Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moroccan Magic - Olive Market in Malden, MA

Olive Market's Harira, Traditional Moroccan Soup

A good friend of mine hounded me for weeks a couple months ago to visit Olive Market in Malden.  Eventually, I made plans with my family to go there with him, check it out and make dinner with product from the store.  We all had an awesome experience learning about Moroccan cuisine and ingredients.  I had such a great time meeting Mostaf (the owner), his wife Nora, son Adam and the staff.  They all made us feel like family while we were in their lovely store.  I felt the least I could do in return was to blog in hopes that I could help spread the word.  I talked Mostaf into doing an interview in a few weeks.

I show up before Mostaf and start chatting with Nabil, a student employee.  I explain to him my plan to write about Olive Market.  I request to take some shots of the store.  Below are pictures of just a few of the many Moroccan items they carry.

Traditional Tagine

Countless Bags of Dried Mint
Coconut, Nuts and Dried Fruits

After I mill around the store for a bit, I grab a seat and Nabil serves me a bowl of harira.  "Mostaf told me to take care of you."  I thank him for the soup and begin enjoying it.  My friend walks into the store shortly after.  Mostaf shows up and quickly greets me.  He heads out back to touch base with his crew and get ready for the day.

A family heads up to the counter immediately to my left and starts chatting it up with Mostaf.  I figure the lady's a regular and I tell her that I'm writing about the store.  She introduces herself as Aisha and she's originally from the UK.  I ask her to talk a little about Mostaf, his family and the establishment. 

Here's what she had to say:
"There's nothing like this in the whole of Malden and I'm a foodie, so I look.  Seriously, I come every day.  It's fresh... not the same as everyone else's menu.  [Olive Market has] ...all the traditional things from Morocco." 

Kefta Being Prepared with Freshly Ground Meat


"I have bought the kefta from here because it's all hand made and it's got the spices in it already and the sausages as well."

One focus of the store is the organic Halal meat.  They carry chicken, beef, lamb and goat.  They typically have sides of beef, whole lamb and goat hanging in the walk in for cut to order.  They also provide all sorts of offal.


I hear the meat band saw buzzing through bone at the end of our conversation.  I love that sound, so I head over to see what's going on.  Lahcen, the butcher, has shifted over to grinding some beef. 

He sees that I have a camera and asks me to take a good picture of him.  He requests that I send him the prints, so he can send them home to his family.  How could I refuse his heartfelt request?

Nabil is cooking some chicken on the griddle.  I ask how it's been seasoned and Mostaf tells me that it has turmeric, white pepper, paprika and cinnamon.

I notice that Mostaf is heating up a skillet.  He tells me that he's making an egg and tomato scramble for his breakfast.  He seasons it with paprika, turmeric, black pepper and salt.

"Usually, I add some blue cheese, but we don't have blue cheese [today]."  I really wished he had.

Lahcen requests to have more pictures of him to be taken.  Who’s going to refuse a nice guy who cuts meat for a living?  I get a good one of Mostaf and Lahcen together.  Mostaf comments, “We have to lose weight.”  I say, "Nah, you guys look fine." 

I ask Mostaf about the coffee he’s making.  He tells me that Moroccans, “…don’t just use regular coffee. We use cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and nutmeg.”

Back to the eggs.  “When I eat it, I add something different.  I’m going to add tahini. It’s very rich in calcium.” He also adds a side of raspberry jam and surrounds the eggs with some dates.  “I love dates in the morning."

We all sit down when Mostaf finishes plating his brunch that will carry him until late in the evening after closing. Mostaf offers me some of his chef’s meal.

I ask my friend if he’d like some too, but he protests with, "That’s all he’s going to eat until the end of the day."  Mostaf adds, “I’m glad he already had the soup, otherwise he’ll eat all my breakfast.” We all have a nice chuckle at my expense.  “Eat! No double dipping!  People, when they eat together they become family.” 

Mostaf begins to explain how, “Moroccans love to eat with their hands. I prefer using my hands because my hands are the best tool.”  He rips off a small piece of bread, demonstrates and says, “Remember maximum three, two on one.”


