Posts Tagged ‘presentation


romanticizing peasant food

Going back to the section of Jeffery Pilcher’s Que Vivan los Tamales I mentioned last week, about the Mexica’s butterfly- and leaf-shaped tortillas, and their seed-spangled tamales impressed with snail shell patterns: it seems that food writers (Pilcher, the chroniclers he cites, many others past and present) can’t resist romanticizing certain kinds of food. Broadly, it’s peasant food. Witness the cucina povera prixe fixe that was my introduction to fancy dining in San Francisco. But anywhere that has been colonized, it’s more than just peasant food; it’s also pre-colonization food.

Whichever variety, most writing about this type of food is highly romantic and ignores issues of class and history. Perhaps some Italian peasants from a simpler time regularly supped on oil-cured sardines, stuffed turkey breasts, and Negroni sorbet, but we know for a fact that many more were suffering from pellagra on a diet of unlimed corn and emigrating to the United States as fast as they could. And maybe the Mexican nobility’s feasts featured decorative breads, sauces with thirty ingredients, and stuffed fowls galore, but we know that their society was highly stratified, and I imagine that everyday fare for the Every Man was more like what I experienced in rural Guatemala at the turn of the 21st century. Black beans, corn tortillas, chilis, wild greens, fruit, and atol, with meat of any kind being a pretty big deal. Even if the average diet was a little more varied than that, the intervening centuries of oppression that brought it to its current pass never seem to matter when it’s time to romanticize what might once have been.


a (counter)revolutionary dinner

On Sunday, Rainbow had some adorable little eight-ball zucchinis that I couldn’t resist. Tonight, I baked them with a stuffing of onion, ancho, garlic, cumin seed, breadcrumbs, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, cheddar, and egg.

My method (largely from the Joy of Cooking): Heat the oven to 400F. Slice the tops off the zucchinis and scoop them out, discarding the seeds. Chop the remaining flesh and sweat it in a bowl with some salt. Steam the shells cut side down for five minutes. Meanwhile, soften half an onion and half an ancho, both finely chopped, in some fat. Add one clove minced garlic, 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Let the breadcrumbs toast while you squeeze the excess water from the zucchini flesh. Put the squeezed zucchini and some halved cherry tomatoes in the skillet, too. Cook 3-4 minutes longer. Mix with one egg, lightly beaten, a little more salt, and half a cup of cheddar cheese. Stuff the zucchini shells, then stand them in a baking dish with 1/8 inch water. Bake 30 minutes. The tops will be nicely puffed and brown, no need to broil.

There was stuffing left over, of course. I did what any sensible person would do–I fried it. Oh, and garnished everything with cherry tomato halves. Here’s the result:

J-P says it’s very fifties. I don’t like to think of myself as reactionary (I didn’t even wear an apron!), so I’ve decided instead that the zucchinis look like little grenades. Zucchrenades! Revolutionary!

Serving dessert in cocktail glasses probably didn’t help my case:

They’re cherry bombs, all right? Cherry bombs!

For dessert, I used this recipe from Taste of Beirut, with a lot of substitutions. In the pudding, I used some mascarpone we had lying around instead of Puck cheese spread, and I used maraschino liqueur instead of her suggested flavorings. In the jelly, I used fresh cherries instead of frozen, because we’ve had them at the farmers market here for a few weeks now. Rainbow didn’t have sour cherry nectar, so I used black cherry juice concentrate. I also added a small dollop of the syrup from the fancy maraschino cherries we keep in the fridge, but I didn’t add any further sugar.

It was the first time I’d used agar agar to make a jelly, and now I can tell you that “squares” are at best an awkward substitute for powdered. But they were what I could find, so. They look delicate, don’t they? Like they’ll shatter if you give them the ojo?

Not so. I couldn’t crush the stuff in my hands, nor in the molcajete. Not even in the food processor, neither by itself (video) nor with cherry juice. I finally minced some of the cherry juice-soaked stuff from the food processor and followed the package’s directions to simmer it long enough for it to “melt.” The jelly did set, but there was a steep learning curve.


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.

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