Sorry folks, forgot that the Vegan IMBB was due tonight. I had thought we were set for the end of this weekend.
I will have a lervely Vegan dish by weekend's end, but it'll only be in the IMBB with a big Roger Maris-ish asterisk.
UPDATE: Nope, no Vegan dish. I sliced my thumb pretty badly making another dish this weekend, and my Vegan dish involves all sorts of things that don't go well with an open cut (think lime, jalapeno, etc...) Sorry.
Now here's a recipe you can play with and change to suit your tastes.
This is a fun dish of pasta that should appeal to anyone sick of eating spaghetti the same old way. Spaghetti, eggs, and cheese are combined, formed into cupcake tins, filled with goodies and baked.
You could use these for parties or just to make a dull dinner somewhat more interesting. My measurements for this dish are somewhat loose, and you can play with the proportions to find a mix you like best.
The next time I try these, I'm going to add fresh herbs to the spaghetti and egg mixture to add a little green color and flavor to the shell itself. Fresh flat leaf parsley, oregano, tarragon, and basil all would be appropriate.
This example uses garlic, spinach, and mushrooms because I really like that combination. When you choose a filling, make sure you precook the vegetables or meat. The time in the oven is just enough to get the eggs to set up and bind the spaghetti together.
Spinach and Mushroom Spaghetti Cups
6 oz. spaghetti, angel hair, fettucine, or other linear pasta.
4 oz grated parmesan, divided
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
oil or butter to grease the cupcake pan
3 cloves garlic
6 oz. sliced button mushrooms
1 lb. fresh baby spinach leaves
12 tablespoons tomato/pasta sauce
Optional shredded green herbs.
Use olive oil to grease well a non-stick cupcake pan. If you wish, you may insert paper cupcake cups into each holder. These spaghetti cups really want to stick to the pan so either use plenty of grease on the pan, or use the paper cups.
Boil a big pot of water. Salt well. Do not use oil in the water.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
While the water is heating, clean your mushrooms and spinach well. Mince your garlic.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter. Melt butter. When the mix is foaming, add the garlic to it and sautee for 15 seconds or so. Add the mushrooms and stir or flip to coat. Add a pinch of salt and stir or flip in the pan again.
Crack the pasta in half and add it to the boiling water.
Sautee the mushrooms until they are fairly soft and the raw mushroom texture is gone, about six minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms from the pan, reserving any juice/oil remaining.
Add the fresh spinach to the pan with a pinch of salt, and reduce heat to medium. If there isn't enough liquid in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir the spinach and sautee until it is all just wilted. Season to taste and set aside.
When the pasta has cooked, drain it from the pot and let cool five minutes.
Beat the eggs together in a big bowl with 2 oz of the grated parmesan and the optional fresh herbs. Add the cooled pasta to the bowl and mix well. You want to make sure the pasta has cooled enough that it doesn't scramble the eggs.
Divide the pasta among the 12 cupcake pan cups, underfilling each one by a 1/3" or so. Using a small measuring cup or a shotglass, press in the center of each cup to form a bowl, pressing the pasta to the sides and down, but not penetrating to the bottom of the pan.
Add a tablespoon of pasta sauce (it can be cold) to each cup. Divide the spinach among the cups and add the mushrooms on top of that.
Sprinkle the last 2 oz. of grated Parmesan evenly over the cups.
Bake in the 350 F. oven for 10-15 minutes until the cheese gets golden brown and the pasta near the top of the cup is just taking on color.
Let cool for 3 minutes before serving. Run a knife around the outside of each cup and use a spatula to pull them out of the pan if you did not use paper.
Serve 2-3 cups per person as a light entree with a nice glass of Italian wine and a small salad.
It's a basic fact of cooking: the better your ingredients, the more they will shine when you keep it simple. I remember many years ago a good friend introduced me to the joys of fresh cèpes mushrooms, simply sautéed in sweet butter. I would have been tempted to add garlic, salt, herbs. But he was right: in their beautiful buttery sauce any other flavor was superfluous. It's the height of the cèpes season and I'm in heaven.
I bought a half a kilo of the sweet fungi last Saturday at the market. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them, but when you see lovely mushrooms in season you don't need to have a plan. The next day, I came up with my first idea: gently sautéed in butter, they would form the heart of a lovely omelette. We had friends over for brunch and so it was a good opportunity to share something elegant with them. (The Critic, with his anti-fungal anti-egg stance was never going to appreciate the omelette with me.)
When the brunch was over, with only the ladies partaking of the cèpes omelette, I still had a good 250 grams left over, some of it cooked and some still unprepared. And so I thought of the bowl of jellied duck consommé in the refrigerator. What? You do not regularly have a bowl of jellied duck consommé in your fridge? Neither do I, really. But a few days before I had seen a tray of duck legs at the unbelievable price of 2.91 euros. And, knowing that the Critic would be away at an official dinner last night, I decided to buy them. I like duck well enought, but what I really like is duck soup. Yes, that's right: I buy duck only in order to get the resulting soup. It's that good.
So I brought home my duck legs and I sprinkled them with thyme and rosemary and Hungarian paprika (the hot kind). And I roasted them in a hot oven for half an hour or so. When they smelled delicious I took them out and sampled them. They were delicious. I highly recommend the paprika touch, which made them just a tiny bit spicy and infinitely more interesting.
And in due course, I stripped the remaining legs of their meat (you didn't think I ate all six in a sitting, did you?) and threw the bones in a pot with water. Now if you want really good stock, the secret is to reduce it and don't over-estimate the amount that your bones can yield. Or at least that's my theory. I ended up with about three cups of gorgeous dark brown stock. After cooling overnight in the fridge, it had jellied to a wonderful jiggling dark brown stock with a think layer of fat on the top.
Mushrooms and duck stock go extraordinarily well together. As I've mentioned before, the best soup my Austrian grandmother made was a cream of mushroom one with duck base. But she didn't have cèpes. Or maybe she did back in Austria and mourned the lack of them in the big bright United States. It's unfortunately too late to ask her. But I think she would have approved of my soup. I heated the broth and added the sautéed mushrooms. I cleaned and shredded the remaining bits of mushroom and added them. I added one tiny clove of garlic. I cooked until the mushrooms were all tender and then whizzed it with a stick blender. I added a couple of large spoonfuls of crème fraîche and a bit of salt and freshly-ground pepper. And that was it. A perfect soup. You could just taste the spices from the roast duck legs coming through the cream. The slight tang of the crème fraîche offset the buttery mushrooms and the deep duck flavour. It was a delight.
Sometimes I am criticized because my recipes seem complicated. And this one is complicated in the telling. But in fact it was very simple. It's not that I am a great one for planning my meals days in advance. It's just that I have an automatic reflex. Roasted bones=soup fodder. Any time they appear in my kitchen they are immediately put in a pot with some water. If I think of a use for the stock in the two to three days that follow, all the better. If not, it goes in the freezer so that the next time I have a hankering for soup the base is ready at hand.
And so if you presuppose the duck consommé in the fridge, you have dinner in 20-25 minutes. The time to sauté the mushrooms (if necessary), heat the broth, add the mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes. Whizz with the stick blender, season and add crème fraîche. And serve.
If you are really lucky your spouse won't like mushrooms and you'll have the whole thing to yourself!
Note: for those unused to my franglais, cèpes are more commonly known in the US and the UK by their Italian name: porcini. They are also called boletus mushrooms.
A while back, Barrett suggested I write something about the food I make for the Boy. Initially, I dismissed the idea because it seemed to me so basic: steam/boil food, purée, cool, serve. Also, I was afraid it would turn into just an excuse to post cute baby pictures. I reasoned that this is a site about food, not babies, and if you are interested in laugh-out-loud kid stories, you should be reading Motherhood is not for wimps, not Too Many Chefs.
But the exchange with Barrett did set me thinking more about what I am doing and why. And I realized that my dabblings in the world of baby-food might be of interest to current or potential parents out there. If you are in that group, welcome to my world. It's a messy one.
The ideal here in the Expat flat is to give our boy as many different vegetables as possible. In a perfect world, they would all be gently steamed or boiled, organic, and unsalted with no added butter. They would not come in little glass jars as I would make them all myself. We are trying to avoid foods that come from another continent. And we are trying to move gradually to bigger bits and pieces that have to be gummed instead of just swallowing. Oh, and absolutely no vegetable purée in the bottle, which is a weird French idea to get babies used to the taste of vegetables.
Why all of the above? Well, common sense backed up by research indicates that introducing your child to a large variety of vegetables early in his life makes it much more likely he'll love eating them when he's older. Making our own food ensures that it doesn't taste exactly the same every time; again, I think and hope this encourages him to embrace different tastes. With home-made food, I can control the consistency of the food better and work gradually towards "adult" food. Then there is the economic element: the price per pound is phenomenally lower and though we earn a comfortable income, it's money that would be better spent on other things. And lastly there is the environmental impact: even if you recycle those little jars, it's a lot of packaging and a lot of energy is going into the production of them.
As our boy has parents who both work full time, we have to make some compromises. We are not holding up well on the organic front as there are no organic stores convenient to home or work. We tried to go to the organic market in the 17th arrondisement on Saturday but got pathetically lost and ended up at a different market altogether. We occasionally buy frozen organic vegetables from Monoprix. We have resorted to glass jars a few times, mostly when travelling. They, however, are organic and have no sugar or salt added.
At nine months he's getting better at eating chunks of food, though it has to be something he really loves, i.e., a fruit. All in all, he's adapted well to the home made food and eats carrots, peas, green beans, aubergines/eggplants, courgettes/zucchini, celeriac, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Confession: I couldn't stand the thought of mashed potatoes with no butter or salt and so he got a little - less than us - in his mashed spuds. You gotta live wild sometimes!)Fruits are a given: plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, strawberries, but NO BANANAS.
Essential equipment: a very good mini-food processor or a stick blender. A big food processor is fine but it will only work if you want to make loads of purée at a time. This is great if you have a freezer, but even then there will probably be times when you only have a little fruit and want to make a small batch. You'll also want to have a good scale so that you can follow (roughly) the doctor's advice on how much to feed at mealtimes. Another good piece of equipment is the potato masher. This is great for making the transition from smooth purée to chunky bits. Lots and lots of little plastic tupperware containers. Lots and lots of them. A dishwasher is also a very useful thing to have.
What surprised me most when I started (though it probably shouldn't have done) is how LIQUID fruits and vegetables are. I had always assumed that strawberries got very liquid because I usually add sugar to them. Nope: they go pretty much completely liquid even without the sugar when you cook them. Which brings us to Piece of Advice Number One: get some organic baby rice cereal and stir it into your more liquid fruits. Feeding a baby water-thin fruit purée on a tiny spoon with almost no bowl to it will a) take you through to the next meal time and b) result in the biggest messiest baby you've ever seen. I've seen a lot of stuff about rice cereal being empty calories and unnecessary but to me they miss the point: it's the best thickening agent in the world and if it's organic and sugar-free it's not bad for the baby either.
This brings us neatly to Piece of Advice Number Two: rice cereal can also be used to "water down" a flavorful new vegetable and make it more palatable to a suspicious baby. I also frequently put a scoop of formula powder in new foods, so that he has a cream-of-carrots purée, for example.
Piece of Advice Number Three: do not assume that because baby refused a food once he therefore dislikes it and it can be crossed off the list. According to my baby book, a child can refuse a vegetable as many as 10 times before deciding he likes it. I have come home several times to hear the nanny tell me "He really doesn't like X" only to see him devour a huge bowl of it with enthusiasm the next day. Just like us, some days they are in the mood for carrots or zucchini and some days they are not.
