May 31, 2005
Apple Galette in Phyllo

Apple galette in phylloThe galette is a freeform pie or tart and is a great way to toss together something tasty when you don't have much time to make dessert: A little fruit, a little booze, a handful of pine nuts, a handful of raisins, some butter, some spices and some phyllo dough and you're in business here.

It's the phyllo that's the real timesaver. I was used to phyllo being a real pain in the butt to work with until I discovered that there are more brands of phyllo that Pepperidge Farm. PF phyllo is very good but dries out quickly. I used Apollo Fillo #4, which doesn't have quite the amazing texture of thinner phyllo dough but is much easier to work with.

The recipe here is enough for two galettes. One piece of advice - make sure the galette has completely cooled before you store it under glass or in the fridge. If there's any residual heat, the steam will make the phyllo soft again, robbing the galette of its crispy crunch.

Apple Galette in Phyllo (makes 2)
5 green granny smith apples (or other tart apple)
16 sheets of phyllo dough #4 (about 2/3 of a package)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons butter, unmelted
4 tablespoons sherry or port, plus a glass for the chef
2 cup raisins, half gold and half black
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh ground nutmeg
2 small pinches salt
2/3 cup pine nuts
juice of one lemon

Preheat an oven to 400 F

Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4" slices. Toss into a big bowl.

Add all the ingredients to the bowl excpet the butter and phyllo and toss well to coat the apples.

Take two sheets of phyllo and lay them on a large nonstick cookie sheet or a sil-pat (which works very well for this purpose). Brush the phyllo with melted butter lightly. Add two more sheets and repeat. Add two more sheets and repeat. Add two more sheets and repeat. You should now have eight sheets of phyllo stacked on top of each other. You should have used one tablespoon of butter for the entire stack, but if you like crispy or buttery a lot, you can double the melted butter. (Hey - it's a dessert!)

With a slotted spoon, scoop out about half the apple mix from the bowl and place it in a mound in the center of the sheets. Make sure you get apples, raisins and nuts in the scoops.

Fold in one corner of the phyllo. About an inch or two away from the corner of the fold, fold in the phyllo again. Continue in this way, making pleats all the way around. They don't have to be perfect, they just have to look decent and hold the center in.

When you folded all the sides in, brush the top with juice from the bottom of the bowl. Place one tablespoon of unmelted butter on the top right in the center of the apples. Place in the oven and bake until the center is hot and the crust is golden brown, just tending to mahogany, about 12-20 minutes.

Build another stack of phyllo and using the remaining apple mixture, repeat the process to make your second galette. Don't just pour the mess into the center of the dough. The mix is a bit wet and you should spoon the fruit and nuts out, reserving the juice at the bottom of the bowl.

When the galettes come out, if you wish, you may drizzle more of the juice from the bottom of the mixing bowl onto the top of them. Don't overdo it or the pastries will get soggy, but the juice has a lot of flavor.

One for home and one for company. That's my kind of recipe.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Fish with two sauces

salsa.jpgWhen I got back from my recent visit to the Salon de Saveurs, I could hardly wait to try out all the exciting products I had purchased. As mentioned earlier, I found the balsamic reduction from Mille et Une Huiles to be fantastic with asparagus. That was our starter on Saturday night. And our main course was designed to set off another product, a chutney de citron from Fan & Jicé Robin. This couple hail from the Cevennes region in the mountains of southwest France, a gorgeous source for creamy goat cheeses, figs, and, as it turns out, spicy lemon jam.

I don't know about the rest of you but I always associate the word "chutney" with Indian spices. In this case, it just indicates "spicy", not Indian. In fact, it was very spicy. It started out lemony and slightly peppery and slowly grew in warmth. The perfect sauce for my spice-loving Critic. I decided that fish would be the perfect partner and opted for some thick slabs of pink salmon.

And just in case I was wrong about how great the hot lemon chutney would be with the fish, I also prepared my absolute favourite Nigel Slater sauce: his Salsa Verde.

I would apologize to Nigel for publishing this great recipe, but firstly I never copy it exactly (I've got it more or less from memory now) and in any case I'm going to include a nifty link to his cookbooks so that if you like this you can buy the book. Free publicity - why should he complain?

Nigel Slater's Salsa Verde as interpreted by Yours Truly

1 large bunch of parsley (I like the flat leaf as it has a nicer texture)
1 medium bunch of basil
6 sprigs of mint
2-3 cloves of garlic
3 tbs capers, drained
1 heaping Tbs grain mustard
12-14 anchovies, drained (basically a small tin minus the one or two that you really do need to taste to make sure they are okay, right?)
juice of half a lemon
about 1/3 cup peppery olive oil
a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper

Put the herbs minus their stalks in a food processor with all the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil and lemon. Add a squeeze of lemon and about half the oil and zap it. Add olive oil and lemon juice to taste. It should be a thick sludge of green herby goodness, with some small leaves still intact. When I first made the sauce, I thought it should be smooth and mourned the fact that my food processor was too large and couldn't purée the ingredients properly. Stupid me. When I made it in the jar of the immersion blender and achieved a smooth conisistency it was much less interesting a sauce. The flavours seemed to fight each other and you lost that sense of a chaotic mess of herbs. So keep it a little rough and ready.

What initially intrigued me about this sauce was the mint. All the rest of the ingredients made sense together, but mint...? It works, trust me. It's delicious on fish, on white meats, on potatoes, on a spoon in your mouth.

As for the fish, I simply squeezed a little lemon juice on it, covered it with tin foil and baked it in the oven for about 15 minutes. The spicy lemon chutney was a distinct hit, as was my salsa. Fish with two sauces: it doesn't get much better!

Note: the above recipe made about a cup of sauce, which was more than we needed for three helpings of fish (it has a very intense flavour and you don't need much). It keeps for about a week in the fridge providing you keep it covered.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 30, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

A 3/5ths majority of readers is required to override any of the POTW selctions. This week I'm a little late because it's summer, baby! I was busy riding my bike on Lakeshore Drive at 5:30 in the morning and watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. I enjoyed the one, disliked the other intensely. Was it the biking I despised? Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

1. We start with a real Post of the Week. Jen at Life Begins at 30 is tracking her food each day and evaluate what she eats for its sustainability, organicness, etc... It's really a bunch of posts, but start with the introduction.

A. It's Nutella. It's a cake. It's Nutella cake! And it's Anne's Food. Of course if you make it, it'll be your food. I noticed that she mentions having five cats in her bio. Meg knew someone with a "Five Cat Plan" once...

I. Mahandi is a blog that I will watch with great enthusiasm. I've become interested in learning to cook dishes from the Indian subcontinent and Mahandi specializes in that cuisine. Where do you start? Well how about with ghee?

Enjoy these three posts this shortened week. I'm off to a wedding next weekend so I will try to persuade my partner in culinary crime, Meg, to write up the POTW next week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
May 29, 2005
Jello Shots

shots.jpgBarrett unfortunately was unable to participate in the latest edition of Is My Blog Burning? Somewhat embarrassingly, he noted in the comments of my post that he didn't manage to get his Jello vodka shots to jell. Our friends Jonathan and Angela joined us on Saturday for a small party and as I knew Jonathan had a weakness for them I decided to test whether I had lost the touch.

I'm not sure where Barrett's recipe went wrong. It was as easy as I remembered from my old university days. The only difficulty is in remembering to put the vodka in the freezer a few hours before you start. Once the vodka is nice and cold, put the Jello powder in a jug. Pour into the jug just slightly less than the amount of boiling water called for on the package. (For a standard package, it is one cup.) Stir for a minimum of two minutes. Then - if you like them strong, and I do - pour an equal amount of freezing cold vodka in the mix. Stir and pour into small cups. Actually, the smaller the cups the better as the essence of these treats is that you should be able to pop a whole one in your mouth. Refrigerate for a couple of hours and serve to bemused adults.

The fact that you have used slightly less liquid than the instructions call for means that the Jello will be a little rubbery and easy to pop out of the cup. Serve with a toothpick so that your guests can use it to loosen the Jello from the cup and easily extract it.

Of course the down side is that vodka does not mix particularly well with wine...ouch...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 27, 2005
Hunting and Gathering

spargus.jpgLast year I was very disappointed when Clotilde and Pascale and their foodie fans decided to visit the Salon de Saveurs on a week day as I had to work. Why didn't I simply take a day off work? Well, because I'm stupid. Also, I didn't realize what delightful people they would all be or I'm sure I would have called in sick if necessary. (Note to any of my colleagues who might be reading this: OF COURSE I WOULD NEVER BE THAT DISHONEST; I ONLY CALL IN SICK WHEN I AM AT DEATH'S DOOR...)

The Salon de Saveurs is a strangely unpublicized event. Unless you happen to be in Paris when it is taking place and happen to notice one of the posters you wouldn't known about it. I've tried in vain to find a web site about it. If you think about it, though, this is a good thing. Producers know about it but it doesn't attract the same volume of visitors as some of the bigger events such as the Foire de Paris. It's perfect foodie heaven.