So we start the interview...

JD:  What are your favorite parts of the animal to prepare outside of main cuts?

Mostaf:  Shoulder and neck of the lamb. "It depends on the mood and what you want to eat," as well as the season.  "You must cook with the bone, because it brings flavor."
Dedicated Sign for Couscous, Enough Said

JD:  For those who haven't tried Moroccan cuisine, what should they try?

Mostaf:  "Couscous is a must. [It's] very healthy, has lots of vegetables and it's steamed.  It brings family together.  Twenty people eat from one plate," that's about two feet in diameter.

JD:  You once said to me that, "Guests are a gift from God." Can you talk a little more about that?

Mostaf:  "When you have a guest, give them the best you have.  If we are cooking lentils and chicken, we give them the meat. The hospitality in Morocco is very unique."

Harira Simmering Away

JD:  What are your favorite things to cook for family?

Mostaf:  "Soup, harira, lots of good stuff inside.  Sometimes I like to do a tagine with lamb." 

Start of the Beef and Prune Stew

"Beef with prunes, good for [the] digestive system.  You always need bones with meat."

JD:  What are your favorite spices?

Mostaf:  Paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper and tumeric.  "If it was up to me, I would put cinnamon in everything."

JD:  What is unique about Moroccan tea?

Mostaf:  "Every house has tea. Everybody drinks tea."  The fresh mint has to be strong.  The plants need to get lots of sun.  Farmers starve the plants of water for five to seven days before harvest to concentrate the flavor.   There is an interesting method of pouring the tea.  It is poured from a distance by raising your hand high in order to make it foam.  One tenth of the glass should be foam.  "Never, ever fill up the glass. Always half way," because it's elegant.   

Making Moroccan tea is a very old tradition.  "You learn from a professional. You can observe for ten to fifteen years before you start learning."  People specifically ask for trained individuals to make tea for large parties.  If you make tea for guests, "you have to be confident, 200%."  It's an honor if you're asked and people enjoy your tea. However, it's a disgrace if it's not good.    

"You need two to three hours to enjoy tea.  It's quality time with tea and friends."

Mostaf closes the interview with, “Wait until we get the hood. We [will] do shawarma, falafel, Moroccan cuisine…then you’ll see the difference.”


I learned a lot from Mostaf and his family at Olive Market over my two visits.  I am still in awe of the Moroccan hospitality.  It is refreshing to experience and quite infectious.  I also took away an interest in implementing sweet preserved fruit elements into savory dishes, which I only dabbled in before. 

Please go to Olive Market and take part in this family's American dream.  I plan to do a monthly run to get some great cuts of meat and my date fix.  Maybe I'll see you there?  I close with a quote from Aisha, "I think everyone should come.  Everyone needs a part of Morocco in their house."

74 Pleasant Street
Malden, MA 02155
(781) 324-5900


Here's what I made with ingredients I picked up.  Enjoy the show.

Moroccan Spice Rub:
Paprika, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, White Pepper and Turmeric

Lovely Color & Scent

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops w/ Mushroom Tomato Marsala Sauce
& Braised Freshly Made Sausages

Chops Rubbed with Spices and Olive Oil

Seared on the Cast Iron

Braised Sausages, Mushrooms & Tomatoes Plated

Lamb Chops Plated & Sauced

Moroccan Spiced Roasted Butternut Squash
w/ Pearl Onions & Golden Raisins

Large Dice of Butternut Topped with Spice Mix

Mixed Above with Olive Oil and Golden Raisins

Results After 15 Minutes @ 400 F

Stop, Sweet Savory Squash

Moroccan Spiced Couscous

Toasting Couscous with Onion and Spice Mix

Couscous with Chicken Broth Added

Pearls of Goodness

Drop me a comment and let us know about your recent Moroccan experience.  Would love to share it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oeuf Macaron Gosh - Euro Pane Bakery & Cafe

For Here and To Go

My cousin recommended Euro Pane Bakery and Cafe when I unexpectedly found myself in Pasadena.  Of course, I had to check out the reviews.  All of my regular food-centric sites had great things to say about this place, so I had to give it a try.  I also found out that Sumi Chang, the owner, worked as the breakfast chef at Campanile, a ringing endorsement. 

