Monday, February 23

More About Sweet Lime, Courtesy a Reader

This illuminating note and great photos from an intrepid reader who went to India, ate the fruit, and happened across the Sweet Lime posting here. Thanks for your note and photos, Dave!

"I was in India in November for about 10 days. I was introduced to sweet lime there and fell in love with it. It is mildly flavored and yet full-flavored at the same time. The best way that I can describe it is if you had an orange with no orange flavor but still robust and sweet. At the hotels I stayed at they served slices of sweet lime as well as sweet lime juice and a mixture of orange and sweet lime juice, which was heavenly. The sweet lime juice that I had was pure juice, no sugar added, according to the hotel staff. They fresh-squeezed it at the hotels. I’ve attached a few pictures that I took when I was there. The plate picture shows some pieces of sweet lime flesh that were cut up and served in a breakfast fruit buffet in Hyderabad, India. The sweet lime is at the top. The other fruits on the plate are papaya and pineapple. The containers show sweet lime juice in a dispenser as served at a hotel in Agra, India. The street picture shows a vendor in Agra selling sweet limes and sweet lime juice. Note the juicer on the left and the glasses. I never had the courage to try anything from a street vendor because I feared getting sick, but it was tempting.


Dave Johnson"

Update on San Marzano's

After writing my marinara posting, the SF Chronicle serendipitously came out with a shoppers guide to San Marzano tomatoes.

They went through the aisles testing domestic and imported varieties and have some terrific recommendations. Here, here SF Chronicle!

Check it out!

Canned tomatoes - step aside, San Marzano

Saturday, February 14

Perfect Simple Marinara Sauce

Marinara is so beguilingly good, you think there's gotta be a mystery to making it. Turns out, great marinara for topping pizza, pasta or breaded eggplant is not only simple, it's quick and cheap.

The Foundation
There's really only one thing you need to actually plan for to make good marinara, and that's the tomatoes. Unless you've got a stash of ripe, fresh ones, next time you're at Whole Foods or your favorite local upscale-ish grocer, buy half a dozen 28oz cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes (so you never run out). Now you're set.

The open secret to great marinara is the tomatoes you use. San Marzano tomatoes are simply a variety of plum tomatoes that have more flesh, fewer seeds, and richer flavor than romas, making them perfect for sauce. I buy them whole in cans like you see pictured above.

You can get the San Marzano variety from many brands, but tomatoes grown in the actual vicinity of the town of San Marzano are said to be especially good because of the volcanic soil and endless bright sunlight in the south of Italy. You can get high quality specimens from US producers, too, and since these red gems have become so popular, getting the super duper genuine article is nearly impossible (unless you want to spend some serious coin).

The Recipe: Make it in 20 Minutes Flat
1 28oz Can of San Marzano tomatoes
2 cloves fresh garlic, very very thinly sliced (like paper)
1 teaspoon of salt
3-5 grinds of black pepper
1 8oz small can of Hunt's Tomato Sauce (yes, you read that right!) Use only the plain unseasoned tomato sauce...avoid the cans that have garlic, basil or other "herbs and spices" added.

Empty both cans of tomatoes into a high-sided pot, crank up the heat to medium and grab your immersion blender. Press down and blend each tomato until coarsely chopped, but not pureed. The high sides of your pot should help control the spatter, but you might want to don your fave apron.

If you don't have an immersion blender, you can chop with a food processor or knife before they go into the pan, but it's just messier and adds clean up. Next add everything else and continue heating on medium-low heat until you achieve the thickness you require from evaporation, about 20 minutes. Seriously, that's it.

A word about Hunt's. Some may be surprised to see the extra can of Hunt's, but trust me, it's the simplest, best product for adding liquid, additional tomato richness, and a bit more acid to the balance the San Marzanos, which when boiled down, can get mighty sweet.

Wednesday, February 11

How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Alton Brown

For a long time now, Alton Brown has been persona non grata around my media center. But I've been watching a bunch of Good Eats lately (thanks to Tivo) and I have to admit he's a bit on my hit list. Wait, before you hit the red thumbs down button, hear me out! Here's the case for Alton.

What Was Wrong with Good Eats?
Like many others, things that turned me off about this sometimes overly spirited show included: his badly-matched, embroidered frat boy shirts, his over-worked mini-dramas, and his guy-gadget approach to all things cooking. After a while, you just get sick of the machine-shop approach to food. There's gotta be more to life than that, right?

But amidst all of that clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk that he pulls out show after show, Alton turns out to be, heart-wise, more like Dorothy than the Scarecrow. All he wants is to be at home in his own back yard and for you to be, too. He wants you to be as good as Proctor and Gamble at pancakes and as smart about soda as Coke. Yes, that's right, dear reader... he's a romantic individualist. And I guess after all the kooky measuring is done and quirky DYI devices fall apart, that's his true charm.

The Facts
On screen, he puts himself out on a limb time after time with embarrassing dramatizations, with no embarrassment. But in each one, no matter how annoying, he respects facts, science, and the craft of cooking. In recent shows, he hired an impressive character actor to play his business partner as a foil to push recipes along. It's great to see the passion and creativity, history and humanism all rolled into one. One of my favorites was a show on toast. A whole show.

He changes his mind. When he decides he was wrong about garlic powder, he just changes his mind and states the opposite, sometimes years later. And mostly, he acknowledges his change of heart. In other words, he's intellectually honest. And an honest intellect, even in the kitchen, is the hallmark of a romantic: he wants the world to be better than his own vicissitudes , he believes in something bigger. The truth, in this case, food-science truth.

He's a lover, and by that I mean he gets joy from, science, and it's cousin, technology. He believes he can connect rational thought to the senses by understanding and explaining it. And that's a beautiful thing. He's a rationalist and a sensualist with no contradiction. Food makes him feel good, and thinking makes him be good. And he's a pilot, which means he puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to believing in natural forces like gravity and the bernoulli principle as much as the Maillard reaction.

Finally, Alton wears his heart on his sleeve. Over the last several years, he's fully transformed, on screen, from slightly off-balance food geek to comfortable, elder statesman. And I believe he's got even more better good times ahead, now that the whole "Waves" thing is done. (I get why he wanted to do it, but seriously...)

Alton may be in a bit of serial box on Good Eats, but I think he's got a really good book or new series in him, and I can't wait to find out how it'll turn out.