July 31, 2005
IMBB 17 - Tea Concentrate

Well, IMBB has rolled around again and I've been experimenting with duplicating a drink I can purchase here in Chicago at Argo Tea at Sheffield and Armitage (right next to the Armitage Brown Line stop). That drink is a Teapuccino.

As you might imagine, a teapuccino is a tea version of a cappuccino. To make a cappucino, one adds espresso shots to a steamed, foamed milk. We can't really use the same method for brewing intense tea that we do for espresso.

Instead, I used a cold brew method. Use double the amount of tea you would normally use and pour in cold water. Shake it up and let the mix sit for a good three hours, agitating every half hour or so until you have a dark rich tea. The cold brew eliminates some of the tannic quality that the tea might otherwise have (that lip smacky top of the mouth starchy feel).

Filter out the leaves and use as you would espresso in a big mug of steamed milk with foam on top, or dilute 1:1 with hot water for a quick cup of regular tea. Stores well in the refrigerator.

No pics tonight, I'll try to get some up tomorrow.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Note to self: do not research the next edition on an empty stomach. It leads to a great deal of salivating and tummy-rumbling and total confusion on what to make for dinner...

a. First off, this week we have Barbara Fisher from Tigers and Stawberries has an well reasoned and passionate rebuttal to Julie (of Julie/Julia fame) Powell's editorial in the NYT. Julie seems to think the trend towards locally grown organic food is elitist snobbism. I've been trying to rely more on locally grown produce lately and it warms the cockles of my heart to see someone defend my position so eloquently.

1. Next up, The Food Whore gracefully reminds us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this glimpse of her "real life". My kitchen is full of cherished reminders of cooks in our family, from the chipped red Czech bowl I snitched from my mother's kitchen to the (some would say tacky) glass ridged bowl with faded gold trim that my Austrian grandmother used to serve the best mashed potatoes in the world. (My grandfather was a mean hand with the potato masher and grandma made sure he didn't stint on the butter and milk.) Sorry, going a bit off-topic there...but posts about families and cooking always get me reminiscing.

i. Lastly, a recipe for perfect peanut sauce from Cooking with Amy. I have never successfully reproduced the kind of peanut sauce you find in a really good Thai restaurant but this one looks simple and fool-proof. Also, I had never really thought about what a versatile sauce it can be but you can bet I'll be experimenting with it now!

And so that's it for this week: a little nostalgia, a little politics and a little good food.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 30, 2005
Cookie Monster!!!

cookiesheet.jpgI generally try to eat a healthy well-balanced diet free of junk like McDonalds, potato chips, and the Starbucks megacalorie latte of the season. However, I have two major weaknesses. The first is well-known to be ice cream, since I've become infamous among friends for consuming pints at a time, especially post-call. My other weakness is the homemade chocolate chip cookie.

I used to rely on the original Tollhouse recipe that is ubiquitous on the back of most bags of chocolate chips. I've also played with the frequently forwarded Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe, but they take forever to make. I've always liked to substitute oatmeal for some of the flour in my cookies (so that I can pretend that I'm eating something good for me when I go back for a fifth or sixth cookie).

Recently I stumbled on a different recipe I like even better. I found it in 365 Great Cookies & Brownies by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy Lebang. The cookies are so incredibly rich that I, a devotee of the cookie monster, can only eat a few cookies. They are also very quick to make (usually less than an hour from start to finish).

These cookies are made with butter so they spread out really thin and, combined with the oatmeal, make nice and chewy cookies. If you're like my mom and prefer a thicker cookie, you could partially substitute shortening for the butter. For the geeks among us, the shortening has a higher melting point and thus doesn't allow the cookie to spread as much.

I've also used this recipe substituting cranberries for chocolate chips. Barrett insists that the cranberry cookies are even better than the original recipe. I still prefer chocolate chips. Enjoy!

cookiesheet.jpgChocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 extra large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Kahlua (or other coffee-flavored liqueur)
1 cup (6oz) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking soda, and salt) together in a small bowl and then set aside.

In large bowl, combine butter, white sugar, and brown sugar using an electric mixer until creamy. Then add in egg, vanilla extra, and Kahlua until creamy. Then slowly add small portion of the dry mixture blending thoroughly before adding the next small amount. Finally, add chocolate chips until just mixed through.

Drop 1-2 teaspoon mounds of cookie dough onto cookie sheet approximately 2 inches apart. Be sure each mound is equally sized so that that all the cookies will be done at the same time. Bake in an oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown throughout. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet approximately 2-3 minutes before further cooling on cooling rack.

This recipe usually makes about 24 cookies for me, even after I sample the dough a couple times.

Posted by The Redhead at 1:06 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
July 29, 2005
Review: Nigel Slater's Toast

TOAST.JPGWhen excerpts of Nigel Slater's Toast appeared in the UK newspaper the Observer, I was intrigued. As any regular reader of this site will know, I like Nigel a lot. I love his salsa verde. His fish pie. His cheese and onions tart. I could go on, but I won't. I hemmed and hawed about buying his autobiography, though. It's not that I'm incurious or that I don't want to know what led a favorite role model down his path of life. I do. But Nigel Slater, while very open and sensual in describing his food, is fairly reticent about his private life in his column for the Observer. He has a cat. He has a garden. He occasionally says "we" and it's fairly clear it's not the royal we. But though I've been reading his column for many years now, I can safely say I know much more about his favorite cheese than what makes his mind tick. So, as I say, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I felt I owed it to the man to support him stepping out of the food world. On the other, I doubted his ability to come out in the open in the way that an interesting biography needs to do. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying a good autobiography or biography needs to have salacious details or scandal. But it has to leave you feeling like you know the author better.

Well, our good friend Barrett took the matter out of my hands. He bought me a signed first edition for one of my many birthday presents. Lucky me to have such good friends! Lucky me to have another modern first with a signature. I happily jumped right into it.

And since this is a review (i.e. looking back not forwards) you'll be wanting to know, not what I thought I would think but what I did think. I thought it was a fascinating way to approach the past: almost entirely through memories of food. I thought it was well written, as all Nigel's work is. It was painfully class-conscious, which surprised me though it probably shouldn't have. And at the end of it, as expected, I didn't feel like I knew Mr. Slater any better than a careful reading of his recipes has made me.

The story is completely food-centric, each episode tide to a vivid food memory. You feel as though this is the only way that Nigel can approach intimate matters: though the lens of a food memory. And although it's an interesting perspective, it left me feeling like the story was being told coldly, baldly.

Perhaps I was at too much of a disadvantage with my American food background. I had to consult the glossary at the back of my American edition frequently and guess the nature of some of the other kinds of food. This means I probably missed out on a lot of what made the book vivid for Brits of Nigel's generation. But at the end of the day, although I was glad I read it (and really glad to have a signed copy by my hero) I felt most of my misgivings were justified. Nigel managed to tell the facts of his story but all the emotional content seemed to be tied up in the food. And much as I love food, it left me a bit cold.

Toast, by Nigel Slater, Fourth Estate, 2005.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:55 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
July 28, 2005
Summer Squash Soup

Summer Squash SoupThis started life as a zucchini soup from the pages of Eating Well magazine, a publication I quite enjoy. I adapted it to use summer squash we'd purchased at a local farmers' market and was especially glad for the opportunity to use some of the tarragon we're growing on our porch in a window box.

If you've read this blog long, you know I love soup. I don't care that it's 102 F out, some soup is just what you need. That's especially true of this soup which is good hot, but should also be good cold.

I served this recently at a little impromptu get together and 75% (3 out of 4) of those sampling the soup liked it well enough to finish their bowl. The other 25% I think was put off by the slight bitter taste from the skins of the squash, so be warned before you serve it to small children or those inclined to react to any bitter taste with "ptooey pplp bleh bleh bleh fffft". You can peel your squash first if you must to cut down on the bitterness, but the soup will lose much of its lovely yellow color.

