Follow by Email

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Porn Kitchen

One of my faithful readers complained.  “Your recipes taste wonderful, but the writing needs something.  Can’t you add some porn?”

Yes, my perverted friend, I can do that.

Chicken Thighs

The tall blond sitting next to me at cooking class, leaned over and whispered, “I like the sound of chicken thighs.”  It must be the way she said thighs that made a shiver race up my spine, then turn around and race down, before making several other stops on its way out of town.

She gave me a slow wink.  She must be six feet tall, lanky.  I was thinking nice breasts. Must have said it out loud.  Mildred, our Chef Aujourd’hui said flatly, “You can use breasts, but thighs are juicier.”  She had a point.  The blond winked again.  Not sure if the blond meant breasts or thighs.  Either way, it would be a tough choice.  Maybe I can pick more than one.  The chicken wouldn’t mind.

“Peel and slice the onion,” Mildred said, but I was still doing an enney-meany-mine-moe on the parts of the chicken I would most like to fondle… I mean sauté.

The blond said, “I’m a few inches taller than you.”  What did she mean?  Did she just imply I’m a few inches short of what she needs?  She smiled and put a hand on my knee.  The knee was very happy and began to celebrate right away and passed the news on to my reptile brain which sent an urgent message to the sausage delivery boy.

“You’ll want to add butter and seasonings to the onions while they cook.  Don’t let them brown.” Meanwhile, the sergeant major in charge of my artillery and the first knee to get the news were still celebrating.

“Remove the sautéed onion,” said Mildred, which I did not agree with.  I was not in the mood to pull anything out.  Cookus interruptus was not in the plan.

“Put the chicken in the pan with a little oil and add a pat of butter,” Mildred said.

“Thighs, “ said the blond, “Chicken thighs.”  I put my hand on her knee. 

“Tits,” I said, “Chicken tits.”  I admit I was a little giddy. The blond squeezed my knee. Mildred scowled. She’s not known for her humorous side, wherever that is.  I know I haven’t found it.

“I crush my own tomatoes,” Mildred said.  She looked at me and squeezed her fist when she said it.

“I like olives,” said the blond, “the kind with nuts in them.”

“You mean pits,” I said, but quickly changed my answer.

“I do a lot of cooking,” she said.

“What kind of cooking?” I asked, hoping to get an answer that would please the Sergeant Major and the sausage delivery boy, whose chest was now swelling with pride.

“Lots of stuff,” she said.

Lots of stuff would do the trick for me.  Lots and lots of stuff.  “Ever use Crisco?” I asked.

“I use it on my body to you know firm me up before I go out naked to sunbathe.”  Actually that’s not what she said, but she did mention olive oil and I helped out her memory.

“Add the wine to the tomatoes and then you just let it simmer for a couple of hours,” Mildred said.

“Sometimes I simmer,” the blond said, “And sometimes other stuff.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I can imagine.  Other stuff is great for long weekends.  Crisco is too.  I’m also a huge fan of simmering.”

The blond moved her palm up my leg to shake hands with the sausage deliver boy.  “Thighs,” she said.

Pollo Piero: Peter's Chicken

8-10 bone in, skinless chicken thighs

1 large red onion sliced thinly

1 Cup pitted, spicy olives

3-4 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (I crush the tomatoes by hand)

1 Cup dry white wine

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon butter (I use unsalted)

A spring of fresh rosemary really helps

Crushed red pepper to taste (I prefer this dish mild)

Salt and Pepper

Use a high sided pan , set the heat to medium, toss in some olive oil and butter, add the sliced onions, along with a pinch of red pepper and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes.

Set the onions aside.  Raise the heat.  Add the chicken and more olive oil.  Turn the chicken as needed to brown on all sides.  

Lower the heat, add the cooked onions, tomatoes, and wine.  Cook for about ten minutes and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Uncover and cook 15 minutes more.  The dish is done when the chicken is tender to the bone..

Pressed for time?  Make it the day before and refrigerate.  Warm it up in the oven.  Even better!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Homburg: What is it about flea markets?

As soon as my eldest son was housebroken and had small change in his pocket, I took him to garage sales.  His eyes sparkled when he spied old plastic Super Heroes and Pokemon cards.  An early lesson in economics and decision-making.  He wanted everything, but could afford little.  Heartbreaking choices followed, but his heart didn’t break.

He comes by his early passion honestly.   I think it’s in the human genome to shop and bargain.  Name a great flea market of the world and I’ve probably been there.  Souks in Turkey and Morocco.  The happy street markets of Paris.  The famous El Rastro of Madrid.  The almost overpowering expanse of the Metz, France indoor flea market.  They all contain the same elements of hopeful buyers and equally hopeful sellers of random goods.

In southwest Germany, buyers and sellers will find one of the best flea markets around: the Homburg flea market, or as the Germans call it, Flohmarkt.  It’s a wondrous playground for ideas, inspiration, and bargains.

See, that’s a ma-velous thing about flea markets, both the wares and the prices float from day to day, month to month. Trash and treasures intermingle. Hopes and dreams soar.  And if the treasure of your life has just been purchased by someone with a quicker, sharper eye, in Germany you can battle grief with Beer and Wurst, as you stroll to the next array and find something even better.  Keep in mind I’m still talking about a flea markets and not Friday night’s happy hour.

Homburg’s rendition is close to the city government offices, the tall, expansive conglomerate office building Germans call the Rathaus, city hall, with Rat translated as advice. When you think of government offices, you may find you use a different translation.  But having visited several Rathauses here, I’ve found the public servants to be spontaneously polite and almost embarrassingly helpful.  Different culture.  Different expectations.  Lucky Germans.

