April 28, 2006
Sweet Plantains

Have you ever cooked with plantains? They look like bananas, but act very differently. Each plantain is a packet of starch. Recipes for green platains, in fact, treat them more like a potato than like a relative of the banana. Tostones are a Puerto Rican delicacy made with plantains using garlic and frying plantain slices twice, and its delicious.

We, however are going with a use for black plantains. You wouldn't buy a banana that was mostly black, but if you want to make a sweet dessert with plantains, this is exctly what you want. As the plantain ages, the starches inside break down and mellow into simpler sugars.

Peeling the plantain is more difficult that peeling a banana. I recommend scoring the peel and getting an initial cut started before you pull the peel down off the plantain. What's inside looks a lot like a rich banana, with a slightly more intense golden tint. The fruit will be firmer than most green bananas.

This recipe is in the same family as bananas foster, and if you wanted to, you could add the liquor and extra butter to make a plantains foster. This is a little lighter and a little healthier than that classic Big Easy dish and is still delicious.

Sweet Plantains

2 plantains, black peels, firm fruit, peeled, sliced into 1/2" rounds
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered cloves

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves together well.

Melt the butter over high heat in a medium to small skillet. Arrange the plantains in the skillet and sautee for about 30 seconds. Flip and sautee for another 30 seconds.

Add the brown sugar mix to the pan, sprinkling over all the plantains. Stir well to distribute sugar on plantains. If you can do the pan flip thing, flip the plantains in the pan repeatedly to coat them evenly with the butter and sugar. If you can't, stir occasionally, flipping the plantain slices over from time to time.

Continue sauteeing for about 5 minutes until the sugar carmelizes and the plantains get a nice dark coating of the mix.

Serve with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:29 AM | Comments (11)
April 27, 2006
Aioli-inspired Poblano Chicken Sandwich

This matzo ball soup recipe calls for the flavor of chicken, but not the meat, so here's a great thing to whip up to use that tender cooked chicken.
Poblano_chicken_sandwich_jf.jpg
I ended making this up mostly because when I bought chilis for these delicious enchiladas I was told the minimum was a quarter of a kilo. Turns out that's a lot of dried peppers when you only need 3 or 4 for the enchiladas. These dried poblanos in the coffee grinder is my new favorite thing.

Aioli-inspired Poblano Chicken Sandwich

1 dried poblano chili
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 t salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 c olive oil
2 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded

Take the seeds out of the chili and discard of the stem. Cut the chili into small pieces and put in a coffee grinder. Pulse until a powder has been made.

Combine garlic, salt, egg yolk and chili powder in a medium bowl. Drizzle oil while whisking. Add the chicken and mix well with spoon. Add more salt if desired.

Put it on a roll with condiments of your choice. I went with a few slices of tomato, radish and spinach as you can see from the photo.

Posted by Justin at 8:03 AM | Comments (6)
April 26, 2006
Fankhauser put to the test (gingerly)

Among my favorite non-blogging food pages is David Fankhauser's Cheese page. Fankhauser, a professor of biology and chemistry at Cincinnati's Clermont College provides instructions for making all sorts of cheeses and a couple of soft drinks as well. Basically, if it ferments or if yeast or rennet is involved, Fankhauser's your man.

One of his soft drink recipes is for homemade ginger ale. I don't drink sugared sodas much, but I've always been a fan of ginger ale and with a simple recipe like Fankhauser's I couldn't resist trying.

So here's day one of my test of David Fankhauser's ginger ale recipe.

It all starts with sugar. Ever wonder how much sugar is in that two liter of pop? Try 1 cup. That's what we start with, mixed with 1/4 teaspoon of granular baker's yeast.

Kind of a lot, eh? Well the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are much more wholesome. I'll use a microplane grater to grate up 2 tablespoons of ginger, and mix it with the juice of one lemon. Stir this up into a slurry and funnel it into the bottle.

(By the way, I've already learned a valuable lesson from this adventure. I need a funnel. The piece of paper rolled into a cone and pressed to serve works fine for dry ingredients, but it doesn't like slurry so much. Still, perseverence got all the goop in the bottle.)

Fill the rest of the bottle up with clean pure cold water and invert it several times to dissolve the sugar. I discovered a lemon seed floating in my bottle. We'll see how that affects the final product.

Make sure you leave about an inch of air in the top as "head space". With luck, our yeastie beasties will love this sugar filled environment and will produce lots and lots of CO2. It will also produce a tiny bit of alcohol, but we're all adults here, and it's not very much after all (about .4% according to Fankhauser).

Place the bottle in a warm place for 24-48 hours. I'm choosing near the radiator.

It's been just cold enough in Chicago that we still have the heat on. It's certainly warmer than anywhere else in the house. I know because I frequently find the cats curled up around this particular radiator

We'll check back in in 2 days to see if the experiment was a success or if it's a bust. Stay tuned.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:35 AM | Comments (4)
April 25, 2006
Cabbage Gratin with Cheddar and Mustard Seeds

I really like Barret's recipe for Cabbage and Lentil Salad. It was one of the first of his recipes that I tried myself and in fact I believe it was the first recipe he posted on this site. I've even reviewed it. It's a tangy, healthy salad and the flavours stand up well to the strong earthy flavours of a leafy savoy cabbage. The only snag? One half a head is a lot of salad, especially when you are the only cabbage eater in the family. The second half of the cabbage sits in the vegetable bin, staring up at me reproachfully for the next three weeks every time I open the refrigerator. It takes up a lot of space, but because cabbage can keep for a good long while in a vegetable bin, I can't justify throwing it away.

So with the Critic away in Canada this week, I've set myself the task of experimenting with vegetables and started with the long-lasting cabbage. I flicked through my two vegetarian cookbooks first and then tried the Fannie Farmer, the Brits and even the Indian cookbook. In the end, I opted for a dish from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Except that, being me, I jazzed it up.

The result was pretty tasty. If you are a cabbage hater, it probably won't convert you. But if you are a cabbage lover (and in need of a lot of folic acid...Barbara?) you will undoubtedly like it.

The cheddar and the mustard seeds were my twist on the Madison recipe. I wasn't in the mood for an experimenting with egg, cream and tomato paste - it just didn't appeal. But mustard seed is lovely with cabbage, stands up well to that overpowering flavour. And cheddar is a natural with both the cabbage family (such as broccoli) and with mustard. I have also been on a bit of a mustard seed kick lately: I love the crunch of those tiny round seeds.

To my surprise, not only did I like the gratin, but the mini-Critic did too. He didn't do his lean-foward-mouth-open-while-saying-EHHHHH thing like he does for baked beans on toast, but he ate a good 3/4 of a cup of it. And that's good vitamins; I was happy.