I would have liked to serve this with squash blossoms, but our markets are stubbornly refusing to carry blossoms this year. Maybe once the zucchini and summer squash harvests reach their full oppressive potential and defeating reproduction of the veggies becomes of paramount importance we'll see the tasty blossoms on the shelves, but for now, we make do with intense yellow summer squash in a nice summery soup.

Summer Squash Soup based on a recipe from Eating Well magazine
4 medium summer squash
4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup mild cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkling of dried tarragon to garnish
1/4 cup lemon juice

Wash the squash well, scrubbing off any dirt and trim the tops. Quarter the squash lengthwise and cut the long pieces into 1"-2" lengths. It doesn't have to be perfect, we just want them to all be about the same size.

Put the cut up squash in a pot along with the vegetable stock. The squash should mostly cover the squash. Add the fresh tarragon and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer then cook uncovered for 7-10 minutes until the squash is tender.

Using an immersion blender or in a food processor, puree the soup until it is uniform and smooth. Stir in the cheddar until it dissolves. If necessary, you may need to return the soup to low heat to get the cheese to melt into the soup.

Add the lemon juice, stir, and serve. Garnish with a sprinkle of dried tarragon leaves. Serves 4-6 as a starter or 2-3 as a main course with bread.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
July 27, 2005
Zucchini Pie

zukepie2.jpgI've been feeling kind of uncreative lately and it made me a bit guilty because uncreative in the kitchen equals a boring blog. I guess everyone goes through stages like that from time to time. But one of the many benefits of the blog is that it sometimes spurs you to try something new solely in order to have something interesting to say. So we can add this to the list of "What has blogging done for me?"

On Monday I realized when I got home that I didn't have anything planned for dinner and the refrigerator looked ominously empty. (Well, actually, our fridge is always pretty full but it's mostly condiments and sauces and preserves and bowls of fruit or vegetable purée for the boy.) I called the Critic who, in his usual brilliant problem-solving way, suggested ordering pizzas. With some reluctance I agreed it was probably going to be that kind of night, though I was aware of the fact that it would mean another "blank" day in terms of cooking creativity.

And then I thought, Well this is silly. Surely in this kitchen full of ingredients, I can come up with something to make.

And so I did.

One of the things I usually fall back on when I want a quick way dinner is a pre-rolled puff pastry. You can throw onions and Brie or blue cheese on it, spread a variety of vegetables on it, sprinkle anchovies and top with Parmesan, or make a chicken pie. But I didn't have any puff pastry. I had some frozen pastry but it would require 2 hours to defrost according to the package and I didn't think it would respond well to the microwave defrost function.

So I thought of Barrett and his wonderful cornmeal pastry. That would go extremely well with the two zucchini in the vegetable bin. And some cheese (of course). And maybe a little tomato sauce, a little thyme. Perfect.

Actually, it worked even better than I expected. One problem I often have with my vegetable pies, especially with watery tomato sauce and zucchini, is that they release water and make the crust soggy. With the cornmeal crust, however, the excess moisture was absorbed while still leaving a crusty bottom. If anything, the crust simply became better because it was more flavourful.

And so I felt proud of having created something very tasty out of "nothing". The Critic actually asked for seconds! (Though I think I heard muttering about "would have been better with anchovies"...)

Zucchini Pie

For Barrett's Cornmeal pastry:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
8 Tbs butter
1/4 cup ice water
pinch salt
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme

For the filling:

2 small zucchini
6-7 shallots, sliced in thin sticks
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
1 cup (or more) Beaufort cheese or some other sharp hard cheese
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f. Using a pastry cutter or a food processor, process the butter in the flour roughly. Lightly mix in the salt and the thyme. Add ice water until the dough forms a fairly stable ball. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

While the dough is refrigerating, slice the zucchini in thin rounds. Grate the cheese and slice the garlic.

Roll out the crust and fit it into a pizza baking sheet. (I found this had the exact height I was looking for on the sides of the pie - a little over a centimeter.) Prick the dough and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes. (Barrett calls for 15, but I got impatient. It seemed to work.)

Remove the crust from the oven and spread the tomato sauce over it. Sprinkle it with garlic and sliced shallots. Artfully arrange the zucchini rounds in a circular pattern over the sauce. Sprinkle them with thyme and top with the grated cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes in the oven (which you hopefully have not turned off, as I didn't tell you to) until the cheese is starting to brown and the crust is crispy.

Tip: Wait 10 minutes or so before slicing this pie to give the cheese time to set. It's much easier to cut, easier to eat and prettier to look at if you do.

The tomato sauce soaked into the thyme-infused crust and made a wonderfully savoury base to the pie. The zucchini and cheese and garlic topped it off perfectly in a Med vegetable feast. And the reviews were pretty good. As I mentioned tonight that I was posting the recipe for the pie, the Critic said (somewhat grudgingly), "When I saw it, I thought I wasn't going to like it. There was too much zucchini. But actually it was pretty nice." For him, this is the equivalent of four stars out of five. Success.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:05 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
July 26, 2005
Barbecue Bliss

ribs.jpgWe invited some American friends for dinner this weekend and so as I was browsing the meat aisle of the grocery store I looked for something typically American. And there, in the bio (organic to you) section, I saw a couple of slabs of pork ribs. And I decided to be brave and pick them up.

Although I like ribs well enough once in a while and usually in the summer when I'm in Chicago, it's not something I'm often tempted to make myself. They are awfully fatty and can sometimes be tough, so until now I've always been content to leave the cooking of them to the experts. But life is about learning new things and so I decided it was time to crack the mystery.

Initially, I searched epicurious for information. And I quickly decided I needed more expert information. And so I did what I should have done in the first place, and I turned to our friend Dr. Biggles of MeatHenge. And a quick search of his archives resulted in finding this post, which had a perfect summary of how to deal with ribs and how to construct with love the perfect barbecue sauce.

Armed with expert advice and information, I was finally ready to make my own barbecue ribs.

By following Dr. Biggle's rough outline of how to construct a barbecue sauce, I think I came up with a very tasty one. I put in generous amounts of piment d'espelette as I know that my main Critic likes his food to have an edge.

However, I must admit that at a critical moment (baby's bedtime) I had to hand over the cooking of my little ribs and so they were not quite as tender and lovingly dipped as they could have been. Dr. Biggles recommends frequent dipping of the ribs in the sauce and I'm afraid I forgot to pass this information along to the sous-chef as I hurried downstairs with the baby. By the time I came back, he was serving and it was too late. I passed the leftover sauce around the table, but the meat would have been tenderer and more flavorful if I'd only been there to look over them. Oh well, it can't turn out perfect every time and they were still very tasty.

Dr. Biggles' Barbecue Ribs (as interpreted by yours truly)

2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup rosemary honey
3 Tbs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 Tbs fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 large juicy clove of garlic, pressed
2 heaping Tbs dried onion
1 1/2 tsp piment d'espelette (substitute cayenne or chili pepper if necessary)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 dash of Worcestershire sauce

For the dry rub:
piment d'espelette
dried thyme
dried oregano

2 small slabs of ribs

First mix together the barbecue sauce ingredients and set it aside for a while (Dr. B. suggests two hours as a rough guide) so that the flavors can mingle.

Next, sprinkle the ribs with the dry rub elements. I didn't measure: just sprinkle to cover. You can now either cover the pork and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or just leave it out if you are going to be grilling soon.

When the meat is at room temperature and the grill is medium hot, wrap the meat in tin foil and put it on the grill. Cook for about 45 minutes this way, so that it stays moist and the spices permeate the meat.

