August 31, 2005
Eating Local in August

Here we are at the end of the month of August, and I am sad to say that I have not really been able to fully participate in the Eat Local Challenge. I am in love with the idea, not just for the month of August but as a lifetime philosophy. It's good for the environment, it's good for the small producers, it's good for your tastebuds. However, local in the month of August was an ever-changning status for me and the Critics. (Yes, now that the little one has joined the ranks of fruit and vegetable eaters he too qualifies as a mini-Critic.) When you are travelling, it's sometimes difficult to insist that your food be locally produced. Sometimes it's more convenient to just go with the flow and eat what's being offered by your generous and loving family.

And sometimes, when you are lucky, it's locally grown and the best you will ever taste anywhere in the world. Like locally grown Illinois sweet corn. Just look at that photo. Can you imagine how sweet and delicate those little kernals are going to be? Four or five minutes in boiling water, no need to add salt or sugar as these sweethearts are perfect as they are. You can eat them straight out of the pot or (if you really want to be luxurious) you can butter them. But you don't really need it. They are perfect the way they are.

The corn pictured here was bought from the farm stand run by the Klein family in Elgin, IL. They sell produce from their own local farm as well as fruit from farms further downstate. Generally speaking, though, it is all locally grown and fantastically tasty. My niece, who worked there part time over the summer, told me that they dump the corn when it is more than two days old. (She said that she knows a family in the neighborhood that regularly "dumpster-dives" for free corn behind the stand...)

Let's compare this with the corn we can get in Paris. The best I could find last summer came from Israel. It was husked, wrapped in plastic and sent by plane to Paris, where it lingered on a shelf until it was sold. Judging by some of the corn I've seen in Paris, it can be a couple of weeks before the store finally gives up on selling the stuff and tosses it. It takes a good 20 minutes to cook, because the kernals are tough and old. And this is the good sweet corn.

ears.jpg

A while back I was sent a link to the "corn cam", where homesick midwesterners could - literally - watch the corn grow. Sad, yes. But the comments on the page were a tribute to the fact that there are a lot of us corn-lovers out there, sadly reciting "knee-high-by-the-fourth-of-July" and mourning each corn-less August. And so I am always happy when I can be in the US at the end of the summer. Even if it does mean I have to hop on a gas-guzzling airplane to get there. Sigh.

I have been living in Paris for about a dozen years now. I tried to grow corn on my terrace but the seeds did not sprout. I tried giving packets of seeds to every friend in Europe with a patch of land large enough to grow it. None of them have obliged by planting them and giving me a few precious ears in recognition of the great gift I offered them.

Maybe some day a French farmer will read this post and think "There must be a lot of homesick Americans in Paris who would pay a lot of money for decent sweet corn. I should get some tasty varieties and start selling them to local markets. I could explain to the sellers that they must not shuck the corn as they do not keep well once they lose their leaves. I could make a fortune."

Yeah, right.


A note on the variety: It is not a tribute to the training my niece received when she started at Klein's that when I asked what this variety was called she shrugged her shoulders and said "I dunno...most people just say bi-colored or two-colored..." My mother told me she was fairly sure it was called "peaches and cream". I am open to confirmation or edification on the point!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:34 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
August 28, 2005
IMBB 18 - Phyllo Spring Rolls

IMBB time again and this time out it's frying with "Summer's Flying, Let's Get Frying" hosted by fellow Chicagoan At Our Table. What neighborhood, AOT? We're just West of Lincoln Square.

Spring rolls are normally made with fresh wrappers. I make these with a phyllo wrapper brushed with olive oil and stuffed with some of the best vegetarian ingredients.

I don't fry much, but these rolls don't take too much oil in the pan, don't get fried for too long and taste fantastic, so I make an exception. The method here produces a small burrito like roll. You could cut back on the filling, use half as much linear phyllo and make something more like a phyllo cigar.

Did you know, by the way, that phyllo dough comes in varying thicknesses? I use a #7 dough for this recipe. If you use a thinner dough (like a Pepperidge Farm), add more layers to the roll before adding the filling. Don't overdo it though or you'll end up with raw phyllo in the finished product which doesn't have the best texture.

Phyllo spring rolls

2 cups cabbage, chopped into 1/4" disks then sliced into very very thin batons
1/2 cup fennel, grated on the big holes of a box grater
1/2 golden delicious apple
1/2 cup carrots, grated on the big holes of a box grater
2 scallions
1 cup vegetable stock
8 leaves phyllo dough, #7 thickness
1/2 cup regular olive oil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
sprinkle of lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

This recipe is all about mise en place or having all your ducks in a row before you start. Prepare all the vegetables for the filling before breaking out the phyllo dough, though you should defrost the phyllo overnight and leave it out of the refrigerator for a half hour before use.

We want all the ingredients to be cut almost as thin as grass or hay. Slice the scallions on the extreme bias into 1/8" wide lengths, slice the apple into similar thin batons. The grated carrot and fennel should be thin enough as is. Sprinkle lemon juice all over the apple and fennel to keep them from browning.

In a small pan, combine the cabbage and stock over high heat. Add salt and fennel seeds and stir. Cook until the cabbage just gets soft and loses that "squeaky" texture.

Drain and set aside.

Lay out your phyllo dough under a damp clean dishtowel to prevent it from drying out. Working quickly. take one sheet of phyllo and lay it flat on a clean dry work surface. Brush liberally with the extra virgin olive oil. Lay the next sheet on top of it and brush it with olive oil all the way to the edges.

At the bottom middle half of the sheet, lay out a couple of tablespoons of cabbage, more or less. Add half as much carrots, and fennel, and almost as much apple actross the middle 1/2 of the bottom of the sheet.

Fold the side 1/4 of the sheets in lengthwise. The ends of the filling should be covered by them.. Brush the folded lengths with olive oil and roll up the filling in the dough so it forms a neat packet.

Place the roll under a barely damp towel and repeat procedure above until you have 4-8 rolls, depending on how much filling you chose above.

Heat 1/2 cup of ordinary olive oil in a skillet. It should cover the bottom of the pan easily, but not be much deeper. Turn the burner on high. The oil is ready when it sizzles when you touch a corner of a roll to the surface.

Fry each side until it's a deep rich brown. Remove to a paper towel and pat off the oil.

Slice on the bias down the middle and serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:41 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
August 27, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

The dog days of summer are here. Meg's in London, I'm headed off to Maryland next week, but there's still time to pick three great posts form the last week for the Posts of the Week.

I. Not everything at the market is good, even if it is fresh as Splatgirl finds out with Bitter Buddha Bombs.

A. Cultural differences abound. In Chicago, we have an annual ribfest. In LA, Snackish discovered a tofu fest. Go figure.

1. The summer is winding down, which means those bumper crops of zucchini will soon fade. Elise has a recipe for Zucchini Fritters that makes good use of the last of the overabundance.

Next week, I'll be in Maryland, learning about the state where I will be living this time next year and Meg shoudl finally be back in Paris where she's been for many years.

