February 28, 2006
Happy Pancake Day!

crepes.jpgComing back from the grocery store this evening, I sorely regretted that I hadn't thought to bring the camera with me. I could have taken a photo of a footprint in a soggy white pavement. "Snow?" you would have thought. But although it did snow briefly this afternoon, it was not snow on the ground. It was flour. And whipped cream. And eggs.

We have a grade school (maternelle) and a high school (lycťe) down the street from us. And although Paris does not boast a Carnival as impressive as Venice or Rio, the students here know how to live it up on Fat Tuesday. The little ones, like our mini-Critic, dress up in fancy costumes. And the big ones run around throwing flour, eggs and whipped dairy products at one another. I am always rather trepidatious about picking my way through the crowd on days like today, trying to look like someone who enjoys a good joke but doesn't want to be the victim of one.

And what did I buy at the grocery store? Milk, eggs, ham, chicken, mushrooms and oranges for a pancake feast, of course! And in honor of the recent Is My Blog Burning? edition, I decided to make one of the dishes an authentic French Traditional Dish: CrÍpes Suzette.

As requested by Laura of Cucina Testa Rossa, the host of this edition of IMBB?, I did try to research the dish before starting. There are conflicting stories, however. If you Google "crepes suzette history" you'll mainly find the story of 15 year old Henri Charpentier who was working the Cafť de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1895. The legend has it that Prince Edward, future king of England, was entertaining friends there when young Henri through chance or design (stories differ) made a flambť orange and butter crÍpe. Charpentier wanted to name the new dish CrÍpe Princesse in honor of the Princess of Wales, but the future king instead requested that he name it after the daughter of one of the guests at the table, little Suzette. The Larousse Gastronomique notes dryly: "In actual fact, at that date Charpentier was not old enough to be the head waiter serving the prince...Elsewhere, Lťon Dauder, in Paris vťcu (1929) speaks of pancakes called Suzette which in about 1898 were one of the specialities of Marie's Restaurant..." Henri Charpentier went on to become chef to the Rockefellers, though, so perhaps the Larousse is being snooty on that account? In any case, they have gone on to become a classic of French cuisine.

To tell the truth, I am not overly fond of orange-flavored foods and so have avoided them for most of my life. But when I made them tonight I have to admit they were mighty tasty. The slight bitter edge of the orange zest was nicely balanced by the crunchy sugar crystals on the outside. And the rich butter really did bring out the best in the delicate pancakes.

However, man does not live by desserts alone. We also had lovely chicken and ham crÍpes to start. Below are the recipes, which serve two.

For the crÍpe batter:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cups flour
1 Tbs melted butter
a pinch of salt

Beat the eggs and flour and salt and gradually beat in the milk and butter until you have a smooth batter. Allow the batter to rest at least half an hour and preferably two hours. To make the crÍpes, pour a scant quarter of a cup onto a hot crÍpe or frying pan and either swish the pan around or use a little rake to spread the batter evenly. Turn after a minute or two (when the crÍpe lifts easily from the pan) and cook for another minute before removing to a warm plate.

Filling One: Ham and Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 slices of prosciutto ham or equivalent
5-6 mushrooms
2 shallots
2-3 Tbs butter
1/4 cup parsley
1/2 glass cream sherry
2 Tbs flour
1/2 cup milk
splash of white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a frying pan. While it is melting, cut the chicken breasts in thin strips. Fry them in the butter over a fairly high heat so that they begin to brown and even stick a bit to the bottom of the pan. While they are cooking, slice the shallots in thins strips. Toss them in with the chicken and start washing and slicing the mushrooms. Add the sliced mushrooms and while they begin softening shred the ham in small pieces. Add the ham to the mixture and give it all a few good stirs. By now the chicken should be cooked and the onions and mushrooms starting to soften. Add the sherry and a deglaze, picking up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring to eliminate lumps. Stir in the milk and let it cook for a few minutes, thickening. Add the wine when and if the filling starts to get a bit dry. And taste for seasoning. Reserve until the crÍpes are ready for filling, stirring in the parsley (chopped) just before you do, so that it's just barely wilted.

suzette.jpgFilling Two: Suzette

1 orange
20 grams butter, softened
a few Tablespoons of Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons sugar

Zest the orange using a gorgeous microplaner like the one Barrett got me at E. Dehillerin in Paris. Slice an end off the orange and squeeze a couple of tablespoons of juice over the butter. Add the zest and mix well. Once the crÍpes are made, spread the zest butter over half the crÍpe and fold in quarters. Garnish with a slice of orange, rind removed. Warm the Grand Marnier and pour it over the crÍpe. Light it, turn out the lights and wow your guests. When the flames have gone down and before they dig in, though, sprinkle a little sugar over the crepes. The crystals will add a nice texture and with the slightly bitter rind the sugar will be welcome.

And maybe all that vitamin C will briefly make you forget about the cold you've been harboring since November of last year...and the big flakes of snow that are drifting past your window on this last day of February.

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Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:12 PM | Comments (7)
February 26, 2006
IMBB23 - Vive La France (or actually French Canada, eh?)

Ever have one of those friends who is just plain a contrarian? Yep, that's me. So when Cucina Testa Rossa announced the theme of IMBB 23 would be to make a regional French dish with a glass of wine, I got busy figuring out how to subvert the theme just a little without ignoring it. I found my answer on the Eastern Shore of Canada.

The French and the British have been rivals since before 1066. In the 1600's and 1700's, the French and English were in competition for resources in Northern North America. In the mid-1600's a group of 100 French families settled along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia (which was then called the Baie Francaise). These "Acadians" lived prosperously on the rich fishing resources of the Bay and farmed the rough rocky soil of Eastern Canada.

Many were expelled from the area in 1755 by the Brits, who forced them south and back to Europe. The Acadians were allowed back ten years later, but their lands and posessions had been forfeited to British settlers, and they were forced to take inferior claims.

Eventually, Nova Scotia was absorbed into the nation of Canada, and French Acadian traditions became a part of Canada's cultural heritage.

Among the Acadian dishes was a mashed potato ball filled with pork called poutine. The recipe I'm preparing for this IMBB is not THAT poutine, but another potato based dish created later in Quebec, by French Canadians.

Modern day poutine is a three layered dish consisting of french fries, fresh cheese curds, and gravy. It may or may not derive from the orignal Acadian poutine, but it certainly originated in Quebec, the heart of French Canada.

According to Wikipedia, the most popular story of the origin of modern poutine is a story of Fernand Lachance, from Warwick, Quebec, which claims that "poutine was invented in 1957, when a customer ordered fries while waiting for his cheese curds from the Kingsey cheese factory in Kingsey Falls . Lachance is said to have exclaimed Áa va faire une maudite poutine ('it will make a hell of a mess'), hence the name. The sauce was allegedly added later, to keep the fries warm longer. Linguists have found no occurrence of the word poutine with this meaning earlier than 1978."

Whatever the origin, poutine is authentically French-Canadian in origin and is great for a bite while watching a Montreal Canadiens game. It's not as sophisticated as coq au vin or duck a l'orange, but when you drop your relatives off in the wilderness, you have to expect their descendents to be a little more roughneck than you.

If you can stand to slum for a bit in the midst of all the fine French cuisine that will be presented for this event try out a batch of lowbrow poutine and I hope you'll enjoy "one hell of a mess."

Optionally Vegetarian Poutine
Fries -
4 large Idaho-style (starchy) potatoes
4 inches of vegetable oil in a pot with smoke point over 400 F (corn, peanut, etc...) A serious poutiner (?) would use beef fat or lard.

16 oz. Fresh White Cheddar Cheese curds (or softish white cheese like provolone or mozarella, but curds are strongly preferred)

Use you own favorite meat gravy or use my
Mushroom Gravy (based on this recipe)
2 1/4 cups vegetable stock (plus see below)
1 medium onion diced
8 large button mushrooms, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
5 teaspoons cornstarch dissoved in 1/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
black pepper to taste (it should taste peppery)

Take you cheese curds out of the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature so they can soften up a little while you prepare this recipe.

