28 August 2011


Hurricane Irene

It seems topical, what with hurricane Irene visiting us here in Boston, to have a post on the Hurricane. The cocktail that anyone who has spent more than an hour in New Orleans has had.

I had my first hurricane in 1997. I was an impoverished graduate student, and I paid $8 for this drink, and when I first sipped it I was sure I had been ripped off. I couldn't taste a whiff of alcohol in it. 30 minutes later, as I staggered down Bourbon Street, I felt differently.

For one hurricane:
1 shot light rum
1 shot dark rum
½ shot Galliano liqueur
2 shots orange juice
2 shots pineapple juice
1 shot passion fruit juice
¾ shot lime juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Mix and serve over ice. This isn't exactly the cocktail I had in New Orleans (I'll let you know when I find the recipe for that) but it was a pretty popular cocktail to survive a hurricane that was toothless (by the time it reached Boston).

Happy Hurricane Sunday.



25 August 2011


Cooked lobster

My dad was the anti-foodie. Almost every dish my mother ever served was a "B+". He would stroll away from the dinner table, not full. Food was merely fuel. The enjoyment at the dinner table was found in discussion and debate, not on the plate.

There was only one food I can remember that made him excited. In the 1950s, he spent time in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia. It is there that he learned to love lobster. When he brought me there in 1989, he introduced me to one of the most fabulous sources of protein on earth.

I have spent as much as $40/pound to have the pleasure to cook lobster in some of my other homes. Imagine my surprise, then, to drive through southern Maine and see signs advertising $4/lb lobster. It turns out that those signs are teasers, to get 3 x 1.5 lb lobsters cost us $28. That's right, something a little more than $6 per pound. We suffer.

Lobster purveyor

My wife picked up three lobsters on a Wednesday at the Maine Lobster Outlet. So after work, I heated up two pots of water (one per lobster - we're in a sublet and don't have a big pot). Each pot had:
4 quarts water
8 tbsp salt
Alternatively, you can use fresh seawater if it's handy.

Bring to a rolling boil while you play with your lobsters.

Live lobster

When the water is boiling, pick up the lobsters. Some people like to make the lobsters sleepy by having them hang out in a fridge for a while. Not necessary. You just need to act swiftly, so the lobster doesn't have time to think about his impending doom. Open up the pot, pick up the lobster and hold him head (and claws) pointing down. Then swiftly move him over the pot and drop him in. If you hesitate, all is lost. The lobster will sense the heat, and recoil. You want to drop him in there head-first so that he is killed instantly and has no time to react. The benefit here is that this is more humane, and it's less disturbing and wiggly to try to get the lobster in the pot if you do it quickly.

Let the pot return to boiling. As soon as it does, start the clock (watch carefully, there's nothing more sad than an overcooked lobster). A 1 ½ lb lobster does well with about 11 minutes of full-on boil time. Really, don't overcook the lobster. Overcooked lobster is tough and bitter.

Remove the lobster from the boiling water at the end of your counter.

Cooked lobster

Let cool a few moments. Serve with a dish of melted butter. It's not a terrible idea to wear a raincoat while dismembering the lobster. There will be a mess, be forewarned. Dab the meat into the butter. And don't forget, the claws have the best meat. The knuckles, second best. And the tail has the most meat (though a bit tougher).

This is a simple way to make lobster, and in Massachusetts, it even makes sense on a Wednesday night. Ridiculous.

Lobster meat


18 August 2011

Blueberry pie

Blueberry bonanza! We got a little out of hand the other day picking blueberries. Nine pounds of blueberries. So we had to find a home for a few of them.


Classic summer bbq fare is blueberry pie (or pah as they say in Texas).

In our home, pie is the domain of Mrs. Dude. She makes a pretty amazing crust. I copy this one from her delightful description of rhubarb pie:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
⅔ cup Crisco (Bbq Dude is always trying to make me use use leaf lard, but I just can’t do it. I like Crisco)
⅓ cup very cold water (mix 1 cup water with some ice cubes and let sit, pour off the 1/3 cup when you need it)

Add the salt to the flour and mix. Add the 2/3 cup Crisco and mash into the flour with your fingers until you’ve made something that looks like the photo. Don’t handle it too much, it should only take about 2 min. This will make mess out of rings on your fingers or bells on your toes, so put them someplace safe. Add the 1/3 cup very cold water and mix with fingers till it all starts sticking together. Don’t handle it too much. Have 4 sheets of wax paper or parchment paper ready to roll the pie crusts out in. Place about 1/4th of the dough in between 2 sheets of paper and “roll like mad” as my Mom says. Move the rolling pin around to generate an at least somewhat circular shape. You want the dough to be about 2-3mm (1/10th inch) thick.