Go somewhere yourself, why don't you?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 26, 2005
Leek and Roquefort Tart

leektart.jpg
I recently noticed our refrigerator sprouted leeks. I usually do the food shopping, so this confused me. Had I purchased these leeks some weeks past at a farmers' market? They seemed to be in good shape, so that was unlikely.

My first encounter with a leek was in Paris. I was visiting Meg, and she brought a beautiful bundle of leeks home from the market. I was a little grossed out by the sight of all the dirt in and on the leeks (having not entered my cooking phase yet), and agreed skeptically to try a soup she was making with the leeks, potatoes, and bacon. After the first bite, I was converted.

Back to the mystery leeks - of course my wife was the culprit. She's become something of a leek fiend herself these days. I think it was the same soup (minus the bacon) that brought her into the camp. She claims to have brought the leeks home becasue they should be viewed as a staple, much like potatoes or onions.

I know better than that, though. Leeks in the refrigerator were more than just an everyday staple. They were a request and a challenge from my wife. "Make me something tasty," they say. I decided to take up the challenge and make a leek tart with the assistance of a block of Roquefort cheese.

Roquefort is the king of blue cheeses, if you ask me. There are partisans of Gorgonzola (gor-GON-zo-la as my wife says it), Maytag and Stilton, but the moldy wheels of cheese from the damp caves of Roquefort are more complex and alive than any other. This is not to say that Roquefort cheese is subtle. There are subtle aspects to its flavor, but the main "blueness" of the cheese is very pronounced.

This is a once a month at most kind of tart. There is so much butterfat in this tart that the sight of it may actually make your heart hiccup. Look at the ingredient list below - butter, cream, cheese, more butter - C. Everett Koop is putting out a contract on me as I type this.

But boy, is it delicious. I'll confess that I added too much Roquefort to this tart, but a dollop of sour cream takes away some of the saltiness. And with the caloric content of a slice of this tart, the sour cream qualifies as a light treat.

Leek and Roquefort Tart

Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1/4 cup or less ice water

Custard:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Other:
4-6 leeks, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
pepper to taste
4 oz. real Roquefort blue cheese
8 tablespoons sour cream


With the crust, cold, cold, cold is the key. The more I learn, the colder my crusts get before baking. The idea is that if the butter is cold and the dough stays cold, the dough will form with layers of dough and unmelted butter. In the oven, the butter will melt and "fry" the crust so it becomes nice and golden brown and crispy. It also will release steam to provide some separation of the layers of the dough which will add to the flaky crisp feel you want.

Freeze your butter. I shaved it down into small pieces after it was frozen, but you can cut it into tiny bits before freezing if you prefer.

Mix the four and salt together with a fork. If you'd like to put any dried herbs in the crust, now would be a good time. Add small gobs of frozen butter into the flour and mix them in with either a pastry cutter or a big fork. Try not to touch the mix with your warm hands.

Add about 1/8 cup of the ice water. Cut it in with the pastry cutter or large fork. Working quickly, start to form the dough into a ball. If it won't hold together add more water, a teaspoon or less at a time untl it just keeps its shape. Return to the freezer for ten minutes.

Now you can preheat the over to 375 F.

Meanwhile, trim the bottoms off your leeks and trim the dark green tops off. You may discard these or save for soup stock. Dang. I wish I'd saved mine for soup stock. I just thought about that now.

I don't bother rinsing the leeks at this point. Slice the leeks lengthwise and then them into 1/4" semi-rings. Put these semi-rings into a big bowl of cold water and swish the leeks around. Let sit for five minutes and dirt will start to settle off the leeks. pull the leeks out of the bowl with a slotted spoon or strainer and dump the water. Repeat the process and you should have nicely cleaned leeks. Pat the leeks dry and set aside for now.

Back to the crust. Pull the ball of dough from the freezer and roll it out carefully into a 13" circle on a well floured surface with a well foured rolling pin. You may need to fold it back up and start the rolling over once or twice if it doesn't cooperate.

Again, the key is to keep the dough cold. If you feel the dough getting too pliant, put it back in the freezer for a few minutes and continue after its chilled again.

Once the dough is rolled out, transfer it to a 12" tart pan with a removeable bottom. Trim any excess and use the excess to patch any holes or thin spots along the edges. Use a fork to make ten or twelve sets of holes in the bottom of the tart. This prevents the crust from puffing up.

Put the crust in the 375 F oven for twenty minutes.

In a skillet, melt three tablespoons of butter and add two tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter begins to foam, add the prepared leeks and sprinkle a pinch of salt over them. Toss to coat the leek with oil and butter. Sautee over medium-low heat for ten minutes until the leeks soften up. They don't need to be meltingly soft, but should yield easily to the bite.

In a bowl, mix three egg yolks and one whole egg. Beat until mixed well. Add a cup and a half of heavy cream, 1/2 a teaspoon of nutmeg, and pepper to taste and mix well. You can add salt if you wish, but remember we're adding a very salty cheese to this tart.

When the leeks are done, add them to the bowl with the custard and mix well.

Pour the leek and custard mix into the pre-baked tart shell. Crumble the roquefort cheese all over the top of the tart. I used a full four ounces. You may want to hold some of that cheese back if you're not as much of a salt fiend as I am.

Bake the tart at 375 F for approximately 25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes. If the top has not started to go golden brown, raise the temperature to 425 and bake an additional few minutes until the top of the tart is the desired color. Ovens vary and depending ona whole host of factors including whether your oven is gas or electric, and if the day is humid or dry, you may need to bake the tart longer.

Remove finsihed tart from the oven. Remove the side from the tart and cool on a cooling rack. Don't remove the bottom of the tart pan just yet. After ten minutes the custard will set up. Remove the tart from the rack and the bottom of the tart pan to a cutting surface. Cut into eight slices, and serve each slice with a 1 tablespoon dollop of sour cream on top.

Call your cardiologist in the morning.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
August 25, 2005
Cauliflower Gratin


What, is it November already? Ok, I know it's August, but there are some times when you want a nice hearty dish for dinner that might more rightly be served at Thanksgiving.

I had a hankering (that's right, I said "hankering") for a cauliflower gratin. I'm not a huge fan of raw caulifower as seen on crudite trays, but I love the stuff when it's been softened up and covered in cheese.

The recipe is pretty much my own. I got the concepts from a number of online recipes (pre-cook the veg, make a roux, add milk, add cheese on top and bake), but the specifics were improvised.

The classic cheese for this dish (at least in Middle America in the 1970's) would be Velveeta or cheddar. I used a taleggio that works much better as a complement to the flavor of the cauliflower. Cheddar or (shudder) Velveeta would merely cover the flavor of the caulifower, which I find very pleasant unless its been overcooked. That said, the taleggio made the dish quite a bit less economical than it would have been, but greatly improved the flavor.

My wife thinks this dish needs to be herbed up a bit. I won't disagree, but I liked it the way it was. Adding marjoram or tarragon to the dish wouldn't hurt it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Cauliflower Gratin
1 head cauliflower
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 cup shredded or ground Parmesan
6-8 oz. taleggio cheese cut into 1/8" slices
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt, pepper, optional green herbs to taste

Lightly butter a casserole dish or baking dish with a lid. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil.

