May 31, 2004
Pasta with peas and spinach

I make a lot of pasta these days -- often with an arrabiata sauce that Carolyn (my fiance) likes or sometimes with a little Italian sausage. This is something I threw together the other night after seeing something like it a couple times at restaurants.

Cook some pasta -- rigatoni works well. Mince a clove of garlic and the white parts of two scallions, and saute them in a little butter. Season with a little salt and crushed red pepper (not too much -- this isn't a psicy dish). Add in a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach and saute until the leaves soften. Add a handful of peas (frozen pease work fine) and then a few thick slices of roma tomato. Keep this over the heat long enough to warm up the peas, but don't let the tomato sices disintegrate.

Set that aside. Mince another clove of garlic and two more scallions (just the white parts), and saute in a little more butter. Before the garlic browns, add some white wine. Once that's cooked off, add maybe 3/4 cup of canned tomato sauce. Leave the sauce on low heat until the pasta is ready, and then mix in the spinach/tomatoes/peas. Add a bit of cream (a teaspoon?) to thicken it a little, and mix wih the pasta. Garnish with some parmasean cheese.

Posted by Paul at 11:57 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 28, 2004
A Challenge to U.S. Food Bloggers

Southern Living is running its annual $100,000 contest. You don't have to be Southern to enter or win, but you do have to be a resident of the United States. There are four categories you can win in as described on their website:

Taste of the South: New twists on Southern classics.
Easy Entrées: Easy-to-make main dishes with hands-on prep time of 30 minutes or less. (No limit on cook time including baking, grilling, smoking and slow cooking.)
Signature Desserts: Any sweet creation that is the perfect ending to your casual or elegant gathering.
Healthy and Good for You: Have you made one of your favorite recipes better for you? Enter and tell us how.
Kids Love It!: Recipes that make kids say "yummy!"

Winners of each category get $10,000, the three finalists in each category get $1,000 minimum, and the grand winner gets $100,000 plus a $10,000 donation to their favorite charity.

So I get to thinking - I know where I can find a group of talented food-types. We ought to be able to come up with one of us who can get to the finals and possibly win this thing.

So what do you say, fellow food bloggers? Who's up to the challenge? Wouldn't you love to see the winner announced as "So-and-so, who writes for the such-and-such weblog"?

The recipe has to be original and you do have to use one of the "sponsor ingredients". You can find the sponsor ingredients listed on the same contest page. Most of the ingredients have a $500 bonus if you come up with the best recipe that uses that ingredient (kind of an Iron Chef: Appalachia, eh?). I'm intrigued to see who wins the $500 for best use of Viva paper towels in a recipe.

If you want to see what it's all about the 2003 contest is being broadcast tomorrow on the Food Network at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central. You've got until June 16th to enter. I know I'll be trying to figure out what to make this weekend.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Morsels of Gratitude

I'm sure the late lamented Spy Magazine* would call it "log-rolling in our time", but I'd like to thank Jeff Ruby and Penny Pollack at Chicago Magazine for the kind mention of Too Many Chefs in the May 27th Morsels column online.

Jeff sent me a nice note early this week and we promised to keep reading each others' sites. I'm a fan of Morsels, and read it each week. Along with the usual bits and pieces of news from the food and restaurant community, the May 27th edition has some entertaining Diner-isms such as the uncontestable aphorism, "Never trust a cook whose cookbooks are unstained."

I've got that covered. Completely covered, in fact.

Thanks again, Jeff and Penny.


*For those of you who remember it, don't you wish Spy had been around during the Trump reality show to remind us of the foibles of the "short-fingered vulgarian"?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 26, 2004
Food Section Digestion - May 27th, 2004

I don't want to start with the New York Times every week (take that, R.W. Apple!) so we'll begin with the Washington Post. The mid-Atlantic paper gets us going with Domenica Marchetti's article on a specialty of the region - clams. The Post sidebars the story with a helpful piece on how to select and handle the delicious bivalves. B.J. Thurlby of the Northwest Cherry Growers predicts a great summer for cherry lovers in Candy Sagon's piece. Robert Wolke writes about Italians and Parisians who care less about how the season is now and more about how it was ten years ago for tinned sardines, which they lay in like fine red wine.

Bill Daley in the Chicago Tribune (no, not THAT Bill Daley) takes us this week to Weber world, just in time for grilling season. A timeline of Weber's wonderful weekend warmers accompanies the article. Daley also speaks with Janet Olsen who staffs, along with others, the Weber Grill Line, where consumers can call to ask their grilling questions. According to the article, "once or twice a summer, someone will call in about grilling a whole pig."

The SFGate gets in the grilling spirit by reminding us the best picnics are often the ones in our own back yard. If however, you happen to be in Britian, Marlena Spieler would like you to know she brought barbecue to the sceptered isle.

I'd always thought Britain was culinarily the land of cans, but apparently that honor goes to Denver, where the Denver Post sings the praises of things in tins and the foodies who use them.

The LA Times, meanwhile is all about Farmers Markets, and where to eat if you find yourself in the Hollywood Farmers Market. The Times' Wine of the Week is a 2002 Condrieu Viognier.

The Austin-American Statesman tells us peaches are coming in a cropper in Fredricksburg, Texas this year and gives us a fistful of recipes to use my personal favorite fruit.

The London-based Observer's Lisa Hilton suggests that how you cook for your lover indicates how you are in bed. She also claims she's never had good sex with a vegetarian though I'm certain it's because she passed out in a meat coma when her clogged arteries couldn't deliver enough blood to her brain.

Nigella Lawson is delivering brined turkey to our backyard get togethers in the New York Times. Kay Rentscheler persuades us that working with yeast doughs can be simple if we use lower temperatures and less yeast. Julie Powell performs an experiment I will have to repeat in my own way. Ms. Powell assembles a Scottish-Thai-Southern fusion meal for friends using only recipes from the May issues of Bon Appétit, Gourmet and Food & Wine. I wish I'd been invited! If he was there, Eric Asimov probably brought a six-pack of Ballantine India Pale Ale, which he writes about this week along with other I.P.A's.

And a web-only bonus today - CNN is reviewing the Cookbooks of Summer.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:41 PM | TrackBack
Haute Cuisine à l'Australienne

beans means...My Australian friend Sam has just sent me this interesting story about Melbourne's newest restaurant, Beanz Meanz Heinz. Yes, that's right - it's a complete restaurant devoted to the worship of Heinz Beans. Amongst the many fine dishes you can appreciate there are Bean pizza (the "Crawf", named after one of the restaurant's founders and Heinz "face", Shane Crawford), Baked Bean and capsicum roesti and Pumpkin and Baked Bean pie. I do not see any mention of our favourite, the English Tartine, a.k.a. Beans on Toast.

The article includes this charmingly modest note:

The restaurant, in the popular beachside suburb of St Kilda, will be open for only two days to test its popularity, the company said today.

Further reports as the situation develops...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 25, 2004
Wrightwood Squid

My wife hosted a bridal shower the Friday for a very good friend of ours (and a better of friend of someone else on this blog, ahem) and I was drafted to help cater the event. We opted for Mexican food (since the bride is a fan of Southwestern/Mexican cuisine), and made a few easy dishes like quesadillas with roast poblano or sauteed mushrooms, individual nachos (chip, beans, jalapeno, beans, cheese, bake, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, chomp), and guacamole.

To stage the guacamole, we chopped up the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and garlic the night before and bagged them to be combined with avocados on site. We prepped four bags of proto-guacamole but only ended up serving two. So now I had two bags of chopped veggies and nothing to do with them.

Nothing, that is, until tonight, when I combined the bag with squid and came up with what I'm calling...

Wrightwood Squid

3 large tomatoes, diced (or 5 roma tomatoes, diced)
1/2 white onion, diced
1 small bunch of cilantro, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 clove of garlic for rubbing.
Crusty french bread, cut into slices.
1 pound of squid, hoods and tentacles, cleaned
2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 eggs
2 more tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste

Make sure your squid is cleaned by the seafood store or the counter at the supermarket. It's a pain in the butt to debeak those things and life's too short for that.

Hard boil the eggs 9 minutes. The yolk should be set, but a little moist and dark. Peel, cut into quarters, and set aside.

Toast the french bread, rub with garlic as if making bruschetta.

Slice the squid into 1/3" rings and split any large tentacles into bite sized pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a non-stick skillet. When hot, add the fish sauce and the squid. Pan fry for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, cilantro, and red wine vinegar. Reduce heat to medium. Sautee about 7 minutes or until squid is tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Drain squid mix into large bowl, reserving liquid. Return liquid to heat, reduce by 50%. Add a pinch or two of flour if desired to thicken into a sauce. Pour sauce over squid mix.

Wipe the pan clean-ish. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, heat until hot. Add bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Fry crumbs until golden brown. Add in hard boiled egg, toss to coat eggs loosely and cook for 30 seconds or so.

Add the eggs and breadcrumbs to the squid mix, toss all together.

Put a slice of garlic rubbed French bread in bottom of bowl, Ladle squid mix into bowls to serve. If desired, add lemon juice at end.

This was a mostly improvised recipe, and surprisingly, the redhead liked it. Wrightwood by the way, is the name of one of the streets on the corner where we live.

