November 29, 2004
It's not Thanksgiving without...

cranberry rolls.jpgCranberry rolls. I imagine most families have a recipe or two that define Thanksgiving for them. In our family, this is it. I have never seen them anywhere else, although they do show up at our family functions at Christmas and occasionally even Easter. But the cranberries make them quintessentially Thanksgiving fare. When my Irish-American grandmother was alive she brought them to every family feast and she is the one who taught me how to make them. They aren't very complicated but it's one of my greatest satisfactions: Grandma taught me how to set a yeast dough and make cranberry rolls and coffeecakes. I'm a lucky girl.

I feel kind of strange sharing this recipe with the whole world, but I think my grandmother would have been tickled. In any case, I'm copying it below for anyone who would like to give them a try. They are delicious - sweet bread and tart cranberries in a festive little disk. I have never been able to decide whether they should be classed as a starter, bread course or dessert; when I was little they were put out when the guests arrived and eaten as all three really. Before, during and AFTER the meal, especially if you were a growing child with an expandable stomach.

Grandma Kehoe's Cranberry Rolls

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups (or more) of flour

2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp lemon juice

Cook the cranberry filling ingredients over a medium flame until the cranberries have mostly "popped" and you have a thick red sauce. Taste for sweetness and add lemon juice or sugar as necessary. Set aside to cool.

Add butter to scalded milk, to melt it. While the scalded milk is cooling and the butter is melting, combine the yeast with warm water and a bit of the sugar. After ten minutes, the yeast should be frothy and double in volume and the milk cooled to luke warm. Add the sugar and salt to the milk, then the yeast, then the eggs, vanilla and two cups of the flour. Mix well and allow to rise for 20 minutes in a warm place, covered with a dish towel. (If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, this is perfect. A spot near a warm radiator will also do, or you can turn on the oven for just a few moments to warm it a bit.) The dough should increase in bulk, but it will still be very soft.

Punch down the dough with a spoon and start adding the rest of the flour. When it is too difficult to work with a wooden spoon, pour a generous amount of flour on a clean counter and turn the dough out onto it. Knead in flour until the dough is tight and elastic and has taken as much flour as you think it can reasonably handle. Put the dough back in the warm place with the dish towel and let it rise until double in bulk (40-60 minutes).

Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down and knead it again until it is elastic. Set it aside and get out the cookie sheets you'll be using. Grease them lightly with butter, margarine or Crisco. Take half the dough and roll it out to a 1/2 inch thickness on a floured surface. (Letting it rest for 5-10 minutes while you do the greasing of the sheets should have relaxed the dough a bit.) Work from the center outwards and don't be afraid to be firm with the dough! Using a glass or a cutter, cut circles of 2 1/2 to 3 inches in the dough and place them on the cookie sheets with an inch or two between them to allow for the final rising. Repeat with the second half of the dough and the scraps until you have used up the dough.

Put the cookie sheets in a warm place and let them rise another 30 minutes. Using a small cup or a shot glass (depending on your lifestyle) make a small depression in the center of each of the rounds and fill it with a heaping Tablespoon of cranberry filling. Allow the rolls to rise a bit longer and then start baking them at 375F (175C) for 15 minutes.

When you remove them from the oven you can cool them on racks and store in an airtight container. They keep for a few days at room temperature or for a few months if you freeze them. (If freezing, rewarm them in the oven, covered with tin foil to keep the moisture in.)

Obviously this is a weekend project, not something you can throw together after work. However, you can fit other things into the spaces where the dough is rising and I can guarantee that the end product is well worth the time and work involved in production. You will find yourself working out the "best" way to eat them, so that you preserve a bit of cranberry sauce for each bite. Or maybe you are the kind of person who prefers to eat the sweetened bread dough alone, saving the cranberry part for one glorious sweet mouthful? It's like Oreo cookies: everyone has a theory!

If you decide to try this, please do let me know how they turn out! I would be more than happy to give more details or (in the case of my European readers) even to pop a packet of dry yeast in the post for you. Unfortunately, I've never worked out a satisfactory replacement system with fresh yeast, mainly out of superstitious fear of what might happen to one who tampers with The Recipe.


Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:19 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
November 28, 2004
Being Thankful


As you may have noticed, things have been pretty quiet around Too Many Chefs for the last few days. If you are American, you won't be surprised as we are all Americans ourselves and Thanksgiving, officially last Thursday, is probably the busiest holiday of the year for cooks. I was extremely happy this year to welcome friends to a feast, as it's our first big celebration in our new home. Yes, we have been here over a year now, but for various reasons missed out on home celebrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. So this was the year to pull out all the stops (and all the leaves for the dining table) and see exactly HOW big a turkey I could fit in my specially chosen oven. Because we wanted our guests to enjoy themselves fully without worrying about work the next day, we moved our celebration to Saturday night. And it ended some time around three this morning. It was a good celebration. We have much to be thankful for...

Firstly, I am SO thankful that the new oven can fit a large turkey with no problems at all. I ordered an 8-9 kilo bird from the local butcher and they came through with a beautiful fresh 8.4 kilo turkey (18.5 pounds). For once in my life, I did NOT have to place the roasting pan on the floor of the oven in order to fit the bird in it. Hurrah!

Secondly, I am thankful to have so many good friends who were willing to make the trek to our apartment to celebrate with us. I based the invitation list mostly on nationality (American) and so most of them only knew us and the partner they brought. Despite this, we all had a great time, lots of laughs and - as mentioned - stayed up late enjoying ourselves.

Thirdly, I'm thankful that the meal went so well. For once, I had the leisure time to do a lot of the preparation in the days before the feast (to the detriment of this site!) and so was able to spend most of my time enjoying myself with the guests instead of chasing them out of the kitchen while feverishly peeling potatoes. At the age of thirty-seven, I have finally, thankfully, mastered the trick of preparing well in advance and making a decent gravy. What more could a cook aspire to??

And so as a closing, I'll leave you with the stuffing recipe I concocted yesterday for our bird. One last item that makes me thankful is that we have a turkey on Thanksgiving and on Christmas. This means that we have his and hers versions of stuffing and accompaniments and I get to experiment once a year. (The Christmas dinner is sacrosanct - the Critic's way all the way from the four meat dishes to the stodgy stuffing to the vegetables that Must Be Served With Turkey.) This was a slightly modified version of the Critic's stuffing, a little lighter and with a few "weird" elements. I'm working him into this innovation concept slowly...we've only been married four years after all!

2004 Turkey Day Stuffing

6 onions, roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about half a head)
300 grams mushrooms, sliced
6-8 cooked breakfast sausages, crumbled in in a food processor
300 grams chestnuts
3 cups dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup dried raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 Tbs poultry seasoning
3 Tbs dried sage
1 Tbs fresh/frozen thyme
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup hot chicken stock
lots of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Melt a lump of butter in your largest, deepest frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook over a low heat until the onions are soft and golden and everything smells good. Add the mushrooms and more butter if necessary. When the mushrooms have also gone limp and started giving up their juice, add the half of each of the spices. Add the sausage meat and cook until it is hot. Stir for a bit and when the mix starts looking a bit dry, add the sherry. Raise the heat and use the sherry to deglaze the bottom of the pan of any odd bits of onion or garlic that might be sticking. Empty the pan into your largest bowl and return the pan to the stove.

