Thursday, July 7, 2016

FIRST TASTE - Sour Cherry, Rosé Chicken Roast

























Dear friends, the 2016 Saveur Food Blog nominations are open until July 18th. I would greatly appreciate your support in nominating Bottom of the Pot in the Eat The World category. If you have any favorite posts from January 2015 - June 2016, you can also nominate the specific post for the Food And Culture Award. I humbly thank you for all your continued support. Happy Summer!
 
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Music We're Cooking To 

She leans over the edge of the world. Bold, beautiful and brave. The first light of day gently lays its lips on her saffron-hued cloak. A hushed whisper of a kiss, casting its golden reflection over Oceanus. Rippling triumphantly over seas, rivers and lakes. Lighting up the world. From East to West.  

Eos, the goddess of the dawn, rosy fingered and perpetually in love with the first taste of a new day, rises.


Khanoum, we keep selling out of them. It's not just Iranians. It's everyone else. The Americans. I have no idea what they're doing with the pounds upon pounds of albaloo they're buying. They are fanatics about them.

I smile and nod politely at the grocer at my local Iranian market, as I fill my own bag with pounds upon pounds of fanaticism.

In the blink of an eye a single word turns on its head, claiming a new, delicious path. A path dripping with rosy red juices announcing the arrival of summer. 

Albaloo - sour cherries - can turn the best of us into fanatics.


The Iranian love affair with sour cherries is hardly surprising. It speaks to and satiates the Persian palate and love for all things fruity and tart. A bright burst of early summer in every bite. Sour cherry season is maddeningly short (usually here between mid-June to early July). And when it arrives there is a frenzied rush to enjoy them as much, as quickly and fanatically as possible. The girls and I love picking at them just as they are on the stem, or sometimes sprinkled with a dash of salt. Savoring every bite, as if it's the first, as if another season might somehow cruelly elude us.     

Traditionally in the Persian kitchen sour cherries are enjoyed sweet, sour and savory. Be it in a thirst quenching and perpetual love inducing Sharbat-e Albaloo (sour cherry cordial), the crowd favorite savory rice dish Albaloo Polo, macerated with sugar and rose water for a sweet and sour preserve - Morabba-ye Albaloo (fantastic draped over yogurt), pickled - Torshi-ye Albaloo or reduced down to a syrup to be drizzled over sweet noodle sorbets (Paloudeh) for added tang and color.

Inspired by rosy fingered Eos and her saffron-hued cloak, I celebrate the arrival of summer with this Sour Cherry Chicken Rosé Roast. Whole chicken legs are marinated in saffron, cinnamon, honey and that other muse of summer: a crisp, dry rosé. A bottle that will dance with you straight from the kitchen to the table. twirling and dipping along the way. A wine that will inspire raising your glass to summer, sour cherries, and to Eos. 

After briefly marinating the chicken legs I gently stuff a handful of pitted sour cherries under the skin. The natural acidity and juices of the cherries flavoring the chicken as it roasts. The rest of the cherries are cooked down on the stove, lightly sweetened with a hint of honey, cinnamon and another splash of rosé. Drape the sour cherries over the roast chicken when serving for a stunning feast for all senses.

Sour Cherries can be elusive to find. I can always count on my local Iranian grocers, or other Middle Eastern markets. You can also try Farmer's Markets or online. If fresh sour cherries are not available you can use frozen, unthawed. Jarred cherries in light syrup is also another option. But, be sure to drain these well, and taste before adding honey. They might not need any sweetening at all.





It's unexpected. And takes you by surprise.

Your first taste of a sour cherry.

Like your first kiss. 

Not the sloppy first kiss where you're just trying to find your bearings. But the one where the ground gives, making your head spin, and your heart drop. The first, that every other kiss will be measured up to, compared to, longed for, dreamed of. A young lovers' whisper of a kiss, sitting atop abandoned train cars on a warm summer's night. Leaning into each other, leaning over the edge of the world. Gazing over Oceanus.