Alisa and I met up with Clotilde at the Espace Champerret, where this salon takes place twice each year. Unfortunately, Pascale wasn't able to join us as she'd had a last-minute call from Télérama (the main French TV guide) for a photo shoot - congratulations, Pascale!! I was sorry to miss out on seeing Pascale but definitely profited from the wisdom of seasoned veterans Clotilde and Alisa. On Alisa's suggestion we proceeded in an orderly fashion, systematically covering each lane. On Clotilde's suggestion, we went through the entire salon once before going back to the stands we liked best. I have to say that this is the most intelligent suggestion I've heard in a long time. I used to go to the Foire de Paris, which is a trade fair on a grander scale, every year. And I would go wild at the food and wine section, buying willy-nilly and then not having the money to buy or the energy to carry really interesting stuff I found an hour later. It doesn't actually take that much longer to go through the whole thing once and then go back and buy at the best places. You don't end up carrying stuff around for as long, you make more informed choices and, quite often, when it comes down to it you decide that some of the products that seemed absolutely essential to your kitchen...are not so important after all.

That said, there were very few duds in the exposants of the salon. We agreed not to buy preserved garlic from a Spanish stand after realizing that the couple behind the counter couldn't even tell us where any of the products hailed from. But that was the exception. We tasted Corsican cakes and olive oils and a most delicious lamb and made more than a few purchases. Despite our wise decision to do our hunting first and our gathering after we came away with arms laden.

The hands down favorite for myself (and Alisa, I think) had to be 1001 Huiles. My goodness they did seem to live up to their name (1001 oils). I tasted a nutty spread made from a North African nut I've never heard of before, argan. It was so good I bought two little pots - one mixed with almonds and honey and one with hazelnuts and honey. I intended to save one as a gift for some good foodie friend but I'm not sure I'll follow through on that thought!

And the item I bought that figures in the photo at the start of this post also came from the stand: a wonderful sweet, savoury balsamic vinegar reduction. To show off this star, I steamed some asparagus with slivers of new garlic, drizzled some of the balsamic reduction over the spears and sprinkled them with grated Parmesan. It was my first taste of asparagus this year and I think I found the perfect compliment for it. Our friend Tony, who was over for dinner that night, complimented me on the great sauce and I had to sadly admit that I was merely a good chooser of a great sauce, not the great sauce maker. I may be dishonest, but I'm not THAT dishonest!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:08 PM | TrackBack
May 26, 2005
Chairman Mao Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

MAO.JPGThirty-eight years ago today my mother caught her first sight of me in St. Joseph's Hospital in Chicago. I'm pretty pleased she decided to have another kid and I hope she still is too. I know there have been moments in the last 38 years where she was less pleased but now that I've presented her with a grandson I think I'm golden.

Anyway that is neither here nor there. The point is that I like to bring something nice to work for my colleagues when it's my birthday. It's a nice modest way of acknowledging it's a special day and in return for a small investment in chocolate and flour I get treated nicely all day. And so last night I rummaged through the cupboards looking for inspiration.

I found it in the shape of poor Chairman Mao. He was a little dark chocolate bust of the Chairman that my husband's former boss gave him for his birthday. I say poor Mao because he toppled one day from the counter and all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put him back together again. I decided to use the remains of Mao in a twist on one of my favourite cookie recipes: the Fannie Farmer Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies.

COOKIE.JPGI credit my brother with finding this recipe, which became a cornerstone of my baking life. He probably chose it because the oatmeal made the cookies vaguely healthy. I love it because the dark chocolate is dense, the oatmeal is chewy and the combination of vanilla extract and almond flavouring is inspired.

How can you improve on such a great recipe, you may ask? Well, first off you can slightly increase the amount of chocolate called for in the recipe. (I've always done that!) Next you can add small chunks of Chairman Mao chocolate. And then you can add a few dried cranberries. The tangy cranberries are set off perfectly by the dark chocolate and they add to the chewiness of the cookie. And extra chocolate, well, how can you go wrong there?

After some 30 years of making chocolate oatmeal cookies I can't believe I have actually found a way to improve them, but it's true!

Chairman Mao Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Go a good little Communist and share these around!

1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 oz. (plus) of unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp almond flavouring
1 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup (around 30g) of chopped dark chocolate, preferably formerly in the shape of a communist leader
1 oz./25g cranberries

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Or, if you are lazy like me, put them in a small bowl and mix them with a fork. Start the unsweetended chocolate melting in a double boiler or heavy-bottomed pot over a low flame. Cream together the butter and sugar. I used salted butter because this is what we always had when I was growing up, but as a result the 1/2 tsp. called for in the dry ingredients was a scant one. Beat the egg and extracts into the butter and sugar. Add the melted chocolate and mix well. Stir in the flour mixture, the oatmeal, the dried cranberries and the chocolate morsels.

Arrange by heaped spoonfuls on greased cookie sheets and bake at 180c/375f for about ten minutes, or until they are puffed up and a little firm. Cool on cake racks and store in an air-tight container.

Note on the quantity: the FF said this recipe would yield some insane number of cookies and I used to get a lot of slack from my family members who claimed I ate half the dough. Actually, FF must have made miniscule cookies because with minimal sampling of the dough (about one cookie's worth!) you'll end up with about two dozen cookies. Not 56 or whatever the number was. So stop teasing me, okay? Annie was the one who once made a full recipe of chocolate chip cookies and ate all the dough raw, not me! (She contests this story to this day by the way...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:14 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
May 25, 2005
M'Juderah, Mdaderra, Madjaderra, Majudarrah, or just plain Lentils and Rice

There are an awful lot of ways to spell the name of this dish, and before everyone goes all nuts on me, I'm sure this recipe isn't exactly authentic.

It is very good, though and possibly one of the lowest cost meals you'll ever make. We're all for cheap eats here at Too Many Chefs. You don't need truffles to make your family happy with dinner.

I've never had the pleasure of travelling to the Middle East, but I understand a version of this dish is very popular in Egypt and Lebanon and I would guess all around the Eastern Mediterranean. I added pine nuts to the final mix because I felt it needed just a little push over the top, and I was concerned that not all the lentils were cooked enough, but we were hungry. The toasted pine nuts hid the texture of the rougue lentils and added nutty and smoky elements to the dish.

What most impressed me about this relatively low-fat dish is that it tastes like you've used two sticks of butter in the pot, thanks to the texture of the onions. Even more amazing, if you chop and slice the onions ahead of time, the whole dish takes maybe half an hour to make.
You'll be sauteeing the onions for this dish until the pungency is almost entirely gone and they give up the sugars stored inside. I used beautiful Spanish onions for this dish that oozed a thin milky liquid from them after I cut the top and tail off.

I'd like to give credit to the site I pulled the original version of this recipe from, but I'm having trouble Googling it again.

Lentils and Rice
5 yellow onions
1 cup lentils
1 cup rice (basmati would be nice, but any long grain)
4 cups water, maybe more depending on humidity
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts

Dice 3 of the onions into 1/4" dice. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and when the butter foams then settles, add the onions. Add a pinch of salt to help draw out the moisture. Sautee the onions for 7-10 minutes until very soft and slightly colored. Stir or flip occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a large stockpot melt one tablespoon of butter. Add the rice and lentils and stir, lightly frying the dry ingredients. After about two or three minutes, add the water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for ten minutes.

Add the sauteeed onions to the pot and stir well. Check the water level. If the pot is dry, add a half cup of water. Stir thoroughly, re-cover and cook for fifteen minutes more until onions and rice are very tender and the lentils are tender but give just a little resistance. Check for moisture levels occasionally, adding just enough water to keep the rice and lentils at the bottom of the pot from burning.

Meanwhile, peel the remaining two onions and using a mandoline or a knife, slice them into thin rings. Melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and sautee these rings for seven to ten minutes until they take on a light caramel color. Remove from pan and set aside.

With no more additional butter or oil, add the pine nuts to the pan you'd used to sautee the onions and over high heat toast the pine nuts one or two minutes, stiring constantly to prevent the nuts from burning. Once they've taken on a nice golden brown color, remove them fromt eh heat and set aside.

Salt and pepper the lentils and rice to taste. Serve in a bowl with the sauteed onions and toasted pine nuts on top. You won't believe how sweet the onions are.

You could add raisins to this dish easily, and I think they'd compliment the nuts and the sweet onion taste. I would soak the raisins in hot water or wine for ten minutes before adding them so they'd be plump and juicy.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:45 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
May 23, 2005
Closing a door, opening a window...

kieran and carrots.jpgI'm in a funny mood tonight, kind of sad and kind of happy. Big changes often take you that way and this one is food related. We saw the pediatrician today for my son's five month check-up and were told we could start him on vegetables and fruits any time. (Fire at will!) So being an enthusiastic foodie who can't wait to show her son the delights of the culinary world, I hurried home and steamed some carrots. You can see the resulting mess in the photo here. Despite his dad's dire predictions ("He'll spit it out, I promise!") he actually seemed to like the taste and the texture. In fact it didn't seem to phase him at all, to our great delight. After about ten or twelve teaspoons had passed his lips, though, he decided he was tired of the new game and wanted the old reliable bottle of milk.

And that is the reason I'm a little sad. After a losing struggle for the last couple of weeks I've decided to give up on trying to convince him to nurse on his mother's milk. I've been able to get him to take it first thing in the morning when he's half asleep and hungry, but even that is starting to be a struggle. So this is one in a lifetime of separations that will undoubtedly continue throughout the coming years until I'm begging him on the phone to come home from college for the Christmas holidays instead of going backpacking with undesireable friends in unsafe countries. I know it's natural and he'll be fine and that we are very lucky to have shared this special experience for the first four and a half months of his life. But I'll miss those intimate early morning feeds where it feels like he and I are the only ones in the world.