Put another lump of butter in the pan and when it has melted add the bread crumbs and the rest of the spices. Stir and then add the stock all at once and quickly cover the pan to trap the steam inside. Turn up the heat slightly. This is a trick of my Austrian grandmother's and it gives the bread or bread crumbs loads of flavour. If you are nervous (like me) you might want to open the pan once to give the bread crumbs another quick stir. Remove the pan from the heat and your bread crumbs should be nice and fluffy and full of spice and poultry flavour.

Chop the chestnuts in large lumps (halves or quarters) and mix them with the onion/garlic/mushroom/sausage mixture. Add the raisins and pine nuts and mix well. Fold in the bread crumbs, trying not to make the mixture too dense. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, sage as necessary. (Notice that all these ingredients have been thoroughly cooked so you are perfectly safe!)

If you want to be controversial, like me, you will now rinse the cavity of the turkey with boiling water and stuff it. This was exactly enough stuffing for an 18.5 pound bird. Otherwise, you can put it in a greased pan in the oven. I would cover it with tin foil initially in order to keep it moist and remove the foil 15 minutes before removing the dressing to brown the top.

It makes a very savoury stuffing, full of good surprises like the odd raisin or bit of sausage meat. Next time I might sneak in some chopped celery too, but I thought it best to start out gradually with the introduction of "weird" ingredients like raisins and mushrooms. I'm not sure he noticed the pine nuts...

A note on the ingredients:

It looks like a lot of work when you read this recipe (cooked sausages? home made bread crumbs?) but actually these are things it is easy to keep around if you know you are going to use them in stuffing. Whenever I make breakfast sausages I cook up the full package of six and freeze whatever we don't eat at that meal. Then they only need to be defrosted before making the stuffing. As for the breadcrumbs, I save up old baguettes and then once every few months zap them in the food processor until the largest pieces are about the size of small peas. I use a colandar to separate the fine crumbs from the large ones and use the former for breaded cutlets, etc., and the latter for stuffing. These seem to keep indefinitely in a tin cookie container or a jar until you are ready to use them.

Below is a photo of our dinner table just before we began eating. I also have to thank the guests who brought such delicious dishes and saved me some of the work - another BIG reason to be thankful!


Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
November 25, 2004
Christmas on Thanksgiving

BTB.JPGA couple of weeks ago, the Critic came back from two weeks in Vichy to find in his work inbox one of those little slips the French post office sends when you need to pick your package up personally and pay import duty. By the time he received the slip, needless to say, the package had returned to whence it came and the post office was unable to give us any information on who might have sent it or what it might contain.

As other expected packages arrived, we sadly came to the conclusion that the package we missed must be the long-awaited care package that fellow TMC chef Barrett sent me some weeks ago. I'm not sure who was more disappointed, Barrett or myself.

But we were WRONG! And, fittingly enough, Barrett's package arrived on this day of thanks. So thanks, Barrett! I am now fully stocked in my favourite boullion stock (new flavours - yippee!) and smoked oysters and Triscuits. If this is what he sends for just a simple care package, what wonders can I expect at Christmas? I had better get shopping so that I can find equally cool loot for him...!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all have much to be thankful for this year and in the years to come!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
November 23, 2004

Aligot.jpgAligot (pronounced "ah-lee-go") is a dish from the Auvergne region of France. Specifically, it's from the Aveyron...and if you want to get more specific it's from the area around the town of Laguiole ("lah-yole"), which produces a cheese of the same name. Why do you care? Because this is the origin of the best thing to happen to mashed potatoes since some clever clod decided to slap a pad of butter on it. According to the site, you can make aligot with potatoes and mozzarella. No, no, no, no. (As soon as I find my Epicurious password I'm going to set the record straight in their comments...sheesh!)

Actually, it's a pretty simple recipe and like all simple recipes relies on using the best ingredients. Oh yes, and the right ones...none of this Italian cheese sliding into the process. To make it you need potatoes, a little butter, a little creme fraiche or cream, garlic and one of the following cheeses: tomme d'Auvergne, tomme de Laguiole or tomme fraiche. You'll notice a pattern there, no doubt. You need some tomme cheese.

And when you mix these elements together you get a dish that is similar to mashed potatoes but creamier, tastier and just plain delicious. The cheese is a bit nutty flavoured, the clove of raw garlic gives it a little bit of bite (but not too much!) and the overall effect is something that is at once warming, filling and full of flavour.

As you can see in the photo that I pinched from another site, it becomes gooey like a good cheese fondue. It cools quickly so you don't have to treat it like spaghetti when eating it, but in the production you should be able to pull up your spoon and see strings of cheesy mashed potatoes. So it's not only a great-tasting dish, but it's FUN to make!

Okay, it's a bit of a pain to clean up afterwards, but no dish is perfect, right?

Serves four generously

800 grams of potatoes (about a dozen medium)
600 grams of tomme cheese (tomme d'Auvergne is my favourite but somewhat difficult to find)
1 clove of garlic
50 grams butter
a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche or 2 Tbs cream
salt to taste

Boil your potatoes in salted water until tender. While they are cooking, cut the cheese in small sticks or cubes. Drain the potatoes and either mash them or - even better - put them through a potato ricer. Return the potatoes to the pan you used to boil them and put them over a very low flame. Stir in the butter, pressed garlic clove and cream. Gradually add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go. According to the more traditional recipes I've seen, you are supposed to make figure eights in the pot, but your pot might not be big enough for this to be effective. (I've heard the same thing said about stirring a fondue and take it with the same grain of salt!) Stir it. Draw the spoon up every once in a while to admire the long strings you are making.

Once you have incorporated all the cheese, taste for salt and pepper and serve immediately.

A few things to note: it is essential to keep the flame under the potatoes as low as possible while adding the cheese so that it will not separate. This did not happen to me, but I read this advice in several of the recipes I consulted and it sounds intelligent. You need some heat to keep the potatoes warm enough to melt the cheese, but you should not be "cooking" anything at this point.

I would also play with adding an extra clove of garlic next time. I am always leary of overdoing the garlic when it is raw, but the potatoes are bland enough that you have some room for play here.

If you are passing through Paris and would like to try this specialty in a restaurant, I can recommend a place just off the Champs-Elysees that serves Auvergnat dishes including a lovely aligot:

Maison de l'Aubrac
37 rue Marbeuf
75008 Paris
metro Franklin D. Roosevelt or Georges V
Phone 01 43 59 05 14

Traditionally, an aligot is served with some nice meaty sausages, but as the beef from the Aubrac region is deservedly reknowned you could also order it with a nice juicy steak. Bon ap'!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:54 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack
November 21, 2004
Cran-Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Great minds think alike, they say. I don't know if that is actually the explanation for fellow TMC writer Barrett and myself hitting on similar ideas for this edition of Is My Blog Burning, but that is what we did. Luckily we did not think exactly alike and so you have another variety of oatmeal cookie to virtually taste: Cran-Apple Oatmeal Cookies.

Actually, I had hoped to compare two different takes on the oatmeal cookie anyway: the standard family favourite recipe that I have been baking since about the age of nine is the Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies from the 1950s edition of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. In my mother's edition of the cookbook, the page with the recipe is easily found as it's covered with grease (fell on a greased cookie sheet as I recall) and bits of chocolate and grains of oatmeal. Not very hygenic but practical when your daughter calls you up at odd hours to ask you for the recipe as her 1980s edition of the Fanny Farmer left out this essential recipe. (Can you believe it??)

