This is not a book report.

I’m not a writer. I’m not a researcher or historian. I’m barely even a foodie (some might disagree—I’d use the words “opportunistic eater”).  But I did grow up in a family that encouraged me to try new foods, appreciate flavor, embrace my family food history and, most important to this endeavor, we owned a full set of Time Life’s Foods of the World series.

At various times in the last 10 years I’ve tried to come up with a concept for talking about  food, both eating and creating it, and kept coming against a wall. Whatever I used as my framework needed to be personal as well as broad enough to engage people who weren’t my friends and family—and it needed to incorporate my love for travel and exploration. I’ve shelved dozens of ideas over the years that weren’t the right combination of interesting and flexible, yet focused.

In September my mother asked if I’d like to take her copy of the Foods of the World series off her hands. I spent an evening leafing through the books thinking, “Someone should really do a blog based on this,” but not really realizing that person should be me.  It took a conversation with my friend Suezie a few months later to realize that the books were the answer I’d been missing all these years.

Our trouble begins there.

Sadly, between September and my epiphany, Mom had donated half the set to a local library book sale. Yes, including the spiral recipe books. This has meant, in the intervening time, I’ve been scouring eBay, used booksellers and various places on the internet to rebuild the portion of the collection I’m now lacking—spending far more time doing so than seems sensible.

Tine Life is more than simply cooking my way through a series of books, there are many who have already done that concept well. Some have even become movies starring Meryl Streep. This is not one of those blogs. I hope to use the Time Life Foods of the World series to examine changes to our food systems in the last fifty years, to connect with discussion on food and its place in our lives, learn more about ingredients, and most importantly: to eat with friends. Hopefully I’ll be cooking and sharing a lot of food I’ve not worked with before—and you can count on there being a lot of baking.

Today I sit here with a nearly complete set of books, a cadre of potential guest bloggers, and a head full of ideas on how to talk about food. I hope you’ll all stick around.

Cooking of the British Isles (Time Life “Foods of the World”)—Adrian Bailey et al.

Yes, another one for Tine Life. After feedback from potential contributors—the Northwest is moving to the summer, when things here are actually in season.

Things we have learned from this Time Life book? That they’re apparently fond of haggis on the Isle of Man as well as in Scotland, you should never trust cheesemongers in Dorset, and we should all be eating frumenty for breakfast. This weekend I’m visiting my neighborhood butcher and cheesemonger to see about a couple of ideas I had for related posts. Fingers crossed it works out. The first couple of general housekeeping posts should go up in the next few weeks. Eek!

If any of my UK friends would like to volunteer to guest blog about food and related issues, I’m happy to send you a PDF copy of the book. (Yes, I scanned the entire book. With the way the Royal Mail is behaving at the moment, it was necessary.)

American Cooking: The Northwest (Time Life “Foods of the World”) — Dale Brown et al.

Since they are books and I am reading them, the Time Life series will get recorded here, though all my thoughts on content will end up at the as-yet unnamed blog. General thoughts, and likely this will be the case with all of these books, is that they are definitely a product of their time in how they talk about food, gender roles, and some of the attitudes towards native cultures. None of it shocking. I’m definitely going to get a lot of interesting ideas to keep be going through all of the books—and they are going to serve their purpose as a framework for content well.

First task as a result of this one on the Northwest? I think I need to find myself a local mushroom forager to tag along with one day (Likely this will mean getting in touch with some people from the Puget Sound Mycological Society at the UW).

Finally, a blog idea I’m kind of excited about.

My parents are in this amusing, yet strange, mode at the moment where they’ve decided to move into a smaller house (two people do not need four bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and a three car garage). Along with that they’ve started getting rid of “stuff”. Back in September when I was at their place for a weekend she tried to foist off on me her Time Life “Foods of the World” series that was published in the late 60s/early 70s. At the time I went, “These would make for a great version of one of those crazy cooking blogs!” (a la Cooking the French Laundry or the inspiration for Julie/Julia). I then promptly went, “Who has the time for that?” Continue reading

Yams with Leeks and Goat Cheese

I’d eaten something similar to this a few years ago, so when trying to think of a good savory dish to take to Thanksgiving dinner tonight I cobbled this together.

Yams with Leeks and Goat Cheese

2 large leeks
1 1/2 pounds ruby yams (the tastiest, I think)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
4 oz goat cheese (separated into five portions)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425.

Slice the leeks lengthwise and wash carefully to remove grit. Slice to 1/8 inch thickness. Heat small skillet over medium heat, add 1 T of butter to pan and add leeks. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until caramelized. Divide into five portions and set aside.