(And through my sadness the honest part of me is bound to acknowledge it'll be nice to let his dad crawl out of bed before dawn when the baby cries for a change!)

And as for the open window...this week week, the world! I can't wait to show it to him!

Click here for a photo of our champ BEFORE the carrots hit the face!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 22, 2005
Is My Blog Burning? Or has it jelled?

best cold ch soup.jpgWhen this edition of Is My Blog Burning? (hosted by Elise of Elise's Simply Recipes) was announced I was excited: gelatine is one of those things I've always shied away from and this would be a good excuse to experiment. I saw myself suspending a hardboiled egg in a clear delicate block of aspic, maybe following up with a chaud-froid of chicken breast. And let's be honest here: who didn't immediately think of Jello and vodka shots? I know I did and I know Barrett did.

But in the end (as always) bad time scheduling led to a re-evaluation of these plans. I opted for one chancy idea and one I was fairly sure would work so that at worst I would have something to demonstrate my ability to jell something somehow. Just as well, as idea no. 1 didn't work!

cold chicken soup.jpgThe sure-fire dish you see here was absolutely sure-fire because I already had proof the substance used would jell. Last week I roasted a couple of chickens for dinner and made a rich broth out of the carcasses. When I went to skim the fat off the broth I discovered to my delight that the whole thing had jelled into a solid mass. Perfect! Proof positive that this thing would work.

I could have just worked with the broth as it was but decided to take the opportunity to try my hand at clarifying the broth. I've always been fascinated by the description of this process in my Fannie Farmer cookbook and have always felt the fact that I've never tried it kept me firmly in the amateur class of cook. (Okay, well, that and never having been paid to cook for anyone...)

For my first attempt at clarifying stock, I decided to use about 3/4 cup of broth and try the old suspended egg trick. (These things are pretty popular in Paris and you can see them in the windows of traiteurs all over the city. Admittedly, I've never seen anyone actually buy one, but someone must be supplying the demand in the equation, right?) I hard-boiled my egg and in the meantime followed the instructions in my faithful FF, to wit: beat a little of the warm broth with an egg yolk while heating the rest of the broth to a simmer; gradually add the egg-white mixture to the broth and simmer for 15 minutes, then allowing to rest for ten minutes. The next step of the process was to line a strainter with a dish towel. The FF was explicit about not using cheesecloth as the coarse weave would not be sufficient to properly filter the broth.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm a lazy person and was not enamoured with the idea of filling a dish towel with egg gunk and then having to scrape it all off as best I could and wash the towel and hope that I don't get egg gunk all over my clothes short, I decided to use a few paper towels to filter the broth.

Initially, this seemed like a great idea. I was only filtering a very small amount of broth and so the size wasn't a problem. Within a minute or two, I had a couple of teaspoons of gorgeous clear amber liquid under the strainer/paper towel apparatus. Ten minutes later, I still had a couple of teaspoons. This is where my brain stopped and my faulty cooking instincts took over. "I know," I thought, "I'll just squeeze the liquid a little - very gently - to help force it through the paper towels..." After all, it was such a tiny amount of broth that I could gather the ends of the paper towel up and just...SPLAT! Eggy broth all over me, all over the counter, all over the floor, all over the stove...did I say this was a tiny amount of liquid?!!??

So I did some swearing. Oh yes. And I put my eggy jeans in the wash. And I threw away the paper towel and the now contaminated teaspoons of clear broth. And I gave up for the day.

Bear with me, we will eventually get to a "recipe".

So on Saturday I decided that the egg idea was obviously cursed and I needed something more interesting. And I came up with the item in the photos. It's kind of a jellied consommé with spring vegetables. Or a solidified vegetable soup. Either way, it's delicious and light and a lovely starter and something I'll try again when (if) it gets hot in Paris this summer. With home-made chicken broth and just barely cooked vegetables it's fat-free and healthy and a fun way to eat your soup!

To make it, I again melted down the remaining broth (about 2 1/2 cups) and while it was heating started a little water boiling in a small sauce pan. In the small sauce pan, I added one thinly sliced carrot, about a quarter of a cup chopped red pepper and half a cup of frozen peas. When they were nearly done, I added two spears of asparagus, cut in small chunks.

In the meantime, I followed the above procedure to clarify the stock, this time using two egg whites and a dish towel. As you can see in the photo, the broth did not come completely clear. In the future, I think I might just skip the whole clarifying process as it seemed to be more work than it was worth.

I poured the clarified broth into two ramekins and a small bowl and put them in the refrigerator to cool. I didn't remember them until the broth had completely solidified and so I was able to experiment and can relate the following results:

- pushing the vegetables into a solid mass of gelatin works remarkably well, though you can't control the distribution of vegetables;

- melting the broth in the microwave and pouring in the vegetables results in most of them massing at the bottom of the ramekin (which actually looks quite pretty when you unmold later as they are therefore at the top);

- melting the broth partially in the microwave allows you to distribute the vegetables evenly (no surprise there).

And there you have it: summer vegetable soup in a solidified form. I also slid a few slivers of preserved garlic into the soup for flavour and for esthetic reasons. One thing to note when composing your vegetable mix: red peppers look very pretty but use them sparingly as they have a much stronger flavour than the other elements.

If you want to make this yourself you could use a good broth and some gelatine leaves, following the instructions carefully for proportions of broth to leaves. Alternatively, you can just boil up a couple of chicken carcasses for a good long while, taking care to break as many of the bones as possible as they cook. Be generous with the seasonong if you are using home-made broth as you'll lose some flavour when it's cold. If you find it jells well in the fridge you'll be able to melt it and re-jell it pretty much an infinite number of times. It's a lot less fiddly than the gelatine method in that respect.

And for those who are curious about the failed experiment, it was a great idea that was done in by sloppy calculations. I meant to have a fairly solid thin sheet of jelled spiced port wine to put on crackers with a dab of whipped-cream-and-blue cheese. Unfortunately, I was using a minute amount of port and thought I could just guess how much of a sheet of gelatine I needed. I guessed wrong and the port didn't jell enough to be cut easily. A good idea but a bad execution. If and when I get it right, you'll see it here as I think the flavours will be fantastic and (if it works) the end result pretty.

Now I'm off to read everyone else's entries...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 21, 2005
Post of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week claims no responsibility if the content of this post causes riots in the Whole Foods Markets around the country.

A. I've been a big admirer of the Food Section for the past year. I don't think we've featured Josh on POTW before but that's mainly because he gets plenty of praise elsewhere. This week, however, he's got a round-up of some ingenious grilling gear. Memorial Day is just around the corner so get your gear together!

I. Holy hot dogs, Batman! Seltzerboy at Slice has pics and an account of a book signing by Jim Leff, aka the Chowhound. Mr.Leff appeared in full disguise to promote his book The Chowhound's Guide to the New York Tristate Area. Will the dynamic duo take Leff's adivce and drag their tired dogs to DiFara's Pizza? Or will the Boy Blunder get his way and deliver the Caped Crusader to a nearby Pizza Hut? Tune in next week - same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

1. The Pie Queen has a rhubarb pie for us that takes advantage of the rapidly receding rhubarb season. It's a simple recipe that looks tasty. I found her site through foodpornwatch and I wonder if this post is the one that qualified her for the site. Sorry to disappoint, but I won't be climbing on any stovetops anytime soon.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
May 19, 2005
Something New

CELERY1.JPGIn January, I made a resolution to try something new every week, theoretically providing 52 great exploratory posts and a world of new sensations for myself. And here we are, a mere 20 or so weeks later and I have achieved the following:

1) the inital post
2) bought (but have yet to open) a jar of pickled lemons
3) last night I tried cooking celeriac, also known as celery root

So we are being quite traditional with the old new year's resolutions here, managing to keep them for a week or so and then giving a token nod in their direction from time to time. Still. I'm rather proud of venturing into the world of celeriac as it's a big ugly root and on the surface it doesn't exactly look beguiling. I forgot to take a photo before I started, but trust me: it looks like a tough inedible turnip the size of your head. The recipes I read advised taking a good thick layer off when peeling..mmmmm.

I browsed the web for a while looking for interesting things to do with my big vegetable. In the end, though, I decided to start out with something simple. When using a new ingredient it's always best to be a little conservative until you know what you are doing, right? Mashed celeriac. With cream, because it just sounded like a great idea and how can you go wrong adding more richness to a boring vegetable?

So I put a pork roast in the oven and peeled my celeriac (thickly) and cut it in large chunks. I boiled it for about 35 minutes, until it was tender and I have to say it smelled delicicous. There was a faint celery smell with an underlying meaty potato scent, very tantalizing. I started to get excited about my food experiment.

I drained the celeriac (or so I thought), popped some butter in the pan and a little cream and started mashing with the potato masher. And I very quickly realized that celeriac has an amazing ability to retain water. As soon as I started mashing, water oozed from the chunks of vegetable. Note to self: next time be more assiduous in the draining of celeriac!

Although the celeriac was tender to the knife point, it has a somewhat woody texture and didn't mash to a creamy consistency like well-cooked potatoes. Actually, I thought the texture was satisfyingly toothy. I tasted a little bit of my developping mash: bland. Bland, bland, bland as a diplomat in a tight spot. I added salt, loads of freshly ground pepper and a generous grating of nutmeg. It was nice. But bland. It looked pretty in its little pot and I could see how it would be a nice compliment to roast game or even my roast pork. But I felt I hadn't plummed the depths of its potential.