Now what to do with the other bag of proto-guacamole?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:39 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Bender's Chickpea and Leek Soup

leek soup.JPG
This recipe actually came out of my Jamie Oliver cookbook, The Naked Chef. Jamie himself gives credit to his friend Bender who found it in an old cookbook. So I guess, Bender, Jamie and I can all only take credit for recognizing a good soup when we see one. This one is quick and easy to make, tasty and really original. I have added a few touches here and there of my own, but the real beauty of it is the mixture of nutty chickpeas and silky leeks. It makes a subtle combination that really is delightful. Also, it gives me an excuse to use my beloved immersion blender...

Bender's Chickpea and Leek Soup

I've decided to attribute this one to the mysterious Bender because I don't know where he found the recipe and anyway it's a silly name.

5 leeks
12 ounces / about two cups chickpeas, either soaked overnight and cooked until soft or canned
a couple of cloves of garlic
4-5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan plus extra for garnish
a couple of Tbs butter and a drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
crispy bacon bits for garnish

Clean and slice the leeks in ringlets. I usually slice the leeks halfway down the center before slicing and then throw the strips in a colandar to wash. This way you can make sure of getting out all the sandy grit, although you won't have pretty rings. Then again, this recipe doesn't really show them off even if you do. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed stock pot with the olive oil and add the garlic, thinly sliced. Once they begin to soften, add the leeks. (If you add them both together it will be more difficult to properly cook the garlic as it will get caught up in the leeks.)

Once the leeks are soft and smelling good, add half the broth and the chickpeas. At this point you have to decide how you want to serve the soup - as it is, puréed or semi-puréed. JO recommends the latter and I tend to agree. If you have an immersion blender just give the soup a few whizzes until you have a thick broth but about half of the chickpeas are still whole. (Alternatively, you can put half the soup in a blender or food processor and blend.)

Add the rest of the broth and bring to a boil. Add the grated parmesan, thyme and parsley and taste for salt and pepper. Let it simmer for at least 15-20 minutes.

Serve with shaved or grated fresh Parmesan and bacon bits and some good crusty bread.

Note on my aberrations: The last three ingredients in the list are mine. If you want to stay true to Jamie and Bender you should leave them out!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:47 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack
May 23, 2004
Is My Blog Burning? : Spanish rice

Spanish rice for idiots
For my entry in the May edition of Is My Blog Burning? I decided to try something I've never made before. I don't know any French rice dishes and so I opted for one from south of the border: Paella. As usual, I extensively researched recipes before beginning and decided this one was the best. Actually, the recipe wasn't all that well written as it has conflicting instructions: one of the first steps says "add vegetables" and then later in the recipe you are instructed to add the peas. After explaining how to cook the rice and for how long, there are instructions on how to know how much to's all very ambiguous. However, the charm of the recipe is in the repeated mantra after each paragraph:

Take a sip of a cold dry white wine.

With insight like this, how can the recipe go wrong?

Actually, it turned out pretty well. The beginning explanation in my recipe states that everyone in Spain has his or her own recipe and the quickest way to start an argument is to proclaim that yours is the best. So this levels the field a bit - if it tastes good, mine is good as the next man's. To me anyway.

So I played with the recipe and came up with the following:

Chinese French Paella (just kidding)

1 dozen large shrimp (cooked, as they are hard to find raw in Paris)
1 dozen large mussels (raw, wash thoroughly and throw away any that don't close when tapped)
4 small filets of monkfish
1 cup of Spanish rice
1 tomato, chopped
1 red pepper, roasted and skin removed
1/2 tsp saffron
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
3/4 litre of shrimp stock (made the last time I had shrimp - boil the heads and skins in water for 45 minutes and freeze)

First cut the fish in bite-sized pieces and fry in a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a cast-iron wok. (That's the Chinese part - I don't have a paella pan.) Add the shrimp stock and bring to a boil. Add the mussels and cover. After a few minutes they will start opening and will look like this:


Add the saffron, tomatoes and rice and cook for 20-30 minutes. Add the rosemary, chopped, and stir again. Slice the roasted pepper in strips and stir into rice. Cover and cook another five minutes.

Serve with a nice red Rioja wine.

A few notes on the ingredients:

If you compare my recipe with the original one, you'll see I left out quite a few items. This is partly because I was only feeding three and was afraid there would be enough for an army. Paella is usually made in very large quantities, as you can see by the amount of meat and fish that is usually included. So I just kept the parts I like best for mine. The rice and the wine came from a speciality shop in the 17th. I asked the fellow behind the counter which kind of rice to buy and he pointed to two: this one is good, this one is good only if you know what you are doing. I took the former. It was good. When I asked which wine to go with it, he answered "Why the most expensive in the shop, of course!" Ha, ha, everyone's a comedian. When we calmed down, he recommended the Rioja. I would have thought that I white would be better with the seafood, but he was right: it complemented the paella very well.

Lastly, why is it that nearly every recipe I read (including this one) listed "saffron or yellow food dye if you do not have any saffron"? Am I the only person in the world who knows there is a difference in taste between saffron and food coloring?? Sheesh...

Here is the finished product in all its glory. It was very good, if I do say so myself!


Note: I have closed comments on this entry due to the number of spam comments it has received. If you legitimately have a comment, send us an email and we'll post it. Thanks for your understanding.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:15 PM | Comments (15)
Drink Your Rice

It's IMBB day again and this time out Chez Pim is hosting a festival of rice.
This is the first IMBB? that has featured an ingredient and not a type of dish. Of course, I couldn't make a simple risotto or paella or pilaf, or even rice pudding. Instead, I decided to make Mexican horchata de arroz (hence the stunning visual).

Horchata is a drink found in Spain and Mexico that is perfect for spicy foods. Bite into a hot pepper, drink a beer, and your mouth will still be burning. Drink some milk or horchata (aka rice water) and the pain will subside rapidly.

Some horchata recipes call for almonds or milk or condensed milk. Spanish horchata is not made from rice, but from chufa, the roots of a plant originally found in North Africa and imported to Valecia with the Moors.

I found a charming story of the origins of the name here, which I quote below:

...(T)here's an old story about a girl in a little town that offered some of the drink to the visiting King of Catalunya and Aragon. After enjoying the drink, the king asked, "Que es aixo?" (What is this?). The girl answered, "Es leche de chufa" (It's chufa milk - which was its original name), to which the King replied, "Aixo no es llet, aixo es OR, XATA!" (This is not milk, this is GOLD, CUTIE). The word "Xata" in Catalan - which the King spoke - is an affectionate nickname for a child.

I don't know how much credence to put in that story, but it doesn't have to be true to be true, if you know what I mean.

In any case, Mexican horchata is more commonly made with rice - and in keeping with the theme of today's IMBB? That's what I present:

Horchata de arroz (Horchata from Rice)
2 cups rice. I used brown rice, you can use white or brown
2½ quarts water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup sugar, or to taste (I like a little less)
1 tablespoon vanilla.

Wash the rice, then soak it in cold water for at least 8 hours.
Drain the rice, and put it in a blender. Have a cup of water from the 2½ quarts standing by.
Blend the rice until it turns into a smooth paste. You may need to add the water to keep the blender from overheating and breaking, flinging parts everywhere and coating the room in a sticky rice gluten muck. Or you might be fine. If you smell smoke, add water to the blender.

Add the rest of the water and the cinnamon stick and put in the fridge for at least two hours.

Strain the mix, first through a standard strainer then through wet cheesecloth. Add the sugar, add the vanilla, stir until sugar dissolves.

Serve cold with spicy food or on its own.

Horchata's popularity gets a boost from the fact that 50+% of Hispanics (and a higher percentage of Asians, African Americans, and Native Americans) are lactose intolerant after weaning according to studies. Horchata's not milk, exactly, but it can serve in its place, sometimes. It certainly is delicious.

UPDATE: And popular. Looks like Josh at The Food Section also made horchata for IMBB using a different method. Compare and contrast (the final drink, not the photography).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:00 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack
May 21, 2004
When Life Gives You Lemons...

lemons.gif Yesterday I decided to try something new in the vegetable department. I had read Alberto's recipe for a stuffed eggplant recently and was inspired to try something similar. However, being very lazy, I decided to try a shortcut and make a stuffed eggplant without bothering with the stuffing-in-the-shell part. It didn't work. I should have realized that just as stuffing outside the bird doesn't taste nearly as nice as stuffing propertly stuffed into the bird, so eggplant stuffing merely baked in a pan isn't nearly as soft and delicious as when it's properly cooked in its shell. So: no pictures, no recipe.

Instead, I'm going to tell you how easy and wonderful it is to make lemonade. When is the last time you made fresh lemonade? It's amazing how quick and easy and absolutely delicious it is, and yet I'll bet not many people out there make it very often. Yesterday being a holiday in this Catholic country (Ascension) I was at home for lunch and made myself a five-minute feast that brought back my childhood with a bang: fresh lemonade, a chicken breast and mayo sandwich and a couple of Vlassic classic pickles.

The lemonade took about two minutes to make and was gone almost as quickly. To wit: take two lemons and slice them in halves. Take one wooden lemon reamer and extract their juice over a wide-lipped jug. Add 1/3-1/2 cup sugar and stir well. Gradually add water until you have about a litre, tasting as you go for sugar and wateriness. Serve over ice with a nice sandwich.

