January 31, 2005
Flexing your mussels

open mussels.jpgMy mother is a big fan of mussels. Each time she visits Paris we try to find a good mussel restaurant, with varying success. (The flea market north of Paris is a good hunting ground.) This time around, though, I resolved to make her some mussels myself because I had found a great recipe: mouclade.

Mouclade is a speciality of the Poitou-Charentes region, where the Critic and I spent a long weekend with our friends David and Carol last autumn. On previous trips to the area I had mentally turned up my nose at the mouclade because it just didn't sound great to me. It involves store-bought curry powder, and I'm afraid I'm something of a foodie snob. But this time around, I couldn't eat the raw oysters and mussels that are also a speciality as I was pregnant. So I swallowed my prejudices...and found them delicious eating!

There are times when it is a pleasure to announce one was wrong and this is one of them: mouclade is a delicious dish, one that will even convert non-mussel eaters like my Critic to eat them. It is rich and slightly spicy, with the fishy mussel flavor coming through underneath...well worth the cost of buying yourself some curry powder!

The following recipe is, as you will see, rather labor-intensive. It's not complicated or difficult to follow, but it will take you a certain amount of time. On the plus side, though, it makes a fantastic dish for dinner guests. First, they will love it and be truly impressed by your cooking skills! And secondly, it's one of those dishes that you can easily prepare in advance and just slip in the oven ten minutes before you want to serve. Again, it makes you look like the perfect host.

Serves three as a main dish or six as a starter

2 kilos of uncooked mussels, as fresh as possible
2 onions, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, also finely chopped
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup of pineau de charentes
1 heaping tablespoon of curry powder
1/3 cup crème fraîche
2 egg yolks
a little unsalted butter
pepper to taste (you won't really need salt)

In a large pot, melt a knob of butter and add the onions and garlic. In the meantime, scrub your mussels very well, eliminating any "beard" and getting rid of all the silt and sand. Throw away any mussels that are cracked or damaged and any that don't shut when you tap them. (If they stay open, they are already dead and there's no telling how long they have been dead, so they are potentially very very bad for your digestive system!) Once the onions are limp and golden, add the wines and bring to a boil. Toss the mussels in the pot and cover. Keep the heat high so that the liquid comes back to a boil and steams the mussels. It should take about ten minutes to cook them adn you'll know they are done when they all pop open.

Once the mussels have all opened, remove the pot from the heat and leave the lid off. When they are cool enough to touch, take each one and snap off the shell half that does not have any meat attached to it. (Reserve the cooking liquor.) If you have oven-proof plates, your presentation will be a lot nicer. Place the shells in a single, overlapping layer either on plates or a single larger platter.

Once you have removed all the mussels from the pot, turn the heat back on under the cooking liquor and boil for a few minutes to reduce. Stir in the curry powder and crème fraîche. At this point, I used a bit of flour to thicken the sauce. The various recipes I consulted before making my version used either egg yolks or flour and in retrospect I would use the egg yolks as they make the sauce richer. (Also, they don't involve quite so much furious whisking to get rid of lumps!) So turn off the heat under the sauce, mix a little of the hot sauce with the egg yolks and then whisk the egg yolk mixture into the bulk of the sauce. Add the chopped parsley.

Drizzle the sauce over the open mussel shells. Be generous; you'll have plenty of sauce and if you serve the mouclade with some bread none of it will go to waste. Up to this point, you can make the mouclade in advance of your guests and store the plate(s) in the refrigerator until you are ready to put them in the oven.

Ten to fifteen minutes before you want to serve the mouclade, place them under the grill or broiler on your oven and leave them until they are bubbly and the sauce has started to brown in places.

Traditionally, mouclade is served as it comes out of the oven. However, if you want to put a twist on this classic charentais dish, I would suggest serving it over a plate of spaghetti. The pasta gives you another vehicle for the delicious sauce, just as it does in my favorite pasta dish, linguine with clams. That's what I did with the leftovers, having made the above quantity of mussels as a starter for three!

A note on the history of the charentais mouclade: I can't find any information on this! None of my friends from the region were able to say where or when the dish was first made. My own theory is that the combination of bivalves and curry spices may have come from sailors returning from Mauritius. Poitou-Charentes is on the Western coast of France and Mauritius is the only place I know of in the Indian Ocean to have a French Connection. It's only a theory, though!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:42 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 30, 2005
Halibut with shrimp sauce

halibut and shrimp.jpgSome time ago, the Critic was diagnosed with a magnesium deficiency. (One of the symptoms that I found more amusing was a twitch in his left eye - maybe Inspector Dreyfuss of the Pink Panther films suffered from the same malady?) In any case, among the magnesium-rich foods that were suggested for his consumption was the fish halibut. As a result, it's a fish we eat frequently. The magnesium deficiency is a thing of the past, but we still like halibut and it makes us feel like we are avoiding a return to the eye-twitching days.

Halibut has a nice tender texture and a delicate flavor. It doesn't stand up well to rough treatment. Cream, shrimp and parsley, however, compliment its tender nutty goodness perfectly.

This is a remarkably simple recipe, relying mainly on the quality of its ingredients for success. I bought the halibut filets and shrimp at our local market, along with a large pot of crème fraîche.

Halibut filets with shrimp sauce
serves 4

4 filets of halibut
16-20 shrimp
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup pineau de charentes or other sweet fortified wine, such as sherry
1/2 cup cream or crème fraîche
1/3 cup chopped parsley
a little butter, a little flour
salt and pepper to taste

In an ideal world, your shrimp will be fresh. If this is the case, you can cook them quickly in a little boiling water with the wines and reserve the liquor for your sauce. Strangely enough, fresh shrimp are less common in Parisian markets than the cooked ones and so I am usually obliged to start with cooked ones. As a result, I have adopted my own method of recuperating some of the shrimp goodness. Peel the shrimp, reserving the head, skins and tails. Put the skins, tails and heads in a small saucepan with the wine and boil for 15-20 minutes. This can be the basis for a fantastic shrimp bisque or, as in this case, simply a good shrimp sauce. You generally end up with more liquor than you'll need for a sauce, so be sure to freeze the remains for the next sauce or fish soup you make.

Dust the filets with flour, salt and pepper and set the butter to melt in a frying pan. When the butter is frothy, add the filets and cook them quickly on each side. Put them in a warm oven while you make the sauce.

Strain about half a cup of the shrimp liquor into the sauce pan and add the shrimp. Once the sauce has reduced a bit, add the cream and the parsley and taste for salt and pepper. A good grinding of pepper will add a little interest to the sauce. When the sauce has thickened a bit and the shrimp are heated through, ladle 4-5 shrimp over each filet and drizzle with a bit of the cream.

Serve over a bed of rice, or with some nice crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
January 29, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Ripped from today's headlines, it's - Posts of the Week!

Posts of the Week is where we here where the chefs are aplenty read the ever-expanding food blogosphere and pick out three posts from the previous week that we think are well worth reading.

A. The first post this week is really a series of posts. Astrid from Wrapped in Dough is in China and backpacking through some amazing places, and reporting back on the foods and sites of the region. All the posts in the series are delightful, including a stop at a night market in Yichang, hotpot in Chongqing, and a trip to the Buddhist mountain of Emei Shan where he has overpriced noodles in a setting out of Kundun. The point of dining is so often not just about sustenance, but about things like family and culture and adventure. It's the trip of a lifetime and I'll be watching Astrid's progress.

1. Winter for me is tea time (I just finished a very nice cup of the stuff with milk, thank you very much). I can't say that I pair my tea with my foods the way a sommelier would with wine or the way Umami and Carrie from Tea Bone Zen Mind pair food with tea for a pre-Lunar New Year's party. I'm glad someone is giving tea the respect it deserves. Maybe I need to go brew another pot...

I. Tis the season to travel, it seems. Chika, of She Who Eats, travelled to Japan and brings us back a recollection of a selection of "entremets" (or sweets) from the Tokyo outpost of French chocolatier Pierre Hermé. The pictures of the little delights are larger than life, as are the decriptions of the flavors. All in all, a very sweet post.

That's the lot this week. See you back here for next week's Posts of the Week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 27, 2005
Food Section Digest

Because variety is the spice and life, and we love spice, this week we're reviewing the nation's food sections in alphabetical order. Lots of interesting articles on everything from Chinese restaurants to Mexican vanilla.

The Baltimore Sun talks with gourmet geek Alton Brown about his new book on baking. The paper also has a recipe for snow ice cream. Remember, use clean snow.

In Boston, they're melting everything in sight. Chocolate and cheese are tossed in the fondue pot, and their correspondent in Switzerland is keeping warm with raclette.

The Chicago Sun-Times visits the Chinese food exhibit at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, where menus from around the world are on display.

Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking, smokes a few Marlboros with the Chicago Tribune and discusses her thirty-year career. A roving reporter for the paper journeys to Tequila, Mexico, to try the local spirits. And Chocolate and Zucchini gets even more press, as another mainstream media outlet discovers food blogs.

The famed vanilla of Papantla, Mexico, is poised to make a comeback, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Denver Post is beating the winter blues with the flowery citrus taste of Meyer lemons.

Dim sum has been elevated to an art in Southern California., according to the Los Angeles Times. Humble lentils are now hip on the west coast. And, the former president of the James Beard foundation will likely be eating prison food after pleading guilty to stealing $50,000 from the culinary organization.

The Napa News tries to sort out which mega-corporation owns which vineyard.

Newsday disects the beef bourguignonne recipes of Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, and, err, the Barefoot Contesa to find out what makes each chef tick. Ok, one of these three is not like the others.

