April 29, 2005
Coconut Rice

"I'm addicted to this rice!"

These are the words of my wife Rebecca upon trying this dish for the first time. And I understand - I've tasted the rice.

Coconut is a polarizing food. For every person who hears the word "coconut" and thinks "Mmmmm", there is another who thinks "Yuck". There's also probably another person like me who thinks, "You put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up. You put the lime in the coconut and drink em both up...", but that's not helpful.

In this dish, plain long grain rice is cooked in coconut milk, absorbing the milk and the flavor. It seems like it should be a dessert dish, but it works well as a side to a tangy or spicy main course. I served it with a vegetarian version of a citrusy spicy Thai tom kha kai soup that I'll publish Monday, and it was well received. One guest even took to lightly dipping his rice in the soup to combine the flavors directly.

I make the coconut milk a little thicker with some shredded coconut and blend the mix together to not only integrate and further shred the dried coconut but to homogenize the coconut milk which separates into a coconut milk and coconut cream component in the can. You can omit the shredded coconut, but do stir or blend your coconut milk together to make it uniformly thick or you may end up with rice with less coconut flavor in the rice itself mixed with a coconut paste. That might be good, but it's not what we're shooting for here.

Coconut Rice

1 14 oz. can Coconut Milk - (note, do not use creamed coconut or coconut cream for this recipe. You want the thinner milk and not the thicker sweetened coconut cream that is better used for fruity drinks)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 big pinch kosher salt
optional - 1/2 cup shredded cocount
water or soy milk as needed

Homogenize your coconut milk in a blender by pouring it in and pureeing for about 15 seconds. If using the shredded coconut, add it before blending and blend for 20 seconds.

Pour the coconut milk into a medium pot over high heat and add 1/4 cup water or soy milk. Add the salt and stir. Bring the mix to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer and cover.

After about 10 minutes, test the rice. If it is still undercooked (and it should be at this stage), replace cover and continue cooking. If the rice is drying out when you check it, add a little soy milk or water and check again in a few minutes. Repeat as needed until the rice is tender. I had a tough time "breaking" my rice and eventually added some soy milk, stirred the pot, and brought it back up to a boil which did the trick in a minute or so.

You can use water to add liquid to the dish, but I found as I added water that the flavor of the coconut in the rice was diluted (duh). Soy milk has a similar flavor profile to coconut milk, and added back some of the flavor lost earlier. Of course you could use more homogenized coconut milk as well. Different rices cook differently, and I'd be leery of waterlogging the rice (or coconutmilk-logging the rice) so start with the amount of coconut milk listed here and add slowly.

If you end up with soupy rice, take the lid off the pot and try to cook off the excess moisture. If you add the liquid a small amount at a time (think a 1/4 cup at most), this shouldn't happen as rice can absorb a heck of a lot of liquid.

Serve on its own or as a side for a spicy dish. What to drink with this dish? It's obvious - "You put the lime in de coconut and shake it all up. You put de lime in de coconut and shake it all up. Doctor! Doctor!"

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
April 28, 2005
Libby's Mustard Chicken

Mustard chicken.jpgWhen I was at university my cooking was fairly limited. I didn't have much money and so I stuck to cheap basics like pasta and lentil soup. Brownies and cookies were also a common remedy for the munchies. In addition to these foods, there is one recipe that always brings back those exciting years.

Our second year, one of my best friends was dating an uptight girl named Libby and as far as I'm concerned (and I think Tom will agree) the best thing to come out of the relationship was the recipe for mustard chicken she gave me. It's quick and simple and looks elegant (though meat-with-sauce never really photographs well, so you'll have to trust me). And it's remarkably tasty. Over the years, I've added a few touches here and there but the basic recipe was delicious on its own. I just can never resist tinkering.

Libby's Mustard Chicken

2 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup (roughly) sharp mustard
1 Tbs tarragon
3-4 Tbs flour
optional: 1 chopped shallot, a handful of lardons or chopped pancetta, a little wine
a little butter
1/2 cup cream or crème fraîche

Put a little butter in a pan and heat until it froths. If you are including the chopped shallot and lardons, add them and quickly fry them. Remove and reserve. Keep the pan hot and slather mustard over each of the chicken breasts. Sprinkle them with tarragon and dredge them through the flour. Add more butter to the pan (if necessary) and place the breasts in the pan. Keep the heat fairly high and sear them on each side. You can then lower the heat and let them finish cooking. Depending on the thickness of your breasts this will take anywhere from five to ten minutes . When the breasts are cooked through, remove them to a warm plate and cover them while you make the sauce. If you have a little white wine you can turn up the heat and use it to deglaze the pan, picking up an brown bits that have stuck to the pan. If you don't (or are a poor university student and don't want to waste anything as precious as alcohol!) it works just fine using the cream to deglaze. Put the lardons and shallot mixture back in the pan (if you are using them) and let the sauce bubble until it has reduced and thickened a bit. Stir in a little more mustard and taste for salt and pepper. If you use lardons you are less likely to need salt and even without them it will depend on your mustard.

Pour a little sauce over each of the breasts just before serving. The breasts will have a nice mustardy crust which will be perfectly complimented by the creamy more subtle mustard sauce. At university I think we always made this with rice to absorb the sauce.

If there are any college students out there looking to impress a date, I can guarantee that this recipe will do the trick. It's not prohibitively expensive but the cream makes it seem really luxurious. You can skip the lardons and shallot and it will stand very well on its own. Searing the chicken in a crust of mustard and flour keeps it very tender and juicy. And it goes great with a cheap bottle of dry white wine!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 26, 2005
Pimping Ain't Easy

The Wall Street Journal is not an outlet you think of much for food news, but staff reporter Kelly Crow had a heck of a story on the 22nd about top chefs being paid to shill for food producers without necessarily revealing their compensation to the dining and viewing public.

Frontera's Rick Bayless was widely lambasted for doing a Burger King ad. How could such a well respected chef stoop so low? Personally, I think it had to do with tweaking the big Rock and Roll McDonald's just down the street from him, but that's just my opinion.

I didn't personally think his endorsement was a problem since it was clear he was just following the road taken by Paul Prudhomme et al, and no one really thought Rick Bayless was leaving his top shelf gourmet Mexican restaurant to go get himself a double Whopper with cheese. Bayless stated his goal was to "help Burger King customers “take steps toward honest, seasonal, natural flavors [by] starting with them where they are". Oh, and get paid. That, too.

He got paid, but the WSJ reports that Bayless was so pressured by the foodie community and media to renounce the Burger King spot that he gave the $300,000 he earned for the commercial to charity.

Many of the deals the WSJ reports are based on exposure not on TV or in commercials, but in the chefs' restaurants. Jose Andres, whose guacamole I enjoyed at Cafe Atlantico got paid to increase the number of avocado dishes on his menus from two to eight. Ming Tsai uses frozen shrimp instead of fresh shrimp in part because he gets paid to do so. Even Rick Tramanto and Charlie Trotter have promotional deals (though neither one, surprisingly, is employed by the Foie Gras Board).

Ironically, the most honestly ungrateful of the bunch is Bayless who has a deal with V&V Supremo for his PBS coooking show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time", but who refuses to use their cheeses in his restaurant. Perhaps tellingly, the Journal notes "Supremo executives did not return repeated interview requests."