Lemonade tends to be less messy than orange juice because you need fewer fruits to make a decent amount - no need to get out the juicer attachment for your food processor, no piles of sticky empty citrus halves all over the place. I make it quite often, actually, especially in the winter when you need a bit of sunshine.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:59 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 20, 2004
Food Section Digestion - May 20, 2004

We start this week with the New York Times where Mark Bittman once dreaded the prospect of having a vegetarian over for dinner. Now, with the influx of Asian influences, he feels vegetarian can be excellent cuisine and he is "champing at the bit" to provide us with seven veg friendly recipes: Escarole, Rice with Cheese, Chickpea Soup with Spinach,Tofu Salad, Scallion Pancakes,Braised Eggplant With Mushrooms, and Spicy Cold Celery. Amanda Hesser notes fine dining is much less stuffy than it once was. Julia Reed connects chefs and the Impressionists through a mutual love of the outdoors. R.W. Apple, Jr. takes us to the madness of spargelzeit or "asparagus time" in Germany.

In the Washington Post, Lisa Yockelson helps us make fluffy biscuits rather than hockey pucks. Shi Li eats dandelions off his lawn and loves it. Candy Sagon talks to four families who have formed a cooking collective. Sounds like a great idea to me if I can find three other vegetarian couples who cook in our area.

In the Los Angeles Times, Regina Schrambling celebrates the lemon. Mmmm... lemons. Maybe a squeeze of lemon on your cactus? Barbara Hansen introduces us to nopales, a prickly treat common to Mexican cuisine. Sound unusual? Well Russ Parsons writes about Fergus Henderson's "Nose to Tail Eating" about cooking and eating (as they famously said about the Chicago stockyards) everything but the squeal.

Speaking of the Windy City, The Chicago Tribune's Marilyn Pocius encourages us to cater our own party and still enjoy it.

In the Toronto Star, we learn that O-J is O-ver. On the club circuit, tangerine is where it's at, baby. Kelly Putter interviews chef Russel Mudry about his fire for flambé, and Susan Sampson keeps a very straight face about cooking with pickles.

The Guardian of London contradicts a series of headlines that indicated snack sales were down in the UK. In fact, more snacks and soda than ever are being sold. The Guardian is cranky this week, as Monty Don bemoans the flavorless strawberries being grown on his doorstep.

The IndiaTimes Women section (because men don't cook, right? Sigh) brings us a recipe for Tri-Color Checkers, a delicious looking fried sandwich. A cup of tea to wash it down? Sorry, we've used all the tea to infuse flavor into our food. Can I offer you mango ice cream instead?

We'll come back to the US and the San Francisco Chronicle to finish. First, Peggy Knickerbocker assures us the profoundly ugly monkeyface prickleback, a perch-like fish, is quite good eats. Jacqueline Higuera McMahan echos the LA Times and encourages us to have some cactus paddles, aka nopales. Finally, in my favorite story this week, the Chronicle shares the process of passing down recipes and cooking traditions from grandmother to grandchild.

Do you have a food section you'd like to see covered? Do you know any good food sections (especially outside the U.S.) that we aren't covering? Mail me and let me know.

Please note, we use the electronic editions for much of our work, so stories profiled here may be in the previous week's or next week's print edition. Also, many of these sites may require you to register. If you're not comfortable registering your real e-mail account, I suggest signing up for a "burnable" account at Hotmail or Yahoo to use just for these sorts of things.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:59 AM | TrackBack
May 19, 2004
Spring Dinner

first strawberries.jpg I'm going to describe last night's dinner in reverse order, because frankly what cook - however talented - can improve on home-grown strawberries fresh from the garden? Or in my case, fresh from the terrace. Yes, that's right, we have NINE strawberry plants on the terrace. Not eight, not seven. For the last six weeks (bar a few days) the fruits have been withering on the plants in the rainy weather. But just four days of sunshine were enough to put these five darlings in prime picking condition. I have to say they were delicious. Strawberries grow pretty well without any help at all, so the only trick really is to be able resist picking them until they are good and ripe. Yum! So that was dessert.

For dinner, I decided to try something different and roasted a couple of duck breasts with mustard, thyme and fresh garlic and made two interesting vegetable dishes. Read on if you'd like to know more...

Roasted Duck Breast with Fresh Herbs and Garlic and Mustard

I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Epicurious site. The original recipe called for fennel seeds instead of mustard and when I came to look for them, the cupboard was bare (of fennel seeds). So I gave the rosemary a sniff and decided it would go well with mustard.

2 duck breasts
1 Tbs grain mustard
1 clove fresh garlic
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

Smear the mustard on the meat side of one of the duck breasts, cover with sprigs of rosemary and sliced fresh garlic. (View image) The recipe called for slapping the second breast on top of the first, meat side down (which I did) and tying them together with twine (which I didn't - couldn't find the twine). Bake in a hot oven (200c/410f) for 20-30 mins, depending on whether you like your duck meat rare or well done. It's dead simple and really tasty. I didn't even bother making a gravy from the juices as the meat stayed nice and juicy and had loads of flavour.

While the duck was baking, I made:

Creamed Spinach with Fresh Garlic (do you see a pattern here?)

Wash a handful of fresh spinach and put in a small saucepan with one clove of fresh garlic, sliced. Cover and cook on a medium heat until the spinach is wilted. Add a teaspoon or more of crème fraîche and a grating of freshly grated Parmesan. Stir and eat immediately, completely forgetting to take a picture first. (I was hungry, the duck was starting to smell good but was nowhere near finished...) Because the garlic was fresh, it didn't need to be thoroughly cooked to give off a mild flavour. It really went extremely well with the spinach and the Parmesan.

Zucchini with Fresh Herbs and Lemon Juice

This is another Nigel Slater-inspired dish. Put a tiny amount of olive oil in a frying pan and heat. Toss one zucchini, sliced in thinnish pieces and cook, into the frying pan turning them occasionally, until just soft. Sprinkle with a little fresh basil and fresh thyme while it is cooking. Once they are done, remove from fire and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the slices. Use a slotted spoon to remove to plate and sprinkle a bit of parmesan over the slices. (Is there any vegetable that isn't better with a bit of Parmesan? I don't think so...)

If you click here, you can see half my dinner. And I had the strawberries for dessert - a perfect ending. I didn't even have to share them! (I did, however, share a small amount of the duck with the Feline Critic, who judged it was very tasty and please can I have some more?)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
May 18, 2004
Have Some Madeira, M'Dear

I was sad to learn Tony Randall passed away. The star of TV's Odd Couple lived to the ripe old age of 84.

One of my fondest memories of him was a wine-related song he sang on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Maybe sang is pushing it. He spoke the song to music, essentially. Here's a short sample of the lyrics.

She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice,
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
the wine, his cigar and the lamps:
'Have some madeira, M'dear
You really have nothing to fear
I'm not trying to tempt you, that wouldn't be right
You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night
Have some madeira, M'dear
It's very much nicer than beer
I don't care for sherry, one cannot drink stout
and port is a wine I can well do without
It's simply a case of Chacun à son gout
Have some madeira, M'dear!'

Full lyrics (and the outcome of this fiendish seduction) here.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:26 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Chicago-area Tapas lovers have probably already discovered Twist, a sharp looking tapas bar near the intersection of Sheffield and Clark in Chicago. I've had the pleasure of dining there twice in the last week, and through a quirk of fate I haven't paid either time (which makes the food taste all that much better).

The space is intimate - or rather - small. Much of the restaurant is taken up by the open cooking area behind the actual tapas bar where you can see the tapas being prepared by the chefs as you order. A single long row of tables takes up most of the rest of the space, with an elevated lounge with seating for about eight to ten providing a little more room.

The mural behind the bar is an original done by the two owners of Twist. Wooden artist's drawing figures posed in various dance steps adorn the tops of the walls in the space. It's a nice space, but it could certaily get crowded and noisy on a game day or a Saturday night. In warm weather Twist fits a few more people on sidewalk seating in front of the door.

The food here is a style I'm beginning to think of as "New American tapas". The dishes aren't as out there as Jose Andres' Nuevo Latino cuisine in DC, but there is a mix of flavors and ingredients that are not exactly Spanish in origin.

That's not to say Twist doesn't offer authentic Spanish tapas as part of the menu. Spanish Tortilla, an olive plate, quesadillas, and crabcakes are all on offer here and they're perfectly fine. At other tapas places these would be mainstays. At Twist, they're merely there to satisfy the traditionalists.

Twist offers a wide variety of tapas. I'm not a meat eater, but my companions the first trip indicated the tenderloins were both succulent and delicious. They apaprently know how to cook both pork and beef, but where I think Twist shines is in its treatment of seafood.

There are two must-haves. First, there's the grilled calamari which picks up the char taste of the grill in the sear marks, and is accompanied by a dice of sweet mixed bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange only) and a light lemon butter sauce. If you don't mind squid's texture, this is the best dish in the place.

The best except, perhaps, for the smoked salmon tartar, served finely flaked on a bed of greens in a martini glass with two flaky won-ton-like wedges. The presentation is ceviche-like but the flavor is all lightly dressed smoky salmon. This contrasts very well with the seared tuna tapas, which is served sliced paper thin (well, cheap cardboard thin), crusted with sesame seeds, a bit of shredded ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping.