Cheese curds are hard to find most places, but if you live near a cheese center (like Vermont or Wisconsin) you should be able to find someplace that has these squeaky little marvels. I drove to Mars to get mine - the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisonsin.

If you don't live near a center of cheese production - move. Or use a similar white cheese cut into 1" chunks. No seriously, move.

Potato prep and first fry:
You will want a basket skimmer, or a pot with a fry basket along with an oil/candy thermometer. I got a kit from Lodge at Edward Don's that included a cast iron pot with fry basket and thermometer for Just over $30.

Cut the potatoes into french fry sized and shaped pieces, about 1/4" wide. I used a kitchen mandoline with a fry blade for this task. Use the guard. I also did not peel the potatoes as I like the skins, I just made sure they were well washed.

In a large pot, wash the fries with water. Let the fries sit in cold water for ten mintues. The water should turn cloudy from starch on the cut surfaces of the potatoes. Change the water and repeat until the water stays clear after ten minutes. What you're doing is removing surface starches and sugars exposed by the cutting that might carmelize then burn in the frier. This will lead to a better tasting fry.

Drain and pat dry the potatoes with paper towels. You don't want water mixing with that oil later.

Heat four inches of oil in your pot. There should be at least four more inches above it. There will be expansion and bubbling up when you lower the fries into the oil. If there's not enough space, you could have the oil overflow the pot, contact the flame or element of your stove, and WHOOSH! Now you have a grease fire to deal with.

You do have a fully charged and regularly inspected fire extingusiher appropriate for killing grease fires handy and know how to use it don't you? Go ahead and get one and learn how to use it. We'll wait...

Use the oil thermometer to verify the oil is at 325 F. Drop a small batch of french fries into the oil and fry them for four to five minutes. When you see the barest hint of color appearing on the fries, remove them from the oil, and drain. If you try one now, it's going to suck. They aren't done yet.

Use the thermometer to verify the moment when the oil temperature (which will have dropped since you added colder food to hotter oil) reaches 325 F again. Drop a second batch and repeat the process until you've run through all the fries. It's OK if the first batches cool. We're going to fry them one more time.

The first fry "breaks the back" of the starches in the fry and does most of the cooking. You'll notice the fries are limp, pale, and not very good if eaten just after the first fry. The second fry, at a higher temperature later, will give us the crispness and crunch you should expect in a good french fry.

Of course we're going to smother the things in gravy and kill any crispness the fries might have had, but if you're going to make fries, you might as well do it right.

Put the fries aside, keep the oil warm, but no hotter than 350 F and let's do the gravy.

Gravy -
Chop your onions and mushrooms to a 1/4" or smaller dice.

Heat the 2 1/4 cups of vegetable stock in a saucepan. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic and stir well. Cook for about five minutes until the mushroom are startign to color and flavor the stock.

Add the tamari, dissolved cornstarch in stock, and stir well. Raise the heat just to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the tomato paste and add pepper to taste.

Simmer for at least five minutes, stirring frequently. Take an immersion blender and blend the gravy smooth. Continue to simmer. The gravy should thicken up. Continue cooking until the gravy is the consistency you prefer.

Second Fry -
Preheat the oven to 200 F and have a big oven-safe bowl ready.
Raise the oil temperature to 375 F. Refy the fries for about 75 seconds until golden brown. Remove from oil, drain, and salt immediately. Salt sticks best when the oil is hot.

Place the drained and salted fries in the oven safe bowl in teh 200 F oven. Repeat frying method with all fries until done. This is the frying that makes the fries crunchy and attractive.

Assembly -
The traditional plating for this fine French-heritage-via-the-Great-White-North dish is a styrofoam fast food container, but we had to make do with plates. Start with about 1/4 of the fries.

Add about 1/4 of the cheese curds.

Add about 1/4 of the gravy.

Mix it together to make a "hell of a mess" and enjoy with a fine Canadian um, wine. Like Labatt's Blue. We substituted a Goose Island 312 for the Labatt's, but you really do want beer with this dish, not wine.

Think of the beer as a "yellow wine", and in the words of the OTHER great French settlement in North America - Laissez le bons temps rouler!

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Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:27 PM | Comments (7)
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

This week in POTW: Eat Your Greens. Here are three posts from the past week about environmentally friendly food.

A. Environmentally sensitive vintners are on the lookout for new ways to keep crops free of bugs without going the pesticide route. To the rescue...man's best friend.

I. 3p brings us up to speed on the oddest eco-blog known to man. Greenwashing? A load of PR? Well, maybe, but I heard theyíre serving organic Newmanís Own coffee in many locations now and they serve a lot of coffee.

1. So hungry you could eat a bear? But youíre a vegetarian? A tofu bear may be the thing for you. (Barrett says this bear is wonderful braised with veggie broth and bok choi and then finished with sesame oil).

I hope itís cool with you that the links are news-ish and not recipes. Don't tell me you've exhausted the recipes weíve suggested in the pages of TMC.

Oh, and (bonus post!) some of my own thoughts on the topic of organics.

Join us next week when weíll reveal if Barrett can wrestle the POTW conch away from me (Lord of the Flies fans, are you there?). Mmmmm...conch stew

Posted by Justin at 7:00 AM | Comments (1)
February 25, 2006
Squeeze that Lemon

In a recent post, Justin described a way of juicing citrus that gets a lot of juice by cutting the fruit up and then squeezing. We had an off-line discussion about whether his method or my usual method of sticking a fork in the side of a lemon and reeming it out was more efficient.

Recently, we've been using a new tool, a citrus press that "squeezes the bejesus" out of the citrus. So who's right? Only experimentation could determine.

I took a set of nine lemons, weighed them in sets of three and rearranged the lemons within the sets to get a similar weight of fruit in each group to test. Why not limes? Lemons were on sale and they're pretty similar to limes in any case. You can decide if the results are valid when generalized to all citrus.

Group One consisted of 14.5 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.
Group Two consisted of 14.4 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.
Group Three consisted of 14.6 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.

I then made up three cards and shuffled them as well as I could, dealing out the cards so each set got a different method of juice extraction. The results are shown below.

I then picked three similar bowls and weighed them to ensure similar weights and so we can adjust for the amount of juice correctly. Weight, rather than volume was used to measure the amount of juice produced, and the juice itself filtered through a colander to remove any seeds or unjuiced pulp that might have been extracted from the lemons and which might skew the results.

Technique 1 was Justin's dissembly method.

The lemons had the bottom trimmed, cut into three sections, plus a core section left behind, then all bits squeezed and juice extracted. I refer you again to Justin's post for a better description of this technique (plus a recipe for some yummy mojitos).

Technique 2 was the mechanically assisted squeeze method.

The lemons were cut in half, placed in the squeezer and squeezed. The squeezed half was then reversed so the inner section faced out and squeezed again.

Technique 3 was my usual fork method.
The lemons had a fork stuck into the side of the lemon, and then reemed out.

Each technique was used for three lemons.

The results:

A little math is applied and here are the final results:

Method 1 - Justin's Dissembly method. Produced 8.35 oz. juice from 14.5 oz. fruit
Method 2 - Mechanical squeeze method. Produced 9.60 oz juice from 14.4 oz. fruit
Method 3 - Barrett's fork method. Produced 7.85 oz juice from 14.6 oz fruit.

Dissembly: .576 oz juice/oz fruit
Squeeze: .667 oz juice/oz fruit
Fork: .538 oz juice/oz fruit

Conclusion - the mechanical squeeze method is by far best of these three, producing almost 20% more juice proportionally than my fork method, and 14% more than the dissembly method.