Cut the core out of your cauliflower and discard the green portions. Cut the head into florets and cut the core of the cauliflower into 2" pieces. When your water is boiling, add the florets to it and boil for 8 minutes until the cauliflower is just starting to get tender. Don't overboil the cauliflower because it will spoil the aroma and flavor.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour and stir well until the butter absorbs the raw flour. Add the milk and stir for at least five minutes as the sauce thickens. Add the nutmeg and Parmesan and stir until the cheese is absorbed into the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Add herbs now if you like.

Take a spoon and very lightly spread just enough sauce onto the bottom of the casserole to cover it. Add the cauliflower and pour the rest of the sauce over the vegetable. Lay the slices of taleggio on top of the mix.

Place the dish in the oven and bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the temperature to 475 and bake for 3-5 more minutes until the top is just starting to take on color.

Remove the dish from the oven and let sit for seven to ten minutes before serving. The sauce will thicken up nicely in that time. Be careful, even after sitting seven minutes, the cauliflower and sauce will be hot.

Serve with something green or as a side.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:27 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack
August 23, 2005
Stay Tuned...

Yes, yes, we're kind of dogging it this last week. Meg's been here in Chicago visiting and I've been crazy with work.

We'll have some tasty morsels shortly including a review of Opart Thai and Topolobampo in Chicago. We might even sneak one of Noon o'Kabob in there as well.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
August 18, 2005
Moe, Larry, the Cheese!

limburger.jpgNever has a cheese been so defamed by popular culture as limburger was by the Three Stooges. If you believed their films, you'd believe limburger breath has the stopping power of a Colt .45. Of course, you'd also believe that when you're hit on the head with a two-by-four you see grouse, but that's a different story.

Now don't get me wrong. Limburger can be mighty powerful, but it's nowhere near as strinkingly pungent a cheese as the Stooges made it out to be. If you've ever been exposed to a stinky tomme de savoie and survived you'll love limburger.

As a limburger ages, the rind gains a funky odor that I think enhances the taste. The center of the limburger also becomes more and more liquid as it ages, eventually becoming pourable. I don't usually let it get that far, and I'll use pretty fresh limburger for my sandwiches.

Ideally, you should make this sandwich on black bread, dark rye, or pumpernickel. In a pinch toasted wheat bread will do. I always add a thick slice of sweet red onion and a good smear of a grainy mustard on each slice of bread. There are those who add sardines or black olives or anchovies to the sandwich. I can see the appeal, but I like the cheese flavor to come through.

Limburger is a German cheese, but is also made in America, although in lower volumes than previously. There is only one producer in the U.S., but Chalet Cheese Cooperative near Monroe, Wisconsin churns out over 800,000 pounds of the stuff every year. Think about that - 40 tons of stinky cheese every year.

You will certainly have a mild breath issue after one of these sandwiches. That's why I think it's a perfect guy-time sandwich. Just how close are you going to get to your buddies, anyway? If you're playing poker, a well timed puff of bad breath in the right direction might even throw your opponent off his game. Revel in the stink! But, uh, you might invest in some mouthwash before going home to the Missus.

Ladies, you are of course encouraged to try this sandwich yourselves, but make sure you do it during girl time or make sure your significant other also has had one, because while the Stooges exaggerated, a Tic Tac just isn't going to take care of your breath after a good hunk of limburger.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:27 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
August 17, 2005
Quiches Galore!

But, alas, no photos. I took photos and they may someday miraculously appear on this site, but at the moment I'm going through some technical difficulties. I don't know if it's because the computer my mother is kindly lending me is somewhat outdated or whether it's a global problem. But yes, we have no photos, for the moment.

Last Friday, my mother hosted a pool party so that all the family could get together and admire her new grandchildren. (Three: a good year!) Unbeknownst to her, my sister and brother and I decided it would also be nice to honor her 70th birthday, which was last July. So we took over the cooking and sent out requests for scrapbooking pages and memories from all the family. We set the older granddaughters collecting photos and making a big poster of them for the wall. My brother had the "help" of his six-year old daughter untangling the balloon strings.

I didn't have any great ideas for my contribution. Thanks to this blog, family expectations are now high when I contribute to the pot luck. But I'm on holiday and the old creative juices were not flowing. My sister helped me out by suggesting I put together a couple of quiches. It's easy to be creative with quiches; there seems to be an infinite number of things that taste good in them and they are easy to eat in a party atmosphere.

I still didn't have any specific ideas when I went shopping with the Critic at our family's new favorite shop: Trader Joe's. I knew I'd make one bacon and cheese one to please the children in the crowd but I wanted something a little more interesting for the adults. So I wandered the vegetable aisle looking for inspiration. I found it in a bag of broccoli rabe. I love dark greens in my quiche and this promised to add a lot of flavor. I also purchased a selection of Mediterranean vegetables (peppers, zucchini, eggplant, etc.) as I was also making the Roasted vegetables and Goat's cheese salad. And then in the frozen food section, I found Inspired Ingredient number two: thick meaty frozen scallops. With the pound of bacon in my mother's fridge, I could make a number of interesting combinations.

For the base of the quiche, I used a 5 eggs to 1/2 cup of cream ratio. Most of the recipes I saw called for more cream and fewer eggs, but I wanted a substantial quiche that would hold up well as party food. I bought the crusts pre-made as things were already getting chaotic on the day of the party. I would recommend making your own basic pie crust if you have the time. You could also experiment with Barrett's corn meal crust, which is very tasty.

Quiche #1

250 grams of broccoli rabe, wilted (I followed the instructions on the bag and microwaved in the bag)
1 roasted red pepper (if you are lucky you'll have the help of your lively intelligent 6 year old niece in peeling them)
5 scallops
50 grams grated gruyère cheese
1/3 an onion, sliced in rings
5 eggs
1/2 cup cream
pinch of salt

Quickly fry the scallops in a little olive oil. I used a small drizzle of the pepper oil my mother had handy to give it a little peppery bite. Blot the wilted broccoli rabe dry and spread it in the bottom of the pie crust. Slice the scallops in rounds and spread them over the broccoli. Sprinkle the cheese over the scallops. Lay the onion rings over the cheese. Beat the eggs and cream with the salt and pour over the mix. Slice the pepper in thin strips and lay over the egg in a pretty pattern. Back 30-40 minutes at 400f until the middle is set and the crust is browned. If you have an unevenly heating oven (as my mother does) you may need to cut a brown paper bag into large pieces and place over the pie to keep the crust from browning too much.

