Monday, August 30, 2010

Fig Butter

Melinda, who guest posted about Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls recently, was gifted with a bounty of very ripe figs last week.  What better to do than make jam?  I am particularly happy to hear how her jam making went, since I am still hoping that my half of the fig tree that straddles mine and my neighbor's backyards will some day render me enough fruit (before the birds eat it all) that I too can make jam.  Her thoughts on the addition of ingredients like ginger, cardamom and orange make the whole idea so very seductive to me.  Can't wait 'til my tree produces again.  Thank you, Melinda!


At work one day, I happened to mention that I like figs a lot. My manager was interested to hear this, because it just so happens that he has a fig tree himself, and nobody in his family likes figs. I was stunned to hear this, as I previously didn't think it was possible to grow figs in the Pacific Northwest or to dislike them.

I forgot about this conversation entirely, until I came to work one day to find a bag full of figs at my desk. They were easily the largest figs I have ever seen- about the size of avocados- and they were green and purple, with a lovely creamy texture on the inside, and a delicate flavor. I ate one with a spoon right there and then, but what was I to do with the other four and a half pounds of them?

The answer, I decided, was jam. After they sat on the counter for a couple of days and turned a little more mushy, I removed their stems and threw them in a pot, peels and all, with a little water, white sugar, lemon juice, ginger and cardamom. I brought them to a boil, simmered them until they congealed a bit, and blended the whole thing up with my hand blender.

It didn't turn out much like jam at all - it had a consistency more like apple butter, which I love, so I was happy with that. Next time, though, I think I'd rather use brown sugar, orange juice and a little orange rind, and more cardamom, with less ginger.  I think that those ingredients would do a better job of highlighting the fig flavor rather than overpowering it. What I made has a very satisfying gingery bite, though, and it would go very well with some smelly cheese or on a burger with caramelized onions.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five Years

 I can't commemorate this day by watching footage of the suffering.  It is still too raw, too painful.  I don't think it'll ever not be.  I was in a sandwich shop last night and on the tv was Katrina aftermath footage.  I felt, instantly, like I had to get out.  GET OUT!  What I feel in those moments is panic, rage, darkest anguish.  It was nearly unendurable then.  I can't deal with it now.  Not even for a moment or two.  I wish I were stronger and tougher than that, but I am not.

What I can do is thank the people who helped us, who housed us and our cats for sorrow-drenched weeks upon weeks, who sent us care packages of coffee, gnocchi and love, who slipped us $100 bucks during a long hug or via Paypal from the other side of the country saying "...for urgent stuff like kitty litter and tampons", who, from afar, helplessly listened to us pour out our anguish and agony even though they couldn't fix anything, even when it had been months or years since and we were still crying, still hurting, still broken.

Thanks to the millions of people who donated their vacation time to come help, their money and possessions and hearts.

Thank you to those who did not judge us, who kept their minds and hearts open when they saw our city ripped open and it's ugliest parts surface.  Thank you to those who did not pretend that their own city would not also have such an underbelly.  Thanks to those who never once questioned whether we should rebuild.

It's five years and many of us have finally started to feel normal again.  Many of us still do not.  We rejoice over the things that have returned but even those are bittersweet.  "More restaurants than before the storm!" we crow... not always mentioning that there are huge swaths of the city, like the one my dear friends live in in New Orleans East, that have no restaurants at all.  My friends own a lovely house on a once lovely street that is, to this day, still mostly vacant because its residents have not returned.  They have fixed the tremendous damage to their own home, but for varying reasons, many of their neighbors have not come back to New Orleans.  I often wonder what it feels like to, for five years, still come home every day to a mostly empty neighborhood.  I marvel at their strength and resilience and I ache for them (and the many, many others who are in the same boat) despite that fact that they do not complain.

Katrina damaged everyone it touched in unspeakable ways.  Every New Orleanian, Southern Louisianan and Mississippi gulf coast resident.  We learned things we never wanted to know, lost faith in things that should never have been challenged, lost it ALL and struggled to put it all back together again afterward. Some things were rebuilt stronger and better.  Some things are desperately askew.  Our biggest loss is certainly our people, those who perished (during and after the storm) and those who left.  I still can't forgive Katrina for that.

We will never be the same but we will still be beautiful, unique, vibrant and strong.  We will still be.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Culinary Adventures in Cleveland

My friend, Melissa, describes herself as "wife, writer/editor, petmom and with 20 years in newspapers as a homes writer, sportswriter, news reporter, features writer and entertainment writer. I'm a native of Connecticut, a New Englander at heart, living in the Cleveland suburbs with my husband, cat, iguana, and turtle."