In anticipation of Eos and the rising dawn.

In anticipation of love.

In anticipation of that first taste of albaloo.

When the ground gives, making your head spin, and your heart drop.



 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

STRAWBERRY, ROSE, AND MINT KOMBUCHA - HUSBAND'S BREW


♪  Music husband is brewing to ♪

Please join me and fellow Persian food bloggers as we celebrate the Iranian midsummer festival Tirgan with a virtual picnic. I am also thrilled to have Drew, aka Mr. Husband take the reins on this post. Because a summer picnic is never complete without a bottle of Husband's Kombucha. 

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  Kombucha – Fun With Bacteria


Three years ago a good friend of mine pulled me aside with a proposition. “Have you heard about kombucha? I think you’d like brewing it.” Now, this sounded like an odd endeavor. I knew this was some sort of fermented drink, most likely with floating parts to it. But to make my own? Brewing my own beer was more up my alley. Still, I heard her out, all with yelling children in the background, demanding our attention. I say this because the process was so simple to understand and implement, I could even process it while my attention was divided! I said yes, and next thing I knew I was on my way home with a SCOBY, floating in a sweet tea mixture. Thus began a 3-year odyssey of kombucha home-brewing.


I think the best part of this hobby, apart from the delicious, naturally effervescent and healthy beverage I make for the family each week, is the bragging rights that I actually do it. This is a strange and fascinating concept to so many. Kombucha is a relatively new product in western grocery stores. Many have seen the store-bought bottles and wondered to themselves what it was about. Or perhaps they have tried it, loved it, and are now shelling out up to $8 a bottle for it. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this wants to know the process, and strongly considers taking it on themselves. In fact, as my SCOBY has grown, I’ve been able to hand off sections of it to others for their own brewing.

You might be wondering, what is this SCOBY he keeps talking about? SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. It can also be called “The Mother” as all the good stuff comes from it. The SCOBY will take the shape of its container, usually a jar. It will be round and disc-like, and as it grows it will form multiple discs, almost like floating pancakes. Eventually it will become too large, and you will need to separate some of these pancakes for giving away, or composting. I’m proud to say my SCOBY has many children now. I’ve given away extras to many friends for their own home brew, and have even auctioned off “kombucha starter kits” for our kids’ school!

 
Getting a SCOBY might have been the hardest part of getting started a few years back. You would need to know someone one who had one, or search the back-back pages of the classifieds. But nowadays they are all over the internet, and even big companies like Amazon and Williams-Sonoma are getting into the game. A simple search online for “buying a SCOBY” will yield many results, if you don’t have a personal connection.

As you read through this recipe, you will notice that 1 cup of sugar is used in the process. This may make one assume you’ll be consuming copious amounts of sugar. Not so! The sugar, when mixed with tea, serves as a food or fuel for the SCOBY, and the result is kombucha. By the time you drink it there is very little sugar left. Alcohol is another by-product of the brewing process. But again, no more than trace amounts. 





Another wonderful part of kombucha-making is the ability to customize. After your first fermentation process, you can add a couple more days with fruit (lemon and ginger is a great combination) or juice fermentation (pomegranate juice is always great), which will greatly increase the flavor and enjoyment. One of my favorite flavors, and the one I share with you today, was inspired by the ever present bottle of rose water during Nowruz - Persian New Year. Strawberries, rose water and mint. Huge hit in our house. 

Once you are up and running, the process only takes about 20 minutes per week. I like to set reminders on my phone so I know when it’s time to boil water, when to transfer the kombucha, and when to refrigerate my bottles.


I can’t emphasize enough the rewards of this home brew: my kids love it, my wife really loves it (she drinks most of it usually!), and everyone who comes to the house loves it too. It’s refreshing, pairs well with any meal (particularly Persian stews with rice, like my all-time favorite Loobia Polo), and it helps to contribute to a healthy amount of good bacteria in the gut. In this day and age of antibiotics being prescribed for just about any ailment, the importance of good bacteria cannot be over stressed. 