The next tip seems so basic to me that I'm almost embarrassed to include it. But Barrett thought it was original, so here goes: use every wile and trick at your disposal to get the food into the baby. Start out with the vegetables as he's less likely to want to continue with it once he's even half full. When he starts refusing it, give him a spoonful or two of fruit and then go back to the vegetable. Keep doing this until he's eaten all the vegetables or catches on. My guy is nine months and he hasn't caught on yet.
Another trick is to give him a toy to play with while eating. I initially thought this was a recipe for a very dirty toy (which it is) but a fellow-mum taught me how useful it is. As soon as the baby opens his mouth to gnaw on the toy (which he will, trust me) if you are quick you can get the spoon in there first. They never cease to be surprised by it!
I make up a couple of fruit and vegetable bowls every couple of days. It doesn't actually take that long, about half an hour from start to finish. A week or so ago as I was looking at all the gorgeous peaches and plums in the store I suddenly realized that in a month's time I'll no longer have the luxury of such choices and so I bought a few pounds and put the resulting purée in freezer bags in 120 gram amounts. If I'm alert in the morning, I just take one out of the freezer and put it in the fridge and by lunch it's defrosted. If I forget, there is always the microwave.
One more tip on this subject: nearly every web site or cookbook that deals with home made baby food advises you to freeze the food in an ice cube tray. I tried this and found it was more hassle than it's worth. Frozen food is remarkably difficult to get out of an ice cube tray. If the food is very thick, I advise putting a sheet of waxed paper on a plate and plopping spoonfuls of food on it. Put the plate in the freezer, and, when the spoonfuls are frozen, remove them to a freezer bag. If the purée is very liquid, just pour it in a freezer bag directly and use a marker to note the date, the fruit and the quantity.
As mentioned above, there aren't really any "recipes". Fruit with pits (peaches, plums, nectarines) are usually boiled until tender because it makes it easier to slip the skins off. Apples and Pears are peeled and cubed and cooked in their own juices. You don't even need to add water; as they heat up they will release loads of juice. Vegetables (with the exception of zucchini) are peeled and either steamed or boiled until tender. Zucchini is thoroughly washed, sliced, covered with Saran wrap/cling film and microwaved until tender. (That's my secret Last-Minute-Forgot-To-Prepare-Dinner weapon.)
The One Recipe
Only one dish I make for him qualifies in my mind as a Recipe. I made it for him the other night when he had been through a particularly tough day. (This standing up lark is very tiring and leads to many buises when the legs give way!) Take 120 grams of peach purée and add to it 1/4 cup oatmeal and one scoop of formula powder. Stir well and add a little water if it's too thick. (It depends on how liquid your peaches are, obviously.) Heat for 20 seconds in the microwave. And voilà: Cream of oatmeal and peaches. It went down so well I had to make a second bowl five minutes later.
If you don't make your own food or didn't make it for your children, please do not assume I think you are a bad parent. We all make choices. One of the reasons I've made this one is that I can see that my boy's half sister is a very picky eater and I don't want him to be difficult. Parenting is all about compromises and making choices. You may choose to buy the little pots and spend the half hour of time saved playing with your little one. That's a good thing. I love food and want to instill a love of good food in my son. That's also a good thing. But you can't please everyone.
If there's anything I like as much as cooking, it's reading good books. Here are four I read recently that you might find interesting.
Physiology of Taste by Jean Athelme Brillat-Savarin; translation by Anne Drayton
One of the greatest works on gastronomy was written in 1825 not by a chef or a professional critic, but by a provincial French magistrate whose chief qualification was his experience at the table as a diner. Most people these days know the name Brillat-Savarin from the quote of his that appears at the beginning of either of the Iron Chef series. "You tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are." There is much more than that in "The Physiology of Taste".
Physology of Taste is a work that attempts to answer the question "What is a gourmand?" At the time, "gourmand" and "glutton" were synonymous. Brillat-Savarin refutes that equation emphatically, though he does include some stories, such as the man who ate 36 oysters and was still hungry for more, that might make you wonder.
Much of the science in Brillat-Savarin's book is dated, as you would expect it to be, but the cooking and entertaining advice, general wisdom, and humor are timeless. Brillat-Savarin is the quintessential pre-Sartre bon vivant Frenchman. For example, he defines the SIX senses as the five we think of today, plus a sixth which he says is the attraction between the sexes. All the sense are involved in being a gourmand and in the proper appreciation of a good meal. How French can you get?
If you have an interest in food and don't mind a few sexist (but very French) comments, this is a must-read. I laughed out loud a few times, which is uncommon for me with nineteenth century material.
There is another editon of this book that was translated by noted food writer MFK Fisher, but I found Anne Drayton's translation lively and very readable and recommend it over the Fisher edition.
Hunger: An Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell
Before you can eat, you must have an appetite. Sharman Apt Russell attempts to survey hunger in all its forms in this new work. Russell is best when she discusses the physical process of hunger. Hormones and physical structure regulate not only hunger but satiety.
She hangs much of the middle of the book on a study done with conscientious objector volunteers in Minnesota during World War II. The subjects were starved and their physical status and behavior monitored. The subjects were then used to test the best methods to physically rehabilitate people who had been subjected to malnutrition, a subject very relevant to the rehabilitation of the liberated peoples from the warzones.
It's only at the end that I felt Russell's book fell down. The anorexia chapter felt rushed, and she examines the work of anti-hunger groups in places like Somalia and Ethiopia in a too cursory manner for my taste. It would have been better to have more first-hand accounts of modern hunger relief efforts from around the globe. I also felt her prescriptions for relief of global hunger were too idealistic and naive to really work.
I'm sure Hunger suffered in my mind from being read after Brillat-Savarin's work. Russell is a good writer, but not of that caliber. That's nothing to be ashamed of as Brillat-Savarin wrote a classic. I mildly recommend Hunger for the reader interested in the larger issues of food in society.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin
Is there any chef better respected than Jacques Pepin? Jacques Pepin is familiar to most PBS viewers in their 30's and 40's as that French chef who tussled with Julia Child. (When you can get a Frenchman to tut-tut at you for using too much butter, you know you're doing something right.) Others know him as the man who wrote "La Technique", the definitive guide to classic cooking technique from knife skills to egg poaching.
Pepin is a man who's worked in every place you can imagine in the food industry. This autobiography takes you from his early days in the kitchen of his family's restaurants in Bourg-en-Bresse to Paris, where, as was the custom of the day, he learned all the stations in some of the best restaurants in the city. In Paris, Pepin ends up in the army and after a series of fortunate events, becomes the chef for the new head of the French government Charles de Gaulle.
You can tell from the way he writes that Pepin clearly loves his life. He tells the story of moving to America, opening his own restaurant, and turning down a chance to cook for the Kennedy White House in favor of working for Howard Johnson's. The narraive reaches through La Technique and his relationships with James Beard and Julia Child to his relationship with the woman who would eventually become his wife.
Interspersed with the stories are recipes from each stage of his life. Both the recipes and the stories are quite tasty. This is a fine autobiography that reads easily and gives you a good sense of Pepin's self-image and of how the boy became the man became the famous chef. The Pepin in this book is someone I'd be glad to meet. Highly recommended.
The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
If you can eat them, you probably love lobster. Have you ever thought about how they're caught and whether there is any chance they might someday not be around to grace your dinner table? There are a lot of scientists and fishermen who have worked to ensure they will be.
This book is subtitled "How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean", but could have been subtitled "Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Lobster Sex and Then Some".
Trevor Corson weaves the startlingly strange and beautiful lifecycle of American lobsters near the Maine coast with the lives of the men and women who trap them. Mating rituals for both the lobsters and lobstermen are examined, though thankfully only the lobsters' sex lives are examined in explicit detail.
The heart of the book follows the work of Bob Steneck, a marine bologist and geologist who finds himself suprisingly allied with Maine lobstermen against government scientists. Other scientists work with and against Steneck, but only those who work with the lobstermen gain a real understanding of the creatures.
I'm not an expert, and it is possible that the book is too credulous of Steneck's work. He seems sometimes too clever and the government scientists too stereotypically intransigent to be wholly accurate. I certainly learned a lot about lobsters' reproductive and social behavior which is both entirely alien and completely comprehensible.
The scientists and lobstermen portrayed in the book come across as very sympathetic real people who you'll enjoy reading about. One scientist even chooses lobsters to study so that he can enjoy eating them after his research is completed. Now that's practical!
And frankly, who knew lobsters could be so interesting? There are some experiments the scientists do on the lobsters that may be a little disturbing to a more sensitive or Vegan reader, but even if you don't enjoy eating the creatures, you should enjoy this book.
Barrett's recent post about Greek lemony potatoes served as a very timely reminder to me that my little lemon tree had some gorgeous fruit begging to be used. It's a little difficult to decide what to do with your darling organic baubles once you have them. You don't want to waste a millimeter of the lovely unwaxed peel that has never been touched by a pesticide. But most recipes calling for lemon peel either only call for the peel or are so involved as to make them impractical for anything but a lazy Sunday afternoon.
So I decided to compromise. The peels are now sitting in a Tupperware container in my freezer, waiting for a later use. And the juice became the star ingredient of a soup I had all but forgotten existed: Avgolemono.
Avgolemono (a.k.a. That Greek Lemon and Rice Soup) can be found in a lot of cheap Greek diners in Chicago. When I was at university we frequented a place known in our circle as the Slime. (I think it's actual name was the Salonika, but due to certain qualities of its gyros the nickname was more popular a moniker.) The Slime had mildly disturbing runny omelettes and gyros. But the dishes the restaurant was actually good at making both involved rice. The rice pudding, which arrived at your table in a neat little half-circle with a sprinkle of cinnamon, looked industrial and everything that is disgusting about school lunches. But like some items on my school's menu, it was actually very tasty: creamy, with just a bit of bite and with exactly the right amount of sweetness.
And the other dish was the Avgolemono. Like the pudding, the rice had a enough texture to make the soup interesting and make it substantial. Unlike the pudding, it had a sharp, salty flavour supported by savoury chicken broth. It was a great hangover cure.
As I often do when trying to reproduce a classic dish, I turned to epicurious for help. Although I rarely reproduce an epicurious recipe exactly, I find it's a good starting point. If nothing else, the database is large enough that I can usually find several different recipes and mix and match to my own ideas of how it should be done. This time, epicurious came through in a kind of a backwards way: the reviews on their recipe almost universally panned it. But nearly all of them mentioned the recipe posted by a cook in Boston that was perfect. I had to page back a ways to find the famous Cook from Boston and read what she had posted:
Terrible adaption of a Greek classic. I'm 34 and have been making this since I could stand up on the stool in my Yia Yia's kitchen (my grandmother who is now 80 yrs. old). Soupa Avgolemono: 8 c. homemade chix stock, 1 c. orzo, 4 eggs/ separated, juice of 3 lemons, fresh ground black pepper. This recipe will make a perfectly balanced salty, rich, filling, comforting soup. Boil broth, add orzo and simmer until tender 20 min. Whip whites until medium peaks, add yolks beating continuously, add juice, beating. Temper eggs with 2 c. broth, adding in constant slow stream while continuing to beat furiously so you do not curdle the eggs. Add egg mixture back to remaining broth and serve. When reheating, do not re-boil - heat slowly until very warm or you may curdle the eggs. Garnish with thinly sliced lemon. I sometimes add more than juice of 3 lemons, as the sourness is the best part of the taste! You should taste lemon, richness of eggs, salt of chicken, and starch of rice, in that order and you've made it perfectly. You can also add thin pieces of shredded chicken meat (pull off bone in strips), although classic recipes don't include chicken, vegetables, garlic or any of the ingredients many reviewers added to "fix" this recipe. Try mine and you'll be hooked for life!