However, the mechanical squeeze method does require a specialized piece of equipment that not everyone has and of course, may yield less satisfactory results if you are not able to bring as much pressure to bear on the device. If you are stuck with a fork, a knife, and a bunch of citrus, Justin's method yields a better result than my fork method, though it takes a little longer than the fork technique.

Note - at no point were any of the lemons rolled, pre-bruised, microwaved, or had anything done to them that might skew the results. Perhaps in a future post, we'll examine the effects of microwave preparations versus rolling versus leaving the citrus to be squeezed unadulterated.

The other conclusion we can draw is that squeezing a bunch of lemons can lead to a really good smelling kitchen.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:50 PM | Comments (23)
February 24, 2006
Cook's delight or just a crock?

crock.jpgEver since Nigel Slater described his love affair with an Aga stove and the lovely "unctuous" stews that were emanating from it, I've been hankering for one of my own. Living in a flat in an urban area (in France, no less) this is not something that will happen soon. Even Nigel had to relegate his to the basement and we do not have a basement. Or, to be more accurate, we do have a basement in this building, but it's ten floors below the kitchen, rather a long way to go to get to the stove.

So when I was alerted to a sale on Crock-pots by a friend I was sorely tempted. I thought of tasty "unctuous" Slater-like stews. I thought of dried beans being cooked to perfect tenderness instead of hurriedly being pressure-cooked into something like edibility. I thought about how they are usually 65-70 euros in Paris and were now on sale for 29 euros. And I thought "What the heck?" and bought one.

When it arrived I was pleased to note that it had a classy chrome and black color scheme, fitting perfectly into our kitchen. (The photo shows the "stoneware" basin removed from the cooking element.) In terms of size, however, it did not fit quite so well. It's big. Really big. It says that it makes a meal for six, but to me it looks like it could easily hold enough for eight or more. Oh well, one of the suggestions on the Crock-pot site is to use it for hot holiday drinks, such as mulled cider and wassail. Well THAT'S certainly something I wouldn't have thought of the last time I saw one of these babies back in the 1970s and helped reconcile me to finding a place for it on top of the cupboards.

Not surprisingly, I turned to Nigel Slater for inspiration for my first crock-pot meal: his Italian-styel slow-cooked aromatic lamb from Real Cooking. I didn't have the beans his recipe called for and made a few other substitutions, but followed his method, hoping for what he described as "A dark and sticky braise. No fuss - just throw the ingredients first into wine overnight then into a pot to bubble slowly."

What I got was not nearly as lovely. Mind you, I'm not giving up on the crock-pot as I think I made some mistakes. I browned the meat before adding it, but didn't do the same for the onions or garlic. I forgot to remove the lid at the end to let the juices boil down. And two of my substitutions were just Bad Ideas: a lemon for an orange (which might have worked if I had only used it in the marinade and not left it in the pot to be cooked with the rest into a bitter limp lump) and fresh garlic instead of "normal" garlic. I chopped the fresh garlic in half and in the long slow cook it came apart, leaving bitter green leaves throughout the stew.

It wasn't inedible. And I think the sauce - without the bitter garlic and lemon - would have been delicious. The meat was so tender that it did in fact fall off the bone. (Though it seemed, like all boiled meat, a bit lacking in flavor in the end.)

So a mixed review for my first foray into that bastion of busy moms: the crock-pot. Below is my recipe, mistakes corrected. I'm sure it will be better than my stew if you try it and I'm pretty sure it will be good. I'm not so sure about great.

If anyone out there has a truly amazing crock-pot recipe or tips for a novice I am all ears.

Not Bad Lamb Stew

1 bottle red wine
1 head of garlic (not new/fresh!)
2 sprigs of rosemary
3-4 sprigs thyme
half a lemon (optional and don't forget to remove before adding marinade to pot)
1 onion, sliced in thick wedges
4-6 anchovies
freshly ground black pepper
dash salt
1 bay leaf

2 1/2 lbs or 1.2 kilos (roughly) of lamb
6-8 mushrooms chopped in chunks
1 onion, sliced in thick wedges (this is the SECOND onion)
2 carrots, cut in thin rounds
2 potatoes, cut in chuncks
olive oil

Marinade the lamb in a large bowl overnight.

Brown the meat on all sides in a frying pan with a little olive oil. Remove the meat to a plate and add the onions and mushrooms to the frying pan. Add a little more oil if need be and cook over a medium-high flame until the stewing onions are soft and even a little browned on the edges. Put the carrots in the bottom of the crock pot and then layer the potatoes over them. Add the onions and mushrooms. Place the meat on top of all. Remove the lemon half and onions from the marinade and pour it over the rest of the ingredients in the crock-pot.

Cook on high for one hour and then lower to low for another nine hours. Take off the top roughly fifteen minutes before serving and turn the heat back up to high to reduce the sauce a bit. Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:26 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack
February 23, 2006
Pumpkin and Sage Ravioli

pumpkinsageravioli2_jf.jpgIf youíve got a place near you that sells fresh pasta sheets, thereís no reason not to be making your own ravioli. The owner of the shop that I go to says I should try making the pasta myself (going against his business plan), but I don't have a pasta machine and while I could go the rolling pin route, I don't feel the need to make the pasta myself because well, that's why we have division of labor right? If his stuff wasn't so fresh, I might take on a DIY project.

Because of the size of the sheets I get, folding them over is best. If they were smaller I could use one for the bottom and one for the top. I tried that first but they were just too big. Experiment with the first few and it'll be obvious which way you want to go. This is a crowd pleaser with the appearance of gourmet but (lucky for you) quick and hard to mess up.

This filling is slightly modified from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook.

Pumpkin and Sage Ravioli

500 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
¼ t nutmeg
about 30 sage leaves
¼ c (or maybe a little less) macadamia nuts, crushed into tiny bits
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Place pumpkin on oiled baking tray and cook for 1 hour or until tender. Let cool a bit and remove skin.

While pumpkin is roasting, chop up those nuts. Use a glass jar, an 8" pan, coffee bean grinder, whatever you like. I tend to finish them off with a knife to get the bits really small.

Place pumpkin in bowl with nutmeg and mash with a fork. Mix in nuts, and salt and pepper to taste.

Lay out a piece of pasta and put one sage leaf in the middle. Put a heaping teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture on top of the sage leaf. Orient the pasta like Washington D.C. (that's a totally reasonable cooking instruction) and brush (I find that my index finger works as good as any brush) the NE and NW edges with water (some folks use eggwash here), fold over the pasta and press down gently yet firmly to seal.


Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the ravioli 4 or 5 at a time. Cook for 4 minutes (unless your pastarŪa tells you otherwise).

Top with your favorite sauce. Butter is common, but I prefer tomato sauce, a simple one so as not to distract from the flavorful ravioli guts innards filling.

Hey, don't forget to finish it off with the parmesan cheese (like I forgot, see picture). If you can get it (I'm sure I'm in the minority there), go ahead and use the Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is not the same thing. I like to serve this with a Pinot Noir and some Verdi.

Serves 2-3.

Note: This can be made several hours in advance. Refrigerate in layers between sheets of greaseproof paper to prevent sticking.

Posted by Justin at 8:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
February 22, 2006
Heads up

Things may get a little BLOOIE around here over the next week or so.

Remember that move we made two or three weeks ago to a bigger server? Well the spammers are hitting us so hard it's killing the server. We're looking for another hosting service right now that can handle teh problem, and will be moving very soon.

And that's when everything will go to hell in a handbasket I'm sure.

So don't worry - we will be up and running eventually even if we do go all freaky for a short time.


UPDATE: Made some changes. Let's see if that helps. We'll still be moving, but maybe we can stop the intermural nuttiness caused by spammers.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Fried Cheese with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cannellini Beans

While visiting Meg, my wife and I took a trip to Amsterdam.