Is it a problem that chefs are being bought (or at least rented)? I think it can be. As this practice becomes more widely known a chef who honestly believes that a specific branded ingredient is far and above the best of its kind and places the name of the ingredient on the menu is going to be suspect. Conversely, a chef who takes the money may be less willing to experiment with other ingredients until he/she gets paid. That may lead to less interesting and lower quality food and a diminishment of the quest for culinary excellence without regard for who's footing the bill.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 25, 2005
Fresh Pea Soup

pea soup.jpgThis dish is so simple that I hesitate to call it a recipe. But it was a delightful fresh spring soup, full of flavour and the promise of warm sunny days to come. All you need to do is the following: take a box of frozen peas (you could use fresh ones if you can find 500g of them) and put them in 6-8 cups or a little over a liter of light chicken or vegetable stock; add a handful of chopped mint leaves and simmer until the peas are tender; purée with an immersion blender or a other apparatus and serve with a drizzle of cream and a buttered piece of crusty bread.

You need the broth to add a slight depth to the flavour but not too strong as you don't want to overpower the delicate peas. The same is true with the mint: go easy as you can always add more later. I'm not sure which was better: the hot soup I served at dinner to help my spouse fight off a summer cold or the cold bowl I had for lunch the next day. Certainly after many years of experimenting with cold cucumber soup I have to say this is much more flavourful. When you want a cold summer soup but aren't in the mood for the fireworks of a gazpacho, this is the one. Cold, green, healthy and elegantly delicate!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Obligatory Dave Matthews Post

Anyone who's ever taken a cruise on one of those Chicago River tours was horrified when the story came out that one of the Dave Matthews band's busses dumped its septic tank while on the Kinzie Street Bridge. The horrifying part was that a tour boat was directly underneath the bridge at the time.

So why, oh why, did Ben and Jerry's use this name for the new Dave Matthews Band flavor?

The horror. The horror.

Link found at Chicagoist

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
April 23, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Once again it's that time of the week when we present you with three great posts out there in blogland. Barrett is busy moving apartments this weekend so he has handed me the baton again. Luckily he also gave me a couple of tips on how he finds such great gems...

A. First off is a relative new-comer, The Bacontarian, which has an interesting exploration of whether pancetta is or is not bacon. This is a subject which is dear to my heart because I'm stuck at the crossroads of culture where you can buy products labelled bacon that are thin slices of Canadian bacon, something like English bacon or stuff that is almost like American bacon but called poitrine fumée (except that it's usually too salty and sometimes too thick). Since bacon is the main food that guarantees my never belonging to the vegetarian club I guess you could say it's a subject that interests me.

I. Next up, I'd like to nominate a token English post, in honour of St. George's Day: Becks and Posh. Sam has a tribute to Friday night in SoHo which seemed appropriate to me. Curry: the national dish of England!

1. And lastly I've chosen EatChicago.net for the valiant attempt to save a good restaurant. They may have shamelessly stolen a good idea, but then that's in the spirit of the Posts of the Week, isn't it? And it's much better than stealing a bad idea. Good job and I wish I could help the cause by visiting Larsa's myself! (Barrett, over to you!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:51 PM | TrackBack
April 22, 2005
Fish Casserole - The One That Didn't Get Away

fish casserole.jpgI made a fish casserole. It smelled wonderful. It looked delicious. It was perfect. Until it fell on the floor. And so I had to make it again, to see if I was right about how good it would be. And it was very, very good, but not as good as I'm sure the original was. Isn't that always the way?

Actually, I seem to have chronic problems with making dishes for the second time. Barrett will remember the second time I tried to make Bearnaise sauce for eggs Benedict. The first time - despite how difficult all the books claimed it was - it turned out perfectly. The second time I went through several pounds of butter and gave up in the end with a split greasy sauce that my supportive roommates told me "tasted just as good" as a successful Bearnaise sauce. (They lied.)

So it was no surprise when the second edition of this casserole didn't turn out quite as well as the first. That said, it was still pretty tasty. It just couldn't live up to the perfection of the one that got away!

Fish, cream and ham: a perfect triumvirate. When I was growing up in the 70s I loved the creamed chipped beef my best friend Ginger's mother made for us on toast. And fish and cream of course make a silky luxurious pairing. The three together are sublime. Oh and then add some leek, yum.

This is a nice quick casserole dinner. I boiled the potatoes and leeks for a few minutes so that they would cook as quickly as the fish in the oven. While they were boiling, I was able to prepare the rest of the ingredients so not a minute was wasted.

Fish Casserole

400 g white fish, such as cod, cut in large cubes (next time I'm trying monkfish)
2 large potatoes
20cl cream
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 egg
75 g Canadian bacon or English bacon, fat removed
1 leek, washed and sliced in rings
1/2 cup comté or gruyère cheese, grated
grated nutmeg, pepper

Peel the potatoes and chop one in small cubes. Boil the potato cubes and sliced leek for ten minutes. Slice the remaining potato very thinly. Mix the cream and the egg until smooth. Drain the potatoes and leek rings and add to the cream, along with the parsley, the fish and the bacon (cut in strips). Mix well and pour into a greased baking dish. Use the potato slices to cover the fish mixture and grate a little nutmeg over them. Top with the grated cheese and back in a hot oven (200c/400F) until the cheese is browned, the potatoes are tender and the whole dish is bubbling merrily. Remove carefully from the oven and show it to your dinner guests before you serve. It won't look nearly as pretty on the plate!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
April 21, 2005
Hole-y Toast

No, this isn't a post about Pope Benedict XVI, though we should probably do an Eggs Beendict or Benedictine post soon. This is the recreation of a very simple breakfast I enjoyed at Chicago's Kitsch'n in Roscoe Village this last Sunday.

Kitsch'n bathes in the glory of 1970's junk. You can't swing a Brady (not even Cindy) without hitting some Day-Glo plastic tchochkie. The food, however was decidedly not kitschy, though I can imagine this being some white polyester-clad John-Travolta-wannabe's ace-in-the-hole morning-after meal.

I recreated this simple egg and bread recipe the day after our meal. Both my wife and I have enjoyed it and you will too. It may even make you feel like dancing (gonna dance the night away).

The original was probably baked, but I never miss a chance to add a little butter to breakfast. If you prefer, use a little oil or nothing at all and a nonstick pan.

Hole-y Toast
Thick slice of good bread (about 3/4" to 1") per person
One egg per person.
One teaspoon of butter per person
salt and pepper

Take an egg-yolk sized hole out of the middle of each slice of bread by pinching, cutting or stamping it out.

Melt the butter in the pan over high heat. When it's hot and sizzling add the bread. Move the bread around so it absorbs a bit of butter then flip the slice so the other side can pick up some of the butter.

Let the bread toast on the first side for about two-three minutes until it seems to be getting golden brown. Flip the bread over. After about 30 seconds, reduce the heat to medium and crack the egg directly into the hole in the bread.

Do not move the bread for at least 30 seconds so the egg that makes it to the bottom will set and plug the hole. Quickly flip the toast over and wait for at least 30 seconds again so a seal is formed.

If you prefer your egg yolk extremely runny, cook for about 30 seconds more. If you like them firmer you can go a few minutes. I got the best results after about 90-120 seconds. Check the color of the toast underneath to make sure you aren't burning it if you go long. Flip to toast the other side again to prevent burning if necessary.

Salt and pepper the toast lightly and serve with a fruit salad side or some breakfast potatoes.

The egg seeps into the bread just a little, but without creating that french toast texture that would be wrong for this dish.

Word to the wise - be very careful when you bite into the middle of the egg area. Sometimes its hard to tell if the yolk has set until you pierce it and it runs out all over your chin and shirt.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:30 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack
April 20, 2005
Mary Had A Little Lamb

...and then she had some peas. That's Barrett's joke, actually. I was tempted to participate in the first edition of the French bloggers' event Blog Appétit! but I was nervous on several levels. Firstly, I wasn't sure exactly how it would work. Were the two ingredients meant to be used in the same dish or as accompaniments? Secondly, there was my natural laziness combined with a fear of exposing my faulty written French. And lastly there was a fear that my cooking wouldn't be sophisticated enough for a French audience. But the first edition was a great success and I so enjoyed reading the recipes and the review of their professional chef (a really nice idea, by the way) that I resolved to try my hand at the second edition.