As the roast still needed another half hour in the oven at this point, I decided to experiement. I squished the mashed celeriac into a glass baking dish and covered it with grated comté cheese, a little more salt and a little more nutmeg and baked it with the roast. As you can see here, it was very pretty. Again, it smelled very tasty. And it was more flavorful than plain old mashed celeriac but it was still pretty bland. Or delicate, if you like: one cook's bland is another cook's delicate you know.

As I expected, it went very well with the roast. But I don't think I'll be making it again soon. I'm happy I tried it and glad to know what it tastes like. But it's not coming back to my table again. Life is too short for boring vegetables!

Now...does anyone have any suggestions on what to do with a jar of pickled lemons??

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:59 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
May 18, 2005
Recipes from the Net

I've been making a lot of dishes lately from recipes I find on the net. I try to be original but there comes a time when you just haven't made a certain dish and you need a good place to start from. Here are three that I'll point you to that turned out well.

First, Giada De Laurentiis made these lasagna rolls recently on her show on Everyday Italian show on the Food Network. It's a neat way to make lasagna without getting that monolithic slab that can be so intimidating. Follow the link above for the recipe. Basically, a bechamel is laid down in a lasagna pan and 12 noodles are boiled until al dente. The chef mixes a ricotta spinach and parmesan filling and spreads it on the noodles then rolls them up. Cover with sauce, bake, and add more sauce at the table. Delicious and fun to eat.

The second two recipes I served last night. I had eggplant and zucchini and onions and tomatoes on hand so I thought I'd make ratatouille. A search of the net found this page on ProvenceBeyond that has threee methods of making this classic dish. It can be a one-pot wonder if you use the third method described, which I did. It's low fat with lots of vegetables and can be served as a stew, cooked down to make a sauce, or thinned to make a soup. I served it over a slice of toasted multigrain bed which sopped up some of the extra moisture and added a nice textural element to the meal.

Finally, I served tuna cakes with the ratatouille for protein. I doubled and jazzed up this recipe from Out of the Frying Pan with a little ranch dressing (yes, ranch dressing - it has its uses) and extra Tabasco in the patties. They could have held together better, and I will experiment with the recipe in the future. Next time, I'll add lemon juice to the dish to help brighten the flavor of the tuna cakes.

Try some of our recipes and then modify them to your tastes and do the same with other sites. Eventually, you'll develop a style of cooking all your own, best suited to the tastes of the audience you cook for.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 17, 2005
Will the Real Macaroni & Cheese Please Stand Up?

MACACHEE.JPGWhen I was at university one of my best friends was a strange kind of fanatic of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. When he volunteered to provide the food for our monthly dormitory meetings not even his staunchest friends would show up because we knew what to expect. Tom took the neon-orange processed macaroni & cheese one stingy step further than its usual nastiness: he refused to use any milk in making it, resulting it bright orange clumps of "cheese" powder in a clumpy mess of pasta. Ick. Even the potheads wouldn't eat it.

For my own part, I had a macaroni & cheese obsession too, but it was with the Stouffers frozen version that you could pop in the microwave. It would come out bubbly and creamy with a crisp browned cheese edge. Still, somewhere in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn't the real thing. There was a better macaroni and cheese out there somewhere.

When I moved to Europe, I no longer had access to either the Kraft (whew!) or the Stouffers version of macaroni and cheese and so I started to experiment on my own. I started with the Fannie Farmer version (that old standby) and found it to be bland, bland, bland. Over the years, I've improved on the base recipe until I arrived at a place where I have a big thick chunk of cheesy goodness, crusty on the outside and creamy on the inside. It's the ultimate comfort food and a true indulgence. I make it on cold nights when my husband is away and I know I can nibble away at it uninterrupted. I usually make enough "for two" and then spend the rest of the evening sneaking into the kitchen to hack off another bite until there is none left and I'm afraid to confront the kitchen scale in the morning.

Macaroni & Cheese the Meg Way

175g (about a cup and a half) dried macaroni
30g (about 1/4 cup) butter plus a Tbs more
30g (ditto) flour
215g (about 2 cups grated) very sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper the better)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
salt, pepper
2 slices of proscuitto or other delicate ham
optional: mustard powder

Drop the macaroni in a pot of boiling water. While it is cooking (follow the instructions on the package as to timing, as it can vary) begin the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the flour and stir well until it turns nutty brown. (Okay, yes, this is your basic bechamel sauce: if you already know this part just skip reading!) Slowly add the milk, whisking all the while to get a smooth sauce. I usually use a metal whisk and beat like mad because I'm too impatient to heat the milk first as you are supposed to do. It also makes cooking that little bit more interesting as you ride the edge of the crest, wondering if this is the time you'll fail to get those lumps out of the sauce. (Yes, that's rather pathetic.) Once the sauce is hot and lump-free start gradually adding the grated cheese, reserving about half a cup. The amount of cheese indicated above, by the way, is a bare minimum: the more you add, the more flavor. Flavor = good.

If you want to add some mustard powder, now is the time to do it. Personally, I don't find it necessary but to each his or her own. Tear the proscuitto in small pieces and stir it into the sauce. Add salt and pepper generously and taste to make sure you have enough. (Flavour = what?)

Remove the sauce from the fire. Take your little pan (ideally about 15cmx20cm and about 8 cm deep) and butter it well. Pour half the bread crumbs into the pan and tip them around, as if you were buttering and flouring a cake pan. This is my own innovation and I'm rather proud of it. Not only does it give a little more crunch to the edges of the macaroni and cheese but the pasta comes out cleanly, just like a cake. Magic!

Once the pasta is al dente, drain it well and mix it well with the cheese sauce. Pour into the bread-crumbed and buttered pan sprinkle the remaining cheese and then the remaining bread crumbs over the top and salt it again. Bake in a hot oven (200c/400f) until bubbly and crusty brown on the top.

Virtuously eat half with a nice green salad for dinner, telling yourself you'll reserve the rest for lunch the next day. Try to resist the second half for the rest of the evening.

Note: some might take exception to this definition of a "real" macaroni & cheese. The "real" macaroni and cheese is undoubtedly an authentic Italian dish made with loving care and full of flavour. What I have spent so many hours trying to achieve is the ultimate American comfort food, something that would remind you of your childhood but actually in some ways taste better. I'm not there yet on the apple crumble but I think I have the macaroni & cheese taped...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:22 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
May 16, 2005
UPDATED: Creamy Red Pepper Soup

Red Pepper Soup and Mixed Greens SaladSoup is my favorite food. You take a few vegetables, some onions, maybe a little oil, some water and some dairy at the end and you have a delicious and inexpensive meal that will feed half an army.

When I found myself in posession of a largish quantity of beautiful red peppers, it was natural that I'd think of a tureen filled with red pepper soup.

You could roast the peppers here, but its not necessary. The flavor would be more pronounced, but there's a lot of flavor in this soup already. If you like sweet vegetable soups with relatively low calories this is the soup for you.

We had friends over (my wife and her husband are training for the marathon (they hope) by running a few miles twice a week), and I served this soup with a big bowl of dandelion green, romaine, and baby spinach salad with cherry tomatoes and balsamic viniagrette, and a side of roasted corn on the cob with chili powder, lime, and black pepper. It was well received and matched nicely with a bottle of Big Fire - the Oregon Pinot Noir I've written about before.

If you add less stock to the soup, I would bet it makes a pretty good sauce for pasta or roasted eggplant or something similar. Have you had a red pepper lasagna before?

Red Pepper Soup

Five red bell peppers, seeded and diced
Six plum tomatoes, chopped
1 white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 quart vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper as required
1/2 pint heavy cream

Heat the oil in a stockpot. Add the garlic and onions when the oil is hot and stir to coat.

When onions are turning transluscent, add red peppers and tomatoes. Cook over medium-high heat for five minutes. Add stock and stir well.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add cayenne, add salt and pepper and cover.

Cook for twenty to thirty minutes, add tarragon, and blend. Add the cream and basil and stir into soup.

Serve hot or cold with appropriate sides. Reduce before adding cream or roast peppers before cooking to intensify the sweet pepper flavor in this soup.

UPDATE: I forgot to reveal the basil in the recipe. Also, one of our dining companions rightfully chides me for not mentioning the toasted slice of bread with garlic butter I floated on top of each of the bowls as noted in the comments below.

I hope there weren't any other secret ingredients I've left out, but if there were, you'll be the first to know.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 15, 2005
Another Sunday Breakfast

coffee grinder.jpgWhen my mother came to visit in January, she brought us the gift of a bag of coffee beans that she picked up in Costa Rica on her trip through the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, she didn't realize that this English-oriented tea-drinking household did not include a coffee grinder. So when we went out to the flea market at St. Ouen I kept an eye out for an old-fashioned hand turned coffee grinder. I've always thought they were awfully pretty and the Critic for some reason has an obsession with them. I was lucky and found one that was expensive but not outside the range of what I was willing to pay. And since the Critic had shown such a strange enthusiasm for a manual coffee grinder I decided to hide it away until his birthday as a surprise.

And then I forgot about it. It was "hidden" in a plastic bag on top of the baby's dresser. (Tip: this is actually a VERY good place to hide a present from your spouse. If he sees it - unlikely - he assumes it's some kind of Baby Stuff that is inherently uninteresting.) The Critic's birthday came and went and a couple of times since then I tantalized him with stories of the "forgotten" present but whenever I did it was when the baby was asleep in his room and I couldn't fetch the present.