Fermenting from here? Naz has been after me to start a sourdough starter. In fact, she would like me to be the Resident Baker in our house. {editor's interjection: Naz loves to delegate baking duties} And I’d certainly like to do that. Time is always an issue, of course. I’m very proud of Naz and her homemade batches of yogurt! But kombucha has proven to me that a very simple and enjoyable process can be slipped into an otherwise very busy lifestyle, and the benefits are tremendous.


Enjoy!

Sincerely,

Mr. Husband


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

HARISSA YOGURT STUFFED DATES


Happy Summer! 

Join me over at Team Yogurt today to celebrate with these simple, luscious, and elegant Harissa Stuffed Dates.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A SWEET SECRET - TUCKERMAN'S FARM MAPLE SYRUP


For a few years now, some time around April we anxiously look forward to a very special package to land (hopefully very gently) on our doorstep. My father-in-law Steve's home-tapped maple syrup. Directly from his farm in New Hampshire - Tuckerman's Farm. I am so happy to have Steve share this beautiful story with us. Story and photos by Steve Bjerklie.  

             
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In early March, the sugar maples still sleep in New Hampshire’s woodlands. Winter’s icy shackle clamps the landscape and everything in it with a hard grip. Snow muffles sound, buries life. Winter’s wind is like an archer who never misses the target, which happens to be you, if you’re out walking in the forest. Yet sometime around the middle of the month, a sliver of warmth from the sun sneaks past the cold fortress. A day later, another sliver. A couple days after that, another. One or two more bits of warmth, and the sugar maples shiver awake. Their sap, unseen beneath a coat of gray bark, begins to move.


Those slivers of warm sunlight in March or late February signal the beginning of sugaring season in New England. It’s time to tap the maples, time to stack the dry firewood, time to unlock the sugarhouse and fire up the evaporator. It’s time to make the purest, sweetest stuff God ever gave us from a tree.


It’s time to make maple syrup.


When the afternoon temperatures crawl up into the high 30s or low 40s (F), and the nights drop back below freezing, that’s when the maple sap moves. To reach it, drill a small hole a couple inches deep, insert a metal cone-shaped spout called a spile, and hang a sap bucket from the spile. For centuries, dating back to New England’s earliest settlers, who learned how to make maple sugar from the Micmac and Iroquois tribes, this is how the sap was collected. For many “sugarers,” as maple syrup makers are called, it’s still done this way -- it’s how I do it. The snow is often deep, the sun is gray and low in the sky, a cold wind gusts just when a sap bucket is hung from a spile hook, but after the bitter months of January and February, going out into the woods to tap maple trees is one of early spring’s great pleasures. It signals the beginning of the end of winter. Sugaring is the bridge between New England’s merciless months and our more forgiving April and May.

Sugar maple sap right out of the tree is as clear and fluid as water, but it holds just a hint of sweetness. The old legend is that one day in the early spring an Iroquois chief named Woksis threw his tomahawk at a sugar maple tree and left it there. The next day, he pulled out the tomahawk, and as the day warmed up sap began to flow out of the cut in the tree and pool in a hollowed out log at the foot of the tree. Woksis’s wife needed some water for cooking, and on her way to the stream she found the pool of sap in the log. That night, she boiled the family’s meat in the sap. The village filled with the smell of maple, and the cooked meat was sweet and delicious. Every day after that, Woksis collected sugar maple sap for his wife to cook with.

There is a seed of truth in the legend, for Indians in what became the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada boiled sugar maple sap into syrup and maple sugar long before white settlers arrived. From the colonial period well into the 19th century, making sugar from sap was common. Maple sugar became a trade commodity, a source of rare sweetness on the frontier. Before the Civil War, abolitionists promoted maple sugar as an alternative to cane sugar, which was produced with slave labor. In 1884, the first patent for an evaporator to more efficiently boil maple sap was issued and production increased. But at the turn of the 20th century the price of maple sugar collapsed, and sugarers throughout New England refocused their efforts on making and marketing maple syrup, which requires less boiling than the sugar (and maple candy). 

