Archive for August, 2009
Hi, gang. First thing’s first: I want to remind all my fellow writers out there that there are only a few days left to submit to Skulls and Crossbones, the female pirate anthology. Quick, polish up those stories and send them in! Make sure to follow the guidelines and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi, gang. One of the things I like to pick up when I go to rural areas is honey produced by local farmers (beekeepers, really). We’re talking pure, raw honey that hasn’t processed. You can taste the purity of the nectar and once you’ve tried it, you’ll never want to go back to the processed stuff.
Hi, all. This past month has been a constant sampling of new and differennt foods and beverages (well, they’re new to me). Just this past week alone, I tried two jars of salsa that I picked up in Virginia. They were locally made and there was nothing in them but fresh produce and some cane sugar. One of them was a vidalia onion-peach salsa that was absolutely fantastic. The other was a summer garden salsa, with all sorts of minced veggies in it. It was such a treat to eat something that wasn’t filled with preservatives and all kinds of things that I can’t pronounce, and I was glad to support a small business.
Hi, gang. This week I experienced one of those things recipe developers hate: a recipe disaster. It came with my first attempt at dolmas, Greek-style stuffed grape leaves. They completely fell apart and I had a big mess in the pot. On researching this tragedy, I noted two things: 1) I hadn’t rolled them the right way and 2) they need to be packed tightly in the pot.
Now, I’ve made things that needed to be rolled. I’ve wrapped spring rolls in rice paper; burritos in tortillas; manicotti in pasta; rice in banana leaves; and those of you who have been reading this blog know that I’ve wrapped tamales in corn husks (story here). All of these require the roll-and-tuck method. But there is a particular technique to rolling grape leaves. The reason for this, I imagine, is because grape leaves are oddly shaped. They are not perfectly square or round, so they have to be handled a certain way.
I was placing the filling on the left side, then trying to roll the leaf, using the roll-and-tuck method, as if it were a square. I learned that you have to place the filling across the center of the leaf, right above the stem, fold the left side over the filling, then the right, then the left, then the right, then rolling it forward over the rest of the leaf.
The other secret is to use a pot that will allow you to pack in the dolmades tightly and to weigh them down with something. While I did weigh them down with a plate, they were not as tightly packed as they should have been and probably jiggled around a little. So, for attempt number two, I will be more informed. (I should have looked it up before…duh!)
Here is a great website with step-by-step instructions on making dolmades: Greek Recipes with May Lerios.
TIP: Don’t skimp on the quality of the grape leaves. I went to a local Russian market for mine. They had several brands on the shelf and I opted for the cheapest one, figuring grape leaves are grape leaves. Right? Wrong. What I got were basically grape-leaf irregulars. Who knew there was such a thing? They were scraggly, ripped, and all different sizes. I tried piecing together scraps to make whole ones but that was a bust. I was going to go buy more when I realized something: I had my own grape leaves in my backyard!
If you’re fortunate enough to have a grapevine growing in your yard (and, believe me, because of the large Italian and Greek communities in NY, it’s not that unusual), you can put all those beautiful, luscious leaves to use. If you do have access to fresh leaves, here’s what you do.
Pick the largest, nicest looking leaves you can find and rinse them off. Cut out the stems. Bring a pot of water to a boil; place the leaves in the water, shut off the heat, and let them sit for 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool. You’re ready to use them.
Store-bought leaves are available packed in jars, in tins, and vacuum-packed. Good, quality brands should give you more or less same-sized leaves. But whether you’re using store-bought or fresh leaves, keep in mind that they are extremely fragile and will rip easily, so handle them gently.
I also need to perfect my filling recipe. Needed a little something. Or, maybe they just got water-logged when they unraveled and sat in the broth/water mixture I was using. Hmm, we’ll see. If anyone has any pointers, feel free to leave a comment.
Have a wonderful week and I hope that next time, I’ll have a success to share instead of a flop. Peace.
Hi, everyone. Just got back from a two-week road trip Friday afternoon. My fellow road warrior, Andi Marquette, and I hit 14 states! We started in Colorado on Sunday, July 19, headed southeast through Oklahoma and Texas, then drove along the Gulf Coast through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, then down to Orlando by Thursday for a writers’ conference. (Andi, by the way, won an award for Best Mystery Novel.) On Sunday, we headed farther south to Ft. Lauderdale to visit a couple of friends of mine, then hit the road again on Tuesday, heading north. We went through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and finally New York.
The adventure begins…