Homburg Rathaus

Ok, so you’ve found the general area.  Noise, people lugging away brass lamps, tables, chairs, and even musical instruments point the way to the treasure trove.  In this case, tents mark the spot. A wide range of tents spread across the land like a Bedouin encampment, lacking only camels, ferocious heat and blowing sand.

 The tents serve an important purpose.  I’ve visited this flea market when a downpour struck like an angry Greek god.  Even with my lighting-like reflexes and a switchblade umbrella, I was soon soaked from the knees down and sloshing about in sloppy shoes.  Not so the vendors.  With the practiced art of a well trained Indianapolis pit crew, the treasures were quickly protected, but still viewable by those buyers whose lives no longer mattered to them without the thrill of the hunt.

How often? My now entranced readers ask.  The first Saturday of every month, but there are exceptions, so be sure to ask around, or confer with Mr. Google, the sage of the age.

Ok, time for some flea market counseling.  You do not truly love the objects you see and desire. (There may be other situations where that advice is valuable.)  These flea market objects are simply metal, wooden, glass, plastic and paper ornaments.  You didn’t know about them until you saw them and may not yet know WTF they are.  You didn’t need them until they popped into your line of view.  You’ve kept other things a secret from your wife/husband/insignificant other and your severe disappointment in losing the object of desire can be a secret, too.  See addend above.

Bad form to shed tears in front of a vendor, who only just now mistook you for someone he wished to speak with, but who now wishes with all his heart to avoid.

When a vendor takes the object of your desire and smashes it against the hood of his car, you know your casual, low-ball bid disturbed him.

But the best advice is to remember, there is always next month, with another first Saturday.  The Beer will be cold and the Wurst hot from the grill.

Note some small red circles on the daggers?  They cover Nazi symbols, which are illegal to show openly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chocolate in Provence

Found Chocolaterie Castelain in Chateauneuf du Pape, deep in the heart of Provence, France.  Ok, I lied a little, but doesn’t everybody.  Not about the Provence part, but the finding it part.  Actually, a friend found it and managed to sober up a group of choco-holics enough to get us to chocolate land.

Came as a surprise.  Not the sobering up part.  Unintended, but it happens.

The chocolate and France part. After all, where do you think of when you think of chocolate?  Belgium?  Yes.  Switzerland?  Yes.  Germany?  Of course.  Which country produces the most chocolate?  Pennsylvanians know the answer and I can explain it with one word: Hersey.

But France?  Mais oui!  A chocolate paradise in Provence.  Should have expected it in this bastion of creativity.  Van Gogh country.  Cézanne country.  A wonderland of olives and cheeses and especially wines.  What?  You don’t count making cheeses and wine creative?  Every wine and cheese is different, with different flavors. Or olives?  Just try curing them yourself without swearing and smashing crockery on the kitchen wall.

Chocolate is just one more form of creativity, with endless variations.  It’s one of the most complicated of foods.  Start with the Cocoa beans, most of which are grown in West Africa.  Picture men and women hacking pods off trees with machetes.  Picture people barely making a living….wait a sec.  A large Swiss corporation, Nestle formed the World Cocoa Foundation to see that farmers get properly paid for their labor and to ensure healthy farming practices that mean your grandchildren will still be biting into chocolate bars. Next time you take a bite, give Nestle a shout out.

Ok, you’re saying, but what’s the big deal?  The cocoa beans are squashed and then you have chocolate, right?   Think so?  Check my simple (I know my readers) synopsis of the bean to bar process:

Pods are harvested with machetes sharp enough to shave your beard, and the beans and pulp are scooped out. Just as with wine, climate and soil have a lot to do with the flavor of the final product.

Beans and pulp are put in a vat to ferment. (with lots of hands-on help from the farmers)

Next step is drying, then roasting.

Winnowing separates the beans from their shells.

After fine grinding and conching (surface scraping and coco-butter separation) you get chocolate liquor, with the solids being chocolate and the liquid being cocoa butter.  Here’s where the quality comes in.  First class producers will add some cocoa butter back into their chocolate to smooth it out.  Eat some Belgian chocolate and you’ll see what I mean about smooth. Cheap producers will add lesser oils.  Hint:  read the list of ingredients.

Now that you’re an expert on Chocolate, let’s head to a fabulous chocolate maker in Provence.  You’ll learn all I’ve written and more importantly, get to make your own, plus gobble chocolate until your blood sugar level goes in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The chef and his assistant led us down the chocolate road.  First thing to remember is there are essentially three types of chocolate:  dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, the latter being only coco butter, milk and sugar.  So is white chocolate really chocolate?  The other two you can figure out yourself.  Dark  chocolate has a million variations, depending on where the beans came from and how much sugar is added.  The most chocolate of chocolates is 99% chocolate, with the percentage printed on the wrapper displaying how much coco bean (by weight) is in the bar. As the percentage of chocolate decreases, of course the amount of sugar and coco butter increases.

There’s nothing like hands-on to teach you how difficult a skill…any skill…is.  We poured chocolate into molds to create hollow hearts, plastic pastry bags to make chocolate drops, and dipped fruits and caramels.   The chef made it look exceedingly easy and I suppose if you make it your life’s work to get good at something it does get easy. For me it was messy work, but we had a great instructor and came away with bags of chocolate.

Here’s a pairing tip for you:  Dark chocolate goes well with Guinness.  I know that will come in handy.  It did for me, as I reconciled alcohol and gluttony.

Tip number two:  If you bring bags of chocolate home, you will eat them, especially if they come from Chocolaterie Cstalain..  Be warned and stand by to loosen your belt, or just switch to the chocolate- Guinness fitness diet.