Whether you make pure maple syrup in high volume using the latest technology or whether you are just a backyard hobbyist like me, the process is fundamentally the same. Making syrup from sap involves removing most of the water from the sap to leave the sugar, and that means boiling – and boiling and boiling. The general rule of thumb is that it takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of syrup, and in my experience that’s pretty close to right. The residual sweet sap becomes syrup when its temperature reaches 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the local boiling point.

An evaporator is the essential tool for boiling sap to remove the water. It’s basically a wood stove topped with a shallow stainless steel pan that’s divided into channels. As the sap boils in the pan, it moves from channel to channel, becoming sweeter and sweeter with time and boiling. Fancy evaporators can cost thousands of dollars and will boil dozens of gallons of sap down to syrup in an hour or less, and there are evaporators available that are fueled by oil or wood pellets or even coal, but firewood, which is super-abundant in well-wooded New Hampshire, is the most commonly used fuel in evaporators. Some high-end sugarers run their sap through a reverse osmosis machine to remove a portion of the water before boiling it in the evaporator. These sugarers also typically use a system of tubes and vacuum pumps to collect sap by the hundreds of gallons rather than the old-fashioned, but labor-intensive, approach with spiles and buckets.  

On the other end, some backyard sugarers build their own evaporators from cinder blocks and barbecue grates, and boil their sap in big metal pots. That’s how I started. It’s inefficient compared to boiling on an evaporator, but boiling the old way still carries the romance and history of long-ago sugar-making. The evaporator I use these days was made from a 55-gallon oil barrel sliced open down the side to create an opening to hold the boiling pan. The inside of the barrel is lined with fire brick, and a thick metal door on one end of the barrel gives me access to the firebox; the other end is cut for a smokestack. I can boil about three or four gallons of sap per hour on this rig, feeding the fire in the barrel almost constantly with dry wood. (Another rule of thumb: Depending on the efficiency of the evaporator, it takes about one full cord of firewood – that’s a stack of firewood four feet high, four feet wide, and eight feet long – to boil 400 gallons of sap.) One of these years I’ll upgrade to a more efficient evaporator, but for now the system I use works fine.  

I’ve been asked: Why not just boil the sap on the stove in the kitchen? That could work, but most stove burners at home don’t get hot enough to boil sap quickly. Not only that, but boiling sap produces thick clouds of hot steam, so unless you want the wallpaper to peel and all the art on your walls and all the furniture in your rooms to get soaking wet, boiling in the kitchen is not a good idea. 



Where you want to boil is in a sugarhouse. A sugarhouse can look like almost anything – a garage, a log cabin, a barn or a shed – but they all share one thing in common: a roof that vents open to allow the steam from the evaporator to escape. A drive along the backroads of New England in March or early April will discover dozens of sugarhouses back among the trees or in backyards, big clouds of steam billowing from the vents. When sap is boiling, the quiet, woodsy countryside smells just like breakfast – like warm maple syrup being poured over pancakes.


Most of the sugar maples I tap for our syrup are more than 100 years old. They belonged to a commercial sugarbush (what a sugar maple farm is called) that was operated by a local family for decades. When we bought the property, now named Tuckerman’s Farm, several years ago, the old sugarhouse, which had huge, thick beams that had been hand-cut with an axe, was still standing, but then a heavy winter snow one year brought it down before the sugarhouse could be restored. The old maples hadn’t been tapped in decades, and when I drilled the first small tap holes one warm March afternoon a few years ago, the sap practically poured out. Tapping trees doesn’t hurt them, by the way; the tap holes are small and quickly grow over, and the amount of sap taken from a tree to make syrup is miniscule compared to all the sap a healthy maple tree holds.