And she was right. Her recipe is creamy and salty and sour in a perfect balance. It's extremely rich; something about the whipped eggs makes it feel even more decadent than the soup I remember. Of course with this few ingredients, it's even more important than usual to start out with fresh delicious ingredients. The one fault I have with her recipe (and it's really not fair as s/he obviously wrote it quickly in a comments section) is that if you use a home-made broth it isn't nearly salty enough. Or at least mine wasn't. Salt generously.
So many thanks to a Cook from Boston! Thank you for visiting epicurious and imparting the wisdom of your Greek Grandma. Isn't the Internet grand?
Maybe Marshall Field's is getting renamed Macy's but at least one New Yorker - Jonathon Hayes - likes the Chicago way of doing things. "In 2005, eating in Chicago is almost painful: to choose one superb restaurant is to reject a dozen others."
Hayes asserts our Thai and Mexican food is better than New York's, which I can't disagree with. Restaurants mentioned include Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Alinea, Avec, Blackbird, and even Hot Doug's among others.
I've never had the blistered peppers at Tia Pol in New York, but I kept running into them online on Friday. First, Adam over at the Amateur Gourmet praised the peppers, then I ran into a Gothamist post that attempted to recreate the dish with serranos.
The dish looks great, but the problem I had with Gothamist's recreation is that Joe DeSalazar used serranos, a hot pepper. All the description of the dish at Tia Pol seemed to imply the peppers were fairly mild, and serranos, even when seeded, pack a kick. The Gothamist post did offer this important fact - the dish at Tia Pol is called pimientos estilo gernika.
A couple Googles later and I find that Gernika peppers are a small very mild pepper from the Basque region of Spain. I have a theory that gernika = Guernica, the town bombed during the Spanish Civil War and made immortal by Pablo Picasso's painting of the incident. Can someone back that up or refute it?
In any case, I knew there was little chance of me finding those particular peppers in Chicago. I went to my local fruteria and bought three varieties of peppers - gypsy, cubanelle, and banana peppers.
I seeded and roasted all three types over an open burner until their skins blistered. A drizzle of olive oil and a big pinch of salt later, I tried each variety.
The gypsies were not interesting at all. Of the three they had the least flavor and no heat whatsoever. These are the only ones of the three I would not use to make a blistered pepper dish.
The bight green cubanelles were very flavorful and had little to no heat. I chose these to be the standard pepper because of the way their crisp, fruity flavor benefits from just a bit of olive oil and salt.
The banana peppers were marked as "hot" in the fruteria, and they didn't disappoint in that category. Despite seeding and spooning out the membranes, I had to drink a very large glass of milk to make the heat dissipate. If you want spicy peppers and can handle the heat, these might be a good choice.
I think I'll try poblanos next time. They may be the right compromise between too spicy and heatless. That's not to say I didn't like the cubanelles quite a bit. I did and will make the dish with the cubanelles while I continue my experimentation. Maybe a mix of peppers would be interesting. Is the next bite spicy or fruity? It might add an element of suspense to the meal, eh?
Blistered Cubanelle Peppers
A mess of cubanelle peppers (or substitute banan peppers, poblanos, etc...)
If serving as an appetizer, figure 1-2 pepeprs per person.
There are two ways to present the peppers. If you wish to serve them whole, slice the pepper longitudinally, leaving the very top near the stem intact, and, using a small knife or a spoon, scrape out all the seeds and membranes from inside the pepper.
Alternately, you may cut the tops off the pepper, slice it in half and scrape the seeds and membranes out of the pepper more easily.
Rinse the peppers to get rid of any seeds and pat them dry.
Over an open flame, roast the peppers, skin side down until the skin is blistered and even charred in places. If you've kept the peppers intact, turn them to make sure every side gets blistered.
Once you blistered all the peppers, place them on a serving platter, drizzle with olive oil and salt well. Serve while the peppers are still warm.
Is hurricane season over yet? While you dry out, here's three posts form food blogs from the last week to read and enjoy.
I. Curiously strong brownies are on the mind of Esurientes. Niki pulls together chocolate and mint brownies using Altoids, if you can believe it.
A. The Food Whore is a caterer who says and does stuff we'd all like to be able to say and do. I read her site frequently and laugh most of the time. This post about a wedding guest trying to get the inside scoop on an upcoming wedding. What FW does to her is both cruel and just and damn funny.
1. The people of New Orleans have been scatttered by hurricanes to the four winds. No matter where they land, New Orleans cuisine will survive. I'm not a meat-eater, but I used to be so I can appreciate the glory that is NOLA's recipe for Chaurice Sausage. I'm not quite sure what "Meat Cure" is, but perhaps NOLA will fill us in.
That's it for now. Blue skies, nothing but blue skies from now on...
Saturday afternoon, the brunch is over, the guests have gone. The Neufchatel is making a break for it...
Lemon lemon lemon, lemon lemon, lemon lemon lemon. Lemon adds a nice lift to almost any food. Earlier this week, I had a taste for lemon and an idea to infuse the flavor into a couple of my favorite starches.
There are three recipes here, but the first one we can dispense with quickly. Veggie kabobs - cut up some veggies into big bite sized pieces, stick them on skewers that have been soaked in water for 30 minutes, brush with olive oil, season lightly with pepper and salt and bake or grill for 10-25 minutes until they are appropriately done. Fine. One recipe down - let's get to the lemony stuff.
Lemon rice was the first thing I thought of. There is an Indian lemon rice dish that is fairly well known. This isn't that dish, though I did add some spices (tumeric, mustard seed) that would be perfectly at home in Indian food.
It's a constant source of amazement to me that so many Old World cuisines are defined by ingredients from the New World. It's hard to imagine; Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or Irish food without potatoes? It's just as hard for me to imagine Greek food without a lemony potato.
Real Greek lemon potatoes are less crispy than these, but the olive oil and lemon combination with potatoes would have been at home in ancient Athens. If they had somehow procured potatoes. From the Andes. In South America. Hmmph.
3 cups cooked fluffy long-grained rice, cooled.
Zest of one lemon
juice of two lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon tumeric
1/2 white onion, diced
1 anaheim chile, diced
salt to taste
you also may need a small quantity of water
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and sautee until softened. Add the mustard seeds and fry until they start to "pop".
Add the rice to the bowl and stir well. Add lemon juice and tumeric and stir well again. If the rice seems too dry you may add a small quantity of water. Start with 1/4 cup at most adding more if abslutely necessary. Stir, reduce heat, and cover. Let warm until rice is warmed through - no more than 4 or 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and stir well. Salt to taste. Serve.
3 Idaho baking potatoes or another starchy potato.
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
optional - herbs
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 500 F. Yes, 500 F.
Wash the potatoes well, but don't peel them. Cut up the potatoes into 2" chunks, all approximately the same size so they cook at about the same rate.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, turning up the edges just a little to make a bowl out of the foil that will hold liquids in. You should use the smallest baking sheet you can that will still allow the potatoes to be spread in a single layer.
Put the potato chunks in a big bowl and pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the spuds. Add salt, pepper, and chopped herbs if you wish. Toss the potatoes in the oil and lemon juice until they are all coated well.
With a slotted spoon, lay the potatoes out on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Pour the liquid left in the bottow of the bowl over the potatoes. As they cook, the spuds will be steamed by the liquid and soak up some of it.
Bake for 40-55 minutes at 500 F. After 25 minutes, flip the potatoes with a pair of tongs. Check for doneness at 40 minutes, but let them go until they have a crispy crust and a nicely steamed interior.
Serve hot, and don't plan on having any leftovers.
The final result will be crispy, lemony, and delicious.
On a recent trip to the UK for a wedding, I was delighted to discover that the Sunday Observer included its Food Monthly that weekend. There is something especially satisfying about sitting down with a physical paper and paging through a whole magazine of food news and recipes. The European edition of the Observer is so wimpy that we subscribe to the full-cream electronic edition instead. But it's not as satisfying as the real thing. The Observer runs four monthly magazines. (Food, Music, Sport and...? Can't find the fourth. Maybe there are three.) So it's a lottery for us each time we visit - will it be Food? (Yay!) or Sport? (Boo!)
One of the additional benefits of being in the UK when the Food monthly comes out is that I am in the right place for the appropriate ingredients for all the wonderful recipes I find. And so when we stopped at Marks & Spenser's before heading back to Paris I made sure I picked up some Lancashire cheese, because Nigel Slater's recipe for a Courgette and cheese crumble sounded divine. Inspired, even.
As all my friends know, I love Nigel. I love his recipes. Search our archives and you'll find a long page of references to Nigel. Sadly, this friendship is only one way and he has yet to return any of my phone calls. *sigh* Still, at least he keeps in touch by publishing his recipes in the Observer.
I knew right away I would like this one as it appealed in so many ways. I'm a big fan of melted cheese. And of crunchy things. And of healthy vegetables like zucchini. And I like casseroles too, when they are tasty. And rosemary, my latest favourite herb.
So this was pretty much a sure-fire winner for me. And a sure-fire loser for the Critic. (I never should have made the mistake of telling him it was a courgette crumble. Curses!)
In making the crumble, for once I tried to stick as closely as possible to the exact recipe as I knew I would want to review it. Has anyone noticed how often in the comments section of epicurious recipes readers have substituted 3/4 of the ingredients and yet still want to tell you whether it's a good recipe? I hate that. So I didn't want to do that to you. With a few small exceptions (noted below) I followed the recipe. And I was right: it was delicious. Hot and crunchy and a little gooey in places from the delicious Lancashire cheese, it was a delight. I served it with a couple of English sausages and it made a very satisfying dinner.
Notes on the ingredients:
- You could substitute a dry cheddar if you don't live a Eurostar away from England. I think it would also be interesting with feta instead of the Lancashire cheese. In texture they are somewhat similar (though the Lancashire is dry and crumbly, not wet) and the strong flavour of the feta would work well with the potatoes and zucchini.
- You could also substitute fresh thyme if you don't have a rosemary bush. That said, I think it's a great idea to have both. They grow extremely well in pots, are pretty and will immediately become staple herbs in your cooking. Yum.
- I used whole-wheat bread instead of white bread and 3 slices were just over 100 grams. It worked fine and made the dish a little more nutritious.
- I used almonds instead of walnuts because that's what I had. They were okay but next time I'll try to get some walnuts as I think they would be tastier. Almonds tended to get a bit lost in the strong flavored cheese and rosemary combination.
Enough for 4
a large onion
butter - a thick slice (about 40g)
small potatoes - 4 (about 350g)
courgettes - 2 large (about 450g)
vegetable stock - 150ml (I used mushroom Better than Boullion)
Lancashire cheese - 45g
For the crumble:
fresh white bread - 100g
walnut pieces - 80g (or almonds)
Lancashire cheese - 60g
Make a fragrant, savoury base for the filling by peeling the onion, chopping it roughly and leaving it to cook slowly with the butter in a heavy casserole over a moderate heat. Pull the rosemary needles from their stems; you will need about a tablespoonful of them. Chop them finely and stir them into the onion.
Scrub the potatoes but don't peel them. Cut them into large dice and, once the onion is pale gold and glossy, stir them in. Cover with a lid and leave to colour for ten minutes, stirring them after seven or eight.
Chop the courgettes into the same-sized dice as the potatoes and add them to the pan along with a seasoning of salt and black pepper. Cover once more and leave to cook for a few minutes. Pour in the stock, let it bubble and steam briefly (you don't want it to evaporate). Set the oven at 180°C/Gas 4.