Luckily for me my good friend Pascale from C'est moi qui l'ai fait fait chose an exceptionally good pair of ingredients: lamb and peas. Both have great possibilities and call to mind spring in all its glory. They are wonderful together. What's more, I immediately thought of an element to link the two items: mint.

I love lamb, but my dear Critic is less enamoured. For one thing he ate a lot of so-called lamb in his youth that was tough and stringy. Actually, so did I and we are both convinced our mothers were in the habit of serving mutton and calling it lamb. But I have moved on and realized that good lamb, properly prepared, is tender and delicious (whereas he is eternally surprised when I produce a leg of lamb that is neither tough nor stringy nor fatty).

And so I had a constraint on my entry for Blog Appétit! in that I wanted to prepare a simple lunch. And so I created the tastiest sandwich I have ever made. The great thing about events like Blog Appétit! and Is My Blog Burning? is that they serve as platforms for flights of creativity that would never have otherwise taken place. It's great reading about all the fantastic ideas my fellow writers have come up with but it's even more satisfying knowing it's pushed me to find something new and interesting.

Lamb Sandwiches with Mint Pea Purée (2 sandwiches)

2 slices of boneless lamb (my cuts were from the leg)
4 thick slices of good bread
100g peas (about a cup)
1/4 cup fresh mint
about ten cherry tomatoes
1 Tbs cumin seeds
1 Tbs crushed black peppercorns
1 crushed garlic clove
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

Cook the peas in a little water with the mint. While they are cooking, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the pepper and the cumin seeds. When they are hot and starting to pop, add the lamb and quickly cook, about two minutes on each side. Remove them from the pan and add the tomatoes and the vinegar. While the tomatoes are cooking, use an immersion blender to purée the peas and the mint. Depending on how much water you used to cook them, you may want to add a little water to make a thick paste. Toast the bread. Slice the lamb in thin strips. By now the tomatoes will hopefully have split and become soft and the bread will be toasted and you can construct your sandwich. Spread a thick layer of pea purée on two of the slices of bread. Top the purée with lamb. Salt and pepper and then add the tomatoes. Finish with the remaining slices of bread and serve with napkins. The juices of the tomatoes and lamb will soak into the bread but some of it will also probably run down your wrists. It's worth it, though. The sweetness of the peas compliments the spicy lamb and the tart/sweet tomatoes add a finishing touch. I had the second sandwich for lunch today, but the hot version - though messier - was much tastier!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:44 PM | TrackBack
April 19, 2005
Blog Appétit! Sandwich d'Agneau à la purée de petits pois

SANDWICH.JPG(Note to our readers: the English version of this will appear tomorrow when I have time to translate. We are participating in a French meme similar to the Is My Blog Burning, called Blog Appétit!)

Quand Pascale de C'est moi qui l'ai fait nous a annoncé la création de nouveau "evenement" Internet pour la communauté internaute de cuisine, Blog Appétit! j'étais très éxcitée. J'ai voulu participé, mais en même temps je trouvais l'idée un peu toublant. Je parle français assez bien, mais le français écrit est beaucoup plus difficile. Mais bon, j'habite Paris et je aurais eu honte de dire que c'est trop difficile. Me voilà, donc, en français. Je m'excuse d'avance des fautes de grammaire et d'orthographe!

Une autre chose qui m'a fait un peu peur c'est que les français sont beaucoup plus sérieux au sujet de la cuisine. C'est normal: la cuisine française est connue partout dans le monde comme la plus fine, la plus raffinée. Ce que je cuisine est rarement raffiné. Mais bon, ca ne veut pas dire que ce n'est pas bon!

Et donc je me suis lancé dans cette édition de Blog Appétit avec une recette typiquement non-raffinée mais bonne: un Sandwich d'Agneau à la purée de petit pois. Assez anglo-saxonne, mais savoreux et satisfaisant néanmoins.

En fait, quand j'ai appris le sujet de cette édition, le "lien" entre les deux ingédients me semblait évident: la menthe. Pour les anglais l'agneau est servi avec une sauce à la menthe et selon mon bouquin de recettes américain, la menthe se marie parfaitement avec les petits pois. Comme mon mari n'est pas fana de l'agneau, je voulais préparer un déjeuner pour moi-même, toute seule. Et donc, un sandwich, bien sur!

D'habitude, l'agneau c'est quelque chose que je fais au diner et ca prend beaucoup de temps, beaucoup de préparation. Quelle joie de trouver qu'on peut aussi le préparer au déjeuner pour un plat rapide et délicieux!

Sandwich (élegant) d'agneau à la purée de petits pois (pour deux)

2 tranches de gigot d'agneau sans os d'environ 150g chacune
un bon pain pavé
100g de petits pois (je me suis servie des petit pois surgelés)
de la menthe fraiche
une dixaine de tomates cérises
une cuillère à soupe de graines de cumin
une cuillère à thé de poivre concassé
une gousse d'ail, cassé
une cuillère à soupe de vinaigre balsamique
sel, poivre

Faire cuire les petit pois dans un petit peu d'eau avec quelques feuilles de menthe. Pendant le cuisson des petits pois, faire chauffer un peu de l'huile d'olive dans un poele. Ajouter les grains de cumin, la gousse d'ail et le poivre. Laisser mijoter un moment ou deux et une fois que l'huile est bien chaude ajouter les tranches de gigot. Faire cuire deux minutes - pas plus - de chaque c�té et puis retirer-les du feux. Mettre deux tranches de pain dans le grille-pain. Mettre les tomates dans le poele o� vous avez cuisiné les tranches d'agneau et ajouter aussi le vinaigre. Baisser le feu un petit peu pour ne pas br�ler ni les épices ni l'ail. Le pain sera peut-être déjà monté dans le grille-pain; si c'est le cas, mettre encore deux tranches dans l'appareil. Quand les petits pois sont tendres, en faire une purée à l'aide d'un mixeur plongeant ou mini-robot. Une fois que les tomates ont éclaté, construire le sandwich ainsi: sur une tranche de pain grillé, tartinez la purée de petits pois. Couper l'agneau en petits morceaux et étalez-les sur la purée. Ajouter des tomates, du sel et du poivre. Couvrir avec la deuxième tranche de pain grillé. (Le voici ouvert!) Servir avec une seviette, car les jus de tomates et de viande sont copieux.

Ceci est à la fois un peu épicé et doux, avec une touche de vinaigre pour relever les go�ts. J'ai mis beaucoup plus de temps à expliquer comment construire le sandwich qu'à le faire: c'est très rapide. Et délicieux! Heureusement, il me reste encore de la viande pour un deuxième déjeuner demain!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:14 PM | Comments (13)
April 18, 2005
Open Letter to the Chicago Diner

Dear Chicago Diner,

I've enjoyed your food for almost 15 of your 22 years. You've served up delicious vegetarian and vegan options ever since the opening of the place. The flavors and aromas and appearance of your food is wonderful, and I will probably continue to eat at your restaurant as long as I'm in Chicago.

However, there is one thing you just don't seem to understand. Temperature. I've noticed this in a lot of vegetarian restaurants. I understand that many veggies and meat substitute products don't retain heat the way a big hunk of cow will, but this is a restriction you've chosen to deal with. Without meat in the kitchen you get a much easier time of it as far as sanitation goes, so spend some of that time that extra sanitation chores would take up heating up your food.

Why do I raise this issue again? Well, I made a little bit of a stink about a year ago when my wife ordered a dish that had acorn squash in it. Turns out the frost was on the squash and the food she got had frozen acorn squash still in it, still in its frozen state. I figured it was an aberration, but it wasn't.