Uncover the meat and slather it with barbecue sauce. Place it in a cool(er) part of the grill; you want the sugar in the glaze to caramelize but not char. Well, not much anyway. After 15 minutes or so, slather again. (Do as I say, not as I do, that's the motto here at TMC sometimes...) Keep doing this until you are out of sauce or out of patience or both.

Be kind to your guests and cut the ribs into manageable chunks before you bring them to the table. Otherwise they will sit there getting cold because no one dares to cut them up. Oh, and serve with a lot of damp towlettes and cold beer. And maybe some really good potato salad. And you'll be in hog heaven...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:51 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Wet Refrigerator

In yesterday's post, I alluded to the fact that my refrigerator is acting in a way I've never seen a refrigerator behave. Since we moved in in May, I've noticed varying levels of water and ice in the main compartment.

Let me describe the interior of the fridge to you. There are four levels not including the drawers. The top level holds milk, etc... The second level has a drawer underneath it that is intended for use for lunch meats, etc... We, being vegetarian, use this drawer almost exclusively for cheeses. Next down is another shelf and then the bottom shelf, under which are two big fruit/vegetable drawers. Under those is the bottom of the fridge with a shallow well for water collection.

But that's not the only place we find water in this fridge. On top of any container on the top shelf, particularly in the center, a pool of water will form, or if I've turned the fridge up all the way (in one of my attempts to figure out where the water is coming from) ice disks form on top of my tupperware.

I've taken to putting a cooling rack in the bottom of the meat/cheese drawer because puddles of water form there as well.

Let me make sure this is clear - I'm not talking about a couple of tablespoons of water. I'm talking about pouring out a cup to two cups of water from this small drawer every two weeks.

The vegetable drawers also get hit pretty hard with water. I've taken to keeping everything in plastic bags which is not good for most vegetables longevity.

The refrigerator is a Whirlpool, but we can't figure out which model. The freezer is above it and performs perfectly - no frost, no problems. The back of the refrigerator is sealed (the first I've ever seen like this - flat steel on the back) and the coils are not exposed. There is also no way we've found to easily get under the refrigerator to check it out. The refrigerator does not have an ice maker and is not hooked up to a water line.

Inside the main compartment near the back, I see two small holes where I suspect most of the water originates.

Anyone ever run into this? What the heck is going on?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:00 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
July 25, 2005
Suzette Pie

I call this pie Suzette because it features:
Summer Squash,
Zucchini, and
Tomatoes - SZT - SuZeTte.

All three ingredients are in season right now, and are some of the best items at the farmer's market.

I can't resist the deep yellow of good summer squash. There's not another yellow in nature like it. I find it pairs very well with deep red tomatoes and pale green - almost white - Mexican zucchini. While regular zucchini are usually 8-12" in length, the Mexican zucchini at the market is usually 3-4" in length and perfect to put in the center of a pie with a 9" diameter.

I'm still looking for a crust that's even crispier and flakier than this one but that incorporates corn meal. In fact, I almost didn't use a crust for this recipe at all. I was sorely tempted to make this into a cornbread and goop recipe.

You could substitute any good nutty cheese here. I used Parmesan because I had a big bag of cheap parm I wanted to use up before my watery fridge took it out (more about that in another post). If you have gruyere or taleggio, lease feel free to substitute.

Suzette Pie
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal or masa
1 stick butter, chilled, cut into many small pieces
1/4 cup ice water
big pinch salt

2 summer squash, topped, and sliced very thinly on the bias (as with a mandolin)
2-3 small pale green Mexican zucchini topped, sliced lengthwise (5-8 slices per)
2 plum tomatoes, topped and sliced lengthwise (5 slices per)
1/2 can vegetarian refried beans
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly (as with a mandolin)
herbs (I used basil and tarragon)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon oil plus some for drizzling and for oiling pan
3/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Mix the salt, cornmeal, and flour together in a big bowl. Chill the butter bits and add into the flour combo, squishing with your fingers to work the butter in until the mix resembles a grainy mix. Add the ice water and work mix into a dough ball. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sautee onions in a tablespoon of hot oil. Add salt to draw water out of the onions. When onions are soft and just taking on color, remove from heat and set aside. Grease up a standard 9" cake pan.

Roll the dough ball out on a floured surface into a round just larger than the cake pan. Place the dough in the pan and work the edges so you have a hollow crust. Brush with oil lightly and put into preheated oven. Bake for 25 minutes.

Toss the summer squash with a tablespoon or two of water and chopped up herbs, enough to taste. Herbs should cling to squash.

After 25 minutes in the oven, spread vegetarian refried beans over the base of the crust. Spread sautéed onions over that, distributing evenly. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over that. Next layer summer squash in a decorative pattern, overlapping slices. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top of this layer.

Zucchini and tomato slices in a decorative radial pattern make up the next layer, salt and pepper them, and more summer squash slices go on top of that. Brush the top slices lightly with oil, add 1/4 cup Parmesan and a sprinkling of herbs, salt, and pepper. Drop oven temperature to 325 F. Bake for 20 minutes until pie is hot throughout and squash has shrunk a bit.

Let cool for ten minutes before de-plating. Turn the cake pan upside down while holding the pie's top with your clean hand, then place a plate over the bottom of the pie and re-invert. It should release from the cake pan easily and hold together while you switch it from the cake pan to a plate.

Cut and serve immediately or allow to cool completely and serve cold. A splash of lemon or lemon balm wouldn't be out of place.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:08 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
July 23, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week - now with Martinizing power!

1. I use foodpornwatch to find a lot of other blogs, but I often miss the foodpornwatch blog itself. This week scotch is tasted and drowsy drunken expressions are photographed and displayed to an unsuspecting public.

I. If you respect Bacon Press's authoritay you will enjoy some nice Cheesy Poofs or as the French call them "Gougères" (which translates to "No, kitty these are mine!".

A. When it's hot, you want a nice light beer (but not a Lite beer if you know what I mean). A Good Beer Blog (which is, in fact, a pretty great beer blog) samples six lovely US Pale Ales so we don't have to. Um, but I think I might want to...

The summer get hotter and Posts of the Week does too. Surf in next week for more from the best food blogs on the web.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 21, 2005
Cleaning Out the Icebox: the Vegetarian Edition

salad.jpgWhen I was growing up my grandmother had a vocabulary all her own. My grandma had a davenport, not a couch. She cleaned out the icebox. In our house it was cleaning out the fridge. Well, icebox sounds more frugal and quaint so I'll skip a generation and revert. The principle is the same: you choose an evening when your picky spouse is away and you pull out all those leftovers that would have gone bad if you left them in there much longer. And you feast.

I've been pretty unambitious lately in the cooking department. In some ways, having a grill has liberated me from fancy cooking in the summer. All I need is a slab of protein, a few spices and a few seconds to heat the gas grill and we have perfect summer food. So if I do anything special at all, it's probably going to be vegetable-based. And I did a few tasty vegetables this week, none of which seemed exciting enough to justify a post on its own. But they made a great dinner for me tonight. And so, collectively, I guess they make a post.

Tonight's dinner was a trio of tasty vegetable side dishes. Together they made a fabulous meal. Too bad my vegetarian friends Barrett and his-lovely-wife-Rebecca are a few thousand miles away.

First up, was a recipe from a book that Barrett gave me a while back: Deborah Madsen's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was looking for something different to do with an eggplant and something about the simplicity of this recipe (and the fact that I love all the ingredients that went into it) called to me. I made one small adjustment. I added garlic. I think that just about anything that includes olive oil and pine nuts cannot help but be improved by the addition of garlic. Blame it on my old Italin-American friend Tom: I'm a garlic fiend.

