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It’s about time for a lighthearted post, and I have just the thing. Food!

Specifically, my mama’s gazpacho recipe. This is one of those foods which will forever be associated with summer for me, since it was one of my mother’s favorite things to make for picnic suppers. She would make up a huge batch and bring it to the pool, setting it out on the wire patio tables in an enormous pottery bowl. Crusty bread was a must, the obligatory green salad, and beer for the grownups. We would usually be meeting up with another family, and the grownups would be carrying on with grownup things while the kids did kid things and argued that we could totally go back in the water even though we just ate. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the memory of those lazy summer evenings, running around the pool, in the pool, or in the grass along the treeline behind the tennis courts where we knew the best spots to find blackberries and honeysuckle. Gazpacho has become a summery comfort food, reminiscent of those firefly-chasing, barefeet-in-the-grass, chlorine-laden nights.

The ironic part is, I hated gazpacho. Detested. I thought the idea of cold soup was hideous, and I was fairly certain that my mother had radically misunderstood a recipe she read somewhere for (hot) tomato soup. In fact, I had a very strong suspicion that she was making the whole thing up, which would explain the crazy-sounding “gazpacho” name in the first place. Nasty, nasty stuff. I groaned every time I heard that was the dish of choice for the evening. I really thought it was one of the most disgusting things on the planet, truly and honestly.

I’m not entirely sure when I changed my mind about the stuff, but the first time I remember making it was right after I moved to New Orleans. At the time, I was living in a house without central air, only window units. The unit in the kitchen, bless its little heart, wasn’t strong enough to overpower the heat of the oven, and so I was left with the options of either cooking all of my meals in the wee hours of the morning when the summer heat slightly lessened, or finding foods which didn’t involve the oven. I made gallons of gazpacho. It was delicious. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gazpacho Ingredients This recipe is my mother’s recipe, with a few tweaks. Most of the things I have changed are actually things she does anyway, but when she writes down the recipe she puts down the original version and then verbally reminds you of all of the things she does differently. I consider myself lucky that she writes anything down at all, as one of my favorite stories she tells about her father is when she tried to get him to write down his recipes for her. It ends with her endless frustration at his inability to quantify how much salt that was, or how much sugar went in that. The tendency to vagueness in recipes is, apparently, genetic.

The only thing I have really added is cilantro. Have I mentioned that up until a few years ago, I thought cilantro was a horribly nasty herb created to make things taste like soap and ruin perfectly good salsa? Yeah. Anyway, I love cilantro now, so I have added it to this soup. If you leave it out, it’ll be fine and the anti-cilantro people will be grateful they don’t have to eat something that tastes nasty. Assuming they are down with cold soup in the first place, of course.

(Mostly) Mama’s Gazpacho
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized green pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized red pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
l large onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, unchopped (roughly — I admit it, I didn’t measure. It was a handful. See: Granddaddy.)
32 oz V8 juice (or similar vegetable cocktail)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

In a food processor, pulse the cucumbers until they are finely chopped. Don’t overdo it! You want them to have a good texture. Transfer them into a large bowl, and then process the tomatoes in the same way. Continue with the peppers, and finally the onions, garlic and cilantro all together. (You can do these batches in any permutation, this is just what worked best for me and my processor.)

In the end, you’ll have a bowl of little chopped up bits of veggies (as pictured to left). Add the red wine vinegar and the salt. Now add in the V8 juice until you get the consistency of soup that makes you happiest.

(My mother’s notes say: Here you can whisk in 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon tomato paste. I do not. Since she does not, I do not either, but I figured it was worth mentioning.)

Cover the bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, whisk or stir the soup lightly to recombine it. Ladle into large chilled tureen or individual soup plates. Top with croutons, bagel chips or bagel croutons, or finely chopped peppers or cucumbers.

Optional: Take to pool. Torture long-suffering daughter by serving. Enjoy!

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As a study break treat, tonight BWB and I went over to St. James Cheese Company for one of their cheese classes.  This class was beer and cheese, as the title of the post suggests, and we had a great time!  There was a special guest from Bayou Teche Brewery, plus the owner of St. James Cheese Co. as a last-minute substitution after a special guest was unable to attend.  I can only imagine that the guest would have been unbelievable, because Richard Sutton was fantastic!  I think some of the pontificating got to be too much for BWB, but I really enjoyed it.  Beer and cheese really aren’t his thing.

There were 6 cheeses with accompanying beers.  Due to last-minute changes (I think), they didn’t have time to make up the spiffy informational sheets they usually hand out with these classes.  I took lots of notes, though, and thought I’d record them here.  The plate of cheeses was neatly arranged and placed in front of us with the instruction that we should start with the cheese at 12 o’clock and work our way clockwise from there.