We'd been warned that Dutch food and food in Amsterdam was somewhere from iffy to terrible. I was a bit surprised that there were so many Belgian fries with mayonnaise shops. Once we put the presence of semi-legal marijuana into the mix, we understood how all the fry shops stayed in business.

But this first bar/restaurant we ate at (and the name of which I've misplaced) had three very nice vegetarian dishes. The first was a spicy lentil soup, the second was a pumpkin and zucchini risotto with mint, and the third was a version of this dish which was best of all.

A simple vegetable stew of tomatoes, spinach, and cannelini beans with herbs support fried wedges of delicious cheese. The original recipe used two big wedges of Manchego cheese, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese. I decided to put the Dutch back into this recipe by frying smaller wedges of a Fresh Gouda we purchased for next to nothing in Amsterdam and brought back to the States.

You'll love the stew as is, but the cheese sets it off perfectly and adds just the right amount of salt and fat to a deliciously healthy base.

Fried Cheese with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cannellini Beans serves 3-4
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained of loose liquid
1 28 oz. can diced organic tomatoes, drained well.
1 lb fresh spinach
2 14 oz. cans cannelini beans, drained well
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teapsoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

4 1/2 - 9 oz. firm but not hard cheese (I used Gouda, the original is Manchego), cut into 1/2 - 1 oz wedges.
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
1 cup bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten

You can use other cheeses for this recipe, but try to use a firm, but not hard cheese. Parmesan would not work for this recipe. Gruyere or a firm Swiss might. Mozarella and Ricotta or Brie have too much moisture and not enough backbone for this preparation, in my humble opinion.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the tomatoes and beans and as much of the spinach as you can get in comfortably. Stir occasionally. As the spinach wilts, add more until you have all 16 oz of the stuff in the pot and wilted.

Add the herbs and salt and pepper. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Turn the oven on to 150 F an place a cookie sheet on a center rack.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. You should have about 1/8" oil in the skillet. When you see just the barest wisps of smoke, it's ready.

HAVE A FIRE EXTINGUISHER APPROPRIATE FOR GREASE FIRES READY AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT. You probably won't need it, but if you do, you'll thank me.

Put the eggs in one bowl, the crumbs in the next bowl. Using just one hand, pick up a wedge of cheese. Place it in the egg and coat the wedge well. Place the wedge in the bread crumbs and coat well using just the one hand.

Touch the edge of the wedge to the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Place the cheese wedge carefully in the shallow oil. You may tilt the pan if you wish to get more oil around the sides of the cheese.

Once the bottom is brown (it'll only take about 15-20 seconds, flip the wedge with tongs or a spatula and fry the other side. If the fattest edge of the wedge never gets into the oil, stand it up after teh second side is done, and fry the fat side down. Remove from the pan to the cookie sheet in the oven which will keep the cheese warm as you repeat with all 9 wedges.

If the oil is too cold, it will take much longer to get the golden brown color. Adjust heat upwards. If the oil is too hot, the cheese will go dark ebony brown almost immediately. Adjust the heat down and add a little more oil to cool the oil in the pan. Be careful when adding the oil. Do it off the flame, away from any source of ignition.

Using a slotted spoon, serve out a good sized portion of the stew to each person and place 2-3 wedges of fried cheese on top of the vegetable mix.

Serve with a good Belgian or Dutch beer.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:43 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 21, 2006
Have a Commercial Kitchen to Rent?

Back in January last year we wrote about Kitchen Chicago, a local venture that allowed up and coming food-based businesses and entrepreneurs to rent a commercial kitchen so they could produce their goodies legally.

The comments on that post have been among the most active on our site. We find lots of people looking for a kitchen to rent, but not so many with kitchens to rent.

So here's the deal - if you have a commercial kitchen you are willing to rent to a qualified user (ServSafe or other health certification in hand), or are willing to help a potential renter get certified so they can use your kitchen to legally produce commercial foodstuffs, send me your info.

Send it to: barrett@toomanychefs.com. I need from you:

  1. Your name,

  2. The name of your business,

  3. Where you are located

  4. A brief description of the facilities available to a renter (what kind of mixer, ovens, rack capacity, refrigeration, etc...),

  5. What certification would be required where you are located for an individual or small business to use your kitchen,

  6. If you are willing and able to train someone to take that test and get that certification

  7. What you would like to charge for use of the kitchen

  8. When the kitchen would be available (Sundays, last weekend of the month, etc...)

  9. How the potential user contacts you

  10. Other considerations (insurance, etc...)

Send that info to me at barrett@toomanychefs.com and I will compile it into a post next month so interested renters can find you.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:12 PM | Comments (534) | TrackBack
February 19, 2006
Pizza Pot Pies

Within certain restrictions, the crowd I serve is pretty adventurous in their dining proclivities. I generally make something I would like and hope that my wife and any guests we have agree with my tastes, and it seems to usually work out well.

We had over friends this last weekend, however, who presented a bit of a challenge. One is adventurous enough in her tastes, but her husband is a little more conservative with his food. He's not likely to eat monkfish liver croquettes or samosas filled with ratatouille or any other "weird" food.

A good cook works to please his or her audience so I tried to come up with a dish that would make him comfortable and that would be acceptable to everyone else as a little different and unusual.

In Chicago, on Clark Street is a cozy restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. Unlike most Chicago pizza places, they are famous not for a Chicago-style deep dish pizza, but for a pizza pot pie. Pizza ingredients go into a bowl, which is topped with Sicilian bread dough and baked. When it comes out of the kitchen, the waiter inverts the bowl onto a plate, and the pizza filling flows out onto the bread, which is now a crust. It's a neat idea for a dish.

I wasn't going to try to recreate that dish exactly for a dinner with friends because I've never made Sicilian-style bread like that. Instead, I used a sheet of reliable puff pastry to form the "crust" for our bowls of pizza. I think it worked well, and our guests apparently agreed. Plates were cleaned, bellies filled, and a successful dinner with friends enjoyed.

UPDATE: - Chicagoist visits Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company today (2/21/06). Coincidence? Hmmmm...

Pizza Pot Pies (recipe makes 4)
Pizza sauce (my recipe below)
4 oz. shredded mozarella cheese
1 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, 12" square

Pre-cooked toppings which may include green pepper, Italian sausage, sauteed garlicky mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, pineapple, ham, etc...

Barrett's Pizza Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large or 1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 28 oz. cans organic tomatoes (crushed or whole)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leafs
salt and pepper to taste

About 30 minutes before you start cooking, take the puff pastry out of the freezer and leave at room temperature.

I prepped the ingredients as the sauce was simmering. I don't get too specific on the toppings, because everyone likes their pizza a little different. We had three different types of pizza pot pies, including one sausage with mushroom, one pineapple with onion, and two green pepper and mushroom. The key is to pre-cook the toppings, browning the sausage, sauteeing the green pepper with a little onion and garlic, perhaps, mincing the pineapple, so that when you are ready to put the pies together you can let each person customize their dish to their personal preference.

To get the sauce started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the onion and garlic and sautee until the onions start to go translucent. Add the tomatoes and paste and stir well. Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes until you get a nice chunky sauce consistency. It will seem too watery but we'll cook it down. Add red wine and stir. Add the oregano and bay leaf and a little salt and pepper. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Prop up a lid on the saucepan with a wooden spoon to let steam excape. Stir the sauce every few minutes, scraping the bottom with the wooden spoon to ensure no burining occurs. Propping the lid up lets steam and water escape from the sauce, letting it thicken. Reduce heat and cook over medium heat until the sauce has reduced by 1/3 and is much thicker and more like pizza sauce consistency.

Prep your toppings while the sauce reduces, but don't forget to stir the sauce every few minutes. It may take 20 minutes to 45 minutes to reduce, depending on your tomatoes.