Finally, last night I bravely tip-toed into the baby's room (is that an oxymoron?) and brought out the present. And he was more excited than I had hoped. And this morning we finally tried the Costa Rican coffee, ground by hand in our own Peugeot grinder. And it was delicious - thanks, Mom!

By the way, you may be asking yourself whether the Peugeot who made (and still makes) coffee grinders is the same one that makes cars. Well, it is! Peugeot started out making small mechanical tools like coffee grinders, moved to bicycles in the 1920s and finally ended up making cars. And in a tribute to its origins, the company still produces coffee grinders. But mine has a lovely patina and a broken metal Peugeot plaque and I reckon it dates from somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century. Decorative and and useful - my favourite kind of kitchen gadget!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 14, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Will return next week. I'd fully intended to pick three great posts this week, but I had one of those weekends. Sorry.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:49 PM | TrackBack
May 13, 2005
Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

strawberry shortcake.jpgOne of the first (and nicest) signs of the arrival of spring is the appearance of French-grown strawberries in the markets. After months of relying on root vegetables, apples, increasingly-dry oranges and anemic tomatoes we finally have real fruit. And so in a rush of spring fever I recently bought two large containers of plump ruby red berries.

My stepdaughter's favourite thing to do with fresh strawberries is to make them into ice cream. In fact, it's the onlyl kind of ice cream we have made together and it is pretty good. But when I don't have anyone but myself to consider I like an old fashioned strawberry shortcake. When the biscuits are hot and buttery (none of those mass produced sponges for me, thanks), the cream is rich and cold and the strawberries glisten with sugary sweet juice I'm in strawberry heaven.

To give credit where its due, I have to admit this is a Fannie Farmer recipe. I grew up with the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and as I grew more experienced and confident I realized that while full of good advice on how to pick vegetables it's missing a little oomph in the spice of life. Even when you double the spices in the dishes that have them it's a bit bland. But the Fannie Farmer comes into its own with classic recipes like this. If you tinkered with the simplicity of these stawberry shortcakes, it would ruin the balance irretrievably in my opinion. Maybe I am a cooking conservative at heart...

Fannie Farmer's Strawberry Shortcakes (makes 8 generous desserts)

Did you know that the "short" in shortcake (and shortbread, incidentally) refers to the shortening in them? Well it does. And that's why you can take it from me that this is the original way to make shortcakes for your strawberries and not those cute little sponge cakes. They should be called Strawberry SpongeCakes to be honest. Anyway, on with the recipe.

500 grams/at least a pound of fresh ripe strawberries
1/2 cup (roughly) sugar for the strawberries

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 cups/280g flour
4 tsp bakikng powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbs sugar
5 Tbs butter
2/3 cup/150 ml milk

First wash and slice the strawberries in big chunks and sprinkle with the sugar to taste, depending on how sweet the strawberries are. You might have to force yourself to try a couple to determine how much sugar you'll need. Set them aside in the fridge while you make the biscuits.

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C. Butter and flour a cookie sheet. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter into bits and work it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mix resembles coarse meal. Slowly stir in the milk, using just enough to hold the dough together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for a minute or two. Roll the dough into a sheet about 3/4 of an inch or slightly more than a centimeter thick. Cut out rounds and place them on the cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they have risen and are golden.

While the biscuits are cooling slightly, whip the cream until it's light and fluffly. Split the warm biscuits, butter them, cover them with the sweet strawberries and top with whipped cream. Serve with a nice dry glass of bubbly wine and dream of the summer days around the corner!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Check your market

If you're a biologist looking for new and interesting family of small mammals, where do you look?

If you're Wildlife Conservation Society operative Robert Timmons, you check the markets of Laos where a new rodent species has been found being sold as food. For years, kha-nyou have been marketed under the snack-tastic name "Laotian Rock Rat". Mmmm... Rock rat.

I'll be checking my neighborhood grocers this weekend for other new families of animals like the "Albany Park Twinkie Fish" and the "Lincoln Square Booze Hound".

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:45 AM | TrackBack
May 12, 2005
Besides Crab Cakes

Yesterday, I received confirmation that in thirteen months I will be a Baltimorean. My wife will be doing a fellowship at Johns Hopkins, and as I'm somewhat fond of her, I'll be tagging along.

This is a great excuse for culinary adventurism, so I have an open question for Chicagoans and Baltimoreans -

For the Chicagoans: What local foods or restaurants are must-haves over the next year so I'll leave Chicago with fond culinary memories?

For the Baltimoreans, what foods or restaurants do I have to try in Mob Town/Charm City? Remember that I'm a fish-eating otherwise vegetarian who is (wait for it) allergic to those lovely crab cakes you serve, as well as any form of crab, shrimp, or lobster.

And is it true you call styrofoam "skyraphone"? I'll be quizzing you Marylanders later on where to find good Indian, Mexican, and East Asian cuisine in Baltimore, so start researching.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:17 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
May 11, 2005
La Vie En Rose

BANDOL.JPGDum, dee dum dee dum dee dum...dee dum dee dum dee vois la vie en roooooose...

I love the pink life. When the sun starts making longer appearances in the Paris sky I start thinking about the south of France and its lovely pink wines. My dear husband is more of a fan of the Sancerre rosé from the Loire valley but I like a deep pink Tavel or a lightly pink icy Bandol. I started drinking these wines long before visiting the south of France for the first time and so I can't claim I found them there and drink them here to remind me of glorious holidays. (Instead, I remember visiting Provence the summer after the Critic and I married and exclaiming with surprise as we passed through villages "Oh! I know that wine!! It's really nice - we should stop here!") However you don't have to see the terrain before tasting the wine to know that it's made for hot summer days, cold salads and barbecues on the beach.

And so in preparation for this edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday (TMC's first participation in this fine event) I bought a nice bottle of Bandol a few weeks ago. I was already familiar with the Domaine Ott Bandol wine, with its funky bottle shape. Ott is a bit expensive though and so I decided to try more reasonably priced Cuvée Lou Coutri. At 6.40 euros, I didn't get the fancy bottle but I did get a very nice wine.

The first thing I noticed about the Cuvée Lou Coutri is the unusual color of the wine, a slightly orange-tinted light pink. The taste of the wine matches this light elegant look. The label describes it as having a "fruity touch" but initially it's actually relatively dry. After the initial dry hit, you do taste a little bit of a berry depth. It's lovely as an apéritif and would go well with fish, as suggested on the label. But actually, I think it's perfect partner would probably be a nice barbecue - a theory I'll be testing later this month. In any case, at under 7 euros it's a delightful wine and proof, if any is needed, that rosé wine has a lot to offer. Gone are the days when it just meant a sweet drink for teenagers and maiden ladies unused to proper wine. Let's hear it for pink power!

Thanks to Sam of Becks and Posh for hosting this month's wine event. I'm glad I'm no longer pregnant and can finally participate and especially glad she chose such a good topic. I'm not so good on non-French wines but have some confidence when choosing a good (French) rosé!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:50 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
May 10, 2005
Chard Rolls

Jeffrey Steingarten in his book "The Man Who ate Everything" rails against the ubiquitous restaurant favorite dish - "stuff stuffed with stuff." Sorry Jeff, but this is one of those recipes.

This is a perfect winter dish which I hauled out because it's been a bit chilly here recently, and I had some root veggies to use up. The recipe is based on one Deborah Madison published in her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book. You could serve this as a main dish or as a side.

In fact, the dish that immediately lept to mind for this dish was some sort of pork roast or pork chop recipe. In that case, you might add chopped nuts and maybe raisins to the filling. For almost any hearty main dish, you can conceive of a filling that would make these a perfect accompaniment. It's a very flexible recipe.

One piece of advice - look for chard that has broad leaves. You can overlap smaller leaves to make a roll but it's much easier to use broad leaves.

Swiss Chard Rolls after a recipe by Deborah Madison

1 bundle Swiss Chard with stems
4 medium or 6 small potatoes, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 onion, diced
3 scallions, sliced into 1/4" bits
Other vegetables as desired - celery, parsnip, etc...
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste

Trim stems from Chard leaves, leaving a vaguely heart shaped leaf. Dice and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. When hot, add garlic, onions, carrots, and potatoes plus any other vegetables that might need a little high heat to break them down. Toss vegetables in skillet with oil to coat. Add a pinch of salt and sautee until onions start to go translucent.

Add stock and the rest of the vegetables to skillet and reduce heat to medium. Cover and let cook for 20-25 minutes until vegetables are cooked but not mushy.

Meanwhile, boil a pot of water with a big pinch of salt. When boiling, add chard leaves and cook for 4 minutes. Drain the leaves and carefully unfold them. They should still have some firmness.

When the vegetables are done, remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon, draining them thoroughly and leaving as much stock behind as possible. Add lemon juice and mix. Taste for seasoing and add salt and pepper as required.

Spread a leaf out on the counter and place two tablespoons of filling on the leaf in the center. Fold the long edges in over the filling, then roll the leaf up the other direction. You should end up with a nice packet. Repeat with rest of leaves.

Place the packets in the stock left in the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until hot throughout.

Serve as is or with rice as a main course or as a side to any hearty dish.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
May 9, 2005
Alinea Review

It's difficult to review a meal at Grant Achatz's new Alinea in Chicago without using words like "transcendent", "deconstructed", or that horrible Donald Trump-ish phrase "total dining experience." I never had the pleasure of dining at Trio while Grant Achatz was executive chef there, nor have I dined at El Bulli or the French Laundry, so this was my first experience with the new way of fine dining pioneered by Ferran Adrià and Thomas Keller.