Last night, we ordered smoothies and my smoothie was about 60-70 degrees. It tasted fine, but the temperature was a little disturbing. OK, fine, it's a minor annoyance but nothing out of control. When my wife's entree arrived last night (a vegetable casserole/stew dish), it was just above body temperature as was the rice served with it. She sent the dish back to be warmed and after about fifteen minutes (during which she had some of my perfectly hot lentil loaf and mashed potatoes), it came back with the rice on the dish piping hot and the stew at exactly the same temperature as before. Maybe you like stews that are cooler than your morning shower, but most people don't.

This isn't an unsolvable problem. Not only top vegetarian friendly restaurants like Charlie Trotter's but the Heartland Cafe and Amitabul seem to have no problem keeping the hot dishes hot and the cold dishes cold. Why does the Chicago Diner have this issue?

You're a well respected national vegetarian restaurant and tremendously influential in the community. You have a cookbook I use frequently (and from which I make dishes that are both HOT and COLD). Check your heating lamps, get a microwave - do something! There's nothing worse than great food served at the wrong temperature.

I think next time, I'm ordering any food we get from you to go so we can take it home to heat or chill it to the proper temperature before eating.



P.S. We'd also love it if you bring back the Tempeh Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. That was a favorite of ours.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:48 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Be Vewy Vewy Quiet...

fudd.gifFirst we had duck season. Now it's rabbit season. (Duck season! Rabbit season! Rabbit season! Duck season! Shoot!)

Our good friend Alisa hosted another gourmet potluck this weekend and the imaginative theme she suggested was aphrodisiacs or Food That Makes You Feel Sexy. Well, park my baby at home with a sitter and count us in! I was at a bit of a loss for ideas, as I really wanted to come up with something original. Chocolate, oysters, ginger and pepper all came to mind and were dismissed. I knew Alisa was covering the chocolate and oyster angles, as well as champagne and sexy martinis. And then I thought of a different slant: why not cook something that is known for its sexual prowess? Maybe some of its sexy energy would enter the dish and qualify. In addition, one of the lists of aphrodisiacs I found online included mustard as one of the magical elements. Perfect: lapin à la moutarde for 16.

Hm. For 16, that was the problem. It's no more difficult to cook for 16 than 8 really, but when the number is that high you can be fairly sure (unless you are dining with the Windsors) that you will not be sitting down at a table. I toyed with the idea of making little mustard bunny pies, using the same kind of crust as a British steak-and-kidney pie. But I couldn't find disposable pie tins to match the three in my baking drawer. And so instead I opted for a "deconstructed" pie. Has anyone else noticed that this is the buzzword of the day recently? For us amateur cooks it's just a way to make the last-minute substitution sound classy. Oh yeah, I meant to do it that way. Oh, yeah.

Deconstructed Mustard Bunny Pies (serves 16 as part of a gourmet buffet)

This is essentially my recipe for lapin à la moutard but with a few twists to make it easier for guests to eat. Unfortunately, this means more work for the chef, but it really is worthwhile. You'll end up with a stew that is full of flavor, with meat that is meltingly tender. I've decided that from now on this is how I will always make the dish, because it really is much nicer than the traditional way. Not only did I remove the bones before serving, I also let the stew cool down in the refrigerator so that I could skim off the fat that rose to the top.

1 1/2 bunnies (about 1 1/2 kilos of meat cut in pieces on the bone)
Lawry's salt (you can substitute normal salt, but I thought the Lawry's went especially well with the bunny meat)
6 onions, sliced in half rings
6 cloves of garlic
6 carrots
12 white mushrooms
1/2 a small zucchini/courgette (optional - tossed it in because I had one handy)
1/2 cup French mustard (I use smooth, but you could use grain. I find the smooth has a sharper flavour.)
2 Tbs dried tarragon
a few sprigs of fresh tarragon
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1 bottle sparkling demi-sec Vouvray wine (substitute a light white wine or any sparkling wine but don't waste the good stuff)
1/2 liter chicken broth
2 Tbs flour (optional)
a little olive oil

For the deconstructed pie crust

2 pie crusts
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup grated hard cheese - Parmesan or Comté or Gruyère

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and in a large stock pot (unless you have a frying pan or stock pot that can accommodate all the pieces in a single layer). Dust the rabbit pieces with Lawry's salt and quickly brown them in the oil on a high flame. While they are cooking, crush half the garlic cloves and toss them in with the meat. Once the pieces of rabbit are browned on all sides, turn off the heat under the stock pot and put them all in it. In the frying pan, cook the onions until soft. You might want to remove the garlic cloves to the large pot before you start so that they don't get too toasted. Once the onions are soft and maybe even a little browned here and there on the edges, add them to the stock pot. Pour a little of the wine into the frying pan to deglaze it, scraping up any bits of rabbit or onion that may have stuck to the bottom. Turn off the heat under the frying pan and carefully pour the wine into the large stockpot with the rabbit and onions. Add the carrots, peeled and sliced. Add the rest of the garlic, pressed. (I cooked some of the garlic in large pieces with the meat so that it would pick up the flavor, but didn't want to have too many big chunks of garlic floating in the stew. This way I was able to add some more garlic flavor tot he broth without leaving so many garlic-bombs in the stew.) Stir in the mustard and the dried tarragon. Add some more wine and stock, to cover the meat. Turn on the heat under the stock pot and bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat so that it simmers.

Simmer for a couple of hours, adding wine and/or broth as you go along, to keep the meat covered. Add soft vegetables such as mushrooms and zucchini after an hour or so, as they will not need to stew. When the meat is falling off the bone, turn off the heat and remove the pieces of meat with a pair of tongs. Put the broth in the refrigerator to cool.

Allow the pieces of rabbit to cool until you can handle them and then remove the meat from the bones. You'll find there are a lot of gelatinous bits that can be removed. It's a messy job, and not very fun. Do not ponder what part of that cute little bunny you are dealing with as you go: it will make you feel very, very bad. At the end, though, you'll have a pile of lovely tender lean meat. Reserve it in a covered bowl in the fridge.

Once the broth has cooled (it will take an hour or more) use a spoon or a couple squares of paper towels to remove the fat from the top of the broth. There won't be a huge amount, but it is nicer if you remove it. I started spooning it away and then realized that floating a couple of paper towels on top would be much more efficient.

This next step is something I wish I had thought of doing and didn't until it was too late: heat the meat-less broth and use a strainer to sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour into it. Stir until smooth and simmer until the broth is slightly thickened. (You want to do this before you put the meat back into the broth because it is so tender it is falling apart at this point and you want to maintain some bite-sized pieces.) Put the meat back into the sauce to heat. Add the crème fraîche and chopped fresh tarragon a few minutes before serving.

Serve in deep bowls with croutons made out of the pastry: I washed them with a beaten egg, grated a little nutmeg over them, sprinkled them with finely grated cheese and then cut them in long strips with a sharp knife. On a diagonal with the long strips, I made a few cuts to make long diamond-shaped croutons. Once they had baked for 20 minutes in a hot oven and cooled, it was easy to break them apart into pieces. (See a picture here if all this is confusing!)

And there you have it: a deconstructed pie. If you have oven-safe dishes, I think it would be even nicer if you just cut the pie dough into rounds and placed them on top of a bowl of the filling and baked in the oven. With plastic disposable bowls, however, this is not recommended.

It was a great party at Alisa's and I wish I had remembered to bring a camera so I could show you all the guests and the great food they brought. In particular, I'm looking forward to seeing the recipe for the asparagus and strawberry tart on Clotilde's site, Chocolate and Zucchini! It was an unusual combination and worked surprisingly well, the sweet and savoury complimenting each other delicately. It's making my mouth water remembering it!