Unfortunately, my recipe database was the victim of recent computer purge and I did not get around to calling my mother for the recipe for this event or you would be treated to a total of three oatmeal cookie recipes. I'll have to save it for a better day. (The cookies are worth their own entry, believe me!)

That said, I am pretty pleased with this innovation on a standard oatmeal cookie. Some time ago, I bought dried cranberries from Sherwyn's health food store in Chicago and brought them back to Paris. They have been sitting in my cupboards waiting for a good idea to come along.

The same is true of the molasses I bought at the Loveless Cafe in Tennessee. I don't have much call to use molasses, but it seemed like such a good thing to buy from a place called the Loveless Cafe in Tennessee.

The addition of apples appealed to me because my favourite instant oatmeal is, has been and always will be Apple and Cinnamon.

So I adapted the following recipe from the Fanny Farmer (1980s edition) recipe for Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookies.

Cran-Apple Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 (115g) cup melted butter
1 Tbs molasses
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup dried cranberrries (mine were soaked in fruit juice before drying as a natural sweetener)
1 apple, peeled and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt togetehr in a large bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients. The dough will be extremely stiff (I broke a spoon!) but do not be tempted to add any more liquid as the apple will be adding more moisture to the dough.

Arrange by large spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes, until brown.

Note: you may be tempted (as I was) to remove the cookies as soon as they are a little brown because you like your cookies chewy. It's much better to leave them in until the tops of the cookies are evenly brown - the apple will ensure that they stay moist and chewy and if they are undercooked they will be extremely fragile. They will still be tasty, but not vey pretty to look at or easy to eat.

This is an adaptation I'll be keeping for later use: the apple and cinnamon and sharp cranberry flavours went beautifully together and were complimented nicely by the chewy oatmeal. And with the oatmeal and fresh fruit you can almost claim they are good for you!

(Sorry about the lack of photos but we are going through technical difficulties here in the Paris office of TMC and through a series of mishaps lost the photos I originally took and were unable to load new photos on the computers. Sigh. But Barrett's photo is big enough for the two of us, right??!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Orange-Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies

A lesser proof than old Voltaire's, yet greater,
Proof of this present time, and thee, thy broad expanse, America,
To my plain Northern hut, in outside clouds and snow,
Brought safely for a thousand miles o'er land and tide,
Some three days since on their own soil live-sprouting,
Now here their sweetness through my room unfolding,
A bunch of orange buds by mail from Florida.

-Walt Whitman

Today is the tenth incarnation of Is My Blog Burning? and the "Holiday Cookie Swap" is being hosted by the Domestic Goddess.
Holiday cookies are too often basic sugar cookies with decorations and frosting and little metallic balls that look like they would be more suited for use in tiny machine parts than on top of my wintertime treat.

The holiday season certainly does include elements of metallic ball and sugar sprinkle glitz and pageantry, but when I think about the flavors of the holidays I think about foods with citrus and spice - specifically oranges. In the days before megamarts and shipping of produce from one end of the country to the other, oranges were a special treat.

The Victorians adored oranges, picked in the Azores and shipped in to cold wintertime London to be sold on the street and turned into marmalades and jams. On other ships at the London docklands, spices from India arrived including fragrant sweet cardamom. Together, the scent of orange and cardamom evokes the holidays.

With that in mind, I added those flavors and perfumes to another scent I find wintery - oatmeal cookies. This recipe is based on the simple "Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" recipe from the inside of the top of a Quaker Oats container. You can reproduce the flavor using your own favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and adding orange peel and cardamom seeds.

Orange-Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies
based on a recipe from Quaker Oats

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 c. AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick or old fasioned oats
1 cup raisins

zest from one orange, grated
6 cardamom pods

Heat the oven to 350 F
Crush cardamom pods and extract small black seeds inside. Taste one - they're extraordinary. Discard pods, keep seeds. Crush lightly with a mortar or the side of a knife.
Beat together butter and sugars until smooth
Add eggs and vanilla, beat well
Add orange zest and cardamom, mix well.
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl
Mix flour mix into egg/butter/sugar mix. Mix well
Stir in oats and raisins. Mix well
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet
bake 10-12 minutes
Cool on cookie sheet criefly, then move to wire rack.

The sugar in these cookies will make thma little bit tough after they cool. Put a cookie in a microwave for about 15 seconds and try. They're delicious.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
November 20, 2004
Picks of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

You report, we decide. Each week we pick three posts from the food-o-sphere and celebrate them. This week the three we've chosen are:

I. Fall weather calls for fall food. Over at Woolfit, it's mac and cheese time, but with a bit of mustard, pine nuts, and a bottle of Red Fox ale. I don't know that I'll be able to track down the Red Fox, but I'm sure a local micro will take its place nicely for my purposes.

1. Waiters are on our mind this week. First a maitre d' in deeply blue New York City's Freeman's restaurant refused to seat the Bush twins Jenna and NotJenna saying "I'm sorry we're full up right now, and will be for the next four years," and now this amusing post from Waiter Rant reminds us how the people who serve us often put on a bright smiling face while they're seething inside at our ignorance. Don't be that guy.

A. And no, we haven't forgotten what's coming up on Thursday for those of us in the U.S.A. Michael Chu at Cooking For Engineers presents a classic roast turkey. The presentation is simple, the pictures and instructions clear and the recipe summarization brilliant as usual. Read the comments. Lots of good discussion about "maintaining thermal energy" and why (despite what Meg in Paris thinks) stuffing is evil.

It's a shame Thanksgiving isn't a global holiday. It really should be. I'll be in southern Kentucky this week enjoying my in-laws' company over a good meal. Have a happy one and see you next week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
November 19, 2004
Curried Sweet Potato Soup

Sweet potatoes are one of the great underused vegetables in the United States. Aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, its unusual to see sweet potatoes on the American dinner table and that's a shame.

Sweet potatoes are naturally delicious and filled with vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron, copper, calcium, and fiber. I've added parsnips, onons, and curry to make the soup not just sweet but flavorful.

When I make a soup, I make enough not just for the meal but for leftovers for lunch for the week. This recipe makes plenty for both purposes, and I'll be making it again. If you find it too sweet, add white potatoes during cooking to cut it a bit, but I like it straight up.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup
3 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2" chunks
2 parsnips, peeled, cut in 2" chunks
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons garam masala or curry powder
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon white pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne/chili powder
1-1/2 quarts light vegetable stock or to cover
2 tablespoons olive oil

Over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot. Add onion and garlic and sweat lightly until onions just start to turn translucent.

Add sweet potatoes, parsnips, garam masala, white pepper, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cover with stock and stir to combine spices with stock and vegetables.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Taste broth and salt to taste. Simmer until sweet potatoes and parsnips are soft with little resistance to mashing with a fork.

When complete, blend with immersion blender, stir together and adjust seasonings. Serve with sweet potato chips.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
November 17, 2004
Lamb with Ham

lamb.jpgWhile the vegetarian chili in the previous post is undoubtedly very tasty, sometimes you want red meat. Specifically, the red meat that comes from those cute little fluffy lambs. Sorry, I know it's terrible, but it's so much nicer than mutton or beef. (Or vegetarian chili? shhhhh...I didn't say that!)