Open Faced Egg Salad Sandwich
My cousin told me that the open faced egg salad sandwich was to die for.  My friend and I ordered it on our second visit.  It just so happened that Chef Chang was working the counter.  She asked what bread we'd like and of course, I inquired which she'd recommend.  She told me that it's frequently served on their rosemary currant bread, but everything is good.  I decide on sourdough because I feel that it will help cut the richness of the sandwich. 

Macarons Safely Stowed Away
I add a cafe au lait to my order as well as half a dozen macarons (one of each flavor) to go.  As we wait for our order, I see Ms. Chang zip around making coffee, directing her employees and attending to customers.  Doing it all without missing a beat.  I see her at the espresso machine and take the opportunity to chat.  I complimented her on the pear tart I had on the first visit and expressed interest in blogging about Euro Pane.  She told me that she'd come by our table.

We were served our amazing open faced sandwiches. They're so legendary that if you search "Euro Pane open faced sandwich" you'll see an endless sea of links.  Here's what Jonathan Gold & Michelle Huneven of LA Weekly had to say, "And the egg-salad sandwich — soft-center boiled eggs in homemade mayo on sourdough toast smeared with sun dried tomato paste — is worth a drive from any corner of the county."  Don't forget the counterpoint of crisp mixed greens and chive garnish.

I struck up a conversation with Chef Chang and told her that we were from Boston and here to try her pastries.  She said, "I am honored."  We were the ones who were honored by her wonderful creations. 

Pear Raspberry Tart
As we enjoyed our mountains of eggy goodness, she slid a piece of pear tart with a raspberry filling onto our table.  She said, "Try this."  We were too full to partake at that moment, but enjoyed it thoroughly later in the day. 

What I found to be fun about significant breakfast and lunch offerings was the matching side treat.  The pineapple wedges as a refreshing pallet cleanser after the egg salad. 

Spinach Frittata

A raisin roll to complement the richness of the frittata. 
(My friend's order and I did not have the pleasure of trying it.)

Salami & Cheese Baguette w/ Olive
& Roasted Pepper Tapenade & Tomato Pesto


A cookie to counter the saltiness of the salami tapenade baguette.

The balance of flavors and textures in all that I tried was what really caught my attention.  Great execution on everything I tasted.  French Cafe/Patisserie treats driven by fresh ingredient combinations that were a party in my mouth.  My friend, who was recently in Paris, said that the macarons were better at Euro Pane.

I was not able to head back for a fourth visit, because we had an early flight out.  I saved half a caramel salted macaron and slice of tart in the refrigerator for breakfast.  A match made in Pasadena for a bittersweet ending.

If you're ever in the area, stop in for great eats and send my regards to Chef Chang for me.

Euro Pane Bakery & Cafe
950 E. Colorado Blvd. (Original)  345 E. Colorado Blvd. (New and Improved)
Pasadena, CA 91106

In closing, I apologize for the lackluster camera phone shots.  Do yourself a favor and search for Euro Pane images and you'll see some seriously beautiful food. 

Help me plan our next adventure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taiwanese Treats

Savory Bean Curd Soup
I never took the time to look for Taiwanese food.  I figured that it didn't exist in these parts.  I got turned onto the Taiwan Cafe in Chinatown by a friend of mine who is well versed in Boston area restaurants.  It just so happened that my aunt was in town for a weekend and thought it would be great to give her a taste of her childhood. 

She asked me what I would like to eat.  I told her that I'd like to try what she enjoyed in her younger years.  Check out the highlights.

*Steamed Pork & Mushroom Sticky Rice w/ Gravy
This brought me back to a time when I was a kid and my mom stuffed the Thanksgiving turkey with sticky rice.  I think the key to good sticky rice is the reconstituted dried mushrooms.  There's this earthy quality that is unique to the ingredient.  The mushrooms have this concentrated flavor punch that is a great contrast to the rice background.  Sticky and slippery were part and parcel of a good percentage of dishes I tried.