(Note: Clotilde has already posted the recipe here. Try it, it's delicious!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 16, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week... has a lower ERA than Kerry Wood right now. Cubs - the other White Meat.

I. Garlic. Really, among food bloggers that word is almost as attention-fixing as the word sex (which is interesting because often the one will exlude you from the other). In any case, Full as a Goog has a delicious Garlic Soup with Mexican origins. Share it with someone you love.

A. Bakingsheet has a great pie post filled with tips on making great crusts and great fruit pies, crumbles, cobblers, etc... The difference? Only one will let you rescue the princess.

1. English Patis is anticipating summer barbecue season. My dad used to make a peanut butter laced sauce that I thought was the best I'd ever have, but the chili-plum sauced ribs E.P. shows may be better. Someone try them and tell me how they are!

Next week, I will be moving so POTW may be up late or I may not get the post up at all. Goodbye Lincoln Park, hello Albany Park!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:13 PM | TrackBack
April 15, 2005
Inside-Out Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches

stuffed tomatoes.jpgI'm not a big fan of the traditional stuffed tomatoes you can find in the traiteurs around Paris. Like my old arch-enemy the stuffed pepper, they are usually filled with bland meaty stuffing and cooked to the point of sliminess. However, I do like the idea of stuffing vegetables; it's an interesting way to introduce new flavors to old favorites and usually looks pretty nifty too. (Though it has to be admitted that stuffed mushrooms are not very photogenic.) We are starting to get some nice tomatoes from Spain in the Paris area and so I decided to try stuffing them in a spring-like, non-meaty-and-bland way.

When I finished, I realized I had essentially made a cheese and tomato sandwich inside out. It was delicious and a lot more fun to eat than a sandwich. And it looked elegant too!

Inside-Out Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches (serves two)

These would make a great starter for a dinner party or interesting finger food for a cocktail party. You could also bring them along on a summer picnic. They need a little time in the fridge to firm up, which means you can make them well in advance.

2 small ripe tomatoes
1 slice of soft whole wheat bread
2 Tbs Boursin cheese
1/3 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup finely chopped rocket (arugula)

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and reserve them. Use a spoon to gently carve out the center of the tomato, reserving the juice. Cut the bread in squares roughly the size of the circumference of the tomatoes. Dip one of the bread squares in the tomato sauce and place it in the bottom of a tomato. Spoon in a little of the cheese, then the nuts and then a layer of rocket. Repeat, making sure to reserve a little of the cheese. When the tomato is full (mine only took two layers, but it depends on how much you put in each) top with the remaining cheese and squish down the top of the tomato. Refrigerate for at least an hour. When serving, slice the tomato open to show how pretty it is inside. If you are serving them as finger food, slice into quarters lengthwise.

Some notes on the ingredients:

Boursin is a commercially produced herb and garlic goat's cheese. If you can't find it in your supermarket, you could mix a few tablespoons of creamy goat cheese with half a crushed garlic clove and some finely chopped herbs such as basil, dill and parsley. Blue cheese would also probably be very tasty as a substitute.

I intended to use walnuts instead of hazelnuts but they are not in season and so I couldn't find them. Either would be delicious!

Use flavorful tomatoes always. In this instance, I used normal small red ones, but I think Italian plum tomatoes would be even better.

The rocket adds a definite spicy element to the tomatoes, and so if you can't find flavorful lettuce I would probably just skip it. Most lettuce leaves get slimy when in contact with wet things (like the inside of a tomato or creamy goat cheese) and so I wouldn't bother unless they are adding some punch to the flavors.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:59 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 14, 2005
Blue cheese stuffed mushrooms

stuffed mushrooms are not very prettyI don't usually make appetizers when no guests are expected. (Who does?) I really love stuffed mushrooms, though, and so when I saw some large fungi at the store earlier this week I decided to treat myself and the Critic. Since he doesn't like mushrooms very much, this might not seem like much of a treat for him, but I figured I could bring him around with the right ingredients. (And I was right.)

Blue cheese and hazelnuts were a perfect compliment to the mushrooms and a little garlic and parsley finished the flavors perfectly. Aside from the baking time, they only took about fifteen minutes to prepare. Perfect for a little mid-week indulgence!

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms (for 2-4 as an appetizer)

9 large mushrooms
1 slice of bread cut in fine cubes or 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used a little of both, as I had some bread to use up)
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup blue cheese (Roquefort or something nice and flavorful)
1/3 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F. Wash the mushrooms and remove the stems carefully. Chop the stems finely and cook them with the garlic in the olive oil until they have given up and reabsorbed their juice. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and work at it until the cheese is fully incorporated. Taste for seasonings; it probably won't need any salt as the cheese is fairly salty but will be the better for a healthy grinding of pepper. Pour a tiny amount of olive oil into the bottom of your baking dish and roll the mushroom tops in it. Place them in the bottom of the pan and carefully spoon the stuffing back into the mushroom caps.

Put them in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until they smell delicious and the mushroom caps are soft.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:28 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 13, 2005


Oh dear. It was almost a Little Women moment last night. Do you remember the chapter towards the end of the book when Dear John unexpectedly brings home a work colleague to dinner and poor newly-married Meg has spent an entire day unsuccessfully trying to make jelly? And it all ends in tears? Well, thank heavens I'm 37 years old and have a sense of humor because otherwise you would have found me weeping over the jam pots last night.

My dear husband told me last night at seven-thirty that he had forgotten a promise to help our friend Michael with his wireless network. Could he bring Michael over to watch the football afterwards? Ever the perfect housewife (well until May 2 anyway) I thought quickly and came up with a way to stretch two fish filets to dinner for three. The 45 minutes he would spend at Michael's working on the network would give me time to whip something up and I'd have a chance to show off how versatile and talented I am. (God has a way of punishing you for those kinds of thoughts, doesn't he?) To top things off, I had been experimenting with stuffed mushrooms and so the dinner would look really elegant. Oh yeah.

Until the moment when I pulled my lovely fish casserole bubbling and creamy from the oven. And the handle on the casserole dish gave way in my hand. And the casserole went crashing down to the floor. And I started swearing.

Thank God for Domino's! I'm sure if they existed in the 19th century, my poor namesake from Little Women would have coped better.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:12 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
April 12, 2005
Another 3G Soup

Green, Garlic and Ginger. Using spinach for the green element was great: hot and salty and sour and extremely healthy. Unfortunately, I only had the one bag of spinach and was sick enough that I didn't feel much like going out to the supermarket. Instead, I pulled some broccoli from the vegetable bin and decided to experiment with it. And I hadn't intended to write about this second attempt, but it turned out so darned good that I decided to share it with the world after all. Not only did I love it, but my Critic - who normally is not overly fond of broccoli - liked it so much that he had it for lunch again the next day. And not only does he not love broccoli, but he normally does not love eating the same food two days running. (Yes, that means I usually get all the leftovers.)

Actually, in this instance the leftovers my dear husband didn't eat had to be frozen. I had forgotten that broccoli is one of those foods that nursing mothers are warned not to eat. At about three in the morning when my son was writhing with colic pain I remembered that warning....

3G Broccoli Soup

2 small heads of broccoli
4-6 cloves of garlic
4 Tbs roughly chopped ginger
1 dried hot pepper
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4-6 Tbs soy sauce

As with my Hot and Sour Spinach soup, this dish relies of a nice steeping of ginger and garlic. Crush the garlic cloves and put them with the peeled and roughly chopped ginger and the pepper (broken in a few pieces) in a small bag or tie up in cheesecloth. Steep in the broth for half an hour or more. Wash and chop the broccoli about 15 minutes before you want to serve and pop them in the pot. When they are tender, pull out the steeping spices and use an immersion blender to liquidize the soup. Add soy sauce to taste and serve.