The first thing you should know when planning to visit Alinea is that you should have booked already. The restaurant is at capacity through July and with the reviews coming out, it should soon be booked deep into the future.

The second thing you should know is that you're going to spend a lot of time at the restaurant. Alinea offers a choice of three menus; a short menu, a twelve course, and a 28 course tour. We were told the tour would take five hours at least. Because we began at 9:00pm, we opted for the shorter twelve course meal, but tables in the room with us were just into the 28-course tour at 9:00pm and they were not quite finished when we left three and a half hours later.

I'll get to the food a little later in this review. Yes, it was wonderful, but I'd like to discuss the atmosphere and service and highlight some of the work that obviously went into the restaurant.

Alinea sits in a small two story building. Much like Charlie Trotter's a short distance away, Alinea does not advertise its presence openly. Only the presence of valets and the street number in silver letters on the door frame betrays the presence of what may be America's best restaurant.

Upon opening the wide double doors, one finds oneself in a hallway that narrows to create a false sense of perspective. at the end of the hall is a kinetic sculture that you can hear as the wind from the door moves it. Just before reaching the sculpture a wide door on the left opens and there is the restaurant.

The lobby area is small and darkly colored, but notable for the metal staircase heading up to the second level where three of the four dining rooms are located, and the brilliantly lit kitchen behind all-glass doors to the right as you enter. Sixteen chefs hunch over counters painstakingly preparing plates for the patrons. Staff buzzes in and out of the space. I was under the impression that we diners might actually be outnumbered by the staff.

After a short wait we were ushered upstairs to a two-top table in a room with four other tables. This is the only middle room in the space. The light in the room was primarily through visually hot canister lights in the ceiling supplemented by indirect lights behind the service area and the bench seating area that backlit glass tubes of green fig branches, the figs still in place. One of the servers indicated the restaurant believes food is beautiful so it uses food as decoration. It worked very well.

As I was seated, my jacket knocked the napkin that was waiting for me to the floor. It was almost immediately replaced. When our primary server for the evening poured us glasses of water, she let one unfilled glass slip and it clattered on the table. I don't think she did it on purpose to set me at ease, but given the overall level of thoughtfulness to the service, I wouldn't be surprised if she had. After we both stopped dropping things, everyone seemed to relax a bit.

The meal opened with the now famous peanut butter and jelly. A very small disk that had been in front of us to begin the meal recieved the stand for what I can only describe as a whisk with the loops cut off and turned into tiny hooks. Held at the top of this device was a single grape, still attached to the stem, wrapped in a small bit of toasted brioche that encased what I can only assume was peanut butter. We were instructed to eat the dish "like Cleopatra feeding herself grapes." As we pulled lightly up on the stems, the tines released and the packet came free. It was exactly what had been promised - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in miniature, only made with no jelly, just a single perfect grape.

The "dish" for this course is unique to the restaurant. Chef Achatz partnered with an architect friend to design and make unique dishware for the restuarant. Each dish is uniquely suited to the course it serves and beautiful. It will be interesting to see if the dishes are repurposed in the future when the menu changes. I suspect they may not be or only be reused in special circumstances.

I don't want to talk about each and every dish in too much detail, but here are some impressions:

A strip of juvenile coconut and cashew with bits of parsnip melted on the spoon and infiltrated my tastebuds while I crunched the parsnip.

Five tiny porcelain columns held five sections of a heart of palm each filled with a flavor bomb of sweet vanilla pudding or garlic or fresh fava bean or deep rich mushroom or plum with appropriate garnishes from black truffle to vanilla. What was to me a $1.39 a can ingredient at the Chinese market is changed in my mind to a vehicle for inventive intense flavor.

Bits of cod are matched with soybeans, homemade tofu, pea puree, an intense lemon swirl, and yubu (which is made from the scum that floats to the top of a batch of soy being made into tofu and which I will always think of as "soy scum"). Wrapping the cod in the yubu makes for a scrambled egg dish texture, but much more complex and flavored.

A broccoli stem is cooked, coated with bread, sauteed in butter, and matched with a smear of a grapefruit skin puree and bits of dehydrated grapefruit.

The frog legs dish that is not about the frog legs so much as it is about the morels and the deep mushroomy sauce that demands to be sopped up by tiny rolls of four varieties. Stripes of red disintegrate on contact with your tongue leaving a full smoky red pepper flavor behind.

A bowl without a bottom holds a spoon perfectly under a lip. On the spoon is a panko crusted fried artichoke heart filled with a truffle broth and supported by a small amount of intense tomato paste. This may be my favorite bite of the entire evening.

A long glass cylinder with five dents in the top holds what would have been bison, but for us was made a game fish with blueberry, beet, and herbal compositions. In the hollow of the tube (which looks like an instrument from a jazz percussion section), cinnamon sticks smolder. The dish reproduces notes in the flavors of the pinot noir served with it.

A squat hourglass shaped bowl holds pineapple sponge, foam, gel, and sauce with pistachios in every form imaginable. The bowl allows for a satisfying digging under the pinch to dig out the pineapple foams beneath. The wine served with this dish has an intense pineapple and lychee flavor to it.

A tube of crisp pastry (not exactly phyllo) brushed with a sour mix holds granola over a hazelnut puree that has a bit of curry foam on top of it. You crack the capsule and the granola falls into the puree where you can mix the flavors together. The mix of curry with sweet leads nicely into the two dessert courses.

A chocolate square holds a deeply chocolate mousse inside. The plate is dotted with banana sauce, and smeared with toffee. Amazing.

Finally, a large glass is presented with a vanilla foam and gel inside. Your utensils are gone, and the only thing you have to eat this dish is a bit of perfectly dry sponge cake cooked onto the end of a vanilla bean. When you've sopped up all you can with the bean, you drink the vanilla and are satisfied.

I've not mentioned the wines with each of the dishes which is mostly because I don't want to do them an injustice. Each dish had a beautiful wine paired with it. We sampled sherries, burgundies, pinot noir, and wines from Spain, France, New Zealand, Argentina, Austria, Hungary, and even a Semillon from France that benefitted from the famous "noble rot". I couldn't begin to remember the details of each, but take my advice and trust the sommelier to pair glasses of wine with each dish.

The meal was outstanding, the service was friendly and attentive, the space was beautiful, so what was the downside?

Halfway through the meal, my wife and I switched seats becuase of the vent blasting cool air down on her. It didn't bother me, but I did notice the cool. We did wait a longish time between courses near the beginning of the meal, which I attribute to a switch between seatings in the restaurant. The lights in the ceiling were too bright and while they lit the room well, there was no soft warm light to hold a wine glass up to examine the color, which I would have liked to do with the pinot.

Finally, we were offered a choice of still and sparkling waters at the beginning of the meal and the water we chose was a sparkling Vichy Catalán. Our glasses were constantly refilled which was nic, except that the high sodium content of that particular water started to get to us. While the flavor was great to cleanse the palate betweeen wines and courses, by the end of the evening, I was looking for a glass of Chicago tap water to quench my thirst, and my wife was watching her feet swell before her eyes. It would have been nice to have been asked if we wished to switch waters after the first bottle. You can probably file that under "Your own damn fault," but good service also consists of guiding patrons to avoid mistakes.

Other minor annoyances - Some of the smears of sauce on the plate, while beautiful, left we wishing there was a tiny bit more of the stuff to mix with the food. I'm specifically thinking of the toffee on the chocolate plate. Also, while we no doubt recieved our fair collective share of the wine, I noticed my wife's glass always had just a bit more wine than my glass. Maybe the sommelier took one look at her and one look at me and figured I needed the help to stand a chance. In any case, it was noticed.

The tab? Well it was a lot. The wine was just about 75% of the cost of the meal. This is a once-a-year experience for me at most. I'll decline to state the exact amount, so I don't shock some of my relatives, but this is not a meal, it's a total dining experience (heh).

Is Alinea better than its city rivals Charlie Trotter's and Tru? I don't know. I enjoyed the meal as much as any I had a Tru or Trotter's. The food was playful and inventive and the plentiful staff attentive. The last 2% of the polish is almost there, but will benefit from a little time. For a fourth night open, the show was very well put together.

Still, I felt some of the things done with the food was done in the interest of show and not necessarily in the interests of taste. I left sated and happy, but not as impressed as the build-up to the opening led me to belive I would be. So right now, I'd say its certainly worthy of the company of Tru and Charlie Trotter's, but my last visit to Charlie Trotter's still stands out in my mind as the best meal I ever had. I'll be interested in revisiting Alinea in a year to see if they can top that experience, and I expect they will.

1723 N. Halsted St., Chicago IL
Reservations accepted 10am - 4pm
$75-$175/person without wine

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:08 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
May 8, 2005
Toasted fig bread with spring honey

fig toast.jpgWhen I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s my mother used to buy tubs of industrialized honey butter. I can't remember the catchy name this concoction had but I do remember how much I loved slathering it over hot toast. I can't say for certain, but I think I probably even buttered the toast first, then covering with a mixture of honey and butter.