In a blind taste test, the refined palates at the New York Times preferred Smirnoff to the new premium vodkas. If you prefer a drink that tastes like more than water, track down the dry ciders of Spain's Basque region. Those crazy Spaniards also play with their food, and at a recent conference showed off "exploding desserts and solid soups, smoking cocktails and electric milk." They drink electric milk but don't want to eat our genetically modified meat?

With the government telling us to be more healthy, the San Francisco Chronicle discovers the goodness of whole grains.

Iceberg lettuce may have more water than flavor, but the Scarmento Bee reminds us that BLTs and hamburgers just wouldn't be the same without it. The paper also tells the story of how the makers of Thunder Bird and Richard's Wild Irish Rose managed to buy the Mondavi winery.

The Seattle Times presents a full class on steaming, with delicious looking recipes for cucumbers with gold and silver garlic and scallop and shiitake dumplings.

Pableaux Johnson, writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, learns all about the local gulf oyster trade.

After the recent snowstorms in the East, the Washington Post wants to cook winter greens. Perhaps you could cook them in one of the high-end olive oils that the Post tasted. A nice skirt steak with caramelized shallots, ready in only 35 minutes, could be the main dish for that meal.

I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Maybe I'll walked down to Casamento's for a few of those gulf oysters Pableaux was talking about. We're always looking for interesting food sections, so drop us a line if we missed your favorite.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 11:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
January 26, 2005
Elegant Italian

For most people, Italian food is automatically associated with two types of dishes: pasta and pizza. Some Italian restaurants specialize in one and some the other, but they all have one OR the other. This is a shame because as we all know, the Italians have contributed much much more to the world of food than these two (admittedly delicious) dishes. In particular, one area in which Italian cuisine is supreme, is the veal scaloppine.

My Italian food bible (Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking) devotes several pages to how to properly prepare a scaloppine, because apparently you can't get them done right by your local butcher, let alone the supermarket. I'm a lot less fussy than Marcella; I use the cuts I can get from the local supermarket. They work pretty well. (For the record, Marcella recommends getting a hunk of shoulder cut and slicing it thinly against the grain and using a round wooden tool to squish it to the right thickness.)

Unfortunately, after taking a single photo while preparing these veal rolls I got wrapped up in baby feeding, socializing with dinner guests...and forgot to photograph the final product. It's a shame because this is a great main dish for dinner guests in that it looks elegant and complicated and is actually easy to assemble. I also love this recipe because it allows me to sneak steamed spinach into a meal, which I love and the Critic thinks he hates. When it's hidden in a nice piece of meat, though, even he agrees that it's tasty!

Veal Scaloppine with Spinach and Mushrooms

4 thin slices of veal
2 large bags of spinach (about 1kg fresh)
12 medium mushrooms
a little butter
1 Tbs olive oil
Lawry's salt
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup crême fraîche
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and pick through the spinach, removing any woody ends to the leaves. Place them in a large frying pan, cover and put over a low heat. The water clinging to the leaves should be more than enough to steam the spinach. Remove from the heat after 5-8 minutes, when the spinach is limp but not soggy.

Clean and slice the mushrooms and sauté them with a knob of butter. If you have any garlic on hand, you might want to squash one and throw it in the mix for more flavour, removing it before you assemble the veal rolls. I didn't happen to have any garlic in the kitchen and it worked fine without it!

In the meantime, as the mushrooms and spinach are cooking, use a wooden mallet to pound the veal slices as thin as you can. This will not only tenderize them but ensure that they cook quickly.

Now you are ready to assemble the rolls. Lay out the veal slices and season each of them with the Lawry's salt. If you only have normal salt that works too, but I find that Lawry's works particularly well with veal. Drain the spinach if necessary and cook the mushrooms if possible until all the sauce is absorbed by the 'shrooms. Spread 1/4 of the spinach on the first slice, stopping a centimeter or so from the edges lengthwise and a couple centimeters from each of the ends. Grate a little nutmeg over the spinach and spread one quarter of the mushrooms on top. Click here for the one photo I took while assembling the rolls.

Put a knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and heat until they begin to froth. Finish assembling each of the slices and roll them carefully. If necessary, you can pin them with a toothpick. (I found that two of mine needed pinning and two did not: the thinner you pound the slices the less likely you are to need toothpicks.) Place them in the frying pan and cook quickly until browned, turn over and brown the other side. It should only take ten or fifteen minutes. While they are cooking, set your oven to warm.

Once the rolls are cooked through, place them in a warm oven (preferably with the plates you'll use to serve - let's be classy here!). Turn up the heat in the frying pan you've used to cook them and add the sherry. As it bubbles away, use a spatula to work up any of the bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. I found that some big blobby bits of fat had come off the veal and used a spoon to remove them. Once the sauce is dark and smells delicious, add the crême fraîche. (You could substitute cream and I'm sure it would be delicious - just lower the heat a bit so that it doesn't separate. For some reason crême fraîche is easier to use in this regard.) Cook until the cream has thickened slightly and taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle over each of the rolls and serve with a little pasta on the side, so that your guests have something to absorb any of the superfluous sauce. (I served with rotini tossed with butter, salt and parmesan.)

Although I don't have a photo to prove it, I can assure you that it looked lovely and tasted even better. You can use this method with all kinds of fillings: Parma ham, or mozzarella, or any combination of vegetables. I like it best with spinach and mushrooms, though. They both taste so delicious with nutmeg and cream and the savoury meat pulls it all together. Of course there is pasta involved in this dish, but it's more of a supporting role than a starring one. The star is the slice of veal with its lovely friends, spinach and mushroom. Yum!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
January 24, 2005
Salmon Pot Pie

Mmmmmm. Pot pie. Hearty vegetables and thick broth fill a bowl topped with a flaky pastry crust, sealing in juices and creating a rich meal in a bowl.

This is my first try at a pot pie. I qualify the recipe that follows by saying I thought the vegetables were good but could be better. The technique, however, is correct and easy to follow. Next time out I think I'll change the veggies around to incorporate onions, potatoes, leeks, fennel, and possibly artichoke hearts or asparagus.

I used two types of salmon to give the pie some contrasting flavors. Fresh herbs were available so I used them, but you could certainly make do with dried herbs, swapping tablespoons of fresh for teaspoons of dried.

Try this out with chicken, beef, haddock, dugong, ocelot - whatever turns your head. If you somehow get to make ocelot or dugong pie, however, keep it on the QT since I'm pretty sure they're both endangered.

During the summer, I would of course use fresh vegetables, but in the winter frozen substitute well and in this instance create a classic pot pie flavor (that I'm fond of but not wild about). Changing the veggies up would make it fabulous.

Salmon Pot Pie
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into small chunks, kept cold
1/4 cup ice water
pinch of salt

2 10 oz packages of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (mine contained corn, peas, carrots and green beans), or 20 oz. small diced vegetables of your own choice.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons AP flour
3 tablespoons fresh minced thyme (or 3 teaspoons of dried thyme)
3 tablespoons fresh minced sage (or 3 teaspoons of dried sage)
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups milk
1 6 oz filet of smoked salmon
1/2 lb fresh salmon filets

Use four soup bowls for this recipe. Preheat oven to 400 F and put the four bowl on a cookie sheet.

Sift the four and salt together. Mix the butter into the flour with your hands until the mix resembles ground meal. Add water and form into a ball. Cover in plastic wrap, flatten into a disc and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile heat the oil in a large pan. When hot, add flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, getting out any lumps and making what is commonly known as a roux. Cook briefly (maybe 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the vegetables and herbs and stir to coat. Once throughly incorporated, add stock and simmer. Stir occasionally. Broth will thicken up and you may need to add a little more.

After 5 minutes or so or when veggies are heated through add both types of salmon and stir well to distribute the fish in the veggie mix. Cook for approx. 5 minutes. Kill the heat under the pan and stir in the milk.

Retrieve the dough and divide it into four equal size lumps. Roll each lump into a ball and roll out into a circle slightly larger than the mouth of the bowls you are using.

One by one, fill the bowls with the vegetable and salmon mix and cover with a disk of dough stetched across the mouth of the bowl. You may moisten the rim of the bowl with water or stock to make the dough stick better. Poke three or four vent holes in the top of the pie with a knife.

Repeat for four pies. Put bowls on baking sheet into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and serve, but warn your guests that the bowl is very hot.

It looks just lovely, doesn't it?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Twinkie Sushi

Twinkie sushi? Some mad creation from the labs of some latter-day Dr. Evil?

Nope, just the latest evidence that Japanese food is completely mainstream and ready to be made trailer-style.

Check it out on Hostess's own site.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 23, 2005
Zen Chili

CHILI.JPGAre you indecisive? Feeling like something hearty and meaty but also tempted by healthy vegetables? Well, here's a solution: chill out with some Zen Chili.

For this edition of Is My Blog Burning (kindly hosted by Cathy at My Little Kitchen) I decided to try my hand at a white chili. White chili isn't very visually exciting, though, and I played with a few ideas on how to jazz it up. My sister gave me the idea for this recipe; when she makes a white chili for a family gathering, her husband usually makes a meaty red one for the beef-lovers. She told me that most people opt to try both chilis side-by-side. And immediately I conjured up an image of the two chilis, amicably sharing the same bowl. His and hers, yin and yang. Perfect!

Zen Chili

For the White Chili:
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups white beans (I used a mixture of lingots, which are like navy beans, and black-eyed peas)
2 cups shredded cooked turkey meat, mostly white meat
1 long chili pepper
1 Tbs cumin
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chili oil (chili flakes may be substituted, but you may need more olive oil as a result)
2 cups turkey broth
1/2 cup crême fraîche
salt and pepper to taste

The night before you want to make the chili, put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with water to soak. The next day, when you are ready to start cooking, drain and rinse them. (I have heard rumours you can soften up the beans in a pressure cooker if you forget to pre-soak them but it has never worked for me.)