A few weeks ago I caught a UK food show featuring the ubiquitous Mr. Jamie Oliver and though I didn't write down the exact recipe it gave me an idea for a new twist on roast lamb. The original recipe was for a roast beef wrapped in proscuitto with wild mushrooms. In my version, I substituted lamb and all my favourite flavours to accompany it but I am grateful to Jamie for the idea of using ham to wrap the meat and enclose the mushrooms. It was a fantastic combination, a kind of inverted method of stuffing your meat.

Lamb wrapped in Mushrooms and Ham

1 boneless lamb roast of about 1 kilo (2.2 pounds)
2-300 grams mushrooms
4-5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 plump garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tin (about 10) anchovies
8 slices of French or Italian raw ham (I used Jambon de Savoie)

Preheat oven to 200c/375f. Clean and slice the mushrooms and saute until soft in a bit of butter. Do not add salt as the ham and the anchovies in the recipe will most likely add enough salt for all. Lay long trussing strings on a flexible chopping mat or on a large piece of plastic wrap: four across the long end of where you intend to place the roast and one horizontally along the middle of the long end. Lay out the 8 strips of ham, overlapping, in two columns. (You may notice a lack of strings in the photo: this was a good idea that occurred to me after I laid out the roast!) Spread the mushrooms in the center of the ham wrapping. If your roast is already trussed, remove the strings. Chop the rosemary roughly and put on a plate; roll the roast over the rosemary so that it sticks to the meat. Place the meat on the mushrooms and sprinkle the garlic, sliced, over the meat. (If there is any rosemary left, throw it over the meat and mushrooms too!) Lay anchovies over the top of the roast. It will look something like this when you are done.

Now use the edge of the flexible mat or the plastic wrap to pull one side of the ham up over the roast. Carefully roll the roast over until it is completely wrapped in ham. Now take the strings you thoughtfully prepared in advance and tie up the meat. If you did not have the foresight to prepare the strings in advance you'll just have to do your best to make it look professional and neat.

Roast until the internal temperature is where you like it - ours took a little over an hour as I am obliged to cook all of my meat until well done at the moment.

While the meat is resting, brown the pan juices over a medium flame, add flour and red wine and reduce to make a savoury gravy. You probably won't need to add any salt but some freshly ground pepper and a bit of fresh thyme would not go amiss.

This is an extremely flavourful way to prepare lamb. All of these elements usually figure in my roast lamb (slits in the meat stuffed with garlic and rosemary for example, and anchovies in the gravy) but this was much less fiddly to prepare and concentrated the flavours throughout the roast instead of just in a few pockets. A great success and I am again grateful to Jamie for inspiring me!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
November 16, 2004
Vegetarian Chili for Cards Night

This Saturday, my wife and I had the pleasure of spending the evening with Paul (of Locussolus and this site) and his wife. We wanted to make it a casual evening of cards and beer so we hit upon a simple chili recipe.

We had three vegetarians in the group so the chili would have to be meatless. We wanted to play cards most of the night so it couldn't take forever to make. Paul suggested a list of ingredients for the chili base. We had many of the ingredients in our pantry, so we dropped them in a shopping bag and headed out to their place.

We undercooked the zucchini a bit, but if you gave it more time, it would make a great addition. We also started with too little onion, but Paul sauteed another and added it to the pot which helped a great deal. The bulgur wheat trick comes from a Vegetarian Meals in 30 Minutes cookbook my wife has had for years and makes the chili hearty and textured.

Vegetarian Chili for Card Night
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
4 zucchini trimmed and quartered lengthwise, cut into 1-2" wide wedges
2 onions diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 diced jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed (or not, if you lke hot)
1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1 12 oz. can tomato juice
2 20 oz. cans diced tomatoes - we used Organic, one fire roasted, one plain
1 12 oz. can pinto beans, drained
1 12 oz. can red kidney beans in chili sauce
1 12 oz. can black beans, drained
1 12 oz. can garbanzos, drained
chili powder/cayenne pepper to taste (1-3 tablespoons depending on how much heat you like)
Salt and pepper to taste (lots of salt)

Shredded Queso Anejo cheese
diced jalapeno
oyster crackers
chopped fresh tomatoes
sour cream

Start with a big stockpot. We're making chile for an army or for lots of leftovers with this recipe.

Sautee the onions and garlic and jalapeno in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent.

Add the tomatoes and all the beans and stir together.

In a small saucepan, heat the tomato juice until just simmering. Stir in bulgur, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit for about 10 minutes. The bulgur will absorb the tomato juice and plump up, filling the saucepan.

Meanwhile, stir the butternut squash and mushrooms into the chile.

Once bulgur is ready, introduce it to the chile and stir. Add zucchini at the time as well.

After five minutes, taste and add salt, pepper, and chili powder/cayenne to taste. There's a lot of chile there, so it may take more than you expect, but go slowly. It's always easier to add than to subtract.

Stir the chili frequently so the bottom doesn't burn.

Simmer for 10-20 minutes. Test the butternut squash and zucchini for done-ness. When they both are at a texture you enjoy, serve and top with any of the listed toppings. I particularly recommend the Queso Anejo.

Enoy with a cold beer. Serves eight to ten. Beware of filling up because this is one of those meals that expands in your stomach (thanks to the beans and bulgur).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:51 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
November 15, 2004
No fruitcake soda for you until you finish your glass of green beans.

Jones Soda has gone all out for the holidays. Last year, you may remember their Turkey and Gravy Soda was wildly popular for its nastiness. This year, Jones adds Fruitcake, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Bean Casserole to its soda flavors and packs the five together in festive Holiday Packs.

Most disturbing, all the zero-calorie holiday sodas are both kosher and vegan. Even the turkey soda is vegan. I'll let you think about that one while you read a taste test from the X-Entertainment site.

Part of the proceeds from the Holiday Packs will go to Toys for Tots with a goal of raising $50,000 for a worthy organization. If you want to help, you'll have to contribute directly to Toys for Tots because Jones is SOLD OUT of the nasty holiday soda.

My suggestion for next year - sweet potato soda with little marshmallows floating in it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:10 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Zoo ma food!

This guy is wondering two things. First, what are all these people doing here in my house? Second, if they eat organic, do they taste better?

Chicago's Green City Market has moved from the south end of Lincoln Park on Wednesdays to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I took the opportunity to visit the Kovler Lion House this Saturday and found a thriving market with more choice than I imagined.

If you want any of a dozen varieties of squash or dark green vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli or one of several varieties of apples, this is the place. Two great bakeries were present to sell breads and pastries, along with vendors of honey, spices, hothouse tomatoes, turnips, potatoes, dried flowers, rutabagas - just about everything you'd expect from a late fall/early winter market.

The Kovler Lion House is on the North end of the zoo, just south of Fullerton. You can enter just north of Webster off Cannondale.

The market opened at 9:00. I got there around 10:00 and the joint was jumping. The Lion House can get a little ripe, but I didn't detect any big cat smell at all during the market. The cages inside connect to outdoor habitats and I think a few of the cats were outside. Those that were inside were mostly uninterested (or asleep - imagine that), even the ones near the organic meat vendor. The one that was interested seemed maybe a bit too interested if you know what I mean. I was pretty happy the metal bars on the cage were between the cat and the organic buffet laid out before him.