For this pie, form an extra high ridge around the edge of the pastry. And chill the crust while you're making the filling. We take a slight twist on the classic blueberry pie as detailed on Epicurious:
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (or more) sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
7 cups fresh blueberries
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Mix the all the filling components in a heavy pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring gently frequently until the blueberries liquify (a tiny bit) and make a thick, hot, bubbling mess.

Blueberry filling

You want largely whole blueberries, so be gentle. No one wants blueberry-paste pie.

Chill the pie filling for an hour.

Meanwhile, make the topping:
⅔ cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 ounces marzipan or almond paste
¼ cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
½ tsp salt
Combine all the topping ingredients in a food processor, pulse only until combined into a wet, chunky mess.

Ok, chill that, too. Now you've got crust, filling and topping in the fridge. After everything is cold (about an hour), fire up the oven at 400°F. Now you're gonna need to move fast, because you don't want the filling to soak into the crust. As soon as the pie gets assembled, you want it heading straight into the oven. Only a fool would pause to take the semi-assembled pie outside into sufficient light to get a good picture...

Blueberry pie filling


If you must, be quick about it.

Blueberry pie filling

Crumble the topping over the blueberries.

Pre-baked blueberry pie

Put the pie on a cookie sheet. Yeah, it's going to bubble and splatter, especially if you put in a few too many blueberries. Bake until the topping browns, around 70 minutes (but start checking it at 45 - your mileage may vary).

Remove from the oven, and if you can possibly stand it, let the pie cool so the filling can gel. Serve with ice cream.

Blueberry pie

It's pie, dammit. It's good.


16 August 2011

Tougas Farm

We're still living like tourists in Somerville, Mass. We cook in someone else's kitchen, with their kitchen implements (and my knives). All of our stuff is still in storage in San Diego (and will be until we move into our new home on Sep 24th). But living like tourists has an advantage. We're still very much in the "exploring Boston" mode.

In that vein, we decided to explore what delicious things could be grown locally. In southern California, citrus and avocados were the specialty. Here, it's blueberries.

We spent the morning at Tougas Family Farm, west of the city. They have a broad variety of things they grow, but this time of year, it's the blueberries that are available for picking.


Their business model is a clever one. Get people out. Charge them to walk in the field ($3/person). Then credit that towards however many pounds of blueberries you rake in.

Very soon, they'll be selling blackberries.






U-pick locations have an inherent conflict built into them. Pickers want to only pick from the easiest to reach branches with the largest clusters of fruit. Farmers want the highest percentage of their berries to end up being sold, which means the high branches, low branches and less dense clusters end up getting picked. I watched with dismay as pickers spent two minutes per bush, blowing past me to pick only the easiest-to-reach bunches.


After an hour of picking over a few half-picked bushes, we went home with nine pounds of blueberries for about $30, less than half of what you'd pay in a grocery store.


There are muffins and pancakes in our future...

Tougas Family Farm
234 Ball St
Northborough, MA
Hours vary

View Larger Map


09 August 2011

Asparagus mimosa

As we settle into Boston, I'm cooking a lot of old standbys. Not worth posting on them. But this book Plenty that I've gotten my hands on... It's providing tons of side-dishes. Yes, it's a vegetarian book. But as the author says, "I suggested serving a salad with some barbecued lamb chops."

Yes. This is an excellent side-dish book (and occasional main dish book). Tonight, I bring you a quick-and-easy way to dial up asparagus.

2 eggs
½ lb asparagus
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp capers, drained
2 tsp large crystal salt
black pepper
Place the eggs in boiling water. Boil 9 minutes exactly, then transfer to cold water to stop to cooking.

Boiling egg

When cool, peel the eggs.

Peeled egg

Chop off the white ends of the asparagus. Add the asparagus to boiling water. Boil for three minutes, or until tender.

Remove from the water. Dress the asparagus with the oil, capers, pepper and salt. Grate the eggs over the asparagus.



