American life in Japanese cookbooks

Posted June 18, 2008 by teagans
Categories: Books, cookbook, Food, Japanese

As you know I was recently in New Orleans, and while there I stumbled across an all cookbook used bookstore by the name of Kitchen Witch, what a find! Some cookbook stores can be full of overpriced and rare books that are way out of my price range even if they are books I wish I might own, this was not one of those. The owner not only was well informed and well organized, with different sections for cuisines from different parts of the world or different parts of the meal (e.g. bread or dessert cookbooks), but he also had a very affordable selection.

A couple of years ago in Williamsburg, Virginia I acquired, from another used bookstore, a cookbook called The Art of Chinese Cooking by the Benedictine Sisters of Peking. It is full of amazing and wonderful drawings, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, I’ll share some of them with you here at some point in the future. It did put me onto the fantastic artwork that seems to have appeared in cookbooks particularly in the 1950s and 60s coming out of this country. I love line-drawings and the ones in the cookbooks from these decades are precious, definitely reflective of their time and place in history and so worth talking about with you here.

I ended up buying two Japanese cookbooks from the Kitchen Witch, I guess starting myself down the road to collecting Asian cookbooks from the mid-twentieth century with cool drawings. I’m include the images from one of those books in this post. This book is entitled Buy It ‘N Try It: Hints on Cooking and Living In Japan compiled and edited by The Women’s Society Tokyo Union Church (new revised edition 1967). As far as I can tell, it’s part of a larger series of “Buy It ‘N Try It” books, though I’ve not yet taken the time to explore what other topics they covered. As I said, what drew me to this book were the images. And another amazing thing about the book is that it essentially tells an American audience how to cook Americanized food in a Japanese context. If you happen to be in Japan and you’re an American, for goodness sakes, do not eat Japanese food, why would you do that? Instead, here are a bunch of recipes that use very few Japanese ingredients, but are American favorites, such as meatballs, peanut brittle, cinnamon buns, dill pickles, etc. Perhaps I’ll explore this in theme in another post as well, though I’m contemplating writing a more academic article on it instead.

So for the images below, click on each one for a close up and a few thoughts and further information about the drawing. Do enjoy this little tour through the newest edition to my growing cookbook collection. 🙂


The Joint

Posted June 6, 2008 by teagans
Categories: barbecue, bbq, Food, restaurant review

So here I am in The Big Easy, feeling, or perhaps feeding, my way through my first ever ASFS (Association for the Study of Food and Society) Conference. What a perfect location for talking and thinking about food and I am certainly already feeling very inspired by simply being amongst so many wonderful people who have chosen to make food and food studies a central part of their life’s work. New Orleans, of course, is so defined by its food culture, food being one of the central touristic draws of the city and one of the main ways in which people here seek to define who they are. With that in mind, when you are here, your mission must be to try as much of the local cuisine as you can, for it seems that by ingesting these foods (and beverages) you can make a claim to a better understanding of the city and its people. It is so wonderful, in fact, to have food be one of the defining characteristics of a particular place because food is so approachable and accessible to anyone who chooses to participate in its consumption. That said, it is also very easy for the food to become more of a commodity than an actual comestible and therefore to focus more on drawing tourist dollars in, rather than maintaining a sense of self or perhaps “authenticity” (if there is even such a notion). There is a thin line to be tread in a town like this and that is why it is often better to stray away from the central districts of town and to go out and explore some of the smaller “Mom & Pop” places, which some would argue have more character and incorporate more true communal spirit because they are part of the community in a way that the tourist places are not, they exist to serve the community in which they are a part, rather than the transient crowd that is the tourist masses and whom will not be returning in the foreseeable future.