I describe her as a sweetheart.  She was kind enough to take time from her own busy life and blog to share with us a Guest Post about restaurants in her area, and a family dinner recently shared at Bar Symon in Cleveland.


One of the things I love about reading blogs like Julie's is discovering the everyday food of a region, the stuff people grab for lunch and the places people go for date night. She brings New Orleans and its food to life in a way no tourist brochure can.

When my husband went to Boston recently, he felt he had to try Union Oyster House since it was a local institution. While the seafood was fine, the experience was a bit disappointing as he realized the place has become a bit of a tourist trap. He was happier at places recommended either by locals or by family and friends who went there frequently.

When my New England family comes out to visit me where I live now, Cleveland, we don't go to the high-end restaurants. We find the good neighborhood places, and hit the markets to find delicious local treats for cooking and enjoying at my house.

Many people would be surprised at how much good eating there is in a city with a lunch-pail, meat-and-potatoes reputation. But local chefs are taking our prosaic comfort foods, our ethnic treasures and our All-American classics and turning them into fine dining.

One of the people leading that movement has become a celebrity chef. Michael Symon has been straddling the worlds of the Food Network and his Cleveland roots since he worked on "Melting Pot."  He's now one of the network's vaunted Iron Chefs.

The foundation for his business remains in Cleveland. While high-end Lola satisfies those seeking a white-tablecloth Dining Experience amid the twinkling lights and bustle of downtown, he keeps his other restaurants accessible and affordable. The east side's B Spot is a burger joint where the beers are cold, the condiments are homemade, and the juices drip down your arm. Lolita, located in the grit-meets-gentrification neighborhood of Tremont, is a neighborhood spot that serves up bistro-style dishes with the flavors of Symon's Mediterranean heritage.

Bar Symon opened in Avon Lake in 2009. The name says it all. Its Symon's take on bar food and pub grub. John and I took my parents and my sister there when they visited last week.

Appetizers are a lot of classic bar/pub snacks kicked up several notches. House-made potato chips come with whipped avocado, bacon and blue cheese. Sliders are a recent culinary trend. Symon does duck confit sliders, with peppery radish and bright cilantro. The duck is so rich and velvety, that one makes a perfect starter. Succulent wings come in either a sriracha hot sauce, or a citrus-cilantro sauce.

Symon puts some quintessential Cleveland foods together for an entree called a Cleveland Classic. It's got all the goodies that my Kowiako ancestors in Cleveland's Warszawa/Slavic Village neighborhood loved: pierogi, kielbasa, cabbage braised in hard cider and some Stadium Mustard on the side.

Fried chicken is a bar food staple. And you can't throw a stone in Northeast Ohio without hitting a perch fry, especially during Lent. Bar Symon has both. The fried chicken is drizzled with honey for a savory-sweet punch. The fish fry, featuring Lake Erie perch in a batter made with Dortmunder Gold beer from Great Lakes Brewing, is an upscale take on fish 'n chips.

Need comfort? Mac and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. Symon's features goat cheese and rosemary.

Symon is known for his love of pork. The man has a pig tattoo. I don't know where he found the pork shanks he braises with beer and apples, then serves with spaetzle and Brussels sprouts, but mine was the most flavorful pork I've tasted since pork unfortunately became "the other white meat."

Sometimes, you just can't beat a good burger. My mother fell in love with the savory lamb burger, with a sauce featuring feta, dill and cucumber.

As fans of "Iron Chef America" know, host Alton Brown always gets excited when someone fires up the ice cream makers in Kitchen Stadium. Symon used his imagination to fashion a dessert out of a classic bar combination. The beer and pretzel sundae features homemade Guinness ice cream, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and crumbled pretzels. The slightly chocolatey, slightly bitter ice cream blends with the sweet chocolate and caramel, and the salty crunch of the pretzels to wow the tongue.

Hope you've enjoyed this culinary trip up north!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Long For Oysters!

Next up in the Guest Blogger line-up is my good friend Tim who truly, truly knows how to indulge his senses.  He has an excellent blog that covers wine, beer, organic gardening, cooking and so much more.  He contributed this post, not realizing that our oyster season hasn't started yet and may not be quite right for a while (thanks a lot BP!) but we won't hold it against him.  We'll just have to have him ship us a few cases of those Kumamotos if the longing gets to strong.  Some of that stout too, while he's at it!  Mmm, oysters...   