I served this next to a lovely fried hake fillet. As soon as I figure out how to make fish beautiful, I'll show you a photo. Until then, you'll have to imagine the perfect white flesh of the hake. With butter. And a spot of lemon and salt. Delicious.

And with a sip or two of a nice Riesling.


Provided as a going-away present before we left California. Not a bad 30 minute meal.


08 August 2011

05 August 2011

Food porn - now on video

Found via Reddit (of course):
3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....

= a trip of a lifetime.

move, eat, learn

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

04 August 2011

Chili garlic sauce

Before our move out east, we gave away an ungodly number of condiments. When you cook and eat and can't keep the contents of your fridge, it makes unloading those things an enormous task. We hope they all found happy homes and happy stomachs, but in the meantime, we have to rebuild some of our stores! (There will be bacon, oh, there will be bacon. My bacon stores are empty. But I digress...)

We start with a hot sauce. Simple and tasty. I modified this from a blog I follow, Viet World Kitchen.
6 oz hot chiles, stemmed and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tbsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
I used a mixture of chiles raided from a local grocer.


Remove the stems from the chiles. Toss in a food processor with the garlic, salt, sugar and vinegar.

Pulse to make a nice, coarse goop.

Chili garlic puree

Andrea at Viet World Kitchen suggests tasting at this point, and adjusting the seasoning. One tiny tidbit of this lovely mess burned my mouth. Three servings of yogurt, a glass of water and an entire bottle of beer didn't make me feel better. I'm not sure I had the seasonings right.

Simmer on the stove for five to ten minutes. Add water as necessary to maintain consistency.

Remove from heat and save as a condiment to add a nice touch of heat to your dishes. But be careful. This is hot!

Chili garlic sauce


02 August 2011


So, as it happens, we've moved about as far as you can between two major cities in the U.S. San Diego to Boston. Southern Cali to New England. Fish tacos to lobster. So, I suppose even Indirect Heat has to make a few changes.

Well, I'm semi-bbq-less for the summer (I have access to a hibachi, but I've been too lazy to get charcoal and use it in our limited-space-sublet thus far). So I'm exploring my non-bbq options for a few days. And while I'm doing that, why not explore my meatless options. Yes. It's true. I'm cooking vegetarian tonight.


I found this book Plenty in the Harvard COOP (incidentally, the best food section of any bookstore ever - just sayin'). It's a vegetarian book. But it's my kind of vegetarian book. In the intro it says:
The New Vegetarian (the author's column) ... made some Guardian readers extremely unhappy to learn that the new vegetarian wasn't a vegetarian at all. A couple of angry letters to the editor stick in my mind and an incident where I suggested serving a salad with some barbecued lamb chops.
A vegetarian cookbook that suggests serving vegetarian fare next to lamb chops? This is my veggie book. Yes, yes it is. This is a book with bold flavours and fun dishes. I've already cooked several dishes out of this book, and will blog about them soon. This is a book of deliciousness.

Tonight, we serve Shakshuka. A delicious Tunisian mix of tomatoes, herbs and eggs. This one seems like it's going off the rails right up until serving time, when it comes together into a delicious mess of eggs and veggies. Yum.

We start with:
¼ tsp cumin seeds
13 cup olive oil
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tsp muscovado sugar
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
3 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 6-7 small tomatoes)
18 tsp saffron threads
large pinch cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs
Toast the cumin seeds for 2 minutes in a dry pan over high heat until fragrant. You don't want them bitter, so take care not to over-toast. Pour in the oil and toss in the onion.


Cook the onion 3-5 minutes. Add the peppers, thyme, parsley and cilantro and sugar. Cook over high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until the peppers and onions start to take on some colour. The browned onions and peppers will flavour this dish.

Turn down the heat to low. Toss in the cayenne, saffron, salt and pepper.

saffron shards

Toss in the coarsely chopped tomatoes and the bay leaf.


Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add water to keep the consistency about a thick pasta-sauce consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning as appropriate (I added a lot of salt to this to get it right).

Remove the bay leaf, and transfer to a shallow pan over low heat. Make 4 wells in the sauce and put one egg in each well. Cover, and continue to cook until the eggs set (about 8 minutes for me).


Garnish with chopped cilantro, and serve with a bright white wine..

Served with...

This was surprisingly good. I've adjusted it to dial back the saffron a bit, but otherwise this is a fantastic dish. Bright and flavourful. Rich from the soft egg yolks. And messy. Really, really messy to serve.

We'll be serving this again.