Category Archives: food

Cuisine collides with living language

Lately we’ve been exploring what can be done with ground duck. Last night I used half a pound in a stir-fry (with tofu, collards, a tomato; and using a Thai prik mixture smuggled by a friend) and there was a half pound of duck left… So I went to sleep on it, and woke up thinking about a solution: fine choppage of ginger, scallions, cilantro (all withering in the refrigerator and needing to be used); mix with duck; shape into little torpedoes; steam, or sauté, or poach. I followed that inspiration through several steps:


quenelles1

quenelles2

quenelles3


But what are these little torpedoes? From some back corner of the mind came an answer: quenelles de canard. I was pretty sure that ‘quenelle’ was the right designation for the shape and even the cooking method, but I googled it anyway. And immediately found myself in a rapidly-unfolding linguistic muck heap. Yes, I was right about ‘quenelle’ in a culinary sense, but recent argybargy in France has put the term into hazardous territory, such that one might want to find another designation for the …ummm… torpedoes. I’ll leave it for you to peruse the relevant Wikipedia page (Quenelle_gesture_) and consider the depths of linguistic play.

Others have found themselves deep in it:


(from International Business Times)
and

(from http://fr.kichka.com/2014/01/02/quenelle-au-canard/)

And here’s where it all began a decade or so ago.

Evidently quenelle derives from knödel, at least in the mind of the OED, so we’re somewhere in dumpling-land, a pleasant place to be on a snowy Sunday morning.

Thinking more about food photography

This last week in Turkey I learned a lot, I mean really a lot. In the area of ostensible purposes of the trip (Turkish cooking, photographing food) I’m just beginning to …erm… digest the learning, but this morning’s feedings are a good place to begin to try to articulate a few of my discoveries. There may be many more posts along these lines, as I process more photos from the trip and begin to construct narratives out of their constituents.

Nobody will be surprised that our first stop, even before going home, was Home Kitchen Cafe (it being 10ish, and we having driven 3+ hours from the park’n’fly hotel we’d flopped in after a day of flying Istanbul-Paris and then Paris-Boston). And Home Kitchen never disappoints:

Lobsterpalooza at Home Kitchen
(The photographer may be forgiven the softness of focus cum camera movement… it was the iPhone, I hadn’t had tea yet, the iPhone is a barely adequate image-maker, etc.). Of course I ordered the lobster migas, I mean who wouldn’t? And when it arrived I did my usual iPhone grab shot:
Migas con langosta
Now, that’s not too bad, even straight out of the phone and up to Flickr with no processing. Not ineptly framed, even some parts (cilantro, mostly) in pretty crisp focus, but not carefully thought out. Quotidian might be a good way to summarize the image. That’s what I ate, and very happy I was to eat it.

I did have the real camera with me, so I did a couple of shots with that and they provide food (so to speak) for thought. First I did Betsy’s lobster stew:

lobsterstew
…and I’m reasonably pleased with the result in that the (notably shallow) plane of focus is about where I’d intended it to be, though the overall composition is less than carefully considered, and that reflection in the upper right hand corner is a distraction. A lot sharper than the iPhone effort. And so on to my migas:
migas2
Now here the plane of focus is just too shallow –should have stopped down a couple of notches, but that would have meant I couldn’t hand-hold the camera without movement. Or I could have changed the ISO (or fetched the tripod), but I was in too much of a hurry to, well, eat. I did try a top shot:
migas3
but that was even less competently executed, focus-wise. Of course it wasn’t until I saw these in Aperture that I found things of which to be critical, or (perhaps more hopefully) to think about constructively. Which is to say that readers of this blog will be hearing more along these lines as I unpack the experiences and the imagery of the week.

On to JFK

Turns out that the Istanbul flight departs from Terminal 2, not the fancy new Terminal 4. Terminal 2 is a relic of oh I dunno maybe the 80s? The amenities are dog-eared and even in the heyday the place was no prize. Wi-fi is pay-as-you-go, but there are places to plug in, and I’m paid-up and in-plugged.

The food question is a bit vexed, with a few of the usual suspects (Starbucks, etc.) and some one-offs. We surveyed the possibilities and were taken in by something called Croque™ Madame, which had at least the possibility of something cooked by human hands.