Hey everybody. I’m Tim, guest blogging here today. I’m a writer/blogger living near Vancouver Canada. I work in the wine industry and spend a lot of time travelling, eating, drinking, cooking and above all, making/producing my own comestibles, including making most stuff from scratch, curing my own meats, making cheese, and growing an organic garden. I most especially focus on anything that will ferment, including making wine, beer, sauerkraut, Kim chi, pickles et al. If you ferment it, they will come, and ask for a serving.

I’ve only been to New Orleans once (so far), so I’m not qualified to talk about local cuisine (although if you want to know how to get in trouble in the French Quarter at 3 am, I’m your man). In fact, most Canadians lack proper context to talk about US Southern food—with a straight face, most of us will call grilled meat ‘barbecue’ (I know, I know) tea is drank hot with milk and sugar, where I live ‘the Gulf’ is a strait between Vancouver Island and the Pacific coast of British Columbia and if you have white powder under your nose nobody thinks ‘beignet’.

But food is the universal language. In New Orleans, like every other place I’ve visited, I felt most welcome and at peace when I was elbow-to-elbow with other hungry strangers at a counter that served well prepared and well respected food that reflected the sensibility and character of the city and its people. I once heard of New Orleans that for the natives, the major topics of conversation when you go out to eat are restaurant meals that you have had in the past and restaurant meals that you plan to have in the future. Now that’s a place where I feel at home!

I’ve actually been meaning to contribute to NOJuju for quite a while. One of the early blogs asked ‘What are the oysters like in your neck of the woods and how do you like to eat them?’ I’m the Glutton King of oysters. My all-time favourite birthday meal is six or seven dozen oysters and a half-keg of Stout, and I’ve never said no to a bivalve mollusc.

But oysters are different around here. The gulf oysters I’ve had were big, soft and very sweet. I enjoyed them raw, but saw more potential in them cooked. At home I’ve almost never eaten them anything but raw. I generally get my oysters from the Lobsterman in the Granville Island Market . Visiting Vancouver means you have to go to the market. To miss it would be to go to New Orleans and skip the French Quarter. It’s one of those places with gorgeous, exotic, intensely desirable and tasty stuff, from a soup joint that could make you cry with the happy, to a cheese monger who can not only spell Époisses, but also can sell it. It’s a wonderful place.

The Lobsterman specialises in crabs, lobsters, clams, mussels, bits of fish, but mainly (for me) Pacific Northwest oysters. Local oysters are all from very cold, deep water. This gives many of them a much firmer, dense meat. They also tend to be quite briny—not so much salty, as having a resonant note of minerals that can make the right wine (or beer) sing out like a chorus line all on its own. Some are named after the bays and inlets where they’re gathered from: Fanny Bay, Mary Point, and others the species, like Royal Miyagi,Kumamoto, and Kusshi.

The flavours of each variety vary widely, partly from the terroir (hmm. Oceanoir?) of where they’re harvested from, partly from species character. Fanny Bay are very mild with just a hint of creaminess in with the brine. Mary Points are quite small, have a creamy texture, sometimes almost like clotted cream and are delicately salty. Kumamoto are buttery, and have the most amazing aftertaste of melon. Some folks say watermelon, but I’ve never gotten beyond, ‘Holy Hannah! It tastes like melon!’ Miyagis are less buttery and more firm—not rubbery, but definitely with more tooth—and have the most amazing note of cucumber to them. Kusshis are sweet and buttery and mild.

My favourite way to eat ersters is the simplest: squeeze of fresh lemon and a dot or two of hot sauce. I favour habanero-based sauces because along with the heat, which I adore, they bring a lovely fruitiness that seems to work so well with a great oyster: Melina’s brand is excellent for most purposes, but I also make my own, for fresh and really hot-hot sauce.

The most important condiment to my taste is the beverage that goes with it. With a briny oyster I like good old stout: Guinness or similar does a great job. With more delicate versions like Kusshis or Miyagis, I like sparkling wine. Bollinger when I can get it, Gloria Ferrer when I can’t, and to cover all my bases I often make Black Velvet cocktails—a mixture of Guinness and sparkling wine that has the charms of both.