Quiche #2

250 g broccoli rabe, wilted
4 slices of bacon, fried to a nice crisp
5 scallops, cooked as above
3-4 Tbs goat's cheese
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
5 eggs beaten with 1/2 cup cream

Blot the broccoli rabe and spread in the pie crust. Add each of the ingredients, ending with the egg and cream mixture and then the rosemary. You shouldn't need to salt this mixture much as the bacon will add salt, but some pepper would not go amiss. This quiche was not as pretty as the first one, but in my opinion it was tastier. The broccoli, bacon and scallop combination was delightful and the goat's cheese finished it off perfectly. Bake at 400f for 30-40 minutes.

Quiche #3

2-300 grams grilled vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, figs
1-2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
Optional: goat's cheese or gruyère
5 eggs, beaten with 1/2 cup cream

I don't think I would normally take the trouble to grill vegetables to put in a quiche, but I often grill more than I need when I'm using them in a salad. Their sweetness in this quiche is lovely with the egg and makes a very filling dish. As with the others, layer the vegetables (and cheese if using) in the bottom of the crust, cover with egg mixture and sprinkle the thyme. Depending on whether you salted the grilled vegetables or how salty the cheese is you may want to add a pinch of salt too. Bake 30-40 minutes at 400f.

Lastly, I threw a handful of gruyère and a 1/2 cup of bacon bits in a fourth pie crust and made a simple quiche for the kids. This was the only one my assistant thought she would like but in fact the next day she had some of quiche number one for lunch and liked it pretty well. It disappeared before the peanut butter sandwich, which I consider the highest praise a 6 year old can give!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
August 16, 2005
Vapor Bacon

Finally, bacon without all the hassle of chewing. Sounds like something from the Simpsons, doesn't it? "Mmmmm... spray-on bacon".

If you don't like bacon spray, you can try Memphis BBQ, Strawberry Shortcake, Sausage and Peppers, Tomato Basil, or my conceptual favorite - Pretzel Dough.

Just be careful of imitators. I'm pretty sure that "Pepper Spray" in your purse probably isn't meant for Three-Way Chili.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 15, 2005
Brother Kurt's Spicy Couscous Salad

I'm on holiday. That's how I'm justifying posting my siblings' recipes. Actually, I have been cooking a little lately, but most of our meals have been casual things thrown together and the first two nights we were in the Chicago area the star dishes happened to be prepared by my sister and my brother respectively.

As I've mentioned before, my beloved spouse is not fond of couscous. He thinks he hates it. But when he tried this dish, he was willing to eat leftovers the next day. It's really tasty, with sweet and spicy flavours and the colours are gorgeous: yellow, orange, deep purply red. It's a great dish to bring along to a family picnic (as we did) and even better the next day once the flavours have time to mingle and develop.

Chicken (or not) Couscous Salad

1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 to 2 tsp. curry powder
2/3 cup dry couscous
juice and zest of one orange
1/3 cup dried currants, raisins, or cranberries

1 cup cooked cubed chicken (we used a spicy chicken breast from dinner the night before)
1 can (or more) drained canned garbanzo beans, or one cup of dried beans soaked overnight and cooked
1/4 head chopped red cabbage
3 or 4 green onions, sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 small carrot, sliced very thin or grated
2 Tblsp. Olive Oil
1/4 tsp. pepper

Bring water, salt and curry powder to boil in a medium skillet. Add dried fruit. Stir in couscous. Cover, remover from heat, and let stand five minutes. Fluff with a fork and pour into a big salad bowl. Add chicken and veggies.

Combine orange juice, olive oil, orange rind and pepper. Whisk until blended and pour immediately over other ingredients. Toss and eat. Pita or french bread make nice friends. So does yogurt.

So there you have the recipe as given to my brother by a good friend of his. I think it's one worth passing along.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Still Red, not Delicious

Great article from the Washington Post about how breeders have bred the "delicious" out of Red Delicious apples.

Read it here.

At one point, it was the king of apples. These days, I'll buy a Gala or a Fuji.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
August 13, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Landing gear down... parachute deployed... front gear down... and Posts of the Week is home!

1. As one who lives with food restrictions, both voluntary (pseudo-vegetarianism) and involuntary (anaphalaxis from crustaceans), I'm sympathetic to those who are forced to eat a restricted diet. I'm encouraged by those who take the restriction and make it an opportunity to eat better food like the Gluten-free girl has. She discusses craving now forbidden foods in this post on cream of rice in the morning.

I. Hot chocolate in the summer? Well I suppose if you think Dessert Comes First, it's a small leap. Actually it's Tsokolate, a thick Filipino chocolate drink made with cocoa disks called tablea and it looks delicious.

A. I hope you don't have to be a millionaire to properly appreciate these Millionaire's Shortbreads from English Patis. If you can't find the dulce de leche called for in the recipe, and are brave and agree not to hold anyone responsible for any mishaps that may occur, you could try this recipefor dulce de leche from an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk.

Next time, we Shuttle you off to more great sites for a new batch of Posts of the Week!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
August 11, 2005
Peach Blueberry Cake

peachbluecake.jpg(The August 2005 Gourmet Cover Recipe)

Barrett’s obsession with food and cooking means that our apartment is completely littered with at least one (and, yes, sometimes more than one) copy of most major food magazines each month. August was a great month for the food magazines. (I dog-eared the corners of no fewer than 20 pages in Bon Appetit). My favorite recipe this month comes from the cover of Gourmet.

According to the piece, the recipe is by Ruth Cousineau. She calls this a Peach Blueberry Cake, but it seems more like a tart or a pie to me. Interestingly, the recipe calls for tapioca which is something my family has never used in pies or cobblers, but it works really well. The fruit holds its form surprisingly well. The best part is the crust which is cookie-like, though a little more crumbly. I’m thinking about adding a little amaretto to the crust next time to see if it broadens its flavor. The magazine also calls for a food processor to make the pastry, but since we don’t have one, my recipe is somewhat modified.

Overall, I found the recipe to be very easy and fast, and it really impressed my running partner Paul and his friend John when they were here for dinner a couple weeks ago. I’ve made it twice now, and it is quickly becoming my summer fruit dessert.

Peach Blueberry Cake
The Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cup into ½ inch cubes
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Filling:
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
2 pounds (approximately 4 large or 6 small) peaches, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To make the Pastry:
-Combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) using a wisk.
-Add the butter to these dry ingredients using a pastry cutter until it the butter is mealy.
-Transfer the mixture to mixer, and using the dough hook, add the egg and vanilla and mix until the dough begins to form a ball.
-Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. (You only need to go approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch up the sides). The dough should be approximately 1/4 inch thick. Chill the pastry while you prepare the filling.

To make the Filling:
-Using a coffee grinder or food processor, grind a couple tablespoons of sugar with the flour and tapioca until the tapioca pearls become powdery.
-Transfer the powdery mixture to a large bowl and combine with the remaining sugar.
-Add peaches, blueberries, and lemon juice, and gently stir to thoroughly coat fruit with the dry mixture.
-Transfer fruit mixture into the pastry and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on middle rack for 1 3/4 hours until the middle is bubbling and the crust is golden. Be sure to loosely cover pan with sheet of foil during baking because (trust me) the pastry will burn otherwise.
-Cool the cake in pan, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes. Then you can carefully remove the sides of the pan and transfer the cake to a serving dish.
-It will continue to steam for another hour, so don’t cover it yet unless you want a soggy crust.
-If you want to serve it warm, continue to cool the cake for another 30 to 45 minutes so that the filling doesn’t run when you cut into it.
-It also tastes great served at room temperature.

