Search results for 'Bert Greene'

Legendary

5 Mar

The land around our house (which also happens to be near where I grew up) is shrouded in legend.

There are famous legends, like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with it’s headless horseman and hapless teacher.  And then there’s the legend of the school named for that teacher, which always manages to close for a snow day regardless of only a few flakes having fallen from the sky.

Then there’s the legend of that great adventurer Henry Hudson, and the naming of a little town, Kinderhook, for its wealth of little children.  The town is also, according to legend, the source of one of the world’s favorite terms, O.K. It either has something to do with apples, or with the eighth president of the United States, Martin van Buren.

Speaking of old MvB, according to my mom, who had a friend (or possibly a friend of a friend) who lived in his house before it became a national park, there was a legend that, every year on his death day and on his birthday, the legs of the bed in which he died would fly off at high speed.  Apparently she had to stop using the bed for this reason.  Personally, I would have stopped using any bed made prior to 1862 for reasons other than that, mainly involving comfort.

Also in the realm of the spiritual world, there was the legend of the ghost that haunted my friend Alison’s house.  It was a very quirky ghost, taking vengeance on those in her very large family who were bad, and bestowing gifts upon those who were good, like my friend and her favorite brother and sister.  One year it even gave her a Christmas present; wrapped up in a very grubby old box, tied up with grubby old string was a beautiful, very old Dutch coin.

Don’t believe in ghosts? What about mobsters? Click here for some legends of the underworld.

heirloom·modern: Snow Almonds

25 Jul

After making Cold Almond soup, we had a lot of almonds left over. Most people see them as the perfect snack food. I am not one of those people (whereas the boy most certainly is). In fact, I don’t like nuts all that much at all.

I’ll eat the odd filbert. (Excuse me, hazelnut. But isn’t it just so much more fun to say filbert?) I’ll eat peanuts, but never peanut butter. (Yes, I know peanuts are legumes). Every now and then, I’ll nibble on a flavored pistachio, but never, ever will I eat brazil nuts, or walnuts, or ugh, cashews. Seriously, I just don’t like nuts.

But these nuts, yes, these I like. In fact, I’ve come to crave them. They’re silky and salty and cold, the perfect snack after a long, hot walk around the city.

The recipe comes from Bert Greene’s Kitchen Bouquets, the same place I got the idea for making Basil scented bevandas. This is one helluva cookbook. Bert, who is my new cooking companion (sorry Nigel) says, “These almonds are most salubrious to the palate even with the frostiest martini a host can provide.” Amen!

Mr. Greene borrowed this recipe from The Art of Turkish Cooking by Neset Eren and so now I’m borrowing it from him and giving it to you as my third installment of heirloom·modern. Bert says, “Although I amended Ms. Eren’s original dictum with a grain or two of salt, the dish is otherwise traditionally Ottoman.” In Turkey, these nuts were served on ice with no additional garnish. Bert, it seems, liked a dusting of fine salt on these, I’m assuming, to help whet the appetite for a second martini. Amen!

It seemed only right to adapt Mr. Greene’s recipe a bit, since he adapted Ms. Eren’s. Since I’m not serving these all at once at a fancy cocktail party on a bed of ice, I have deleted his step of soaking the nuts in unsalted water for one day before serving. Instead they remain happily in my fridge in a nice salty brine which I change every couple of days. They keep getting plumper and plumper and just ever so slightly more salty. But they are constantly delicious! I hope you try them and enjoy them as much as we are.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Bert Greene’s delectable Snow Almonds.
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Who Put Basil In My Bevanda?

18 Jul

I got a new cookbook on Sunday, Bert Greene‘s Kitchen Bouquets. I don’t read a lot about cookbooks, even though I collect them voraciously. In fact, it is usually after purchasing a tome that I find out how important its existence has been to modern cooking.

Take the time I bought a copy of Clementine Paddleford‘s How America Eats. I remember balking at the $30 price tag, most of the cookbooks I find barely cross the $5 barrier. I hemmed. I hawed. I flipped and perused. Finally, I decided that this was an important book for me to own. It was only once I read this article, written by the estimable R.W. Apple Jr. that I even remembered I had this book. I had completely forgotten, and I certainly had no idea that this was literally the book on American regional cuisine. I was gobsmacked.

When I started rooting about for information on Roy Andries de Groot the experience was similarly humbling. I thought I had just picked up a cool cookbook about cooking with the seasons. I had no idea that this guy was a culinary lion in his time.

And now I’m learning about Bert Greene. This cookbook is organized by flavor/aroma. It starts with Almond (more on that soon) and ends with Yeast. It is a seriously engaging read, in fact, almost bloglike in its tone and rhythm. Each chapter opens with a story or reminiscence and each recipe is preceeded by an anecdote. I find it very comfortable, cozy and familiar.

On Sunday night I was pouring over the chapter on basil looking for wonderful things to do with the beautiful plants growing on my window sill. Mr. Greene lolls about in exotic herbal lore in this chapter, emphasizing that in many culture basil is so highly esteemed that it’s never eaten.

In ancient Greece… basil was held to be the only antidote to the venom of the basilisk… In Iran… basil is said to be the only preventative against malaria and the houses of the rich are filled with its green leaves… In other Middle Eastern countries… basil [is] hung over a connubial bed… to bring fertility to a marriage.

But my favorite use mentioned by Mr. Greene has nothing to do with giant serpents, mosquitoes or sex, it is about wine.