Place the pepper under a broiler or grill, or char the skin over an open flame. Once the skin is black on all sides, put the pepper in a plastic bag in the fridge.

In a large pot, heat the two oils (or one as the case may be) and add the chopped onions and garlic. Soften until the onions are transluscent and the garlic smells delicious. Add the spices and stir for a few minutes to bring out the maximum flavour. Take the pepper out of the fridge and peel and chop it. If you don't want the chili to be too hot, remove the seeds first. Add the pepper, beans, broth and turkey meat to the pot and simmer for an hour or two. Taste for salt and pepper.

Before serving, add the crême fraîche and taste for spices, salt and pepper.

For the Vegetarian Black Bean Chili
4 large shallots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 cups black beans, presoaked as above
3 heaping Tbs Better than Boullion Chili paste or 3 Tbs chili powder and 1 Tbs cumin
1/4 cup whisky (optional)
1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
olive oil

Sweat the garlic and onions in the oil until transluscent and fragrant. Add the chili paste or combination of spices. Add a couple of cups of water, the tomato, the whisky and the beans and simmer for an hour or two. Taste for salt, pepper and spices.

Serve the two chilis in a yin-yang pattern in a bowl and pass around grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and chopped peppers as a garnish. Chill out and warm your tummy!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Mexican Black Bean Tart With Cornmeal Crust - IMBB 11

The genius of Mexican food is that it satisfies and energizes with simple ingredients combined simply.

For today's bean themed Is My Blog Burning? hosted by Cathy at My Little Kitchen, I created a Mexican style tart that would work well as an appetizer or a main dish. I'm particularly proud of the crust on this tart, but I warn you that you might have to limit yourself when you start eating. The finished tart is filling and spicy and you will want to overstuff yourself.

The recipe I give below should work fine for a much larger tart than the one I made. I first sized the ingredients for a 9" round tart (surface area approx 63.6 square inches - 4.5" radius) , but ended up baking it in a 13" x 4.5" rectangular tart pan (surface area 58.5 square inches). It's the first time I've been able to use this pan and if you decide to make this as an appetizer, you should see if you can get hold of one yourself.

The crust is crunchy, the bean filling is rich and satisfying and the salsa on top will keep you awake and enjoying my Mexican Black Bean Tart with Cornmeal Crust.

Mexican Black Bean Tart with Cornmeal Crust.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into 32 small cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
pinch of salt

Black Bean Filling:
2 cans drained black beans, pref. organic
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
big pinch of salt
1 tablespoon Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce
1 taspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons tequila

1/2 cup shredded Chihuahua cheese

2 tomatoes, ripe and red, diced
1 jalapeno, chopped small
1 anaheim pepper, chopped small
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
6 green onions, slices thin - white and green portions
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
1 clove garlic minced fine

Some explanation for those without easy access to some of these ingredients and some suggestions for substitutions - Cilantro is also known as coriander. It's used in Mexican cuisine as a fresh herb. If you are really lucky and have epazote, a delicious herb found in Mexican produce marts available, substitute some for the cilantro or add a bit in addition to the cilantro. If you must, substitute flat leaf parsley, but it really won't be the same.

Anaheim chiles as seen here are larger long banana shaped chiles with a light green flesh and a very fresh taste. They are mildly hot and very fruity. If you must substitute, try a little more jalapeno and a little green bell pepper in its place.

Chihuahua cheese is not, contrary to my frequest assertions, a cheese made by milking tiny rat-dogs. Rather, it's a flavorful mild light yellow/white cheese made in the Chihuahua region and also known as Oaxaca or Asadero cheese. Its flavor, according to one web site, is similar to an unaged montery jack. Cut jack with mozarella to approximate if Chihuahua cheese is not available. The Chihuahua region abuts Texas. The city of Juarez across the border from El Paso is in Chihuahua province.

OK, now that the substitutions are handled, here's how to make this tart.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Sift AP and cornmeal and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the bitter in and mix with your hands and/or a fork until the mix looks like a uniform mix of tiny crumbs or meal. You want to break the butter down, but not melt it too much.

Mix in the ice water well. You may need less water if the air is humid. I made this one on a very dry winter day.

Form the dough into a ball in your hands. Flour the worksurface and flatten the ball out into a disk. Roll the disk out into the appropriate shape for the pan you are using (a big circle if you're using a 9" tart pan, a rectangle if you're using a rectangular pan). You may need to fold the whole mess in again, rotate and reroll the dough.

Once it holds together well and is large enough, move the dough into the tart pan and press down to make sure it squares off at the sides. Patch any holes and trim any overhang.

Prick the bottom with a fork several times. If you wish, you may add a piece of parchment and some pie weights to keep bubbles from forming. Place the tart crust in the 400 F oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. If you have extra dough left over, make braids out of it and bake in the oven with the crust for chef's treat breadstick.

While the crust bakes, either in a blender or in a bowl with an immersion mixer, mash up the black beans. Add the olive oil, tequila and lemon juice to help it along if the beans are too dry to mash/blend.

Mix in the cilantro, salt, pepper, Tabasco, cayenne pepper, and cumin (and olive oil, lemon juice, tequila if you haven't already) and mix well. Taste for heat and salt and adjust.

When the crust comes out, let it cool five minutes, then spoon in most of the black bean mix. You're aiming for almost filling the crust. Leave 1/16" between the top of the crust and the bean mix.

Spread 1/2 cup Chihuahua cheese on top of the black bean mix in the tart. Put the tart back in the 400 F oven for 18-20 minutes until the cheese on top is brown and the beans are heated through. Because of the water in the recipe, the crust will shrink away from the sides of the pan. You can try using milk instead of water, but keep the mix cold cold cold.

While that bakes, make the salsa:
Mix together chopped ingredients well and let sit to let the flavors meld. If you prefer, you can make this the night before.

When the tart comes out let it cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the mold. It should come away easily. Slice into 1.5" slices and spread the salsa on top of the tart with a spoon.

Serve warm as an appetizer or main course with Margaritas or shots of good tequila. I'm a big fan of Don Julio Reposado.

You're going to have leftover salsa and bean dip if you used the smaller rectangular tart pan. They make great nacho toppings along with some more chihuahua cheese.

Another month, another great IMBB theme. Keep 'em coming, and we'll keep cooking!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:20 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
January 22, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Wow, has it really been since November 20 since we posted one of these? Good gravy! We slacked off (OK, I slacked off as the holidays bore down and I kept meaning to get back to this feature but just never did.)

Each week, we pick three posts that we particularly liked from the wide, wide world of Food Blogs, and man, has that world grown over the last couple of months! Lots of good new blogs to choose from (but do me a favor and don't abandon those old blogs yet, eh?).

1. The first post this week is the inaugural edition of Dining with the Bloggers on my little kitchen (which, incidentally is hosting IMBB? tomorrow). As you know, I think a digest of the "best of's" on the web each week is invaluable. The blogosphere is expanding and more guides are needed. (It was mlk's post, by the way, that finally shamed me into picking up the POTW again...)

I. Augustus Gloop has apparently packed up, left Roald Dahl's England, and headed off to Sydney to encounter the Dark Side of Hyde Park where one eats one's meal entirely in the dark. I don't mean "in the light of a particularly dim candle," I mean IN THE DARK with waiters wearing night vision goggles bringing you your meal. Augustus brings back some stunning photographs of the food as he ate it and has posted them at grabyourfork. They must be seen to be believed, though the photos were a bit underexposed if you ask me.

A. It's January and lots of people are trying to eat right and lose weight. It's a long, hard struggle and strong willpower is needed to survive the temptations and roadblocks that can - Oh the hell with it, let's have some chocolate cake! Deb on Words to Eat By wishes she were allergic to chocolate, but she's not and was forced by her non-allergic status to make a great looking chocolate yogurt cake. Wow, that looks good. I may need a minute alone here...

Well, that's it for this week. We WILL be back next week with three more posts that strike our fancy.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:59 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 21, 2005
Food Section Digest

This week, the food sections are trying to stay warm. Stews, greens, and slow cooked dishes pop up on plenty of pages. We also learn what the president and his admirers ate in Washington for Thursday's inauguration. Please, come join us for our semi-regular stroll through a week's worth of America's culinary news.

The wires (via the Corpus Christi Caller-Times) learned that when you cut portion size the customers complain, at least at chains.

The Napa news says that Syrah is in, but you're so cool I bet you already knew that. If you don't know Syrah from Shinola, though, they've also got tips for the novice vino buyer.

For those readers foolish enough to live in the colder climes, The Oregonian cooks up some winter greens.

It must be cold in Toledo as well, because they're making hearty one-pot meals. They've also got some oxymoronic recipes for healthy soul food, but what fun is that?

Out in Reno, the paper found a man who eats every inch of his hogs. Did someone say, "Bacon"? Speaking of obsessive, what do think it would be like to work for Cook's Illustrated's unber-geek Chris Kimball? He looks so friendly, but I'm afraid he might beat me if I overcooked a roast.

Dining in D.C. often has little to do with food, and the New York Times finds that particularly true during the inauguration. Here is a line to make any gourmand sick to their stomach: "The diners (from a Wisconsin law firm) expect to polish off the 12-course dinner ($135 a person with wine adding $70) between 5:30 and 7 p.m., when they must be off to one of the balls." R.W. Apple, Jr., wisely skips Washington all together and searches out the Asian food across the Potomac in Virginia. If I could find a bottle of Lebanese arak, I would have a few shots and forget all about politics.

At ground zero for the festivities celebrating Bush's second reign, the Washington Post takes a trip down memory lane with a history on menus of inaugurations past. The Italians, proud members of the coalition of the willing, are in a tither over pasta, it seems.

