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zoramargolis

zoramargolis

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I've been asked to do a week-long blog, in the same vein as the ones on egullet, where I would document my dinner-related activities for a week: shopping, prep, cooking and serving. I've been encouraged to reveal, as the egullet bloggers do, intimate details about my kitchen. Don't worry-- I promise not to provide the same level of intimate details about other aspects of my life, related though they may be in the minds of many! While I am extremely flattered that there is this level of interest in the wherefores and how-to's of my culinary life, the prospect is rather daunting. In case you hadn't noticed, in the years I've been posting on food boards, I haven't included any photos in my posts. That's because I never managed to learn how to use our digital camera, and until this very minute, have had no clue about how to include photos in a post. As experienced as I am at food preparation, I am almost completely clueless about the world of computers, beyond the most basic skills. I can "boil water" on the computer, but that's about it. So I thought I would do a little test run, with a lot of help from more knowledgeable folks in the DR.com community, and my teenage daughter, who knows about digital photography and linking to websites, and finds my doofiness with these sorts of things completely exasperating.

The house we live in originally belonged to Jonathan's grandparents. When his grandmother moved into a retirement community, his parents bought it. The kitchen was very primitive, with crummy metal cabinets, and Jonathan did a complete renovation for his mother. It was the first kitchen he ever built. That was in the early 1970's. When we bought the house in 1996, there was an electric stovetop. I lived with it for a couple of years, until Jonathan got tired of my complaints about it and ran a gas line over and replaced it with this 5 burner Thermador. We're still living with his mom's avocado formica, however.

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I'm a kitchen tool and gadget junkie, but I don't have enough drawer space for everything. I got this thing at Ikea.

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I've got stuff hanging all over the place. These are my All-Clad pots that I use everyday, and my most used appliances: the microwave, the Cuisinart, the Vitamix blender and the espresso machine. I have very little counter space--just the little bit in front of these and about three feet between the sink and the stovetop.

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This was my mother-in-law's broom closet. Jonathan put in some shelves so that I could have more pantry space. The reason it's so neat is that I discovered the remnants of a mouse banquet and had to clean it out and discard lots of chewed open packages. Apparently, mice like Trader Joe's shrink-wrapped gnocchi--who knew?

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This is how I manage all of those gazillion different spices that I can't resist buying at the ethnic markets. No more room, however.

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Just in case you were under the impression that I am neat and well-organized, this'll set you straight.

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Yesterday at the Dupont Market, I bought some little chioggia beets and roasted them, wrapped in foil, then I peeled them and sectioned an orange, and dressed it with some of my homemade Meyer lemon olive oil. I added some goat cheese and we ate it last night. I should have taken a picture of the beets before I roasted them, but I didn't really get started with the camera until after I took them out of the oven.

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This is the maximum number of pictures I can put in a single post, so I will take the rest of what I've written and start a second post, which will be below.

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This morning, instead of discarding some week-old lavender flowers whose stems were starting to get moldy in their vase, I cut off the tops, and will dry them a bit more and save the flowers for culinary purposes. I bought them from an organic farmer at the Dupont Market, so I'm not worried about pesticide residue.

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I'm trimming up some fiddleheads that I got at Trader Joe's. The label said they were from Maine. I learned to love fiddleheads when we lived in Vermont. Jonathan doesn't care for them as much as I do, but once a year, when I can find nice ones. I'll steam them and add a little bit of lemon zest, olive oil and salt. the best way to eat them is with hollandaise, but we can't afford all those calories.

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I've got to do something with all of these berries and cherries today. They've been in the fridge too long. Not sure yet whether I'll make a mixed berry cobbler or some kind of dessert gazpacho, but I can't let them spoil and go to waste.

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I was going to take pictures of my cherry pitter at work, but my daughter has left the house, and I think I need her help again before I feel more sure of what I'm doing. So I'll put this up, and feel free to ask questions or make comments. I'm not sure yet when I'll start the blog for real, and actually go all the way through a complete dinner.

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Superb, Zora!

Looking forward to your journey, especially having to prepare separate things for Veggieteen.

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Oh this is a great idea, and I'm glad you're kicking off the DR food blogs, Zora. I'm sure you'll set the bar high. I have my spices in a drawer as well which necessitated the purchase of a labeler. Also, I see your beloved blender on the counter!