It's hardly a recipe. You take a medium eggplant and cut it in one inch cubes. Pour about a 1/4 cup of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and toss the eggplant cubes in it. Put on a relatively high flame and stir every few minutes to brown the eggplant cubes on all sides. In the meantime, slice finely a plump garlic clove. Add it to the pan with about a 1/4 cup pine nuts. Toss. When the garlic smells sweet and the pine nuts are just starting to brown, turn the heat down to its lowest point and cover. Let the eggplant steam until it's tender. Toss with 2 Tbs fresh parsley and a generous pinch of salt and serve. It's lovely. The eggplant's nuttiness goes well with the pine nuts, the parsley gives a fresh taste to everything and there's an underlying olive oil theme. Heavenly. I don't know why the Critic didn't want any when he came home from work last night but I was glad he didn't: more for me.

Next up, was a simple cherry tomato and cucumber salad. This "recipe" is even less complicated than the last. Take one small container of yogurt (brassé for preference) and into it mix 1-2 Tbs fresh or frozen chopped dill and one pressed small clove of garlic. Mix well and toss with half a cucumber (sliced) and a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes. Salt to taste and let steep in the fridge (icebox) for 15 minutes or more so that the flavors can mingle. Serve cold

And if you are lucky, you'll serve the latter on a smal salad of lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes from your own garden. What amazed me most about the lettuce (pictured above) is how fresh it stayed despite the abuse it received from me. Day one: I picked the lettuce, washed it, put it in a towel to drain and forgot it. Day two: found the lettuce and put it in a tupperware-like container in the fridge. Day four: brought the container of lettuce to work and realized afterwards that I had an engagement to lunch with a friend. D'oh! Brought home salad, where it sat on the dining room table on a hot summer day for several hours before I finally remembered it and had it for dinner.

And it was still crisp. Sweet.

I wonder how old those bags of salad that I occasionally buy at the grocery store are? Because they go bad in 48 hours in the fridge.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
July 20, 2005
Stop and Go salsas - Part 2 of 2

In the previous installment, we made a roasted tomato salsa. Today - a sweet green tomatilla salsa.

The sour of the tomatilla here requires just a bit of sugar. You can add sugar to any salsa if you feel the sour/tart balance is off or if your tomatoes just weren't quite ripe enough.

The recipe looks a lot like the Red Tomato Salsa recipe. To be honest, I copied and edited the previosu recipe to make sure you had all the recipes at your fingertips.

Once you master the technique you can make any roast salsa. You could try mixing tomatoes and tomatillas and see what you can come up with. Maybe bell peppers in red or green or yellow. Maybe some poblanos? You make it up.

Roasted Tomatilla Salsa
1 pound tomatillas
2 jalapenos
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon of sugar
big pinch of salt.

First, remove the outer papery husk from all the tomatillas, and rinse the fruit. There's a sticky substance on the flesh of th efruit that you want to get off before cooking or eating these tomatillas. Pat dry with a towel.

Place the washed tomatatillas on a baking sheet with sides or in a big oven-safe casserole pan along with the jalapenos. Wrap the garlic in a bit of aluminum foil and place in the pan.

Set the oven to broil and slide the pan under the broiler. after five minutes or so (the tomatilla skins should be a bit blackened), turn the peppers and tomatillas and broil the other side for five minutes.

Remove the tomatillas and the juices from the pan. Check on the garlic and the peppers. If the garlic is soft remove it. If not, put it back in the pan and continue roasting, checking it and turning the peppers every few minutes. Remove the peppers from the pan and set aside in a paper bag for a few minutes.

Peel the peppers, peel the tomatillas, and dice the flesh of each, placing the results in a blender or food processor. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin into the blender.

Pulse the blender if you can or blend very briefly multiple times to get a chunky blended consistency. You may have to work in batches.

Rinse the finely chopped onion and drain. This removes much of the acrid flavor from the onion, leaving only a fresh taste. Add the onion and cilantro and sugar to the blended tomatillas, mix well and salt to taste.

Refrigerate for an hour or more before serving.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
July 19, 2005
Somewhat Mexican Chicken

A year ago last November, the Critic was sent to New Zealand on business. It was a pretty flimsy excuse for a business trip: he was the chief page turner (or its modern equivalent: mouse clicker) on a presentation that was being given to the New Zealand government by the international organisation he works for here in Paris. I didn't like being left on my own while he went to exotic places (who would?) but I knew there would be a small compensation: exotic gifts. Nor was I wrong. He brought back a sheet of Lord of the Rings stamps (the film had its world premier while he was there), a small Art Deco table and three bags of dry rub spices. (You were wondering when we would get to the food, I'll bet.) One was for fish, one for poultry and one for beef. They were delicious. They made last-minute healthy meals a dream. Rub down a chicken breast/steak/piece of fish with the appropriate powder, slap it on a grill pan or a grill and 10-15 minutes later we had spicy delicious protein.

And, as good things will, eventually the supply started to dwindle. I conserved. I skimped. Nothing could change the fact that eventually I was going to run out and unfortunately the list of ingredients was depressingly short: spices, salt.

So now I'm stuck trying to reproduce them myself. Well, it's fun experimenting.

The one spice that definitely came through on the chicken variety was ground coriander and that's why I chose it as the base for this dry rub. And because Barrett had been telling me about his upcoming salsas, I guess that was in my mind too. However, unlike Barrett, I determined to stick with my classic fresh tomato salsa.

Some years ago when I first knew our friend Jonathan he complimented me on the authenticity of my tomato salsa. As he came to France fresh from a posting with the UK embassy in Mexico City, I was flattered and pleased. I'd always assumed my version (which is based on no recipe, just common knowledge as I was growing up) was Tex-Mex. Apparently, it was actually something like real Mexican food. Cool.

The salsa worked extremely well at bringing a little much needed moisture to the meat. And the flavours complimented the spicy rub perfectly.

Somewhat Mexican Chicken

2 Tbs coriander
1 Tbs dried onion flakes
large pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 chicken breasts

for the salsa:
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1-2 finely chopped shallots
1-t jalepeno peppers
2 Tbs fressh coriander
1 Tbs lime juice
pinch of salt
1 fat clove of garlic, very finely chopped

First toss the salsa elements together and put in the refrigerator so that the flavours can mingle and strenghten.

Next, turn on your grill or put a fire under your grill pan. Toss the dry rub spices together and roll the chicken breasts in the it, pressing firmly to get as much as possible of the spices to stick to the flesh. Toss them on the grill and let them sizzle. When the spices are toasted and there are grill marks on the meat, turn them over.

When the breasts are done, place them on a plate and spoon salsa over them. Serve with sweet corn and/or a large fresh salad and you'll have a fresh tasty (fairly) low-calorie dinner! (Sweet corn has a surprisingly high number of points in Weight Watchers, sigh. There is a reason they call it sweet.)

As meat dishes go, this one was fairly pretty. But I forgot to take a photo. Forgive me but I'm expecting you to fall back on your vivid imaginations yet again. I'm off to finish a surprisingly absorbing book that I recently bought...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
July 18, 2005
Stop and Go salsas - Part 1 of 2

Here we have not one but two delicious salsa recipes adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen cookbook.

Both of these recipes require broiling tomatoes or tomatillos until the skins slip off and the flavors in the fruit are concentrated and infused with a wonderful smoky taste. The fresh onions in each recipe add a nice light flavor to contrast with the richness of the main ingredients.

If you're like me, you probably were a little reluctant to work with tomatillos the first time you ever saw them. Their pale green color and stange papery outer cover and sticky skins make them alien to most American cooks.

Well, get over it. Really, tomatillos are fun and add bright flavor to any dish. OK, maybe not every dish. I haven't tried tomatillo ice cream, but I bet it's coming up on Iron Chef this week.