Cabbage Gratin with Cheddar and Mustard Seeds

Butter and bread crumbs for the dish (about a tablespoon of each)
1 1/2 pounds green or Savoy cabbage, sliced (about half a large head)
1/3 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup creme fraiche
3 eggs
170 grams grated sharp cheddar cheese (or more - that was all I had but I think the recipe could take more if you like your cheddar and have the wherewithal)
half a dozen mushrooms
1 small onion
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs mustar seeds
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper - generous sprinkling of each

Preheat the oven to 375F/180C. Butter a souffle or gratin dish and coat the sides with the bread crumbs.

Melt the 2 Tbs butter in a deep frying pan and add the onion, sliced in thin half rounds. While the onions are cooking, clean and slice the mushrooms. Add them to the pan and soften them. Add the mustard seed and cook for a moment or two on a slightly higher heat. Add the cabbage, stir and cover. I added about a third of a cup of boiling water from the kettle to speed up the cooking process when, after a few minutes, the cabbage did not seem to be wilting. The recipe calls for plunging it in salted boiling water for five minutes: you can choose your method but the idea is to get it at least partially cooked before constructing the gratin.

Remove the cabbage, mushroom and onion mixture to a bowl. In the remaining butter, stir the flour until incorporated. If there isn't enough butter left, you can add another tablespoon or two. (The recipe is vegetarian; I never claimed it was fat-free!) Slowly add the milk, whisking rapidly to avoid lumps. Stir in the cheese and continue stirring until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add the creme fraiche. In the measuring cup you used for the milk (for example) beat the eggs lightly. Add a bit of the warm cheese sauce to the eggs. Then pour the eggs into the cheese sauce. Stir well with the whisk.

Plop the cabbage and mushroom mixture in the gratin dish and pour the egg and cheese mixture over it. Sprinkle the top with the parmesan and bake until set and browned on the top: about 30 minutes.

Serve warm with a hearty red and crusty bread. It really is a very satisfying dish, though when I sat down to finish the leftovers the next day I was starting to feel glad about seeing the end of that cabbage. The Boy, as mentioned, thought it was a perfectly respectable dinner.

Bring on the peas, asparagus, beans, tomatoes and all those other vegetables we haven't seen in this long, damp winter!

A note on the lack of photos: I foolishly volunteered to help with the desktop publishing of a book being produced by the mothers group I belong to in Paris and they have yet to get my laptop back to me. Until they do, photos are difficult. But you know what cabbage looks like, right?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:20 PM | Comments (6)
April 23, 2006
Zucchini Dry Pie

I'm sure someone else has made pies like this, but I haven't found them so until proven otherwise, I'm claiming naming rights. Meet the dry pie.

I call this a "dry" pie because there's no sauce, no eggs, no goop, none of the more liquid elements often associated with pie.

One could add eggs and cream to make a quiche out of this recipe, but I think part of its charm is in the fact it's light and flavorful with very little besides vegetables in it. The result is a pie that doesn't stay in wedge form so well, but that is very tasty.

The juice released by the tomatoes and jalapenos flavor the zucchini and the need for a bit of fat is fully satisfied by the butter in the crust and the cheese on top. You'd think the tomatoes would be too juicy for this pie, but that's why we keep it down to just two tomatoes.

If you want to make a dry pie, make sure you have ingredients that will release just a bit of moisture, and not ones that will soak the crust. Zucchini is a great choice, but you could add corn or beans or broccoli or bell peppers to this dish easily.

You may recognize the crust - I pinched it from my own Mexican black bean tart recipe.

Zucchini dry pie
Two zucchini, sliced very thin
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4" semi-rings
3 oz. shredded chihuahua cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into 32 small cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
pinch of salt

Crust:
Sift AP and cornmeal and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the bitter in and mix with your hands and/or a fork until the mix looks like a uniform mix of tiny crumbs or meal. You want to break the butter down, but not melt it too much.

Mix in the ice water well. You may need less water if the air is humid. I made this one on a very dry winter day.

Form the dough into a ball in your hands. Flour the worksurface and flatten the ball out into a disk. Roll the disk out into the appropriate shape for the pan you are using. You may need to fold the whole mess in again, rotate and reroll the dough.

Once it holds together well and is large enough, move the dough into the tart pan and press down to make sure it squares off at the sides. Patch any holes and trim any overhang.

Prick the bottom with a fork several times. If you wish, you may add a piece of parchment and some pie weights to keep bubbles from forming. Place the crust in the 400 F oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. If you have extra dough left over, make braids out of it and bake in the oven with the crust for chef's treat breadstick.

Filling:
Toss the slices of zucchini with the olive oil and a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. In a prepared crust, lay a casual, messy layer of zucchini, a layer of tomato, a layer of zucchini, a layer of tomato until you use up all the zucchini and tomato.

Top with jalapeno slices, then add the cheese over all. Bake in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes or until top starts to brown. Cool for two minutes before slicing.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:34 PM | Comments (1)
April 22, 2006
What's for Pud? Grown-up Bread and Butter Pudding

BandBfinished.jpgI hope that Sam and Monkey Gland will forgive me, but I prepared my entry for St. George's Day a bit outside the suggested time constraints. In fact, I knew the Critic would be in Canada on St. George's Day (visiting the Dominions, don't you know, old boy...) and so much of the point of making an English pudding would be lost without an English Critic. Instead, I prepared mine on Easter, for an all English group (myself and the half-breed Boy aside).

From the start, I had a bit of confusion about what exactly I was making. I told the Critic I was planning on making bread pudding. "Mmnh," he grunted. "It's okay. Why aren't you making Bread and Butter Pudding - I like it a lot better?" So I described what I intended to do - soft bread, soft custard, baking, raisins - and he told me that WAS bread and butter pudding. "What is bread pudding, then?" I asked. "I'm pretty sure that in the US, this is what we call bread pudding." He didn't know. All he knew was that it was stodgy and dense and not nearly as nice.

I turned to the Food Lover's Companion, which I bought at an exorbitant price some years ago at W.H. Smith's in Paris. (What a wasted extravagance THAT turned out to be, as the whole thing is available - and searchable - on www.epicurious.com for free.) FLC had the following information:

bread pudding
A simple, delicious baked dessert made with cubes or slices of bread saturated with a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Chopped fruit or nuts also can be added. Bread and butter pudding is made by buttering the bread slices before adding the liquid mixture. Both may be served hot or cold with cream or a dessert sauce.

Sounds very simple, no? However, every British person I consulted confirmed that there was a real difference between the two dishes and it didn't sound like a simple matter of butter/no butter. In the end, I found the solution to this conundrum at good old Wikipedia. Here is the entry for Bread Pudding:

"Bread pudding is a dessert popular in British cuisine and that of the Southeast U.S., made using stale (usually left-over) bread, suet, egg, sugar or golden syrup, spices, and dried fruit.
The bread is soaked (often overnight), squeezed dry, and mixed with the other ingredients. The mixture is transferred into a dish and baked.