The Market is run by the same people who run the Green City Market during the Spring and Summer. The remaining dates for the market are November 20th, December 4th, December 11th, and December 18th. Hours are from 9:00am to 1:00pm.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:21 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
November 13, 2004
Picks of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

As usual, we have chosen a few morsels from the rich soup of food writing that has been posted in the last week. As usual, there are so many great pieces out there that it was difficult to whittle the list down to a simple three. However, it's a lot of fun reading through it all! So, in no particular order:

I. A la cuisine reviews the new cookbook by Thomas Keller, Bouchon. It's not very often that a cookbook review makes me want to go out and get my own copy, but this one does a great job of convincing me I've been missing out. Not only is the enthusiasm infectious, the author has tried out four recipes and deemed them all great. It's going on my wish list this Christmas!

A. The Tenacious flog has a delicious sounding breakfast quesadilla: clear instructions and photos make it easy to see exactly how this twist on the quesadilla is constructed. I might even give it a try tomorrow morning...who knows, maybe even my egg-hating spouse will be tempted if I call it a Mexican breakfast.

1. Tiny fork has three great entries for the Sugar High Friday event, based around the week's theme of apples. Below this trio of delicious sweets is a recipe for Chipotle Seitan bundled in Sweet Potato, a fascinating idea and a gorgeous photo. My only regret is that there isn't a little more information on the production side of the recipes - it seems like this site is so full of good ideas they don't have time for the details!

Well, that's it for this week. There are so many great sites out there that it's completely possible we may miss an amazing one in the next week. If you have a candidate to propose, send us a message and we'll give it our consideration!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
November 12, 2004
The Roots of Our Food Attitudes

baking cookies.jpgIf you read food magazines or have ever participated in a weight loss program or just use your own eyes and head, you'll know that for most people food is a truly emotional issue. Our ancestors may have eaten primarily to stay alive, but since the dawn of civilization it seems food is used in so many other psychological games: to gain attention, to comfort ourselves, to release a creative urge, you name it. Some people eat more when they are depressed and some stop eating all together. No matter how you look at it, it's a deep emotional matter and we can't always control how we deal with the emotions evoked.

Since I am now in the process of continuing the cycle by bringing another being into the world I've been musing a lot lately on what has influenced my own attitudes towards food and cooking. Not surprisingly, it all comes down to the influence of a trio of mother figures: two grandmothers and my mother.

What I Picked Up from my Mother

If you read our site often you'll already be aware of the fact that my mother was never a very enthusiastic cook when I was growing up. For the first four years or so of my life she was attending university full time and working full time while raising three children. Also, it was the seventies and women were liberating themselves all over the place and my mother (I think) welcomed the opportunity to liberate herself from the kitchen. As she also has a love of gadgets, we saw each of the main ones come through the kitchen as she tried them out: the crock pot, the microwave, etc. Unlike my mother, I love being in the kitchen. However, thanks to her I also love gadgets.

Another habit I always associate with my mother is her inability to throw food away. If you bring your plate to the kitchen to be scraped and put in the dishwasher, she will be the one following behind you to pick off the vegetables you didn't eat. She will doggedly eat leftovers for a week straight rather than throw food away. Each time I visit her house, I go through the cold cuts drawer in her fridge and throw away lunch meat and cheese that have gone moldy. And me? I think I am slightly better about cleaning out the fridge than she is but it's mainly a conscious decision. I eat leftovers and save bits of food whenever possible. I hate it when guests want to scrape their own plates because when they are not looking I know I can throw those chicken bones into a pot of stock I'm making. (20 minutes boiling can get rid of any germs, right??) I can't guarantee that any condiment you take from my fridge will still be within its use-by date. I am my mother in some ways.

The Irish-American Grandmother

My mother's mother was a very enthusiastic cook. These things seem to skip generations on my mother's side of the family, as apparently my grandmother's mother hated cooking and delegated it to her daughter whenever possible. From this grandmother I inherited the tendency to use cooking as deep therapy. My grandmother used to tell us about growing up in large family and how her brothers would intentionally tease her until she grew so angry she would slam the kitchen door shut and closet herself in there making coffee cakes and cookies and pies until she calmed down. She said it was years before she realized they were doing it intentionally, to goad her into baking. I'm the same way: I can come home from work in the foulest of black moods and yet if you give me half an hour chopping vegetables and puttering around the kitchen I'm back in my usual sunny state.

The other debt I owe to this grandmother is the concept of the kitchen as the heart of the house. She had a perfectly serviceable living room in her house, but I don't remember ever spending much time in it aside from Christmas morning when opening presents. Everything took place in the kitchen and you could always find her there, either cooking or placidly setting out the cards for solitaire on the kitchen table. I dream of having a kitchen like that some day.

The Austrian Grandmother

From my Austrian grandmother I inherited the most complicated and - some would say - messed up attitudes about food. Food was one of her control tools: a way of forcing her will on her grandchildren, albeit in a very loving way. "Eat, eat," I can hear her encouraging in her strong German accent. Is it only in my imagination that she actually said "You don't love me, you don't eat enough"? Certainly she picked up popular phrases like "There's always room for Jello!" and added them to her repertoire. I can remember groaning as she came in the dining room proudly holding a platter of quivering Jello at the end of a marathon meal.

My grandma Liebezeit was never satisfied with the feasts she created, though in my mind they stand out as the best meals I've ever eaten. Home made soup was followed by a roast meat and at least three vegetables, a big salad, then the Jello and even a dessert. Let me also point out that we would eat this meal, AFTER having consumed a few dozen cookies on arriving at her house. Sometimes, when she was lucky, she managed to make us a large breakfast around ten in the morning and then a lunch at one or two in the afternoon. But she was always getting up to stir something, to bring in the forgotten salt and pepper to find some other hidden treasure from the fridge to tempt her grandchildren. She never seemed to sit and eat herself.

And me? I'm obsessive in the same annoying way. If you don't tell me how good a meal is, I'll sit on tenterhooks for an agonising five minutes before anxiously enquiring "is it okay? is anything wrong?" If you ask for seconds, you are my best friend and obviously love me. If you don't, I'm crushed. I'll spend hours after the meal going over "what went wrong" while the Critic completely tunes me out. (For him when a meal is over, it's over.)

I also find it almost impossible to sit down and enjoy the meal I've spent so much time and effort cooking. At my grandmother's funeral as I sat listening to my brother's eulogy, describing this habit of hers, I had a flash of recognition: I do that too! Now I try to correct for it, but the instinct is still there.

So there we go. I bring my own new strains to this mix of attitudes but for me, at least, it's interesting to dig back and see where some of them came from. I hope it wasn't too boring for any other readers out there. (Is that the sound of crickets I hear?)

Use the comments section to tell me your stories - I would love to read them!!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:57 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
November 11, 2004
Cheddar Fish Pie

If you're having a rough day, the temperature has dropped, and you want something to feed the whole family, this could be your dinner tonight.

A few nights ago, I had a craving for a fish pie. The strange thing about that is that I'd never had a fish pie before in my life, but still, I craved it. My stomach works that way, sometimes. I think it may have been James Beard's housekeeper in another life.

Luckily I'd purchased a couple of nice Lake Superior whitefish filets the day before with the intention of using them in some dish that evening. My wife, Rebecca, was very happy that we'd be having something healthy for dinner. The weather has just turned here and I tend to rely on pretty hearty dishes until broken of the habit.