Get some chips and some friends, make some guacamole and set out these two salsas to set off a feeding frenzy.

Roasted Red Tomato Salsa
1 pound tomatoes (I prefer plum tomatoes)
2 jalapenos
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet with sides or in a big oven-safe casserole pan along with the jalapenos. Wrap the garlic in a bit of aluminum foil and place in the pan.

Set the oven to broil and slide the pan under the broiler. after five minutes or so (the tomato skins should be a bit blackened), turn the peppers and tomatoes and broil the other side for five minutes.

Remove the tomatoes and the juices from the pan. Check on the garlic and the peppers. If the garlic is soft remove it. If not, put it back in the pan and continue roasting, checking it and turning the peppers every few minutes. Remove the peppers from the pan and set aside in a paper bag for a few minutes.

Peel the peppers, peel the tomatoes, and dice the flesh of each, placing the results in a blender or food processor. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin into the blender.

Pulse the blender if you can or blend very briefly multiple times to get a chunky blended consistency. You may have to work in batches.

Rinse the finely chopped onion and drain. This removes much of the acrid flavor from the onion, leaving only a fresh taste. Add the onion and cilantro to the blended tomatoes, mix well and salt to taste.

Refrigerate for an hour or more before serving. I'll post the green salsa recipe tomorrow.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
July 16, 2005
Technical Wackiness

Please bear with us as we move servers. There's some wackiness already going on, but we're working to correct it. Thanks.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 14, 2005
Appearing for the defense...

Jill Hunter Pellettieri defends terminally perky Rachel Ray from her detractors over on Salon today. Good read.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 13, 2005
Better Late Than Never: the Cookbook Meme

Over a month ago, we were tapped by Kate of the Accidental Hedonist in the cookbook meme that was making the rounds of food blogs. At the time, we seemed to be running a lot of non-recipe posts and so our response got put aside. Big mistake. That is how we forget things for weeks and weeks. And it's especially unfortunate as this meme combines my two favourite things: cooking and books. So, better late than never, here is my response:

1. Total number of (cook) books I’ve owned: 27 (I think - there may be one or two kicking around the bedroom, living room, baby's room...)

2. Last (cook) book I bought:
Well, the last one I bought personally was Sauces Sweet and Savoury, Classic and New by Michel Roux but my sister recently gave me two Silver Palate books.

3. Last (food) book I read:
Long ago in France by MFK Fisher. I finished it this morning and its loving descriptions of Dijon in the 1930s had my mouth watering. I have long known that Burgundian cuisine is wonderful, but this book brought it home even more. Snails, sauces, creamy dishes...all described in exquisite salivating detail...

4. Five (cook) books that mean a lot to me:

The Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School cookbook (1950s edition) has to come first. My mother's old tattered copy was my first reference book in the world of cooking and even as a child I loved just paging through it reading about how to make jam or pick fruit. I now have a 1980s edition and the Critic bought me a reproduction of the first, 1896, edition. Reading the first edition has made me realize why it is such a good reference work; it was originally a textbook for a cooking school and so has great basic information in addition to the recipes.

Nigel Slater's Appetite. This is his best book, a big compendium of recipes and food philosophy. Nigel is a wonderfully readable food writer. Not only does he describe the food lovingly but he makes you feel like he's a good friend telling you about this great dish he just discovered. It's the first cookbook I ever sat down and read from cover to cover.

American Woman's Cookbook. I found this cookbook in my grandmother's kitchen when we were clearing the house after she died. As she was an Austriam immigrant I imagine her buying this book as a young wife, so that she could prepare American dishes for her American son. She was the best cook I have ever known and happily she didn't adopt much from this book as it is full of typical early 20th century American dishes: elaborate, bland and uninteresting for the most part. On the other hand, as a piece of cultural history it's fascinating.

Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking. My sister gave me this cookbook one year for Christmas and it's been one of my favourites ever since. Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Italian food was very limited and it has opened my eyes to the wonderful variety of Italian dishes in the world. It also gave me the courage to try my hand at pasta-making, which is a hoot!

Larousse Gastronomique. The classic reference book. I love my Larousse: it is the food equivalent of the Encyclopaedia Britannica with the added bonus of classic French recipes.

5. Which 3 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog?

The Food Whore - I have become addicted to her blog recently and though I don't imagine she'll have the time to answer you never know!

David Lebovitz - He's a great pastry chef and a new friend and I'm curious to see which books (besides his own) have influenced his cooking.

Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini has recently entered a period of life when her schedule is more relaxed so perhaps she'll have the time to respond? I'm curious to see what she is reading!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:37 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
July 12, 2005
Asian Crab Cakes

bigcrab.jpgI recently had a bit of a rant about food that is neither authentic nor intentionally "fusion". Ever since then, I've been a little more cautious about labelling my dishes "Thai" or "Mexican" or, well, any ethnic type unless I'm really sure of the source of my recipe. After all, I'm an American in Paris. I know American food (such a melting pot that anything, really, can be called authentic) and after a dozen years here I feel fairly confident on French food. But I'm on shakier ground with Asian cuisine.

So this dish is based on a lot of recipes I've seen for Thai crab or fish cakes. But I'm not promising that anyone from Thailand would agree on its pedigree. For one thing, I'm pretty sure such a hot country doesn't include mayonnaise in its cuisine. Anyway, they are tasty and they are Thai-influenced. My nieces, who were initially sceptical, thoroughly approved of them, as did the Critic.

Thai-ish Crab Cakes

1 cup fresh crab meat (or, in my case, a mixture of crab and surimi - it's difficult to find crab meat outside a crab in France)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2-3 Tbs fresh chopped coriandre
juice of 1/2 a lime
2 Tbs soy sauce (Thai fish sauce would be even better if you have any)
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp piment d'espelette (or cayenne pepper)
2 Tbs vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil, but peanut oil would be fine)

Condiment: Asian ginger and pepper hot sauce

Mix the crab meat, mayonnaise, coriandre, lime juice, soy sauce (or fish sauce), ginger and 3/4 of the cup of bread crumbs together. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining bread crumbs and the cayenne pepper or piment. Pat 1/3 cup of the crab meat mixture into a ball about the size of an egg. Flatten it in the bread crumbs, to coat one side. Turn over and press to coat the second side. Form all the cakes and place them in a refrigerator for half an hour to set.

To cook, heat the oil until it is nearly smoking and carefully place the cakes one by one in the pan. When they are crispy and brown on one side, flip them over and cook the other side. It should only take a couple of minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve piping hot with ginger pepper sauce on the side.

These cakes are not too spicy in this recipe but that was partly because I didn't want to put off the nieces. You could easily double the amount of coriander and ginger and maybe even add a few dashes of hot sauce to spice them up. On the other hand, a more subtle approach does allow the flavour of the crab to come through, which is a very good thing.

Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Deli & Fish Company, Inc.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
July 10, 2005
It's All About The Fruit

P7070034.jpgMany years ago when I was even shorter than I am now, I had a certain reputation. If there was good food going anywhere in our house, I was there. Before the scent of baking cookies could hit the door I was in the kitchen. One of my older sister's wittier boyfriends nicknamed me "Meg the Mooch". Ha ha. Well, my mom wasn't an enthusiastic cook and it was the 70s, a time when frozen dinners in the microwaver were a novelty and Jello ruled. When my teenaged sister made cookies or a dinner for her boyfriend I was smart enough to know it was going to be better than the frozen dinner that awaited me.

But more than that, I was a complete fruit-aholic. My older brother used to buy his own fruit and carefully warn the rest of us not to touch it on pain of certain death. Well, my mom had (has) a gift for picking out the unripe, the bruised, the overripe in the fruit world. And my brother was willing to shell out for fruit in good condition that wasn't on sale. No question an 8 year old me was going to go for the good cherries.