For breakfast this morning we had the grown-up gourmet version of this delicacy. Fig bread from the best little bakery in Paris, toasted and treated to a little organic unsalted butter and then covered with a thin layer of miel de printemps from my favourite honey producer. The bread was so light and airy inside that when toasted it became as crisp as a cracker, but the butter and honey softened it to a satisfying edible crunch. The fig and honey were perfect partners, the soft marshmallow texture and taste complimenting the nutty fruit perfectly, with a little sweet butter making it even richer. People ask me sometime what it's like living in Paris and I have to say that most of the time it's just living, you know? I don't appreciate this city often enough, caught up as I am in the daily round of métro-boulot-dodo (metro-work-sleep). But this morning, combining treats from two of my favourite food sources I remembered again one of the reasons I love this city.

At the same time, it reminded me of making breakfast with my mom all those years ago in West Chicago IL (pop. 13,500) which was nice too. I can't wait 'til I can share it with my son too.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:10 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
May 7, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

As easy as 1-2-3 to pick out three great posts from the thousands of contenders? Well, no. It's easy to count to a hundred when looking for good cooking blogs out there and most of them have had at least one interesting post in the last week. But a choice had to be made and luckily for you I am here to do my humble best!

I. You might think I have a thing about bacon (and you'd be right). But this post from the new-to-me Bacon press was an interesting exploration of taco trucks in Modesto, CA. While this only touches tangentially on the issue of smoked porks (okay, not at all) it was still a great post with lots of photos and a window into a cultural phenomenon that is unfortunately nonexistant in this corner of the world. I also liked the philosophy that led to the post: when in Rome, eat where the Romans eat!

1. In honor of Kentucky Derby week, I'd like to nominate this post on the true Mint Julep from cookiesinheaven. I'm not from the South but I don't entirely buy into the if-you-aren't-from-here-you-can't-make-one mentality so as a cocktail drinker from Chicago I'm always interested in a good recipe!

A. And lastly another relative newcomer is the Evil Fruit Lord (snazzy title, no?) informing us about the New World Fruits that didn't become common in Europe. I am a certified Fruit Freak myself and am looking forward to more interesting information from this source.

Z. Aha, you thought we were done, did you? Well, in skimming around looking for recent good posts I found a really good one from February and couldn't resist passing it on. So take a look at Julie of Finger in Every Pie's recipe for Potted Chicken and Meatballs and the accompanying thoughtful memories of how cooking brought her closer to her mother. I had the joy of learning cooking from my grandmothers, but it still struck a chord. Judging by the comments on the post I'd say I'm not the only one who liked it.

So that's it for this week. Barrett will be back next week (right, B?) with his innate gift of seeking out the quirky and fascinating. My work is done...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:26 AM | TrackBack
May 6, 2005
(Thai Eggplant) Curry

(Thai Eggplant) CurryI've used a strange parenthetical title to this post because I don't want to imply that the curry in this recipe is of Thai origin. The eggplant I used in the dish are those little round and teardrop-shaped eggplants, between golf ball and tennis ball size that I know as Thai eggplant. The "curry" is entirely an invention with global elements. Are we clear? Good.

Friends for dinner and I don't have a clue what to make. I'd thought about making a seitan version of gyros, but one of the four of us is a true vegetarian, and I wasn't so sure a fake meat plate would be the most welcoming grub to serve.

Then I remembered I had these little eggplants in the refrigerator, and thought of the green curry eggplant dishes I'd had in restaurnts around the city. I didn't have green curry, but I did have the fixings for a pseudo curry of my own.

I'd read about adding curry pastes to dishes so I thought I'd try to make up a "curry" paste of my own. It's not very traditional, but it worked out well. I also used miso instead of arrowroot to thicken the sauce because... Well, because I had miso on hand and it seemed to be a flavor that would complement what was already going on.

I will make this recipe again. I have to apologize because I'm going to leave out one ingredient. This isn't because I want to be difficult or keep the secret, it's just that I've lost the label for this jar and I can't for the life of me figure out what spice it is. It's a seed of some sort, prfectly round, black, about the size of coriander seed, and has a slightly sweet taste to it with an almost licorice and sage kind of thing going on. If you know what I'm talking about let me know because its driving me crazy!

(Thai Eggplant) Curry

About 15 small round eggplant. I used a mix of white and purple.
4 summer squash
1 can coconut milk - 14 oz
1 1/2 cups soy milk
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
juice of two small limes (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup shelled, roasted, skinless peanuts

1/2 cup white miso

1 jalapeno, chopped fine
1/2 banana pepper, chopped fine
big pinch kosher salt
2 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 tablespoons finely chopped galanga
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
1 teapspoon thai chili sauce (or use Tabasco)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon mystery ingredient seeds (see above)
1 kaffir lime leaf
1 tablespoon cinammon
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
a couple big grinds of black pepper (1/2 teaspoon)

Cut the tops off all the eggplants and cut them into quarters. Salt them moderately to help draw out the bitter flavor. Cut summer squash into bite-sized pieces of your choosing.

With a mortar and pestle, grind the ingredients for the paste. Start with the garlic, salt, galanga, kaffirleaves, and peppers, and add the rest of the ingredients one at a time. Grind well before adding the next ingredient. Taste a very small amount and adjust seasonings to your taste. Remember it should be very hot as it will be diluted in the final dish.

Pour coconut and soy milk into a large saucepan. Heat through and add paste. Stir until paste is dissolved/dispersed into the milks. Add lime juice, cilantro, and peanuts then add eggplant and squash and stir well. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover.

Simmer for 25 minutes. Check on vegetables. They may need more time, depending on how tender your eggplant is. Taste the broth and add more Thai chili sauce/Tabasco and black pepper if you prefer. Wait thirty seconds after tasting to make that determination, however, as the spice in this dish is of the "way-homer" variety. As in it won't be until on the way home you'll start to feel the burning.

Stir in the miso, but don't allow the mix to boil after you have done so.

Simmer longer until veggies are the desired tenderness and enjoy over white rice. Serve with a bitter beer like an India Pale Ale or a sweet drink like a mango lassi or Thai iced tea/coffee.

Have hot sauce, black pepper, peanuts, chili sauce and salt on the table when you serve this dish. That will allow your guests to adjust the flavor to their liking.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:25 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
May 5, 2005
Tru vs. Trotter

It's a knockdown drag out battle as the Trib's Phil Vettel pits culinary Muhammed Ali, Charlie Trotter's, against the gastronomic Mike Tyson, Tru. Which of these giants of Chicago fine dining comes out on top? It's close but the winner is...

Going to have to face newcomer Alinea which was scheduled to open last night. Food and Wine already predicts Alinea, headed by chef Grant Achatz who has worked not only at Charlie Trotter's but at the French Laundry and briefly at El Bulli, may be the best restaurant in America. How they know that when it hasn't opened is a mystery to me, but it's not the most outrageous prediction.

I've eaten at Trotter's three times and Tru once. Both were amazing experiences. I like Trotter's a bit better, but the service at Tru is incomparable. I haven't eaten at Alinea yet, but that's scheduled to change Saturday.

I'll let you know how it is.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:37 AM | TrackBack
Getting "Handled" by Calphalon

For many years, I regarded Calphalon cookware as the best of the best. I'm sure much of my desire for Calphalon pots and pans came from their yuppie appeal like BMWs or iPods or Perrier. Eventually I came to recognize that Calphalon isn't the end-all be-all of cookware, but it's still a pretty good deal at a decent price when purchased in a set or when picking up individual promo pieces on sale.

After our wedding, when no wealthy benefactor came along and bought us the Calphalon non-stick commercial set, I went out and picked up a box of the cookware from Marshall Field's on sale with an additional 15% coupon. I don't remember exactly how much I paid, but it was pretty reasonable. I was happy. I had the "uber" cookware I'd wanted for so long and it didn't break the bank.

In short, I've been very happy with the pots until a month or so ago when I noted the nonstick coating was coming off on my most used pot, a 2 1/2 quart saucepan. I'd made some intense rice pudding and I think that finally did it in.

"No worries," I figured, "This set has a lifetime warranty. I'll ship it off and soon have a replacement." I shipped my saucepan off to Calphalon and waited. After about four weeks, I called and got a confirmation that a replacement pot would be shipping back to me shortly. "What great service," I thought!

Today I got the replacement, and I'm disappointed.

In my note accompanying the pot I noted that yes, they do say on their website that they may have to substitute a different line if the existing line is out of production, but if they had to substitue PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't send me one of the newfangled handles. I'd rather have a different sized pot than not have the commercial style handle.

Well the replacement arrived and it's the Calphalon One pot with the crappy new handle. Argh! There's a glass lid with this pot which I'm not a fan of, but I hadn't sent my original lid in, so that is a non-issue.

I called to complain and the woman at the returns center told me they are NO LONGER MAKING THE CALPHALON COMMERCIAL NON-STICK LINE. I want to emphasize that just in case someone can contradict that statement. She even had the gall to tell me they "upgraded" me to the Calphalon One pot.

Look, sweetie, just because it's a later model doesn't mean it's an "upgrade". Compare the 1967 Ford Mustang to the 1983 model if you have any questions about this principle.

So, yes, I got a replacement under warranty, and yes, I got a roughly equivalent pot (the C1 nonstick sells for $134 on Amazon, the Calphalon Commercial nonstick sells for $138), but no, I'm not a happy customer.

Do I just suck it up and use the pot and be unhappy with my "dream" cookware? That seems very dissatisfying. Do I pony up $138 on Amazon for a new pot? I can't really justify doing that financially. So I'm stuck.