*Braised Pork w/ Peanuts & Sour Mustard Green[s] in [a] Steamed Bun
The crown jewel was this braised pork belly topped with pickled mustard greens, chopped peanuts, sugar and cilantro in a steamed flat bread.  The topping reminded me of a mochi treat filled with chopped peanuts and granulated sugar that I'd had time and time again.  Talk about a neat flavor and textural experience.  Slight sweetness of the bread, salty meat, sour punch of greens, deconstructed peanut butter topping and brightness of cilantro.  Airy light bread, pork fat melting in your mouth, tender & juicy meat, crunch of the sugar & peanuts, and crispness of the cilantro.  For me, it would be a tough choice between this and a bahn mi.  I do love a good bahn mi. 

The ketchup-soy red gravy on a couple dishes made me think about the origin.  Long ago, I read that ketchup originated from a fish sauce.  As a shortcut, I looked to see what Wiki had on the subject.   

Directly from Wikipedia:

In the 1690s the Chinese mixed together a concoction of pickled fish and spices and called it ke-tsiap.

The Webster's Dictionary of 1913 defined "catchup" as a "table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc. [Also written as ketchup].

After this quick etymology look, I wondered how two completely different products were given the 'same' label.  Umami was a strong possibility.  They both have glutamic acid, which adds body to what they're smothered on.  My guess is that Americans back in the day would have been less accepting of the unctuous bottle of our fermented finned friends.  Tomatoes and sugar are an easy sell.  Just check out any kid at a restaurant who is availed the sweet bottle of goodness.  Today, that is clearly not the case.  People are a lot more adventurous and willing to accent dishes with all sorts of umami pop.  Maybe a new soda concept?

I'm going to have to dig a litter deeper on the etymology.  Maybe Harold McGee will be open to helping me out?

Don't forget The Plans we made.

* Caption title taken directly from Taiwan Cafe menu

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brittle Based Bantering

Cold Sesame Noodle Inspired Brittle

I feel that one of the keys to great cooking is inspiration.  "It's the world around you, always." - Grant Achatz at his recent Harvard lecture. 

My cousin hit a significant milestone in her life and I wanted to play a small role in helping celebrate the achievement.  The event has a tradition of having families bring food that is representative of the presenter's roots.  I figure on candy because the preparation is straight forward and people love their sweets.  I decide to base it on familiar Asian flavors.  Here's one of the candies I prepared.

My mother used to make this amazing cold sesame noodle when I was a kid.  This was before the ubiquitous displays of prepared foods from varied ethnicities.  At school, I would commonly get a skeptical, "What is that?".  I took pride in turning a few friends the moment they tasted it.  When she made it, we didn't have sesame paste on hand, so she'd improvise with the ever present jar of peanut butter.  The other common adaptation was the use of linguine instead of the typical wide noodle.  I never gave it much thought until I started cooking a lot.  It's all about having a tool kit of fundamental techniques and preparations to make dishes that are your own.   

I recently made the acquaintance of Stella Parks, the CIA trained pastry chef behind the BraveTart blog, who is quite good at what she does.  I told her about this cold sesame noodle inspired brittle I made and she was very interested in the process.  Curiosity was piqued even more when she saw the Chef Andres interview with him evaluating the candy.  Here's a synopsis of how it was made.

Old fashioned peanut brittle base recipe:

I toasted some sesame seeds prior.  I used lightly salted dry roasted peanuts whole (16 oz jar ended worked out well).  I cut the salt on the nuts with the intention of adding it to the medium.  During the first stage, the sugar solution cooked for 20 minutes longer than expected because I was using a new burner and paranoid about the sugar burning.  This ended up thickening the solution and increased caramelization.  At the flavor adding step, I supplemented with 1/4 tsp of chili powder, pinch of cayenne (not too much because of the wide range of pallets), a few drops of sesame oil and sprinkled some kosher salt (probably 1/3 tsp).  Immediately after the candy was spread, I sprinkled on the toasted sesame seeds.

Taste, taste, taste...