It may be served with a sweet sauce of some sort, such as whiskey sauce, rum sauce, or caramel sauce, but is typically sprinkled with sugar and eaten cold in squares or slices.

Bread pudding should not be confused with Bread and butter pudding."

Stodge city. So now you know and so do we. I wisely opted for the rich, light Bread and Butter Pudding. And to make it a little more special, I added a grown-up ingredient: prunes à l'Armagnac. The result was exactly what I wanted: sweet without being cloying, delicate and yet very satisfying. Comfort food of the highest order, with an adult alcohol edge.

BandBpud.jpg
Isn't this a lovely photo? Don't you love the glinting light?

Bread AND Butter Pudding

I adapted this recipe from the inimitable Mrs. Beeton's Cookery for All. Due to far too many hours of watching Ready Steady Cook, I knew that brioche would make a lovely substitution for plain white bread. Ainsley, et al., were correct: the brioche made a wonderfully light, sweet pudding. If you don't happen to have prunes in Armagnac hanging about your liquor cabinet or kitchen, you could double the raisins, soak them in rum for a few hours and drain them before using.

Butter for greasing and buttering (several tablespoons if you are generous like me)
4 thin slices of bread or brioche (mine used 6 thick-ish slices)
50 g (a small handful) of raisins
50 g (about a dozen) prunes, soaked in Armagnac
a grating of nutmeg (to taste)
400 ml milk
2 eggs
25 g sugar

Grease a 1 litre pie dish, or a small Corningware souffle dish. Do not cut the crusts off the brioche, as suggested by Mrs. B. Butter the slices and place a layer, butter side up, in the dish. Sprinkle raisins and/or prunes. Lay another level of buttered brioche or bread and repeat until you have used up the bread and fruit, ending with bread on the top. (As you can see in the photo, I didn't have enough bread for a complete layer on the last one, so instead I cubed the last bit of bread and scattered it over the top.) Beat the eggs and milk together, with half the sugar. Pour the mixture over the bread and fruit. Grate the nutmeg over the dish and then sprinkle it with the remaining sugar.

Let the pudding sit in a corner for anywhere from half an hour to two hours (if it's more than that, you really should put it in the refrigerator while waiting). Preheat the oven to 180C. Bake 30-40 minutes, until it is set but still soft and a bit browned in bits on top. Allow to cool for ten minutes or so before serving, with cream or custard if you like. Actually on its own it's just dandy: creamy and soft and exgremely satisfying.

After his second bite, the Critic said suspiciously, "Did you put ALCOHOL in this?" and I responded apologetically "No, but I used prunes in Armagnac - is it okay?" And he said, "It's GREAT."

Note: if you are super organised and want to include the prunes in Armagnac, you'll need to start this pudding at least a month in advance. Take a kilo of prunes from Agen (with the pits) and prick each one with a pin or a needle. Put them in a bowl and cover them with tea. Let the prunes steep for a few hours or even over night. Drain the prunes. Rinse out a couple of big jars (the one's with the rubber ring and a metal clasp are best) with boiling water. Fill the jars three quarters of the way with the prunes and cover with Armagnac. It doesn't have to be the best quality Armagnac. Over time, the liquor will become a thick, sweet, plum flavoured nectar. After a few weeks, you can start dipping into the prunes. Serve them over ice cream or simply in a small glass with a tot of the liquor. You'll undoubtedly find yourself finish the liquor more quickly than the prunes. And when you do, you can use up a dozen of the prunes in a lovely bread and butter pudding!


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Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:27 AM | Comments (16)
April 20, 2006
Great Balls of Matzo

matzo_ball_soup_jf.jpgIt ain't Passover without matzo ball soup. Of course, there is some general disagreement as to what makes the perfect ball. Some swear by butter, others schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, from the German word "to melt"). Some cook in broth, others separately in salt water. Some crowd the pot with balls, others give them room to mingle. Some like them soft and light, others prefer dense and hard. I could go on and on. The Jews are happy to study and debate any topic to death (see the Midrash) The recipe I followed (butter, salt water, crowded leading to soft and light) comes from Bon Appétit and is overly and unnecessarily complex. I've done my best to trim it down. I find that you can just cook the balls in the soup and I reduce the amount of veggies that go into the broth (because my biggest pot is only 8 quarts). If you have a bigger pot and are serving more than 8 people, by all means add all the veggies.

The recipe calls for the soup to only have the broth and matzo balls, but, they say (as if you need permission) you can add a piece of chicken and/or thick slice of vegetable to each bowl. Later this week, I'll show you what I did with the chicken meat.

Lemon-scented Chicken Soup with Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls

1 4 1/2- to 5-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
5 quarts cold water
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 pound onions, quartered
3/4 pound carrots, peeled, thickly sliced
4 large celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
10 large fresh dill sprigs
10 large fresh Italian parsley sprigs
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 thin lemon slices

Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls

4 large eggs
5 tablespoons stick margarine / butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 cups matzo meal
1/2 cup club soda

First make the matzo batter: Whisk eggs in medium bowl until frothy. Whisk in melted margarine, salt, and pepper, then herbs. Gradually mix in matzo meal. Stir in club soda. Cover and chill batter until cold and firm, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. [I got away with chilling for 1 hour]

While that's chillin', make the broth: [Place chicken in large bowl. Add boiling water to cover. Let stand 2 minutes; drain well. Using small knife, scrape skin to remove any surface fat. Rinse with cold water; drain again.--all this I found totally unnecessary, although the first time I made the soup, I did this step]

Bring 5 quarts water to boil in heavy large pot. Add chicken. Return to boil, skimming impurities . Cook until broth is clear, skimming as needed and stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add onions, carrots, and celery. Partially cover and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until chicken and vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add dill and parsley to soup; simmer 3 minutes. Strain into clean pot.

Then cook the balls: Using wet hands and 1 heaping teaspoonful (hmm...the print edition says 1 level tablespoon) for each, shape batter into matzo balls. Drop matzo balls into soup. Cover partially and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until matzo balls are tender, about 1 hour.

Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Add 1 lemon slice and matzo balls to each. [Maybe it's because I had to use lime, but I really didn't like the lime juice addition. The second time I made this, I left it out and was much happier with the result]

The original recipes (with additional veggies, extra steps, and instructions for making the soup and balls in advance) are here and here.

Posted by Justin at 11:50 AM | Comments (7)
April 19, 2006
Bad Brisket! Bad!

Spiced_Brisket_Apricots_jf.jpgI know, I know. I should have just used my mom's recipe for brisket this Passover. But I wanted to try out some of the recipes in the Bon Appétit (that is why we get a subscription isn't it?) so I pulled the following recipe after being drawn in by the picture.

I don't know if we've every steered you away from making something here on our website, but in the spirit of full disclosure, not every last thing we make turns out to be Restaurant Quality. Part of the problem was that the cut I had was extremely uneven, resulting in a piece of meat that was tender (more or less) in some areas and tough in others. That you can probably avoid, but the sauce, in my opinion, was very disappointing. It was just too winey and one-dimentional. The only part I really thought was good were the apricots, so maybe next year I'll throw some of them into my mom's recipe.