Feh. I should have gone with All-Clad or Viking...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:23 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack
May 4, 2005
French women do get fat

Today's International Herald Tribune has a story on the front page on the rising rate of obesity in France. It seems that although the French are still well behind the United Stages and the United Kingdom in obesity, their rate has been increasing by some five percent each year. According to the article, the increase can be put down to the changes in traditional habits cited in the best-selling advice book "French Women Don't Get Fat". Parents are less likely to return home for lunch with their children and frozen foods are becoming more popular as people have increasingly little time for traditional markets. In addition, snacking between meals is increasingly easy as vending machines appear in metros and work places.

I found this interesting as it coincides with my own observations over the last 12 years in Paris. When I arrived there were no vending machines in the metro stations; now you can find them on most platforms, selling soda pop and candy. (It used to frustrate me when I was pregnant that I could never find anything nutritious in those machines!)

As for the frozen food issue, I was amazed when I worked as an au pair for a family in the suburbs when I found that they relied on weekly deliveries from the frozen food store, Picard. This family had a full size freezer to accommodate all the frozen convenience food. The IHT article postulates that as the French are not accustomed to using highly caloric convenience foods it means that they find it more difficult than Americans or Brits to control the spiralling weight problem. This was certainly true for the family in question as both the mother and her three-year-old daughter were decidedly plump. This was some time ago, so they were a bit ahead of the curve. But if the trend continues those of us who are a little chubby may find it easier to buy oversize stylish clothes in France.

The article ends with a chilling observation from Michael Mullen, European product manaer for Weight Watchers, "The market in France is growing and we believe it has an excellent future." Corporate America - from fast food chains to WW - is finding a silver lining in this particular cloud, it seems!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
May 3, 2005
Blue Cheese, Artichoke, and Onion... Loaf?

There are times when I wish I'd taken pictures of a recipe and this is one of them. I had no idea exactly what I was going to do with this recipe until just before I made it, but it turned out well.

The filling is based on a filling I do for a spinach ricotta pie. I use onions and artichokes to provide the bulk and blue cheese instead of feta to accent the ricotta. The unique aspect of this dish is the way I ended up using the puff pastry. There's very little puff in the final product, but lots of layers and flavor.

I don't know if you use puff pastry, but I buy those tri-fold sheets of puff from the freezer section. The most difficult thing about working with this pastry is unfolding it and working with the fold lines. You get two sheets in each package and two shots at unfolding the pastry without breaking it into three strips. Here's the good news - you can mess up one of the sheets and snap it into three sections for this recipe, but you have to keep the other intact.

Blue Cheese, Artichoke, and Onion... Loaf?
2 sheets puff pastry (9" x 9", approximately)
1 1/2 white onions, sliced thin
2 9 oz. packages frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and moisture drained)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup cream
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown spicy mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (or two teaspoons dried)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
4 oz. blue cheese (I used a nice Maytag blue)
3 eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste (watch the salt in the blue cheese)

Defrost the puff pastry just so you can unfold it without breaking the sheets apart. Pinch the seams together to strengthen them on one sheet. Roll the sheet to make it one solid piece of pastry again. drape the sheet across a deep 9" loaf pan so it lines the long ends of the pan. Cut the second sheet into three equal lengths. Curve and fit one strip into the end of the loaf pan to form a shape similar to the heel of a loaf and do the same with the other end with the second strip.

Run hot water on your fingers and smooth the sheets together so they form one "bucket" of puff pastry. It helps to slightly fold the top of the inner strips over the outer sheet and pinch so they form one dough. It doesn't have to be perfect, but we are looking for something close to "water tight".

With a fork, dock the dough, or pierce the bottom and sides of the puff. Put the pan in the fridge, but leave the last strip out to defrost a little further.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. When hot, add the onions and sweat them for five minutes. A good amount of liquid should come out of the onions. Add the cream, mustard powder, brown spicy mustard, and a pinch of salt, and stir to coat the onions. Sautee five to seven minutes more until the onions are soft and translucent. Set aside to cool down a little.

Preheat an oven to 350 F

In a big bowl, beat the eggs, add the cheeses, tarragon, and parsley, and mash together to integrate. Grind some black pepper in and taste for seasoning.

Add the warm but not hot onion mix to the cheese and egg bowl and mix together well. You don't want the onions to be too hot or you'll scramble the eggs. Gently mix the artichoke hearts into the mixture.

Pull the loaf pan from the fridge. Pour the contents of the bowl into the puff lined loaf pan. It should just fit.

Gently fold the puff sides and ends over the top. You won't be able to close it. There should be a one or two inch gap at the top. Here's where that last piece of puff comes in.

By now, that last strip of puff should be pretty pliable. Roll it out to make it extremely flat. Dock it with a fork and put it on top of the loaf to close the gap at the top. Very gently use water on your fingers to meld it into the other pieces of puff.

If you have trouble getting the last piece of puff off you work surface, you can usually use a cold chef's knife to pull it up off the board.

Place the loaf in the 350 oven and raise the temperature immediately to 400 F. Most ovens cycle on and off to regulate the temperature and we want a nice blast of initial heat so by preheating the oven to a lower temperature then raising the heat as we put the food in, we ensure the flame will be going while the puff tries to rise.

After about 15 minutes, start checking on the loaf. It's done when the top is a beautiful golden brown. It may go 20 or 25 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for ten minutes before serving. If you let it cool longer, you'll get nice slices, but the filling won't be hot. I prefer the messy but hot method of just cutting into the hot "loaf" and accepting you'll end up with puff and filling instead of a nice neat slice. Your call.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | TrackBack
May 2, 2005
Tom Kha Tofu - Thai Coconut Citrus Soup

Penny's Noodles in Chicago serves good sorta-Thai food fast. The noodle dishes are certainly not 100% authentic, but they are very tasty. One dish they make that I used to love is a citrusy spicy coconut milk based soup known as tom kha kai.

Unfortunately the "kai" in tom kha kai means chicken, so since my conversion to vegetarianism I've been tom kha kai deprived.

I am deprived no more. This last week, I took advantage of the ethnic groceries in my new neighborhood and put together a reasonable vegetarian facsimile of the tom kha kai with tofu instead of chicken.

Now I'll admit the recipe for this soup may be a little bit rough. I didn't do a whole lot of measuring, preferring to work by taste, so many of my measures here are guesses as to what went in the pot. Give the recipe as written a try, but don't be afraid to add a little more of this, or a little less of that. You won't hurt my feelings.

If you're not vegetarian and you've never had tom kha kai, go out and get a bowl tonight. Go! In my opinion, it's one of the world's great soups, up there with mulligatawny, leek-potato soup, and gazpacho.

Ideally, you should use that wonderful red Thai chili sauce that comes in a bottle with a rooster on the side. I did not have any on hand when I made this batch, so I used chili pepper and tabasco. In any case, the heat should come on slowly as you eat the soup, at first almost imperceptable, until by the end of the bowl your mouth has a continuous pleasant mild spicy sting going.

Tom Kha Tofu - Thai Coconut Citrus Soup
For tofu:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Chinese black vinegar (or use an Asian fish sauce)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons sesame oil

For broth:
1 quart vegetable stock
2 14 oz. cans coconut milk
3 cloves finely minced garlic
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pound tofu - not silky, but the kind in the container filled with water
1/3 cup thinly sliced galanga root (or substitute ginger), bruised
2 lemon grass stalks, trimmed and cut into 3-4" lengths.
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons cayenne/red chili powder or to taste
2 tablespoons tabasco or to taste
2 tablespoon mustard powder
2 tablespoon onion powder
1/4 cup bruised kaffir lime leaves or 1 tablespoon grated lime zest
black pepper to taste (I doubt you'll want salt)

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, no stalks
12 oz. straw mushrooms (I can only ever find these canned)

ideally two thinly sliced Thai red peppers should also go in the soup

Press the block of tofu under a weight between folded up paper towels to extract water from the tofu for 20 minutes.

Cut the tofu into 1/2"-3/4" cubes. In a container with a lid or a big sealing plastic bag, add the soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, nutritional yeast (different from baking yeast - you can find it in a health food store) and the tofu. Shake the container up to coat the tofu and let it sit for ten minutes. Preheat your over to 350 F

Spread the tofu cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the preheated 350 F oven for fifteen minutes.

While the tofu is cooking, combine all the other ingredients except the mushrooms and cilantro together, stirring well. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

After the tofu has been in the oven for fifteen minutes, take it out, flip the cubes and put the tray back in the oven.

Taste the soup. The lemongrass and galanga/ginger flavors will be developing, but test the balance between the veg/coconut milk and the citrus. If the soup feels too bland, add more lime juice and/or spicy stuff. If it tastes too spicy - well, tom kha tofu ain't beanball.

After the tofu has been in the oven for a total of thirty minutes, take the tray out of the oven and add the tofu, mushrooms and cilantro. Cook until the mushrooms are warmed through and the cilantro has wilted.

Eating the soup is interesting. You can't really eat the woody lemongrass and galanga root or the waxy kaffir lime leaves (certainly not in large quantities) , but they do add flavor in the pot. You can either strain the soup before adding the cilantro, mushrooms, and tofu, or you can deal with having a little pile of debris at the bottom of your soup bowl. I've always had it with debris at Thai restaurants, but your kitchen, your rules.

Serve with coconut rice and a Thai iced tea.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:17 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Please be sure you read and agree with our ADVERTISING POLICY before posting.