Make the crumble by reducing the bread to crumbs in a food processor, adding the walnuts, then a little rosemary - a tablespoonful will do - and adding the 45g of cheese in small pieces. You should end up with a savoury crumble flecked with bits of chopped rosemary.
Remove the lid from the filling, turn off the heat and crumble the other 60g of cheese over the top. Tip the crumble on top of that, then bake for thirty-five to forty minutes, till the top is crisp. (Actually, I found that 25 minutes was plenty of time - the top was nicely browned and crispy and the potatoes meltingly tender.)
One last note: this would be an excellent side dish for an elegant dinner. You could use small ramekins to make the individual portions look prettier. Also, you can make it up a day in advance, just keeping the crumble topping separate from the filling until you are ready to pop it in the oven. I think it would benefit from the extra day of stewing in the vegetable broth as the leftovers I ate for lunch today were even better than last night's dish. If you do reheat, however, you might want to use the oven instead of the microwave. The crust got rather soggy in the microwave, which made me sad.
So my eternal thanks to Nigel once again, for giving me a beautiful new use for zucchini. It's dishes like this that make me love Nigel, because they are creative and immediately set me thinking of variations on the theme that I could make. You may not have seen the last of that cheesy crumble topping on this site!
A few years ago, I came across the recipe for Nigel Slater's Fish pie and I fell in love. Cream, potatoes, smoked haddock, it seemed perfect. It was perfect. It was my star piece when we had dinner guests. It was my comfort and joy on a cold winter's night. I pooh-poohed bouillabaise and any variation with all those tomatoes and shellfish. How could it compare to the ultimate comfort food? In vain, my brother tried to convince me that Nigel's French-ish Fish soup (a bouillabaise variation) was better than the creamy pie. He even made it for me and I thought it was good, but not as good as the pie. I don't know why the tomato version left me a bit cold but it did. Until now. Now that I've made it myself and increased the garlic quotient (and incidentally forgot the saffron - must try it with next time) I'm converted. I think it must be a case of all the cosmic elements conspiring to put me right in the mood at exactly the right time. It's the end of the summer and the tomatoes on my terrace are plump and full of flavour. But it's starting to be cool in the evenings and so a hot soup sounds just right. Fall seems like a good season for fish too - you don't have to worry about it sitting out all day in a pool of melted ice.
I think I've read about a million recipes for a soup similar to this so I didn't even bother to crack open a cookbook when I started making it. Thus the forgotten saffron, but it was extraordinarily tasty without it anyway. In fact, though I generally agree completely with Nigel Slater's attitude of "play with my recipes, make them your own" I'm almost tempted to just reproduce this one next time around exactly as it is. Perfect.
Meg's Frenchified Fish Soup (enough for a big pot, 6-8 servings)
450 g shrimp (I bought them cooked but it'll be even nicer if you can get fresh)
300 g halibut
300 g red mullet
2 Roscoff onions
4-6 large juicy cloves of garlic
5 small dried red bird's eye peppers
200 g potatoes (4-5 small ones)
5 small tomatoes
1 glass of dry white wine
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
1/2 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
Peel the the shrimp (fresh or cooked) and toss the heads, tails and shell bits in a large stock pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a soft barely rolling boil and cook for 20 minutes or so. I dare you to try to peel that many shrimp without giving one or two to the kitty. Mine would bite my kneecaps if I tried.
In the meantime, slice the onions in thin wedges. Clean the potatoes and cut into small cubes. Wash and chop your herbs. Cut the fish in bite-sized chunks. To skin the tomatoes I invented a new trick I'm rather proud of: I used the electric kettle to boil some water and simply poured it over the tomatoes. After about five minutes, the skins were loose and I could peel and chop them. I'm usually too lazy to peel tomatoes and pretend I'm leaving the skins on for the sake of roughage but this is no work at all!
When the kitchen smells lovely and shrimp-like (your cat may come back in sniffing hopefully at this point - mine did), remove it from the fire. Place a colandar in a large bown and pour the shrimp and water into it. Put a little butter in the bottom of the now empty pot and add the onions, roughly chopped garlic and herbs. Cook them to a soft buttery stage and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir for a bit and then add the glass of wine to deglaze. Scrape up any glazed onion-y bits and bring to a boil. Add the strained shrimp stock. Add the potatoes and dried peppers. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes until the potatoes are tender and almost done.
Now you can add the shrimp and fish chunks. If the shrimp are raw, bring to a full boil first and let them cook for a few minutes before adding the fish. You want to make sure they are cooked through, but not over-cook the fish.
Serve with garlic croutons spread with rouille sauce. This adds the perfect, final touch to the dish: garlicky and a little peppery and - though it sounds unappetising - a little oily. I think this might actually be the perfect touch that pushed the soup over the edge for me, from "nice soup" to "amazing soup".
A note on the garnish: I used store-bought rouille and store-bought croutons. In a perfect world where my only responsibility would be to cook and shop I would make these from scratch. But luckily (since I have work and blogging and baby food to make) I live in France where good croutons and rouille can be found. If you want to make your own, toss bread cubes in butter and pressed garlic and bake in a low oven for 10-15 minutes. Then make an aioli (home-made mayonnaise mixed with raw pressed garlic) and add roasted peppers and a few pepper flakes. Process to a smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper.
Found on OhGizmo!
A spotlight scans an expanse of wall. On a window ledge, just outside the beam, a slim man dressed entirely in back flattens himself.
The beam passes and the man edges out on the ledge until he reaches a window. He takes a glass cutter and carefully slices a fist sized circle out of the glass. He reaches in carefully and undoes the window latch.
The man steps through the window. He is in a dark kitchen. He scans the room - no one there. He walks quietly, carefully across the floor to the refrigerator. He open the freezer door and reaches in to extract the reason he's here - a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk. He pulls at the lid - it won't budge! He looks down at the pint and sees his defeat - a Euphoria pint lock. He pulls and pulls but it's no use - the lid won't budge.
If you're sick of your roomies finishing off your pints of Haagen Dazs or Ben and Jerry's, this device is extremely useful. Place your pint in the lock, set the combo, lock it up, and no one will be able to get into your pint of Cherry Garcia. Your ice cream is safe.
Obviously, a wanton vandal could chop their way in through the bottom of the pint, but previously suspected but undetected thievery of your frozen custard prodcuts will cease. Right on the side of the lock, it even says, "I'm terribly sorry, but there is no 'u' in 'my pint'."
Now why might this actually be useless? Well, I can think of two situations when it won't do you a bit of good. First - as mentioned above - when your ice cream thief doesn't care about leaving evidence behind, this little plastic gizmo will do you no good. And the second circumstance that renders this a useless gadget?
If you're the type who thinks the pints are single serving sizes then clearly this product won't benefit you. But then, you probably aren't giving your roomates and family a chance at that ice cream anyway, right?
The slim burglar in black skulks out of the room, foiled. He heads to a 7-11 and buys his own damn pint of ice cream. All is well in the city.
Check out the excellent post about the Chicago Foie Gras Wars by Juliette Rossant over on Superchefblog. Alderman Joe Moore has proposed a citywide ban on serving Foie Gras and even foie gras opponent Charlie Trotter opposes Moore. Good reading and great visual references to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
Found via BoingBoing.
Is your pizza too tough to cut with a fork? Are you too precious to just pick up the damn slice and bite into it? Then, my friend, this pizza slicer/fork is for you.
Yes, it's a fork with a little bitty pizza cutter on it.
Here's the description from the Miles Kimball website:
Pizza Fork and Cutter
Slice and eat with the same utensil! This time-saver cuts through pizza crust, forking up bites and delivering them right to your mouth! Great for other pancakes and waffles too. Stainless steel; dishwasher safe. 8 1/2"L x 2"W.
Well where to start? Does this device really save you any time? I suppose if you were the sort of person who switched from fork to pizza cutter to cut your pizza slice in little teeny bites before eating it might save you time but at what cost to your dignity?
And since when is a pizza a pancake or waffle? Read that sentence in the description - "Great for other pancakes and waffles too." A pizza is not a pancake! A gun is not a toy and a pizza is not a pancake! This might explain why people are looking at you funny when you pour maple syrup on your pepperoni slice.
Of course as a Chicagoan I have another objection to this instrument. Can you imagine sinking that little slicer thing into a big thick slice of Chicago-style pizza pie? It'd get stuck like a sportscar in a snowbank, and then, (if you're the sort who needs this device), you're likely to starve to death.
Most. Useless. Pizza fork/slicer. Ever.
Last week as I monitored the nail-biting end of the Ashes test match between England and Australia, it occurred to me that it would be fun to tease our good friend Sam, who is Australian. "Would you like to come over tonight for humble pie?" I wrote him. "I figure either you or the Critic is going to be eating some tonight!" For those of you who are unaware of the Great Tradition that is The Ashes, it's an old story, an old, war-torn story. In 1884, for the third time Australia sent a team to play cricket against England. And they won. You wouldn't think this would be such an earth-shattering thing, but then you are not a Victorian Englishman, full of the consciousness of your superiority to all other beings, especially those from the colonies. The Sporting Times ran an obituary "in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882". And in due time, the English team burned a wicket (history is unclear whether it was one of the wickets in the actual game) and presented it to the Australians. Since then, the game has become a traditional battle. You can read the whole story on the BBC Sports site.
For the last 19 years, Australia has won. And this year, for the first time in nearly two decades, England won. Humble pie for the Australians!
Although most of us only know humble pie in its metaphorical sense, there actually is a dish called "humble pie", which was popular from the middle ages in Europe and was brought over to the US by the English. Originally, the "humbles" were the offal (awful) bits of venison and other game: liver, intestines, lungs, etc. These were boiled and stewed until tender and then encased in pastry with a thick gravy.
I didn't think either the Englishman or the Australian would be very happy with a strict interpretation of humble pie, so I tried to make an updated version for the squeamish modern palate. Basically, it's a beef-and-onion pie with a bit of preserved gizzards (gésiers, to give them a more elegant name)added to give a nod to the offal origins. I love gésiers and though I know the Critic thinks he hates them he would undoubtedly find them tasty in a pie. Especially if he didn't know they were there.
Humble Pie (serves three)
300 grams beef
2 large onions (I used sweet pink Roscoff onions)
4-6 plump cloves of garlic
a handful of small potatoes
150 grams preserved gizzards
100 grams mushrooms
1/2 cup peas
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 glass of red wine
1/2 cup beef broth
2 Tbs finely chopped rosemary
1 Tbs finely chopped thyme
1 tsp salt
generous grinding of pepper
Because I made this dish on a week night, I made a few shortcuts so we wouldn't be eating around midnight. In an idea world, you would be able to stew the filling for a couple of hours and would make your own pastry. Instead, I used the pressure cooker to speed the tenderizing of the meat and used pre-made pre-rolled pastry. This brought the preparation time down to 1/2 hour more or less plus half an hour in the oven.
In a pressure cooker, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Cut the meat in bite sized pieces and brown them quickly on a relatively high fire. While they are browning, slice the onions in thickish wedges and toss them in with the meat. Lower the heat slightly. Chop the garlic roughly and add it to the pot as well. When the garlic smells sweet and the onions are soft, add the wine to the pot and scrape any brown bits from the sides and bottom of the pot. Add the carrots, potatoes, gizzards and broth and bring to a boil. Put the top on the pressure cooker and set it merrily puffing away for 15 minutes or so.
While this is happening, clean and chop the mushrooms, chop the herbs and prepare your peas. (I used frozen, so not much preparation was necessary.) Pre-heat the oven to 200c and remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. It will unroll more easily if it is slightly warm. Prepare your oven-proof pie bowls by wiping the interior with a little olive oil, using a paper towel. Line the bowls with pastry, put a few dried beans in the bottom of each one and put them in the oven for about ten minutes, until they just start to turn golden.