And Meg, because I know you're wondering what I'm doing with a meat recipe, we have a Cultural Exception to the vegetarian kitchen. It's Passover, so you got to have brisket and matzo ball chicken soup (that recipe, worth making, to be posted soon).

So, anyhow, try this at your own risk (my less-than-appetizing photo itself ought to turn you off). Others at the table liked it (so you may too), but I had been cooking for about three straight days so they probably knew better than to criticize anything.

Spiced Brisket with Leeks and Dried Apricots

2 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-pound flat-cut (first-cut) brisket, well-trimmed

2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
24 whole dried apricots, divided
10 garlic cloves, peeled
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Turkish bay leaves
2 cups dry red wine

1 tablespoon matzo cake meal

Chopped fresh cilantro

Stir first 8 ingredients in small bowl. Arrange brisket in large roasting pan; spread spice mixture evenly over both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat broiler. Uncover brisket. Broil until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Turn brisket fat side up in pan.

Set oven temperature to 325°F. Sprinkle leeks, onion, 12 apricots, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves around brisket. Pour wine over. Cover pan with heavy-duty foil and bake brisket until tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Uncover; cool 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer brisket to work surface. Pour juices into large measuring cup. Spoon off fat, reserving 1 tablespoon. Thinly slice brisket across grain on slight diagonal; overlap slices in 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 cup degreased pan juices over brisket; cover with foil. Stir reserved 1 tablespoon fat and matzo cake meal in medium saucepan over medium heat 3 minutes. Add remaining degreased pan juices; add remaining 12 apricots. Simmer until sauce thickens and boils, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover brisket and sauce separately and chill.) Rewarm covered brisket in 350°F oven 30 minutes or 45 minutes if chilled. Rewarm sauce over low heat.

Sprinkle brisket with cilantro and serve with sauce.

Posted by Justin at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)
April 18, 2006
Lancashire Hotpot

hotpot.jpgI first came across the recipe for a Lancashire Hotpot in Real Good Food, my first Nigel Slater cookbook. I'd been reading his column in the Observer with increasing enthusiasm, and Real Good Food was an appropriate first book for someone who liked his column as it reads like a simple reprint of them with a table of contents and index. What drew me to the hotpot was the fact that it comes from Lancashire. The Critic lived in Lancaster for several years before I met him and was enthusiastic in singing its praise. So in the early days of our relationship it was natural that my eyes were drawn to a Lancashire recipe.

Unfortunately, the Critic is also fairly unenthusiastic about lamb, so it has taken me a while to get round to trying this recipe, which is based on leftover lamb.

Actually, let me correct that: Nigel's recipe specifies that it requires leftover lamb and to me it seems natural to use leftover meat. But the other recipes I've found - on the BBC food site, for example - call for raw lamb that you brown before assembling the casserole. I think Nigel and I have it right. If you have fresh lamb meat, why go through the hassle of cooking it twice?

I have to say we were not disappointed by the result. The roast lamb became meltingly tender as it stewed in gravy in the oven over nearly three hours. Because I had already roasted the meat, it was easy to eliminate the fat before putting it in the casserole (the Critic hates fat and gristle with a passion) and the roasted meat brought a lot of flavour to the dish. What's more, I sacrificed about a half a cup of precious gravy for the dish, adding a richness and depth that otherwise would have been missing.

If you have a bit of leftover gravy, some roasted lamb meat and a few hours, I can think of nothing better to do with them.

Lancashire Hotpot (serves two generously)

400 grams roasted lamb meat
200 grams onions (about thee or four)
200 grams potatoes
1/2 cup gravy
1/2 cup stock or water
1-2 Tbs flour
2-3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
salt, thyme
4-6 Tbs butter, divided

Cut the lamb meat in slices and layer it on the bottom of a small casserole. Slice the onion in thin rings and cook them in half the butter until soft and starting to brown on the edges. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Add the thyme, gravy, water (or stock) and Worcestershire sauce and stir until a bit thickened. Pour the onion and gravy mixture over the lamb. Salt and pepper generously. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly. Layer them, overlapping, on the lamb and onions. Salt the potatoes and dot them with the remaining butter. Cover with aluminum foil or a proper cover and put in a low heat oven (140 degrees Celsius) for at least an hour and a half. Remove the cover and turn up the heat to 190 degrees Celsius for the last half hour. If you have the time, you might want to bake it at the lower heat for even longer: it will only enrich the sauce and make the potatoes more tender.

At the end, you'll have a savoury casserole with stubstance but not too stodgy. Although it has the same basic ingredients as a Shepherd's pie (bar the tomato sauce) it is much less heavy and the meat is deliciously tender. It was worth the wait.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:48 PM | Comments (0)
April 17, 2006
Queen Mary's Cheese Biscuits

QMbiscuits.jpgA few months ago I picked up a bargain book in a bazaar that was being held in the hotel where we were staying in England. It only cost a pound and looked mildly interesting: Royal Chef, Forty Years with Royal Households by Gabriel Tschumi (as told to Joan Powe). What I like about books such as this is the window they give on how food used to be seen, how it was made, what people thought was really the best of the best.

The book starts out with young Gabriel's arrival in London from Switzerland after his cousin - Queen Victoria's dresser - recommends him for a position of cook's apprentice. It then takes us through the height of Edwardian decadence into the war years, jazz and rationing and all seen through the eyes of the changing taste of the royal family. After finishing it, I was reminded of the old saying "Youth is wasted on the young", except that I mentally inserted the words "wealth" and "rich" instead. Sweet Gabriel Tschumi is very loyal and devoted to his royal patrons and doesn't reveal any spicy details about their lives. (The worst story he has is about how Queen Mary - horrors - requested a night tray of sandwiches and consommé and staff were convinced it was so that she could spoil her dogs, against the vet's orders.) But the lack of spice in their dinners is extraordinary. Never have so many toiled for so long for so little taste is all I can say in looking at the recipes. Chicken which is poached, then shredded then reconstructed and set in jelly. Rod Grod, which seems to be a slightly more sophisticated kind of Jell-O. Meat or potatoes danoise which simply seems to mean "with a milk sauce over it". So many courses, so little flavour.

However, I did find one little gem: Queen Mary's Cheese Biscuits. Of all the royals, according to Tschumi, she is the one who had the most respect for good cooking and most interest in what was served. (Her husband George, apparently was a big fan of the most boring curry concocted by man and otherwise favored the kind of food you get in an average boarding school.) She liked these biscuits and so do I. They are not low calorie. They practically melt in your mouth with the butter and cheese making up two-thirds of the weight. But at the same time, they have a kind of flakiness that is very satisfying. I served them with a cream of asparagus soup and they added a nice elegant touch.