Whent the sauce has reduced, taste it, adjust the seasonings, remove the bay leaves, turn the oven on to 375 F, and prepare to assemble the pot pies.

In four individually-sized oven-safe bowls, place a big handful of mozarella cheese - about 1 oz. per bowl. Add a ladleful of sauce, leaving room for toppings. Add toppings as you desire. The classic combination would be sausage, mushrooms, fresh onions, and green pepper, but fit your tastes.

Stir the ingredients lightly, and if there is room, add a little more sauce. Repeat with three other bowls.

Flour a work surface lightly. Roll out the puff pastry, and cut it into 4 individual squares. Place a square on top of each bowl, covering it completely.

Put a little bit of the distinguishing toppings in the center of each crust so you know which pie is which later, and sprinkle 1/4 oz of grated parmesan on top of the crust.

Place the bowls on a large cookie sheet, and bake in the middle of the 375 oven for 23-30 minutes until the puff pastry crust is golden brown.

Bring the bowls to the table along with a big plate for each person.

To serve - using oven mitts or other protection to handle the bowls, press a plate upside down on top of a bowl. Turn the bowl upside down and invert the contents of the bowl onto the plate. Remove the bowl. The crust will now be on the bottom and the toppings on top. Makes for a great presentation.

Serve with a green salad.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:52 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
February 18, 2006
Arroz Rojo con Achiote

I cook a lot of Mexican food, but one thing that's always been missing is the rice. Part of the problem might be that I've never really tried to cook your workaday Spanish rice... I can't decide if this is because 1) I don't really like Spanish rice all that much, or 2) all the recipes I've seen call for chicken stock, and I never had the chutzpah to go with veggie stock instead (I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I'm usually cooking for one). And while I eat plenty of plain white (jasmine) rice with various Asian cuisines, it just doesn't seem right on a Mexican plate.

At any rate, this rice solved my problem. It's contrasty enough (both in look and flavor) to really hold its own against whatever Mexican standby you've got as the main course. And it's distinctively Mexican, rather than kind of a generic catchall (eg Spanish rice) that's just there to occupy territory on your plate.

The one difficulty is getting your hands on some achiote paste. I couldn't find any myself, so I improvised a paste after looking at several (very different!) recipes online and comparing them to what I had in my cabinet. Annato is the key ingredient, to the point where one of the recipes called for simply soaking annato seeds, draining them, and then crushing them to make achiote paste. Since I don't have a good spice grinding solution in my kitchen, I just picked up ground annato and worked from there.

Achiote Paste

2 tbsp ground annatto
2 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
the juice of one lemon

Simply stir these items together until they form a dryish paste, adding a little bit of water from the tap if necessary.

Arroz Rojo con Achiote

1/4 cup safflower oil
2 cups medium grain rice
1 14oz can of tomatoes (I use whole or diced)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, roasted and mashed
1 tbsp achiote paste
1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin 1-inch strips

Add tomatoes, onions, garlic, and achiote paste to a blender; blend until smooth. Pass the mixture through a sieve.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and fry, stirring, until the color changes to a light gold (about 5 minutes).

Stir in the strained tomato/achiote mixture and fry until it is absorbed into the rice.

Add the stock and the bell peppers. Cover, reduce to medium-low heat and cook for about 30 minutes.

You should have enough rice to serve about six people as a side dish. We had this most recently with stacked green enchiladas and some tasty black beans.

Posted by Paul at 8:38 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

I would have a snappy into here, but Posts of the Week woke up to -3 Fahrenheit with -20 wind chill this morning (quite literally), so we're busy thawing out our snark. Let's find three posts to warm our collective cockles, eh?

1. A nice heartwarming story would work wonders, but all the Food Whore has is a story that bites for the main player. Or doesn't bite, more accurately.

A. Coconuts grow in warm climates, like the ones I'd like to excape to until this cold snap is over. Mahanandi makes a traditional Southern Indian coconut chutney with shallot sambar that brings a bit of the southern Indian heat back home. Every time I read Mahanandi I understand more just how much I don't understand about Indian cusisine.

I. You know what else can be warming? A nice hot slice of pizza. Slice exerpts New York Times' regular contributor Ed Levine's new book, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, with a discussion of the East Coast's so-called Pizza Belt. There's a pizza timeline in a second excerpt of the development of pizza in America.

Of course pizza can be frozen, too so maybe that last wasn't the best choice. Hmm. Stay warm and if you are warm, send a little psychic warmth to those of us deep in the frost belt as we think of everything possible to bake today to keep the oven on and the house warm.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 17, 2006
Fresh Garlic and Anchovy Quiche

garlicquiche.jpgI can't remember why Barrett and I bought so many eggs for the party last Saturday. We tossed around a lot of recipe ideas and some of them were lost in the rush to the finishing line on Saturday afternoon. After he left, though, I realized I had over a dozen eggs and a spouse who doesn't like eggs. I also had a half dozen fresh garlic bulbs, which I had intended to make into a kind of garlic whip/terrine. I still think it's a nice idea, something like the raw garlic purťe you get in Lebanese restaurant only milder with the lovely fresh garlic. But the party's over and so instead I was looking for a less frilly use for the garlic.

And so I decided to pair these remaindered ingredients together in the form of a quiche. A tomato that one of the guests had left was also tossed into the equation. And in honor of my mother's impending visit I decided to throw in a small tin of anchovies as well. And of course the leftover grated Parmesan was a natural with the other ingredients.

In the end I had a lovely savory tart. When my mother tried a piece last night she didn't even realize there was a whole head of garlic in it: the fresh stuff is that subtle. The boy tried a bite of my piece yesterday and ended up eating half of it. He had a thin slice for dinner last night and managed to scam ANOTHER quarter of a piece from his grandmother's breakfast slice.

I think real boys DO eat quiche after all.

Now that I'm working part time and have a little more flexibility in my life, I've decided to develop my pastry-making skills. When I was first learning how to bake many years ago I could actually make a pretty decent pie crust. But over the years, laziness and the accessibility of pre-rolled crusts have spoiled me and I've lost the touch. And that is a shame. Although a home made pie crust is a bit time-consuming (it's that half hour in the fridge that usually daunts me, the original last-minute-cook) it is so much more beautiful to behold than its industrially produced cousin. And nothing compares to the way it melts in your mouth, buttery and tender.

Fresh Garlic and Anchovy Quiche

For the crust:

1 cup flour
1 egg yolk
6 Tbs / 90 grams unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1-2 Tbs cold water

This pie crust is shamelessly stolen from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. As mentioned in the book, it works well with a food processor (just as well as I don't have a pastry cutter) and makes a lovely elastic dough. Pulse the food processor with all the ingredients except the egg yolk and water until you have a fine mix. Add the yolk and enough water so that the dough sticks together but is not sticky. The Fannie Farmer says that the dough will form a ball around the blades of the food processor when it reaches the right consistency, but I find that it's already wet enough long before then. Add one tablespoon of water and then open up the machine to see if it's too dry before adding the second one. You don't want to over-process the dough. Form it into a nice ball with your hands and wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Refrigerate at least an hour.

For the filling:
6 eggs plus 1 white left over from the pie crust recipe
1 cup / 225 ml milk
1 small head of fresh garlic
1 small tin of anchovies
2 tomatoes (I only had one, but two would have been better)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
freshly grated pepper

Beat the eggs and white with the milk. Remove the outer layers of the garlic and mince it finely. If the garlic is really fresh you won't need to peel the cloves and in fact it will be difficult to see where the clove begins and the outer casing ends. When it's fresh, it's all good, so just chop it up and add it to the egg mixture.