Croque

We opted for the eponymous Croque. You get what you pay for, I suppose, and for lotsa money tis is what we got:

CroqueMadam
Actually it wasn’t all that bad, but nor was it a gustatory delight to be recommended to future waiters-for-flights in Terminal 2 at JFK. In the glass case there were some other possibilities:
curiouscroissant

suspicioussmokedsalmon


Betsy was good-natured about the experience:
Bscroque

and it ended as all such meals do:
raggedremnants

Note the cutlery: because we’re on the Air Side, it’s plastic. The fork flexes and the knife is not a cutter. But that’s how it goes once one is in the maw of the travel gods.

On the supermarket frontier

Lately I’ve been taking my 87-year-old neighbor Don Miller shopping in Rockland. He’s a garrulous and interesting dude, long-time mechanic and lifelong Midcoast Maine resident, pretty fiercely independent (“they wanted to put me in a nursin’ home, but I wouldn’t have none of it…”) but no longer able to drive himself. I’ll hope to do him more justice another time, but here he is in his usual plumage:

DonMiller

He likes to shop at Shaw’s, a grocery store I don’t usually frequent (Midcoast folks tend to be fiercely loyal to one or another of the chain supermarkets), and I had time to wander in parts of the store that I don’t usually visit (I tend to shop the peripheries, not venturing into the land of High Fructose Corn Syrup that makes up the core of most supermarkets) and gather up bits of intelligence on what’s on offer these days.

Midcoast Maine is pretty far from the Big Time of American food crazes, but I was interested to see the variety that demands shoppers’ attention these days. Take couscous, scarcely a staple of the traditional diet of this region:

Couscous1 Couscous2
(below: Herbed Chicken, Original Plain, Mediterranean Curry, Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil, Parmesan, Toasted Pine Nut, and Basil and Herb –but see Near East for mooooore…)
Couscous3
And who knew that farro had made it into quick-fix packaging?
Farrotto
and as for Moroccan cuisine, packaged for American tastes:
Moroccan
The old reliable Boyardee appears in many guises, and here exemplifies the American genius for BIG:
OhAmerica
Now I wish that I’d thought to track the evolution of these innovations in American foodways, which I’m sure has been both rapid and punctuated. I mean, cranberries are a long-time New England staple, but what is one to make of infused dried cranberries? And just think what other flavors may show up on next year’s shelves…
Craisins
There’s a world of Anthropology of Food out there, begging to be studied and deconstructed.

Quotidian oatmeal

Here’s an experiment with the mundane, testing a new lens and preparing for the Turkey trip. We begin with a cup of rolled oats (‘old fashioned’ and Quaker):

oats1

The foam starts to rise shortly after the oats meet the boiling water (2 cups, with about 1/8 teaspoon salt), so the heat is turned down just enough:
oats2

So begins a series of subtle changes in consistency and texture, interesting to meditate upon as states progress:
oats3

oats4

oats5

Nearly done, still needs a couple of minutes with heat off and cover on the pot:
oats6

In the bowl (note: bowl shaped and sized such that a cocker spaniel wouldn’t wet its ears):
oats7

And with blueberries and just a hint of maple syrup:
oats8

The last two shots are a bit disappointing –I should have upped the ISO and shutter speed, or better yet used a tripod… but I was in too much of a hurry because I wanted to taste the result. Note to self: several object lessons there.

Salivation

Robyn Eckhardt’s EatingAsia is such a delight, and this passage kicks it up a whole nother notch, capturing my Philosophy of Cooking all too well:

Madame Khaw’s Nyonya delights are transcendent. She cooks with an assured hand, often pushing the edge of the envelope by upping the quantities of strong-flavored ingredients in an already strong-flavored dish. This is how I cook too, like an addict feeding an addiction: just a few more chilies, another teaspoon of each dried spice, fresh herbs by the handful instead of the quarter cupful and 5 different types of fresh herb when a recipe calls for 2 or 3. I love strong, really strong flavors, and foods that leave me searching for descriptives.

And don’t get me started on the magnificence of Dave Hagerman’s photographs… Looking forward to meeting them in a few weeks in Turkey!

Saturday breakfast

I bought some garlic scapes at the Farmers’ Market and used half of them in last night’s braised tofu. The other half seemed like they’d be just the thing for breakfast, so I sliced them just so and sauteed them in some butter:

scapes
…then put in a few pieces of Daddy’s Day smoked salmon (sent from Seattle by Kate and Shannon)
salmon
…and then the eggs
egg
and voila:
result1
Add sambal oelek to taste
result2
and here’s the inevitable result:
result3