One other thing I appreciated about these biscuits is how easily they were put together. I suddenly remembered I meant to make them about halfway through the dinner preparation and it took me literally minutes to mix them, roll them and put them on baking sheets (not counting the 15 minutes the dough spent in the fridge because I was using very soft butter). I wasn't timing the baking time exactly, but it was about fifteen minutes until they were just slightly golden and set.

Here is Gabriel Tshumi's Recipe as included in the book (my notes follow):

"Take four oz. of grated parmesan cheese, 4 oz. of butter and 4 oz. of flour and mix into a paste on a board. Roll out thin, cut into shapes and bake on a greased tray in a medium oven for about 20 minutes. They should not be allowed to brown too greatly. At Marlborough House they were always stamped out with a round or oblong biscuit-cutter."

I did not mix the paste on a board; I dumped all three ingredients in my KitchenAid and mixed on low for a minute or two until it all came together. Because the butter I was using was very soft, I decided not to try rolling the dough until it had chilled a bit. If you use soft but not REALLY soft butter you shouldn't need this step. In fact, I got it a bit too cold and so it took a few minutes before the dough warmed sufficiently to roll out. When I did, though, I found to my surprise that it's a very robust dough, keeping together quite well even when rolled to half a centimeter or less. They were fairly easy to lift intact with a spatula and place on a sheet of baking parchment, which is what I used instead of greasing the pan. I baked them on the lower tray of the oven under the lamb, which was roasting at 180C/350F.

As you can see in the photo, they look like ordinary biscuits on the top, but when you flip them over you can see the crisp delectable cheese. Parmesan worked very well, but I think that next time I might jazz them up by using a sharp cheddar instead. Alternatively, some rings of green olives pressed into the Parmesan version would be very tasty too.

If you are interested in reading this book, I am sorry to say that I have been unable to find a reference to it on Powells.com or Amazon.com. It was published by William Kimber and Co. Limited of London in 1954 and mine is the 1974 reprint edition. The ISBN is 07183 0433 0. You could try ebay...or drop me an email and if you are nice and promise to return it I'll lend it to you!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:11 AM | Comments (10)
April 16, 2006
One a penny, two a penny...Hot Cross Buns!

HCB.jpgA couple of years ago, the Critic showed us his (English) version of Hot Cross Buns. In a spirit of conjugal competition, I promised to show him MY buns the next year. Well for one reason or another (mostly having to do with being on different continents on Easter day) he didn't have the pleasure last year. But now it's once again the time of the year when I seek out Kosher Easter Eggs for dyeing and planning a nice lamb dinner.

Since I now have a beautiful red KitchenAid (have I mentioned that once or twice already?) I was twice as happy to dig out my the book of my grandmother's recipes and research my cultural heritage. To my surprise, I found that the two recipes were not as dissimilar as I had thought. With allspice in place of nutmeg and only slightly different proportions, the two were very similar until it came to the finishing touches. Nothing explains that weird pastry cross thing the English do. (Though the Critic rightly pointed out that his buns were much more photogenic.)

I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to set a lovely elastic yeast dough. I'm getting more confident with the KitchenAid and therefore better at judging the right amount of flour to add before removing the dough hook. I bought a kilo of organic bread flour at the market on Saturday and I know I'll be going back to that stand. The quality of the dough compared with the bread I made a couple of months ago was night and day. As I kneaded the dough it stayed elastic and warm in my hands. I didn't have to add much flour as I was kneading to keep it from sticking to the counter, not because it was dry but because it was so beautifully tight. Add on top of that the comforting scent of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, cloves and allspice and you have a delightful dough.

I am not as good as my grandmother at glazing the buns, but when I first watched her doing it she had some fifty years of experience. So perhaps someday I'll be showing my granddaughter (or son) how to make them and making it look easy.

Hot Cross Buns (makes about 2 dozen buns)

1 package or 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups milk, scalded
1 cup (225 g) butter
1/2 cup (105 g) sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
3 tsp vamilla
4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
approximately 1.25 kg organic bread flour
currants and rasins (a cup or more, depending on how much you like them)

Heat the milk nearly to boiling point, add the butter and half cup sugar and mix well. Allow to cool. In the meantime, mix the teaspoon of sugar and warm water water in the basin of your mixing bowl and pour the yeast over the top. When the milk and butter mixture has cooled and the yeast mixture looks frothy and lively, add the milk and butter and the eggs to the mixing bowl. Mix for a moment or two, and then start adding the flour. After about a half of a kilo of flour has gone into the bowl, add the vanilla and spices. Continue mixing and adding flour until the dough sticks to the beater (about a kilo of flour). Stop the machine, scrape down the edges of the bowl and then start it up again on about the midway point of speed. Let it knead for about five minutes. I mixed in the raisins at this point, mainly because I forgot the recipe calls for adding them after the last rising. It worked fine and so why not let the machine do the work?

Turn off the machine and remove the hook, scraping the dough down into the bowl. It should be elastic and stick together well. Place in a warm spot, covered (in the US, an oven with a pilot light is idea - here in France I usually turn on the oven for a few seconds only and then leave the oven light on) for an hour, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until it becomes tight and smooth. You may need to add flour to keep it from sticking to the work surface or your fingers. If you have the time, let the dough rise again for an hour in a warm place.

risendough.jpg

I forgot to mention punching down. Most recipes tell you to punch down the dough when it has finished rising but most of the time I don't bother - I just turn it out onto a floured surface and start kneading. It's kind of disturbing looking when you do. But I would guess it's therapeutic if you are going through a stressful period in your life.

When you are ready to form your buns, punch the dough, turn it out and give it a quick kneading, just enough to bring the dough together and eliminate the air. Grease a sided pan to contain the rolls. Cut of a lump of dough about the size of a small woman's fist. Pull the sides of the dough down and around to a point which will be the bottom of the roll, so that you have a nice smooth top. Plop the rolls in the pan, with about a centimeter of empty space between them. Use scissors to cut a cross in the top of each roll. Allow them to rise one last time for 45 minutes to an hour and then bake at 350/180c for 35 minutes or until they are brown on the top and the pans sound hollow when tapped on the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Allow them to cool and while they are doing so make the glaze. Bring a cup or so of water to a boil (you won't need that much, but less than that and it will all boil away before you use it). Put a cup or more of powdered sugar in a bowl. Add a few drops of vanilla extract. SLOWLY add a few drops of the hot water and stir. Add a few more drops. Continue until you have a nice thick glaze. It's very easy to add too much water and very difficult to correct unless you have loads of powdered sugar to spare. Drizzle the glaze in the cross in the dough of the cooled buns. I may get the hang of it before the boy hits puberty...

To me, this recipe is much more satisfying than the ones we had two years ago. A thick sugar glaze in concentrated areas gives a bigger sweet bite, but keeps the crisp crust of the buns. I thought the Critics buns were a little drier, though he contests this. In any case, we have discovered that - for once - we are not so culturally divided as we had thought.