...texture, texture, texture!

I told Chef Parks it wasn't anything Earth shattering.  She responded with:

Okay, whew! I was so interested because when you said "cold sesame noodle inspired" my brain latched onto the noodles more than the sesame aspect, and I thought you'd found some way to incorporate (soba) noodles into the brittle, which is something a) I had never thought of before and b) something I wasn't sure how to go about doing! I love the idea of sesame oil in the brittle, though, smart idea. Now I'm going to be obsessed with figuring out how to get the noodles in the brittle, though....

We exchanged a couple more emails on the subject and she's working on a solution.  I also need to make the thin and crisp brittle that Chef Andres suggested after the interview.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Check out Chef Parks' adventures at the BraveTart.  You'll be inspired.


Random photo at the onset of the packaging of the candies for the event.

"You will be assimilated!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unexpectedly Lucky - Chef Jose Andres Interview

Through the miracles of perseverance and making impressions on key people, I got an interview with Chef Jose Andres.  However, I was not made aware of this fact until I hit Harvard Square on my way to wait in line for his lecture.  All I had was a hard copy of compiled questions, an old school cell, a notebook, camera and my wits. Rookie!

I decide to head over to the Science Center, because he had to be close.  It's quite early and there are only a few people in line. I end up sitting next to the first person in line, a Harvard freshman named Bianca Okafor. We get to chatting and I find out that she's Harvard's Culinary Society Web Editor. I tell her about my mission and divulge that that I'm about to receive a call for an interview.  The phone rings and it's Chef' Andres' PR rep. and I start getting the low down on the location. On the fly, I commit Bianca to be my guide and transcriber for the interview.  All I remember is giving her a thumbs up and lots of nodding on her end.

We're off and running to the Charles Hotel.  She's leading the way and I'm struggling to keep up.  She mentions that it's just like being late for class.  It gave me flashbacks, but didn't change my lack of stamina. She eventually slows down when we get to the building, and we take a couple minutes to gather ourselves before we enter the lobby.   

We meet up with Cathy Huyghe of Feast NBC and call Russell, Chef Andres' PA.  Russell hits the lobby first and introduces himself.  He lets us know that the interview is going to happen right where we are.  Bianca and I get set up and pass as veterans, at least we think so.  Chef makes his way over and we are with him for over an hour.

Chef Jose Andres evaluating my brittle
At the end of the interview, I present him with a piece of Asian cold sesame noodle inspired brittle that I made.  He takes a bite and tells me that it's good.  Then he says, "You know what will make this better?"  See how the nuts make the candy thick. You can pulverize the nuts into a powder, take two non-stick baking mats and squeeze it very thin.  That would be great.  He asked if he could take some for later and I gave him the whole bag.  I'll have to try his suggestion and see how it works out.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I approach him with our quandary about getting into the event with everyone waiting in line. Russell suggests that we head over with them. We gladly tag along. As we're walking, I hang back and start chatting with Chef.  He starts giving me blogger advice.  He tells me that I need to be responsible, honest and magnanimous no matter how many followers I have. 

Chef Jose Andres emailing in Harvard Square

He's emailing and I'm trying to keep him away from the oncoming traffic.  I get the opportunity to tell him that I followed the advice he gave me after the Chef Adria event.  I reminded him that he said, "Keep asking questions." His reaction was, "I've created a monster".  I replied with, "Aren't you a monster with all that you do?"  After a little bantering, he puts up his hand and we do a high five.  Sounds corny, but it was pretty great. 

Here's the moment you all have been waiting for.  I did my best to fit in as many questions as possible while managing segues.  I am sorry that some contributors did not get their questions answered.

Interview as recorded by Bianca in addition to some content addition by yours truly.  I asked all the questions (except for Bianca's), but credit the originators below.

JD: Have you encountered a moment that any of your three daughters discovered food in a way you never thought of and integrated it into a dish?

Yes, once one of the girls began running a strawberry on a skewer through the cotton candy machine as we were making candy.  I believe that introducing food to children in new ways encourage culinary creativity.  Children are created equally in food making ability, but they need to be pushed to have a good relationship with food.