Remove the bowls from the oven and spill out the dry beans. Turn off the heat under the pressure cooker and release the steam. Stir into the pot the remaining ingredients and taste for salt. If your broth was very salty you may not need much, but I think it needs a fairly generous amount. Carefully ladle the filling into the pie bowls. Use the remaining pastry to top the bowls and crimp the edges prettily with a fork. (I used two store-bought pie crusts for three pies.) Poke a hole in the top to allow steam to escape and bake in the oven until golden and bubbling inside.
And so the victor and the vanquished were both rewarded with a nice meaty pie. But the Australian was humbled. (Finally, some would say!)
One of the interesting footnotes to this story is the fact that although one speaks of England or Australia taking possession of the Ashes, in actual fact for many years the urn has remained in England. This is because the English claim the trophy is "too fragile" to travel. Let's stop and consider this one. For 19 years it could have just stayed in Australia in a vault somewhere; there wasn't a whole lot of exchanging of the ashes going on. And last night on the Southeast England news, I saw the urn being passed around a classroom of 8-9 year olds. Yes, English children can be trusted with the delicate trophy but we wouldn't want to risk sending it first class to Australia. After all, there are Australians there. (And you know how savage they are!)
If you are reallly masochistic, you can try to understand the rules of cricket (the game with a thousand ways to win) here.
So you want an Egg McMuffin. I don't blame you, they are delicious that's for sure. But do you want one badly enough and often enough to buy a piece of gear designed solely to make Egg McMuffins?
You put some water, an egg, a sausage patty or round of Canadian bacon and a split English muffin in this Egg and Muffin Toaster from Back to Basics and before you know it - bam! You've got McMuffin-like goodness. (Once you add a slice of American cheesy goodness, of course).
Clearly, this is a ridiculous device. Sure, you could use the toaster portion as just a toaster, and the egg poacher is nice for those of us who can't poach an egg consistently to save our lives, but - Well, now wait a minute.
Easy poached eggs whenever you want, eh? Hmmmmm... Maybe, just maybe I-
OK for Pete's sake don't let me buy this thing. I have no place to put it and it would end up next to the bread machine in the "objects collecting dust" portion of the kitchen.
Posts Of the Week would like to deny that we've ever been in charge af an Arabian Horse organization and assert we are fully qualified to pick three posts from the last week that we liked to share with all of you.
A. I am throughly fascinated by Trufflemutts 19 1/4 hour apples. Thinly sliced apples are combined with sugar and spices and baked at a low temperature for 20 hours - or if you don't have that kind of time - 19 1/4 hours. Wild.
1. Soup season is coming (actually, I think it never leaves, but some crazy people don't eat soup in the summer - go figure). In Praise of Sardines puts together a nice late summer tomato and corn soup with fresh basil. Take advantage of the farmers' market produce to make this soup now.
I. All right-thinking people agree that Reese's Peanut Butter cups are, with the possible exception of Snickers or Cadbury Crunchies, the king of all candy treats. But now, Reese's is messing with the classic, producing white chocolate, inside out, and all manner of weird variations on the perfect original. Would you like to try your own version? Culinary in the Desert made a sophisticated version from scratch and shares the recipe. Start from there, post your own and you might get picked next week.
That's all for now. Back next week when we pick three of the best posts from the new week to share.
I'm no fan of celebrity cookbooks. I'm relatively certain there's a Baldwin brother with an Italian home cookbook out there and if Billy Carter were still around you know he'd have a barbecue show on SpikeTV. It seems we believe that if you have become famous for acting or singing or politicking that you must be good at everything you do.
I have an exception to this dislike, however, and those are the books of Tamasin Day Lewis, sister of Academy Award winning actor Daniel Day Lewis and daughter of onetime poet laureate of Great Britain Cecil Day Lewis. In America, she is relatively unknown, but she has made a name for herself in Britain as a food and wine journalist and television producer.
Now there are some celebrity annoyances in her books (like the mention of Julia Roberts just loving the Treacle Tart in Day Lewis's book The Art of the Tart), but the recipes in her books work well and the photographs are just lovely.
This Mjuk Toscakaka recipe is not Day Lewis's but that of a friend of hers, Kristina von Wrede. It's very simple, but produces a cake that is light and sweet with a fantastic topping for all those who love crunchy sugar, butter, and almonds.
The original recipe may be found on Page 80 of Tamasin Day Lewis's Art of the Tart, a book I highly recommend.
Mjuk Toscakaka from a recipe by Kristina von Wrede via Tamasin Day Lewis
2/3 cup butter (10 2/3 tablespoons) plus more for buttering a cake pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 teaspoons water
1/4 cup slivered almonds (slivered as in thin disks, not as in splinters, if possible)
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon AP flour
Preheat the oven to 350 F and butterwell a 9" cake pan.
Sift the flour and baking powder together. Beat the eggs and vanilla together.
With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until you have a light colored paste. Slowly add the egg/vanilla mixture to the butter/sugar. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder mix. Add the water and mix until you have a smooth batter.
Pour and scrape the batter into the buttered cake pan and smooth the top out with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30 minutes until the top takes on some color.
In a small saucepan, just before the 30 minutes is up, mix all the topping ingredients together and heat. Be careful as the mix will bubble like a witch's cauldron. The bubbling will help to mix the ingredients together.
Take the cake out, and raise the temperature in the oven to 400 F. Spoon the topping onto the top of the cake evenly and return the cake to the oven for 5 minutes to brown. Watch the cake carefully - if the top looks like it may be getting too dark, remove it from the oven.
Let the cake cool for a few minutes before attempting to remove it from the pan. You may wish to cover the top with a sheet of wax paper, invert it onto the paper in your hand, then invert back onto a serving plate or stand.
The top to this cake is sweet, crunchy, and flavorful. A variation would be to add lemon or orange zest to the topping and juice instead of water to the cake recipe for citrus flavor, but its just lovely the way it is.
Let me know if Julia Roberts likes this recipe as well.
Does anyone else remember when lead wrappings disappeared from wine bottles? Or am I showing how old I am (and how long I've been drinking wine)? In the eighties I remember first running into the aluminum foil and how much less satisfying it was to peel back than the thick lead-based one. But someone somewhere finally woke up to the fact that maybe lead foil on something you consume might not be such a great idea. I was sad, as I always am when something traditional disappears. (I'm kind of sentimental that way, but what do you expect from someone who grew up listening to James Taylor, Carole King and copious amounts of folk music?) Eventually, though, the foil came to seem normal. The only time you'll see the heavy lead seal nowadays is on a very old bottle of wine. We don't see those very often, here in the Casa Cutts.
That change was pretty minor, though, compared to the revolution I see happening in France today. Study the wine in my photo. Do you see what has replaced the soft aluminum foil? And the cork? Yes, it's a screw-top. A screw-top. Wine professionals from Australian and the US assure us that they are even more effective than corks at keeping air from the precious wine and of course they are never corked. But really. They are a bit tacky.
And the next sign of the revolution? The wine comes from a mountainous region not actually known for its wine production: les Cévennes. "That interesting," I said delicately to the wine salesman in the Nicholas store. "I wasn't aware that the Cévennes was known for its wine." There was a slight pause before he said "Yes, it's rather unusual. Some of our customers really like it." I suspect what they really like is the price-tag: less than four euros.
These cheap wines are starting to flood the French market lately. In addition to the wine-from-odd-regions trend there is also the bowing-to-stupid-Americans trend. A lot of the cheaper wines are now marketed not by their region but - gasp - by the kind of grape used to make them. Our local Monoprix now stocks a line of low-priced bottles that are labelled "Sauvignon" and "Merlot" and "Viognier". Mme Clicquot and the founders of Mouton-Cadet must be spinning in their graves.
And the wine itself? Well, it's as patchy as you would expect extremely cheap wine to be. The Cévennes rosé was thin and almost metallic tasting. It was drinkable, especially ice cold, but I'm not sure I'd go back to it in a hurry. However the Sauvignon and Viognier wines from the Monoprix, coming in at less than four euros a bottle, are a very good deal. I wouldn't buy them if I was having a wine snob or French person over for dinner. But for the Critic and myself on a weekday night with a nice dinner they go down just fine. But then we are not difficult.
I was also tagged for the food memories meme a long while back. I lost my inbox in a computer crash, so I don't have a record of who it was that tapped me. My apologies for not remembering off the top of my head (and for delaying so long).
Here are five memories of food from my childhood:
Any early December 1969-1976ish: The box of Norwegian baked goods.
I only ever met one grandparent of mine - Marie Washburn, my mother's mother. Our family tends to reproduce late in life, so by the late 1960's and early 1970's my other grandparents had passed and my remaining grandmother was well into her 80's. I don't know the full story, but as I understand it she had grown up on a farm in Norway near Bergen. She moved here to the United States (to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Minnesota) with her doughboy English husband sometime before the end of World War I. There was some sort of a scandal of some sort about him - no one in the family spoke much about him, at least not to her precocious young grandson.
Marie eventually decided that Northern California suited the family better and relocated to Santa Rosa, California where I visited her on one of the two trips that I remember. (There was one other trip, but I was in diapers at the time and failed to take notes).
Every early December, we'd get a big box of sugary baked goods from her and from my Aunt Georgia and my Aunt Jackie. I'd see the brown paper wrapped box, read the "Santa Rosa, CA" on the return address and know what was inside. A couple of years, my parents tried to not park the box under the tree and not open it until Christmas, but even they couldn't resist the contents that long.
There were always many varieties of sugary cookies and gingerbreaded treats, but the best item was always this sticky nut log my grandmother made. It made my teeth hurt to eat it, but it was so good, it was impossible to stop. It impressed me even then that in her 80's, this diminuitive and delicate Norwegian grandmother with a halo of frizzy white hair was still baking (for hours!) every December for her far-flung family.
Late 1973-early 1974: Lunch at home
I grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois on a little street called Atwater Avenue (431 Atwater, to be precise). My father used to tell me the story of the real estate agent who showed them the house. He'd pretend to be lost and kept driving past the elementary school just two blocks away. I'd run home at lunch, eat fairly quickly then run back to school for the afternoon.
My mother was not a great cook. Even she would admit that if she were here today. Her lunch specialties tended to be baked hamburgers or egg noodles in butter with salt. Both are pretty hard to mess up - I still love egg noodles in butter. How could you not?
I'd eat with her at the table and watch Bozo the Clown on a little black and white TV. During Sam Earvin's Watergate hearings, there was no Bozo. It seemed unfair to me ("What a gyp!"), and it annoyed my mother as well since the hearings interrupted her soap operas.
Feeding the fishies - 1979: - Age 12 or 13
This is more peripherally related to food, but I'm counting it. My best friend growing up most of the time was named Thad. I was with Thad when he cut his leg and he drove (at age 14) to the hospital, and he and his family were there for me when I was 11 after my mother died and my dad and I didn't know quite how to speak to each other.
His family was an auxilliary family to my own father. One weekend, his father got the idea that he and Thad and I should go ice fishing at Lake Geneva. This was, I should mention, one of the coldest winters on record. Thad's dad, Ted drove us up to Lake Geneva and we fished.
On Sunday, we'd all gone out on the lake the previous day and had a hole drilled for us. It was pretty cold, but no worse that 5 or 10 F. We pulled in a bunch of small sunfish and perch and resolved to go back out again the next morning.
That next morning we got up and it was a lot colder and the wind was bitter - bitter enough that Thad's father said he'd be glad to take us to the lake, but he'd be waiting in the bar for us nearby. We persuaded him that we'd be fine and he took us to a supermarket where we bought way too many danishes to take with us out onto the ice.