Happy Easter everyone!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:34 AM | Comments (0)
April 13, 2006
(Another) Flourless Chocolate Cake

flourless_choco_orange_jf.jpgIt's Passover 2006/5766 and, in preparation, the first thing I went looking for was a chocolate cake recipe. In the spirit of trying something new (and becoming a certified expert in all things rich and chocolatety) I gave this recipe from Bon Appétit a shot. It's perfect just the way it is; I see no need to make any adjustments.

Compared to this chocolate cake, this one here is more "cakey" for lack of a better term, as opposed to "fudgey". I also really like the orange flavor of this, which gives it another dimension and makes you feel healthy because you're getting a little vitamin C. Right. But keep in mind that this one is simply more work to make. You end up with an enormous quantity of dirty bowls, spoons, mixers, and spatulas to clean. But it's worth it; everyone really enjoyed it (halfway through dessert, it dawned on a few people that I had made (not purchased) this cake). Suffice it to say, this cake is a really good way to make friends and influence people. Great for the end of a Passover meal or for any other time. Makes you wonder why anyone would ever buy one of those tasteless dry boxed cake.

More Passover recipes to come. Stay tuned.

Flourless Chocolate-Orange Almond Cake

Pareve kosher-for-Passover margarine, melted (I used regular butter)
1 1/4 cups whole almonds (6 to 7 ounces)
1 cup sugar, divided
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
6 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I used a tsp of the good Madagascarian extract)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Note: Save yourself some cleaning up by dividing the eggs into the bowls that you'll end up beating them in. Also, when folding batters that have no flour, it takes some patience, but fear not--you'll get there. Don't give up; it does take a bit of time.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush bottom of 10-inch-diameter springform pan generously with margarine. Blend almonds and 1/4 cup sugar in processor until almonds are finely ground. Add chocolate; blend until chocolate is finely ground, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally.

Whisk cocoa, orange juice, and orange peel in small bowl until smooth. Combine egg yolks and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Using electric mixer, beat until yolk mixture is very thick, about 4 minutes. Beat in cocoa mixture. Fold in ground-almond mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and salt in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until whites are stiff but not dry. Fold whites into chocolate batter in 3 additions. Transfer to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on rack. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with foil; store at room temperature.)

Cut around cake in pan; release sides. Cut cake into wedges. Transfer to plates. (Did you really need to be told to do that?)

Posted by Justin at 8:18 AM | Comments (7)
April 12, 2006
Quinoa Caprese


There is literally nothing I like better right now for a healthy lunch or dinner course than a salad caprese. Take slices of a red ripe fragrant tomato, put fresh buffala mozarella and basil leaves between and hit it all with a shot of olive oil, salt, and pepper. If your mozarella is moist and fresh, and your tomatoes flavorful, it's very hard to beat.

Shape magazine this month publishes a recipe that extends the salad caprese into a more complete meal by adding quinoa and arugula. We subscribe to a couple of mainstream cooking magazines, but we also get recipes from The Redhead's fitness mags. Shape is one of the more reliable sources for healthy recipes that we're actually willing and eager to eat. No beet-loaf here.

I'm writing this one up, but The Redhead did all the cooking last night and those are obviously her and not my hands in the photo above. I've been under the weather and she's filled in for me making dinner a few times the last week or so, so I figure I can return the favor with the writeup.

We changed the recipe minimally, mostly to substitute vegetable for chicken stock. We didn't have garlic oil as called for in the Shape recipe (and I don't think most people do), so I've added how we made our own garlic oil.

This is a simple, quick, delicious, and nutritious light meal I think many of you will enjoy.

Quinoa Caprese from Shape, May 2006, original by Victoria Abbott Riccardi

1 cup quinoa
14 oz. vegetable stock
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 ounces fresh mozarella, diced.
1 cup torn basil leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper

arugula, with lemon and oil dressing for presentation

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce heat and simmer about 12-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. The quinoa should be tender. transfer to a large bowl and toss/stir to help it cool down to room temperature.

Smash your garlic cloves, removing the papery outer peel. Heat the oil in a small skillet over low and add the garlic. Sautee over low heat, stirring occasionally for about five minutes. Strain the garlic out of the oil and let the oil cool.

Stir the cherry tomatoes, basil, and mozarella into the quinoa.

With a whisk or fork beat the lemon juice and oil together. Pour over the quinoa and toss well. Season to taste.

Serve over lemon and olive oil dressed arugula or baby spinach leaves.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:17 AM | Comments (10)
April 11, 2006
Dinner for Me, The Boy, The Cat

calfliver.jpgLiver is a real divider in the world of food. My mother and I came up with a theory many years ago that there is only one liver lover in each generation of a family. She was the one in her family and I'm the one in mine. It means that you are obliged to eat it in restaurants or sneak in a guilty slice when you have the kitchen and the home to yourself. I remember once, years ago, a boyfriend came come earlier than I expected and caught me in flagrante delicto with a piece of beef liver. He stormed around the apartment, slamming open windows and huffing about the smell. It was never a relationship based on compromise and good will.

Since then, I've realised that calf's liver is the foie gras of the bovine world and a thousand times better than the beef version. It's tender and when cooked properly fairly melts in your mouth. The flavour is more subtle too, less gamey than the beef. However, I still make it when the Critic is away. In fact, for many years it was the secret feast of the cat and myself. When I went to the butcher, I would claim an imaginary guest and ask for two thin slices. And now there is the boy. He likes it. He likes the fact that I eat it too - he's at that stage where food is inherently more interesting if an adult is eating it. And he was tickled PINK when I fed some to the kitty. What kind of silly food is that??

There are two classic ways that I know of preparing calf's liver: the American and the French. In my usual straddle-both-sides-of-the-issue way, I tend to have a nod in each direction. Americans like liver and bacon with it. Yum, grease and salt. The French usually have a simple dribble of red wine vinegar to deglaze the pan. Savoury and rich. I generally keep the bacon and the vinegar, though I go easy on the vinegar for the section destined for the cat.

Franco-American Calf's Liver (serves one adult, one toddler and a greedy cat)

2 thin slices of calf's liver
4-6 slices of American style bacon (none of these British rashers, please!)
3-4 Tbs red wine vinegar
salt, pepper

Fry the bacon in a frying pan until nice and crisp. Set aside on a bed of paper towels to drain. Depending on how much fat the bacon has given up, you can either pour off some of the grease or add a little butter so that you have a tablespoon or so of fat in the pan. (It will probably be the former rather than the latter.) Turn up the heat on the pan and when it's nice and hot slap in the liver slices. They should sizzle. Cook for a minute or two and then flip them over. The secret to nice, tender liver is a high flame and frequent turning (according to a French grandmother who lectured me on liver and so far I have not proven her wrong). When it's just barely cooked through - a little pink in the center is alright - remove to a plate. Spill the vinegar in the pan and slosh it around quickly, scraping the bottom of the pan a bit to get up the bits of meat. When it is reduced by half (it won't take long at all) pour it over the liver and serve with the bacon. Despite the bacon fat - which is salty - I find that a generous hand with the salt and pepper makes this dish even better. A baked potato or a hunk of crusty bread won't go amiss either, to sop up those lovely juices.