Hmm. Looks like I’m stopping at the Lobsterman on my way home, never mind that it’s twenty kilometres in the wrong direction. There’s a scent of brine in the air and a bottle of Bollinger in the cellar with my name on it.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Vegetarian Pigs in a Blanket (Cabbage Rolls)

I am intensely fortunate.  While I am still struggling with wrist and hand pain from my new Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis (about which I am still totally and completely all "WTF?!"), I have dear friends who will stand in the blog breach for me.  Today begins a series of guest posts from friends of mine, mostly located in places far from New Orleans, who love food and are generously willing to bare their kitchens, recipes and restaurants to our wondering eyes.  This post is from the lovely Melinda, who lives in the beautifully fair city of Seattle.  Please make her feel welcome, folks!  *warm round of applause*

Hi! I'm Melinda, and I'm excited to be guest-blogging here at NOJuju. At first I was hesitant to write for this blog - after all, I don't live in New Orleans, and I know next to nothing about the food culture there, other than the fact that everything I have ever eaten there was extremely delicious and made from crawfish. I live in Seattle, where it's easier to get good Eritrean food than anything that hails from Louisiana (which is a whole 'nother blog post), and where we can't even grow okra or peppers because it doesn't get hot enough. I live right in the city with my husband, who enjoys cooking as much as I do.

And after an introduction like that, I have to tell you that this post of mine isn't even about food specific to Seattle. It's about cabbage rolls. Except that I don't even call them cabbage rolls - everyone in my family has always called them 'pigs in a blanket', much to the confusion of almost everyone else I talk to here, who think of pigs in a blanket as being hot dogs stuffed inside croissants. If you're wondering why that is, Wikipedia has the answer, as usual: it turns out that "In regions heavily influenced by Slovak immigrants, such as northern Pennsylvania, the term usually refers instead to stuffed cabbage rolls, such as the Polish or Ukrainian Gołąbki." Seeing as how I'm originally from Michigan, which is full of people of Eastern European descent, there's no surprise there. In Michigan, people get excited about pastries that nobody has heard of outside of Poland and the Upper Midwest.

A few months ago, I went to visit my grandma, and she made pigs in a blanket for everyone who descended upon her house that day. When I stopped eating pork about ten years ago, I figured I'd be giving up pigs in a blanket along with my bacon, but grandma made some extra ones with a meat substitute too, and they were darned good. They inspired me to start making plans for the enormous cabbage that has been growing in my garden since last September.

Pigs in a blanket aren't normally the nicest thing in the middle of August - they involve the crockpot being on all day, and that's much nicer when it's cold out. Ordinarily, I'd want them in January, but the cabbage's day of reckoning has finally arrived, and drastic measures are needed to use it all. I could only fit about half of it in the crockpot today; luckily, my husband promises that he has plans for the other half. I, for one, am half-hoping that he doesn't, because I'd love to try my hand at making kimchi or sauerkraut.

I ended up leaving these in the pot for around 7 hours, and they were tender and delicious. I attribute some of the niceness of this recipe to the homegrown cabbage, but I'm excited about how well my first attempt at pigs in a blanket turned out! I could definitely see them becoming a winter staple. I'd like to experiment with stuffing them with mushrooms instead of sausage; lots of nice mushrooms grow in the Pacific Northwest, and there is a wonderful variety of them available here during the fall and winter.

This recipe is vegetarian. To make it with meat, omit the olive oil (it's there to give the fake meat enough fat), and use ground pork or pork sausage. You can also use rice instead of bulgur, if you're so inclined. Some people parboil the cabbage leaves first in order to make them easier to manipulate, but I didn't.

1 package of vegetarian sausage
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups of bulgur wheat
1 onion
3 green peppers
1 box strained tomatoes
salt, pepper and herbs to taste (I used oregano, since the sausage already had some sage in it)
1 ordinary sized head of cabbage

Dice the onion and green peppers, and put them in a big bowl, along with the olive oil, bulgur wheat, and sausage. Smash this all up with your hands like you're making meatloaf. Roll it up in cabbage leaves and place them in the crockpot. Mix the strained tomatoes (or tomato juice, or tomato paste with water, or ketchup, if you're really in a bind) with salt, pepper and herbs. Dump over the top of the cabbage leaves. Turn the crockpot on and wait.


(Shown with a side salad that my husband made)


Monday, August 16, 2010

Peugeot Pepper Mill Winner!

I'm so excited to announce the winner of my first ever giveaway. I used to select a random number between 1 and 15 (the number of commenters on the giveaway page).