I'm looking forward to you blog and am sure will have lots of questions for you.

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Oh awesome Zora! I'm already intrigued by the fiddlehead ferns- they have taunted me at TJ's, but I've been hesistant to buy them as I have no idea what to do with them! What is the propper trimming procedure for these babies?

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Oh awesome Zora! I'm already intrigued by the fiddlehead ferns- they have taunted me at TJ's, but I've been hesistant to buy them as I have no idea what to do with them! What is the propper trimming procedure for these babies?

The stem end, where it's been clipped off, gets blackened and withered. Just trim that part off, and wash them well and steam them until tender. Their taste reminds me of asparagus. I love the idea of eating wild food. It's better when I gather it myself, but the type of fern that produces this tasty, edible fiddlehead doesn't grow this far south. Most ferns aren't edible. When out gathering and you happen to get one that isn't an Ostrich Fern, the powerfully bitter flavor'll knock you on your butt. Ostrich ferns have papery coverings that are usually peeled away when you buy them.

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So, so cool! What a perfect member to begin the tradition, not only because of your wonderful dinner menus that we all view with longing, but because of your dedication to local produce and obvious love of food gathering.

Of course, Zora, you realize, that part of the ritual is that we get to make requests and ask questions.

So, if the weather cools down to something endurable, I would love to know more about your garden if you're willing to show us what you grow yourself. At least I recall you mentioning herbs. If there are any plans for foraging out in the wild, that would be fun to witness, too.

You might consider what advantages you have in writing a local blog on a local message board where your readers are close at hand and/or especially capable of applying shared wisdom to their own culinary lives.

* * *

P.S. The dessert gazpacho sounds intriguing. I've always read about, but never made cherry and other fruit soups. Do you ever make ice cream?

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Thank you for taking the time to do this, Zora. As a novice, I'm really looking forward to picking up pointers from you!

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Do you ever make ice cream?

Nope. I took other pictures of my crammed cabinets, but didn't post them. I don't have room for an ice cream maker. I have made granita, and also have used my Vitamix blender to make sorbet with frozen fruit. I suppose I could freeze the cherries and make sorbet, Hmm. Interesting idea. Now, do I have enough room in my freezer?

Will there be pic's of the completed dishes?

That's the plan, in any case. I'll have to exert considerable self discipline in order to take pictures of what I do. This is very new to me!

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This is very awesome to the rest of us. Seriously, keep it up.
I believe her offer to "adopt" you is still on the table. A wise man knows when to . . . ;)

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I'm trimming up some fiddleheads that I got at Trader Joe's.
They have fiddleheads at Trader Joe's??? Maybe if I think no sinful thoughts until tomorrow they'll have some at the West End store when I stop on my way home from work. I love fiddleheads, and don't remember ever seeing any around here.

Looking forward to your blog as it develops.

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Count me as one of your devoted readers going forward! Your dinners always sound amazing -- it will be great to see them under construction.

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Your batterie de cuisine reminds me of Julia's kitchen as preserved in the basement of the Museum of American History.

BTW, the term "batterie de cuisine" always makes me think of the dinged, dented, and otherwise battered and well-used pots and pans in the aficionado's kitchen.

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Your batterie de cuisine reminds me of Julia's kitchen as preserved in the basement of the Museum of American History.

BTW, the term "batterie de cuisine" always makes me think of the dinged, dented, and otherwise battered and well-used pots and pans in the aficionado's kitchen.

The thing I loved about Julia's kitchen was the OCEAN of counter space. I don't have much more space than Zora, and my feelings upon looking at Julia's kitchen was one of pure envy. Still, we all carry on, don't we? I say this as a real fan of Zora's cooking and postings.

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The thing I loved about Julia's kitchen was the OCEAN of counter space.

For a few years, we lived in a 3,500 square foot loft near the LA airport. It was basically raw space before we moved in, and Jonathan built us a kitchen--nothing elegant, I think we spent $2500. on materials, including appliances. What I did have was a formica-covered counter which was the size of an 8x12 foot sheet of plywood. It had barstools on one side, so people could sit and nibble and chat with me while I cooked, and big drawers and shelves with sliders, and a corner cupboard with lazy susan shelves, so that all my pots and pans and other equipment were easily accessible. I had room for all my appliances to be out--the Kitchenaid, the bread machine. I could easily have had an ice cream maker there. What a luxury counter work space is. Once you've had lots, it's really hard to go back to having very little.