So my brother started storing his fruit at our grandmother's and biking two miles to her house when he wanted some. The dirty rat.

All of this is to illustrate two points: I was what the French call a gourmand from a very tender age and I've always been a fanatic about fruit. I never met a fruit I didn't like. (Actually that's not entirely true: I tried a kumquat once and didn't like it but I suspect it wasn't ripe...)

Anyway, that is the background. Fastforward to a couple weekends ago when the boys and I were in the UK visiting my stepdaughter, Marianne. I'm all excited because the Critic has come up with an elegant solution to the How Do You Travel With Baby Food When You Are Making It All From Scratch dilemma: bring a banana or two and try him out on his first fruit. No need to refrigerate, only tools needed are a bowl, a fork and his spoon. Perfect!

First attempt: screwed up face, whimper. Come on, baby, it's GOOD. Everybody loves bananas! Ten minutes and a scant quarter of a banana later, I give up and make him a bottle.

Second attempt: he gets a whiff of the banana as it goes towards his face and clamps his mouth shut. Only by dint of prolonged smiling and singing can I get him to smile back, thus opening his mouth so I can shove some banana in. From that point on it's easy to get his mouth open as he shouts his displeasure.

I'm seriously shaken by this. A kid of mine not liking bananas? How could any child of mine not like a fruit? I look at the Critic and his daughter. They shrug their shoulders and say "Well, we don't like bananas either!" (What kind of alien family have I married into? Help, is it too late to get out??)

For the next two days, the baby initially refuses to open his mouth to any food I put near him; I have to smear a little on his lips so that he can taste it and see that it's not the Dreaded Banana. (All the time I am singing "YES, we have no bananas...we have no bananas today, today...")

So I thought it was a fluke. And this week I made him some lovely home made applesauce. Everybody loves apples, right? Wrong.

I'm seriously thinking of getting a blood test to make sure there wasn't a mix up at the hospital.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:40 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
July 9, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Post of the Week would like to be considered for appointment to the Supreme Court and promise to uphold everyone's right to put any foods on a stick.

I. I pick a post from Mahanandi, but really, I want you to check out the whole darn blog. I don't know how its escaped my attention for so long, but this is the best Indian cooking blog I've seen (please write me if you have others you'd consider more worthy). I've never cooked with puffed rice before so I was fascinated by the recipe for buggani. Great photography, very clear directions.

A. My recent excursions into Mexican cooking leave me very kindly inclined toward the tomatilla and those who roast them. Tigers & Strawberries make Enchiladas Verde and I want to come over for dinner.

1. I've used KIPlog's Food Blog to find new sites since we've been doing POTW, but I get to point to Paul's site this week and his post on dinner at Per Se, Thomas Keller's new $12 million restaurant in New York's Time Warner Center. I think a New York classic has just been opened.

That's the lot this week. Next week - we pick three posts in no particular order that we like once again. Drop us a note if you have any nominees.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 8, 2005
Hey, That's Nice - Black Beans and Rice

You made the tlacoyos from Thursday's post and now you have a big old pot of black beans left over? Whatever are you going to do with them?

If you're me, you exploit a couple cups of them for a ten minute dinner that satisfies your cooking obligation for the evening and lets you concentrate on preparing the NEXT meal even though it's a weeknight.

If you don't have beans for this recipe, you might consider going back to the tlacoyo recipe and making a big old pot of seasoned black beans. What you don't use here or in the tlacoyos, you can serve on their own or as tacos with cheese and veggies.

Black Beans and Rice

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 1/2 cups seasoned cooked black beans
salt, Louisiana hot sauce to taste

Combine water, oil, and rice in a medium saucepan. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until water is mostly absorbed and rice is tender.

Stir in cold black beans and heat through. Season with salt and hot sauce to taste an serve.

If you wish you can start this dish by sauteeing an onion in the saucepan in a little oil before adding water and rice. Also, adding a minced serrano or jalapeno at the end wouldn't be inappropriate at all. This would be good with a fresh green salad or guacamole and chips.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
July 7, 2005
Black Bean Tlacoyos

Wikipedia defines tlacoyos as oval shaped fried cakes made of masa. They are similar to fresh corn tortillas, but are somewhat torpedo shaped and fatter. I define tlacoyos as crunchy little flavor bombs.

My tlacoyos come from a recipe from Rick Bayless's excellent cookbook Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, winner of the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award.

You will need a tortilla press and a couple small sheets of heavy plastic wrap to use with the press. Bayless suggests and I endorse the use of squares of garbage bag for this purpose. It works very well and makes clean up a non-issue. I suppose if you don't have a tortilla press, a flat heavy object of any sort on a flat surface might be substituted, but tortilla presses are cheap and attractive objects. Go get one.

The first part of the recipe makes a lot more black beans than you will need for this application. Make the big pot, and use the black beans elsewhere or pair them with rice for a simple dinner dish another night. They keep for a few days refrigerated and taste great in everything.

You will need to use masa for this recipe. Regular cornmeal is usually ground too finely to substitute, though the adventurous (or masa deprived) can give it a try. If you are lucky enough to have fresh masa, give it a go and I'm envious, but most of us will be stuck using masa harina, and I present the recipe with that ingredient. Masa is readily available at most Latino markets, and in many supermarkets. It comes in a bag much like flour, and should be stored like flour in a cool, dry place.

If you'd like to try making your own masa, Gourmet Sleuth has a nice explanation of how to go about it.

Epazote might be tough to find fresh, but if you have to substitute dried, do it anyway. Epazote gives the beans a nice middle note of flavor that beans and salt by themselves don't have. Most Mexican markets in my area have dried epazote in plastic packets on a wall.

The green tomatilla salsa mentioned in the recipe is one from Bayless's book. You can use a different salsa if you wish, but this salsa was particularly well suited to cut through the earthy flavors of the masa and black beans.

Black Bean Tlacoyos

Part 1 - Black Beans
1 pound dried black beans, washed, picked over to remove dirt, stones, etc...
1 small white onion, diced
2 tablespoons oil (I used corn)
2 sprigs fresh epazote or 1 teaspoon dried epazote
two quarts water and possibly a bit more
one teaspoon salt or to taste

No need to soak the beans for this recipe. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning for ten minutes or so until the onions have a golden color.

Add the beans and two quarts water to the pot. Add the epazote. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for two hours, stirring occasionally. If the water level gets less than a half-inch over the beans, add more water to cover.

When beans are tender, without chalky texture at all, add salt to taste. Stir well and simmer for fifteen minutes more so beans absorb salt. Cool and store.

Part 2 - Tlacoyos
1 3/4 cups masa corn meal
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or lard if you prefer)
pinch of salt
1 cup plus two tablespoons warm water
3/4 cup black beans from above recipe
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Drain the beans, reserving the liquid, and mash them up with a fork. If you find the beans are too dry to mash, add some of the reserved liquid back until you have a spreadable paste.

Mix the masa, shortening, salt, and water together until the dough resembles a soft chocolate chip cookie dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts, form into balls, place the balls on a plate and cover with plastic wrap.

Heat a griddle or dry skillet on medium heat. Get the tortilla press out. Cover the bottom plate with a square of heavy plastic. Take a ball of dough and place it in the middle of the press. Put eh second sheet of plastic on top of it and close the press. Push down lightly on the handle to evenly press the masa.

Remove the top sheet of plastic. You will now have a flat round tortilla-like object. Leaving a half-inch gap at each end, drop a teaspoon's worth of mashed black beans in a vertical stripe from top to bottom of the masa circle.