Gallo has made pleasing the American wine palate a science, and according the L.A. Times he's ready to import his marketing research to France. Quel horror! Every one's talking about the French secret to skinniness, but columnist David Shaw wonders why American eat so damn much. Carolynn Carreño learns that great cooks around the globe slip bouillon cubes into their dishes.

The Chicago Tribune reports that yankees have finally learned about gourmet grits. Glenn Roberts in South Carolina has brought back heirloom corn for the grits that gourmet chefs can't get enough of. A nice boiled lobster would be good over grit cakes, wouldn't it? Chocolate is always the perfect Christmas gift, and 18,000 people gave See's chocolates this year.

The Miami Herald discovers that African cooking is often vegetarian. Maricel E. Presilla identifies that signature flavors of Latin cooking: an acid medium (vinegar, limes) and aromatic spices like cumin or oregano. Popcorn, it turns out, might be the quintessential pan-American snack, according to Judy Stanley.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution catches up with writer John T. Edge as he eats his way across the South.

The Lunch Guys review the Wendy's Combo for the Palm Beach Post. These reviews of fast food restaurants run weekly, and I still can't tell if they're a joke.

Eat well this week! Please let us know of any English language food sections you would like included in future edition of the Food Section Digest.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 10:23 AM | Comments (2)
January 20, 2005
Iron Chef:America First Impressions

OK, so I've withheld judgement of the new Iron Chef:America series until I had a chance to see the first "real" episode featuring Chicago chef and Mexican food expert Rick Bayless versus Bobby Flay.

Here's my evaluation of how this show stacks up against the traditional Japanese Iron Chef, or at least my impressions of both.

First, the good:

1. Stadium - The Kitchen Stadium they've constructed for Iron Chef:America is great. It's at least on a par with the original show.

2. Announcers - While I'm not sold on the roving floor reporter, I find Alton Brown to be one of the most engaging and well educated people on the Food Network. Picking him to announce was genius. Plus, when he doesn't know something, he'll admit it. Rick Bayless used a preparation Alton wasn't familiar with and Brown admitted he didn't know what it was. Later Brown came back with the information which someone else had researched for him without presenting it as his own knowledge. The smartest people know how to say "I don't know, but I'll find out."

3. The Iron Chefs - OK, not everyone likes Bobby Flay and Mario Battali, but they know their stuff. Having Mashuharu Morimoto on links the Japanese show and the American version nicely. Good personalities and differing styles make for interesting television. I'm glad they lost Wolfgang Puck. The guy is important in food circles, but I just don't think he comes off well on improvised television.

4. Disasters - "Dude, you killed this sauce." - Bobby Flay to one of his assistants. Conflicts make for good TV. The floor reporter's "Chef Flay is barking at his staff" made Flay stop a second in momentary exasperation. Good television.

5. Judges. I've been favorably impressed by the judges. Jeffrey Steingarten is the best of the bunch and is not afraid to say insightful things like (paraphrasing), "The problem with tasting a dish for the first time is that you can't compare it to anything else. This may be the best example of this dish in the world, but I just don't care for it." But would it kill them to put a psychic or member of the government on like they do in Japan?

Now the bad:

1. The chairman - OK, we're supposed to buy the fiction that this guy is the original chairman's nephew, but I'm just not feeling it. He's a karate wizard? Is that supposed to feed some stereotype Americans have about the Japanese? The otherwise horrible first try at an American Iron Chef got the chairman right by having the pompous but always entertaining William Shatner play the role.

2. Predetermined battle - It was obvious that Bayless had been picked to battle Bobby Flay from the preshot interviews cut into the program. No! No! No! One of the best moments of the original show was the macho challenge aspect when a challenger entered, was asked who he chose to challenge, and SHOUTED out the name with gusto. That tension is important and it's been lost. And for Pete's sake, why put Bayless against Flay when a battle of two ENTIRELY different styles would have been more interesting? I would have loved to see Morimoto's Japanese fusion or Battali's Italian versus Bayless's traditional Mexican.

3. Bring your own stuff - It's not a fair fight if each competitor can bring their own gadgetry to the mix as Bayless did. Bayless brought at least two food ingredients and a tortilla press - items Flay did not have access to. If there's aged masa and a tortilla press on one side then aged masa and a tortilla press should be on the other side as well.

4. No gross out factor - Let's face it. One of the main reasons Iron Chef was so appealing was the "weird" or "gross-out" factor. Japanese food is very different from Western food. They value different textures more than we do and enjoy flavors we'd find odd at best (of course, I'm sure they feel the same about us). Let's get some of that into the mix or at least kill the main ingredient live. Squiggling tentacles during the octopus battle on the original made it one of the best episodes ever. Of course, I guess with a secret ingredient of bison, that might be a little difficult.

5. Cumulative scoring - by which I mean we don't get to see how each judge voted. Come on! It was always fun to see how Fortune Teller Kuzuko Hosoki scored the dishes much lower than anyone else. Cumulative scores are dull. What is this - touch screen voting in Ohio?

6. The fix was in - Unless this is the video editor's fault, my impression is the fix was in. This being the first battle, it was important that the Iron Chef won. Flay did win by one slim point (saving face for Bayless by such a narrow battle) despite multiple comments about the flavor of Flay's food being off while the televised commentary about Bayless's entrees was almost uniformly positive. The winner had clearly been predetermined. Seeing the scores from each judge would make it clear exactly how it was fixed.

I will continue to watch the show, but I think it has a long way to go before it achieves the goofy weirdness that makes the original Iron Chef such a treat.

Note:I've had this story in the hopper for a couple of days, but coincidentally Adam over at The Amateur Gourmet also posts his review of the show today. He liked it better than I did, though I agree with his comments on Bayless's likeability.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:52 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
January 19, 2005
Big Fire, Big Cat

Hello, do you know me? I am a cat of great distinction and taste by the name Othello. You should know that I am both very busy and important.

It's rare that I post here because I have not yet been able to suss out the password to Barrett's account. He's walked away to work on some dish or another for Sunday's Is My Blog Burning? I don't mind telling you that he's sneaky, and that he keeps a can of compressed air at the desk that makes an awful noise and smells terrible. Usually I decline to remain in the area when he's at the computer and blowing that stuff around. We gourmands are awfully sensitive to smell, you know.

Well, as you can see from the photo, I enjoy relaxing after a nice bowl of kibble (or perhaps tuna tartare, or chicken tartare, or lizard tartare, or anything that's slow, small and not too toothy tartare) with a fine glass of wine. Naturally, I prefer blood colored reds. I usually prefer a Chateau LaTour or a Margaux or even a Haut Brion, but recently I've become enamored of Oregon Pinot Noirs.

Oregon? But isn't that the weak sister to California which is the weak sister to France? Certainly, these wines aren't as haut as the great vintage French Burgundies from the top estates, but I must point out that my staff has been lax in maximizing their earning potential, so we rarely get to sample even something so basic as a 1961 Mouton Rothschild. I've had to learn to make do.

Well, I found (or rather the big freak brought home) a 2002 vintage wine called Big Fire from Oregon's R. Stuart and Company. This pinot noir is unfiltered and made from grapes from several vineyards around McMinnville, Oregon.

Leaving the wine unfiltered means you will encounter some sediment, but the bold bright flavor is well worth it. I prefer wines with just a hint of tuna, but the plum, berry, and rasin notes with a cherry finish will make most people happy even without the fish.

The best part is that this wine is only $13.95 a bottle at Sam's in Chicago. You could certainly pair this wine with any big-flavor food. I've recently seen it work well with a rich mushroom risotto that Barrett is working on for the site. I personally would rather pair it with a mouse-room risotto, but hey, I don't have opposable thumbs.

I'm sure a case of the stuff will be showing up at our place soon. I don't care about the bottles, but I claim dibs on the box.

If you're foolish and decline to take wine advice from a cat, go take it from that chap over at Vinography. He liked it as well.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some important napping to do.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:17 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
January 18, 2005
Rent a Commercial Kitchen

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at producing a family recipe on a commercial level? Via the excellent Gaper's Block, which for my money is the best blog convering the City of Chicago, we learn about Kitchen Chicago.

Kitchen Chicago is, according to their site, "a fully equipped, commercially licensed, shared use kitchen, allowing you to build your business with lowered risk and minimized start-up costs." For $25/hour you can use any of their commercial grade equipment including a 20 quart mixer, proofer, 10 burner gas range, and meat slicer. There's even a small storefront where products from the users of the kitchen will be marketed to the general public at the Francisco stop on the Brown Line.

The hope is that not only will Kitchen Chicago act as a food business incubator, but as a place for party prep, and event cookery.

It's a great idea, and you can bet I'll be checking it out in person.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:32 AM | Comments (1421) | TrackBack
Scallop Chowder

Scallops are often pricy, but bay scallops right now are a bargain. I got a pound of the critters without shells for just under four dollars. At that price, I'm making chowder out of them.

The most important thing about a seafood chowder is the bacon. What you look for from the bacon is both the exuded fat and the smoky salty flavor of the bacon itself. Without it, the chowder lacks depth and body. With it - divinity.

This is a problem for a fish eating vegetarian type like me, but I've found a good solution using fake bacon made from tempeh. Sauteeing the bacon in olive oil provides the fat, the smoke, and the salt you would ordinarily get from a hunk of pig bacon. You can use real bacon if you wish, but reduce the amount of oil called for by the amount of fat the bacon releases when sauteed.

It's classic to begin a soup like this with court bouillon, a mix of carrots, celery, and onions with herbs. I used parsnips instead of the carrots you usually find in a court bouillon to mix the flavors up a little. Oh all right, I had parsnips already and no carrots in the house, and it was cold enough outside in Chicago today that I wasn't going back outside to the store for anything.