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This'll be test drive #2, as I continue to get the hang of this process. I hope to start the blog officially with a trip to the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market on Sunday, but it'll be a raggedy start-up until then. I'm not cooking dinner tonight, anyway. We're going out to Vidalia, to celebrate our anniversary. We pretty much only go to fine dining places to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and the last time we were at Vidalia was for a birthday lunch years ago, before R.J. was the chef. I do vividly remember the lemon chess pie. And I'm really looking forward to tonight's meal. I have done some food-related things today, however, and since my dinners often involve things I have done in advance and have on hand, I thought I would do a little show and tell.

On Sunday, I bought some beautiful baby pickling cukes at Eli's stand. A lot of them still had flowers on them, that's how young and freshly picked they were. I hadn't planned to make pickles, but there they were--so, carpe cukem, as it were.

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I washed and sterilized a jar by boiling water in it, in the microwave, then put kosher salt, fresh garlic, coriander and mustard seeds, whole allspice, crushed red pepper and bay leaves into the bottom of the jar, and packed in the cukes.

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It's really important to pack them in tightly. I managed to get all but one of them into the jar--how amazing is that? I had some fresh dill in my refrigerator, so after I filled the jar with filtered water, I smooshed a bunch of dill on top.

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Then, I put the lid on tight and rotated the jar to distribute the salt.

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Afterward, I loosened the lid a little, set the jar into a bowl, and put it out in my little unairconditioned back porch on top of my dryer to ferment for a couple of days. If I hadn't loosened the lid, the bubbling CO2 that is part of the fermentation process might cause the jar to explode. Sometimes a bit of the brine exudes out of the top of the jar, which is why it's sitting in a bowl. The catbox is out there, too, next to the dryer. So in a couple of days there's going to be an interesting combination of aromas out there--fermenting dill pickles and cat pee. Sounds like a sauvignon blanc gone very, very wrong ;)

I also made a trip to Costco today, where I bought mozzarella di bufala, a big bag of lemons, some Turkey Flat RoseĀ“and a New Zealand Pinot noir, a sack of Gilroy California garlic and a box of blueberries, along with other household miscellany. AND, two Copper River Sockeye salmon filets for $9.99 a pound. Since I'm not cooking dinner tonight, I decided to make gravlax. First thing is to make the salt and sugar cure mixture in the Cuisinart with kosher salt, brown sugar, coriander seed and pepper.

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And then rinse and dry the filets. My refrigerator is really crowded, so I need to choose a receptacle that'll fit, which will necessitate cutting the filets down to fit it.

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I spread some of the salt-sugar cure mix on the bottom of the dish, laid the filet skin side down, put another layer of the cure mix over the flesh and then added some fresh dill. Then I trimmed the second filet and covered the flesh with cure mix.

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Then the second filet was laid flesh side down, on top of the dill, more cure mix was spread on the skin, and I poured some Aqvavit over it.

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I wrapped the dish with foil, so that if the dish leaks--it's pretty shallow--it won't go all over my fridge. I put another platter on top and weighted the whole thing down with a foil-covered brick.

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I'll take a look at it in 24 hours and see how it's doing. I might try hot-smoking one of the two filets in my stove-top smoker.

Oh, I pitted out the cherries last night. Here's a picture of my cherry pitter in action.

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I pureed and cooked the cherries with sugar, lemon juice and a few drops of almond extract and mixed them with the cooked blueberries and service berries. It's a little too seedy from the service berries, so I'm going to have to strain the seeds out. What I'll do after that is still up in the air: either cherry-berry gazpacho with the chopped-up strawberries, or else it'll get frozen and then made into a sorbet. I don't know how it'll turn out, but that's what's fun and exciting about making it up as you go along. It might be really good, but the potential for dismal failure is there, lurking on the edge of the horizon. :P

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quick question--what are service berries?

They look like a large blueberry, but have larger seeds inside. I bought some at the farmers' market a week ago, out of curiosity. It's a wild berry I thought only grew in Alaska, and hadn't ever tasted. Turns out there is a Virginia serviceberry, too. I never got around to doing anything with them and didn't want them to spoil.