It didn't take me long to realize that we might have made a mistake in the cold. After Thad's father dropped us off, we trucked our butts out onto the ice and plopped down two tires his father had left us as seats. We hd to chip out the ice from the hole the day before which overnight had grown to be a half-foot thick. The ice we stood on was at least four feet thick. As we prepared to drop our lines in we noticed that not only was it very cold, but very few people were out on the ice with us and my eyebrows were starting to frost over.
I shifted my weight on the tire as I contemplated just how long I was willing to sit on the ice for the sake of fishing, and my foot kicked the bag with the danishes. To our horror, they went right into the hole and disappeared below the thick Lake Geneva ice.
Having stuffed the fish to the proverbial gills with Danish, we decided there really was no point in being out here in the unbelievable cold so we picked up our blankets and tires and fishing tackle and trudged back across the ice to the Hilton just across the road from Lake Geneva.
Thad's father turned up not ten minutes later, having heard at the bar that the temperature with wind chill that day was 81 F below zero. I'm pretty sure there are parts of me that haven't been warm since that day. We ended up feeding the perch and sunfish to an obnoxious cat outside a bar in southern Wisconsin on the way home.
1978 - Beef stew and a deluge of food.
My father was caught out when my mother passed away in 1977 (I was 11). He worked at a uniform retal and sales plant in the city. He got up every morning at 3:45 to get to work by 5:30 so he could open the plant. He'd be home around 5:00 and asleep by 7:30 most nights. This didn't leave a whole lot of time to cook and eat dinner after work.
Thus, the crock pot was his best friend. At this time, there was a bit of a craze and the crock pt was a whole lot of people's best friend. Dad would put together a stew of carrots, potatoes, celery and beef chunks and get it going early in the morning. It would sit in the crock pot all day long until night when we'd have it for dinner.
Truth be told, it was pretty good, but we had it twice a week or more for months after my mother passed. I couldn't look at stew. Luckily our neighbors were kind, generous people and for months after Mom passed, a neighbor would appear at our door with a casserole dish or a plate of lasagna that we could reheat and eat. I was a typical ungrateful little wretch at the time, but I can see now just how hard the neighborhood worked to get us through the initial shock of losing my mother. In retrospect, thanks everyone for what you did for us.
1984 - Football roasts and crunchy mashed potatoes.
Did I mention my mother wasn't a great cook? Well, my father thought he was a good cook, but he had some issues as well.
One of the meals he did make VERY well was a simple roast beef with what we'd call now a potato Gratin Dauphinoisse, but which he called crispy potatoes. He'd engineer it somehow so almost all of the potatoes had a lovely crispy golden brown crust. I've never had better potatoes since. We'd have this meal every Sunday during football season. He'd make it about 11:00am and we'd pick at the roast all day long as we watched the Bears more often than not go down to defeat with their patented "Walter Payton go left, Walter Payton go right, Walter Payton go up the middle, then punt" offense.
One day, however, he didn't make the potatoes for the roast the way he usually did, but made mashed potatoes. OK, fair enough. I liked mashed potatoes just fine. I put a spoonful in my mouth, bit down and hit something crunchy.
"What the heck?" I exclaimed (Actually, I was just learning to be a potty-mouth so I probably said "What the hell?"). My father explained, "I put celery in the mashed potatoes so they'd have crunch!" I still don't understand why anyone would want their mashed potatoes to crunch. That certainly became his most memorable dish, but he did make the concession that when he made it after that day he'd make a portion of the potatoes without celery so the "Philistines" who didn't appreciate his cooking wouldn't have to be offended by it.
I've decided not to pass the meme on (Meg has done so already), but thanks for making write about these times. It was a good excuse to think about things I haven't for a while.
It has been over a month since the kind author of the Cook's Cottage tapped me for the Childhood memories meme. I had hoped (fittingly enough) to write this up while home visiting family. However, my family is large and there was so much to do. Parties and days at the pool and museums, somehow the blog was left by the wayside and poor Barrett had to pick up the slack. Anyway, here we are back safe and sound and some of the laundry is done and I'm starting to feel like we are back to normal. So for the last week I've been mulling over my choices. It seems to me that the idea is to come up with specific food moments, rather than general memories and so that is what I'm trying to bring to mind.
Summer, 1975: I remember sitting in a plum tree in our back yard in West Chicago, IL (population 13,400). My best friend Ginger and her two sisters are with me and we are in the two trees nearest our neighbors on the right side of our house: those bad boys the Welsh brothers. Johnny and Brian. They are taunting us about something. We girls are eating the delicious Italian prune plums straight from the tree. Warm and soft and full of juice, they are the best fruit I have ever or will ever taste. I can't remember if it was Ginger or myself who had the brilliant idea of throwing unripe plums at Johnny and Brian but we all four throw ourselves into it. And it's great: we have ammunition and they don't! Until they start throwing the plums back, that is. With bites out of them. EWWWWWWWWWW!!! We run screaming from the trees.
1971: A big old American car pulls up in front of our house and the horn honks. It's my Austrian grandparents! I run from the house shouting and give them hugs and kisses and then dance to the back of the car, where bags and bags of groceries from Thompson's grocery store in Park Ridge are lined up. My mother and father divorced when I was about nine months old and in my early childhood our family was very poor, as my mother worked and put herself through college. She wouldn't accept money from her former in-laws. But how could she turn down bags of groceries, especiallly when it was obviously more food than the generous old couple could eat themselves in a month of Sundays? And especially as her four year old youngest daughter was dancing around, plucking out fruits and cheese and glistening packages of meat? My grandmother, who was the best cook I have ever known, could not bear the thought of her grandchildren going hungry, or even eating sub-par food. "Eat, eat" I can still hear her say in her soft German accent, her beautiful blue eyes cloudy at the thought of our imminent collapse from starvation.
Fastforward to 1992: I had been dumped by my boyfriend of six years for my (former) best friend. I didn't eat for two weeks, aside from strong coffee, beer (does that count?) and a hard boiled egg that I forced down somewhere in the middle of the period. Mutual friends, tired of watching me abuse myself, came back from the market with a perfectly ripe, dripping red mango. I smelled the sweet sharp flavor and my mouth started to water. My morbid self-destructive self fought with my sane food-loving self. And I accepted, grudgingly, a few bites of mango from the kind friends. It sticks out in my mind as one of the tastiest bites of mango in the world and one of the kindest of moments.
Around 1976: My maternal Irish-American grandmother agreed to teach me how to set a yeast dough. This was my grandmother's specialty. She told us that when she was an adolescent her brothers used to tease her mercilessly until she got angry enough to slam the doors and close herself in the kitchen. Where she would proceed to bake away her anger and frustration. (I'm a lot like her in some ways.) Anyway, one day I suddenly realized that it would be fun to learn to make my own coffee cakes and cranberry rolls and maybe even bread. And so my mom dropped me off at my grandmother's on the other side of town and we spent an afternoon in her beautiful yellow kitchen making cranberry rolls and apple coffeecake. I loved the smell of the yeast and reading the instructions off the recipe card in her slanting precise handwriting. The soft, warm dough, elastic in our hands. Her kitchen was in an old farmhouse, with a huge dining table that only allowed careful negotiating around the edges. But it was a perfect spacious work space for setting yeast dough. And we rolled out the warm dough and slathered it with butter and sprinkled it with cinnamon, sugar, apples and plump raisins and baked the horse-shoe shaped loaves into perfect coffee cakes. It's a memory I will always treasure.
1977: Meg the Mooch. My sister, who is six years older than me, began cooking before me. When I was about ten and she 16, she went through a phase of wanting to show off for her current boyfriend. She made cookies. Later, she allowed some lobsters to die in the fresh water of our bathtub (oops). But it's the cookies I remember. Because as soon as the smell wafter my way, I was in the kitchen sniffing and begging for scraps. I wanted the cookies. I wanted to lick the bowl. But my cruel sister said, "That's the cooks perogative. You want to lick the bowl, you make your own cookes." And so I started to bake my own cookies. And one of my memories is of being too impatient to wait for the cookie sheet to cool and ending up with one, big, melted chocolate cookie. I chipped and chipped away at it in frustration and her boyfriend of the moment tried to console me that it was still tasty. But I was mortified.
And the one that got away? To my great and eternal regret, I never made apfel strudel with my Austrian grandmother. I have my mother's stories of how her mother-in-law used to stretch out the dough, gently teasing it across the kitchen table until it was "so thin you could read a newspaper through it". None of the recipes I've ever seen follow this method, but according to my mother it's what she did. I wish I could have learned to do it myself with her. She taught me how to make lentil soup and made the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted. I've been trying to reproduce her stuffing (despite her showing me how to make it) for nearly 20 years. But I'll never get to see her make apfel strudel and I have only my own youthful arrogance to thank for it. That and the stupid assumption of the young that their grandmothers will be around forever. I miss both of mine all the time and regret that my son will never know what special ladies they were.
And so there you have it. A short trip down foodie memory lane. It was hard to choose just five memories as there so many when I sit down to think of it. All the times my sister and I waddled from Grandma Liebezeit's dining table (now in my apartment) to collapse on the mattresses on the living room floor where we would eventually sleep. And we'd argue: it's your turn to help Grandma with the dishes, no it's yours. The time my cousin Maureen and I had a contest to see who could eat more cranberry rolls. (We got in trouble for that.) Picking mulberries behind Ginger's house, coming home with our bellies full and our pails holding just barely a cup of fruit. In a recent post I mentioned the lunches at the Berhoff with the grandparents, Grandpa sitting stiff and formal and Grandma nodding benevolently. The Berghoff was (just about) good enough for their standards.
If you are tagged, here's what you do: Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog’s name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect.
Next: select new friends to tag and add to the pollen count. Then create a post listing your own five food memories.
As you may or may not have noticed, my household is devoid of only one major cooking implement (well, aside from the 10,000 btu wok burner, that is). You've seen me chop, slice, dice, blend, and make dough, but always by hand or with a mixer or blender.
I do not own a food processor.
Yes, that's right, I have somehow managed to do without that most ubiquitous of gourmet gadgets for years. My wife, however, has decided, that just maybe we can consider getting one of these marvels.
So I have two questions for our loyal readers:
One - do I need a food processor? Will it make that much of a difference in my life or my cooking? Or will it sit on the shelf mostly unused?
Two - If I do get a food processor, what size do I get? I "inherited" a mini food processor from roommates long gone, and I think the thing is useless. By the time I get the thing out, plug it in, use it and clean it I could have done the work twice with a knife or immersion blender.
My good friend Paul (he of locussolus and formerly of Too Many Chefs fame) recommends a 7 cup processor, with the warning that it's easy to get a machine that's too big for many jobs. When I've looked, the 14 cup processor certainly seems oversized, but I'm intrigued by the 11 cup model. Or is that too big, and I should be thinking about a 7 cup model?
So do I need a food processor, and if I do, should I get a seven or eleven cup model? What do the cooking masses think? Leave your opinion in the comments.
OK, I'll add a third question - Cuisinart or another brand, and why? Thanks to all who leave informed opinions.
UPDATE: OK, based on the feedback, I think I will defer purchasing a food processor for now. It seems clear that space is a determining factor. We have a kitchen that's pretty full of stuff already, and to be honest I don't know where the beastie would go. I may still get one in the future when we move to a new place next year, but for now, it's no processor for me.
A little good news is needed this week, so we picked three posts to share with you.
1. We start with Esurientes Orange, Cardamom, and Brandy Biscuits. That's biscuits in the English sense - as in cookies - and not in the American sense - as in stuff you slather butter on. Although now that you mention it...