You'll get soup for four and plenty of leftovers with this recipe. One caution - my wife had one bowl of this chowder and despite wanting more, was full. I toughed it out and had seconds.

Scallop Chowder
1 lb. bay scallops (the little ones - about 40/lb)
2 parsnips, peeled, cut to 1/4" dice
1 onion, cut to 1/4" dice
3 celery stalks cut to 1/4" dice
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled, cut to 1-2" chunks
3 strips fake bacon (preferably tempeh), cut to small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4 oz. (small) can of corn - drained

2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups skim milk
1 cup cream
salt and pepper (preferably white pepper)

When you peel and cut the parsnips and potatoes, have a bowl of water with a little vinegar or lemon juice in it to keep the peeled vegetables from turning brown.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sautee the bacon in the olive oil until the smell wafts up from the pot. Add the parsnips, celery, onions, and garlic and mix well, coating with oil and mixing in bacon. Add a big pinch of kosher salt and sautee for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Add flour and stir until flour is absorbed.

Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan as you mix it in with a wooden spoon. Add stock and potatoes and simmer.

Dissolve cornstarch in the cup of cold water. Make sure the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved then add to the soup and stir in.

In a separate pan, scald the milk and add it to the soup. Simmer soup until the potatoes are suitably soft, about 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Careful with the white pepper - you'll need less of it than you would of black pepper.

Add the scallops, cream, and corn and simmer for another 5-7 minutes until the scallops are cooked - their flesh will become more opaque. You can add more corn if you'd like.

Serve with oyster crackers and a nice slightly sweet white wine like a French Columbard. Finish with a dish of butter pecan ice cream. Then go to the gym and run ten miles...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:21 AM | TrackBack
January 17, 2005
Velouté de choux de Bruxelles

VELOUTE.JPGDoesn't velouté sound classy? (Doesn't everything sound classier in French?) When you are cooking with something as mundane as brussel sprouts, it's a good idea to make an effort in the name of your dish, as well as its presentation. Their strong cabbage flavor turns off a lot of people, including my Critic. But I had a bag of them in the bottom of my vegetable bin, and after reading about good things to do with sprouts in on the Edible Tulip site decided to try to use them up.

My challenge in this case was to find a way to cook the sprouts in such a way that my dear partner would actually help me eat some of them. That is no easy feat 364 days of the year: he insists on serving them on Christmas so that he can ceremoniously eat one or two, but otherwise hates them.

And so I plumped for soup. Already, it would mean that the little dears didn't look like themselves. I decided the turkey broth I made at Thanksgiving (and froze) would stand up well to the strong cabbage flavor. And for garnish, I fell back on my favorite accompaniments to brussel sprouts, which I hit on some years ago to make them more palatable on Christmas day: bacon, wine and toasted pine nuts.

Actually, I didn't have any bacon and needed to use up some Parma ham and smoked duck, left over from Saturday night's pierrade. But the principle is the same; smoked meats go well with cabbage flavor. (For more information about what a pierrade is, see this post.)

Velouté de choux de Bruxelles

2 cups of brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
2 cups of strong turkey broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup milk
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

For the garnish:
Parma ham or smoked duck or bacon, in any case fried until crispy and crumbled
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Add the sprouts to the broth and the wine and bring to a boil. Lower to simmer and cook until the sprouts are tender, about half an hour. Use a hand blender or a food processor to liquidize the mixture. (It came out rather thick and velvety, which was the inspiration for my French name.) Add the spices and taste for salt and pepper. Then add the lemon juice and milk and bring back to a simmering heat. Leave to simmer for half an hour or so, to allow the flavors to mingle. In the meantime, prepare the fried ham, duck or bacon and the toasted pine nuts.

Serve in a small, elegant bowl or - barring that - a pretty teacup. Add the garnish just before serving so that it remains crispy, a nice contrast to the velvety texture of the soup.

Note: I used lemon juice and milk mainly because I didn't have any crème fraîche in the house. You could substitute crème fraîche or a combination of sour cream and milk for the milk and lemon juice. A slight sour edge cuts through the cabbage flavor and makes the soup a little lighter and fresher in taste.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:24 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 15, 2005
Cauliflower au gratin

cauliflower.jpgIt's kind of a dead season at the moment if you are trying to keep to locally produced seasonal vegetables. As a result, when I saw a nice head of cauliflower yesterday at the store I decided to bring it home and see what I could make of it. It's not my favorite vegetable, but one of my resolutions for 2005 was to stop buying exotic and out of season produce. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized that to some people there is no such thing as "a nice head of cauliflower". More imortantly, I hadn't realized this group of people includes my beloved spouse. It looks like I'm going to be eating a lot of cauliflower in the next few days. It's me or my worms, anyway. (Let me hasten to clarify that the worms in question are in a wormery on my balcony, not myself!)

The weather here in Paris has recently turned colder, so I opted to use half of the head in an old classic: cauliflower au gratin. The bottom drawer of our fridge conveniently contained a couple of cheese ends needing to be used up, and the heat would be welcome in our cold flat. Also, the mix of cabbage or cauliflower flavors with sharp cheese is a marriage made in heaven. I toyed for a bit with the idea of using blue cheese, but since I haven't had cauliflower in a long time opted for the more classic combination of cheddar cheese, with a bit of French comté.

Oddly enough, none of my many cookbooks contained an acceptable recipe for the cauliflower. The vegetarian cookbooks all suggested curries, which are interesting in their own way but I prefer them as part of an Indian-themed dinner. The Fannie Farmer (my old standard) had a recipe for creamed cauliflower that looked bland and cauliflower gratin that looked dry.

So I combined the two Fannie Farmer recipes to make something more satisfying, creamy and flavorfull.

Cauliflower au gratin

1/2 a head of cauliflower, cut in slices one inch (1.25 cm) thick
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 cup comté, grated
1/2 a nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs bread crumbs

cooked cauliflower.jpgMelt the butter until frothy in a small sauce pan. Add the flour and stir until it turns nut brown. Slowly add the milk, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Gradually add the cheeses, then the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning.

Arrange the slices of cauliflower in a small baking pan. Drizzle some of the cheese mixture over each layer as you go, making sure you reserve enough to completely cover the last layer. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and bake in a hot oven (200C/375F) for 45 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the top has browned nicely.

Serve as a side dish, especially with a nice steak au poivre and maybe a salad.

Oh, and before you purchase the cauliflower, you might want to question your nearest and dearest about their taste for the vegetable: it appears there is no middle ground on this one, you either like it or you really, really hate it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:00 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack
January 14, 2005
Chipotle Guacamole

Avocados appear at strange times during the winter. Just a few weeks ago I couldn't find one that wasn't rock hard and cost less than $2 apiece. This last week, I found a batch of great Haas avocados at a small grocery store on Clark south of Fullerton for $1.49/apiece. Peppers, however, have followed the opposite tack. A few weeks ago, there were beautiful poblanos and jalapenos everywhere but this week none of my usual grocery stores had a fresh poblano or jalapeno.

To make use of my avocados, I'd decided to make guacamole, but without a hot pepper, guacamole just doesn't have the bite I look for in the dish. The canned goods aisle of our local supermarket had giardeneria and sport peppers, but no preserved poblanos. I did, however, come across a possible alternative to the poblanos I wanted - chipotle peppers. Chipotle peppers are dried and smoked jalapenos, and like the ones I purchased, are often packed in a vinegary, tomato and pepper based adobo sauce.

What follows here is a recipe for a guacamole with a chipotle/adobo kick. My wife didn't like the smoky flavor of the chipotle peppers in the guacamole, but I loved it. The biggest problem for me was trying to balance my attraction to the adobo/chipotle flavor with my aversion to the pain from the hotness of the peppers. Give it a try and if you don't like this recipe there's probably a neighbor who'll take it off your hands and love it.

Chipotle Guacamole
5 avocados
2 small ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 tablespoons lime juice
big pinch of salt
5 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Halve the avocados, remove and discard all but one of the pits. Score the inside of each half into squares. Remove the flesh from the avocados with a spoon and place in a bowl. Mash with a fork, and put one of the avocado pits in the bowl to help keep the avocado from turning brown.

Remove the peppers from the adobo sauce, leaving a little on each pepper and dice the peppers, seeds and all.

Add peppers, tomato, onion, salt, lime to avocado and mix. Taste for seasoning and adjust. If you like it hot and smoky, you may want to add more peppers. The spicy adobo sauce makes a nice change from regular guacamoles.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 13, 2005
Smoked Eel Salad

Tasty eelsWith the start of the new year, I've been contemplating some food resolutions. Most of them involve firming up some practices I already try to keep: cleaning the kitchen more often, buying only produce that is in season and grown locally, feeding the worms more often instead of just throwing away vegetable waste (I'm very lazy about taking compost out to the worms in cold weather).

My only new exciting resolution is this: to try at least one new food experience each week. I started this week with the item pictured here, smoked eels.

I have tasted eels before, but I've never cooked them and I have never tried them smoked. As one does in these modern times, I first consulted the web. And, as sometimes happens, it was absoultely no help. Google yielded a few places where one can buy smoked eels, but nothing on using them in cooking. Epicurious didn't have recipes either. So I decided to wing it.

eel salad.jpgI decided it would be a reasonable assumption that they would work in the same kinds of dishes as other smoked things, such as salmon and bacon. And since I wasn't too sure of how tasty/fatty/weird the dish would turn out I opted for an evening when the Critic was at a business dinner. It is one thing to embark on food adventures one's self; it is another thing altogether to take your spouse hostage on the trip.

And you know what? It worked really well!

So below is my take on...