A third candidate for must-have is the pistachio crusted tilapia. We were all finally slowing down by the time we got this dish but everyone had a bit and then despite filling bellies, everyone had a bit more.

Getting full took some work. Because we don't order red meat, I find tapas often don't fill you up right away. I recommend adding one substantial dish like the delicious jalapeno gnocchi to the mix. The perfectly browned butter in the gnocchi's cheese sauce adds a roasted nut note to a lighter than expected but hearty dish.

For dessert, make sure someone gets the profiteroles and shares. It's the one true dessert star. The bread pudding is sliced thin, and served in a great creamy sauce with raspberry, and the flourless chocolate cake is executed nicely, but trust me, the profiteroles are where it's at. The flan, in an orange infused syrup would be a good accompaniment.

The wine list is small, but has some good riojas and other Spanish wines. When I go back, however, I think I'll probably stick to the delicious sweet sangria.

I like this place. We had the same server both trips - Sarah - and she was attentive without being smothering. If you can get her as your waitress, you're in luck. Even if you can't, I recommend taking a few friends and trying out Twist.

3412 N. Sheffield Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 388-2727
Tab with a few drinks - $25-40/person.


Other reviews:
Jetsetting took a look at Twist when it was first opening and liked it, but found some of the problems you'd expect in a new place.
Centerstage has a confusing but positive review. I'm not sure we were at the same restaurant.
Finally, the Chicago Tribune gave Twist 3 forks and a picture of an attractive couple in its review.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:38 AM | TrackBack
May 17, 2004
Organic or Affordable?

How can you make good decisions about what to buy organic and what to buy traditionally grown? I like organic produce, but I also like affordable produce. Ideally, I like to buy locally grown foods. However, Chicago has a relatively short growing season, and organics don't tend to travel as well as their industrial mass-produced cousins. This translates to high prices on organic goods.

So how do I know what it makes sense to buy organic and what I can get away with buying the traditional versions of? One indicator might be the amount of pesticides used to grow the foods. This wallet card, which I found from a link on the Daily Bread, gives a nice guide to pesticide use on more popular vegetables and fruits.

Apples, Bell Peppers, Celery, Imported Grapes, Cherries, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Raspberries, Spinach, and Strawberries all get blasted with pesticides while being grown. You should buy organic versions of these products.

Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Corn, Kiwi, Mangoes, Onions, Papaya, Pineapples, and Sweet Peas require relatively few pesticides even when grown in a non-organic manner. You can probably get away with standard versions of these veggies and fruit.

Wash everything well in any case, unless you want to evolve your pesticide resistence.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:15 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
While the Cat's Away...

Nonn and liver.jpg The Critic left on Saturday for his Big Montana Adventure, and so Nonn and I are left to our own ideas of what constitutes high cuisine for the next ten days. As usual, this gastronomic liberty led to our favourite meal: calf's liver. I know I should feel bad about those lovely young cows, with their big brown trusting eyes...and I do. But I also love calf's liver. Life is full of inconsistencies and I apologise for mine.

I was going to bake some potatoes as usual to go with the liver, but the day was so beautifully sunny on Saturday that I couldn't bear the thought of turning on the oven. And then I realised I had some fresh spinach in the fridge and some lardons (they are kind of like small chunks of bacon). Bacon goes with fresh spinach and bacon goes well with liver - perfect. So to construct this plate full of iron, do the following: 1) fry the lardons in a frying pan 2) remove the lardons to another plate and fry one sliced onion in the bacon grease 3) remove the onions and fry the liver in the same pan - make sure the heat is very high and that you flip it frequently so that it cooks quickly and remains tender 4) while the veal is cooking, clean and spin the spinach 5) assemble your plate. Isn't it pretty? And the cat loves it when I make calf's liver, because I always order TWO slices so that she can have some too. Purrr.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 15, 2004
Cicada Shock

A Bloomington, Indiana man was rushed to the hospital after eating 30 sauteed cicadas. Cicadas aren't necessarily bad for you, but if you're allergic to them, it's bad news.

Just great. Because of this, they probably won't serve those packets of honey-roasted bugs on the plane anymore. Ruin it for us all, why don't you?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:46 PM | TrackBack
May 14, 2004
Lentils and Spinach

Blond lentils Every once in a while, I post a recipe on this site and for one fleeting moment I imagine I have managed to find a genuinely vegetarian recipe that Barrett and his wife can enjoy...and then come falling back to earth with the realization that somewhere in the dish there lurks a vestige of meat. Same with this one, and I'm afraid that - committed omnivore that I am - I'm convinced it's an integral part of the dish. The secret ingredient here is leftover gravy.

I think I first fell in love with Nigel Slater's recipes because of his trick for finding uses for the stuff at the back of the fridge that you saved because it seemed a waste to toss it but don't know what to do with it now. For example, gravy. This man has a hundred good ideas on how to use up old gravy and I think that's wonderful because much as I love gravy when it's freshly made I am not so fond of it reheated on leftover meat. I like my leftover meat cold with mayo or simply dipped in a bit of salt, eaten with my fingers.

So what to do with the luscious gravy that really shouldn't be thrown away? Here is one suggestion....

Lentils and Spinach with a Gravy Base

2/3 cup brown lentils (I like the nice big "blonde" ones you get here)
1/3 cup leftover gravy, preferably from a pork roast
a handful of fresh spinach
salt and pepper to taste as well as whatever herbs you may have used in the gravy
optional: a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of juicy mushrooms

The ingredients are pure Nigel above, but I have actually merged together two recipes (lentils & spinach, lentils & mushrooms) and adapted the preparation to my own convenience. Nigel calls for cooking the lentils in plain water, heating the gravy to a bubbly point and then stirring it into the drained lentils. I prefer to minimize the number of dirty pots. My way: put the gravy in the bottom of a small saucepan and heat until it is bubbly. (This is to make sure that there are no nasty microbes left there because it was in the fridge a bit too long...) If you have an electric kettle like me, set it to boil while this is happening. Fill the pan, mostly, with boiling water (or cold if you don't have a kettle) and add the lentils. Go watch some TV or read a book for about 20-25 minutes, coming back to stir from time to time. If you are adding mushrooms, put them in after ten or fifteen minutes, chopped in bite-sized pieces. When the lentils are soft and the water has all but disappeared, taste for seasoning. Roughly chop the spinach and add it to the pot. Give it all a good stir for a moment or two and turn off the heat. Taste again and add Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice if you like. Eat immediately or save for lunch the next day.

It really is a lovely meal. The gravy adds a depth to the lentils and the spinach becomes silky. If you don't cook it too long after adding the spinach, it retains much more of its flavour and the beautiful deep green colour. It's very satisfying Healthy Comfort Food. (For those who don't mind a little meat extract sneaking into their food...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:04 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
May 13, 2004
Spanish Tortilla

The first time you eat a Spanish tortilla, a thin cake of potatoes and egg, you're amazed that two average ingredients could make such a sublime dish. The sliced potatoes give the tortilla density, while the eggs keep the layers moist. The combination creates an unsuspected sweetness that makes a second, or even a third, piece hard to resist.

Spanish Tortilla

The tortilla begins with three baking potatoes and a onion, thinly sliced. Heat a cup of olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and a cheaper, neutral oil, over medium heat and add the potatoes and onions in several layers, salting between each layer. Cook, turning periodically to keep the potatoes separate, until the potatoes are tender but not brown.

Meanwhile, beat three eggs until frothy. Once the potatoes and onions are cooked, drain them, reserving two tablespoons of oil, and add to the eggs. It's important to let the potatoes sit in the eggs for 15 or 20 minutes, since this allows the eggs to penetrate the potatoes.

Add the reserved oil to a pan over medium-high heat. Spread the egg and potatoes across the pan and cook until the bottom begins to brown. Now we come to tricky part: cover the pan with a plate, flip the pan, and slide the now inverted tortilla back into the pan. Many an excellent tortilla has landed in the sink when some hot eggs or oil dripped onto the cook's hand. Don't feel bad if you lose a tortilla sometimes, it happens to everyone. Experienced tortilla makers like to flip it several times to better mold the shape, but beginners should be satisfied with one turn.

Once both sides are brown, slide the tortilla out of the pan and allow to cool. This dish is best served at room temperature. Like a stew, the flavors improve the second day. Some like to smear mayonnaise across the top, and Las Bravas in Madrid covers their tortilla with a spicy sauce, but it's also excellent with no embellishments.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 10:19 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack
Food Section Digestion - May 13, 2004

Our weekly whirlwind of stories in the food/dining sections of several papers kicks off this week. Please note, we use the electronic editions for much of our work, so stories profiled here may be in the previous week's or next week's print edition. Also, many of these sites may require you to register. If you're not comfortable registering your real e-mail account, I suggest signing up for a "burnable" account at Hotmail or Yahoo to use just for these sorts of things.

The New York Times starts us off with a little log-rolling, promoting the memoirs of Mimi Sheraton, the food critic for the Paper of Record from 1976-1983. She's not impressed by latter day critics who she thinks spend too much time on the chef's intentions and not enough on the outcome. Julia Moskin points out that the chefs who have these intentions are not necessarly the ones with their names on the door. Many a restaurant owes its quality not to the Charlie Trotter or Wolfgang Puck celebrity chef who starts the business, but to the chef de cuisine.