Sadly, this wasn't to be the light meal she was hoping for. I found a recipe out on the web that I modified a bit. A link to the original is at the bottom of the recipe. The original calls the topping "scones", but I think they are more like biscuits.

My wife enjoyed the dish as much as I did, but I think she was a little skeptical of the nutrition/fat ration. The scone/biscuits on top make the dish, but if you have kids, you might try sprinkling cheddar Goldfish crackers on top to make it more fun.

Don't worry about my wife. I promise I'll make her a salad based dish this week. And I don't mean egg salad.

Cheddar Fish Pie
1.5 lb whitefish filets. If you buy with skin, remove skin before cooking
1 stick of butter, divided
1 1/4 cups flour
2 cups of milk plus 3 tablespoons
1/3 lb.shredded cheddar. Measure by weight since the packability of shredded cheese makes a volume measure meaningless.
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk

First cut the filets up into medium sized chunks, and discard any bones or skin. Arrange the fish in the bottom of a medium casserole dish.

Melt half a stick of butter in a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of flour and stir until it combines with the flour. Let cook a few minutes until it just colors. Add 2 cups of milk and 1/4 lb grated cheddar. Stir until cheese melts, and sauce thickens.

Pour cheese sauce over the fish in casserole dish.

Combine 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Mix together. Next cut up the remaining half stick of butter into small cubes. Mix these into the flour mix. Add two ounces of shredded cheese and the egg yolk and mix everything together. If the dough doesn't hang together, add a little of the 3 tablespoons of milk dribble by dribble until the dough hangs together. You want the dough to be as dry as it can be while still workable.

Roll the dough out to between 1/4" and 1/2" in thickness (I actually prefer the 1/4" rounds). Top the casserole with these rounds. When you finish, gather up the scrap dough, reroll it, cut out more rounds and complete the topping of the casserole. Handle the dough as little as possible.

Brush a little milk onto the top of the biscuits, sprinkle a little more cheese on top, and bake in a 450 oven for 25 minutes or until the biscuit top is GBD (Golden, Brown, and Delicious).

Let cool at least 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Great with a side of a green vegetable like green beans.

Original recipe is here.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:29 PM | TrackBack
November 10, 2004
Lentil Stew

lentil stew.jpgLentil soup has a long history in my cooking repertoire. It was probably the first thing my Austrian grandmother taught me to cook. (Sadly only a very few items fall in that category, not including her legendary apfel strudel.) When I went away to university, I flatter myself that my weekly pot of lentils kept a good friend of mine from near starvation. (Through a glitch he was able to cancel his meal contract our Freshman year and take the money...and spent it in the first few weeks of the quarter!) The one complaint I ever had about the soup was that it somehow never really remained a soup: one night in the fridge and you could cut it with a knife. So over the years, I have bowed to fate. I now make lentil stew.

Lentils really are the most versatile of grains. They are great as a main dish or a side dish. I can see why they turn up in so many vegetarian meals, because they have an earthiness and substance that is missing in so many vegetable dishes. That said, the same earthiness means that they go extremely well with ham and other pork-based meats, as well as the odd bowl of leftover gravy. (I am grateful to Nigel Slater for pointing out how well leftover gravy can be with lentils - MMMMM!) Oddly enough, I don't know that I've ever made lentil soup or stew for the Critic. It's one of my deepest comfort foods and perhaps I'm afraid he would cast aspersions on it, and not appreciate one of my favourite foods.

Lentil Stew

3/4 cup lentils
2 cloves of garlic
1 large carrot
1/3 cup leftover beef gravy (if you have it)
3 cups beef stock
4 smoked sausages or 1 cup bacon bits, lardons or ham
2/3 cup sweet corn
2 Tbs butter
celery salt to taste
fresh or frozen thyme
freshly ground pepper

If you want to make lentil soup the way my grandmother did, you will painstakingly spread out the lentils on a clean work surface a handful at a time and sort them, eliminating any that look unhealthy or are patently not lentils. I used to do this, but with time have grown very lazy. As a result, in the last batch I nearly broke a tooth on a small stone - my grandma was right!

Melt the butter in the bottom of a medium soup pot and add the garlic, crushed, pressed or chopped as you like. When it is soft and yellow (but before it browns!!) add the gravy and bring it to a bubble. Add the soup stock and lentils. Peel and chop the carrots and add to the pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, follow the instructions for cooking the smoked sausages: in my case they were poached for 15 minutes in boiling water. I cooked them separately from the lentils because it's a brand I haven't used before and I wanted to make sure I didn't add too much fat to the stew; use your judgement for the meat element you choose.

Cut the cooked sausages in bite-sized pieces and add them to the lentils, along with the corn. Taste for salt and add a bit of celery salt and a lot of thyme, a few grindings of pepper. The thyme was not in my grandmother's recipe, but as it was used in the gravy I thought it would work well and it did.

When everything is hot and bubbly, serve in deep bowls. The consistency can be anywhere from a thick soup to a substatial stew - regardless it will be the perfect dish for a cold November evening!

One other note: the reason I made lentil soup/stew so often for my poor friend Tom was that I, too, was extremely poor that Freshman year and lentils are CHEAP. And filling and extremely nutritious. Starving college students take note: it's not much more work than Kraft Mac-a-Chee and it's much, much nicer!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
November 9, 2004
Mashed root vegetables

There's no picture for this recipe because frankly, it's white mush. But it tastes great and is a great way to use turnips.

You know how great mashed potatoes are? Well, if you add parsnips and turnips, they're even better. Turnips have very few calories and plenty of vitamin C and folate. They add an earthy quality to the potatoes that makes a nice change. Parsnips are those white carrot like things that have a taste not totally unlike carrots, but unique to themselves. Parsnips will give you vitamin C, iron, and fiber. Their tste helps to cut the sulphur hint in the turnips and sweetens the whole mix.

I peel my vegetables before mashing for aesthetic reasons, but you don't have to. This dish makes a great side on a cold day.

Mashed Root vegetables
5 red new potatoes
2 parsnips
3 medium turnips
1/2 cup cream or milk
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper

Peel all the vegetables. Cut to approximately equal size. The shapes don't really matter since you'll be mashing it all later.

Place the potatoes in a pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and let cook for five minutes. Add parsnips and turnips. The turnips will probably float. That's OK. Boil the lot for 15 minutes until every vegetable type is pierced easily with a knife.

Scoop out and reserve 1-2 cups of the water from the pot. Drain the vegetables and add them back to the pot.

Add the cream and butter and mash the vegetables with a potato masher. If the mixture is too dry, add a little of the water reserved from the pot. The water is starchy from the potatoes and flavored by all the vegetables, so it will help pull the mix together. Add more of the water and mash until the vegetables are the consistency you like.

Salt and pepper to taste. If you like, you can stir in a handful of chopped parsley, or if you'd like a real kick, a 1/4 cup of horseradish.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
November 8, 2004
The Perfect Quiche

QUICHE2.JPGI don't make quiches very often. I suppose it's partly the fact that every bakery in Paris makes very good ones and partly the fact that my Critic is highly critical of egg-based foods. That is to say, he doesn't like them, not one bit, Sam-I-Am. When we have a cooked breakfast in England if the B&B waitress foolishly forgets to leave the egg off his plate there is a tense moment while he negotiates getting it onto MY plate - eating around it is not good enough.