A. Did you know those silly Brits call zucchini courgettes? Even the Estonians in Scotland fall prey to this problem as Nami-Nami does in this post about a courgette, tomato, and roquefort tart. I really like the simple recipe and the attractive way she assembled the simple ingredients on puff pastry. For those of you who like to skip right to the recipe it's here. If you speak Estonian, that is.
I. Are pancakes really worthy of a Post of the Week? OK, I'll admit, this pick is all about the picture, but Baking Sheet got me with the Towers of Hanoi picture of pancakes. Now move the stack from one plate to another one at a time with only three plates to work with without stacking bigger on smaller.
While you puzzle that out, we'll be cooking and eating and telling you all about it until next week's Posts of the Week.
And now we come to the dessert. Oh my. There was lots and lots of praise at the dinner for this dish.
Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I make plenty of mistakes when I cook, but just occasionally, those mistakes lead to something great. That's what happened here.
A traditional volcano cake is a chocolaty mess that is baked in a ramekin but not baked all the way through. When the fork hits the cake, the unfinished but hot center oozes out like lava from a volcano.
It's always seemed like a misnomer to call this a volcano cake. Volcanos don't just ooze, they go boom! and spray magma and ash all over the place, setting stuff on fire. Sure, I've had dinner parties like that, but setting one's apartment alight is generally to be avoided. For that reason, I think "lava cake" is a much better descriptor of the dish.
America's Test Kitchen is the father/mother of this recipe. I follow their recipe almost exactly except for the two mistakes I made that turned out to be good luck.
When doubling their recipe, I accidentally didn't double the butter or the eggs. The resulting cakes were fabulous so I don't see that you need so much butter in these cakes, and I suspect the extra butter and eggs might even reduce the chocolate flavor.
So here's my sort of doubled take on America's Test Kitchen's recipe for
volcano lava cake. Note that with the eggs and extra butter missing we only get 12 instead of 16 servings out of the doubled recipe.
Lava Cake serves 12
10 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for greasing ramekins
3 cups granulated sugar plus more for dusting ramekins
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large eggs
4 egg yolks
4 teaspoons Grand Marnier
powdered sugar, for dusting
espresso ice cream, for eating
Prepare your 12 4 oz. ramekins by buttering them heavily, making sure to get the corners. Roll granulated sugar in the ramekins to coat, tapping out any excess.
For the cake, use chocolate bars, not chips. The chips have extra ingredients in them to stop them from sticking together. Chop the chocolate finely, and cut the butter into small chickpea-sized nuggets.
Put the butter and chocolate into a metal bowl that will fit snugly over a saucepan filled halfway up with water. Bring the water to a simmer and place bowl filled with chocolate and butter on top. Stir to melt and combine the chocolate and butter. Stir together until smooth and uniform
In a large bowl, combine the flour and cornstarch and mix well. In a separate small bowl, combine the eggs egg yolks, and grand marnier and beat the eggs until well scrambled.
Add the melted chocolate/butter mix to the bowl with the flour/cornstarch and stir to combine. Add the egg mix and stir to combine well. Keep stirring until you have a deep dark mostly uniform mixture.
Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the batter into each ramekin. You may have to adjust the amounts as you get to the last ramekins.
At this stage you may cover these with plastic and store for 24 hours before baking.
When you want to bake them, preheat an oven to 375 F. Place the ramekins in the oven and bake until the tops have set and show cracks - about 15-20 minutes. Don't overcook. You want a liquidy center.
Remove the ramekins and set them on a cooling rack for 2-3 minutes. To unmold, first run a knife between the cake and the ramekin walls to loosen. The ramekins will still be hot. Use a glove and grip the ramekin. Turn the ramekin over quickly just off-center on the serving dish and dust with powdered sugar.
Pair with a scoop of coffee or espresso ice cream. I used Ciao Bella's espresso ice cream (though known for their gelatos I think this was an ice cream), and can recommend it highly.
If you grew up in the Chicago area with Austrian or German grandparents (as I did) you would not possibly fail to know about the Berghoff. Actually, these days the marketing department of the Berghoff restaurant is good enough that you don't need to be of Germanic background or even, possibly, from Chicago to know about it. The Berghoff is a culinary Chicago landmark. It has been in the loop of the Chicago (and in the hands of the same family) for over 100 years, serving fine German and European cuisine.
When I was very young, my sister and brother and I would take the Chicago and Northwestern train into the city, where we would be met by our Austrian grandparents. I remember how long the Chicago blocks seemed to my short little legs (some things never change) and being taken to Marshall Field's to pick out a doll. And I remember the Berghoff. At that time, all the waiters were men. Serious men in white aprons, whisking around the tables where cutlery and glasses gleamed. My sister would spread the sour rye bread with mustard that came in a little pot. My grandparents would somberly consider whether to have the saeurkraut of a piece of pig. And I would start salivating at the thought of creamed spinach.
(I find it strange now to look back at that mini-me and wonder "Why did she like so many things that most children hate??" Spinach, liver, smoked oysters, I loved them all.)
I think my first taste of spinach was probably when my aunt sent my cousin and me into the garden to pick fresh spinach for the salad at dinner. That's a pretty good way to introduce a kid to spinach, especially if you top it with a greasy hot bacon dressing.
And then there was the Berghoff cooked spinach: creamy, salty, garlicky, with just a hint of bitterness. The spinach seemed to have just wilted into the little white bowl. I could have eaten it by the pot.
It's hardly a recipe, though. You take a colandar and wash a large quantity of spinach. It reduces amazingly, of course, so put in even more than you think you'll need. Oddly enough, I find that big leaves work better than those tender little baby spinach bunches. I tear the spinach off the big tough spines, roughly. Wash well as spinach is usually grown in sandy soil. Put the leaves, with the water still clinging to them, in a large pot. If you have some fresh garlic (don't bother with old, sour cloves - you want a fresh taste) slice a clove or two very finely and sprinkle them over the spinach. Cover and put on a low flame for 5-7 minutes. While the spinach is cooking, grate a cup or so of parmesan. Check if the spinach is done. It should have collapsed in a thick glossy sludge in the bottom of the pan. Drain the spinach again in the colander and then mix it with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of crème fraîche and the cheese. Salt generously and taste.
The Berghoff used to purée it's spinach as I recall, but I like to leave the spinach leaves in large pieces. If you want to make it easier on your guests, you could use the end of a spatula to cut the spinach in pieces in the pan (once it's cooked). Serve quickly, though, as it's much nicer piping hot.
You might have noticed that in the first paragraph I merely said the Berghoff has "fine" food. This is because we are dealing with three different Berghoffs here. There is the Berghoff of my memories (brilliant food). There is the Berghoff of my childhood as it really was (probably still very good). And there is the Berghoff today. In the 1980s, the grand-daughter (or was it great-granddaughter?) of the founder took over the restaurant and made some fundamental changes. The restaurant had already been forced to back down on its men-only policy for waiters. But in this haven of pigs and cream and heavy beers, she introduced...salads. And pasta and sandwiches. The strict dress policy that had always relegated us children to the basement was revised. And maybe some of these were good changes, or at least inevitable ones. But the place lost some of the old-world charm that I remember. It became yet another "fine" restaurant, serving a mix of European and American fare. For all I know they may be serving hamburgers now. My grandfather would be rolling in his grave.
So far, in the recap to the dinner party we had on Saturday, I've shown you Parmesan Cones, Tofu Shiskasatays, and Phyllo Spring Rolls with a Chipotle-Carrot dipping sauce. I'll save dessert for tomorrow, but I want to talk about the rest of the meal and what I learned from throwing my first real dinner party.
Our next course was a the weakest of the bunch - a very simple escarole and white bean soup. I simmered down escarole in store-bought light vegetable broth, drained a can of cannellini beans, then filled the can of beans with hot broth.
In each bowl, I placed a small amount of escarole, some beans, and 3/4 of a cup or so of broth. The idea was sound, but for the diners, I felt the flavor only really woke up if a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce (which we provided as a table condiment for this dish) was added. I'd do this dish again, but with my own broth or with more spices, I think.
The pasta course was originally going to be three types of tortellini in three sauces. The fillings were done, but the sauces were not and time was flying so my friend Tom stepped into action and came up with something I'm going to call pasta rotoli. If there's a more official name, please let me know.
The fillings were rolled up like swiss rolls or a roulade in sheets of pasta, cut into short lengths and simmered in water in the oven. All three fillings (feta and spinach, three cheese, and sauteed muchrooms) were served this way with a fresh sauce. I'll make these again soon to demonstrate the technique. I also have an idea for how to cook them a little differently.
Things I learned from the party:
1. Beverages. Have lots of drinks available. We drank wine mostly, but we had non-alcoholic alternatives for those who were not drinking. The best little luxury you can have is a case of a good sparkling water. It "classes up the joint" and makes your guests feel like you went to some trouble for them. Have filtered still water as well for those who don't love to burp like I do. We used a Brita pitcher. Make sure any early white wines are well-chilled. Same for the sparkling water. I was averse to using the freezer for this purpose, but it was all we had left and worked beautifully.
2. Market as early as feasible. You don't want your produce browning or wilting, but you do want to get things in the "done" column asap.
3. Prepare as much as you can the day before. The less you have to do on the day of the party, the happier you'll be.
4. Accept Help. If someone offers to help, take it. They'll feel included and you'll be able to focus on the overall plan or on another task that you have to do. I even recruited our house guest to help reorganize the refrigerator for our party.
5. Plates. Make sure you think through the plate/bowl/glass situation ahead of time. Do you have enough plates to serve everyone without washing dishes halfway through the night?
6. Be prepared. Make extras of any item that is likely to be botched or ruined easily. Worst case scenario, the dog gets the extras (unless it's dessert, in which case your sweet-toothed docotor/wife will claim the lot).
7. Be flexible. If I'd pigheadedly stuck with the tortellini idea, we'd have been eating until 2:00AM, or more likely a number of our guests would have hightailed it out of there before the end of the meal. Tom's idea to go with a rotoli simplified the process and kept the food coming.
8. People. Invite friends and people you like and think are interesting. You probably won't get to talk to them as much as you'd like, but it's fun watching different friends interact. They are why you're throwng this shindig, right?
I'm sure there was more to learn, but these were the most apparent lessons to me from this outing. I'll definitely be throwing another dinner party soon. The chance to
try out crazy, possibly dangerous experiments on a large crowd of unwitting victims enjoy the company of our friends over a good meal won't let me stay idle long.
We're still recapping the dinner party we threw on Saturday. The next course was a smaller version of the phyllo spring rolls I made for IMBB 18. I paired these with my take on Ming Tsai's Carrot Chipotle Syrup.
You have to try this sauce. I had trouble prying it out of the hands of some of the guests when the course was done. It's inspired me to try to develop a soup with these flavors. The carrot juice reduces to a thick goo that's enlivened by the chipotles in adobo and thinned by oil.
My version adds more chipotles and adobo and uses olive oil instead of grapeseed oil (I mean, come on, how many oils can you have in your cabinet, for Pete's sake?)
Here's my take on Ming Tsai's original recipe:
Not Exactly Ming Tsai's Carrot Chipotle Syrup
2 quarts organic carrot juice
2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a big pot, boil the carrot juice. It will foam up violently at one point and try to take over your house. Do not give in to your prospective vegetable foam overlord. Reduce the heat just enough to avoid boil-over and let the juice simmer uncovered and reduce until you are left with a wet goop. Yo may need to scrape the sides of the pot down with a wooden spoon to maximize the syrup. Ming Tsai says this will take 45 minutes. It took me an hour and a quarter. Maybe I had wetter juice?
You must make sure the carrot juice reaches the goop/residue stage and not quit at the thick juice stage but don't burn your goop.