I rolled out the crust and blind baked it for ten minutes at 180c/350f. You might want to put in dried peas as it will probably swell a bit. Once the pie crust is pre-baked, leave the oven on and remove it. Pour the egg mixture into the pie case. Slice the tomatoes and spread them in the egg. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the mixture. And lastly, strew the anchovies over the egg mixture in a pretty pattern. They will probably fall into the mixture but you never know. In any case, you don't want them clumped in one place, no matter how much your friends love anchovies

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is set. Allow it to cool for a few minutes before serving and enjoy with a nice glass of Italian wine. Unless you are 14 months old, in which case a glass of milk is fine.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:17 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
February 16, 2006
How to Juice a Lime (and make a pair of Mojitos)

You think you know how to cut up a lime. You donít think thereís anything new on that front that I could teach you. You are wrong. Actually, I didn't know this trick myself until I moved to Thailand and saw limes cut like this all the time and placed atop delicious plates of fried rice.

If you want lime as a garnish, by all means, cut yourself a wedge. But if youíre trying to get the juice out, try this method:

Step 1: Cut off the bottom. Why? Just for stability.
Step 2: (and this is the crucial part) Cut a side off the lime, off center. Why? Breaks more of the septa so you can more easily squeeze out the juice-filled loculi. Translation, please? You cut more section membranes so the juice squirts out.
Step 3: Cut off-center twice more to get three pieces of lime.
Step 4: Twist the core. Why? Hey, thereís juice there too.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

See how much easier that is than squeezing a lime that's been quartered or halved?

If you want, doing that pre-cut rolling around on the cutting board trick isn't a bad idea.

Now the question is...what to do with all that lime juice? Mojitos, anyone? All this recent talk of mojitos on TMC has given me a hankering for one. I don't drink by myself (all that often) and so I prefer drink recipes to make at least 2 drinks, if not a pitcher. So, here's the classic mojito, care of the good folks at webtender, extrapolated to twice the size. That's 100% more!

Note: Ron Cubano would be great here. My wife, The Ambassador Ambassatrix, representative of the federal government of the United States, does not endorse this choice. If we did have Cuban rum in our apartment, which we don't, it would certainly be Havana Club aged 3 years. Um...yeah.

Classic Mojito
(para dos)
4 oz light rum (that's ½ cup in case you want to keep the jigger in the drawer)
Juice from 2 limes
4 t sugar
4-8 spearmint sprigs (depending on the size)
Soda water

Muddle the mint and sugar with a splash of soda water in a shaker until the sugar dissolves. Squeeze the lime into the shaker, add rum, and shake with ice. Strain into glasses (actually, I prefer to have the mint (and one section of lime) in the glass, thank you very much) and top with soda water.

Put on some Francisco Aguabella and your Che shirt and toast with a heart-felt "Viva la revoluciůn!"

Posted by Justin at 9:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
February 15, 2006
Baked Gilthead Bream Stuffed With Good Stuff

bream.jpgThe Critic has a high pressure job and he has very little patience with people who, when confronted with a question to which they don't know the answer, just make something up. This really, truly irritates him and I hear about it all the time because there are a lot of people in the organisation where he works who would rather give a wrong answer than admit they don't know the answer.

In private life, however, one of his charming traits is that he'll do exactly that: make up a plausible answer when he doesn't know the answer and thinks the questioner is being unreasonable to think he would. So for years I wandered around Paris in the spring convinced that every tree I saw was an almond tree. I've never seen the kind of flowering tree Paris abounds in and as he's English (his mother's an avid gardener) I figured he would. So every time I asked him what kind of tree that lovely flowering one over there was...he would answer with the only flowering tree that vaguely fit the shape: an almond tree.

And then there is the Daurade or Dorade. It's a really popular fish in Paris and whenever anyone visits we are sure to be asked at some point "What's that in English?" To which the Critic answers with great assurance "John Dory". Each time I would timidly come in with a "I'm not sure it's John Dory, but frankly I can never remember what it's called." And the Critic would crow. Because he was certain.

And he was certainly wrong. I'm putting it here in print as he frequently asserts that he is Never Wrong. Daurade is sometimes translated as Dorade. But if you compare Latin names, it appears that the Daurade Royale is a Gilthead Sea Bream. So now you know. And so do we.

Daurade is a lovely medium-sized fish and found in every outdoor market and every fish restaurant in Paris. It's very adaptable and stands up well to strong flavours. Because the flesh is very tender, it is not often sold as a filet. When you examine the fish more closely it's immediately apparent that this is one of the carnivores of the fish world. (Barrett insisted that I post the photo of his vicious teeth - and all the photo credits are his!)

Baked Gilthead Bream Stuffed With Good Stuff (serves 4)

Good stuff for a bream can be just about any combination of woody spices and strong flavors. For ours, we opted for some beautiful fresh rosemary I'd bought at the market over the weekend, an onion, the parsley supplied with the fish and a strong squeeze of lemon to bring out all the flavors. Tomatoes roasted in the pan with the fish also make a wonderful sweet and sharp compliment to the fishy flavor.

2 Gilthead Bream, cleaned, gutted and scaled but otherwise whole
1 lemon
8-10 sprigs of rosemary
1 onion
1 small bunch of parsley
1 glass of wine (optional)
a drizzle of olive oil
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Drizzle the olive oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place half the rosemary on top of the olive oil and place the fish on it. Open the belly of the fish and stuff in the onion, cut in wedges, the remaining rosemary and the parsley. Cut the lemon in quarters or eighths and squeeze it over the fish. Toss the lemon pieces in the roasting pan with the fish. Season with pepper and just a sprinkle of salt. If you like, you can splash a glass of white wine over the fish too - I am pretty sure I forgot when we made this last week. Bake for 40-60 minutes (depending on the size of your fish) until the flesh is opaque and tender but not dried out.

For best results, serve with extremely lemony spaghetti squash. It's absolutely delicious and the sight of those mean teeth will quickly reconcile you to the reproachful eyes of your dinner.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February 14, 2006
LEMON!!! (or Lemon) Spaghetti Squash

(Wow, been a while since I posted, eh? That's what happens when you go on vacation for a week.)

While visiting Meg, we had a chance to cook together a couple of times, something that really never happened in the old days when we were roomies. She cooked at the time and I sampled and critiqued. Mostly I said "Mmmmmm, tasty," and stuffed another forkful in my gaping maw. But now I cook as well. And the first thing we cooked together was a fish dinner with a side of boiled potatoes and lemony spaghetti squash.

Meg had come across the spaghetti squash at an organic market in Paris. Squash are not exctly thick on the ground in Europe, being a very American (as in from the Americas) ingredient. She'd seen my previous post about hating the usual method of cooking the squash by treating it as a faux-spaghetti and subjecting it to a Bolognese type sauce that is utterly unsuited to the flavor of the actual vegetable.

The default preparation would have been to sautee the squash in butter and nutmeg/cinnamon and served it as a very rustic earthy side. Instead, we took the squash by the rind and made a bright lemony relish for the fish that could have easily been a side with less lemon juice.

I'm sure Meg will go over the preparation of the fish itself later on (hint, hint), but for now, here's a nice side or relish made from spaghetti squash and a whole lot of lemon.

LEMON!!! (or Lemon) Spaghetti Squash

1 1/2 lemons (or less, see recipe)
1 spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, plus a little for a garnish
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt

Let's be frank. I used too much lemon in this recipe for a side dish, and it was just dumb luck that it worked as a relish. That said, it was a VERY good relish in my own humble opinion. So, I'll tell you how to make this as a LEMON!!! recipe for use as a relish, and as a Lemon recipe for use as a side dish.

First, we need to get at the flesh of the squash. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, brush it with one tablespoon of olive oil, and roast it in the oven on a baking sheet at 375F for 40 minutes or until soft.

Let the squash cool. While it cools to merely warm, zest your lemons, preferably with a grater. If you are making the relish version of this recipe, use the zest of 1-1/2 lemons. If you are making the side dish version, use the zest of 1/2 a lemon. After you've zested the lemons, squeeze out the juice from 1-1/2 lemons for the relish or 1/2 lemon, plus a little from the second lemon (but not too much). Remove any seeds.