But the Critic is in Vichy for a little while and so I can indulge my foodie urges without worrying about his prejudices. And I decided to make a big quiche including all my favourite ingredients, which you can never find if you scour all the bakeries of Paris. (Quiche lorraine and salmon-and-spinach are everywhere, but you don't see too many other varieties.)

What's more, the perfect quiche really is a changeable concept. It may not be the same two days running for any given person, and certainly mine is different from yours. However when I made this one it seemed absolutely perfect to me. As an added bonus, it used up a couple of ingredients in the fridge that were about to go out of date - hurrah!

One perfect quiche (serves one quiche fan as a lunch for a few days)

1 puff pastry recipe
7 large eggs
200 grams lardons or 5-6 strips of bacon
4 shallots
5-6 cherry tomatoes
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 nutmeg, grated
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

In a large non-stick frying pan, cook the lardons or bacon (if the latter, cut in small strips). Once they are nearly done and have given up some grease, slice the shallots and add. Cook until the shallots are limp and sweet and the bacon cooked. Drain. Roll the pastry in the bottom of a large quiche pan. Spread the cheese in the bottom of the pan and then the drained onions and bacon mixture on top of that. If you happen to have some ham needing to be used up, you could add it at this point too, sliced in slivers. Beat the eggs, nutmeg, pepper and creme fraiche or sour cream and pour over the cheese, onions and bacon. Scatter the top of the quiche with sliced tomatoes and mushrooms. Bake in a hot oven (180/375) until brown on the top and set, about 40 minutes. This quiche is delicious hot or cold. Basically, it's my favourite eggy breakfast but in a portable format.

QUICHE.JPGIn fact, it was so good that the non-egg-eating Critic sampled it when he was home for the weekend and declared it very good! I thought that was supposed to be a woman's perogative...?

So what is YOUR perfect quiche?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
November 6, 2004
Picks of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Each week, we pick three posts we particularly enjoyed over the last week from the vast community of excellent food bloggers. Maybe these posts were funny, maybe they were great recipes or a particularly well-written review of a restaurant. Maybe they just were the right post for us at the right time. If you haven't read them, this should give you a chance to go back and catch them before they disappear into the archives.

1. Feta makes it betta. I'ma sucker for the brined Greek white cheese in any dish. It's salty, sour, savory and delicious. Pairing it with a rich buttery puff pastry is an ideal application. Baby Hippo Bakes, and bakes some delicious Feta Foldovers using just that combination. They look simple and delicious, but maybe a little spinach in the mix next time?

A. What is about Singapore that produces so many good food blogs? Maybe it's the Asian Pacific Food Expo. This week, we have Cheat Eat's take on the event along with some pictures of the expo and the food found within. You know it's a good expo when you have to buy a collapsable shopping cart to carry your swag.

I. Alice at the Breadbox discovered that E.B. White's childhood classic Charlotte's Web contains some amazing food writing. Alice even explains what White meant when he wrote about "middlings". Three of Garth Williams's illustrations from the book are part of the post.

See you next week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:37 AM | TrackBack
November 5, 2004
Adventures in Slicing

Do you play the mandoline?Long before we started this site, Barrett started a campaign (ouch sorry, find another word) to convince me that a mandolin is a thing of beauty, time saver and chef's best friend. Every time I wrote him and mentioned slicing off another fingertip (good thing they regenerate, eh?) he would laud the virtues of a mandolin: you get evenly sliced vegetables, no danger of cutting yourself, easy to clean...he should be on late night TV selling these things. Bit by bit, slice by slice, I started to believe him. While I chopped two kilos of vegetables for my latest stir fry or chicken stew, I thought, "This would be SO much easier if I only had a mandolin." And rather than wait for Christmas and ask for one, I recently decided to take the plunge and buy myself the energy-saving best non-electric safety gadget in the world. I even went for the top of the line: Zyliss.

I brought it home and took it out of its box to gloat over it. It was white and gleaming and Swiss and efficient looking. I flicked through the pictorial instructions...looks fairly simple...time to clean it and try this baby out! Struggling with the protective cardboard taped over the blade, I cut my finger.

Okay, so that was ironic. Stupid. But ironic. Cursing loudly, I ran to the bathroom for a band-aid. (Sometimes it occurs to me that it would be wise to move the box of bandaids, like the aloe vera gel, to the kitchen.)

I washed the blood off the mandolin and decided to give it another try. What to make for my first foray into the wonders of mandolin-slicing? I had thought about making a variation of a gratin dauphinois for the Is My Blog Burning? Terrine Edition. Potatoes are always a pain to slice exactly the right width and the same for each slice. I peeled my potatoes and inserted the first one in the feeder. Barrett had already warned me that the magic avoiding-slicing-fingers properties of the mandolin rely on your always using the feeder. The top of the feeder didn't really hold the potato in place and the feeder itself was somewhat difficult to hook under the edge of the mandolin but I gamely tried shoving the potato across the blade...the feeder slid off the mandolin the potato went spinning finger fell down in the path of the blade and there I was bleeding and cursing again.

Safe. Yeah, right. As safe as a cat in a blender.

I cleaned myself up (again) and looked at the issue logically. The easiest way to deal with the slippery potatoes was to cut them in half, thus giving them a solid edge to apply pressure to, and making the holder a little easier to manage.

And it did work, eventually. There is a technique to using the mandolin and I have no doubt that after using it a few times I'll be the vegetable-slicing whiz that Barrett promised. You need to be firm with it, holding the vegetables firmly in the feeder and sliding it across the blade with confidence but not too quickly. Starting with potatoes was probably not wise as they are harder and more slippery than other vegetables. When I used it to make a sliced cucumber and tomato salad to accompany the potato terrine, it worked much better. Or I worked it much better, if you want to be exact.

As for the specific mandolin I bought, I'm still very happy with the Zyliss model. It comes with six inserts allowing you to vary the width of the slices and make two different sizes of juilenne sticks. Ooh! There is a handy plastic holder that fits on the mandolin when you are not using it, so the whole thing stores very neatly. It's easier to clean by hand than the food processor and the feeder is wide enough (which it isn't on the food processor). So I'm not sorry I bought the new cool tool, but it seems to me that it's not as simle as advertised by Barrett-the-late-night-TV-salesman. And it is possible (if you are super talented) to slice your finger in new and more interesting places with it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:55 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Zebra-Inspired Lentil Egg Spinach and Toast

I took my wife Rebecca to Green Zebra for our first anniversary a few weeks ago. I'll tell you all about the experience at one of the best vegetarian-friendly restuarants in the country another time.

I will tell you we enjoyed several small dishes. One of my favorites was a lentil and spinach served with a poached duck's egg and toast. I've tried to create a version of that dish here. It's substantially different from the original in ways but I think it's credible in its own right. The final vegetarian but not Vegan result was filling, tasty and a little bit swank. I will be going back to the Green Zebra to try the original again, but I think I might keep this recipe in my repertoire as well.

It's low-cost, low fat (well sorta) and pretty low calorie for the nutritonal punch it packs.

Zebra-Inspired Lentil Egg Spinach and Toast
2 large chicken eggs
1 cup lentils de puy, picked over and rinsed
4 cups vegetable stock - low sodium
1 lb. chopped frozen spinach
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 thin slices Country-style French bread
1 clove garlic minced finely

Combine 3 cups of stock and 1 cup of lentils in a medium saucepan with the clove of minced garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 15 minutes

Meanwhile, add one cup of stock to the pound of frozen spinach, breaking up the spinach beforehand if possible. Over medium heat, thaw the spinach and reduce the stock, stirring occasionally.