Smoked Eel Salad (serves one adventuresome soul)

100 grams smoked eel
2 large handfuls of lettuce
2 small potatoes
6 cherry tomatoes
1 small shallot, chopped finely
a few small pickles (gherkins)

For the sauce:
1/4 cup capers
1 small clove of garlic
1 tsp grain mustard
1 heaping Tbs crème fraîche
1 Tbs mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 a lemon
freshly ground pepper
2 small pickles (gherkins)

Cut the potatoes in small cubes and set to boil. In the meantime, put all the sauce ingredients in a food processor or the cup attchment for your handblender and whizz until smooth. Taste and adjust with pepper and lemon juice to taste. Clean the salad and tomatoes and spread them on a plate.

I wasn't sure whether smoked eel needed to be cooked (some smoked things do not!) but when I opened the package it looked...raw. I put a bare teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a frying pan and heated it before adding the eel. Next time, I'll skip the olive oil entirely as it turns out that eels are extremely oily and although much more tender than bacon cook in a similar way. They give up an enormous amount of grease and have a tendency to curl in an endearing way. Also, I started out thinking 100 grams would be twice as much as I would need and in fact it was just right for one salad.

Drain the eels well on paper towels. Drain the potatoes (providing they are done!) and then scatter the eel pieces and potatoes over the salad. Sprinkle with the shallot and drizzle with the sauce. Garnish with the pickles.

The eels were extremely tender with the texture of a delicate fish, such as sole. The flavour was, well, smoky and fishy. The smokiness was superb with the bland warm potatoes as a foil and the sharp shallots added a tang. The caper sauce was superb with everything. I was afraid that - as sometimes happens in salads - the lettuce would end up being just a platform for the other ingredients to rest upon. I was wrong, though: it tasted great with the sauce and became an integral part of the whole. All in all, it was a very good start to the new tradition!

Anyone with suggestions for other new experiences to try, please feel free to let me know in the comments. Alternatively, if you have any other interesting ideas for smoked eels, let me know that as well!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:34 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
January 12, 2005
Food news

I had to give up on summarizing the food sections of the world's papers each week because it was just too time-consuming, but there are a few stories in the news this last week that deserve your attention:

In Berlin, a restaurant has opened for Bulimics and Anorexics. I can't decide if this is a good thing or not. If the restaurant is used as a way to get these people eating and tasting foods again, that's great. I'm concerned that it may be just another step in the normalization of self-destructive behavior and a cheap way to get publicity and justify high prices for tiny portions (yes, I'm being cynical; no, I'm not being sarcastic).

A lot of to-do has been made this week about Vores Øl - "Our Beer", a new Open Source beer. The beer is "open source" because the recipe is publicly available, much the way open source software is publicly available. You are encouraged to use the recipe but if you make modifications to it or make and sell the beer with the recipe, you must include a copy of the recipe you used and a similar license. Except for the redistribution restrictions this is awfully similar to Googling for beer recipes and coming up with something like The Cat's Meow. Marketing is everything, I guess.

The best piece of news this week is that olive oil may be the key to why the Mediterranean diet is so good for you. A study at Nortwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine indicates the oleic acid in olive oil blocks the cancer-causing action of an oncogene found in many breast cancer sufferers. Canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, soy products, certain peanut breeds and some other foods also contain high concentrations of oleic acid. More studies will be needed to confirm the cancer-fighting powers of oleic acid, but the preliminary indications are encouraging.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 11, 2005
Salmon steaks on a bed of braised fennel

salmon and fennel.jpgI am a relative newcome to the Fennel Fan Club. This is not a vegetable that was common in our family and for a long time I avoided it: from the smell and look it seemed to combine the flavours and texture of celery and black jelly bean, not a happy combination. As I've grown older and wiser, I've come to realize that anise is a lovely flavour and I was happily surprised one day to discover that raw fennel, thinly sliced, is a delicious and refreshing nibble with a glass of wine before dinner.

I still had some doubts about the wisdom of cooking fennel, though: that lingering impression of celery was hard to banish. (In case you can't tell, I can think of few things more disgusting than soggy cooked celery...) But I made some braised leeks the other day and the Critic against his better judgement tried it and liked it....so I decided to sacrifice a head of fennel to the Gods of Experimentation and try braising it.

Don't I make this sound like a trip to the arctic? I really should be more adventuresome in my cooking if just braising a new vegetable can put me in such a spin. Bear with me, though: it was a very good experiment.

There are a lot of recipes out there marrying fennel in its various forms (fresh, cooked, seeds, chopped fresh fronds) with salmon in ITS various forms (fresh, smoked, raw and cooked). I didn't see this one anywhere so I'm going to claim it as my own. It was delightful and so I'm rather proud of it. The fennel complimented the salmon very well, neither flavour outclassing the other. And the juices from the braising were the basis for a delicious creamy fennel sauce.

Salmon Steaks on Braised Fennel

2 salmon steaks
1 bulb of fennel
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup marsala wine
1/3 cup crème fraîche
salt and pepper

Slice the fennel in pieces just under a centimeter (half an inch) in width. Melt the butter in a frying pan and when it starts to froth add the fennel. Turn up the heat a little as you initially want to brown the fennel slightly, even if it means slightly browned butter. Turn them over and brown the other side. Add the wine, scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, turn down the heat and cover. You'll want to cook the fennel until it is tender but not soggy. I was relieved to find that the texture was not at all stringy and almost but not quite completely unlike braised celery. WHEW!

As the fennel will need to simmer for a while, you can start preparing any other vegetables you are serving (in my case, carrots) and then prepare the salmon steaks. Rinse them off and cook them in a little olive oil or butter. Or you could bake them. How you cook them isn't too important, as they will be getting their flavour from the fennel sauce. You might want to salt and pepper them a little, though, and maybe add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Once the salmon and the fennel are done, place each steak on a bed of braised fennel and place the plates in a warm oven for a few minutes. Add the crème fraîche to the fennel pan and stir well with the braising juices. If the marsala has completely cooked away, you might want to slosh in another little bit. Cook down until slightly thickened and taste for salt and pepper. Pour over the salmon steaks and serve!

The interesting thing about this recipe to me is the sauce. I love braised belgian endives, but have always found it frustrating that the delicous liquor left in the pan doesn't get absorbed by the endives. I lap up every precious drop of the liquid after eating the endives, but have always felt that there must be a better way to use it. With the braised fennel, I have found that use! The sauce didn't taste all that impressive on its own to me, but once it was poured over the salmon and the fennel pieces it came into its own: savoury and refreshing and a perfect compliment to each.

So it may not have been as brave as a trip to the arctic but it certainly was a success. Even the Critic (who feels as I do about the idea of braised celery) thought it was delicious and ate all his vegetables. Isn't he a good boy?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
January 10, 2005

Tomorrow could be a very interesting day here at Too Many Chefs. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Well, now you've seen our new and improved look! How do you like it?

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Many thanks to Julie at BlogMoxie for her great design!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:40 PM | Comments (16)
D.C. Restaurant Week

Over 115 Restaurants are participating in this year's Restaurant Week in Washington D.C. from today, January 10th through January 16th. Three course prix fixe meals at over 110 different fine restaurants in the D.C. area are pegged at either $20.05 for lunch or $30.05 for dinner.

From Andale to Zola, great food is available this week at a very affordable price.

The event is sponsored by the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corporation and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. A complete list of participating restaurants can be found on the Washington.org website.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:35 PM | TrackBack
Zucchini and Summer Squash Polenta Cake

I'm not sure what to call this dish. Many months ago, Clotide at Chocolate & Zucchini created a Zucchini Polenta Tart that I made and quite enjoyed.

I began to think of ways to work the idea of the polenta disc into other dishes. During Christmas, we had a hunt for Southern style self-rising cornmeal that ended up with us getting two round boxes of Quaker cornmeal, one white, one yellow. Now, anyone who has seen Alton Brown's Good Eats episode on cornmeal knows that polenta and grits and cornmeal are kissing cousins if not identical twins. I convinced myself that I had in my pantry the makings of a culinary delight.

Armed with this knowledge, I set out to make a polenta based two layer cake with zucchini and summer squash. I made this as a soft polenta cake, but I've provided theory for how to make a crispy version of this dish as well. Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Zucchini and Summer Squash Polenta Cake
2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups water or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed
2 pounds summer squash, ends trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
salt, pepper

3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 cup shredded mozarella

2 9 inch cake pans, greased and lined with parchment
1 baking sheet, big enough to handle 9" cake covered with aluminum foil

Prep your cake pans and baking sheet as noted above. Trim excess parchment off cake pans.

Using a mandoline or super-human skill, slice all the zucchini and summer squash exceedingly thin.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large saucepan, boil 6 cups water/stock. Add salt and oil to water/stock and stir vigorously. Reduce heat to medium. Add two cups cornmeal and 2 teapsoons dried basil and half teaspoon of black pepper to the water/stock and stir constantly. The cornmeal thickens up quickly but requires stirring to avoid lumps. Crush lumps as you find them.

After five minutes, pour half the polenta/mush into each cake pan. Spread evenly with a spatula and level out as much as possible. Put cake pans in oven and bake 15-20 minutes until top of polenta take on a golden color.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the garlic. Heat oil with garlic in it for three minutes until garlic scent develops. Add the zucchini and toss with garlic and oil over medium heat. Add tablespoon of red wine vinegar and toss again. Cover and let sautee/steam for five minutes until zucchini is wilted and fairly soft. Taste and add salt/pepper to suit. Remove and set aside in a colander to let the zucchini drain.

Heat two tablespoon of oil in skillet. Add the summer squash and toss with oil. Add tablespoon of soy sauce, tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. Toss with summer squash and cover. Let steam/sautee for ten minutes until soft. Taste and add salt/pepper to suit. Remove and set aside in a colander to let the squash drain.