Posted by The Redhead at 7:03 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack
August 10, 2005
Pasta with Cold Sauce

coldsauce.jpgThe farmer's market this last weekend brought us beautiful tomatoes. I asked which of the many red types (no yellow, green or purple yet) the seller preferred herself and she sold me three overflowing pints of Fourth of July varietals.

Fourth of Julys are sweet and juicy and just about the size of a golf ball. If they have a flaw, it's that the skin is tougher than would seem absolutely necessary. That didn't stop me from eating them like fruit.

I would pass by the bowl, pick up a tomato, and pop it into my mouth without salt or pepper or peeling. Delicious. But I had far too many to simply graze on them.

The best use I could come up with for these lovelies is a cold sauce. Yes, I could have roasted and blended these red delights, but that would be like harnessing a two year old thoroughbred horse to a wagon. It would work certainly, but what a waste!

This is a sauce that is more like a relish that is warmed by the heat of the pasta beneath it. The cheese is cut to small pieces so it will soften and perhaps even melt with little more than residual warmth.

Use fresh mozarella, fresh basil, and your best olive oil for this dish. The flavors are simple and not buried, so the quality of the ingredients will shine. I wouldn't even think of trying this sauce with flavorless supermarket tomatoes.

Pasta with Cold Sauce
24-30 Fourth of July tomatoes or an equivalent volume of flavorful cherry tomatoes
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
6 oz fresh mozarella, cubed very small (about 1/4" per side)
2-4 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (about 20 leaves)
salt and pepper to taste
splash of balsamis vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced

12 oz. dried shaped pasta such as rigatoni, ziti, farfalle, etc...

I don't recommend a linear pasta like spaghetti or linguine for this dish. It works far better with a shaped noodle.

Put on a big bowl of water to boil. Add about 3 tablespoons of salt or a light handful to the water.

Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into quarters along the axis. If you have a larger tomato, you may cut it in half trans-axis first. Place in a large bowl.

Roll the basil leaves up in a cigar shape and slice thinly into a chiffonade. Add to the bowl with the tomatoes. Add also the oil and cubed mozarella. Add the splash of vinegar, mix well and taste for seasoning.

Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste, then add the garlic and mix well.

When the pot has boiled, add pasta. Cook until al dente - about 7 minutes.

Take a scoop of water out of the pasta water for each diner's bowl and warm the bowl with it while you drain the pasta. Once the pasta is drained thoroughly, empty the diner's bowls of water and dish up the pasta. Using a slotted spoon, immediately top with the cold sauce and give one stir to mix the sauce in lightly.

As the sauce rises to the temperature of the hot pasta, the tomatoes and basil will release their scent, and the mozarella with get soft and eventually gooey.

Serve with red wine and a sigh.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
August 9, 2005
Sister Ann's Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I'm here in the Chicago area visiting family and it's been chaotic and loads of fun. My brother and his wife are out with their two little rambunctious girls (aged 4 and 6) and we have our baby. Add to that my sister's brood of three and all the associated adults (including grandma) and the possibilities for chaos are impressive. The baby stares around, wide-eyed at all the running and shouting and excitement around him. So far, breakfast and lunch are fairly simple meals: bacon and eggs or oatmeal first thing in the morning and then sandwiches with fresh fruit at noon. But last night we wanted a simple dinner for seven adults and somewhere between 3 and 6 children (teens don't always want to hang with the family). My sister and I hemmed and hawed about various ambitious recipes, but it was getting late and every time we found a recipe we liked my mother's kitchen would be missing one essential ingredient. (Or it would be out of date...I'll have to see if my mom minds being "outed" on her interesting kitchen!) So we fell back, as one does, on bottle sauces, of which my mother has plenty. Spicy stir fry sauce for the chicken (with fresh garlic, onion, pepper flakes and lemon juice added), corn on the cob (more on that in a later post) and mashed potatoes.

When you are cooking for someone else's kids, you need to consult the parents frequently about what is likely to be accepted. Spicy sauce? No. Barbecue sauce? Maybe for dipping after the chicken is cooked plain. Corn on the cob? A given. We were making the mashed potatoes because we had it on good authority that one of the little girls loved mashed spuds. And then my sister mentioned that her littlest (nearly 12 years old) loves garlic mashed potatoes. We consulted the parents of the other children and they thought it would pass. Perfect.

Now my way of making garlic mashed potatoes turns out to have been the Wrong Way. I love garlic and I love it with potatoes. But I've always cooked the garlic in melted butter before adding it to the potatoes at the mashing stage. For some reason, the resulting mash always comes out feeling a little greasy. I assumed it was because I used too much butter. But we all know there is no such thing as too much butter in mashed potatoes, don't we??

My sister's way (and now mine) is to boil a few pieces of garlic in the water with the potatoes. Then when she strains the potatoes she retains the garlic and mashes it all together. And she adds a pound of butter and milk and salt and pepper. ("Really, it comes out to a tablespoon per helping!" she brightly assured our skeptical health-conscious brother.)

And it was delicious. She left the red potatoes only partially peeled, so there were tasty bits of skin here and there and the creamy delicious garlic flavour throughout. My big sister is a genius sometimes.

(Sorry about the lack of photos but as mentioned we are in a constant state of chaos.)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:48 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
August 8, 2005
Fondue Lack

I have been suffering from a severe lack of fondue. When my wife suggested we go out on a date Saturday night, I knew where I wanted to take her - Geja's on Armitage in Chicago.

For years, Geja's has been rated the "Most Romantic Restaurant in Chicago". I'd been there once many years ago with a girlfriend, but I hadn't been back since and more inexcusably, I had never taken my wife there.

We arrived at Geja's on foot from the Armitage El station, about a three to four block walk. The restaurant itself is down a few stairs. Not a problem, except that a gaggle of women who were presumably too young to try out the meat market at Gibson's were blocking the stairs. A few "excuse me's" and dirty looks and the more oblivious of the tarted up post-Trixies moved out of the way to let us pass.

Inside, Geja's looks pretty much the way I remember it from a dozen plus years ago and probably the way it's looked since it opened in 1965. Bottles hid behind cages with wooden breakfronts set in rich wood panelling to divide the space into small rooms with warm low candlelight and stained glass ceiling fixture lighting. On entry we were told it would be about an hour before we could sit. Normally, I'd have made a reservation, but Geja's does not take reservations after 5:30 on weekends according to its voicemail.

We retired to the bar and sampled some excellent Reislings by the glass while we were waiting. A live guitarist played classic guitar that was pleasant, but never intrusive. On each table, cellophane wrapped crackers in a wicker basket were accompanied by a crock of cheese spread and a spreading knife. The cheese was great, but unwrapping the crackers made me feel a little like I was in a diner ordering soup.

