Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beware of (Chinese) pine nuts

Fresh basil from the garden, local garlic, some genuine parmesan cheese — and some awful pine nuts from China.

This is close to the recipe for pesto, but that last ingredient renders it a recipe for "pine mouth" — a hideously bitter taste that kicks in about 24 hours after you eat the pine nuts and then recurs every time you eat anything for up to a week or two.


No one knows why this problem — which doesn't affect everyone who eats the pine nuts — is associated with Chinese pine nuts, not European or American ones. But it is.

Unhappy anecdotal accounts abound; check out this one from the Cincinnati Enquirer's food writer, who was felled by a homemade salad with pine nuts. She'd gotten them at Trader Joe's, which said the nuts were from Korea, Russian, or Vietnam. She was so traumatized by two weeks of having everything turn to bitter ashes in her mouth that she vowed never to eat another pine nut, no matter where it comes from.

Not me.

I'm now shopping for safe pine nuts for my next batch of pesto. It seems that the American pine nut industry has been pretty much driven out of business (it's too labor-intensive to compete with cheap imports). However, I bought some lovely pine nuts in Arizona last year from a road-side truck in Flagstaff and have come across a homey online purveyor from the Southwest:

• Goods from the Woods — their fresh raw shelled American pine nuts are currently being harvested and will be available soon. $38 a pound.

For the traditional European pine nut:

• Nuts Online — Mediterranean pine nuts at $34 a pound.

Nuts Online ordering system gives the option of sending a message with the gift. It was tempting to check "Get Well Soon" for my pine nut order!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A short history of sugar on our shores

The Culinary Curator offers a primer on sugar in the American kitchen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good news for cooks in Ballard

I confess: I'm one of those supposedly gourmet cooks who doesn't sharpen her knives often enough.

My excuse: I used to subscribe to a mobile knife-sharpening service that came every six months and did my knives, scissors, and garden tools. When that guy retired, I was at a loss. Those grocery store programs where, one day a month you can bring in three knives, just didn't, well cut it for me. Boxing up my knives and sending them through the mail to a sharpening service made me feel like a serial killer.

So today, as we were walking back from a quick shopping trip in downtown Ballard, I was delighted to see a leather-clad character standing in the door of a small shop at 2419 NW Market St. The new store is called Vulcan Knife, and it's open weekdays 10-6. I predict the place will be crazy busy even if all they do is service the proliferation of new restaurants within a 10-block radius. But they also do garden tools, axes, hatchets, and swords — many of which were on intimidating display on the premises.

Anyway, there's no more excuse for hacking or sawing away at the cutting board. Take the knives over to Vulcan.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This isn't gelato

Suddenly Seattle is overrun with cloying, semi-frozen butterfat that calls itself "gelato." Folks, this is high-fat premium ice cream stored at slightly warmer temperatures.

I was starting to wonder if my memories of gelato from Italy — delicious frozen fresh milk — were flawed. Fortunately, there are at least two places in Seattle making authentic gelato (Royal Grinders in Fremont, next to the statue of Lenin and D'Ambrosio Gelateria Artigianale in Ballard). While D'Ambrosio provides an authentic Italian gelateria experience (you can have multiple flavors in one scoop) I prefer Royal Grinder's stracciatella (chocolate chip) by a wide margin. (Stracciatella is the benchmark I use for evaluating gelato; another good one to use is pistacchio.)

There are some folks in California who share my concern about preserving the identity and reputation of real, delicious, low-fat gelato. They're petitioning the state food authorities to set standards for products calling themselves "gelato."

Meanwhile, I'm going to have to avoid reading Yelp, where people are trashing the authentic gelaterias for selling gelato that isn't rich and creamy enough. Folks, if you want ice cream, go to Molly Moon's.