Using a fork, scrape the flesh out of the baked spaghetti squash halves, and separate it into spaghetti-like strands.

Add the rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, pepper, salt, and nutmeg to the squash and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Once hot, add the squash and sautee until warmed through. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with rosemary.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
February 13, 2006
Foodie Friends

PHerme.jpgI've known Barrett for a very long time. He came to visit in 1987 when his ex-girlfriend and I were sharing a tiny studio across the street from the Luxembourg gardens during our university year abroad in Paris. I think it was my idea to play a prank on him by removing the handle from the bathroom door while he was inside. So we started off on the right foot.

Over the years he lost the girlfriend and I lost the boyfriend and our friendship was all that remained from two very bad romantic relationships. I think we both agree we salvaged the best from that period and moved on. For many years we swapped recommendations for books and movies and places in Chicago to get a good drink. Life seemed very full whenever we met, as we traded news of common friends and what was happening with my cat (he inherited my kitty when I moved to Europe) and our work.

When we started blogging together, though, things moved to a new level. Now when he visits, it's a carefully choreographed dance of restaurants, ingredients, meals and culinary experiments. I have a list of Things Barrett Must Taste and Things Barrett Must Experience. We are extremely lucky that his lovely wife, the Redhead, is indulgent with our obsession, always getting into the spirit of the day.

Here you see the photo of the one that got away: I forgot the cardinal rule of visiting small establishments on a Monday in Paris. Call first and make sure they are open, because a lot of places are open on Saturdays and close Sunday and Monday. Places like the famous Pierre Herme in the 6th. Well, it gives them an excuse to come back.

So what were the things we managed to fit into this too-short holiday? In roughly chronological order:

- A cheese fondue;

- Two gilthead bream on a bed of rosemary with a side order of lemon spaghetti squash (I'll let Barrett write that one up - we didn't entirely agree on whether the squash was a side dish or a kind of a sauce for the fish);

- Fresh garlic, which Barrett had never seen or tasted;

- Swiss chard gratin and spicy vegetarian soup;

- Dinner with Clotilde at Wally Le Saharien;

- The organic market in the 17th;

- Frantic cooking preparing for the party on Saturday night;

- A great foodie party, meeting loads of friends and readers and fantastic cookies and blondies by David Lebovitz (who was there);

- Vouvray sparkling wine;

- Successful Jello shots (the secret is keeping your vodka in the freezer before you make them);

- A slight hangover;

- Oysters at the Red Baron (more on that later) and a couscous lunch with old friends in Paris.

A great time was had by all. Thanks to Clotilde and David for making time for us, and our apologies to our friend Alisa for not being able to squeeze her into the schedule! And thanks to Barrett and Rebecca for coming and doting on our son (who in turn decided they were the most fun human playgrounds in the history of the world) and being the perfect guests. We are feeling a bit empty here Chez les Cutts tonight as they are on a plane back to Chicago.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:34 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
February 9, 2006
How I do Vegetarian Stir Fry

Stir Fry TofuWhen I was growing up my mom didnít ever make stir fry because she was never happy with any brown sauce she came across. But here is the recipe for a sauce that I picked up at a cooking class on the beach in Thailand. (Time for Lime--if you happen to be on Koh Lanta, I highly recommend it. In addition to teaching a rotating menu of Thai fusion dishes, they whip up a very good mojito (again with the mojitos!)) Iím so happy with it that it has assumed a standard rotation in our dinners. For the veggies, you can use whatever you want. I have a friend who grows organic Asian veggies locally, so I buy whatever heís gotóusually bok choy, tat soi and/or komatsuna. In addition I almost always use onion and green pepper, and maybe mushrooms and/or broccoli for the majority of the volume. Regardless, itís always garlic and ginger first and sesame seeds last.

Veggie Stir Fry

4 Tbs veggie oil for stir frying, or more depending on what veggies are being used (broccoli and eggplant are notorious for soaking up oil)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece of ginger, cut up real small
Roughly 10 c. assorted veggies (any of the above plus squash, baby corn, whateverís seasonal/local/fresh)
1 Tb sesame seeds

The Sauce

50 ml water
1 T chili paste
3 T oyster sauce (OK, so itís 99% vegetarian. I donít have access to mushroom sauce. Either is fine, just make sure itís the thick gloopy stuff)
3 T soy sauce
1 t sesame oil
1 t dry vermouth
1 t sugar
½ t black pepper

Cut up all the veggies first because once the stirring starts, it donít stop Ďtil the break of dawn (or until the food is cooked, whichever comes first). None of this "I'll cut up the onion while the broccoli is cooking" stuff. A separate prep bowl for things that require longer cooking time is a good idea.
Make the sauce
Heat wok well (Time for Lime has these gas burners that have the largest flames I've ever seen. The sort of burners that no builder would ever put in a house in the US due to fear of lawsuits)
Add vegetable oil
Add garlic and ginger (1-2 min.)
Add veggies starting with broccoli (if being used), then onion (until a little soft), then everything else (5-7 min)
Add oil tablespoon at a time, if needed
Add sauce
Add tofu (2 min to heat through)
Add sesame seeds

I like to serve this with mango nectar and some Thai pop music (oh wait...there's a reason there's just one Thai pop song in my iTunes).

Serves four, if you make rice, which you should because otherwise itís not an Asian meal. Did You Know?: In Thai, a common greeting is to say "Did you eat rice yet?" and you can't ask that question without the word "rice".

Some (OK, several) notes based on my experience with this dish:
*The recipe actually calls for veggie oil (4 T!) in the sauce as well, but I find that that makes the final dish too oily.
*You can steam broccoli separately and add it later with everything else, but Iím too lazy for that.
*If you want your tofu browned, cook that first, remove, and add back in at the end.
*If you buy too much of the Asian veggies (as I invariably do), just know that they go great in many soups.
*The first few times you make this you might consider adding 75% of the sauce and then, if you feel like it needs it, add the rest. I personally hate seeing sauce left in the wok when all the veggies are gone and would rather have it in a container in the fridge for next time.
*If I got them, I like to throw in some Thai peppers (not the bird chilies--the really small ones--but some bigger dried red ones) near the end for color and spice (in case anyone thinks the sauce isn't spicy enough).

Posted by Justin at 9:38 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 8, 2006
Comfort on a plate

comfort.jpgWhen I received my wonderful box of comfort from Angelika of the Flying Apple, I was delighted. I dived right into the chocolate and the Panforte Senese (a Siennese nougat-like pastry, yum). And just as I was on the point of diving into the ingredients for the Milanese risotto, the flu struck our household. Rice might have been a good remedy to our symptoms but I wasn't so sure about the saffron. I waited until we were well - and believe me, by then we were ready for some serious comfort - and finally I made the risotto. I followed the recipe that Angelika had helpfully posted on her site, determined for once to get it right. I've made risotto quite a few times, but have always felt like a distinct amateur, never sure I had "the" right rice or that I was getting the consistency right. I also admit (with a red face) that I had never used saffron, never having any in my kitchen for long. (It's all the Critic's fault, as he never brought me back a big bag from Turkey when he went there on business...)

So now I had the right rice, the saffron AND a charming recipe that called for "six handfuls of rice". Determined to follow the spirit of the recipe, I dutifully measured out six handfuls of rice (plus one more because my hands are a bit small). I also scattered a fair amount of raw rice over the stove top. I'm not the most graceful cook you'll meet, nor the neatest.