This was a delicious soup, a bit spicy but not overwhelming the robust broccoli flavour. I am usually in the habit of adding cream to all my vegetable soups but this is one where it would be a crime. It's hearty, it feels good eating it and it makes broccoli taste good. A perfect way to continue the battle against those cold germs!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:13 AM | TrackBack
April 11, 2005
Open question

We're sad to see co-op building, Whole Foods trashing champion of independent groceries everywhere F*** Corporate Groceries is struggling with a crash, but we're happy to hear she found a backup she can use to reconstruct the site. Hurry back.

[UPDATE: 4/12/05 - j3s is back and FCG is back up and running with little data loss. Congrats!]

We're even less happy about Tiny Fork, the excellent Best New Food Blog of 2004 being out of commission because we don't know if Fae is suffering from a temporary outage or if this is a permanent state of affairs. Does anyone have any info on what's up with Tiny Fork? I for one wish her blog a speedy recovery.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 9, 2005
Posts Of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week is not sure, but we think we saw Charlie Trotter with a peanut butter, foie gras, and jelly sandwich on the #22 bus this morning...

1. Kate at Accidental Hedonist is always a good read. This week she educates the unwashed (no really, you have a little smudge right there) in her Wine 101 Series. First up, Looks and Smells, then two parts on how to taste wine. (Spoiler: it involves the tongue).

I. Tommy J has a kitchen. Tommy J cooks. Tommy J knows you shouldn't add salt to water when cooking until the water is hot, and he explains why. Great tip.

A. The "delicious looking recipe of the week" cames from Nordljus. Having trouble deciding whether to eat your roses or your pomegranites with your poultry? Do both - Grilled Quail with Rose Petals, and Grilled Quail with Pomegranite Molasses in the same post. Hungry yet?

Oh, one note this week. I would have included a post by a very good new(ish) blog from LA but the author insists on using the term "flog" for food blog and it hits me like nails on a chalkboard. While I'm sure that this odious term will gain acceptance (further corrupting the language) I won't help. "Flogging" to me is either using a cat-o-nine or in a more modern context selling something - usually something cheap and disreputable. That's not what we do. We may be disreputable, but we're certainly not cheap.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
April 8, 2005

What do you call a dish where the grain absorbs all the liquid and then some becoming tender, starchy and delicious in the process? Usually you call it risotto, but when you make it with quinoa, I think you should be able to call if quinoa-sotto.

Quinoa (pronounced "Kin-Wah") is a tiny tiny grain native to the Americas. Gastronomically, quinoa brings a sweet nuttiness to a dish and when cooked properly offers a similar texture to a couscous with a bit more spring to it.

Nutritionally, quinoa is a serious overachiever. Most other grains lack lysine (which should keep the dinosaurs from getting off the island). Quinoa not only has lysine, but also tons of protein, vitamins (especially in the B family), minerals, and even iron and folate. If it hasn't yet taken over the place of rice or wheat in the American diet, it may be because it is tiny. Each grain is about the size of the point on a dull pencil.

This recipe is really more of a pilaf than a risotto. Quinoasotto is just more fun to say (and type). I intended to put roasted peanuts in this dish at the end, but in the flurry of getting the meal to the table, I neglected to do so. You may also wish to toast the quinoa before you use it in this recipe to give it a nuttier flavor.

Really, you could add just about any vegetable to this you'd like. I would cook the vegetable first then add it to the quinoa as I do here.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
1 onion, diced finely
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teapoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic

8 oz. protabella mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil

You should first rinse and pick over your quinoa and make sure any foreign material in it is removed. To rinse the quinoa, use an extremely fine collander or use cheesecloth or even strong paper towels over a wider-holed collander to prevent the quinoa from slipping right through. You can also use paper coffeee filters for this purpose.

Heat the butter and oil to a pan with a lid. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sweat over a medium heat until the onions start to go translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the quinoa to the pot and stir. Raise the heat to high. Stir in the stock and tarragon and bring to a boil briefly. Reduce the heat and cover.

In another pan, sautee the mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil about 5-7 minutes until they've reduced significantly. Stir the mushrooms into the quinoa. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed

Let cook for 5-10 minutes more until the liquid is absorbed and you have a moist but not soupy pilaf. If the quinoa dries out, add more stock. If its too moist, remove the cover and simmer away the excess stock.

Serve as a side dish. Goes well with Bender's Chickpea-Leek Soup and garlic bread.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 7, 2005
Foie Gras Smackdown! - Round Two

Yo yo yo! More to read on the foie gras smackdown that erupted earlier this week. Thuggie MC Charlie T (Trotter, that is) ain't backin' down from his dis of foie gras and Rickie (Caviar Staircase to Pain) Tramonto. Charlie T says he didn't want to hurt no homies but he's got to keep it real, yo.

Earlier this week, Charlie T. said he wasn't down with foie gras, called out Caviar Rickie, and proclaimed his liver so fat it could BE fois gras. Well peeps talk and Anthony "Dew Rag" Bourdain said the buzz was all like "Whaaaa?" and "Huhhh?" and "Didn't you just serve foie gras two weeks ago at Food and Wine's crib?"

Ooooooh. That did it. Charlie T. Went MENTAL! No man, he didn't serve it. It was those wannabes with him and foie gras is still wack. Later he dished about the feud, "You know what? If I hear something that I don't like, I will say whatever it takes, and I'll send a message," Trotter rapped. "If I have to use some sarcasm or open a can of whup-ass or do whatever, I'll do what I have to do."*

Send a message! A can of Whup-Ass - giant-size! And he gets those things wholesale! I don't know if you've seen Charlie T. in a fists-of fury frenzy, but believe me, you do not want to see this man get Suge Knight on you.

Caviar Rickie may be feeling it. He showed some respect this week to Charlie T so you may not see a gang war break out between the Near North and the... uh.. slightly Norther and a little bit Wester Near North side. Pour out some truffle oil for those lost in this fight.

Next week in four star Chicago Gang Wars, Grant Achatz gets a pastry bag tip in the chest from Gale Gand, and Homaru Cantu gets a truffle between the eyes in a drive-by by Arun Sampanthavivat...
*No, really, he said exactly that, word for word including the words "can of whup-ass". Check out Mark Caro's story if you don't believe me. Mark, where are you hiding Bill Daley? Be kind. He's not used to the rough streets of Chicago's fine dining scene yet.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 6, 2005
Good Gravy, Charlie Brown!

When the boy and I got back from Chicago, I picked up a leg of lamb so that our reunited little family could share an Easter dinner together here in Paris. I know a lot of people out there seem to think that simply skimming the fat off the meat juices is enough to make a nice sauce for a roast. But I am a complete gravy freak and can't imagine wasting good gravy material in such a senseless irresponsible manner. I come from a family of amazing gravy-makers. They don't use packets of powdered gravy. They don't use bouillon cubes, as a former boyfriend (and self proclaimed great chef) used to do. Aunts, mother and grandmothers, they all somehow manage to take a few bare spoonfuls of drippings and fat and turn them into an overflowing basin of dark, rich gravy. It's an amazing heritage and it's no wonder that I'm a gravy freak today.

When I first started tackling roast meats I assumed that gravy was a simple matter. I'd watched my mother make it for years and I knew her routine: put a little flour and a little water in a jar, close it, shake it, pour it in the pan with the juices, cook down, salt and pepper and voilà...floury tasteless pale vaguely meat sauce!

It took me a while to realize that great gravy makers are not born, they are trained. They get good because they make gravy over and over and over. They also listen to their mothers and grandmothers, who told them "You really do have to let it cook down for a very, very long time." They have to go against their modern instincts and become as heavy-handed as their mothers in the salting of the sauce. They have to develop an instinct for how much flour and how much water the gravy can support so that you get the maximum amount of sauce without losing too much flavor.