I loved it. The boy liked it (the concept more than the taste). The cat liked it. The Critic doesn't know what he's missing sometimes...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:25 PM | Comments (5)
April 10, 2006
Tourte Parmentier au canard

tourte.jpgWhen you consult the lunch selection at your average French boulangerie you will undoubtedly see a few quiches, some salads, and - if you are lucky - a croissant au jambon. Another item you may see is a tourte. This is one of those vocabulary words that I have come to understand in French without actually consulting a dictionary. It's like a quiche, but without the custard. Actually, it sometimes has a custard-like substance to bind, but the eggs don't take the starring role. Clear as mud? Well, according to my beloved Larousse Gastronomique, a tourte is (and I quote) "A round pie or tart, which can be savoury or sweet. The name originally designated a round loaf (from the Latin tortus). A tourte consists of a shortcrust or puff pastry case (shell), filled either with a mixture of meat, poultry, game, fish or vegetables (with aromatics and additional ingredients) or with fruit and cream."

I have never actually seen a sweet one. Or if I have, it wasn't labelled. For me, it's that satisfactorily savoury pie-that-is-not-a-quiche. It's usually fairly carbohydrate-heavy. As is my Tourte with potatoes and duck. But they are extremely filling and satisfying on the 200th day of winter. (We have a tulip on the terrace. Usually these come up in February, but our first one appeared this week.)

This dish came out of the fact that we had leftover duck from a raclette/pierrade dinner last week. You could easily substitute Serrano or Proscuitto ham; in fact, I think smoked duck would work best. But normal, cooked, duck breast is what I had left at the end of our meal and it was just dandy. Onions are essential for bringing it from a stodgy potato-laden dish into something with flavour and weight.

For those who are wondering, the Parmentier designation is French shorthand for "it has potatoes in it". M. Parmentier was the marketing genius who introduced the French to that humble root vegetable, the potato. When he was unable to convince the starving masses that this strange new plant was edible, he successfully talked the king into eating it, an early form of royal corporate sponsorship. Once his Royal Highness declared them nutritious, edible and tasty the rest of the country followed suit. And soon the Irish discovered them and the rest is history.

Tourte Parmentier au Canard

1 puff pastry crust
3-4 large potatoes, very thinly sliced
1 onion, even more thinly sliced
100 g duck breast, cut in thin slivers
2/3 cup grated cheese - Beaufort, Gruyère, Cheddar in a pinch
2 Tbs sharp mustard, divided
2 eggs
2/3 cup crème fraiche
1/3 cup milk
salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and slice the potatoes and onion. Roll the puff pastry into the bottom of a large quiche pan. (Grease the pan or leave the paper from the pastry in the bottom, as indicated in the instructions.) Smear half the mustard on the pastry. Layer half the potatoes, overlapping so that all covers are cornered. Scatter the slices of onion over the potato and then sprinkle evenly with the duck. Mix the cream, eggs, remainder of the mustard and milk well. Season generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle half the mixture over the potatoes, onion and duck. Lay the rest of the potato slices over the rest. Drizzle the rest of the egg and cream mixture and then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the whole dish. Bake in the oven 45 minutes to an hour - until the potatoes are tender, the crust is browned and the cheese is crusty. Serve hot or cold. If the tourte is a bit dry, you can mix a little crème fraiche with mustard and tarragon and serve as an accompanying sauce.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:32 PM | Comments (2)
April 7, 2006
Broccoli and Snowpeas Fettucine


Yes, I know, Make it in 30 Minutes is over, but what isn't over is the need to get rid of some broccoli, snowpeas, and cheese in the refrigerator.

Thursday nights, I have a conference call for my gainful employment with a group of people in Asia that interrupts the evening and requires me to put together a simple and quick dinner so I have time to both cook and eat before taking the call. I had absolutely nothing planned for this Thursday's meal, a condition that usually leads to bread and butter or a bowl of cereal.

Then I looked inside the fridge and found the broccoli and snowpeas - not many of them, but enough. Add some carbs in the form of pasta and a little flavor and fat and this dish came together in no time flat. If I hadn't splashed boiling water on my stockinged foot, I'd say this was a complete success. (Yes, it's been that kind of week.) The foot is OK, but my ego was fatally wounded.

We've all had pasta with broccoli, but the snowpeas were a revelation. The pods stay crisp while losing the tannic qualities they have when raw. This is a vegetable to experiment with while Spring brings us fresh pods.

If you have any fresh veggies left over in your refrigerator, whether peppers or carrots or spinach or even celery (slice it up first), you can try this recipe and have a nice meal on the table in no time flat.

Broccoli and Snowpeas Fettucine

1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup snowpeas
4 oz. fettucine
1/4 cup cheese (I used a pre-shredded mozzarella/romano mix)
salt, pepper
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

Put on a big pot of water to boil. Add a couple big pinches of salt
When the water boils add the fettucine. Cook until al dente.

Before draining, turn off heat and add the broccoli and snowpeas to the pot. Let sit for 30 seconds, then drain pasta and veggies.

Melt the butter and heat the oil in a skillet or in the bottom of the pot you just used. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and sautee for about a minute over high heat.

Add the pasta and veggies to the skillet. Toss until veggies are near the desired crispness/softness. Add the cheese, toss some more, salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:35 AM | Comments (7)
April 6, 2006
Food Anomalies

You're driving along the information superhighway and don't know where to exit to find anomalous food? You're wanting more than a Tortilla Jesus (great band name) or a Virgin Mary cheese sandwich? Maybe you're just not religious. In that case, turn your attention to the Museum of Food Anomalies where all sorts of oddball food pictures live. Some you have to squint your eyes to see. Some may be chalked up to the GMO world we live in. Some are pure evil and will haunt you in your dreams for days. You were warned. If you're into marshmallow bunny S&M (I really hope we don't get too many hits from that string of words), this site has the requisite gallery of that too. Oddly, none other than the latest highfalutin Gourmet magazine led me to this.

Fun for a few food follies.

Posted by Justin at 8:14 AM | Comments (0)
April 5, 2006
My Conversion

smoothie.jpgSome people convert from Judaism to Catholicism or the reverse. Some peole convert from Imperial to metric. I have converted from being a smoothie-hater to a smoothie-lover. I'm not sure why I took against them in the first place. They seemed like a fad. I didn't own a blender so there was no point making them in my own home and they always seem awfully expensive outside of my home. And I guess it was also the fact that they take perfectly good fruit and reduce it to a drink. I love fruit just the way it is, thank you very much. Oh yeah, and I've never been overly fond of the milk product and fruit combination. (With the sole exception of those orange push up ice cream treats that I used to get from the ice cream truck: it seems to me they were a little creamy.)