It was fantastic. Creamy, fragrant, just a tiny bite and none of the nasty stodge factor that has occasionally plagued me in the past. (I used half dry white wine and half home-made chicken broth, correctly assuming that wine would be better in such a simple dish than making up the lack of broth with industrially produced stock.) I really get the point of risotto now, in a way I never have in the past. I am eternally grateful to Angelika, not the least because I still have some rice AND some saffron left over. When I run out, I'm going to have to run down to Vienna and beg her to take me to the right shops in the Naschmarkt to replace my ingredients. But it will be worth it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
February 7, 2006
Spicy Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

veggiesoup2.jpgWe apologize for the temporary lapse in blogging. When Barrett and I actually find ourselves in the same room (and talk is free) the time just gets away from us. We've taken photos, we've talked about potential posts, we've drunk copious amounts of wine and we have not gotten around to actually updating the site.

Barrett and the Redhead have gone to the land of Rijstafel and so I can load the dishwasher, clean, download photos and think about putting up a post.

And so I turn to a dish that I created in anticipation of their visit. The Critic and I are omnivores. Yes, we eat vegetables. But we also eat meat. But on Sunday when I contemplated the upcoming arrival of Barrett and the Redhead (fish-eating vegetarians) I thought I could be clever with the dinner I made for myself and the other main carnivore in the family. I could make a soup which would work in BOTH worlds: vegetarian and meat-eating.

And I succeeded. In fact, I feel like this soup was substantial and tasty enough to make the meat superfluous. I added extra meat for the Critic when he called for it, but for myself next time around I'll leave it out altogether. The North African spice and the stodgy chickpeas left me feeling completely sated and able to contemplate a vegetarian existance...except for the addiction to the occasional slice of bacon or roast chicken. Oh yeah, and rare beef. But aside from that, I'd do fine. Especially with this soup.

Spicy Vegetarian Soup

2 carrots
1 zucchini
1 onion
1 leek
1 head of fennel, chopped in bite-size pieces
1 can (about 250 g) chickpeas, or the equivalent cooked
1 can (about 125 g) sweet corn
1 small red pepper, finely sliced (mine was a fresh Cayenne pepper)
250 ml of tomato sauce or 3-4 fresh tomatoes chopped finely
1 potato, chopped
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1/2 a head of fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp spicy paprika (or subsitute harissa - I didn't have any on hand)
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbs olive oil
OPTIONAL: 6 poultry merguez
1 liter vegetable broth

Sweat the onions and the leek (sliced in thin rounds) in the olive oil. When they are soft, add the ginger and garlic. Add the paprika and fennel seeds and cook for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until the vegetables are tender. Taste for salt, pepper and spiciness. Depending on your broth, you may need more salt. Depending on your audience, you may need more spice. You might also want to add some cooked poultry merguez, cut in small pieces and cooked until done.

Serve with toasted rounds of French bread that have been rubbed with fresh garlic. And feel healthy and superior for having a low-calorie, high-taste dinner that even your vegan friends won't reject. In fact, they'll come back for seconds! (Always providing you left out the merguez, of course...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:58 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack
February 4, 2006
Posts of The Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

What a week! We hit a half mil, the site goes past its bandwidth, we go blooie for a day and a half and now I'm off to see my chief co-conspirator Meg-a-rino in Paris-chino. But before I go... the Posts of the Week:

1. Cooking With Amy's latest post must be jell-o because jam don't shake like that. In fact, it's the entire City Of San Francisco done in Jello. If you squint and look REAL close you can see a tiny Karl Malden and young Michael Douglas chasing down a jiggly mugger.

A. From Buenos Aires, SaltShaker asks, "Did someone say, 'Salsa'?" and then doesn't wait for an answer before making a cool cucumber melon salsa with rocoto, a Peruvian pepper.

I. Culiblog has one of the most fascinating posts I've seen about growing your own food, using food as the growth medium. I'm not going to explain more, just run over there and see what I'm talking about.

It would of course be disrespectful to the Steelers and Seahawks to not pick a winner or talk a bti about the BIG GAME (not tm) on Sunday. So...

See you next week! (Did I mention I'm a Bears fan?)

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 3, 2006
Chocolate Chip Banana Cake

bananacake.jpgLast Sunday I hosted a book swap for the English-speaking mothers group I belong to here in Paris. This is the second event of the sort I've hosted and they really are enjoyable, bringing together a group of women with whom I already have two things in common: motherhood and books. Both are infintely fascinating subjects to those who have them in common. We can swap stories as we swap books, happy to hand our too-expensively bought English books to a willing recipient and happy to try something new for free.

Since the party was strategically timed for Universal Snack Time for those under ten (and children were expected) I turned to my faithful Fannie Farmer for inspiration on a sweet snack. And I found it in the Banana cake. As usual, though, I was inspired by my dear Fannie Farmer Cookbook but the reality actually strayed a bit from the track. For one thing, I never have cake flour on hand. I dream of a large walk-in pantry with room for barrels of rice and five kinds of flour. But in reality I ever have flour, all purpose organic unbleached flour. So already the "cake" was tending more to the "bread" category. In addition, I think more bananas will always make a banana cake better. Again, this makes it more dense and more bread-like.

On the other hand, when it's in the hands of a half dozen toddlers wandering around your living room density can be a good thing: it sticks together better.

Lastly, I added chocolate chips. Bananas and chocolate, a perfect marriage. I am pretty sure the toddlers agreed, though their vocabulary was limited and their verbal skills hampered by the cake.

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake

115 grams butter
1 1/5 cups or 300 grams sugar
2 1/2 medium bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (in French, lait ribot)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and lightly flour a 9 inch cake pan. Cream the butter, slowly add the sugar and beat until light. Add the bananas, eggs and vanilla and beat well. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and beat until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. If you want to be sure they are spread evenly through the cake, you can toss them with a bit of flour first. Mine sank a bit to the lower half of the cake, but it wasn't too bad. Spread the batter in the pan and baker for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. (I used a slightly smaller pan, which meant that it took a good 15 minutes longer to bake completely.) Cool in the pan for five minutes b efore turning out onto a rack.

According to the Fannie Farmer, you can fill the cake with Banana Cream Filling and frost it with Portsmouth frosting. I wouldn't recommend it, though, if you are planning on allowing toddlers to wander about with it. The chocolate chips more than make up for any lost richness from the lack of frosting. And because of the density (which was not in the original recipe) it can be eaten without a fork...which was essential for my target audience!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:28 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 2, 2006
Quinoa Veggie Jambalaya

[First of all, thanks, chefs, for letting me join the party. Long time reader, first time writer here. And now on to the recipe...]

Quinoa Veggie Jambalaya

Quinoa, an Andean staple, previously featured in this nontraditional TMC recipe, is a nice alternative to rice and especially good for vegetarians to incorporate into their diet due to its high protein content. Simply put, itís flat-out supergood for you.

While you may argue that this is a far cry from being down on the bayou, you canít dispute that itís a healthy, filling, and (most importantly) tasty dinner.

Quinoa Veggie Jambalaya

1 ¼ cup quinoa
1 T canola oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion
1 zucchini halved and cut into 1/2 slices
2 cups eggplant
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 ½ T dried parsley (or 3 T chopped fresh)
2 t dried oregano
1 t dried thyme
½ t salt
½ t black pepper

Combine the quinoa and 2 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed.

In a large saucepan heat the oil. Add the green pepper, onion, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, ¼ cup water and seasonings. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When ready to serve, fold in the cooked quinoa and cook for 5 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently. Pass the Tabasco sauce and salt at the table. I like to serve it up with a cold beer and some Louis Prima.

Easily feeds 4 adults

Once I substituted baby corn for celery (no celery at the store that day) and it was quite good.

Iíve had this file on my computer for a while and I have a note that says Courtesy of Vegetarian Times Vegetarian Entertaining. So if you hate it, complain to them.

Posted by Justin at 8:28 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
February 1, 2006
Technical Hiccups

We're having some growing pains here. If you notice some weirdness, it's temporary and it will pass. But if you notice anything really bad, let us know in the comments here.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:11 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
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