Pour the carrot goop into your blender. Add two tablespoons of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Puree until smooth. Slowly add in a little olive oil while it blends until you get an emulsion. Continue adding oil until the full 3/4 cup is in the blender.
Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and chipotle/adobo levels. Blend to ensure uniformity.
Serve in little dipping cups with small phyllo spring rolls. I made the spring rolls with one sheet of phyllo folded over. They were just the right size.
The second dish I served at the dinner party this last weekend was a tofu satay/shishkabab with peanut sauce. I knew I had a hit with this dish when my friend Tom grabbed the last skewer. Tom is pretty open minded when it comes to most foods (except Korean which he despises for reasons I don't understand), but he has an aversion to "approxi-meats" of most sorts like tofu and tempeh.
Apologies to Hecky's Barbecue for stealing their slogan, but I'm pretty sure "It's the sauce!" Everyone seemed to like the peanut sauce and I plan to incorporate it in other dishes.
I use a paste from a jar of red peppers and vinegar as an ingredient and a dipping sauce. The peppers are spicy, but not "see-through-time" or "hallucinate a Johnny Cash voiced coyote" hot. You could substitute a rehydrated dried arbol or two for the spicy red peppers in vinegar or a crushed piri piri or two.
So what the heck is a shiskasatay? Well, I don't think these are satays, but the sauce is very satay-like. The alternating tofu and peppers seem more shiskbob-like to me. Our friend Sweth suggested they be called "Tofu satay served shishkabob style," but I never pass on a chance for a good neologism. So don't rude me on this name.
Tofu Shiskasatays with Peanut Sauce
3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
3 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red peppers in vinegar
2 pounds extra-firm tofu in water (not the aseptic packages)
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
3/4 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup natural-style peanut butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon jarred red peppers in vinegar
Combine all the marinade ingredients together in a large storage container with a tight lid.
Press the water out of your tofu by placing paper towels on a plate, adding the tofu, adding more paper towels then anther plate and a weight for about fifteen minutes. Slice the tofu block into three slabs, then slice each slab into 1" x 1" cubes. Lightly press these in paper towels to remove more water, then drop into the marinade.
It's very important to use tofu that's packed in water and not the other kind. I thought I was completely hopeless with tofu until I stopped buying those aseptic boxes that look like they should contain soap and started using good extra firm non-silken style tofu. The boxed tofu has its place (in smoothies, for example), but this isn't that place.
Marinade tofu for at least an hour and up to eight hours in the refrigerator, shaking gently occasionally to spread marinade around and coat all the tofu pieces.
In a blender, combine all the sauce ingredients together. Blend until smooth.
Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 425 F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment. This will stop the tofu squares from sticking, which they will do to even a non-stick surface. I don't sauce the skewers before putting them in the oven as the original recipe does, but then, my marinade is a bit sweeter and spicier than the original.
Assemble skewers by impaling tofu and peppers, starting with one cube of tofu, then a pepper, then a tofu cube, then a pepper, then a tofu cube so you have three tofu cubes and one pepper per skewer. Lay the skewer on the cookie sheet and continue until you've used up all the skewer-bait.
Bake in the oven until the tofu is nice and golden brown and the peppers have wilted a bit, about 20 minutes. The original recipe says to let the skewers cool to room temperature before serving, which I think is foolish. Hot is better, but if you must, you can serve them cold.
But do please serve with the peanut sauce and red peppers in vinegar.
I held my first "real" dinner party this last weekend. I've had people over for drinks and dinner before but never had I had to plan to cook for 9 people.
When friends know you write a food blog, the pressure is on to deliver something not only tasty, but interesting as well. I've had a few ideas brewing in my head that I've saved up for the dinner party. I'll post one or two of these recipes each day this week so you can join the party virtually.
The opener was a dish I'd thought of after combining the idea of tuilles, those little "bent" almond cookies that you curl by hanging over a rolling pin as they cool, with the idea of parmesan crackers, bits of parmesan melted down and allowed to cool into a flat cracker that's used in other dishes. "If man can bend a cookie, he can make a cone of 100% cheese," I always say. Well, now I do.
Big caution here - this is NOT a recipe for kids. You very well may burn yourself trying to create the cones. I got a hot finger reaction a few times, but came through relatively unscathed. I'm not advising you try making these cones, but I will tell you how to make them if you wish to try.
Try other fillings for these cones. There's plenty of good salads or mousses that would fill a cone made entirely from parmesan cheese. I topped mine with a garlic and herb creme fraiche to give the appearance of ice cream cones.
Parmesan Cones serves 10
1 pound good Parmesan, not ground or shredded
1 red onion
5-6 plum tomatoes
3/4 can chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup olive oil or to taste
1/4 cup lemon juice or to taste
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup creme fraiche
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
12-15 basil leaves, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
sheets of heavy paper and some non-toxic tape
Do the cones the night before or when you have time to fix mistakes.
My wife has these handy Girl Scout pads around that are about 1/4 the size of an ordinary 8.5" x 11" or A4-ish sheet of paper - (about 8.5" x 2.75"). A sheet of paper from one of these rolls up very easily into a cone which can be secured with a piece of tape. Make two or four of these. You should expect these to be destroyed during the forming process by the oil from the Parmesan cheese, so it's always good to have more on hand.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Shred your Parmesan with a box grater while the oven preheats.
You could make the cone directly on a SilPat or a cookie sheet, but putting parchment down lets you lift the cooling parmesan away from the still hot metal to cool it more quickly.
On a baking sheet covered with parchment, spread about 1/2 cup of the shredded Parmesan on a circle leaving no uncovered gaps in the circle. Don't spread it too thick or it won't melt evenly, but don't leave big gaps because the cones will not hold together. I got two circles per large cookie sheet.
Put the sheet in the oven for three-5 minutes until the Parmesan has melted and the cheese is just starting to take on color. Remove the sheet from the oven.
Let the cheese cool until it starts to cohese. Test the edges with a thin spatula to see if the Parmesan is too gooey to move or if it is solid, yet pliable. When it is solid, lift the cheese circle off the sheet with a spatula and hold it in the air for a few seconds to let it cool further.
Here's wher you must be careful and be prepared to back out if you've misjudged the temperature of the cheese - Put your hand into the paper cone you've prepared and wrap the cheese circle into a cone around it. Hold in this position for twenty to thirty seconds until it cools even more. Then, hold the cheese itself in your hand, and remove the paper. Place the Parmesan cone inside the paper cone and set the lot into a cup or mug to cool.
Repeat until you have ten cones. You may destroy the cones during the process and the tape will certainly not hold forever, but the paper should develop "memory" during the process so the tape will be less necessary.
If you mess up a cone, don't worry about it. Remelt the cheese from the cone and start over. Make a couple extra cones for backup.
Once the cones are formed make the salad.
Dice the tomatoes, and onions into small 1/2" - 3/4" pieces. Add the chickpeas and parsley to the tomatoes and onions and toss to mix.
In a cup, mix the olicve oil and lemon together to make a dressing. I use a cup with a lid and shake well to combine the two. Taste and adjust the oil and lemon to suit.
Pour the dressing on the salad and toss. Salt and peper to taste.
Next the creme fraiche. If you are unable to find creme fraiche, you can use a 50/50 mix of plain yogurt and sour cream. Mix the garlic and basil into the creme fraiche.
To assemble the dish, place the Parmesan cone into a cup. Use a slotted spoon to add salad to fill the cone, and place some salad in the cup itself. Top with a good teaspoon of the creme fraiche and serve.
This week's Posts of the Week are devoted to the recent events in New Orleans and throughout Katrina's path. Watching from the other side of the world, I am distraught hearing the heroic and truly appalling stories coming out. This post marks our participation in the Blog Relief Weekend hosted by Truth Laid Bare and Instapundit.com. Please give generously to the Red Cross Katrina relief fund through this link and then register your donation here. We'll be sending our money, our hopes and our prayers to all who were affected.
I. If you don't want to donate to the Red Cross through Too Many Chefs, you can do it through the iTunes store as explained by MacGourmet.Com. This new (to us) site claims to be the iTunes of the food world. Lovely!
A. Next up, Cookies in Heaven sponsors the Food Blogger Challenge in aid of hospitality workers of New Orleans. As the New Orleans economy relies heavily on tourism, this is a particularly sensitive group of people. And a lot of them are foodies. We prefer that you give to Red Cross, but this one is food-related if that appeals more.
1. And lastly, although this blog is all about food we are departing from the norm and nominating a non-food-related blog. If you are in any doubt of the fact that you need to donate money now, read Mike Charles' Hurricane Katrina Blog. It's compelling reading; I suggest you go back to the first post and read them in chronological order.
Next week, well be back to our usual frivolous selves. Promise.
In a recent post, Barrett described the trek he made to the lower west side of Chicago in search of a tortilla press. I was so jealous. I wanted a tortilla press. I wanted the opportunity to wander in one of the largest Mexican neighborhoods in the US, sampling exotic produce and eating great food. And so when I found myself in the Chicago area in August, I knew where I wanted Barrett to take me. PILSEN.
Originally, the Pilsen neighborhood was home to a mix of German and Czech immigrants. The namesake of the neighborhood is a town in the Czech Republic which is the origin of my favorite kind of beer. But some time around the mid-eighties, the Czech and German population had diminished and housing prices were extremely low and the new poor immigrants to take over were the Mexicans. The area has always had a strong sense of identity and although that identity has changed with the years its sense of self has not. It's not an affluent neighborhood, but it's a vibrant one. The parks are full of children and the shops are full of great Mexican products. The restaurants are cheap and cheerful and full of great food. It's a great place for a poor Paris expat to bask in Mexican culture.
Our first stop was in a grocery store just West of the 18th Street Blue line el stop. (Barrett can correct me if I'm getting any of this wrong...) And they had...pickled pigs' ears! I am sorry to say that I was too cowardly to actually purchase pickled pigs' ears, even with the best interests of our readers. I can and will eat most things but some just go that one step too far. Brains. And pickled pigs' ears.
Cheese, glorious cheese! Unfortunately we were about to embark on a long flight and a week's stay in the UK so I could only explore them visually. NEXT TIME. Next time Barrett and I will put aside some time to play with Rick Bayless' recipes instead of frequenting his restaurant. (That said, I tasted the most interesting and delicious oyster sauce in my experience. I never thought I would find a sauce to improve on the beauty and simplicity of lemon juice tout court and I was wrong.)
Nuevo Leon was my favorite Mexican restaurant when I left Chicago about a dozen years ago and I was pleased to see it is still around. It has gone a bit gaudier but it's still there. If you have the opportunity and are not vegetarian, they have The Best Nachos In The World. Seriously. (The Redhead thinks they put meat in the refried beans and she's undoubtedly right. But for the meat-eaters they are a delight: little pyramids of perfectly piled beans, guacamole, cheese and sour cream, with a spicy nugget of jalepeno pepper nestled in the center. Sigh...)
And to finish, I loved this sign. It sums up the eclectic ethnic nature of Chicago at its best. Hoy! (Spanish) Karaoke! (Japanese) And Italian Buffet. Love it.
515 W 18th St.
Chicago, IL, 60608
Stop whatever it is you're doing and go to the Red Cross Katrina relief site to donate money to help the thousands and thousands who need food, water, and protection. Don't give anything but money and give it only to the Red Cross. Even FEMA's list had some questionable other agencies on it.
Give to the Red Cross until you can't give and then give a little more. Skip dinner out the next few weeks. This is important.
New Orleans will rise again. For those who've asked, I see Todd in New Orleans is in Tulsa and safe. You can read his posts at A Frolic of My Own.