Several of the conference attendees and I decided that we had to get out of the French Quarter to explore some “real” New Orleans food last night and ended up agreeing on a barbecue place called The Joint in the Faubourg Marigny/Bywater part of the city. You have to pass through some pretty run down and not-yet-rebuilt areas to get there, so we were advised by the concierge at the conference hotel that we should take a cab to get there, though I personally would have been interested to have had more of a face-to-face experience with the devastation. But let’s move on to the actual restaurant and the food. The Joint was located right, and I mean right, alongside the railroad tracks in what was otherwise a strictly residential neighborhood. There was a train that went past during dinner and it shook the whole building for several minutes, not to mention making the owners dog (who was inside sitting in the middle of the dining area) howl like a wolf. The building was a long concrete block painted yellow on the outside and a tangerine orange in the inside. But the thing that stuck you most was the entirely intoxicating smell emanating from the place. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m nuts about barbecue (kind of like cookoo for cocoa puffs)! I love the passion of the people who make it their mission to produce the best barbecue possible, the commitment of time and resources and the lore and even the manliness of it (though obviously there are many women involved). But barbecue is not something to be taken lightly, it’s something that wars could be fought over and I’m sure many a family feud has arisen purely because of barbecue-related issues. This is serious stuff.

I am more of a sauce than a meat person when it comes to making my decisions about which kinds of bbq I like best, but there’s no denying a good piece of barbecued pork, beef, or chicken (though pork is really my barometer for barbecue, in this part of the country anyhow, certainly not in Texas where beef is king). The sauce at The Joint was not amazing by my standards, on its own that is. There were two options, both very watery, and I’m more of a one for thick sweet sauces. The redder of the two sauces was the one I settled on and when combined with the pulled pork (which was served without sauce so you could add it to your desired potency, I like about 1:1 sauce to meat, though I could even go up to 2:1 if the meat will hold all that sauce), it was stellar. We also had pork ribs which were, frankly, amazing! They had this thick crust of rub on them which was dark and sweet with a little kick. It was simply out of this world and the ribs themselves, the meat was juicy and tender and oh so flavorful, it was a flavor party in your mouth. Delicious!

Sides were also a strongpoint at The Joint. We had macaroni and cheese, baked beans, green salad with smoked tomato dressing, and coleslaw. The macaroni and cheese had just been made several hours before and was so creamy and rich! The baked beans had an unusual twist in that they included tiny little chunks of green peppers. They added another flavor layer to the traditional recipe that was appreciated. The smoked tomato dressing on the salad was creamy and wonderful. Apparently they smoke the tomatoes for the dressing themselves in the same smoker they use for the barbecue. No wonder it is such a success.

Between the owner’s dog howling like the world was coming to an end, the locals giving us ordering advice, and the laidback and welcoming feel of The Joint, there was really nothing more anyone could ask for! If you are ever in the New Orleans area, you must must must check out this place. It’s certainly proof positive that getting outside of the tourist district and exploring the local food scene can be so worth the time and effort!

The Perfect Refreshing Dessert!

Posted May 23, 2008 by teagans
Categories: dessert, Food, recipe

Summer is coming, I swear it, though when it will actually arrive no one knows. But even the slight warming that has occurred over the last few months and the lengthening daylight hours has been enough to put a spring (literally and figuratively) back in my step. With the habitual warming weather, of course, our palates go through a transformation as well and rather than longing for foods rich and comforting, we tend to shift toward lighter, brighter and fresher tastes as more fresh produce become available in season. If you are looking for the perfect refreshing, light, flavorful, healthy, colorful, uncomplicated dessert for your next kitchen foray, have I got the recipe for you! Now, this is not at all a recipe that I came up with on my own and I won’t take any of the credit for it, but I, and now a good number of my nearest and dearest friends, can vouch for its being a really wonderful end to a meal or even an afternoon snack. What is this fantastic dessert of which I speak? Well it’s a berry pudding with cream. This, upon first hearing it, may not seem like the answer to all your dessert-centered desires, but let me expound a bit more on the pleasures and details of this simple dish. All that it really consists of is pureed fruit (either fresh or frozen), pushed through a sieve to remove any seeds or pulp. You then add a bit of corn starch and some sugar and put it on the stove, stirring constantly until it boils, and then for just a minute longer. Pour it off into a bowl, let it sit for ten minutes, then press plastic wrap on the surface so that it doesn’t develop a thick crust on top while it sits in your fridge for at least two hours, but up to several days. Perhaps the best part is that you serve it with a mixture of whipped cream, vanilla, powdered sugar, and greek yogurt. The juxtaposition of the tangy, slightly sweet and creamy yogurt with the fruit in the “pudding” is wonderful. It is almost like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt in reverse, but not as sweet. I love that the pudding is essentially just straight up fresh fruit and it really explodes in your mouth. I’ve now made both a raspberry and a strawberry version of this for different occasions, next I might try mixing these two flavors together, or I was considering mango (another way to get a dose of my favorite fruit). I urge you to give this recipe a try, it is well worth your time and perfect for the season!

