Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Provence 1970" + Tribute Dessert à la 2014

If you haven't read Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, you must...It's a brilliant description of 3 winter months spent in the South of France by culinary luminaries who changed the face of American cooking. Just ask Alice Waters!

Barr is the grandson of MFK Fisher's sister Norah, and he somehow pulled this mouth-watering narrative together from interviews, letters and articles as painstakingly corroborated in pages of footnotes -- and lovingly quoted throughout the book to lend both credence and context to his story. In 1970, Fisher -- an eloquent food writer, with 27 tomes to her credit -- was traveling with Norah both for nostalgia's sake and also to decide what to do with the rest of her life. She was 62.

They met up with Julia and Paul Child, Simone "Simca" Beck, James Beard, Richard Olney, and food editor Judith Jones -- all Americans except Beck. Regardless of their idiosyncrasies, the fellow travelers got together in each others homes away from home, cooked meals for each other, and talked into the night in simple unencumbered surroundings -- something that was not done much any more Stateside even then. (Indeed, the members of the Travel & Recipe Club at the Brockway Memorial Library recently discussed the book and cooked a beautiful shared meal, wishing that they did that more often these days themselves.*)

Times were indeed a-changin'. Julia Child, with her successful TV show and other enterprises, had already begun to back away from what was extolled in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 volumes) which she had written with Beck. "Simca" was not happy about that -- and more so the dedicated francophile Olney, who had recently written The French Menu Cookbook and lived in a house he renovated there in Provence with a wine cellar that he spent 6 years digging himself!

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was food-obsessed:"After breakfast she was on her own. And MF continued to be troubled by food. The look of it. The constant search for it." (p.184). On top of that, she was in the throes of doubting her heretofore dedication to French life. In December, 1970: "She had made up her mind. 'I do know that I have, apparently, turned my back on the old vague dream of establishing myself in S. France, as I once dreamed.' " (p.196) She then went home and established herself at "Last House" in Glen Ellen, California, where she died in 1992 at the age 93.

In 2010, Barr took Grandma Norah, his wife and daughter back to Provence for a look at the various homes where the food icons had stayed, including Child's "La Pitchoune" (which by then reverted back to the Beck Estate). He and his guests to some extent relived the spirit of 1970. But while some things never change, others are gone forever...

*Tribute Dessert: On p. 11, MFK Fisher talks about her love for tangerine sections. And on p. 232, Barr reports on a simple country meal she had prepared for her famous friends, including Ice Cream w/Pureed Plums. Searching for a connection, I took a recipe for Prunes Poached in Red Wine (which included orange zest in the prep), pureed the prunes, put them over vanilla ice cream, and added a tangerine section. My tribute to MFK Fisher!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

As for peppers, how about roasting some?

Recently I decided to make Spicy Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummous from scratch, including roasting the peppers -- a bit labor intensive, but the results were pleasing to me and my Rosh Hashanah guests. After thinking about it for too long, I finally roasted some peppers the way my mother Angeline used to do it. It's not difficult.

Yes, I can still picture Mom roasting (mostly bell) peppers until charred and then putting them immediately into a paper bag from the super market to steam awhile and facilitate peeling. Not sure exactly how she separated the seeds from the peppers. I simply cut the them into sections, scrape the seeds away, and then turn them over in order to gently pull the skin away. Some cooks rinse the seeds away, but not I so as to not lose any of the smokey flavor...Lay the peppers in a container where you can marinate with olive oil, vinegar, and a clove or two of garlic until served or otherwise used.

There are many ways to roast peppers and many different kinds of peppers to roast. You can char your peppers directly on the burners of a gas stove, on a grill, or in the oven. I chose oven-roasting at 450 degrees rather than under the broiler to protect against burning holes in the peppers. Problems with peeling seemed to arise if the pepper was not thick-walled, making choosing those peppers at the green grocer key. Make sure they are firm and shiny.

NOTE: As for making the hummus, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Michelle Bernstein say on a recent episode of "Check Please" that she prefers using canned chick peas over dried ones. I do, too, but prepare them a bit first rather than using straight from the can. Bring the chick peas to a boil in chicken broth along with a section of sweet onion pierced with 2-3 cloves. Turn off the burner and let the chickpeas sit for 20-30 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid to be used later if needed. OPA!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Olympus Burger revisited (Why do those Greeks grow those super hot peppers anyway?)

When in Port Hope, Ontario, I do what most others do -- lunch or dinner at Olympus Burger. According to Trip Advisor, it is the #1 restaurant in Port Hope (out of 51) and #5 in all Ontario for American Cuisine. Double OPA!

"Ares" Burger
Liked it a lot when I visited last May, and even more this time -- even though I yet again did not fully take up the Hercules Challenge. But at least I made progress...And I had one of the best burgers I have ever eaten: "Ares" (Peppercorn beef patty, crispy bacon, caramelized onion, sauteed mushrooms, Olympus BBQ Sauce, lettuce/tomato on a whole wheat bun). Just look at it!

Kallonakis Family
Olympus Burger is very welcoming, with front man George Kallonakis (a mover-and-shaker in the Port Hope restaurant community) as backed up by his parents Georgia and Manolis from Hirocambi, about 15 minutes south of Sparti...This time I met the parents. And I had barely sat down for lunch when Dad Kallonakis brought me a bag of tomatoes grown in his garden at the back of the restaurant, a very Greek thing to do. Then he proceeded to produce my burger and the amazing "Olympus Poutine" featuring Ivanhoe cheese curds, a very Canadian thing to eat.

The "Labour of Hercules" Challenge requires you to eat a 6 oz. beef patty, w/crispy bacon, lettuce/tomato, caramelized onions, jalapenos, habanero peppers, and secret Olympus Hot Sauce (also slathered on top of the bun!) -- in 15 minutes with one glass of water, after signing a waiver. It's followed-up w/a milkshake to cool off the stomach, if you get that far. So far 211 customers have tried and only 63 have succeeded (30%), including 6 of 9 women (66%). Survivors get a free t-shirt and serious bragging rights.

According to George, Mom Kallonakis likes spicy and pushing the limits of spicy. So they started growing Trinidad Moruga Scorpion peppers in their backyard, NOT a very Greek thing to grow. Scorpions were until recently the world's hottest peppers with a 1.2 -2 million Scoville heat unit score depending on the plant -- or at least 250 times hotter than the average jalapeno. Thus the Olympus Hot Sauce and the Hercules Challenge...and the rest is (not quite) ancient history.

Most of the burgers/sandwiches at Olympus burger are indeed Greek god themed -- with names like Athena (lamb patty), Hermes, Dionysus, Poseidon (salmon fillet), Artemis (chicken breast), and Hera (Portobello mushroom cap). Something for everybody and fabulous home-cut fries to boot.

One evening, I managed to eat a burger -- the "Achilles" from the Secret Menu -- slathered w/2 little cups of the Olympus Hot Sauce, one more than last time. My friend Greg managed only one cup, but that was his first try...Next time, who knows?