A perfect sea urchin

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From Inside the Pay Wall

I was stumped at what to make for this week's Shabbos. Then I saw this recipe. I thought: "PERFECT!" I love peas. This is Hot'Lanta, and cold soups are perfect for Shabbos.

Then I read the recipe. Many New York Times recipes are born in a rarified world of city life. Many are not sweet or sour enough or economical enough. This one pretty much commits every one of those sins.

First, fresh peas in the South are English peas with removeable pods that are tough and nasty. Second, pea pods and/or sugar snap peas are too expensive and wasteful to puree for soup. Even the original recipes says the snaps leave behind solids to strain out. The solution: No snaps! There were no english peas in the market, and I ended up using frozen green peas. These work well enough.

Second, the recipe calls for chicken or vegetable stock. Where does one obtain stock of any quality? Yeah...you have to make it. That means a lot more ingredients. I made sure to buy carrots, parsley, and two white turnips. I did not have to buy onions since I always have extra scallion bottoms.

Trick two to making stock for this kind of a soup is bisque method. That means you wash, peel, cut up all the vegetables, and mix them together. Half of them you sautee in oil. Then when these are cooked you add several cups of water and the remaining vegetables. This way some of the veggies add a lot of flavor, and some give their flavor to the stock.

I made the bisque method stock, added the peas, made sure to season it with salt, Mixed Up Pepper, and Mrs. Dash (The Times) left out these essentials. Seasonings make the dish, but don't overpower it.

Then it was on to the blender and the keeping bucket. That's it. The soup is in my fridge, and I won't even have to heat it up. I wonder if there are any recipes for cold split pea soup. I desperately miss split pea soup, but if there is a choice between overcooked (cooked for hours) soup or no soup, you know what I serve for Shabbos. Sorry, cholent is good soup turned to glop.

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 24, 2011

Locavores -- Be Damned!

I just came back from shopping. It's a fact of life that here in Atlanta, imported produce, whether from out of state or out of the country is either cheaper or better. The red D'Anjou pears I have been enjoying are last year's storage pears from Oregon, not Argentina. The white peaches always come from California until well into the season. The apriums are from California. The papaya are from Mexico. Local field peas are not particularly cheap. Right now local snap beans are a rip off.

I think Adam Smith called it comparative advantage, but if you are going to eat well, it still pays growers in far away locations to produce this stuff and truck or fly it in. And they can produce a good product more cheaply than those on local farms. This works for apples, pears, root vegetables, papaya.

There's also another force at work. It's an old one, but for hundreds of years, growers of table delicacies, both fruit and vegetables, have been out to improve the taste, and shippability (how's that for a word?) of their product. If you can't ship a product, you can't sell a product, and if you can't sell a product, you can't buy a product. White peaches are a case in point. When I was a child, these were a delicacy known as Cumberland Whites. They could only be bought from the orchard which grew them. They were more delicate than yellow peaches, and did not ship well to the city, even from Orange County, New York to New York City.

Today we can buy white peaches from California. Do they taste as good as the original Cumberland Whites. The answer is probably yes. For obvious reasons, like most peaches, they are shipped green. They are still a bit more delicate than yellow peaches. If you want your peaches overripe, and some people only like them that way, don't buy white peaches. When a white peach begins to become ripe, or just gets ripe, it goes to the fridge. If not, you have a bruised and afflicted specimen on your hands. This is still true, but now we can ship green white peeaches, and have ripe ones at home. And yes, I think they taste pretty much as good as the peaches we ripened on the porch. We often sent a few of those to the fridge too late. I am very vigilent with my white peaches.

Papaya is a better case. It used to come from Hawaii and taste like soap. Then it came from Belize. I think it's been genetically engineered, but I am not sure about this. It now comes from Mexico. It gets shipped green, but often ripens in transit. I have one ripening on my fridge top. It will taste rather sweet, like musk mellon on steroids with less waste, when I procses it late in the week. Knife work is cathartic.

Case number three is celery root, which is being mainstreamed. It no longer comes growing dirt and a top. It is a bit less gnarled. It should be easier to peel, but hey knifework is cathartic. And the price is down, .99 a pound. When I get a food processor and hopefully someone with whom to share the product, I'll make celery root remoulade regularly. This Shabbos though it's celery root and carrot bisque. Why not?

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 11, 2011

It's Casserole not Kugel

A friend's small child asked me if I made spinach kugel. I told her that no, I made creamed spinach. There is a noodle and mushroom sauce casserole in my fridge just now for tomorrow's lunch. It's a real, made from scratch casserole, not one of those awful things made from a plastic tray in a box, put together in a factory, and bought by those who must have a hot lunch, even if of inferior quality.

Casseroles are fun to make, even if they are complex. Casseroles made with purpose created ingredients (My kitchen produces no leftovers), are multi-step processes even if none of the steps are that complex. They require two evenings and a fair amount of organization or one evening and a couple of hours. There are red sauce casseroles, casseroles bound together with sauteed vegetables, casseroles bound together with pureed carrots, and casseroles bound together with peanut butter. Then there is the classic white sauce casserole.