Sugar season ends when nights become warmer than freezing and leaf buds begin to appear on sugar maple branches. The sap stops flowing, and to underscore that fact there’s one more sugarer’s rule of thumb: When the first chirps from the tiny frog called a spring peeper are heard, sugar season is over. Some years the season is weeks long, other years it’s just a few days. This year’s sugaring season arrived in two parts: first, one week of excellent conditions, then a three-day deep freeze, then three days of too much warmth, then another three days of great sap flow. After that, the peepers started singing.

(From the woodlands of New Hampshire to our kitchen table in Los Angeles. Photo: Naz Deravian)

Perhaps I’m being overly romantic or sentimental, but I feel like the beautiful, majestic old sugar maple trees on Tuckerman’s Farm and I are partners in our little syrup enterprise. The trees give me their sap in the early spring; in the summer, I keep them clear of pesky undergrowth. The wise old trees I tap seem to hold a story, a mystery, I can’t quite understand or unravel, and that’s okay. These trees have seen, browsing beside their sturdy trunks, moose and black bear, white-tail deer and silver foxes. They’ve seen cattle and sheep. They’ve seen wagons and then sedans and then flashy pick-up trucks and now my old red tractor. On a blustery early spring afternoon, when the sunlight slants like an arrow and I am tromping through the snow collecting sap from the buckets, the trees feel like old friends, but they still keep most of their secrets. The only secret of theirs I know for certain is the sweetest one, however.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A NEW DAY - TOOT - PERSIAN MARZIPAN



♪Music we're cooking to♪  


Propel. That's a good word, Mama. - Luna

Turn up the music. The music we're cooking to.

Turn it up loud.

I mean feel the rhythm surge through your entire being and bounce off your heart kind of loud. 

Louder. Louder. Louder.  

Push aside the curtains, throw open the doors and windows. Take off your shoes, grab your children's hands, step out, throw your arms up to the sky and welcome a new day.

 NOROOZ - Persian New Year.


Mute all devices that jingle, jangle, and make you twitch and tumble. Silence all the chatter floating through invisible wires, invisible messengers. Selling invisible dreams and schemes.

But, turn up the music. 

Loud.

Throw some almond flour in a bowl, scoop in the powdered sugar, and sprinkle the cardamom.

Slowly drizzle in the rose water. Get your hands in there and make a soft dough.  

Rose water again, Mama?

A little more, Soleil. Enough to make a dough.
  
We've been using a lot of rose water these days, Mama.

And we'll be using more, Luna.

It smells like Norooz, Mama.  And I just want to swim in rose water. 

We're gonna be swimming in rose water, cardamom, nuts, saffron, greens and more greens for the next few days, girls.

And SUGAR, Mama. Don't forget about the sugar!

And sugar, girls. To sweeten our days and our hearts.

That's silly. Sugar sweetens our taste buds, Mama!



Sit back. Close your eyes and press record. Record the rhythm of their giggles. Sisters. The cadence of each breath, the crescendo of the eventual disagreement. And repeat back to the giggles. 

It's like cookie dough, Mama. Are you sure we don't have to cook it?

I'm sure, Soleil.

Can we shape them how we like, Mama? I want to make a bunny.

We call them toot because we make them look like the real toot we eat - mulberries. But you can shape them however you like, Luna. No rules for toot making.

Giggles, giggles, giggles.

Soleil, did you hear what Mama said? She said toot making! Toot! Toot!

Giggles, giggles, giggles. 

Feel the rhythm of their laughter surge through your entire being and bounce off your heart. 




Sliver a few pistachios. Stick them in the toot, like a stem. Or bunny paws. No rules.

Arrange the toot on a platter and set them on your Haft Seen Table. To sweeten your heart, your days and your taste buds. 

Gather around your Haft Seen Table and light the candles. Watch as the flames reflect off the mirror and dance to the rhythm of the music, the rhythm of their giggles, the rhythm of your heart beat.