JD: What does the future hold for school meals now that you have been to the White House to exchange ideas?

I believe Michelle Obama acts as a great motherly figure to encourage better eating habits.  She is getting us all to commit to a better future.  It will happen anyway but maybe 10, 20, 30 years later.  However, Michelle can make things happen quickly.  Children aren't being fed the best right now.  The seeds are being planted and the future is looking good.  This diet change cannot happen by push from the upper class.  It has to happen within the people that are struggling with it themselves.  There needs to be a revolution.  High up preachers aren't very effective.  Every revolution needs to be endorsed by people that stand to benefit from the revolution themselves.  Mothers need to say one day "enough is enough." There must be change.

Heather Atwood: Do you consider the Avant Garde movement akin to Cubism in which select artists were doing something incredibly important, but ended because no one could follow the genius?

Food is more three dimensional than art or any other movement itself.  Artistic expression, culinary expression.  "Everything in life has moments of peaks." The movements (such as the gastronomy) have been moving much quicker.  Gastronomy should be limited to a few restaurants because "at end of day we don't go everyday to a museum." 

Jigme of Dorchester, MA: What fundamental techniques do you practice and maintain on a regular basis?

I've been into solar cooking lately, a few hours every week.  I've been using a pressure cooker and at home we also fry a lot (Spanish heritage) and we are still healthy.  Moderation. In the restaurant, we fry, steam, boil, bake...  We use every technique imaginable.

Nick of San Diego, CA: You once told Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes that "fresh food is sexy."  What is the sexiest fruit or vegetable right now in your opinion?

Men and women view sexiness differently.  I believe sexiness is experiencing a moment of outburst of energy by an image by a smell, image, look, texture.  Vegetables are sexy from a man's view. Nothing is more feminine than a mango or pineapple.  It grabs my attention, "Peel me, use me."  My wife attracted me in the same as a mango.  Sexiness is something that attracts you.  "It's highly difficult to express. It's not one thing but many at once."

JD: What Spanish ingredients other than olive oil, Iberico ham and Pimenton have peaked your interest lately?

Cheese is great.  La Serena cheese.  Cabrales cheese (blue cheese).  "I am more kind of a chef of the world." Wines and products from the world.  Every wine. Deep fried fruit. 

JD: I was wondering if you could talk about one of your daughter's first flavor experiences that paralleled your own?

Mother’s milk. It was in the refrigerator in bottles, so I had to try it.  “You would drink milk from a cow you never met, but you wouldn’t taste mother’s milk?”  It’s sweet and rich.  People from fast food chains must have tasted mother’s milk to develop products.

Bianca: What is the strangest food you've ever eaten?

Strange food is anything you've never experienced before.  It's a very complex concept.  When approaching a new food, I ask why I haven't tried this before I say, not necessarily "eww."  It's all about getting used to it.  Perceptual, strange food.  Nothing is really strange to me.

JD: Did anything in Boston inspire you to create a dish?

Harvard itself.  It's great being near all the professors.  Culinary purpose is key to creating a great dish.  Ingredients have been around for thousands of years, the only difference is that in the last few years we've been using them with finesse.  Using great ingredients is underrated. You need finesse to create something great. 


Thanks to everyone who contributed questions and spread the word to get them to OCQ.  I'd like to give a special thanks to Cathy Huyghe for being my advocate to get the interview.  Bianca for her enthusiasm and quick thinking.  Heather Atwood of the Gloucester Times for all her great advice.  Last, but not least Chef Jose Andres for empowering people to learn and share knowledge.  Let's not forget Russell and Laura of TFG for orchestrating the interview.

Not bad for a community that started a little over a month ago. I can't wait to see what the future holds for The Plan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coming Soon - Jose Andres Interview

I was able to get a one on one interview with Chef Jose Andres before the Harvard "Science & Cooking" lecture on gelation.  I used the list of compiled questions that I collected from people who contributed as well as my own.  The interview was the product of a lot of hard work and key people supporting the OCQ initiative.  Thanks to everyone who played a role.  I will post the interview soon and pay a proper thanks to those who made it happen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Questions Anyone?