I realized I was speaking a foreign language when I described the revolutionary step of making a white sauce. I don't really remember making my first white sauce except I made it in Ithaca, and it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, but then again I dreaded the thing. I'd heard horror stories about lumps. These are the stame stories as lumps in gravy.

Last weekend, I got to explain how to make a white sauce. You start with a roux. I had to spell it. Those in New Orleans refer to a roux as a brown thing. I said that a roux to those from New York is the base of a white sauce and the product is usually light colored. Usualy it is yellow. Yes, it could be pareve, but it's better dairy. Traditionally it is used for white sauce which is by its very nature dairy, and this is Shevuous after all.

For those of you who have never made a white sauce with a roux, here is the procedure. First cook some vegetables with salt. Often these are the old ones from the back corner of the veggie drawer or crisper. Sometimes though they include or are frozen spinach (in the case of creamed spinach or a la Florentine dishes), or mushrooms in the case of mushroom sauce. If you want a milky white sauce, add powdered milk when the hot stock has cooled a little. This stops your scalding problem cold! But before you even think of adding milk, you want to reserve all the vegetables for the casserole or side dish, so drain the liquid into a bowl placed under a collander. This way you get everything. You can also finish the draining somewhere other than the sink which makes clean up easier. If you want a creamier sauce, add some powdered milk to the broth as I said above. Leave the broth out so it stays hot. It can get down to room temperature, but warmer is better.

Now measure out flour and butter. The amount is 2 Tblsp per cup of liquid. Measuring is important. There is chemistry and solubility involved in making a white sauce. If you mess up the proportions you have lumps. Put the measured butter and flour in small dishes so you have them handy and ready to go.

Now here is rule two of the white sauce and the roux. A roux needs your total and undivided attention. Butter scorches easily. Milk scalds. That's just the way it is. You need to be stirring this thing ayway so it thickens smoothly. The good news is this procedure takes less than ten minutes. Melt the butter on medium to low heat. Keep an eye on it When it is melted, add the flour. Stir it in, and when it is dissolved, add the broth or broth/milk mixture. Keep stirring. If your liquid is hot it will thicken quickly. If it is not so hot, it just takes a few minutes longer. At the end, you will have a smooth, creamy white sauce the consistency of good gravy. In my case, I had a mushroom sauce.

I mixed the sauce with all ready cooked egg noodles, butter beans, and boiled mushrooms, carrots, and scallion bottoms, and yes...one boiled anaheim chile. I used some Bragg Sprinkle and a little Mrs. Dash because I ran out of Sprinkle, and plenty of salt. This is one of those recipes with nearly all unsalted ingredients. I mixed it all together, put it into a buttered roasting pan and baked it for all of fifteen minutes beyond preheat. That's it. No crumb topping, no butter dotting. And no, it's not kugel. It's a casserole with a white sauce. Some people call it a cream sauce, but not the way I make it. My white sauce by the way, did not need milk. The veggies provided enough good flavor. The good thing about a classic, white sauce casserole if made with one to one and a half cups of sauce to half a pound of pasta plus cooked vegetable is that it is "dry" like a kugel. It stands up on a plate if you cut a piece and doesn't run all over the place. That means you can either reheat it or eat it cold.

When I tallied everything up, I think my creamy mushroom sauce casserole might even qualify as low fat or at least lower fat than most kugels. Including what I used to grease the pan four very large portions of casserole or six medium ones contain a total of 4Tblsp of butter. That's all the fat there is. I think most kugels have more fat than this and not as much nutrition from the vegetable broth or the butter beans which serve as protein rather than milk or cheese.

Argentine Pears

This story starts with my mother who sent me Harry and David pears for my birthday. They are Royal Rivieras, but that's not what I think they are. They are large, shaped like anjous but they taste not quite as sweet as bartletts and have bartlett's tendancy to get a bit bunged up when ripe. My guess is that these are comice pears. I've never had great luck wtih comice pears, but these were fantastic.

I was sorry to see them gone. I'm a pear person. Pears are utter comfort food. They're breakfast lunch, snacks, dessert, and I wanted more of them. Comice pears are not in season, and not always available, not always good. I checked what was available on the pear table at the Farmer's Market. Like the fancy root table, it is way in the back. The connoiseurs find their way there. The less curious don't go that deep. There were bosc pears, but bosc pears are winter pears. They are consistently one of the best pears out there, but I hate out of season food with a few exceptions. There were anjou pears, and there were red pears of an unknown variety. They were all from Argentina, and the red pears sang their song. Red pears remind me of lunch in middle school. They are a novelty, a treat. It doesn't really matter how the taste. Starksimmons can sometimes go soft cored (blech!). Red bartletts behave and taste like bartletts, but these didn't have a bartlett's bad skin. They never got bunged up. They were classic red anjous which have a pear flavor and texture (oh those stone cells!) but are about as tart as pears get. They brought back wonderful memories.

I have a bag full for the holiday. The apriums, johnny-come-latelies, of the fruit world which have their own good points, are nearly gone, though I have some of those. I'm skipping papaya this week as per medical orders. I bought pears and apriums instead of mangoes. One takes one's comfort where one can. I still think ninty percent of the time good fruit (not that presliced out of season stuff!) whups most other sweets. There is just something that good about it especially those Argentine pears.

Eileen H. Kramer -- June 7, 2011