We were seated after only about twenty minutes under an in-ceiling light fixture covered by a stained glass window. I'm not 100% certain, but it may have been the same table I sat at a dozen years prior. On the table a small Le Creuset pot sat with lid on, under which a can of sterno gel sat. The waiter lit the sterno under the lidded mystery pot and let us look over the menu.

The most common way to have fondue at Geja's is to get one of their full meals which consists of cheese fondue appetizer, vegetable and meat or seafood fondue, followed by a chocolate fondue. We went with the scallop meal which at first felt pricy at $28/person, but considering it included three courses, is actually pretty reasonable.

Our first course consisted of slightly stale white and black bread cubes, grapes, and apples that we dipped with color coded long fondue forks into a second fondue pot brought to our table that had melted cheese with wine, nutmeg, garlic, and white pepper. This is the classic dish people think of when they think of fondue. It was very nice and the shared dipping experience was good for conversation. I recommend leaving grapes in the cheese a good minute so the grape will warm up.

With the second course, the purpose of the pot that had been lit when we sat down was revealed. Inside it was oil, which now boiled. We were presented with a large tray of scallops, thickly sliced onions, small peeled potatoes, white button mushrooms, broccoli, green and red pepper slices. The waiter clued us in to the key technique, which is to put a scallop on your skewer then put a potato or mushroom on the end to keep the scallop from falling off.

Also included were an array of dipping sauces including curry, horseradish cream, teriyaki, butter, barbecue, dill, cocktail sauce, and a sweet buttermilk dressing. The routine - load a skewer, sink it in the hot oil, and let it go for a couple of minutes, then pull it out, dip and eat. I enjoyed the horseradish and cocktail sauces the most, but the teriyaki went well with the scallops and the barbecue was pretty good on a well cooked mushroom.

By this point we were stuffed, but out came the chocolate fondue. A glaze of alcohol on top was lit on fire and we toasted marshmallows over the flame. When the flame died down, we dipped a few apple slices, canteloupe chunks, strawberry slices, pineapple chunks and pound cake cubes into the liquid chocolate goo.

We left the restaurant one wafer-thin mint away from exploding.

I loved the romantic but outdated decor of Geja's and enjoyed the food, though it was way too much grub for the two of us. I recommend the restaurant to couples and friends looking to share an unusual meal, recapture the late 1960's, or recreate an experience in a Swiss mountain chalet (especially good if you break a leg first).

Because of the pots of boiling oil on the tables, I think I'd avoid bringing kids to dinner with you here, though it might be a good place to share with parents or in-laws who don't dislike you (again - the proximity of pots of boiling oil).

Geja's
340 West Armitage (between Lincoln and Clark)
Chicago, Illinois 60614
+1 773-281-9101

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:13 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
August 6, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of The Week think that's just *#$%$#$$$, and I hate it! (walks out).

OK, we're back. Three good posts this week and we start with:

A. Hot! Hot! Hot! Ow! Ow! Ow! THat's what I thought when I first ran across The Smoking Tongue. There are other good hot sauce blogs out there (I'm thinking the simply named Hot Sauce Blog), but no one to my knowledge has documented the insane quest to eat a bottle of hot sauce a day. Usually, he eats a small bottle, but one day he ate a big bottle of Huy Fong Tuong Ot Sriracha (aka "rooster") sauce. 16 oz. I love the stuff, but it's brutal. I'm glad he doesn't blog the aftereffects the next day. I wonder what Smoking Tongue would have to call that blog!

I. You travel? You eat? Then you should be reading The Traveler's Lunchbox. This week the market serves up some lovely cherries that are promptly made into a Cherry-Almond Gratin that photographs beautifully.

1. Our final post of the week is Seriously Good. I mean, it's from the blog Seriously Good and the post itself ain't too shabby, neither. As a Midwesterner, I love good corn, but I'm usually not inclined to do much to it beyond boiling or grilling it on the cob and digging in. Southerners, however, make a corn pudding out of the stuff and Seriously Good tells us how.

That's it this week. Surf back next week when we explain how we learned how to make a roux from Judith Miller.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 5, 2005
The Good Wife

pickled%20onions.jpgAs longtime readers of this site will know, I was heavily scarred influenced in my formative years by the writer Louisa May Alcott. Oh yeah, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, too. And I have that Midwestern farm girl (okay, far west suburbs girl) background. The house I grew up in was built in the orchard of an old disused farm. All this is to say that preserving fruits and vegetables is part of my concept of what a Good Wife is supposed to do. My mother made the best plum jam from the trees in our back yard and I made my first forays into jam-making at the tender age of about nine. My modern-day incarnation of the Good Wife scoffs at these old-fashioned notions most of the time. But every once in a while she like to play the farm girl role again and boil jars and fill them.

I haven't made jam in many many years, mainly because my Midwestern born and bred family members give me some for Christmas every year. However, I do have a specialty that earns me complete and total Good Wife Status according to the Critic: Pickled Onions.

When I first raised the idea of making home made pickled onions with the Critic he was skeptical. First, he told me "Whatever you do, don't use cider vinegar; my mother did when I was little and it's awful." Check. Second, he told me, "Don't bother. It'll never be as good as the store-bought stuff."

Luckily for him, this good wife disobeys her husband from time to time. I scanned a few recipes on the web, consulted the trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook and Mrs. Beeton. And I winged it. And he LOVED it.

So the following is a compilation of several recipes. I used the Fannie Farmer for general tips on canning and the proportions of vinegar to sugar but the spice mix is all my own. They are slightly hot and if you get really fresh onions and don't pickle them too long in the salt water they are satisfyingly crunchy. They go perfectly with a sharp cheddar cheese. Cheese and onions - who would have thought? (They also can contribute to a mean Gibson cocktail.)

Spicy Pickled Onions

Take four bunches of small white onions. Mine added up to about a kilo of onions, ranging in size from the size of the end of my thumb to twice that size. You don't want them too small (too fiddly) or too large (too difficult to fit neatly in the jar). Wash them, peel them, tip and top them (i.e. cut off the green bits and the roots on the end). Put them in a large bowl and sprinkle them with 1 cup coarse (kosher, for example) salt and cover them with water. Cover them with plastic wrap or a plate and leave them for 6-9 hours or overnight. In an ideal world, you'll be able to put them in jars the next morning. In my less than ideal world I usually end up putting them in the brine on a Sunday evening and canning on Monday night. They are still good, but a shorter brining process will leave them a little crunchier. Mmmmm.

When they have finished brining, rinse the onions and set them aside. Immerse four large jars in boiling water and leave them for at least five minutes. In the meantime, bring to a boil 1 liter of plain unflavored white vinegar to which you have added one cup of sugar. You can also add a few tablespoons of mustard seed and a few sticks of cinnamon but it's not essential. It does give the vinegar a little kick-start in the spicing up process.