Softboil two eggs. The original used two poached eggs, but I haven't tried poaching much and when I have it hasn't been pretty. Softboiled is closer to the look of the original. You won't be able to tell easily, but the yolk should be runny while the white is solid. When done, rinse under cold water, tap the shells gently on the counter all around and peel, being careful not to pierce or tear the albumen (the white).

When lentils are soft but not mushy, add yogurt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir and simmer a minute or two more until liquid is reduced or absorbed almost completely. Stir frequently so you don't burn the lentils on the bottom.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the herbs de Provence to the spinach. Stir in. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the bread. If you wish, you may cut a small circle out of the bread about a third of the way up before toasting. The hole should be a little smaller than the egg.

With a slotted spoon, serve one big scoop of the lentils on one side of a small plate. Serve equal amount of spinach on the other side of the plate. Place the egg in the middle and lean the toast up against it. If you cut a hole in the bread before toasting, fit the bread onto the egg at an angle.

Serve and enjoy. Serves two as a main course. Add two more eggs and two more slices of toast to serve four as a tapas-style plate or mini-course.

When you cut into the egg with your fork the yolk should run down onto the lentils and spinach for a moment of yolk-y decadence.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
November 4, 2004
COOKIE! (Is My Blog Burning? #10)

November 21st, 2004 - Domestic Goddess.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Food Section Digestion - Blue States Edition

Preliminary note: Sigh. Now on to the digestion -

The wine-sipping Eric Asimov in the New York Times this week discovers, or rather rediscovers Chardonnay. Melissa Clark falls in lovage. Mark Bittman makes a butternut squash soup with chestnut dumplings.

In Washington D.C. the Washington Post's Domenica Marchetti finds you can make a nice sauce if you use the right can of tomatoes. Yes, I said can. Bonnie Benwick finds that bakers are concerned about Land O'Lakes' decision to sell butter in wax paper. The Foraging column finds pawpaws.

Bill Daley takes us to explore India through new cookbooks in the Chicago Tribune. Indian is spicy but so is the mushroomy vegetarian chili Renee Enna prepares this week.

In Connecticut, an uncredited first person story praises avocados.

In New Hampshire, Nashua Telegraph correspondent Sally Bashalany profiles Anne Doane, a perennial area cook-off winner.

Baltimore Sun reporter Rob Kasper gets us ready for Thanksgiving by posing the question - "The turkey: traditional or a tad unconventional?"

Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig LeBan (who was not in Duran Duran) begins a three part series on Local Tastes, Global Vision.

Susan Selasky of the Detroit Free Press feezes her nuts. (Oh grow up, I mean walnuts.)

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal's Karen Herzog knows that Milwaukee is a meat and potatoes town but she has interesting recipes to prove that doesn't mean dull.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Taste section engages in navel gazing.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer food write Hsiao-Ching Chou takes a wok (I know, I'm sorry). Anne Lovejoy offers us a fungal feast.

The L.A. Times Corie Brown Knows Why the Caged Poet Cooks. Good Morning.


Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:00 AM | TrackBack
November 2, 2004
As American As...

baked apple.jpgWhen the weather turns cold and rainy and your dear Critic has gone and abandoned you (temporarily) and you want to turn on the dryer just to inject some warm dry air into the's time to bake up an old American favorite, hot apple pie.

However, I am lazy and the shortcut for this American classic is even more of a comfort food for me: baked apples conjure up memories of visits to my grandmother and how in the winter she would often have three or four baked appples sitting on her counter waiting to be eaten cold. Baked apples are the essence of an apple pie, the reduction to the best elelments. Okay, a flaky light crust can cut through some of the intense apple flavor and I have nothing against a scoop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to compliment the tartness. But at the end of the day, the best part about an apple pie is the filling: baked apple, cinnamon and sugar melted in a thick glaze, with the occasional plump raisin as an added bonus.

And so yesterday I took the three remaining Royal Gala apples in my basket (they were starting to get a little too ripe) and baked them. Somehow, they never turn out quite as good as my grandmother made them, but I figure she was 66 by the time I was born and so maybe the extra 30 years experience helped.

Also, I think I'm too impatient and should put the heat lower and bake longer.

Nevertheless, even my poor imitation baked apples are absolutely scrumptious, the perfect dessert on a cold rainy day. If your beloved spouse is not around to see you pigging out you can even eat his too...TWO hot apples are even better than one.

In case your wonderful grandmother didn't teach you how to make these simple treats, here is the procedure. (I hesitate to call it a recipe!)

Baked apples

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C. Wash and core your apples. Peel the top third of the apples and eat the skins. Place the apples in a baking or roasting pan with sides. My grandmother's was black enamel, mine is glass - heavier pans work better than thin ones. At the bottom of each apple drop a plug of butter, about half a teaspoon. Follow this with about a teaspoon of brown sugar. Sprinkle some cinnamon and then fill the cavities with plump raisins, to just under a centimeter from the top. Don't pack them too tightly, as you want them to be able to expand with the apple juices and brown sugar. Add another teaspoon or so of brown sugar and some more cinnamon. Place another little pat of butter on top of each apple and...if you really like cinnamon...add some more. Put a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of the pan to start the glaze. Bake in the oven for an hour or so, until they are really nice and tender. For best results, spoon the glaze from the bottom of the pan over the apples every fifteen minutes or so as they are baking.

Serve hot or cold, with ice cream or on their own. Personally, I like them hot from the oven, all on their own, with loads of glaze dribbled over them. Then I like them almost as much the next day, cold.

I need to buy some more apples!

P.S. Go vote!! I already did and it made me feel GREAT!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
November 1, 2004
Doughnuts for Democracy

If you're in America, you should know that tomorrow is Election Day. Sadly, in years past, voter turnout has been lower than you'd expect in a country where you have the chance to choose your own leader.

I have a suggestion for everybody who wants to help boost turnout in this election. Send an e-mail right now to your office promising doughnuts for anyone who can bring in a voting receipt on Tuesday or Wednesday. [UPDATE: EmilyB in the comments remarks it may not be legal to offer an incentive to vote - even a doughnut. Don't do it if it's illegal where you live. I'm researching my area as I speak. So far - nothing definitive.] As a 20 year veteran of the workplace I can tell you that people do things for doughnuts.

If they won't vote to change the way the most powerful nation on Earth is governed, maybe they'll do it for a chocolate frosted original with sprinkles.

Why doughnuts? Why not fruit or beef jerky or pre-made salads? Everyone knows that doughnuts are the Official Food of Corporate America. Are you more likely to be motivated by a bunch of lettuce with oil and vinegar or a decadent fried jelly-filled mound of lard and sugar? Maybe I should rephrase that - Because it's tradition!

Give it a shot - maybe that glazed doughnut will help remove the glazed look in a non-voting co-worker's eyes.

If your state doesn't give voter receipts, have people in your office attest on a sign-up sheet to their participation in the democratic process before you give them a nice shot of sugar. Hit up senior management first. The toadies in your office will be motivated just by seeing their names at the top of the sheet.

And for Pete's sake, go vote yourself.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:37 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
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