Once the cakes have gone golden brown, remove from oven. Cake should feel springly but firm. If not firm, return to oven and bake longer. Once firm and springy let cakes cool for ten minutes.

Invert cake pan and transfer first polenta cake to baking sheet upside down. You may need to put your hand on the cake to keep it from splattering out. Ease the cake onto the baking sheet.

Mix the zucchini in a bowl with 1/2 cup parmesan and 1/4 cup mozarella. Spread mix over first cake. Invert the second cake pan and ease the second cake on top of the first one.

Mix the summer squash in a bowl with 1/4 cup parmesan and 1/2 cup mozarella. Spread mix over the top of the cake and top with last 1/4 cup mozarella.

Raise heat in oven to 425 F. Bake cake for five minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 and bake 10 minutes more. Top of the cake should be golden brown.

Remove cake from oven. Slide aluminum foil and cake onto a cutting board or other flat surface. It's important to get the cake off the sheet pan which retains heat from the oven. Let the cake cool 20 minutes before slicing.

If you want to watch the magic of solidification, take a slice out early. The first slice will probably be more like pudding than cake. After twenty-thirty minutes, you should be able to get a nice cohesive slice out. Cut into 12 slices.

This cake is filling so you won't need much more than a single slice and a small salad to satisfy you.

If you'd like to try the crispy version, halve the water and polenta so you end up with thinner disks of polenta which should get crispier in the oven. Send us a picture if you try it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:37 AM | TrackBack
January 7, 2005
King for a day

FEVEThe fete des rois is one of those charming traditions that make France such a lovely place to live. Is it just coincidence that most of these traditions have evolved (or is it devolved?) to the point where they are just culinary traditions? In this case, the festival is marked with a sweet almond cake, a hidden "bean" and a crown for the day for the lucky person to find the bean. According to legend, the origin of this festival dates back to Roman times, when the king of the January Saturnalia festival was elected by means of a bean hidden in a loaf of sweet bread. Another story has medieval peasants baking a cake for their local "kings" in January to accompany the payment of annual tithes. Yet another medieval story links the cake-with-a-bean tradition to monks using it to elect the head of the monastary for the year. Moving into the realm of relative certainty, we know that by the time of the French revolution the tradition was associated with kings and the coming of the three Magi because it was temporarily renamed the fête de l'Egalité! And today, the cake is again firmly linked with the 6th of January, or Epiphany.

There are quite a few rituals that have grown around this Epiphany cake. Since the 1960s, the bean - originally a real dried bean - has developped into a small ceramic figurine. These can take any form, from a king or saint to a popular cartoon figure, but are still called fèves (beans). They are now highly collectible and you can find them in flea markets and junk shops. Another tradition is that of setting aside pieces for absent friends or missing sailors; if the cake remains whole and free of mold the prognosis is good for a safe return of loved ones.

Another tradition has the smallest child hide under a table (i.e. out of sight of the cake) and designate who should receive each piece as it is cut: this is to ensure fairness in the lottery of who will receive the piece with the bean! The child is also sometimes asked to name which piece will be saved for the first stranger to visit the house - an act of generosity and kindness for the new year. And lastly, of course, there is the fact that the person who finds a bean in his or her piece of cake has to wear a silly paper crown and supply the cake for next year!

All in all, it's a silly, sweet and satisfying tradition. There are several versions of the cake, depending on which region of France you are in, but the most universal (and probably most recent innovation) is a simple concoction of pâte feuilleté with a soft frangipan center. Flaky, golden and full of almond sweetness it's a satisfying delicious bite. It's hard to avoid in January: you'll find them showing up at work for an informal tea break, or after dinner at any and every dinner party.

I have never made one myself, because they are so easy to find in every bakery in France. (All you have to do is walk through the door to be seduced by the sweet almond scent and end up buying a big gateau...) However, if you are interested in making your own cake and can get by in French, you could follow the recipe on our friend Pascale's site C'est moi qui l'ai fait! I was going to give it a try this year, but yesterday was a busy day for me and my little bean and so I bought the last one available in our local bakery. It was delicious and the bean was a deliciously appropriate one: the Critic found a little figure with the word "papa" inscribed on it in his piece of cake. I kid you not: how appropriate was that for a man who has just become papa to a new son?!?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:42 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Jersusalem Artichoke Soup

One could remark of the Jerusalem Artichoke's name something similar to Voltaire's take on the "Holy Roman Empire" which, he argued was "Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire." The Jerusalem Artichoke is most certainly not an artichoke and is not from Jerusalem.

So how did this unassuming tuber from the sunflower family get its name? This page gives us a history of the North American native root. Explorer Samuel de Champlain, for whom Lake Champlain is named, likened the taste of the root to the taste of an artichoke. If you ask me, Samuel de Champlain had been away from artichokes for a LONG time when he made this observation. The "Jerusalem" part comes from a corruption of the French word for "turning to the sun" - "girasole".

These nutty roots are also known as sunchokes, though I'm not sure the word "choke" is all that appetizing as part of the name of a perfectly serviceable foodstuff. Another name I've seen is Iroquois Potato, but that seems to be falling out of favor.

I'm a big fan of the flavor of Jerusalem artichokes. Their texture is crisp and moist like a water chestnut or jicams, and the flavor is like a slightly nutty potato. I've used them in gratins before and when I came across a recipe for a soup based on sunchokes, I jumped at it.

The only problem is that sunchokes are hard to find this time of year. I visited or called eight separate grocery stores before I finally found one (a big Whole Foods on North Avenue in Chicago) that had them in stock.

Peeling these little roots is time consuming, but otherwise, this is a quick soup that delivers with a pleasant elegant flavor.

If you've never had Jerusalem Artichokes before, go slow on sampling the vegetable raw. Some people react poorly to the inulin in these vegetables, and if you don't eat salsify or sunchokes much you may need to slowly adjust to this form of starch. Reactions vary, but gassiness and rumbling are not unknown. Cooking helps to eliminate some of these negative effects.

Sunchokes are loaded with iron, potassium, niacin, and thiamine, and are reputed to promote healthy mineral absorbtion, cardiovascular health and proper fat and sugar digestion. Personally, I eat them because I think they're delicious.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

2 lbs. Jerusalem artichokes, peeled or scrubbed very well
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

5 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups milk
salt, pepper

Chop the Jerusalem Artichokes roughly, into about 1/2" pieces.

Heat olive oil in a stock pot. Over medium heat, sautee onions, garlic, and celery for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Jerusalem artichokes and continue for 5 more minutes, still stirring occasionally.

Add the stock and taste for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Bring the stock up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes or until Jerusalem artichokes are very soft.

Blend the soup either with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Stir and taste. Adjust salt and pepper.

Add milk, stir, and heat through until warm again.

Serve with two slices of toasted gruyere-topped baguette floating in each bowl.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 6, 2005
You like us! You really really like us!

We're humbled and very pleased to announce that the voters have spoken and this little blog of ours has won a Food Blog Award (an "Eatie"?) for Best Group Blog. The competition was very tough, and our fellow nominees are some of the blogs we read regularly.

Thanks to everyone who voted and a special thanks to Kate at the Accidental Hedonist for organizing these awards.

We'll have a complete wrap-up of the winners and the awards once all of them are announced.

We'd like to thank our families, our critics, the ladies at the supermarket who are so nice when we check out food, the guy down the street who said he might think about looking at the site, the milkman, the academy and all those lovely little people out there...we love you!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:37 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Last of the Summer Tomatoes

nov toms.jpgI picked the last of the "summer" tomatoes some time in November, and as you can see in this photo a number of them were still green. Optimistically, I placed the bowl in a window, prayed for sun and soon was taken up with other, more pressing matters. Over a month later, as I was casting about for something to make for dinner I realized I was reaching a now-or-never point with the summer tomatoes. And so imagine my surprise when I found that nearly all of them were still in good condition and ready for use in early January. Amazing!

To use these lingering reminders of sunny days on the terrace, I turned to one of our favourite pasta sauces: Amatriciana. The Critic discovered this delicious sauce at the little Italian restaurant around the corner from our old apartment; he loves it because it's spicy and full of flavour. I love it because I can often make it up with things I happen to have in the kitchen and so it often saves me a trip to the store. Oh, and I think it's pretty tasty too!

Amatriciana refers to the town of Amatrice, where a public feast in August features this great sauce. Traditionally, it's served over bucatini (thick hollow spgahetti) but in our local Italian it always came with penne. For myself, I serve it on anything that seems likely to hold the sauce well, for example rigatoni or penne.

This recipe is based almost entirely on my own experience with the sauce in restaurants. When I was given Marcella Hazan's cookbook Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking this was one of the first recipes I looked up. I was extremely happy to find she had included a recipe, but I quickly decided that it was missing at least one essential ingredient: fresh sage. Oh and garlic. (Can you imagine an Italian recipe without garlic? I find it difficult.)

So this is my recipe, based on the sauce made by the restaurant Giallo Rosso in the 16th arrondisement of Paris:

Sauce all'Amatriciana

5-7 shallots, sliced lengthwise in strips
6 strips of British or Canadian bacon (I know you are supposed to use pancetta, but honestly this works well too!)
2 fat cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups of chopped tomatoes
olive oil
1 Tbs dried sage
1/2 to 1 Tbs dried pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
1 tsp fresh or frozen thyme


Sauté the shallots in a little oil. While they are softening, slice the bacon in thin short strips. Add them to the onions, along with the garlic. Once the bacon is cooked through, drain the mix of its grease. Add the tomatoes and spices and cook for half an hour or so, long enough to cook down the tomatoes. Taste for spices and seasoning. In the meantime, put on the pasta to boil. Toss the pasta with the sauce as soon as it is done and serve with freshly grated pasta. MMMM....

