Cleaning up at years end
Thank goodness I have a word limit for my columns. Yes, I’ll admit that it’s sometimes frustrating, especially when it’s something I’m particularly enthused — or occasionally upset — about. But if I didn’t have that word limit, I’d probably ramble on endlessly, boring you and annoying my editor. Then there’s the deadline. I’ve never yet re-read one of my columns without wanting to change or rephrase something. Without a deadline, I’d undoubtedly keep fiddling to get it just right, and never turn anything in. Over the three years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve come to appreciate the discipline that both word limits and deadlines impose.
There are, however, times I’d like to say just a bit more — something extra that’s pertinent, or shows another dimension. Sometimes I’ve discovered additional information I wish I’d known. Then there’s the occasional blooper, hard as everyone at the IT tries to avoid them.
So here are some bits and pieces — things I didn’t have space for, or things I learned a bit more about.
First, the blooper. When I read my Dec. 11 column in IT about “A tasty visit to Candyland,” the ending of the paragraph before the recipe stopped me cold: “Excuse me while I get some butt,” it read. The sentence I’d written was, “Excuse me while I get some butter out of the ’fridge.” Where had that come from? I e-mailed Fletcher Farrar: “What the …?”
“I thought you were making a joke,” he replied. OK, I can see that — although what that says about what Farrar thinks of my sense of humor is probably best left unexplored. Apparently the glitch happened when I sent my column to him by e-mail.
In “Finding your cutting edge”, Oct. 30, I wrote about qualities of good knives, how important they are for cooks and how to choose them. I have several really good — and pretty costly — knives that I love and can’t imagine cooking without. But what I didn’t have room to talk about in the article were other cutting implements — some quite inexpensive, that are also essential in my kitchen. One is scissors. I have an expensive pair of kitchen shears. But several years ago I needed to have enough for students in my cooking classes. I found some inexpensive ones (about $3 each) at Ace Hardware — and also found that they did as good a job or better than my expensive set. I often reach for them in preference to those pricey ones.
Then there are those little paring knives that come three to a package and are often found hanging from grocery store shelves. They don’t last forever, but while they do, they’re great — and the flexibility of the thin blades works especially well in a number of situations.
Lastly, on the cutting front, is the mandoline. This slanted cutting machine — a sort of slide with a blade — originated in France, and is unparalleled for making uniform slices. When I was young, my mom and grandmother bought a sort of mandoline at the state fair each year. It was one of those things that was hawked at several booths around the grounds. It was squat, wider than classic mandolines, with a plastic housing. They used it mostly for cutting corn off the cob to put in the freezer. My grandmother bought me one of the expensive French versions several years ago. It’s great, but because it’s a hassle to clean, these days I more often use an inexpensive Japanese version, from Benriner. It’s easy to use, easy to clean and costs about $20 as opposed to $200. Most TV chefs use Benriners; I can’t imagine cooking without one.
When I wrote about commercial strawberries, (“Strawberry Fields Forever,” June 19) all my research said the toxic chemical used to sterilize strawberry fields, methyl bromide — carcinogenic to humans and with ozone depleting properties 20 times greater than freon — had finally been eliminated in 2005, after a lot of foot-dragging by industrial farmers with the help of government deregulation.
Unfortunately, the chemicals replacing it were almost as bad. A month later, I found a report containing both good and bad news. The bad news was that methyl bromide is still in use in the U.S. (it was banned in other countries much earlier than 2005). The good news was that a company, Farm Fuel Incorporated, has come up with a non-toxic alternative: ground mustard seeds.
In “Buying prime,” Aug. 28, when I wrote about buying dry-aged, prime beef, I didn’t realize that Stan Schutte, owner of Triple S farms (www.familyfarmersmeats.com, 217-895-3652) dry-ages all his beef for two weeks before selling it. I should have known: I get most all my meat from Schutte, and it has exceptional flavor, in addition to being sustainably and humanely raised. He’s at the Wednesday farmer’s market in summer, and makes monthly Springfield deliveries in cold months to his “buying club.” Contact him for more information.
When I met legendary Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, he was handing out samples of this soup at the Chicago Fancy Food Show. Prudhomme was funny and gracious, but the busy convention was not the time or place for an extended conversation. I talked to his manager and made arrangements for the phone interview for the May 15 column, “Fighting dull food.” I also asked if I could use the recipe for Prudhomme’s wonderful soup. Getting the recipe turned out to be more problematic than the interview. It had never been published before, and I had to do some special pleading to get permission.
Unfortunately, when I wrote the article, there wasn’t room to include the recipe. It’s not classic Cajun, but it is absolutely irresistible.
Leek, Sun-Dried Tomato, Shiitake Mushroom and Champagne Soup
(Champagne is optional)
Makes 8 cups
2 pounds leeks
½ cup sun-dried tomato pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onions, chopped
1½ tablespoons Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Meat Magic® or Vegetable Magic® or Magic Seasoning Salt®
4 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
¾ cup champagne (or dry sparkling wine), in all (optional)
2 cups chicken stock (salt-free)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Gouda cheese, grated
Trim off the dark green leaves (leaving the white and light green parts) and the root ends of the leeks and discard. Split the remaining white part of the leeks in half lengthwise and wash thoroughly under running water, making sure that all dirt and debris is removed from between the sections. Slice the leek halves crosswise into very thin half rounds. You should have about 3 cups.
Soften the sun-dried tomatoes in warm water. When they are soft, drain and cut in small julienne strips.
In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the leeks and
onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are wilted and
transparent, about 8 minutes. Add the Magic Seasoning Blendand stir well. Continue to cook until the seasoning begins to darken slightly,
about 2 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms and the julienned sun-dried
tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms begin to darken, about
4 minutes. Add ¼ cup of the champagne and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot to dissolve
any browned bits on the bottom. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and
simmer over medium low heat until the flavors of the soup are married, about 20
minutes. Add the cream, stir well and return to a boil. Simmer until the soup
has reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Gradually add the cheese, stirring
constantly until all the cheese has melted and dissolved. Add the remaining
champagne and stir briefly. Remove from heat and serve.
Copyright © 2000 by Paul Prudhomme