Pairing #1:  Pont L’eveques with Fuller’s London Pride

A cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, soft, with a mild but nice flavor.  They called this a “washed rind version of a brie”, which is an apt description.  Apparently once upon a time this cheese used to be much stinkier, but due to changes in the cheese industry, it has morphed into the current, milder version.  A neat tip we were given: this should be a springy, leathery cheese; if it’s runny or has a bread-crumby rind, it’s probably old.  Fancy!  I have in my notes that BWB started to make sad face in the midst of this discussion — he wanted to eat the rest of the cheese on the plate!

Pairing #2: Paesanella with Orval Trappist Ale

The St. James guys said this was a brand new cheese from Northern Italy.  It was quite tasty!  We were told it was similar in process to a taleggio, and after he said that I could definitely see the resemblance.  This pairing was one of the ones which worked best for me — I wasn’t very keen on the beer, but the cheese cut some of what I didn’t care for.  The Paesanella was one of our favorite cheeses of the evening.

Pairing #3: Tomme Pur Brebeis with LA 31

A Basque sheep’s cheese.  This was a harder cheese, although as the cheese wiz (heh) said, it isn’t as hard as parmesan “or the other graters”.  This cheese came with some very interesting stories about the name, the production, and the aging process, but I can’t possibly do them justice here.  You’ll have to ask me some time, or take a St. James class on your own.   This pairing was also where Mr. Knott stepped in to speak about Bayou Teche, and the story he told about his company was delightful.  Again, I can’t possibly do it justice in this space, but the net result is a brewery trying to make beer to match Louisiana cooking.  I can’t wait to try more, with the food it’s intended for.  If you get a chance, give LA 31 or another Bayou Teche beer a try.

Pairing #4: Bloomsday with Dead Guy Ale

This cheese is a raw cow’s milk cheese, made from fancy Jersey cows. Apparently Jersey cows don’t produce as much, but their milk is much more rich.  The cheese was airier than #3, although it was definitely still firm.  It was less compact, and fell apart a bit in my mouth.  It was a nice little cheese.  I don’t care for Dead Guy all that much, but I appreciated the pairing nonetheless.  Also, apparently the Rogue brewery is an awesome place to visit, and highly recommended as a stop on a tour of Oregon!

Pairing #5: Livarot with La Fin du Monde

I liked the Livarot quite a bit, but then I have a thing for stinky cheeses.  It’s a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, and our tour guides pointed out that this cheese “grew up with beer” — Normandy is more of a beer region than one for wine!  I really, really don’t care for La Fin du Monde (REALLY), but again, I could appreciate the pairing despite the fact that it was a nasty yeasty Belgian triple not my favorite kind of beer.  (Ahem.)

Pairing #6: Idiazabal with Meantime London Porter

I have to admit that after the long parade of Belgians, I wasn’t overly optimistic that the last beer would be one I’d, um, properly appreciate.  Imagine my delight when this dark, rich liquid appeared in my glass!  When BWB tasted it, his eyebrows shot up, “Coffee!”  Yes, coffee-caramel-chocolate!  This was definitely our favorite pairing, and our favorite beer of the evening.  The cheese is a smoked sheep cheese, which is only funny because I don’t usually like sheep’s milk cheeses much at all.  The smoke is very subtle, the texture of the cheese is dense but somehow still flaky, and all in all it was just really good.  The porter was delicious — I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye out for both of these again!

All in all, it was a wonderful evening.  I have so many notes, and what I’ve mentioned here barely scratches the surface.  I cannot recommend these cheese classes highly enough — this is my second one, and I hope there will be many more to come.  Even when I don’t care for a particular wine, beer, or cheese, I gain an appreciation for it through their explanations of why they chose it.  I love that we have a cheese shop staffed by such knowledgeable people who are genuinely interested and even excited about their products.  St. James Cheese Co. is definitely on my list of things that make New Orleans special — check it out if you ever have the opportunity.

BWB and I are in Florida visiting family at the moment. It’s been wonderful, even though we both still have to study while we are here — there’s something to be said for studying on the beach!

Tonight we went out to dinner and I ordered fried oysters, one of my favorite bad-for-me indulgences. As I tasted them, I was puzzled by the flavor; something seemed not quite right about it. I finally realized that they were citrusy, some kind of lemon flavor in the breading, and I have become accustomed to hot sauce and pepper on my fried oysters (or anything else, for that matter).

This comes on the heels of our first night here, wherein we went to a pizza joint and ordered food to go. I asked for a beer as well, and when the manager cracked open the bottle and handed it to me, I was flustered. I was fairly certain that I couldn’t carry the open container out of the store, but was she giving this to me now instead of with the food because I couldn’t take a closed container as carry-out, either? I realized I had no idea what the laws were regarding alcoholic beverages. I mean, I knew better than to ask for a go cup, but beyond that I was completely clueless. (It turned out she had just misunderstood and was happy to give me a new, unopened bottle in a nice paper bag to take home with me. It was tasty, as was my calzone, but that’s beside the point.)

At dinner tonight, I relayed my oyster epiphany with amusement, and pointed out that taking into consideration both of the incidents I was definitely having issues. He grinned.