But now that the critic bought me a gorgeous blender to match my gorgeous KitchenAid mixer, I have converted. For one thing, it gives me a reason to use my gorgeous blender. For another, it allows me to use up fruit that is getting past its perfect-consumption-date. And then it is pretty darn tasty.

So here you have my recipe: take a couple of cups of strawberries that are starting to look tired, add a couple of kiwis, a container of plain yogurt and a few ice cubes. Zing. Pour. Yum.

The Critic said, "This would be great with vodka in it."

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:58 AM | Comments (4)
April 4, 2006
Braised Carrots and Leeks with Courgettes

I'm not generally very creative about the veg that is part of the meat-and-two-veg equation. Potatoes get roasted or baked - occasionally steamed if they are young and very special. Carrots get steamed. Courgettes and aubergines (zucchini and eggplant) are most often sliced and grilled on my cast iron grill pan. And sweet corn, in this land so many thousands of miles from the Midwest, sadly comes from a can. And when you've said that it really doesn't matter what you do with it afterwards.

So last night when I was roasting a chicken for the Critic and our friend Sam (free range chicken with a lemon and 3/4 a head of garlic stuffed inside, roast potatoes) I looked at the slightly tired carrots in our refrigerator and thought "Not steamed again. Must. Think. Of. Something. Else."

And I remembered how - many years ago when I was starting to find my feet culinarily - I liked to roast pork with carrots and onions around it. The carrots often turned out a bit dry and woody, but the way they caramelized was tasty and the idea was good. So I decided to take the leeks from the back of the fridge and try to keep the sweet caramel of the carrots while not losing their moisture. Braising seemed the logical solution.

Definition of braising according to the Food Lover's Companion:

"A cooking method by which food (usually meat or vegetables) is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time."

The result is that you have sweet flavour which comes from the browning and the tender juiciness of steaming in a small amount of liquid (preferably not just plain water).

Braised carrots and leeks with courgettes or zucchini if you prefer

4-6 carrots, not necessarily the young tender ones
3 leeks, ditto
3-4 tbs butter
1 glass wine
1 courgette or zucchini if you prefer.

Peel the carrots (unless you are wasting young tender ones on this, but it's the end of the winter here). Cut them in thick chunks. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan until it froths. Add the carrots. Clean and chop the leeks in chunks about the same size as the carrots. Be patient and let the carrots sit in the butter until they start to brown. You don't want to burn the butter, but it's okay to keep the heat high enough for the butter to turn nutty brown. That's how you want the carrots to turn. Add the leeks when the carrots are just starting to brown. You'll need to be a bit more careful with the leeks - if they brown too much they will taste bitter. When everything is starting to smell lovely and a little sweet, add the glass of wine and a sprinkling of salt. Give the pan a shake and cover it tightly. Leave the pan, well covered, on a low heat for 20-25 minutes. At about the 15 minute mark, you can add the courgette, chopped in large hunks. In the end you should have sweet tender vegetables and a thick sweet and salty wine sauce. A lovely accompaniment to roast chicken.

Note on the photos (or lack thereof): I am cursed in the area of photos tonight. I would have liked to take a photo of the carrots and leeks but the battery died on my camera. "No matter," I thought tonight, "I'll write about an earlier dish for which I've already taken photos." But I couldn't upload the photos. (Barrett, I'll be sending you the error message...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:56 PM | Comments (3)
April 1, 2006
Micro Restaurants - The New Concept in Dining

I'm very excited to be able to tell you about a new concept in fine dining that I experienced this last week - the Micro Restaurant.

If you work in an office, you're probably sick of the limited choices you have in and around your building for lunch. If you work in a suburban office building, you may not even HAVE any choices for lunch. That's where this new Micro-Restaurant concept, developed jointly by Charlie Trotter, Homaru Cantu, Grant Achatz, and Rick Bayless comes in.

The Micro Restaurant is so small and requires so few staffers that many businesses can have one in their own space. Fine dining, convenience, what more could you ask.

I visited the first of the new breed of Micro Eatery, Cafe Automatic in an undisclosed location in Chicago's near-Loop district. I must say that I am impressed, and I plan to eat there frequently.

The first photo we have is of the outside of the restuarant. As you can see, the kitchen is exposed, allowing all to see the food preparation. It's rare that one gets an experience quite like this. But I'm hungry, so let's move on to the meal in question.

The transparent theme extends throughout the concept of the restaurant. Instead of menus, the dishes are diplayed right in front of you. You get to select which items you'd prefer. Our next photo shows the main course selection:

Have you noticed? Yep, this must be Charlie Trotter's influence - all the selections on this menu are vegetarian (though not Vegan, sadly). Homaru Cantu has brought some of his chemistry magic to bear, employing playful hydrogenated sodium glutamate in almost all the dishes. Delicious. Grant Achatz influence can be seen in the unique way the food is served, with large screws actually dispensing packets - PACKETS! - of cuisine. This was first attempted at El Bulli, but Achatz has perfected the technique here. And there's some Fritos there from Rick Bayless...

Dessert was also fabulous. Look at the selection from the dessert cart after the flip! How do you choose?

You can't choose. It's impossible. We ordered several desserts and enjoyed them throughly. All arrived as fresh as they ever were and as sugary as you could ever want. Yum.

Finally, there's the matter of the wine list. To keep prices down, the Micro Restaurant has opted to have a limited American-only wine list. Some selections change frequently, others are staples.

I snuck a picture of the wine list from our dinner:
As you can see all the wines come from the same bottling plant winery. There's a very small selection of whites (Chateau Fresca, which I found to be tart and bubbly with a hint of grapefruit and maybe oak), and a larger selection of reds brown wines, a new style becoming increasingly popular.

The daily choice the day we went, as you can see, was a brown wine with a hint of lime. Quite unique. We tried that (and got the last bottle can, and found it paired well not only with the main course (pomme fritte du Ruffles), but with the desserts as well, particularly a chilled caramel, peanut, and nougat treat coated with the finest milk chocolate. The chef's whimsical name for the treat? Snickers.

I highly recommend the Micro Restaurant concept. This test restaurant is proving quite popular, and I expect the idea will spread throughout the country, and quite possible throughout the world.

Be on the lookout for one near you, soon. It's a transformative experience enhanced only by the kitschy decor of computers and copiers and frazzled actors portraying "workers" all around. They must pay these actors in coffee, because they sure go through a lot!

If you can find one, you should certainly rush out right now and enjoy the cuisine from one of these restaurants. Most are having April 1st specials for all Too Many Chefs readers. Tell them we sent you.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:06 AM | Comments (5)
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