The outcome:

... which means that the winner is Lisa M. who said:

Lisa M.,  August 7, 2010 12:24 PM

I see myself as a kitchen failure and that is why I have trouble even entering the kitchen. However your simple yet pure way of cooking has inspired me to take more of an interest in what I consume. Bravo on your anniversary!

By the way, that comment brought a prickle of tear to my eye.  Thanks, Lisa M.!  I sincerely hope that you continue to gain confidence and skill in the kitchen.  You can do it, I know you can!   Contact me at to claim your pepper mill!

All of the comments were fantastic, by the way.  I hope you all decide to stick around and comment more often.  It felt like a part-ay!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Reminder

Just wanted to remind everyone to enter the Peugeot Pepper Mill Giveaway from last week.  I am accepting comment entries for the rest of the week and will announce the randomly chosen winner on Monday 16.  Go, comment, win!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Einstürzende Neubauten's Pasta with Ginger and Tomato Sauce

There is a band, an intensely beautiful and beautifully intense German experimental band, called Einstürzende Neubauten who epitomize all that I love and need about music.  They are my absolute favorite musicians and because of them, for various reasons, I am a much better cook.  Years ago, the band had a virtual spaghetti dinner with their supporters (fans who joined together on the internet to support the band's continued work, financially, intellectually and emotionally... patrons of their art, so to speak).   A pasta dish recipe was used, cooked and eaten in unison by people located all over the world, as a collective dining experience.  I was not a part of that event, but I have the recipe and I can attest that it is very, very good, excellent in fact, for sharing with your financial, intellectual or emotional supporters.  I shared it with friends last night, and we all agreed, it is superb.

Pasta with Ginger and Tomato Sauce

3 TB olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
3 small dried chilies, crumbled or 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained
14 oz. pasta (spaghetti, penne, linguine, whatever... you choose)
juice of 2 lemons
1 TB or so additional olive oil
salt and pepper
parsley (optional)
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Heat 3 TB olive oil in a large, thick bottomed pan until it shimmers.  Add garlic and allow to just soften and barely begin to color.  Add ginger and chilies and stir together.  Add drained tomatoes, squishing them in your hands as you add them to the pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir.   Cook over medium heat for about 35 minutes, allowing the tomatoes to break down, stirring occasionally.  When sauce is ready, pass it through a coarse sieve or mash tomatoes with a wooden spoon to render a smooth sauce.

Meanwhile, boil water for pasta.  Time it so that your pasta and sauce finish around the same time.  Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and return to the pasta cooking pot.  Add lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and toss.  Stir in tomato sauce.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Serve topped with Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Serves 6


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sleep Blogging and Tartine New Orleans

I blog in my sleep.  Does anyone else do that?  I wake up thinking that I have a fully written post and am ready to hit publish, but suddenly it fades away.  Last week, I sleep-blogged about the orange jam I picked up at Little Morocco.  Also, about how hard it is to find a really excellent orange marmalade.  Last night, it was about the Peugeot Pepper Mill giveaway, how much I adored everyone's comments (I really, really do) and to keep them coming.  Needless to say, no posts were actually written.

Yesterday, I went to the lovely new Tartine for the first time.  Everyone is talking about it in blogs and Twitter and for good reason.  It's a truly wonderful cafe, hidden on a tiny block in a tiny corner of Uptown, close to Audubon park, a stone's throw from the river.  One would think that the location was less than ideal, but when we walked in, there were more than enough people to show that the word is getting around.

I had the pork rillette tartine (a smooth shredded pork spread on a toasted baguette with herbed butter, cornichons and onion marmalade) which was so good!  Not too rich, scrumptious cornichons, very satisfying and delicious.  Accompanied by a bright, lively black eyed pea salad and some pickles and olives, it made a perfect light  lunch. The portions are quite generous, the quality high and the prices very fair ($8 for my tartine).  I had to take half of the tartine home for another time, because I couldn't finish it all.  Oh, and I made it a not-so-light lunch by enjoying a milk chocolate mousse ($1!) for dessert.  Mmm, fantastic!

My lunch companion, Celeste of Bouillie, had the tuna nicoise salad ($9) which looked heavenly and like very much a meal.  I spied green beans, potatoes, olives, roasted red peppers, beautiful anchovies, oh all sorts of delicious salad goodies on her plate and it's definitely the next thing I'll try there.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a go-to spot for me.  I strongly approve!

Tartine on Urbanspoon


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