While the jars are boiling and the vinegar is getting hot, assemble your dried spices. I use:

juniper berries
mixed peppercorns (white, black, etc.)
sticks of cinnamon
star anise
mustard seeds
fennel seeds
coriander seeds or cardamom pods
dried hot peppers of your choice (I used small red bird's eye ones)

Pull a jar from the boiling water and quickly drain it. Fill it halfway with onions and then add (for example) one stick of cinnamon, a couple of star anise pieces, a few hot peppers, a teaspoon of peppercorns, a teaspoon of mustard seeds and fennel seeds and a couple of coriander seeds. Add more onions, leaving about an inch (2 1/2 cm) space at the top of the jar. Pour hot vinegar over the onions to cover completely, leaving only half an inch space at the top of the jar. You want to make sure you put in more vinegar than it takes to just cover the onions as they will absorb some of the vinegar over the coming months and you don't want them to dry out. Seal the jars according to your own methods.

A word on food hygiene: most cookbooks strongly recommend you process your jars in a hot bath after filling them to be absolutely sure you don't poison anyone. I don't usually bother with this for several reasons. Firstly, it takes away some of the crunch of the onions. Secondly, no jar ever lasts long in our kitchen. And thirdly, I know that vinegar is mildly antesceptic so I feel like we are not running a huge risk. But follow my steps with caution. If you want to be absolutely sure the pickled onions are safe you really should process them in a hot bath. And, of course, refrigerate after opening.

The jars: I used 1/2 liter glass jars with a rubber ring and a clasp. I discussed them for a long time with the woman in the drogerie and she told me that they are perfect for preserving and the only precaution I should take in re-using the jars would be to use new rubber rings on them. I bought a package of 10 extra rings for 2.75 euros.

This is a small batch. The advantage is that aside from the overnight pickling in brine, it only takes about half an hour to make four large jars of onions. If you double it, you'll have enough for yourself AND a few cherished friends. But taste them first before giving any away, as you may not want to part with them after all!

And one last word of warning for any English speaking Paris resident picklers out there (though you probably know this) do not use the word préservatifs when referring to preserving food...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
August 4, 2005
Garbanzo Zucchini Pizza

wpizza.jpg There's a great recipe somewhere in this pizza, but this isn't quite the one I made.

I had $10 worth of squash blossoms from the organic market and wanted to use them in a new and unusual way. They'd worked very well in a quesadilla, so why not put them onto a pizza?

Well, the answer to why not is that unless you have a LOT more squash blossoms they get lost in the other flavors on the pizza. Along the way, however, I discovered that for a whit sauced pizza, zucchini and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with white raw onion make a pretty good topping.

The recipe I give here is a cross between the two toppings I made the other evening. In reality, we had one zucchini, garbanzo, and onion pizza and a squash blossom, shallot, and garbanzo pizza. Be forewarned that I haven't made this exact combo yet, but from my experience with the other two I can guarantee that this is a good topping.

Does it seem weird to add garbanzo beans to a pizza? Think of it this way - garbanzos are used in Italian cooking all over the place. What's one more Italianesque application? An alternate name for garbanzos emphasizes their Roman nature - Ciceros.

Because tastes differ, I've abbreviated the recipe a bit, so you'll have to find your own bechamel and pizza dough recipes. I used a Moosewood whole wheat pizza dough recipe (well, my wife did, since she made the dough) and a Deborah Madison bechamel (including the nutmeg and pepper) that worked very well together.

Mangi, Mangi! Wonder what the guys at Slice will think of this?

Garbanzo Zucchini Pizza (makes two pies)
1 regular zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise then those slices cut in half to make two thumb-shaped pieces from each slice
1/2 big white onion
1 recipe bechamel sauce (about 2 cups needed per pizza)
1 pound mozarella cheese (1/2 pound per pie)
3/4 pound parmesan cheese
1 can drained garbanzo beans (half a can per pizza)
1 recipe pizza dough (enough for two 10-12" pies)
2 tablespoons herbs de Provence
1 big shallot or two medium ones, diced finely
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Make you pizza dough according to your pizza dough recipe, letting it rise and punching it down. After the last roll out, start making your bechamel according to your bechamel recipe.

Preheat over to 400 F. If you have pizza stones, put them in teh oven now.

When the bechamel sauce is done, stir in the Parmesan cheese a handful at a time until it is completely absorbed in the sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Sautee shallots in a medium heat skillet in olive oil and butter until soft. Stir shallots into the cheesy bechamel.

Spoon the sauce on each prepared crust, distributing evenly and leaving a half inch of space at the sides.

Lay the zucchini slices rounded sides out in a star pattern on the pizzas. In between the arms of the stars, arrange the garbanzo beans, half per pizza. Spread the rest all over the pie. Cut your onion into half moon shapes and distribute evenly on top of the pizza.

Top each pizza with half the herbs de Provence and a bit of salt and pepper (to taste) then pile mozarella on top of all.

If using pizza stones, dust the hot stones with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Stick the pizzas in the oven until the crust is crisp and teh top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Check crust and top after 15 minutes. Depending on your oven, you may need to leave the pies in for 25-30 minutes.

If you've got a good crust, this sauce and topping combo will be a winner. It's a nice change from the typical red sauce pizza without feeling too "healthy" (I guess nearly two pounds of cheese and the odd half stick of butter in teh bechamel will do that for you).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 3, 2005
Smoked Duck and Pasta

duck pasta.jpgThis week I've set myself a challenge to finish up as much as possible of the perishable food in our refrigerator. To be honest, I always set myself that challenge before leaving on a long holiday and I rarely follow through. But this time, my dear Critic has left one week before me. It's so much easier for me to experiment when he's away. If I come up with something nice to do with the ingredients in the kitchen, I can post it here. And if I don't, no one is the wiser.

And so I turned to the smoked magret de canard left over from a pierre à griller and raclette meal we made when the nieces were out for a visit. I'm not usually creative with smoked duck; I buy it for a specific purpose, such as grilling on a hot stone. It's very fatty and so it has to be something special.

I decided that rather than use the smoked duck in the usual French manner (raw, with a thick layer of fat intact, on a salad) I would try to reduce the fat content and cook it.

Smoked Duck and Pasta

250 g smoked magret de canard (duck breast)
1 onion (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
200 ml or 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
7-8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
olive oil to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pasta for two: penne, rotini, something that will hold a sauce well

While the pasta is cooking, put the slices of duck breast in a hot frying pan. As they fat on them melts, shake the pan to spread it so that the meat does not stick to the pan. Add the garlic, the fresh sage and (if you are going that way) the onion, roughly chopped. When the garlic (and onions if appropriate) are soft and flavorful, pour off the excess fat from the pan. Add the freshly chopped tomatoes and simmer until they are soft.

When the pasta is done, drain and toss with a little olive oil and salt. Add the sauce and toss, top with grated cheese. Enjoy the smoky, garlicky, sage-infused goodness of the pasta!

Note: I don't have my Critic to hand, but the nanny finished the leftovers the next day and told me it was delicious!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
August 2, 2005
Kale and Summer Squash Quiche

Our good friend Tom was coming over for dinner and I wanted to make something healthy but filling. My history with Tom and food was mostly one of restaurants and microwave dinners.

