison Grass in good rye or potato Vodka.





5/1/12


The Real Licorice Path

"Keep Going"

By David Wronski


Central Image: Coca-Cola by Stephen Dohanos (1907 - 1994) Library

I still remember going into the Cunningham Drug Store at the corner of Chene Street and E. Milwaukee in Detroit as a youth. That drug store was the kind that featured those huge glass apothecary amphorae with colored liquids. (That drug store and much of what surrounded it was razed to accomodate a modern Cadillac automobile factory.)


I am going far enough back to remember that they sold live leeches. If you don't know what that's for, go figure. They also had quite a long stretch of a soda/lunch counter, maybe 20 stools. (The image above is the Cunningham's in Detroit at Van Dyke and 7 Mile Road. Also a place I frequented since it was a few blocks away from my Uncle and Aunt's Northtown Bakery.) All the stores' exteriors were trimmed in their trademark shades of light and dark greens.

But my particular thing was (IS!) licorice. I prowled the city (now I prowl the world) looking for the licorice holy grail.


Before candy stores, licorice was sold by drug stores. Pictured above are cardstock paper narrow boxes each with a long stick of dark licorice inside. The sticks were stamped in the upper part with an oval mark with the Y&S brand name. Very strict licorice. I don't know if they made them that way or whether the one's I bought were old on the shelf; but those sticks, besides being very bitter were also as hard as nails. Not your every day candy, probably more for medicinal purposes as the packaging shows. I can still see me buying one of those at Cunningham's with great expectation.

Here is a type from England that is close to the form of those old fashioned sticks. Bassetti brand.



For every day sweet licorice I could always snag some at the corner grocery store from the display of loose candies. I still can see the impatient store clerk urging me on to make my nickel's worth selection. Licorice ropes, wheels with that red candy ball in the center, and sometimes a plain wedge, maybe 1/4 inch thick and smaller than a business card. Also, Schwitzer's bars, a packaged item with several tubes stuck together.


Or, Nibs, small pieces of chewy deep flavor licorice. Oriental. Hinting at mysteries in far off lands. Nah. It just tasted good.


Both were in the day a lot like today's Panda Brand from Finland.

Then there are Snaps. All the way through my college years you could get them in small boxes; in the day, for 2 cents each. Snaps were small licorice tubes coated with white and pink sugar frosting (like Good & Plenty). In the day the candy was not sealed in cellophane so they dried and, literally, snapped when you bit down. Nowadays Snaps are back, in cellophane (so the aficionado like me has to let them "age", or air dry a bit to reach the proper texture) in white, pink, orange, and green colored frosting. Still good, but not like it used to be. (The cost of ingredients and the consumer price acceptance point for things has to be calibrated. In other words, you probably couldn't run a candy business with ingredients of the kind of quality that used to go into things years ago; you'd price yourself out of the category.)

A hand full of years back I contacted American Licorice Company and inquired about Snaps. It turned out they were just then in the process of developing the soon to be reintroduced classic. Since they were not available for sale at the time, the good folks at ALC sent me a box. A five pound box! This kid says, THANK YOU!

Now that I'm all growed up my taste for good licorice is undiminished. By good licorice we're talking black, deep flavor, and chewy-tough. And when you be wanting something like that then you have to take yourself on a sea voyage. To the old country. The Netherlands is a recent trip, where the entire time in Amsterdam was a lot about finding the best places for licorice. Read the full article, Droppin' In On Ol' Amsterdam. If you go, The Old Dutch Candy Store is a definite licorice lovers place to stop. They will ship. Also, for a great online assortment of licorice from everywhere in the world, go to All Things Licorice.

That last online source carries a variety we love but haven't seen anywhere else. Licorice tool shapes. The thing is that licorice from one manufacturer to the next varies considerably. And each type and shape has its own flavor. We like tools.
Interestingly, how the fates look out for licorice lovers. Right here in our current home state of New Jersey there's A Touch of Dutch. In business 27 years since 1984. Never advertised, always busy. Susan and Burt Halpern (85 years young) are the very nicest people. Their tiny store stocks a wide variety of things Dutch that you wouldn't believe. And, licorice. As they say in the Garden State, forgedaboutit. Everything you would want, and more.

If you visit or place a telephone order be prepared for Mister to tell you the story of how one day his wife announced she wanted to open a store. This here, folks, is a real Mom & Pop operation.

They don't sell online but you can call them at 800.475.5897 almost any day of the week and they will set you up. Just, be sure you know what you want (the online information for Dutch Licorice is exhaustive; poke around and you'll see something you'll like.)

Suggestions: Sweet Coins/Muntdrop, Rockies/Salmiak Rock (chocolate, white, pink, or mixed), Licorice Chalk, Old Timers (literally, old time), Heksehyl Salmiak.


Those varieties are a good start. You could also ask for a suggestion. But this is not the sort of place where you ask, "What'ya got?" There are dozens of varieties and Mister said very emphatically, you should know what you want. As we said, a search will uncover a world of options. The Touch of Dutch has most.

Also, if you are new to Dutch licorice, beware the Zout and Double Zout types. You should order one just to see, but Zout means salt and they will pucker your mouth like lightening. An acquired taste.

Without further adoing, A Touch of Dutch . . .