Chef Jose Andres challenged us on Twitter to ask thoughtful questions at Tuesday's Harvard lecture.  Looking forward to seeing them.  Submit them by Monday the 25th 9 PM EST.  Let's make him work!!!

Please email them to ourcookquest [at] gmail [dot] com

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Before and After

I finally got around to smoking the chiles I collected from my CSA and a friend. 

It all started with a pile of
habaneros, jalapenos and

Soaked the hickory for 2+ hours.  Got the chimney starter going with hardwood charcoal on the Weber.  Put slits in the chiles to accelerate drying and prevent explosions.  Also cut the tops off some to investigate quicker smoking.

Set up a wire basket to contain the smaller chiles.  Used foil to prevent chiles from falling through as well as protection from direct heat.

An hour into the process.

Resulting in some great product.  The flavor was there and will rack them up for final drying.

All in all it took about 1.5 hours for the habaneros, 2 for the jalapenos/chipotles and 3+ for the poblanos/anchos.  The stages of 'drying' were varied from burned beyond recognition, mostly dried, leathery, smoke roasted and combinations of the aforementioned.  This all stemmed from my issues with heat control in the Weber.  The fire was cooking some of the product instead of smoking.  I also should have used a thermometer to monitor the heat.  I knew all of this going in, but the chiles and I couldn't wait. 

Now I have an array of nicely smoked chiles that will hold me over until next season.  Maybe I'll get a proper temperature gauge, use a smaller fire and exercise some patience in the future.  I'll also investigate a real smoker, because I can't resist the idea of making bacon.

Here are a few links that I found to be helpful.

Still workin' The Plan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Feeling Welcome

Symbol of Hospitality

I met up with Heather Atwood of the Gloucester Times and her friend to attend the Chef Grant Achatz lecture at Harvard.  While waiting in line, we chatted about our mutual interests in food and blogging.  We also got caught up on each other's culinary history.  After a short period, we were talking as if we'd known each other for some time.  I think the one thing that rung true to her was my passion for food and OCQ.  She is genuinely interested in what people have to say about the subject at hand, which makes her good at her craft.  I'm pleased to say that she's my friend and our supporter. 

Her friend intrigued me with her love of entertaining, culinary education and worldly experiences.  She talked about how she cooked for chefs and kept it focused on the ingredients that came straight out of her garden.  Her black raspberries were of farmer's market quality and her Asian pears had won ribbons at a well known county fair.  She even got the opportunity to compliment Chef Achatz with, "You are Harry Potter."  She elegantly used a point that the chef made and created kudos.  I'd equate her to a modern day Julia Child and it was a pleasure.

As an aside, we showed up to stand in line without having had anything to eat for some time.  The irony!  We were all hungry and Heather decided to talk about these oatmeal cookies made with steel cut oats.  Her description of the chewy texture was almost enough to make us get out of line and head to the closest pastry shop for a sweet fix.  However, we were true to the task and made it through the lecture with fresh cut grass aroma and 'dry' caramel as our consolation.  Satisfying is an entirely different way.

Once we were seated, we agreed on which questions were the most thoughtful.  Heather and I each got our chance at the end. 

I asked, "In all your experimentation, what was your most successful accident used for service?"

Chef Achatz was confused by my question.  He did not like the idea that a concept would be developed from an accident.  He responded with the basic outline of the R&D process:  an idea comes up, work is delegated out, it goes through a testing phase and it's edited countless times until the dish is ready for service.  "We don't like mistakes."  I guess fortunate accidents don't happen at Alinea.  A little skeptical, but who am I to say?  However, it gives us a lead in for The Plan.

Check out Heather's post at Food for Thought for her complimentary experience.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tasty Tradition

How 'bout them apples?
We recently went apple picking with our extended family on a crisp afternoon.  It's a great excuse to get everyone together to enjoy each other's company.  We caught up on recent events and happily wasted away the afternoon.  It's amazing how a basic desire for sustenance gets us to learn more about our loved ones.  There's something about these gatherings that has an air of community and tradition.  For me, it comes from my family visiting the orchard every season and heading home to create an array of baked goods.  I could never wait for the apple turnovers to cool and burned the roof of my mouth countless times.  I continue to carry these fond memories with me to this day.  Now, our yearly excursion is for the next generation who will see that it's not just about picking fruit off a tree.