Other features from the Times - South African Wine has a bright future, Zona Rosa in midtown is worth trying for its mix of traditional and nuevo Mexican. Gabrielle in New Orleans has a very popular duck dish. The Minimalist writes about ketchup's starring role in a stir-fry dish he loves. And finally, Cooking With the Times features three quite delicious looking custards.

The Washington Post carries an interview with D.C. super-chef Jose Andres as part of their Washington Chef of the Year section. Lisa Yockelson thinks you shouldn't confine your stockpot to the back of the closet just because it's spring. Bonnie Benwick helps you clean out your pantry. Do you really need that can of cod cakes from 1994? Caroline Kettlewell encourages you to go pick some berries, and tells you where you can. The feature restaurant review is of Simply Fish. The Rooster Cafe, Fiore Di Luna, The Garden, and Editor's pick Lewnes' are also reviewed.

My hometown Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section asks us all to meet a farmer. Perhaps a farmer who grows one of the 15 Trib-designated Super Foods, like kale, blueberries, and avocados. The Tribune profiles a bit of culinary masochism with its tale of the hot wing eating contest at Kincade's. What people will do for $280... Much more sensible to make Viennese Fried Chicken, Wolfgang Puck style, or let the good people at Jang Mo Nim, the Cheap Eats pick of the week, make you a Korean dish instead.

The Los Angeles Times takes you to school and explains the difference between and gives you recipes for the many types of wild salmon. A bowl of celery root soup would go nicely with that fish. The LA Times' Wine of the Week is not from California, but from Oregon's Wilamette Valley. I love Oregon Pinots. David Shaw loves his foie gras and doesn't want the state government to take it away from him. Rachael Ray owns the top two spots and number five on the LA Times Cookbook Hot List. She may be the first chef to do an actual cheesecake photo shoot (pun intended) for a lads' magazine. (Well there is that one shoot Julia Childs did in the 70's, but -)

In New Orleans, we find Alex Patout has a whole archive of recipes from the Times-Pacayune. Want to know the best sushi place in the Big Easy? The best Bistro? The best Po-Boy? Consult the paper's top ten lists.

In London, The Guardian runs a story about the return of wild boar to England thanks to a storm-assisted jailbreak. Writer Alok Jha explains why he's not a low-carb revolutionary yet. In an article my hunting Kentucky in-laws will place firmly in the "Well, duh" column, Roger Scruton suggests that the best way to get rid of most backyard pests is to eat them (but if you're having squirrel, only eat the grey and not the red ones- the red ones are endangered, and besides, they taste awful). If your'e pregnant and suffering from nausea, that's probably not the most appetizing idea. Perhaps you should have some chocolate instead. Scientists in Finland have found that mothers who have chocolate while pregnant end up giving birth to happier healthier babies.

The Times of London give us a peek inside Gordon Ramsay's new cookbook. A number of additional Ramsay recipes are availble on the Times site. Curiously, the paper's reviews of restaurants by Giles Coren are availble only if you pay to access the TimesOnline (I don't), but they print the man's picture in the Food Section summary! If the restaurants see him coming, how can he ever do an accurate review? Unless that's a fake photo, of course, but I don't think it is.

Have any English language papers (or papers with an English language edition) that you'd like to see covered each week? Let me know.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Toys for Boys

I mentioned earlier that the Critic turned 40 at the end of last month. Our friend Michael found him an inspired gift, which has become the Toy of Choice in our apartment. We are already on our second "classic" screwpull corkscrew. (The Critic has a habit of opening wine bottles without removing the foil, which puts a strain on the plastic corkscrew frame...grrr...) The Lever Model Classic LM 300, however, is in a class by itself. Firstly, it comes in its own wooden box. You have to be impressed by a corkscrew that takes up as much storage space as your Merriam-Webster dictionary. Then it comes in two parts: the foil cutter (woo-hoo!) and the corkscrew itself. Most importantly, though, it opens a bottle of wine with one smooth motion, in about two seconds flat. You clamp the device on the bottle and push down the lever, forcing the screw to twiddle its way into the cork going in and pulling out in one movement. To remove the cork you reverse the gesture without the bottle. I stole...ahem...borrowed the above film from the Screwpull site, but it doesn't quite do justice to how cool this corkscrew really is. If you have a gadget-addicted male (or female, let's be honest) in your life, this is THE gift. I may never have to open a bottle of wine again...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
May 11, 2004
Low Carb Taste Test

The Atkins diet has become so popular, Krispy Kreme was forced to issue a warning to investors that its earnings might be hurt by the craze. Stock analysts didn't buy this excuse, but its telling that the Atkins diet is significant enough that a company thought it could blame its woes on the fad. Slate has an article expanding on the phenomenon.

Of course, some food companies see atkins as a boon and are ready to cash in. Salon puts Atkins specialty products to the test. The verdict - "ick". At least to most of them. Generally the food is nasty, tasteless, or so bad you wish it were tasteless.

One of the testers, Salon's Laura Miller, notes that the test is essentially unfair since one doesn't HAVE to eat this junk to go low-carb. Plenty of good tasting veggies and natural products meet the low carb designation. Give a wave, by the way, to The Food Section's Josh Friedland who suffered through the tests along with the rest.

Many of the products tested are Keto brand. "Keto" of course comes from "ketones", the acidic chemicals that appear in your blood when fat is burned instead of glucose. That sounds like a good thing, sure, but remember that despite some claims to the contrary, having ketones in your blood for a long time can lead to serious illness and even coma.

"For a long time" might seem like an out there, but remember Atkins is supposed to change the way you eat, not just be a way to get your weight down so you can switch over to a healthier diet. Who thought ketosis was a good basis for a brand name?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:26 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
News Flash: Is My Blog Burning #4

Photo stolen from Pim

This is just a quick reminder for those who are interested in participating in the next Is My Blog Burning? event, hosted by Pim. This time around, the title is "Around the World in a Bowl of Rice" and participants are asked to post an entry on 23 May 2004 about a rice dish they have prepared. As always, you don't need to have prepared the dish on the exact date, but the post should be on the 23rd. No advance registration is necessary; just leave a comment with a link to your site to Pim's site on the day to let her know you have added an entry.

For those of you who are new to the concept, you can see the results of the previous three events here:

IMBB? #1: Soup / IMBB? #2: Tartines / IMBB? #3: Cake walk

This event was originally conceived and brought to the light of day by Alberto of Il Forno and we owe him our thanks for such an amusing slant on the food blog!

One last note: if there are any readers out there who would like to participate but have not yet taken the plunge and begun publishing on line, we would be happy to post guest entries. We at Too Many Chefs do not discriminate based on colour, creed, sexual orientation or blogging status! ;)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
May 10, 2004
My Favourite Time of the Year

My precious...
Some people cannot wait for the first onslaught of strawberries. Some watch the first asparagus arrive with delight (and a lot of them seem to be writing about it lately...). For me, it's something that I didn't even know existed when I first moved to France: fresh garlic. They may have this in the Chicago suburbs somewhere, but I never saw it when I was growing up. Wow. Ever since I first tried non-dried, fresh from the soil, juicy and fragrant fresh garlic I have been a complete convert. I use the dried stuff in 90% of my cooking the year round, but I am always secretly dreaming of the spring, when the real stuff will finally arrive.

Am I the only one to have survived some 26 years on this planet before discovering the joys of fresh garlic? Why did my friend Tom (who grew up near the garlic growing capital of the world and is the highest consumer of the stuff I know) never tell me about fresh garlic? Was it a conspiracy? I don't know, but I'm happy to have made its acquaintance now.

Fresh garlic has a more subtle flavour than the dried variety. You can enjoy it raw as easily as cooked. It's almost impossible to add too much to a dish. Peeling is no longer a chore, as the outer layers of the bulb are just as soft and juicy as the clove in the center of them. In fact, it's hard to say where the outer layers end and the clove begins (as you can see here), but you don't need to distinguish because it's all good to eat. I have heard tell that roasted fresh garlic is much, much better than the normal stuff. But I have never managed to find out because I cannot bear to risk ruining the delicate flavour. Perhaps some day I'll have a starting-to-dry head that I can use to experiment. This seems unlikely, though, as the season is short and I use them up quickly. Yesterday, we used nearly have a head on two simple pasta dishes (his and hers): a sausage, tomato, roasted onions and fresh garlic sauce for him, and a simple dish of sliced garlic gently softened in butter over a low heat and spread on spaghetti with freshly grated parmesan and pepper (hers). I came out ahead, I can tell you.

And tonight? Maybe a few slivers on those spears of asparagus that are starting to appear. (Yes, I love them too!) Or they might find their way into a crispy salad with ripe tomatoes and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. They might get slipped in between the leaves of an artichoke or two just before they are put in the steamer. Whatever happens, you can be sure they will be enjoyed to the utmost. If only my supply holds out until the weekend, when I can go to the market for some more...

A Few Sites about Garlic

I have tried sowing garlic with only moderate success so far, though now that I have a large terrace we'll be trying again in the fall. For tips on growing garlic (and a source to buy garlic products) try this site.

For information about the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, held the 23-25th July 2004, click here.