“We’re just New Orleanians now, baby. That’s all.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Now pass me the Crystal. There’s something wrong with my oysters.

I love food blogs.  I love the recipes, I love the stories, I love the photos — I just love food blogs.  One might even say I am a bona fide Smitten Kitchen fangirl.  Fangirl on the scale of too awed to follow her on Twitter, fangirl of a level that makes me hesitant to have even linked to the blog in this post for fear that through the magic of the interwebs, she might find this blog and (heaven forbid) read it.  Oh, the mortification.  Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized the chances of that are quite wee, and instead I will gleefully redirect anyone who thinks that this post right here might resemble food blogging in a more appropriately foodie-worthy direction.  Go now.  I’ll wait.

Where was I?  Oh yes, I love food blogs.  As previously stated, this is not a food blog, but between my love of cooking and admiration of the food bloggers, I thought perhaps I’d take an intermittent stab at some recipes here.  But what, really, do I have to add to this conversation? I am not exactly an authority on much of anything food-related!  After consulting with my mother and sister, though, I have decided to use our family recipes as the basis for these excursions into food bloggery.  It could get interesting, given that I have serious doubts that anyone can actually make my father’s cole slaw other than my father, and I suspect you may be subject to a series of posts entitled “In Which I Attempt Mama’s Fried Chicken AGAIN”, beginning with part I and ending with part XVI, to be subtitled “I give up, I give up, someone find the fountain of youth for my mother so this chicken never returns to Heaven aka whence it came”.  That said, if you’re up for the trip, there are some tasty recipes in here — at least, my family thinks so.  If nothing else, this should cut down on the number of last-minute phone calls my mother has to field on Thanksgiving, and that alone should make it worthwhile.

Yes, that is my original writing notebook from 5th grade.

Saturday I made gingerbread apple upside-down cake and found myself with leftover buttermilk.  It seemed only fitting that the first recipe I attempted, then, would be buttermilk biscuits.  In retrospect, this might not have been the best recipe to start out on, as I remembered towards the end of making it that it has a few foibles.

This isn’t terribly surprising when one considers that I adapted this recipe when I was in the fifth grade.  We were doing a project on the Civil War, and my presentation was on the food of the era.  I decided I would make some reproductions of the food, and in order to do that I found modern recipes and altered them based on what I thought they might have had on hand at the time.  So for example, while this recipe originally called for butter, I switched it out for shortening because according to my sources (goodness only knows what those might have been), there was no butter available during the war.  I’m not entirely sure what else I changed, but I think it had to do with the proportions of the soda and baking powder.  I’m not sure.  In any case, under the circumstances I imagine a few foibles are understandable.

I am pretty sure that biscuit cutter also is from at least 5th grade. Possibly the Civil War.

Most of the recipe is fine, with a few significant details.  Alright, mostly one significant detail.  The part where it says “roll out to 1/2 inch”, in fact, is the most foible-y of the foibles. These biscuits are lovely, and come out tender and flaky in the middle with a nice crust on the bottom and top.  The problem comes in that they do not really rise all that much (likely due to something I did with the soda and baking powder amounts in all my fifth grade wisdom), so when you roll it out to 1/2 inch (or, as I did, slightly less in spots), you will end up with a 1/2 inch high biscuit.  Since the top and bottom are both crusty, and the top and bottom are only about a 1/2 inch apart, you get more of a crusty, buttermilky not-quite-a-cracker than a biscuit.  Maybe more of a British biscuit, except not as much like a cookie, and saltier.  They still taste good, mind you!  It’s just not exactly what one might hope for when one set out to make buttermilk biscuits.  Oops.  The remedy for that, I think, will be that rather than rolling out to 1/2 inch, one should roll out to as thick as you feel like having biscuits, and go from there.  However, I can’t say that I have actually attempted this particular fix, so I don’t know if it will work quite as I hope it would.

After that ringing endorsement (cough), here is the recipe, as written in my fifth grade writing notebook, sloppy handwriting and all.  (Italics are my current notes.)

Biscuits:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 tsp. salt
scant 1/4 soda — I assume I meant 1/4 tsp here.
1/2 cup buttermilk & a little bit  — I don’t know how much a little bit is.  It’s just… a little bit.  you know?

Sift Sifters were deemed a luxury and not used in the Civil War, according to my sources.  Ahem. flour, salt, baking powder and soda together.  Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add buttermilk, stir until dough follows fork around bowl. This is where the “& a little bit” comes in — it takes more than 1/2 cup, but not that much.  Just add a little bit at a time until you get it all to stick together.

Roll out 1/2″ thick yeah, we already covered this one on lightly floured board and cut with biscuit cutter, place on greased baking sheet or on a silpat, which I didn’t have in 5th grade and they totally missed out on in 1863, brush lightly with butter or today I used bacon drippings, bake in pre-heated oven at 475 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tried to rotate this image and failed. It still looks okay though, right?

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