Posts Tagged ‘lost-tech


taking the pressure cooker plunge

I did it. I bought one. An Indian-made Manttra 8-quart pressure cooker, on Laura’s recommendation.

The catalyst: we’ve been out of day-old bagels (our usual breakfast fare) for a couple of days, and we’ve haven’t been able to get more. This morning, facing the idea of yet more delicious farm-fresh eggs for breakfast, I had a craving for beans, instead. The problem? No beans, and I have to be at work at 11.

I am a creature of impulse, it’s true. Which is one reason I think a pressure cooker will suit me. It will be here Monday, which means I still have to figure out today’s breakfast…


reuse: a history lesson

On Tuesday morning, I finished typing up notes on Michael Krondl’s The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice before I returned it to the SFPL (only two days late!). My favorite:

Still Life with Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz, 1627


That’s ground black pepper, sold in a paper cone made from an outdated almanac page.

I want to be able to buy my spices this way. I wonder what the cashiers at Rainbow would think, and if they’d give me the bag-reuse discount…


Japanese egg molds

Liza and I spent her birthday wandering around Japantown, and I bought some cute little egg molds. You know, the plastic contraptions that Japanese mothers, under intense social pressure to produce incredibly cute and perfect lunches for their school-age children, use to form hard-cooked eggs into various shapes. Like this fish:

Yesterday, I learned several important lessons about eggs, egg molds, and myself.

  1. It really is true that hard-cooked eggs peel more easily if the eggs were a little less than fresh. The ones I used could have sat in the fridge a few days longer.
  2. It is also really true that hard-cooked eggs peel more easily if they’ve had time to cool. The egg molds demand that the peeled eggs be warm.
  3. I could never hack it as a Japanese mother. I peeled those recalcitrant suckers, all right, but it wasn’t pretty. Not even cute. Both eggs ended up with pitted whites. Some flakes of shell might have made it into the molds, to be brushed off later.
  4. Don’t assume that the biggest, roundest, prettiest eggs in the carton will make the biggest, roundest, prettiest molded eggs. They won’t. They’ll ooze out the sides of the mold. That won’t be pretty, either.


farmers’ marketing

Sure signs of spring at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market today.

A wonderful display of carrots, radishes, fava beans, spring onions, and beets:

All it’s missing is…


And, of course, dandelion greens, gone from a godsend to a nuisance to a delicacy:

But what really makes me think “spring” are the baby vegetables. Every farmer and gardener knows that you overplant, because not every seed will germinate. But that means that, eventually, you have to cull, so that the plants don’t crowd each other out.

baby beets

baby broccoli versus big broccoli

Any part of the remaining plants that won’t be productive has to go, too.

pea shoots

elephant garlic scapes

This all reminds me of my grandfather’s story of frequenting a Houston produce market as a child, helping sellers by keeping the areas around their stalls clean. They paid him and his siblings in loose produce–the stuff they couldn’t sell to customers. Like these loose grapes at the Noe Valley farmers’ market last fall:


cooking without water

My sister and I have decided that the Food Network should stage its chef’s challenges in kitchens like our mother’s: no counters to speak of, a 3/4-size stove with four unreliable burners, and complicated access to water.

Yes, there’s running water here (it’s not that primitive, dial-up aside), but it comes from a relatively shallow well–and it tastes like it, full of sulfur and iron. Nothing you really want to cook pasta or vegetables in. And even though it rained all night, there’s no ignoring the fact that central Texas is at heart a dry place. This kitchen’s other source of water–a cooler with 5-gallon jugs that come from the nearest supermarket, 20 miles away–only reinforces the shortage.

So last night, I riffed on this parsley sauce idea from the Bitten blog. I adapted to my circumstances by using one large pot and one small pan, and only about 4 quarts of water. The small pan sweated a leek from Austin’s Green Gate Farms, but everything else (blanching parsley, then broccoli, then cooking pasta) happened in the large pot of water. Which I filled by patiently running tap water through my sister’s Brita–about six fills to supply that pot. No way was I repeating that for every ingredient. Instead of draining things in the colander, I fished them out with a slotted spoon, then put the next ingredient in to boil. Worked just fine, and the food was delicious.


Lost egg recipes

I once read–of course I don’t remember where–that eggs vary enough by season that there used to be recipes that made the most of those differences. Although much has been written lately about the joys of fresh, local eggs, I have yet to find any of those seasonal egg recipes.

But I’m on their trail. Today I was very happy to come home to find this in the mail:

Knowing what to do with the dozen or so leftover yolks might be what finally lets me justify making angelfood cupcakes with a homemade lemon curd filling. Another dessert seems like overkill, but stuffed mushrooms and moussaka each use up three…

The introduction also mentions that Grimod de la Reynière once recorded 685 ways to serve eggs. Looks like the 641.5944 section is my next stop at the San Francisco Public Library.


Lorna Sass makes me think about pressure cooking

Last Saturday, John-Paul and I meant to hear Gordon Edgar talk about his book Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge at Ominvore Books on Food. Turns out I noted the wrong date on my calendar. Gordon’s talk is this Saturday, April 3, at Omnivore (Church and Cesar Chavez). I can’t make it, but you should.

Instead, we found ourselves listening to Lorna Sass talk at Omnivore–which was serendipitous, because she’s a pressure cooking guru, and we’ve been debating the merits of slow cookers versus pressure cookers. We spend a lot of time talking about using dried beans, for the usual reasons: they’re cheap and lightweight compared to canned. (Lightweight is especially important when you live an uphill bike ride from the grocery.) But of course we use canned a lot more often. Diner chili? A can of pinto, a can of black. J-P’s Tasty Beans and Greens? There goes a can of cannelini. I’ve even been known to make refritos from canned pinto beans–even though I often wish there were, there’s just somehow never a batch of frijoles de olla on my stove, waiting to be mashed and fried.

Lorna Sass might have convinced us that a pressure cooker is key to changing our ways. We especially like the flexibility that a pressure cooker offers over a slow cooker: with a pressure cooker, you don’t have to commit to your dinner menu until dinner time. This fits our temperaments better than the slow cooker’s demand that you decide on dinner in the morning (perhaps another reason we rarely get around to cooking dried beans).

At the start of her talk, Lorna asked how many people in the audience were scared of pressure cookers, and no hands went up. She was excited to face a room full of converts–but we weren’t. Only a few hands went up at her next question: How many of you use pressure cookers?

John-Paul said later that it was the wrong question. We’re not scared of pressure cookers because most of us haven’t used them–giving us no opportunity to see them blow their tops. I do remember my dad talking about his fear of pressure cookers when I was a kid, but I don’t remember him ever using one in our kitchen. The pressure cooker, at least in the U.S., might make a good study in how ways of doing things are forgotten over time. People my dad’s age knew and used pressure cookers, but they stopped, and now my cohort and I know about pressure cookers, but most of us have never used one. Soon, our society’s knowledge of them is only in print or video.

Outside of the U.S., they’re much more common and not feared. Our Brazilian friend Cristina wonders how we would make beans without a pressure cooker, and his South Asian friend Madhavi teases J-P for not using one. Lorna Sass talked about seeing them used extensively in India and France, and described a video in which a Latin American woman made ropa vieja in a pressure cooker for the appreciative but wary staff of Gourmet. A person in front of us at the talk referred, sotto voce, to pressure cookers as “the Third World microwave,” which seemed to me a perfect Americanism for it. (France of course belonging to the “Third World.”)

By the way, Lorna Sass’s best advice for using a pressure cooker? Don’t turn the heat up to high and go walk the dog. That’s a sure recipe for Supper a la Ceiling.

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