For a story about fifteen people dying when a shelf of garlic collapsed (what a way to go!) read here.

And then there is the International Garlic Information Centre.

Happy surfing!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:22 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
May 7, 2004
Where everybody knows your name...

No fries here
When I lived in Paris the first time in 1987, I was a starving student. My roommate and I saved up for a monthly trip to McDonald's. We discovered that even in France, there is such a thing as a wine so cheap it is literally undrinkable. (It comes in a one-litre plastic bottle.) And the one thing we missed more than almost anything, was the experience of going into a bar and being served warm, salty, home-made tortilla chips for FREE. We stared into the trendy "Mexican" restaurants that were starting to pop up in Paris, but they were too expensive and never served that Mexican manna: free chips.

Well, some things never change: you still cannot get free home-made tortilla chips in any of the bars in Paris that I'm aware of. However, at our favourite local Friday-after-work hangout, we do get the best fries in Paris. Free.

Meet Mario and Suzanne, the life of our Friday evenings. Mario took over the restaurant a few years ago and it happend to coincide with the exact moment that my friends and I had come to the conclusion that we really, truly had to boycott our former hangout, La Gare. (Great location and site - a former train station - but the WORST service in Paris. Avoid it.) The Mozart had always been a great place for a traditional French lunch (and even in the pre-Mario days had pretty good fried potatoes). But with his arrival, suddenly evenings became fun too: the bar was stuffed with boozing international bureaucrats and full of jokes and laughter. And then Mario found a way to make it better: free fries. Really, good free fries. They come out by the plateful, hot and golden brown and well salted and peppered. You want to leave most of them for your friends, but they keep calling you. Mario is now our best friend. We are going to name our firstborn child after him. (Here's hoping it's a boy...) He even treats us to the occasional free beer at the end of the evening. We love him.

If you too would like to join the fun, just show up on a Friday. I'll be the one in the corner with my arm around my friend Mario. Or maybe the one at the bar scarfing down raw oysters...

Le Mozart
12 av Mozart 75016 PARIS
01 45 27 62 45
Metro: La Muette

A note on the photos: you are being treated to a photo of an empty plate thanks to the greediness of my friends who ate them all before I arrived. I also did not get a picture of Serge and the other fellow whose name I always forget.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
A Legacy of Cooking

A little over four years ago, I was sitting in a church in Park Ridge, listening to my brother give the eulogy for my Austrian grandmother's funeral. It was the day after my wedding, and so a very emotional time all around. My grandmother had died at the age of 98 at the end of a very long slow decline, though, so it could have been much worse. My brother described how my grandmother loved cooking and was the best cook any of us had ever met. Then he went on to say "and the thing was, you could never get her to sit down and enjoy her own food - she was always jumping up to get another spoon, another dish, to stir something on the stove" and as if a little light bulb popped above my head (ping!) I thought, "Oh my God, that's ME." In an odd way, I was really pleased to discover this bit of Grandma in me.

In addition to a love of cooking and some really irritating habits when guests are around (Meg, will you sit down???) I also inherited some lovely old dining furniture, some cherished kitchen tools and a cookbook, The American Woman's Cook Book, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer (1940 edition). I can't say I have used very many recipes from this book, but I love paging through it, stopping to browse here and there. Actually, I find it hard to believe my grandmother used many of the recipes either, as they are for the most part very bland, overworked recipes. (How many times do you need to cook a carrot before you serve it? Answer: many.)

However it is a delightful mixture of inspired good advice (see How to Care for Fats), strange "scientific" facts (TOO MUCH MEAT AND EGGS should not be included as they may give rise to excessive putrefication in the digestive tract) and a unique view of our cultural history. The section on entertaining (The Friends Who Honor Us) has this gem: "Many woman can manage almost any form of entertainment without the help of a maid." Well, whew! That said, it goes on to make some very useful pointers on how to ensure that the party goes smoothly if you are so destitute as to not have a maid.

There is something homespun, almost amateurish, about the whole book, from the garish illustrations (courtesy of the Carnation Milk Company, Land O' Lakes Ceameries and a list of about 20 other companies and institutes) to the sharp advice of an experienced housewife. It's addictive.

Most of all, though, I love this book because my grandmother owned it and I can imagine her, a young foreign wife, choosing an American cook book so that she could please her increasingly American son and fit in in Chicago in the forties. She kept some typical American habits to the day she stopped cooking (There's always room for Jello!) and so perhaps she did pick up something from this book. It might have been the Jello, or it might have been the advice on how to properly pack a schoolboy's lunch box ("Many attractive boxes are now made with a vacuum bottle which fits the box. These are highly desirable."). She also left behind three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren (so far!) and far too few recipes.

I'll try to find some pictures for this later tonight, but for the moment you'll have to imagine my grandmother: a very small, chubby woman with silvery hair and big blue eyes, she barely came up to my shoulder by the time I was an adult. And she loved cooking for her very appreciative grandchildren.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:24 AM | TrackBack
May 6, 2004
Cream of Spinach and Zucchini Soup

Yet another green soup This soup belongs to a category of soups I like to call "Cream of Green". Basically it stems from the belief that you can take almost any combination of green vegetables, pair them with an appropriate cheese and come up with a lovely soup. If you take a look in our recipe archives, you'll see a few other examples: Broccoli and Stilton Soup, Cream of Cress Soup and Leeks and Stilton Soup. With spinach and zucchini for my base this time, I decided to be a little more subtle in my cheese choice and went for a Jeune Cantal, which has a soft nutty flavour and melts very nicely.

Spinach and Zucchini Soup

1 small bag (8 oz./3 cups loosely packed) clean spinach
1 small zucchini
3 small onions (or one big one)
1/4 a nutmeg, ground
1/2 cup Jeune Cantal, grated (a Monterey Jack would be a good substitute if it's not too sharp)
1 cup milk
3 cups beef broth (I've run out of chicken and mushroom Better Than Boullion: if any of my family is reading this, PLEASE SEND MORE)
ground pepper
a little butter
a little lemon juice

Sauté the chopped onions in the butter until transluscent and then add the zucchini, sliced in thin rounds. Fry for a few minutes, then add the washed spinach. Cover. When the spinach is wilted, add half the broth and purée in a blender or with a hand-held immersion blender. (Cook's aside: this is fast becoming my favourite gadget. I don't know why I waited so long to buy one!)

Add the rest of the broth, the pepper and the nutmeg and bring to a boil. Slowly add the cheese, allowing it to melt as you go. Turn down the heat and add the milk. (You can use crème fraîche or sour cream instead of the milk and lemon. Either way works, depending on what you happen to have in the fridge.) Taste for seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon juice to liven the flavours.

It really was very tasty. In addition, it only takes about 20 minutes to make and has loads of vitamins. The above recipe made enough for two deep bowls last night at dinner and another for my lunch today!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 5, 2004
Grilled Zucchini, Mushroom, and Teleggio Panino

This is a nice vegetarian sandwich that's a change from the avocado, sprouts, and red pepper veggie sandwiches many places offer. While those are good, it's nice to have a different "flavor" to choose from.

Grilled Zucchini, Mushroom, and Teleggio Panino

8 oz. taleggio cheese, sliced
3 zucchini (aka courgettes)
3 cups brown or white mushrooms
3 tablespoons pesto
2 cups arugula (aka rocket) or other salad green
1 tablespoon olive oil plus some for brushing zucchini
1 boule (round crusty loaf) - white-ish bread, about 8" across
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons dry sage
1 tablespoon butter

If you can't get the taleggio sliced, put it in the freezer for half an hour before you attempt to slice it yourself. Alternately you can grate the cheese after cooling it, but do cool it down. At room temperature it's sticky and difficult to work with.

I started with good bread from Chicago's Red Hen Bakery. Outside of Paris, this place makes the best bread I've ever had, and for heartier breads it may have even the Parisians beat.

Cut the top off the loaf, perhaps a third of the way down. Save the top. This will form a lid for your sandwich. Scoop out most of the soft interior crumb of the loaf. You should be left with something that looks like a bread bowl.

Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil. Set aside for now.

Slice the mushrooms thickly. Mince the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick pan and toss the garlic in. Sautee the garlic for a half minute or so. Add the mushrooms and sage and butter into the pan. Sautee mushroom until they're tender. Take off the heat and drain, then set aside to cool.

Next, heat a cast iron grill pan (that you got from a very good friend as a present) until it's brutally hot. Lay the oiled zucchini slices on the pan and grill them until they are soft, perhaps just starting to brown, and have nice grill marks on each side.

Once you've grilled the zucchini, lay half the slices in the bottom of the boule. Top with half the pesto. Top with half the mushrooms. Top that with half the taleggio cheese. Top that with half the arugula. Repeat these layers with the second half of each ingredient. Push the lid down on the panino, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors develop and meld.

Cut wedges out as sandwiches, and serve at a picnic in the park with lemonade and chips. The grilled flavor of the zucchini screams summer. If you want a more traditional Italian flavor, use oregano instead of sage.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Ode to an Eggplant

Purple glossy fruit
The berry of my delight
So good with garlic

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I came to love late...and deeply. It's a real lifetime affair now, not one of your fly-by-night flings. When I was younger, I was suspicious: I thought ratatouille was a slimy form a torture. But at some point, without my really noticing it, I came to appreciate the sweet nuttiness of the eggplant meat and how delicious it is with garlic. Maybe it came from hearing it called aubergine, which sounds so much nicer than eggplant.