Oatmeal is not very photogenic!

Posted May 11, 2008 by teagans
Categories: baking, Food, recipe

It wasn’t until I started taking pictures of food, just for fun and long before this blog ever came into being, that I really began paying attention to the minutiae of the visual appeal of food. I always new that food could be beautiful, that the colors and shapes that you can create with food are amazing and that it is in part so fantastic because these artistic creations are fleeting, generally being consumed within only a few minutes or hours of their being finished. I mention this hear because I wanted to write a post about a new breakfast I’ve been eating over the last couple of weeks, well not really new because I’ve eaten it before, but just breaking out of the routine of the same peanut butter and banana sandwich that I have been absolutely wedded to for probably two years now. That’s not to say that I don’t still eat that sandwich, just that I have incorporated a new option into the breakfast repertoire and it seems to be working out well. So the dish in question is called “Apple Oatmeal Pudding” and it is definitely warm and satisfying. But, as with many of the dishes I realize that I make at home, it is not very photogenic. Obviously the restaurant industry can expend a lot more time, energy, and even money into the presentation of the food they put on their plates. They are, after all, trying to tantalize their customers. This is not to say that we should not attempt to do this at home, but more to comment that it is the first thing to go when we’re time crunched and have other priorities, but still want to make time to cook for ourselves. As long as the food is tasty, healthy, and filling, then that’s all I really care about at this juncture. I’d say I rely more on the plate or bowl that the food is served in to amplify its appearance, than any sort of garnish or architectural construction made of food. Again, these are accoutrements I’d definitely consider if there were other people involved in the bargain, but since it’s just me, why take the extra effort? (I can, by the way, think of many and justifiable reasons to take the extra effort, but the pressure of productivity on my dissertation wins out.) I wonder also if I am detecting a trend in my food preferences that is at the opposite end of photo-worthy, meaning mushy, soupy, casserole-like foods that must be the stuff of nightmares for food stylists. Perhaps I will question a food stylist the next time I meet one (or I should more accurately say the first time I meet one), about the creative ways in which they work around this general genre of food. What they do to enhance its appeal. In the meantime I will try to keep a better eye out in magazines and such…

So that whole long intro was really a plug for you to give the Apple Oatmeal Pudding recipe a try. If you like oatmeal in the mornings, this is a nice way to bake yourself enough for four days in advance, then all you have to do is microwave it for a few minutes and add some milk to get it to the desired consistency and you’re golden. It’s actually a bit thicker of a consistency because the baking allows the oatmeal to set, but not in that gross “it’s now a huge brick” sort of way, more like a casserole that’s held together with the oatmeal. I love the recipe, which is a hand-me-down from someone in my mom’s office about ten years ago, because it really gives you a warm feeling inside. Let me know what you think! Just don’t be deterred by the photo which, as I hinted above, is not entirely inspiring. We can and do feast with multiple senses, but it doesn’t always have to be with the eyes first.

Vegan adventures

Posted May 9, 2008 by teagans
Categories: chocolate, dessert, Food, Horizons, restaurant review, seitan, tofu, vegan

So anyone who has perused this blog at any juncture is well aware of the fact that I am clearly not a vegetarian or vegan or any facsimile thereof, I mean have you seen the pictures of the deer heads and suckling pig? But even though I work with animal bones on a daily basis and am not at all afraid of meat on any level, I also am not on the carnivorous end of the omnivore spectrum. I do not eat a great deal of meat, but I don’t make an extra effort to cut it out of my diet either. I am equally happy to have chicken or tofu for dinner. For me, at least at this stage of the game, it is more about the experience of different flavors, textures, and cultural traditions, than it is about other aspects of food choices. (And believe me I am also well aware of the arguments for vegetarian and vegan dietary choices and I definitely support those people who decide that these lifestyles suit their personal goals and moral and political stances.) I, personally, am trying to move as far away from any sorts of restrictions or defined boundaries when it comes to foods as I can and so I choose to eat whatever might appear on my plate and to be more intrigued by the story behind the food.