And me? While my leg of lamb was resting I poured the meat juices into a handy gravy boat that separates the grease from the juice. (This is my one departure from the wisdom of my elders: I do not have the patience to carefully spoon away the grease and find the gravy boat is much more efficient anyway. My heretical sister follows her mother-in-law's lead in gravy and leaves all the grease in the pan!) As I waited for the juices to settle and the grease to rise in the gravy boat, I put about a third of a cup of flour in a jar, added about a cup of water and shook. I then poured the juices back into the roasting pan and put it over a fairlyl high flame. As I had some leftover red wine to hand, I poured about half a cup into the pan as well. And then I patiently allowed the juices and wine to reduce, scraping up the bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. After about ten minutes, I gave the flour and water another shake and poured it into the pan. At this point, I uncovered the meat and started carving it, pausing to stir the gravy from time to time. If you take your time to carve the meat carefully and serve the rest of the meal, by the time everything is on the table the gravy will be just barely ready. You can strain it if you feel there is a need; I rarely do. Salt and pepper very generously; it really does need it.

I've been making gravy for about ten years now and I figure my gravy is about half as good as my mother's. Give me another ten years and I think it might be almost as good as my grandmother's!

Some ideas I have picked up elsewhere on interesting ways to improve your gravy:

For lamb gravy, add a couple of chopped anchovies. As you stir they will dissolve into the gravy and even anchovy-haters won't notice them. It gives a little depth to a weak-minded gravy. Obviously you'll want to go a little easier on the salt though.

If you have carrot- or potato-water left from cooking your vegetables, use it instead of plain water with the flour. It adds vitamins and flavour.

If you throw some shallots into the roasting pan in the last half hour of cooking your meat, it adds a lovely flavour to the gravy. You could also reserve a couple of the shallots and chop them up for the finished gravy. On the other hand, roast shallots are delicious on their own.

For chicken or turkey gravy you could also add a teaspoon of mustard and a heaping teaspoon of dried tarragon for an interesting twist. Again, this is especially useful if your gravy has come out a little watery and tasteless.

But in the end, the most important ingredient (as stressed by my mother) is Patience. With a lot of time and a little care you can stretch those spoonfuls of drippings as well as a pro!

(Apologies for the lack of a photo, but my gravy doesn't photograph as well as it tastes!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Flax-topped Carrot Raisin Muffins

Have you had flax? Flax is one of the few non-seafood sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs laid by chickens that have eaten flax seeds is another.

These muffins use a nice flaxseed topping that give them a nutty flavor and a nice crunch element.

I was trying with this recipe to recreate a muffin that Seattle's Best in Chicago used to carry before they were bought up and closed by Starbucks. This isn't that recipe, but I'm pretty happy with them as nutritious breakfast muffins go. They're at their best once they've had a chance to cool.

You'll notice the muffins do not have the overflowing puffy muffin tops that most muffins get. The ingredients here are pretty heavy, and the leaveners in this recipe serve to lighten the crumb of the muffin, more than to lift it up. If you like, increase the flour to carrot/raisin ratio and add a bit more liquid for the flour to grab if you like the puffier muffins.

For the honey component, use any kind of honey you like. I was fortunate enough to have some of The Best Sunflower Honey in Paris, so that's what I used.

Flax-topped Carrot Raisin Muffins
1 3/4 cups AP Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups finely grated carrot (peel the carrot first)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup honey, plus some for drizzling
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup flax seeds
paper cupcake holders

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a 12-cupcake pan with paper cupcake holders. If you don't have these, grease the pan very well.

Mix the dry ingredients together with a fork in one bowl.
In a second bowl, mix the wet ingredients together. Make sure the sugar is nicely distributed and broken up.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix together just until the wet and dry ingredients are well combined.

Spoon 1/12 of the mix into each muffin cup. Sprinkle a lot of flax seed on top of the muffins. It should cover the tops completely in a single layer.

Drizzle a bit of honey on top of each muffin to help hold the seeds together in place.

Bake in 400 F oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove to a wire cooling rack. After 5 minutes, remove muffins from baking tray and let cool at least 15 minutes in a wire rack.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:52 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack
April 5, 2005
Remain in Light

We're moving shortly to a new apartment and as part of the move we've officially eschewed cable tv. I'm having a cable line run, but only for Internet. We'll also run our phone off of it.

One of the few things I will miss on cable in the Food Network. But I'm happy to report that the prospect of losing Emeril and Alton (ouch!) and Rachael (meh) has forced me to rediscover Ming and Jacques and those folks at Cook's Illustrated and a new guy, Andreas.

Andreas Viestad is the host for the first two seasons of New Scandinavian Cooking. Each week, Andreas takes us to a new location significant to Scandinavian (and especially Norwegian) culture and puts together some dishes that are unlike those being shown anywhere else.

I'm a bit biased towards the subject matter because I'm a quarter Norwegian, and have been fascinated by the idea of Scandinavian food ever since I sampled the Christmas boxes of traditional sweet baked goods my Norwegian grandmother sent to us in Chicago each year from her home in Santa Rosa, California.

But trying to find Scandinavian and specifically Norwegian recipes can be a challenge. Or it was a challenge until this show arrived.

Andreas is a strange but wonderful presenter. He's ostensibly very straightforward, but his rhythms and pacing are strange. I'm not going to say he presents like a Viking William Shatner, but its clear that his native Norwegian has a music to it completely different to that of English. The effect gives the impression Andreas has something he desperately wants to share and he's bursting to get it out, but he wants to be very precise in his language.

Andreas's enthusiasm is readily apparent. He's proud not just of the recipes he's sharing but of his culture. I've only had the good fortune to see two episodes of the show, "The Sun is Back" and "Town of Two Spirits". In each he was very happy to be there and pleased with the cleverness of the show he was presenting.

In "The Sun is Back", Andreas takes us to the ski resort town of Geilo (pronounced something like "Hee-lo") and discusses how oranges fit into Norwegian cuisine. In this episode alone, Andreas cooks with a blow torch, injects a chicken with a syringe, takes fish straight from the hole in the ice to the cast iron pan, and sets up a portable kitchen on a mountainside overlooking a beautiful snow topped range of peaks.

In "Town of Two Spirits" Andreas takes us to Trondheim, the former capital of Norway where stong drink is the order of the day. After setting up his portable kitchen to block the middle of a road (much to the annoyance and amusement of the people passing around him trying to do their everyday chores), Andreas makes Scandinavian mulled wine which is basically heated wine with orange, cardamom, almonds, spices, and a big splash of vodka. Later, he takes us to a top restaurant in Trondheim, Credo, where he makes Aquavit sorbet. Aquavit is very alcoholic and difficult to freeze, so he borrows some liquid nitrogen from the local techies and bare-handed pours it into a pitcher he then uses to pour the LN onto the aquavit.

370+ degrees below zero and he's bare-handing. Someday, Andreas will clearly be known as "lefty".

The show is very entertaining, and any recipes he makes on the show are available either in the companion book to the series Kitchen of Light, or on the website www.scandcook.com.

Check out the series - it's quirky, original and fun. Next season Swedish chef (bork bork bork) Tina Nordström will take over and guide us through Sweden and its cuisine, so get your Norwegian fix now.

In Chicago, New Scandinavian Cooking airs on PBS channel 20 (that's the one you don't have worry about seeing Tucker Carlson on) on Sundays at 3:30pm.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:24 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
April 4, 2005
Hot and Sour Spinach Soup

P1010039.JPGThe baby and I recently flew to Chicago for Easter and were still recovering from the effects of long distance travel, he by waking up from one to four in the morning every day and me with a massive cold. And so I felt the urge to combat the cold with something hot, green, salty and sour. The soup I came up with is vaguely oriental but not authentically anything. It was just very very good. It made me feel good eating it and hopefully it will make me feel better (in the sense of no longer ill) soon. Garlic and ginger are reputed to have germ-combating qualities and hot soup is a traditional weapon against the common cold. In addition, the spiciness of the soup can be tasted by the dullest of palates.