Coincidentally, I read an article in the Times that Michael Pollen posted about 'The 36-Hour Dinner Party' hosted by a Bay Area chef couple.  They built a communal oven in their backyard with the expressed purpose of bringing people together.  The chefs and bakers yielded amazing meals from the hearth. Family and friends stopped by over the day and a half to support the effort as well as enjoy the food and company.   

My favorite lesson that Pollen expressed was, "I’m ... impressed by the ease with which these cooks collaborate, how they can go back and forth from taking the lead on a dish to playing sous chef. These meals are a group endeavor, and everyone seems happy to share authorship."  I built this blog in hopes that people will come together in the same manner to work toward a mutual goal. 

I am pleased to announce that KCRW's Good Food has posted an article about our efforts.

Thanks to Chef Kleiman and Harriet Ells for spreading the word about The Plan.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nature nurtured...

"Smoke 'em if ya got 'em"

Fresh chiles are always a welcome site at the peak of the growing season.  I always look forward to that first bite of heat in a simple salsa.  My CSA had bins of poblanos and jalapenos that they were giving away by the truckload.  I filled a reusable shopping bag and headed home with my treasure. 

I couldn't help but roast a batch as soon as I got in the house.  They were extra hot this year because of the favorable growing conditions.  I partook in all that I could handle.  The charred remains went into the refrigerator for use throughout the week.  Not enough to justify freezing.  I topped off two pint mason jars with a green hot sauce.  I'll use some to spice up a pot of chili on a cold day, the bean kind of course.  I have yet to venture the Texan route.  However, I have made a delightful vegetarian version with roasted eggplant and barley.  I forgot to pull about a dozen out of the bag and discovered them a week later.  A coincidental break in the humidity shriveled them into red beauties with no signs of rot.  I'm set for the winter and didn't have to spend a dime. 

Inspired by the Hatch Chile Festival, I contacted my CSA and proposed to run a chile roast and smoking event next year.  I suggested that members gather with their grills and smokers for a day of alchemy.  Maybe I'll even make some chile rellenos and tortilla soup to share.  It'll be a nice way to make use of some great product and get a community together to celebrate a successful harvest.

Who knew that a mere pepper could be transformed into a variety of forms and flavors?  Most processes were born to preserve a perishable product without the luxury of refrigeration.  It's a bonus that they're so tasty.  On their own, they add a little spice and depth to our dishes.  In a chef's hands, they're completely transformed to push the pallet in ways we never imagined.  

OCQ was put together to investigate their inspirations, so we can attempt our own spins.  Keep to The Plan...  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Time and Patience

Sealing the ends for seasoning works unlike searing meat

We recently had a friend come over to fell this maple tree.  We all had reservations about cutting it down because it was beautiful and here before we were born.  It hadn't been pruned and was creeping up on the house, so it had to go.  I resolved that I'd do my best to make use of the wood.

Nothing beats the flavor of cooking over an open fire.  I'll rig up something to make charcoal.  Bits and chunks will be reserved for smoking.  I researched making lumber, but the process and time investment didn't make sense.  However, I had the idea that I could make a pepper mill and salt box.  I consulted my woodworking friend who came over and split sections to store.  I sealed the ends with latex paint to prevent splitting.  The rule of thumb for seasoning is one year per inch of thickness.  I figure it'll be at least seven years before I can hear that first peppercorn crack in the grinder.  It'll be worth it. 

"If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" - popularized quote originating from Bishop George Berkeley's work.  Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  I have been plugging away to get noticed in the food community and it's slow going.  As a rookie blogger, I fell into the trap that it would be easier to be seen than I thought.  I finally came to grips with what I already knew. 

I guess if I'm willing to wait years to turn some wood, I can be a little more patient.  It's all about the journey and The Plan.