Turn up the music loud and let the beauty of it all propel you into a new day. 

Propel into Norooz.

This we year we welcome spring and Norooz on Saturday March 19th at exactly 9:30pm PDT. I wish you all a very Happy Norooz!

And please make sure you also sweeten your taste buds with the following Norooz recipes from Persian food bloggers from around the globe.




Monday, March 14, 2016

CITY OF GOLD AND A FARRO, MUNG BEAN, CANNELLINI AASH

 Music We're Cooking To ♪

I expected food, culture, and a unique culinary guide to the city - my adopted city. 

I didn't expect the tears.

I was invited to a screening of the documentary film City of Gold about Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times food writer Jonathan Gold, directed by Laura Gabbert. It was a mid-week event right around dinner time. Which means high level planning, texting, and coordinating by the tag team parental unit. It means somewhere between school pick-up, homework, piano and violin practice, and endless queries about when it's ok to play Minecraft, there's dinner to consider. It means preferably a one-pot meal - stove to table. Something that will satisfy and nourish. Something a six-year-old can pick at and deconstruct to the daily (hourly?) whims of her palate. Something for which a nine-year-old will happily lick her bowl clean. All of which translates to aash - a hearty Persian soup. Use up whatever is within reach kind of aash. 



I take my seat in the intimate theater. The lights dim and Laura Gabbert's lens invites us to ride shotgun along side Mr. Gold. He guides us through the streets of his beloved Los Angeles with ease, respect, curiosity and a local's sense of love and authority. A true reflection of what has made him and his columns so adored by Angelenos and beyond. He weaves on and off our Escherian freeways in search of a taco truck, a hot dog stand, Szechuan, very spicy Thai, Oaxacan, fancy French fare, Ethiopian, grasshoppers with Ruth Reichl, and a brief stop at the always reliable and delicious Attari for a little taste of Iran. 

What shines brightest in City of Gold, what resonated most deeply with me, what grabbed my heart and lodged a lump deep in my throat are the stories behind the food. Laura Gabbert touchingly captures Mr. Gold's gift to shine a light on these stories. The people, the families, the struggles and successes, life in the diaspora, life in every corner of Los Angeles.

Mr. Gold's dedicated pursuit of the next satisfying meal reveals the many colors of the mosaic that makes up Los Angeles. We are reminded that our communities are alive and bursting with all sorts of flavors, people and stories - we just need to venture out a little more east, south, north and west to discover them. To break bread with them

This aash is a reflection of the flavors and ingredients that have journeyed with me from east to west. A mix of flavors that bring comfort in their familiarity. There is the abundance of fresh greens so beloved in Iranian cooking, the chewy bite of Italian farro, a mix of creamy cannellini and mung beans, a whole leek - white and green parts, mini-meatballs mixed with fresh herbs and Parmesan (for added flavor and more importantly because that's how my kids love them) and a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt to bring it all to life.

The true spirit of aash-making is not in how accurately you measure, or use these ingredients exactly as dictated. Aash is generous in spirit and very forgiving. If you don't have mung beans on hand try lentils, or substitute rice or noodles for the farro. For a vegetarian option, leave out the meatballs. Don't get too caught up on how big or small your bundle of greens is. Reach deep in the back crevices of your fridge and revive the forgotten and neglected. This is also a great dish to use the whey (from straining yogurt) sitting in your fridge door, politely waiting for its turn to be asked to the dance. If you don't have whey, not a problem, just use water.This recipe can serve as a guide as your pantry, crisper and taste buds lead the way. From east, south, north and west.

At a time when there is so much talk about building walls to separate - Laura Gabbert and City of Gold quietly offer Jonathan Gold, an ambassador of sorts. A not so anonymous, suspenders and bowler hat-clad food critic - crossing bridges, and overpasses in his green pickup truck - connecting us to our neighbors. One dish at a time.