Tom and I were roommates for a while, and during that time, he would sometimes cook and I would sometimes order out or nuke a hot dog.

I think I tried cooking for him once and made a lemon chicken thing that was pretty gross and that made the kitchen eligible for low interest loans from FEMA. I needed to make amends.

The farmer's market this last weekend brought us some excellent produce including red Russian kale and some outrageously sized shallots. I also had some summer squash I'd sliced up for last week's Suzette pie. These were the ingredients I'd use for this meal.

I ended up using two big bundles of the red Russian kale (about a pound or so), which wilted down in the pan. Although there is certainly some oil and butter in this recipe (especially the crust) the addition of red wine and white vinegar helped cut the grease, as Tom noticed and mentioned.

The quiche all but completely disappeared so I think it was a hit. I only wish the crust I put together was as flaky as the one Tom put together for the blueberry pie he brought. He attributes the greatness of the crust to the use of a food processor, but I'm going to hit him up for the recipe. With the cheap fresh blueberries in the store, you may soon read of my attempts at a pie among pies.

For now, concentrate on the main course and this Kale and Summer Squash Quiche

Kale and Summer Squash Quiche
Crust (after a recipe by James Beard):
1 3/4 cups sifter AP flour
1 stick butter (8 tbsp), cut to small pieces and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
sprinkling of herbs de Provence
two tablespoons Dijon mustard

Filling:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 more tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 medium summer squash sliced very thinly on the bias
1 pound red Russian kale, washed, chopped very roughly, bottom stems removed
1 big shallot (slightly smaller than a fist) or 2 medium shallots
2 teaspoons dried herbs de Provence
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
salt, pepper to taste


First - the crust:
Mix the flour, salt and herbs together in a big bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mix and add the very cold bits of butter a few at a time. Work the butter into the flour using your fingertips only. The goal is to keep the butter cold.

Once all the butter is worked in and the flour mix looks like little white peas, mix the egg yolk with 1/4 cup ice water. Pour this mix into the flour bowl and mix the dough together, gathering up the dough that forms into a ball.

Wrap the ball in wax paper or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 25 minutes so the flour can absorb all the moisture.

Preheat the oven to 425 F, 400 F if using a glass CorningWare or Pyrex pie plate since glass conduct heat into the crust more efficiently.

Flour your work area lightly and flour your rolling pin. Roll out the dough in a circle so it's a bit bigger than a 9" pie plate and about 1/4" thick. You may need to flip the dough a few times to keep it from sticking.

Carefully lift the crust into the pie plate and trim any excess from the edges. Dock the crust to let steam out (make lots of little holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork). If you wish, cover the crust with parchment and weigh it down with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. I usually don't do this and rarely get bubbles.

Pre-bake the crust for 15 minutes. Once it's done, brush two tablespoons of mustard on the bottom of the crust and put the crust back in the oven for 2-3 minutes. This will help prevent the crust from absorbing the custard later and keep it crispy.

While the crust bakes, prepare the filling:

Chop the shallot(s) into a 1/2" dice.
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the shallots and sautee over medium heat until fairly soft (about four minutes).

Add the wine and kale and squash slices and two tablespoons of the mustard. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and the herbs de Provence. Mix well and cook until the kale and squash are tender.

Beat the eggs and mix with the milk.

Sprinkle 2/3 of the cheese over the bottom of the quiche. The cheese forms a second line of defense against a soggy crust (or first line, depending what direction you're counting from). Arrange the skillet contents evenly on top of the cheese in the crust.

Carefully pour as much of the custard (the eggs and milk) as you can into the crust. You should be able to pour just about all of it over the filling and into the crust. Spread the remaining cheese on top.

Reduce the temperature in the oven to 350 F and bake for 25-30 minutes until the quiche sets.

To test the quiche, while wearing oven mitts, turn the quiche like a steering wheel about 1/4 turn then back swiftly but not too violently. If the middle seems set and doesn't jiggle too much (or slosh at all), it's done. You could also use a toothpick to see if the quiche has set by putting the toothpick in and seeing if it comes out clean or covered with goop, but it's not nearly as fun as the "jiggle-a-quiche" method.

Let the quiche cool at least ten minutes before cutting. Serve hot, warm, room temperature or chilled, on top of a bed of spring greens in a rosemary balsamic dressing with slices of tomato.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:49 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
August 1, 2005
Frozen Food

potstickers.jpgI'm a bit of a food snob, I admit. I take pride on the fact that most of the food in my freezer is of my own making. Soup stock, leftover moussaka, a turkey pie and some unidentifiable green stuff which I really should toss. But there are a few things that I do buy frozen. I love frozen spices. They may not be as good as the fresh stuff, but they have loads more flavor than the dried variety and keep indefinitely. English sausages also make it into the freezer compartiment: kind friends from the UK bring them over and I freeze them for a later date.

And one of the few prepared foods I buy myself are pot stickers. I'm afraid I don't know what their true name is. You know what they are I hope: those delicious little pork dumplings that you fry on one side and then steam, serving them with hot sauce. I suppose I could try to make them myself, but the shops in Belleville on the East side of Paris sell them cheaply and they are tasty.

What's more, they are the perfect food for someone who is temporarily single: just pull out enough for a meal for one and put the bag back in the freezer. I am such a person. My Critic has abandoned me for the Big Apple and the boy and I are on our own.

Before discovering the wonders of the food blogging world, I used to consult the epicurious site fairly frequently. One of the things that made me smirk was coming across one of those recipes that was, in fact, no recipe. They have a few of these on epicurious, the kind of "recipe" that is nothing more than a set of instructions along the lines of "open box, follow instructions for cooking and pour sauce over dish". They get scathing comments from other readers.

So this is kind of one of those recipes, but not entirely. I'm giving you a little more here. For one thing, if your bag of pot stickers is like mine, the directions are in Chinese.

Pot Stickers for One

Pour a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a frying pan. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil. Bring to a high heat, until it is almost smoking. Add seven or eight (or more, depending on your hunger) frozen pot stickers. While they are starting to brown, roughly chop about a tablespoon of ginger and slice a tablespoon of garlic. Add them to the pan. When the pot stickers are browned on one side, flip them over. Add a quarter of a cup of chicken broth and a dash of soy sauce and cover the pan.

While the pot stickers are finishing cooking, spread a layer of lettuce leaves (fresh from the balcony in my case!) on a plate with a handful of cherry tomatoes (also home-grown!). When the pot stickers are nicely steamed and hot remove them to the plate of lettuce and tomato and drizzle the remaining pan sauces over them. Serve with a nice hot pepper sauce.

Crispy on the outside, savory, salty and hot on the inside, they are the perfect remedy to the morning-after feeling of the day after a birthday party. I should have invited over some of the friends I saw at the party but I figured they were enjoying the kind of lie-in I used to have pre-baby. Oh, yeah, and it would have meant sharing...that wasn't going to happen...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:59 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
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