With that information as a backdrop, I will admit that I definitely have an interest in vegetarian and vegan cuisine as such. I am very interested to experiment and experience the kinds of flavors and textures created with non-meat products. Following along this path, I and a few of my friends went to Horizons for dinner this evening. It was a special prix fixe menu that was a terrific deal and a wonderful opportunity to taste a few of the foods coming out of this well-known and well-loved Philly vegan hot-spot. Our menu included:

Jamaican bbq seitan with green jerk cabbage and scotch bonnet crema

Pan roasted tofu with exotic mushroom paella, english pea sauce, and tomato salad

Bittersweet chocolate cheesecake with balsamic strawberries
(ummm, yeah, so as is my wont, I got too excited when dessert came and I’d eaten the whole slice before I remembered that I was supposed to have taken a picture of it, but you know what cheesecake looks like, so just imagine it) ☺

The seitan appetizer, and this was the first time I’d ever had seitan, was a very unique texture. I described it as almost like a very fatty pork belly or some similar cut, but without the distinctly stringy texture of the meat and the overly disgusting feel of a big wad of fat in your mouth (I abhor chewing on large chunks of fat). The seitan was chewy in the way that pork belly is, but without all the associated guilt. The bbq sauce had a great punch, which was well balanced with the crispness of the cabbage and the crema sauce. The hot seitan also contrasted well with the cool cabbage and sauce.

Though the pan roasted tofu was a simple dish in and of itself, just add some seasoning on top and you’ve got your dish, the accoutrements were wonderful. The mushroom paella was more like a smooth creamy risotto and the pea sauce was fantastic! It added both a bright green color and an extremely fresh and bright flavor.

The chocolate cheesecake was also quite good, very light and fluffy. Not much to say there since I obviously liked it so much I forgot to take a photo. Chocolate in a dessert and I’m one happy woman.

Like so many others before me, I was quite impressed with the food at Horizons. The presentation was really nice, the colors were vibrant, and the flavors and textures were really well-balanced. The ambiance of the restaurant is also very pleasant and the staff were extremely congenial. At the very least I will have to make a return visit to try their mango crème brulée because it’s on the list of the top 5 crème brulées in the city (according to Citypaper), which I’m trying to, but doing a very poor job of, working my way through. But I’d want to go back anyway, this is a place you can take your vegetarian and vegan friends for sure, but also people who just like to eat these sorts of foods, to see, taste, and experience what is out there in all the various arenas of the culinary world.

Baking in the middle of the night

Posted April 22, 2008 by teagans
Categories: baking, culinary history, dessert, Food, recipe

In delving more into historic recipes over the last couple of months, and by delving, I mean actually making, I have been struck by the fact that many of the older recipes require a lot more time in the kitchen, or at least are not nearly as instantaneously ready as most of those that we are used to today. This is in part because of the central focus of food in the lives of people in times when it was not readily available in restaurants, take-out joints, all-nite mini marts, and basically around every corner. When you have to plan ahead, and sometimes months ahead for your meals, then the fact that preparation of a particular dish might take you several hours or days, seems like small beans, as long as you have food on the table at the end of the day.

The first time this fact became obvious to me was when I recently made a plum pudding using a recipe from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747). The recipe had been translated by a group of culinary historians (the Past Masters) into modern-day measurements and directions, though still meant to be prepared in a pot of boiling water that was placed over the fire in a large fireplace. The batter is placed in a “pudding cloth” (a piece of linen, which I didn’t have, so used a cloth napkin that I didn’t feel much attachment to) and is simmered in the boiling water for 5 hours.

Being someone who doesn’t spend a great deal of time in my apartment, what with school and extra curriculars and spending time with friends, etc., I don’t often have 5+ hours in which I’m home at a stretch, except, of course, when I’m sleeping. Thus began a growing trend where I start multiple-step or time-consuming recipes that require getting up in the middle of the night to do the next step or monitor the progress in one way or another. I can’t say that this is the best way to get a good night’s sleep, obviously, but it can be fairly entertaining to wake up at 2:30 in the morning and pull a cake out of your oven.