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I had room for all my appliances to be out--the Kitchenaid, the bread machine. I could easily have had an ice cream maker there. What a luxury counter work space is. Once you've had lots, it's really hard to go back to having very little.

I'm terrified that the gobs of space in my current kitchen is going to be a major problem when I move. Between the accrued gadgets, appliances, and pots and getting very used to counter space, anything else will be heartbreaking. That is unless I have a decent oven and range to compensate!

Thanks for sharing this with us.

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How interesting that you are going to Vidalia tonight. We went in May for our combination birthday/anniversary dinner. I thought that getting married on my birthday would mean that Dame Edna would have one less date to remember. NAH! ;) I have to remind him and get to pick the restaurant my own self. :P:):(

BTW: this coincided with one of Jparrotts wine tastings. We had some lovely wine--gratis--and a lovely meal. Enjoy!

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When I checked the cured salmon filets at a little before noon today, they were looking ready. The combination of salt and pressure really drives the fluid out of the cells, and prolonged curing would only make the texture dry and leathery. It's really silky, with a mild flavor.

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I offered some to Veggie-teen for brunch. She's out of school for the summer now, and as teenagers are wont to do, she's been sleeping until noon. I sliced some off of one of the filets and gave them to her on toasted baguette with cream cheese. I got a thumbs up.

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I decided to hot smoke the second filet. I'm using cherry wood chips--actually more like sawdust. It came with the smoker.

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My smoker leaks a little, so I used the brick to weight down the cover and contain the smoke.

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This is what it looks like after about 25 minutes at low-moderate heat.

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The texture is completely different than the cured gravlax, once it has been cooked. The smoke flavor is really delicious.

I pureed and strained the berry mixture, and added lemon juice, chopped fresh mint and the macerated strawberries after I chopped them up. We all had some chilled cherry-berry gazpacho.

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Veggie-teen and I thought it was really tasty. Jonathan was lukewarm. So I put the rest into two plastic containers, about an inch deep in each, and put them in the freezer. Next step will be sorbet.

I took some of the two different cured wild Alaska salmon preparations over to a friend's house this afternoon, and we enjoyed them together with some creme fraiche on baguette slices and a bottle of wine. She told me that it made her very happy. I love being able to share my love of good food with friends, especially when I also make them happy in the process.

I got a striata at Marvelous Market and am planning to make sausage and pepper sandwiches with mozzarella di bufala tonight. I got the sausage from Bev Eggleston at the Dupont Market on Sunday. I thought Veggie-teen would be here--I was planning to make her sandwich with portobello mushroom and peppers. Sometimes I give her tofu and peppers. Although she is starting to eat a little bit of meat again (yay!), she draws the line at pork. According to her, pigs are too intelligent and cute, so she can't bring herself to eat them, even if they have had a happy life and a humane death. But, she decided to go hang out with a friend instead of having dinner with her boring old parents. Now that she has a driver's license and a car to drive, she is really enjoying her new level of independence. She knows she's going to be missing out on a good meal, but at her age hanging out with peers easily trumps dinner with Mom and Dad. That's okay. It's all good.

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Zora, I have the same Cameron stove-top smoker that you do. Mine leaks smoke, too; however, I wrap the top in aluminum foil. Dame Edna and I had to laugh at your foil-wrapped brick. Different strokes . . .

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Whatever works. Still getting the hang of taking pictures while I cook. Sausage and pepper sandwiches isn't usually a meal I would post about--and here you were thinking we eat complicated three-course meals every night. Not. My instructions about the blog were to include it all--even fast food burgers, if that's what we eat, So, sausage and pepper sandwiches are an occasional quicky dinner, worthy of "Thirty Minute Meals"--in that case, I suppose I should call them "sammies"... I make up for their mundaneness by using excellent ingredients: peppers, onion, garlic and olive oil

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Local, sustainable pork sausage from the farmers' market.

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Good crusty bread, buffalo mozzarella, reggiano parmesan and fresh basil.

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So, what's not to like? Oh, my pickles are starting to ferment. See the bubbles? There's about 1/4 cup of brine that's leaked out of the jar, in the bottom of the bowl.

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