Peel the yams and slice to 1/8 inch thickness, divide into six portions. Completely coat the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Arrange 1/6 of the slices in an overlapping layer on the pan’s bottom. Spread a portion of leeks over the yams, crumble a portion of goat cheese over the leeks and yams. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with another tablespoon of butter. Repeat until all ingredients are used, drizzle with any remaining butter. Cover pan with foil and push down on the yams to compress all the ingredients.

Bake on lowest rack of oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 30 – 45 minutes or until yams are brown and crisp on the top and edges. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Can be sliced and served as-is, or inverted onto a serving platter.

Your food is too much work, please pass the cheeseburger.

Gourmet foodie culture in the US is interesting. And that “culture” could almost classify as “cult”. I’m feeling down about high-end food today, because I wasn’t swift enough this morning to be able to book a seat at Per Se for my birthday dinner. I tried similarly to get into French Laundry the last few times I was in the Bay Area with equally poor result. And yet, I walked in to a Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris last year, was seated in spite of a botched reservation, and had a lovely lovely lunch. Admittedly, we’re not talking about El Bulli, which has some of the same cult foodie problems–but there’s a level of enjoyment I lose when trying to get into a restaurant is a huge chore and people treat getting in to high end places as some kind of crazy prize.

I completely sympathize with chefs who feel that to control food quality they have to keep the number of covers a night very small–especially those doing extravagant multi-course tasting menus. But don’t you lose something when it’s so impossible to get reservations?

I suspect I have no point with this, except to be sad that I won’t be spending my birthday at Per Se, and I feel like I need to think hard before trying to pick up reservations at WD-50 or Ko–as it’s the same kind of issue of limited space and everyone and their mothing trying to get in.

Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint

For my regular weekly dinner with Elaine, I made Smitten Kitchen’s Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint. As written, the salad will feed an army. Below are my tweaks, I served it with her Thai Style Chicken Legs, which I wouldn’t change at all. Everything was so pretty (Elaine brought summer rolls) that I took pictures, I’ll pull them off camera later.

Because this made an insane quantities of slaw originally, I’m eating more of it today, and it’s still very tasty second day. If not making this for an event of some kind–half the recipe below, as it will still make LOTS of slaw.

2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and julienned
1 head Napa cabbage (about 3/4 lb), halved and sliced very thinly
1 red pepper, julienned
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
6 T of fresh lime juice, from about two limes
1/4 C rice vinegar
2 T olive oil of your choice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 T chile paste (or more to taste)
1/4 C thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/2 C toasted cashews, coarsely chopped

Toss mangoes, cabbage, pepper and onion in a large bowl. Whisk lime juice, vinegar, oil, salt and red pepper in a smaller bowl and pour over slaw. Before serving, toss with mint leaves and sprinkle with cashews.

Torta Meringata alla Crema

For a coworker’s birthday, and to celebrate her upcoming two month fellowship in Italy, we have a lovely Italian cake I first saw on an episode of “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on Food Network. Finding a recipe for this in English was interesting, so this is really a “translation” of the recipes I’ve found. I also pulled together a quick raspberry sauce to go on the side. Continue reading

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

I discovered this evening, that this is one recipe I make regularly that I’ve apparently never posted here.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies
Originally adapted from Gourmet, September 1992

4 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (minimum 65%, I prefer higher)
6 T unsalted butter
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour.

In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring until the mixture is smooth, remove the bowl from the heat, and let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the vanilla and add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Stir in the salt and the flour, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack and cut it into 16 bars.

Ghetto Pork Roast

Due to a random blog post from the Seattle Weekly food crew, I found myself craving pulled pork. During the week, I never really have the time for the proper slow cooking that real pulled pork requires—so it was time to give my evil crock pot another try. I looked at a few recipes, and below is what I came up with.

2 T cumin
1 T pepper
2 T oregano
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 T red pepper flakes
4 bay leaves
1 head garlic
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup tequila
2 T olive oil

3-4 lb boneless pork shoulder

2 small onions (sliced)
2 red bell peppers (cut in strips)

Mix cumin, pepper, oregano, allspice, salt and pepper flakes with a small amount of olive oil to make a paste. Then add to lime juice, tequila and remaining olive oil. Cut slits in the pork shoulder and insert garlic cloves.

Place pork roast in a plastic bag or container with marinade and let sit overnight, turning halfway through if you can’t sleep. (Or in my case, put in around dinner time, turn over before bed.)

Before you leave for work for the day, put the pork shoulder fat side up (and marinade) in your crock pot, cover and set to low. Eight hours later (give or take) carefully remove the shoulder from the crock pot and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

While you’re letting that rest, saute the onions and peppers in a skillet with some of the marinade/drippings from the crock pot over medium high heat until the onions just begin to turn golden brown.

Use two forks to shred the pork and serve mixed with the peppers and onions or layer in a lovely toasted brioche bun. Add hot sauce to taste.