My latest adventure in this vein was the making of a baba au rhum or rum cake. For whatever reason, in this day and age where you can so easily be overwhelmed by the sheer number of recipes that fit your criteria once you decide what you plan to make, I find myself making decisions about which recipe I’m going to use without even having read through the entire set of directions. That’s how I ended up setting my alarm multiple times last night to get up and do various different steps in this cake recipe. I made the mistake of trusting that it would take roughly the amount of time that the recipe claimed it would, which we all know is total bollocks, I usually multiply it by 1.5 to get actual estimates. But the recipe promised a finished product in 2 hours and I started at 10pm, so I figured I’d be done a little after midnight at the worst. HA! That’s where I got the 2:30am cake comment earlier in this post, cause that’s when I pulled the baby out of the oven, and it wasn’t even done then, ‘cause you have to wait for it to cool and then pour rum syrup into it, which takes another 20 minutes. So you can see how accurate of an estimate that turned out to be. I suppose I should have been suspicious from the get go because of the fact that there was yeast in the recipe, hence rising time (this being one of the main reasons that I hardly ever make recipes which involve yeast), but, like I said, I made a snap decision on the recipe because it was recommended and I had the ingredients and it sounded good.

So at the time I wrote the above I couldn’t actually comment on how said rum cake turned out since I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to taste the fruits of my night of interrupted sleep’s labor, but I will do so now… There are definitely no complaints on the eating end about the amount of rum in this cake! It is soaked to the brim and then some, leaving excess pooling on the plate at the bottom. This recipe is definitely different than what you might think of for your typical rum cake because of the yeast bread, which I actually really liked. I have to say that the top part was a little bit more cooked than I would have liked ideally, but I was asleep and I’d set the timer for 10 minutes shy of what the recipe said, because I was using a different pan (a loaf pan), but next time I’ll know it needs even a little less time. I am a big sucker for anything gooey or mushy and this recipe absolutely has some of those qualities because of the added liquor in the bread. Above all it’s just a fun / funny experience to be baking and sleeping simultaneously. Not that I’m suggesting this as another area of our lives where we should start to multitask, well maybe every once in a while.

Choosing your dinner guests wisely…

Posted April 9, 2008 by teagans
Categories: culinary history, Food, food quotes

In this day and age we, as people who like to entertain and serve good food to our friends, may feel that it is a daunting task to cater to all of the varying dietary requirements and preferences of our dinner guests. It can be difficult to ensure that everyone is satisfied by the end of the meal, but also that you do not feel stifled as the cook. I don’t entertain nearly as much as I would like to, but this is a conundrum that I know plagues a lot of families and dinner parties (particularly when there’s a mix of vegetarians and omnivores). Vegetarianism is certainly a lifestyle that we think of as relatively modern, but you might be surprised to learn that it has been around for a very long time indeed, that even Benjamin Franklin himself took a stab at going meat free for several years of his life. So you can see that these sorts of personal preferences likely have always played an important role at the dining table, whether it boils down to meat or no meat or other issues like a preference for the taste of garlic or not.

To illustrate this, I wanted to share a passage from a book I’m reading published in 1867 by Thomas De Voe, a butcher by trade in New York City, called The Market Assistant. He clearly shows that these considerations have been frustrating hosts and guests alike for years!

“An amusing article on diet, written above one hundred years ago, is found in a London paper called St. James’ Chronicle, dated November 6, 1762, and thus reads: – ‘There is no affectation more ridiculous than the antipathies which many whimsical people entertain with respect to diet. One will swoon at a Breast of Veal; another can’t bear the sight of a Suckling-pig; and another owes as great a grudge to a Shoulder of Mutton as Petruchio, in the farce. How often does it happen in company that we are debarred of a necessary ingredient in a salad because somebody, forsooth, cannot touch oil! And what a rout is made, whisking away the cheese off the table, without our being suffered to have a morsel of this grand digester, if any one should happen to declare his dislike of it! There are others of an equally fantastic disposition, who, as we may say, choose to quarrel with their bread and butter. These are eternally suspicious that their food is not sweet. They bring their plates up to their noses, or their noses down to their plates, at every thing that is put upon them. Their stomachs are so delicately nice that they descry a fault in all they eat. The fish is stale, the mutton is rank, or the suet in the pudding is musty.’”