Reach under the plastic and fold two sides in towards each other, parallel to the stripe, loosely covering the filling. You should now have a long box with round ends with the black bean stripe running down the center, partially covered by the folded in sides of the circle. Working from underneath, fold and pinch the masa at the open ends to close it over the bean filling.

The goal is to form an oval, but mine ended up more like rectangles. It won't affect the flavor as long as you keep the black beans on the inside and the masa on the outside.

Place the finished masa oval (OK fine, we can call it tlacoyo now) in the dry pan and toast it for ten minutes. Repeat the forming procedure and add the rest of the tlacoyos to the pan as you can. Toast for about 5 minutes per side, removing finished pieces or batches before adding new ones. The tlacoyos will firm up and the masa will feel more brittle. Set aside on a cooling rack until all are finshed toasting. You should have some dark marks on each one from the pan.

Remove from the cooling rack and place on a plate them cover in plastic wrap again.

Put a baking sheet in the oven and set the temperature of the oven to the lowest possible setting (Probably 150-200 F).Add 1/3 cup of oil to a skillet and heat until shimmering.

Working in batches, carefully lay tlacoyos in the pan until the pan is full but not crowded. Fry for two minutes then turn the tlacoyos over and fry the other side for two minutes. Drain on paper towels, then put the finished tlacoyos on the baking sheet to hold until you are finished with all the pieces and are ready to serve.

Part 3- Accompaniments (use some, all, or none)
1 cup green salsa - roasted tomatilla salsa ideally from p.42 in Bayless's book.
10-12 thinly slice radishes
1/2 diced onion
1/3 pound hot cooked chorizo.
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup crumbled queso anejo

Place items in small containers around the table. Diners may sprinkle some or all of the ingredients on top of the tlacoyos before eating. I highly recommend the onion, salsa, cilantro and queso at the very least. You can imagine other accompaniments that would go well here.

I served these with a mushroom and cactus soup. They made a nice crunchy accompaniment. You could use all sorts of fillings if you preferred. I plan to try a spicy mushroom and zucchini filling next with larger tlacoyos.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:11 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
July 6, 2005
Press to Play

Isn't she lovely? Or is it a he? I haven't decided yet or named my new pet but there it is in all its glory.

Now maybe a tortilla press isn't something to necessarily crow over, but after all the searching I did to find this one, I don't mind singing its praises. I made a big Mexican meal last night from recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks by Rick Bayless. I'll have a separate entry on that later.

One of the recipes called for oval masa cakes pressed and then filled and sealed. I found the masa without a problem in my Albany Park neighborhood, but could not find a tortilla press. It was the Fourth of July, so I decided not ot even bother trying Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table. Instead, I headed to Pilsen.

I walked all over Pilsen, trying to find a place that sold a simple tortilla press. If you have any interest in Latino culture in Chicago and haven't been to Pilsen, I highly recommend going. It's the heart of the Latino and especially the Mexican community in Chicago. I enjoyed tromping through the neighborhood, breathing in the smells from the taquerias and marvelling at the variety of produce and meats at the fruterias and carnacerias, but I had no luck finding a press.

Just West of the 18th Street El stop on the Blue Line (what used to be called the Douglas line), there is a liquor and food store. As a last gasp, just before I gave up I tried the store and inside was where I found my press. Williams-Sonoma wants $19 for their press, and Sur La Table online has no idea what a tortilla press is.

I got my press for just over $7. It's not as snazzy looking as the W-S press, but it works just fine and was manufactured in Mexico.

I'll show you what I did with the press tomorrow when we make black bean filled tlacoyos.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
July 5, 2005
Lemon Drop Martini...With a Twist!

lemon drop.jpgLast year, my lemon tree yielded one smallish precious lemon and I asked our readers for suggestions on what to do with it. Unfortunately, I had one of those incompetent moments (come on, we all have them once in a while) and I accidentally deleted nearly all the comments from that post. So yesterday, when I decided that I really needed to find a use for the two new lemons the tree has produced (yay!) I was stuck scratching my head and trying to remember the suggestions.

Alcohol was one. Candied lemon peel was another. I'm trying to cut down on the alcohol lately as it seems to be going straight to my middle and jiggling there in a taunting way. So I checked epicurious.com and found a) a recipe for candied lemon peel and b) a use for candied lemon peel. Perfect! I really wanted to use the peel from these lemons as they are of course unwaxed and completely organic.

lemons.jpgHere you see my darling lemons.

I can't believe how lucky I am to have such a productive tree. At there moment there are another eight lemons growing and all I have done to nurture the tree is stick it in the lightest spot of the apartment and water frequently.

naked lemon and peel.jpgThe epicurious recipe called for peeling the lemons carefully so as not to include any of the white pith. I don't know what kind of miracle vegetable peeler they have over there in the epicurious labs but I don't have one in my kitchen. It was next to impossible to avoid having some of the pith on the peel. Okay, it was impossible for a person of my patience, with my tools. I managed with a couple tiny pieces to almost exclude the pith. For the most part, though, I had long strips with pith on the back. In the photo, I included the naked lemon after shedding its peel. Of course, I didn't leave it in the pot: this was just a more visually interesting shot. (Always keeping you, the loyal readers in mind!)

The epicurious recipe called for boiling the peel of one lemon in two cups of water. I used the peels of two lemons and used enough water to cover them (which was about two cups). I don't see the point in measuring the water at this point as all you are doing is covering the peels with water, bringing it to a boil and then straining the peels and starting over with a fresh lot of water. You do this bring-to-a-boil-and-dump-the-water three times.

Next, the epicurious recipe called for dissolving two cups of sugar in two cups of water. Opening my cupboard, I discovered with dismay that the sugar container in fact contained a scant 1 1/4 cups sugar. So I dissolved one cup of sugar in two cups of water and added the peels.

I brought it to a full boil, then turned down the heat and left it at a merry bubble. At this point, the epicurious recipe called for leaving the mix for 15 minutes. Well, actually, I have no idea how long I left it. I called my sister in Chicago and you know how it goes when you start chatting with your favorite sister. It was probably half an hour later when I remembered the peel. Yikes! All was well, the water had turned into a lovely yellow syrup and the peels were almost transluscent.

I strained the peel, being careful to reserve the lemon syrup. It looked far too good to waste.

candied peel.jpgThe last step in making the candied peel was to toss the pieces in the last 1/4 cup of sugar. And here you can see the result. Isn't it pretty? And I tried a piece and it was excellent. Sweet and lemony and a little crunchy from the sugar. I could hardly wait to use it.

And then I remembered the alcohol suggestion. And I remembered the recipe for a Lemon Drop Martini posted by the Food Whore (my new virtual best friend, though she doesn't know it*). I've been meaning to make her recipe and here, to hand, I had the material to improve it.

With a little arm twisting, I managed to convince the Critic to be my guinea pig.

prepared cocktail.jpgHere you see the ingredients of my Lemon Drop Martini With A Twist:

Shaker, containing lots of ice (love my fridge with the automatic ice machine), 1/2 cup vodka, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 cup lemon syrup.

Bowl of candied lemon peel.

Martini glass with 1 tsp lemon syrup in the bottom.

Shake the cocktail shaker vigorously for at least one full minute, pour carefully into the glass and garnish with a little bit of candied peel. And you get the gorgeous concoction pictured at the start of this post. The Critic thought it was pretty nice, but he needed several more just to make sure. You can't be too careful when your critical reputation is at stake.

seedless lemon.jpgHere you can see the proof that my cocktail was seedless. In fact, my lemon appeared to be seedless. How perfect is that?

And, alas, my middle is even fatter this morning. But it was worth every calorie...

* If by best friend you mean someone who can bitch about everything to you and make you laugh and feel like life is worthwhile...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:03 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
July 4, 2005
Hot Hot Hot

Paging George Jetson, paging George Jetson, your latte has arrived.