However, even in my misguided youth, I was aware that there was one eggplant dish I would gladly eat: Moussaka. I just foolishly assumed that it was good in spite of the eggplant, rather than because of it.

The cold weather and rain have persisted in Paris (what month is this - February, for the FOURTH TIME THIS YEAR?) and so last night I again turned to comfort food for our dinner. It takes a while to prepare, but I think a homemade moussaka more than repays the effort. Thanks go to my friend Grant (of the rosé wine kir fame) for introducing me to the proper, truly Greek way of preparing this lovely dish. (And my apologies if, in the mists of time, I have forgotten everything except your one most useful piece of advice: it is impossible to put too much grated nutmeg in a moussaka.)

Moussaka (generous dinner for two with leftovers for lunch)

3 small/2 medium eggplants
300-400g/about a pound of lamb, ground
1 large onion
2 small cloves of garlic
1 medium can of tomato paste (50g?)
1 cup red wine
1 heaping tsp beef "Better than Boullion" soup extract
olive oil
1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
at least one nutmeg, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, grated

Slice the eggplants thinly and salt if they are a bit old. (Young ones shouldn't be bitter and don't need salting.) Chop the onion and sauté in a bit of olive oil. Add the crushed garlic cloves. Turn up the heat and add the ground lamb. Cook until all the pink has left the lamb and the onions are translucsent. If necessary, drain off the fat. Add the tomato paste, the wine, the oregano, half the nutmeg, the boullion paste and a bit of water if necessary. Taste for seasonings and leave to simmer while preparing the other ingredients.

In another small saucepan, melt the butter and, once it is bubbly, add the flour. Cook for a few minutes, until the butter turns nutty brown. Slowly add the milk, whisking rapidly with a fork or whisk. Turn down the heat and let it simmer. Stir in the rest of the nutmeg.

In the bottom of a baking pan (mine is about 20x40 cm) dribble a little olive oil and spread it around the bottom of the pan. Lay a single layer of eggplant (having wiped them if necessary), cover with the meat sauce and then cover with another layer of eggplant. Continue layering the two until you are out of eggplant - ideally, you will have a tiny amount of meat sauce for the last layer. Dribble the the thickened milk (bechamel sauce, to give it its proper name) over the top of the dish and sprinkle with the parmesan.

Place in a hot (200c/415f) oven for one hour. If the top of the moussaka starts to brown too much before it's done, cover with tin foil or part of a brown paper bag. When you remove from oven, let the moussaka rest at least ten minutes before cutting it.

As my friend Grant says, it's impossible to put too much nutmeg in a moussaka. He was taught to make this dish by Greek immigrants to Australia and they should know. On my own experience, I can affirm that the nutmeg will make the topping the most popular part of the dish and that despite many efforts I have not yet managed to put too much nutmeg in the meat sauce. The fact that it is freshly grated is a natural check on the amount you'll be willing to put in the moussaka. (Which reminds me of a university friend of mine who read in the Anarchist's Cookbook that nutmeg had if consumed in a large enough quantity. My friend said they were certainly interesting, though not necessarily pleasant. Kids, don't try it at home!)

Most moussaka recipes call for frying the eggplant in olive oil before constructing the dish. As you can see, I don't bother with this step: it's less unhealthy and the eggplant cooks just fine in the tomato juices. If you want to be traditional, fry them and drain them before assembling.

Moussaka is even better the next day, in my opinion, though it's nicer if you can reheat in a proper oven rather than a microwave.

Lastly, my apologies for basely stealing a photo from another site but the moussaka took so long to make and we were so hungry...that the camera got lost in the shuffle. I hope the poem made up for it.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:18 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 4, 2004
Scallops and Brussels sprouts

Unsure what to cook Saturday, Andrea and I headed to the Washington, D.C., fish market and returned with a pound of plump sea scallops. We decided to round out the meal with Brussels sprouts, our new favorite vegetable. As children, we were deeply misled, because Brussels sprouts, with their meaty texture and hint of mustard, are delicious.

The sprouts are simple to cook. Just slice them in half, add some olive oil to a pan over medium heat, and cover and cook until the bottoms brown. For the scallops, we followed a recipe from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks at Home:

Scallops with Coconut and Lime

Oil pan and sear scallops on both sides over medium-high heat. Remove scallops to a warm platter.

Zest the limes and mince. Warm the coconut milk over low heat in pan and season with cayenne pepper. Add lime zest and nam pla. Spoon sauce over scallops and garnish with cilantro.

Nibbling on some buttered radishes as the two dishes cooked, we wondered if scallops and Brussels sprouts would actually be appetizing. And how would such a European vegetable mesh with the Asian-inspired sauce for our scallops?

The sprouts, fortunately, melded perfectly with the lime and coconut milk. This vegetable is more versatile than we thought. We must explore the possibilities.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 7:36 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 3, 2004
Full Bellies

Meet the meatThe Critic and I missed Burns' night for some reason this year, and so missed our yearly excuse to eat haggis. I feel extremely lucky that the Critic also likes haggis, as it would be very sad to be reduced to eating it only when alone with the cat (who would probably very much like to share, it must be admitted). So I have been hankering for some haggis for a while now and tonight is the night.

Haggis is one of those things that it's best not to investigate too fully before you try, for fear you'll put yourself off of it. Did anyone else out there find it difficult to eat hot dogs for a long time after reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle? (And incidentally, am I the only one who finds it difficult to remember which one is Upton Sinclair and which one is Sinclair Lewis??) So stop thinking about sheeps' stomachs, livers and lungs and think of it as a very tasty somewhat peppery sausage. If you are a meat-eater of any kind, I promise you won't be disappointed.

I have read a lot of recipes about how to make a haggis from scratch, but it seems to me that this defeats the whole purpose of the above attitude: YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS IN THIS. So if you are like me, you'll buy one, from Marks & Spenser's (alas, no longer in Paris), your local grocery store (around the 25th of January, Burns Night) or from the folks at They all taste pretty similar to me and they are all delicious. Seriously.

To prepare your haggis, do the following:

Peel a lot of potatoes. Put them in a pot of water and heat to boiling. In the meantime, take your haggis from its plastic bag. Place it on a large piece of tin foil and sprinkle with Scotch whisky. Wrap it and place it in a pot of simmering water for 45 minutes to an hour. When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the fire, drain them and mash them with loads of butter, milk and salt and pepper. Remove your haggis from the water and carefully slice it in two. If you have sympathy for the squeamishness of your partner, remove the skin. Load his plate with half the haggis and an equal mound of potatoes. Serve with whisky or (for the faint-hearted) a bit of red wine.

Traditionally, haggis is served with mashed turnips (neaps) but since I'm a bit of a turnip-wimp and so is the Critic, we stick with potatoes. They work just fine. You want a little bit of the haggis and a little bit of the potatoes on each delicious forkful. The texture of the haggis is a little nubby because of the oatmeal and the meat is ground finely and very savoury. It's very much a winter meal, which is why I'm sneaking one in before the fine weather really arrives here in Paris.

A few notes:

- Haggis is rarely sold in an actual sheep stomach. I guess probably in butcher shops in Scotland it probably is, but not in your mainstream supermarkets. They use an artificial bag. Either way, you wouldn't want to eat it.

- The purpose of wrapping the haggis in tin foil is to allow for the possibility that the bag may split. As long as you don't bring the water to a full boil it should be fine, but it's not a bad idea to be careful.

- You can also add whisky to the water in addition to or instead of the whisky on the haggis itself. I find that sprinkling it on the haggis prior to wrapping means you get more whisky taste for less whisky wasted. I like my whisky.

- Burns Night is the 25th of January each year and it is when you traditionally eat haggis and neaps and recite Bobby Burns' Ode to a Haggis. It helps if a) you don't speak English and b) you are not sober when you do.

If, despite my warnings, you really want to know what goes into a haggis, you can consult the US-Scotland pages for a recipe (they have both traditional and easy).

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 2, 2004

Spring is one of my favorite times of year. There is something about the way the warm wet dirt smells that makes me itch to be outside (or is that just my allergies?) Invariably, when I move into a new house, I make my husband build me gardens. Many, many gardens (god love him...) Perhaps it is my innate OCD, or perhaps there is something else, but each garden has a separate theme. The subject of this diatribe is the vegetable garden.

I recently moved from Louisville, KY to the frozen north (Chicago). In KY, I started planting my cold crops in February! Here, I started in April. Of course, it took much longer this year because we had to start from scratch. De-sod (and replant it in more barren areas of the lawn - because of course, my gardens are always located in the areas with the best grass...), rototill, place peat moss, manure and topsoil, re rototill, rake, mark and plant. Of course in Chicago, the weather is not that cooperative, so this whole process took weeks.
Finally, I got to plant! I put in Snow peas, two kinds of lettuce, spinach and bush beans. I keep meaning to plant the onions, but it has been 50 and raining for what feels like weeks (or when it is nice, I am on call at the hospital delivering babies...) I was so excited when I noticed my baby plants peaking their heads out of the ground. The kids are already asking when we can pick the "salad" for them to eat. Unfortunately, they haven't even gotten their secondary leaves yet.
The hard part now that I have the bug is waiting until it is warm enough to plant everything else! I want tomatoes, peppers, herbs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries....... the list goes on, and I can feel my poor husband trembling at the thought of creating all of those gardens!