And if you are in Paris and would rather try the original sauce that hooked us, the chef from Giallo Rosso (who is superb) has since moved to another location and still serves the delicious Penne all'Amatriciana at:

Giallo Oro
2, rue de Sontay
75016 Paris
Tel.: 01 40 67 18 68

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
IMBB #11 Announced - Beans

"It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." - Rick (as played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca)

Well this crazy world of food writing is going to just get crazier as we make beans for Is My Blog Burning #11, hosted at My Little Kitchen.

Legumes only please, so no jelly beans, coffee beans, human beans, or Bean Martins. I'm sure bean puns will be pulsing on the 23rd, giving the whole community a blackeye. So hop in your Pinto, head to the Great Northern wilderness, or join the Navy in Boston while baked and come up with a tasty treat that will dal-lite the masses. Chana dig it?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
January 5, 2005
Spicy Peanut Soup

If you eat soup a lot, it's good to have something unusual to pull out every once in a while. This is the new special guest on the Mannix of my cooking life.

This soup is spicy and nutty. The recipe is a mix of Ghanan groundnut and a Jamaican spicy soup. The first thing this soup says to you is "Hey howdy!" with the red pepper and cayenne and then you'll settle in for a nice long civilized conversation with the peanuts and vegetables.

I'd drink milk or beer with this soup. Milk will help keep the hot under control and as a bonus, it makes the proteins in the peanut butter more easily available to your body to absorb.

Spicy Peanut Soup
1 large onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

3 diced celery stalks
2 diced carrots
2 diced medium starchy potatoes
2 red Thai chile peppers - the long thin ones
5 cups vegetable stock

8 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
12 oz corn kernels, fresh, canned or frozen
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup crushed salted roasted peanuts

Smaller dices are better for this soup. 1/4" or less is ideal for all vegetables.

Remove the seeds and membranes from the hot peppers. Chop finely.

Heat the oil in a large stock pot. Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the cayenne, stir and sautee 1 minute longer.

Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, and chopped chili pepper. Stir and sautee four minutes more then add the stock. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

Add the peanut butter and corn and stir until the peanut butter is dissolved. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Serve hot with crushed peanuts sprinkled on top.

The net heat from this soup is not as bad as you might think. The oil from the peanut butter helps to reduce the heat from the cayenne, red chili, and black pepper.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:53 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
January 4, 2005
Look Sharp!

Sometimes the best presents you get are the ones you buy yourself. Don't get me wrong - we received some great food-related stuff this Christmas, including a beautiful cookbook I received from my wife, a Wusthof chef's knife from my in-laws, a pizza stone/kit from my other in-laws, and some tasty treats and Guinness related items from my compatriot on this site, Meg. Most of these items they knew I wanted from remarks I'd made earlier in the year or because I put the item on my Amazon wishlist.

There was one item I didn't tell anyone I wanted, but that I went out and purchased for myself right after Christmas - an electric knife sharpener.

Now, I know a food geek like me should be able to use a stone to get a nice sharp edge on a blade, but frankly, I just don't have the knack. I can hone a blade just fine, but for sharpening, I need mechanical assistance.

There is a big difference between honing and sharpening. Sharpening a blade makes the edge of a blade a thinner wedge, better able to cut into and between surfaces. Now, a thin sharp blade means you've also got a weak edge to the blade, and after using a sharp blade for a while, the very thin edge will start to curl and make a J shape. Honing (which is what you see chefs do when they slide the blade along a steel) turns the J into a straight sharp line again- |.

The sharpening process with this machine is three step, with the first step being done only once per knife That's good because that step is the most nerve wracking. I started with a supermarket knife we'd purchased for maybe $8. The diamond grinder soon turned it into a razor sharp instument of dicing.

First you take the current edge off the knife. The slots that do this come with a plastic snap in protector so you know what you're doing when you use these slots. The blade is inserted in these slots and a grinding noise alerts you to the fact that your knife now has no edge to speak of.

Once the edge is taken off, the blade is drawn through the sharpening slots. A magnet holds the blade at the right angle, but you do have to apply some forward resistane while drawing the blade back to keep the knife going through slowly. If you hold it too loosely, the knife will be pushed through the sharpener very quickly, and will not be sharpened.

The third step is a honing step, very like the sharpening step, except that the blade is drawn through quickly in this step.

The result is a scary sharp knife. My wife was somewhat frightened by just how sharp all our knives were when I was done. I cut myself almost immediately while chopping because I wasn't respectful enough of the knife.

If you use one of these machines, I advise that you have a spare onion or two around to waste so you can see the "before" and "after" of the edge on your knives. Slicing a bit will also help to get the steel dust off the blade. Of course a quick wash after sharpening is in order

The Chef's Choice 110 sharpener was something like $80 at Bed Bath and Beyond, but I used a 20% off coupon after the fact and got $16 back. I won't use this often, but the pleasure of working with sharp knives makes it well worth the investment. If you don't want to spend that much on a unit yourself, see if you can get some friends to chip in and have a knife sharpening party.

I don't think I'd serve drinks.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:37 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
January 3, 2005
It's a GREAT New Year, Gosh Darn it! (Pass the grapefruit)

Yes, people are not so happy about going back to work after a holiday break,. but there's something I like about the first couple of weeks of the new year - resolutions.

Not my resolutions, because I don't really make any. Other people's resolutions make me happy. You'll notice this week that everyone you know is on their best behavior. Cranks are trying to be less cranky. Turtle-types are trying to be more sociable, and everyone is more punctual in the new year.

The most popular resolution is to lose some weight. Like most of the other resolutions, this one will go by the wayside (weigh-side?) by February when the weather is cold and nasty and the assorted failures of resolve help make everyone crankier than during any month of the year. For now, however, the lines at McDonald's will be shorter, the lines at the MacKelly's and Salad Spinners longer, and I'll have to wait a half-hour to get a treadmill at the gym tonight.

Diets are nothing new. In fact according to this Arizona Central article, diets have been around since at least 1087 when William the Conqueror tried the since disproven "drink yourself stupid" diet. You'll notice the first big documented low-carb craze was all the way back in the 60's - the 1860's.

The ultimate key to weight loss is mathematics. In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens wrote, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." The same is true of dieting. Daily intake 1500 calories, daily expenditure 2000 calories, result weight loss. Daily intake 2000 calories, daily expenditure 1500 calories, result twenty pounds.

It doesn't really matter how you do it as long as you get all the nutrients, protein, carbs, and fat (yes, fat is necessary) that you need. If you rely on tricks like eating twenty grapefruits a day or subsiting only on a big vat of cabbage soup or only on bacon and pork chops, you'll gain any weight back that you do lose. Why? Because these are unsustainable lifestyles (unless you REALLY dig cabbages, I suppose). Almost all diets are ultimately psychology to trick you into wanting to eat right and exercise. Do what works for you.

Here are some of the sites you might want to visit if you plan to drop some weight ahead of the laying-in-the-sun-with-a-fruity-drink season:

Everything Atkins - If you still want to try the bacon-breathing Atkins diet this is a good place to go for information.

South Beach Diet Online - The cardiologist inspired South Beach Diet has been gaining followers. It's a modified Atkins that eventually gets back to saner eating.

Weight Watchers - I was all set to say nice things about Weight Watchers like the fact that it is the only diet proven to take weight off and keep it off for a long period of time with no ill effects, but I was terribly disappointed to find that the site doesn't like FireFox. Bad diet gurus! Bad gurus! Still worth a look.

Personally, I'll be exercising more in preparation for an 8K race in April and eating much more soup. Studies show that soup fills you up faster than the individual components of the soup taken separately. A nice bonus is that there is nothing more pleasant on a cold January night than a hot bowl of homemade.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 2, 2005
Yet another use for leftover turkey

Are you tired of reading about leftover turkey? Imagine having to EAT all this leftover meat. Turkey sandwiches every day, stew, casserole, cold, hot...and I swear this is the last you'll hear of it for a while on this site: cream of turkey soup!

I didn't bother photographing this soup because, frankly, cream soups rarely make inspiring photographs. The soup, however, was inspired. Well, I thought so anyway and my Critic was extemely happy with it too: he had two bowls last night for dinner and another bowl at lunch today. Basically, I took some of the turkey stock and meat and added all the vegetables I thought would go well with cream. And then some cream. It was hot and soothing and extremely tasty. A sensuous feast.

Cream of Turkey Soup (4-6 bowls)

1 leek
3-4 potatoes (I used leftover roasted ones, but raw ones could be substituted)
2 small carrots
2/3 cup sweet corn
2/3 cup frozen peas
2 cups chopped turkey meat, mostly white meat
4-5 cups turkey broth
1/2 cup cream
a little butter, a little tarragon, a little salt and a little pepper

Clean and slice the leek and sweat in a little butter. Add half the turkey stock and the potatoes. As my potatoes were already cooked, I was able to blitz the soup with my hand-held blender; if they are raw, simmer until the potatoes are cooked and THEN blitz the mixture with a blender or food processor. Add the vegetables and tarragon and bring to a boil. When the carrots are tender, add the turkey meat. Bring back to a boil and then turn down the heat so that the soup simmers. Pour a spoonful of the hot soup into the cream, mix and then add the cream to the soup. (This should keep the soup from curdling.) Stir well and taste for salt and pepper. If you used home-made soup stock you may well find it needs a bit of salt. A good grinding of pepper will also add a little bite to the velvet creaminess.

Serve hot with bread and butter or buttered toast. Curl up in front of the TV like a cat and enjoy some real comfort food!

Note: I have now frozen the last of the turkey meat and turkey stock so we should all be spared any further uses for turkey for at least a little while. Whew!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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