Hot and Sour Spinach Soup (serves two generously)

2 large handfuls (about four cups, chopped) fresh spinach
6-8 mushrooms
4-6 cups home-made chicken or turkey broth
2 large knobs (about the size of a thumb) of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
1 dried hot pepper
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro/coriander
1 lemon

Place the dried pepper, garlic and ginger in a small mesh bag or use a little cheesecloth and string to construct one. Lacking either of these, you could just put the ingredients directly in the broth, but it will mean fishing them out again later. Place the bag (if you have one) in the broth and simmer for half an hour to 45 minutes. Wash and slice the mushrooms finely and add them to the broth while it's simmering. Wash and roughly chop the spinach. When the broth has taken on as much garlic and ginger flavour as you like, remove the bag. Five minutes before serving, add the spinach and the juice of the lemon. You don't want to add the spinach any sooner as it will quickly lose its lovely fresh green look and most of its flavour. It should be just barely wilted when you serve the soup. Taste for salt; you will probably want a fair amount if you are sick and your tastebuds are dulled. For once don't worry about your blood pressure and indulge yourself with a generous helping.

Now, does anyone have a trick for teaching a three-month-old how to get back into the habit of sleeping through the night?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 2, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

A. Delicious Days from Munich makes a heck of a debut this week with a photographic summarization of the recipe for Mozartkugeln. They seem simple enough for even a klutz like me to make. The post also includes some beautiful pictures of Spring in Munich where Meg in Paris lived briefly. Get her to tell you the story sometime about the woman who scolded her American butt for crossing against the light.

1. Ma'ona means "to eat one's fill" in Hawaiian. Alan at Ma'ona has had his fill of the giant Dole pineapple plantation on Oahu, but has good things to say about their demonstration garden. He's got great photos of varities of pineapples growing in the garden. He links also to a very handy post on how to cut a pineapple like a local e.g., like you know what you're doing.

I. It's all a matter of taste. In my own backyard, Part-Time Pro Bono Baker has a pair of posts about the same visit to the Breadsmith Bakery on Wells Street in Chicago. Bottom line? Gemma liked it well enough, Harold - not so much. You can't please everyone all the time. Or maybe you just can't please Harold; No idea - I don't know the guy.

Hopefully these posts pleased you this week and our return next week will be equally pleasant.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
April 1, 2005
New Member of the TMC Tasting Jury

new wine expert.jpgWe are pleased to announce the addition of a new reviewer to the TooManyChefs team: Spike in Australia. As you can see here, Spike fancies himself as something of a beer expert. He is also not adverse to the odd glass of white wine, providing it is dry and goes well with seafood. Spike will also be bringing us information on Australian seafood and terminology: yabbies, bugs, barbies and other arcane matters. Spike considers himself something of an expert on the pressing moral aspects of boiling lobsters alive and will also give his opinion on the tenuously related topic of foie gras. (Everyone wants to get his opinion in on that one.)

Many thanks to our friend Sam's brother-in-law for the photo of our newest member!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Family Secret Pizza Recipe for April 1

I really shouldn't be doing this, but in honor of the day exactly one month ahead of May Day, I'm going to reveal a family secret recipe.

Though he was Dutch and Irish, my father loved Italian food and he pretty much invented this pizza recipe. I'm sure you'll enjoy it just as much as I have over the years. In fact, I'll bet I've made this recipe as much as any other recipe I've ever tried, especially in college.

Do you like your pizza hot and gooey with a nice crisp crust? Do you prefer it slightly cold in the center with flakes of frozen cheese in places? Is your favorite pizza one with a "cajun blackened" crust and a deep dark mahogany to black cheese topping? You can easily adapt this recipe to produce any of those results. I've tried them all over the years and I can't decide which is my favorite.

Although I'll start you off with a simple cheese pizza, you can change the recipe just by varying the ingredients. Almost every other step remains the same. Try this early April treat and enjoy good some food!

Family Secret Pizza
One frozen pizza, your choice of flavors

This is a complicated recipe so I'm going to go step by step with illustrative photos.

Here are the ingredients:

You know how people say 70% of cooking is good shopping? It couldn't be more true here. Try to pick a varietal that appeals to you. Heirloom pizzas from places like Totino's can be particularly interesting. Here I've chosen a simple Tombstone variety, similar to one served for decades, but I've decided to make it gourmet by selecting "Extra Cheese".

Before you can enjoy your pizza, we must peel it.

Discard of the peel safely.

This next step is my own personal addition to the process and I think it makes a big difference. That's why I never fail to perform this step. Wait 30 seconds, then reach into the trash and retrieve the peel so you can read off just how long the pizza is supposed to bake and at what temperature.

In this case, we're going to use a dry heat of 400 F for 14-17 minutes. Dry heat is important. I tried boiling the pizza once, and while it was better than most of my recipes, the pie just didn't have that pizzeria taste. I don't recommend it.

Let's warm up the oven, or, as Escoffier called it - "preheat". No don't be scared by that term. We use fancy French terms for much of cooking because they got there first with most preparations, but the process is really quite simple. On a standard oven with a dial designated in Fahrenheit degrees, turn the knob gently counterclockwise using the least dominant hand (in case of a gas explosion) until the mark above the dial lines up with the mark on the dial that corresponds to the number 400. Your preparation should look something like this -

Next, you should check to see if your pizza has a cardboard disk underneath it. Ours does. This is common in Chicago and most American cities.

On a Totino's or supermaket brand pizza, this would be known as the crust. I'm not a fan of cardboard, though you may be and you should feel free to use it in your preparation, so I tend to trim it from the pizza. Ah, but reserve it for a fancy serving suggestion later.

After about two or three minutes, place the pizza into the "preheated oven" directly onto the grill. Some use pizza stones but we'll save that for a future entry. If you have a barbecue grill, you might want to try the pizza on the grill during the summer. The charcoal should give it a nice smokey flavor, especially when the cheese falls into the hot coals and starts burning up.

Note that as you can see in the picture, the pizza will immediately glow with the white hot fire of a thousand suns. But don't be fooled, it's not done just yet.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and check the pizza when the timer goes off. I mean, set a timer for 15 minutes, press the button that makes it count down and then check the pizza. After 15 minutes. When the timer goes off. And you have to close the door to the oven. Before, I mean. Oh for Pete's- Let the pie sit in the freakin' oven for 15 minutes with the door closed. OK? Are you happy now?!!? For the love of-

After 15 minutes (watch it...), remove the pizza from the oven and serve.

If you want to impress your guests you may consider slicing the pizza before serving. If you trimmed the cardboard off the pie in an earlier step and reserved it, you're in luck here. Try dragging the pizza onto the reserved cardboard circle with a fork, and slice the pizza directly on the circle with a pizza cutter.

Fancy, eh? And, by removing the pizza from the oven directly onto a cardboard circle, you'll avoid the second-degree burns that come from removing the pizza from the oven with your bare hands. (I was very happy to discover this little trick on my own after years of using the other method.)

Eat immediately, then peel the little bits of burned skin off the roof of your mouth that form. These are known in Japanese as "tasty joy lesions". Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi enjoys some "tjl's" here:

I hope you've enjoyed this first day of the fourth month's post. Next week, check in when I give you ideas for great variety pizza when you want something really special, but don't have the ingredients for this Family Secret Pizza in the freezer.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:11 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack
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