Posted by Dr. Meg at 9:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Baked asparagus

Spring has sprung and with it, new resolves. Clean the house, clean out the refrigerator, lose 30 pounds before swimsuit season... In that last vein, I have been cutting back on all the yummy stuff, like fat, sugar and salt and have been experimenting with cooking light. Here is a very yummy asparagus dish for starters.

Baked Asparagus

cleaned and snapped asparagus spears (15-20)
2 T light soy sauce
2 T butter
1 t Worcestershire sauce
coarse salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the asparagus in a 13 x 9 pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake the asparagus for 12 minutes. In the mean time, melt the butter, add the soy sauce and worchester sauce and stir. Once the asparagus is done cooking, drizzle the sauce over, then shake to coat. Finally sprinkle with coarse salt to taste.

This dish is very simple, yet amazingly flavorful. Enjoy.

Posted by Dr. Meg at 7:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Exotic Dining in Paris

Should have brought a camera

There has not been a lot of cooking going on here in the Expat contingency of Too Many Chefs. The Critic's 40th birthday was last week and I caught a cold immediately afterwards, which slowed up the after-party cleaning and any subsequent cooking. Last night, we called up our friend Sam to see if he wanted to come out for dinner with us. The Critic left a message. "Sam," he said, "We were thinking doing something Exotic, maybe go to the 5th for dinner." Now this may sound exotic if you live in Newton, IA, but I have to say that if you live in Paris, this is about as exotic as...downtown Newton. Yes, we have Chinatown, we have the Passage Brady for Indian food, we have Belleville for the confluence of North Africa, Thailand and China...and we have the Latin Quarter, home of cheap touristy restaurants and very bad gyros.

That said, we found an exotic restaurant. The Critic is always showing off.

I was pleased when we found the Tibetan restaurant, Yak, for two reasons. Firstly, I was wearing my Tibetan jacket, a generous gift some years ago from Barrett. (Sadly, I can't get a good photo of it even with a flash...) Secondly, the Amateur Gourmet recently launched Project Palate Expansion, where he called for readers to try something they had never eaten before. This fit the bill.

The other reason we decided on this restaurant (despite the tantalising pull of cheap Chinese and Italian restaurants with plastified menus in English) was that it looked like it could have been the origin of the phrase "cheap and cheerful". This is something I like in a restaurant. Pretentious restaurants have their place, but it is not in the 5th arrondisement of Paris and it was not what we were looking for last night. Inside the restaurant you felt you had just wandered into a mountainside hut, complete with exposed beams and wooden shuttered windows. The windows were even open, so that a cool spring breeze completed the illusion. The decor of the place stressed the cheerful aspect: runner flags in yellow and red with (I assume) Tibetan prayers on them were hung from one end of the room to the other. There was a lovely large oriental Buddha in one corner and of course a framed photo of the Dalai Lama in the other. The waitresses were also very cheerful and the Critic imposed the obligatory Cute Waitress supplement on the tip at the end of the evening.

The menu had several small photos and somewhat basic descriptions of the dishes, that often sounded confusingly similar. You had to look for the missing word sometimes to decipher the difference between two dishes. ("I see... the Sha tsel has vegetables and the Sha sek seems to be the same without vegetables...") However, it was our own stubbornness and not the waitress' fault if we didn't have more complete information. We heard her offering to help people in English and French. You can see the menu and its descriptions on Yak's site here.

The starters consisted mainly of soups and salads and the main dishes of stir fried meat and vegetables, meatballs and raviolis. Neither of us could decide between the Tsel mar (cucumber and tomato salad) and Chour thouk (meat and cheese soup) for starters, so we ordered both and switched plates halfway through. The salad was nothing special, but upon reflection I'm not sure how many cucumbers and tomatoes they grow in Tibet. The soup, on the other hand was intriguing and very, very good. As you raised the spoon to your mouth, you had a sharp whiff of something almost unidentifiable. The soup itself was savoury, salty and very tasty with fresh spring onions and again that sharp flavour as an aftertaste. It took us some time to realize it was the "cheese" mentioned in the description, and longer still to decide that it was probably a very strong blue cheese. It was delicious.

For main dishes, the Critic chose Sha tsong ngoma, a "meat" and onion stew. For the meat, he selected as usual chicken, and for the side dish a baked bread called amdo. The stew was very onion-y but nevertheless a bit bland. The bread was an interesting yeasty roll that soaked up sauces very nicely. I chose the Phing sha, which consisted of sautéed soy vermicelli and beef and vegetables, including black mushrooms. We both agreed this was much tastier than the Sha tsong ngoma, although I'm not sure what spices were used in it.

Purely in the interest of journalistic integrity we felt obliged to have dessert. Luckily, once again we were both stuck on the same two dishes and so were able to order both and share. I ordered the Om dré, a kind of soupy rice pudding with dried fruits and the Critic had a much more interesting dish called Dré sil, which consisted of hot sweetened saffron rice with plump raisins. The dryness of the rice did not fit well with our Western ideas of how a dessert rice should be served but it was a lovely taste and texture and the perfect end to the meal.

And the price? For Paris, the meal was very reasonable: 60 euros, including tip, for two starters, two main dishes, two desserts, a bottle of wine and a bottle of water.

One last note: we will certainly be bringing Barrett and his lovely wife Rebecca here the next time they visit Paris (hopefully soon?) as the vegetarian side of the menu was - not surprisingly - fairly large. Being omnivores, we prefer our vegetables with meat.

As for whether the meal was authentically Tibetan, I obviously cannot say. A few searches on the web, combined with my own common sense, lead me to say that this is probably not exactly how peasants on the side of a Tibetan mountain would eat. However, who knows what you find on a Saturday night in Lhasa?

Below are some links on Tibetan food:

"Can Tibetan Food Transfer to the US?" by Aryn Baker

Minority Cuisine on the site

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:27 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 1, 2004
Spinach/Artichoke Pizza


Just what is this glorious mess, you ask? This is a photo of two pieces from our execution of the Spinach and Artichoke pizza in the April 2004 Food and Wine (p.64). We used a crust from the Moosewood series of cookbooks (Moosewood Restaurant New Classics) and made three too-large pizzas instead of four just-rights.

Follow those links and make this recipe.

The pizzas were light and filling all at once. Leftovers went home with our guest and stayed here with us. My wife even threatened me with fates unknown if I stole her leftover piece. Ah, she'll never know...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Asparagus Ricotta Tart

It's Spring!

I can tell because the city started tearing up Clark Street. Along with construction and traffic delays, Spring brings asparagus. This lovely vegetable will most likely feature in many of the dishes I cook over the next few weeks - it takes a lot to make me sick of asparagus. In fact I'm convinced that fresh asparagus is one of the proofs (like mushrooms and mangos) that if there is a god, she must like us.

Of course asparagus has one very unusual quality. WebMD addresses and explains why that happens. If you want to know more about the plant and the crop itself, the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board has the facts you need. Did you know the plant it comes from is a fern and one plant can continue to produce for 15 years?

The first batch of spring asparagus I simply steamed and coated with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. This time out, I made:

Asparagus Ricotta Tart

1 ½ cups plain flour, plus some for work space
6 tablespoons butter

8 oz. Asparagus spears trimmed of woody ends
2 beaten eggs
8 oz (1 cup) ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Mix the flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Mush in the butter with your hands (this produces the best result) until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and the butter is mixed well with the flour. Stir in enough cold water (about ¼ cup, maybe more) to form a smooth dough and knead lightly on a floured surface.

Roll out the dough and use to line a 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Use a nonstick tart pan or lightly butter the sides. prick the base all over with a fork to prevent "baloon bottom". If you wish, weight the base with ceramic pie weights or dried beans.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes until the crust is firm. It'll still look a little pale and pasty (like my legs at a beach in February), but that's OK.

You've discarded the woody bottoms of the asparagus already. Cut the tips off (about 2 inches or so), and cut the rest of the spears into 1" chunks. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in the chopped spears (but not the tips).

After one minute, add the tips to the boiling water. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until almost tender, then drain and immerse in cold water. Separate the tips from the chopped spears.

Mix the ricotta, eggs, yogurt/sour cream, and Parmesan in a bowl until even. Add the chopped stalks in. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour the mix in the prepared crust. Smooth out the mix so it fills the shell.

Arrange the asparagus tips on the top of the tart and press them down gently.

Drop the oven temperature to 350°F and bake until golden (approx. 35-40 minutes, but may be longer depending on your oven and the weather).

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve and eat warm or cold.

The crust as written here is a little bland, and you have to be careful not to overknead it or it'll become too difficult to bite through. If you want to substitute a little Parmesan for the flour and add a bit of thyme, minced rosemary, or tarragon to the crust, I wouldn't tell.

This recipe is based on one from a book called Vegetarian edited by Natalie Ferguson, which was given to us for our wedding by our Maid of Honor, Nataline. (Thanks again, Nataline, it's been a great resource.) The book is beautiful but seems to be out of print at the moment. Look for it in used book stores.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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