We still don't have flying cars, but we do now have self heating beverages. While at the store yesterday, I came across WolfGang Puck's gourmet rich espresso latte in a self-heating can.

No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. The beverage comes in a double walled can that contains an inner beverage along with an outer "puck" of quicklime (calcium oxide or CaO) and a layer of water. To heat the beverage, one turns the can upside down, pulls a protective lid off, pushes a plastic button in (releasing the quicklime into the water), then turns the can back over to wait for it to heat.

The calcium oxide reacts with the water to form Calcium Hydroxide [Ca(OH)2], releasing a lot of heat in the process, which warms your beverage to up to 140 F.

The can technology is from a San Diego company called OnTech. You can see a slideshow on the technology on their site.

It's not the first self-heating can by far. The first self-heating cans actually used cordite to provide the heat as far back as 1939. The calcium oxide method came a little later. One can imagine the dangers in putting even small amounts of cordite into the hands of consumers (look at all that soup he's buying - he must be a terrorist!)

So how effective is the technology? I followed the instructions and in minutes was enjoying a hot beverage. I thought the latte itself was too sweet by far, but that's not the fault of the can. One problem with the can is awfully heavy. Because it has that water layer, the can feels full even after it's empty. Also the "protective plastic lid", which is required to prevent you from burning yourslef on the metal top of the can, is somewhat cumbersome and "thick" feeling.

Frankly, at $3.39/can, you might as well go to your local coffee shop if you're in the city and get a much larger (and lighter) beverage. Or you could invest in a thermos and take your coffee with you if you were ambitious.

Still, it's a neat trick for when you happen to be in the middle of the woods and didn't mind hiking heavy cans of coffee in. I'd be more interested to see soups like this. The potential problem with using this OnTech can for soup purpose is that any "chunky bits" in the soup would get stuck in the pop-top lid. I'm sure someone will work out the problem for soup as OnTech has for beverages.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:12 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
July 3, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Okay, it's been a while since we scanned the blogosphere looking for tasty treats. Barrett's vacation started last week (yes, I am jealous) and we were off in the UK visiting my stepdaughter. At the exact moment when I should have been writing the Posts of the Week, I was speeding through a ten loop roller coaster with a screaming 12 year old girl next to me. Sometimes in life you gotta make difficult choices.

But we are back this year and back with a vengeance. One thing I noticed in my research is that EVERYBODY AND HIS BROTHER (OR SISTER) filled in one of those meme questionnaires in the last week. (Oh yeah, I've got one in the pipeline too, just haven't had the time to write it up...)

So here are the non-meming posts of the week:

A. First up is Bunny Pie, a new (to us) Chicago blogger with her recipe for lemonade. As everyone knows, I'm a huge lemonade fan, so I was interested in this somewhat more elaborate route to the yellow lemony nectar. I'll have to give it a try! I also loved the strawberries in the glass. That I am definitely going to try.

1. Moving from Barrett's locale over to mine, we have Louise from A Moveable Feast but she's writing about something that you can't get over here in Paris: Krispy Kreme Donuts. She tells us how to - gasp - order Krispy Kremes off the menu. Sounds like a fun game to me. Although Burger King used to guarantee to serve you anyway you want it, it's still pretty rare in the fast food world to get anything off menu.

I. Moving to the West Coast of the US, we find Dr. Biggles of Meathenge taking a local journalist to task for sloppy journalistic research. Of course, he was defending his beloved Fatted Calf butcher shop, which is no surprise to anyone who reads his blog regularly. Some day. Some day I'm going to visit California and go to the Fatted Calf and maybe I'll run into Dr. Biggles there and shake his hand. Some day. Anyway, I applaud his pointing out sloppy journalism where he sees it. Too often I see something that makes me fume and I do nothing about it.

So that's it for this week. I'm off to finish counting my cookbooks...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:21 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
July 2, 2005
The Simple Things in Life

cheese apricot.jpgAround one p.m. this afternoon I dragged myself to the local supermarket with the 8 kg bouncing baby boy in the Baby Bjorn. An hour later, I left a cart full of groceries at the delivery desk with my name and address. The deal is that they will deliver within the next 2 hours. Five-thirty p.m. I'm starving. The groceries still haven't arrived and the baby was shorted 10 ml on his 4 p.m. bottle because we are out of mineral water. I'm hungry. (Did I mention that?)

So I remembered the two apricots in the fridge. Good, healthy. Not really substantial. Rummaging around, I found some leftover cendré goat cheese. And the box of Triscuits my mother kindly brought from the US on her last visit. I took a picture. I took a bite. Delicious...but missing something. Thyme. A new construction, a new photo, a great snack. I love Triscuits. The Critic thought I was crazy when I brought two big boxes back from the US but now he has - to my dismay - discovered how good they are. And they give a nice tasty support to the salty, creamy cheese, the juicy sweet apricot. And the thyme. Heaven.

Then I went and finished the rest of the chips in the bottom of a small bag of Cool Cream Doritos. I'm still hungry.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:39 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
July 1, 2005
Alien Life Forms

alien carrots.jpgThe Christmas before last I helped the paralegal in our office to organize the caterers for the annual office Christmas party. On the advice of someone who had tried them, we hired the catering service of La Grande Epicerie, foodie sister of the trendy left bank department store, Le Bon Marché. The service of the Grande Epicerie was impeccable. The staff were friendly and professional and went well beyond the terms of the contract, even offering to whip up some spaghetti for the children. The food was ultra-trendy, all plastic shot-glasses with foam and intricate chive designs. It looked beautiful and was tasty enough, but it took some courage to blindly toss strange objects into your mouth. The Critic, who is as conservative as can be when it comes to food, was not impressed. For myself, I thought the layout was gorgeous but the whole thing seemed a little lacking in substance, literally and metaphorically.

Speed forward to last week: another office party, this time to say goodbye to a colleague who is retiring. This time, the office chose the catering company Potel et Chabot, one that we had considered two Christmases ago but thought sounded too trendy and expensive.

This office party was actually taking place in the conference room of our small Paris office, rather than the home of one of the partners as for the Christmas one. Potel et Chabot managed to almost completely disguise the fact that this was a conference room. The table looked like an elegant long dinner table, with a gorgeous floral arrangement and all the office bits hidden. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was obliged to attend with young Mr. Cutts and so my attention was somewhat taken with his needs.

And the food? Delicious. Imaginative. Substantial. Everything you'd like from a caterer. There were little tubes of feuille de brick filled with foie gras and plugged with a tiny juicy raisin. There were delicious little quiches. Dainty little sticks with delicious raw salmon and juicy pineapple threaded in alternating bites. And there were the items in the above photo, the one item that did make us hesitate before plunging. Carrot, yes. Taste of wasabi? Yes. I asked the server for more information and he explained that the steamed carrot logs were topped with tapioca cooked with wasabi. It was a delightful combination and an imaginative presentation. And not a smidge of foam in sight.

For the sweets, there were lovely little fruit cocktail skewers with berries and melon; there were sinfully rich dark chocolate pastries with creamy centers and crisp dark tops and bottoms; there were sweet little vanilla cakes with candied fruit toppings.

All in all, we had to agree that Potel et Chabot had exceeded La Grande Epicerie by a long way. So there you have it: if you are looking for a good caterer in Paris, we can certainly recommend them. They are not cheap, though they were no more expensive than the Grande Epicerie I am told. And they were worth every cent. Well, okay, I wasn't actually the one paying. But even so.

Potel et Chabot A proximité
Pavillon Gabriel
5, av Gabriel 75008 Paris
01 42 68 18 18

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:17 AM | TrackBack
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