In the wine country of Provence they slip twigs of basil into casks of certain dry wines “to calm them.” As a variation on that theme, you might want to consider floating a basil leaf on a spritzer of white wine and soda sometime.

I sat there thinking, “Why Bert, thank you so much kind sir! How is that you knew at just this moment 27 years in the future I would be sitting here drinking what you call a spritzer but I call a bevanda, contemplating uses for the gorgeous basil about two feet to the left of my head?” I turned to the boy, “Hey, whaddaya say to putting a crown of basil in your bevanda?” “Huh?” So I read the passage to him, and he enthusiastically agreed that it sounded delightful.

And it was. We were drinking a beautiful, crisp, minerally, rocky, schisty white that closely approximated the distinctive whites of the Dalmatian coast. I decided that the lime basil would be the best complement (over the Genovese or purple opal). It added an earthy, citrusy, herbal note to the nose and just the tiniest hint of a flavor to the wine.

It felt so glamorous to be sitting at home, relaxing and drinking something so cosmopolitan. I guess good food writing always shines through, and never goes out of style. Thanks Mr. Greene!

On A Cloud

26 Apr

I’ve conquered my fear of couscous.

I thought you’d all be excited to hear that.

And who was holding my hand throughout the entire harrowing affair?

Well, Claudia Roden, of course.

She has quickly risen to the highest level of my pantheon of cooking gods. She’s joined Nigel and Bert and Roy and Madhur at the apex of my culinary esteem.

Claudia Roden

First she helped me conquer my fear of rice. Then she introduced me to a new way to pickle cauliflower. Now couscous? The decision to deify her was a snap.

So why should any grown woman have a fear of couscous? I blame the ’80s.

My mother has been a lifelong subscriber to Aramco World. For those unfamiliar, it’s a free magazine published by the Saudi oil consortium to further understanding of the Arab world and the Muslim religion. I was never interested in it as a child unless they had a feature on Arabian horses. I was obsessed with them, and I mean, who wouldn’t be. They’re gorgeous. They look so fragile and yet they’re some of the most sturdy equines in the world. They’re intelligent, loving and did I mention beautiful?

But I digress…

The magazine is also a wonderful resource for people interested in the Arabic kitchen (oh and look, Claudia Roden wrote for them). I figure this is how my mother was first introduced to couscous. I have this vision of her scouring the shelves of the local co-op and the Grand Onion for years and years hoping to spot couscous, until one glorious day in the ’80s when it finally appears. And, not only has it appeared, but it’s instant! Cooks up in 5 minutes! Comes pre-flavored! Serve alongside your favorite chicken recipe!

Oh, Near East foods… Thank you for introducing the world to couscous. But curse you for making that couscous so unlike the real stuff. You’re cheating people out of one of the greatest culinary experiences ever!

Couscous, The Right Way

It was only recently, during a lunch at La Maison du Couscous, that I discovered what a culinary hoodwink has been pulled on the children of America. Couscous is not supposed to be soggy. It’s not supposed to be flavorless. It’s not supposed to be gummy. It’s not supposed to be hard and crunchy. It’s not supposed to be lumpy.

It’s supposed to be airy, ethereal, toothsome, silky and so light that if you inhale wrong it can easily go straight up your nose. In short, it is supposed to be exactly everything instant couscous is not.

Vaguely Middle Easter Stew

Of course, cooking couscous the proper way is not nearly as simple as emptying a bag, adding one cup of water and one tablespoon of butter to a pot and allowing to simmer for 5 minutes. Yes, it takes an hour, but dear god, it’s so easy and downright enjoyable to make it fills me with sadness that this method has fallen out of favor.

Here’s what you do:

  • Take a large colander (big holes are okay) and place it in a pot that it will fit snugly in. Take the colander out and put a shallow layer of water into the pot. It must not touch the bottom of the colander. Place the colander back in, place on the stove and bring to a simmer.
  • Pour as much couscous as you want into a bowl. Sprinkle it lightly with cold water. It will cause little lumps, that’s okay. Use your hands to rub the lumps out and to distribute the water evenly amongst the couscous. I found this to be a great pleasure. It was so tactile and earthy. And it made my fingers feel really cool!
  • Once the water is simmering, gently pour the couscous into the colander. There will be some collateral damage, you will lose a few, but it’ll be alright. Do not cover. Allow the couscous to steam, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • Using a pot holder remove the colander from the pot and pour the couscous back into the bowl. Some will most likely be stuck to the bottom and really sticky, scoop them out too. Lightly sprinkle the couscous with cold water again and season with salt. Rub the grains again to distribute the moisture, break up lumps and make the grains airy. Return to the colander and allow to steam, uncovered, an additional 30 minutes.
  • When the time’s up, return the couscous to the bowl and rub a nubbin of butter into the grains and toss them about to make them airy. Serve and enjoy!

That’s it. That’s all the work that goes into making a perfect bowl of couscous. I served mine with harissa marinated lamb, a vaguely Middle Eastern stew and a classic cucumber and yogurt salad.

Kirbys In Yogurt

Claudia says that traditionally the grains are steamed over a stew that’s been cooking for hours. I’m sure it adds flavor but might be a bit awkward if you, like me, do not have a couscouserie lurking about in your cabinets.

And so, yet again, culinary superhero Claudia Roden has righted another egregious culinary wrong. First rice, now couscous.

What culinary fear will she help me conquer next? Might it be okra? Dates? Tahini? Stay tuned to find out!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Vaguely Middle Eastern Stew.

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