July 31, 2006
Eggplant Parmesan Almost Sandwiches

If not for a lack of Italian bread at my local market, this would have been a sandwich.

Unlike many vegetarian types, I patronize the Philly cheesesteak restaurants around the country. I know a dirty little secret that most don't want to admit - they make a pretty darn good vegetarian sandwich in the form of an eggplant parm grinder on garlic bread. I first discovered this at Philly's Best in Chicago. Alongside the many variations of beef on a bun, they had the perfect eggplant sandwich. I had this reconfirmed at Anna Marie's on Light Street in Baltimore this last week. Great Italian sandwich places make great eggplant parm sandwiches.

The secret is to make sure the eggplant is nearly dry before you start to cook it. Eggplant, like so many vegetables, has a very high moisture content. A good eggplant parmesan sandwich is fried. Water and oil do not mix, and cause all kinds of problems, whether you're an Exxon tanker in Prudhoe Bay, or me trying to get a good bite for lunch.

I dried my farm fresh eggplant (bought from a farm on Route 108 in Maryland just West of Centennial Park) by using salt, time, and paper towels. You can make a great indulgent vegetarian sandwich yourself if you follow my recipe. I don't add garlic, I don't add fried onions and peppers or sauteed mushrooms or any of a dozen toppings that would go well with this meal. You can try those on. I'm sure they'll be great. But start with this very basic recipe before you go hog wild.

Eggplant Parmesan Almost Sandwiches
2 short loaves crispy Italian bread (about 18" long and 3-4" wide)
garlic and butter - as you like it

1 Italian eggplant, about a pound to a pound and a half in size
kosher salt

2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
2 cups breadcrumbs

olive oil, amount depend on skillet volume - 1/8" at least plus some to replenish

1/4 cup shredded mozarella cheese - the fake low moisture/part skim stuff, not the good fresh stuff.
1/4 cup shredded provolone
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

2 cups your favorite marinara sauce

Peel your eggplant and cut it lengthwise into 1/2" wide slices. Lat these on a cooling rack over a pan and salt lightly on one side. Let sit for 30 minutes. Blot the slices well with paper towels. Flip them, and salt the other side. Let it sit again for 30 minutes and blot that side with a paper towel. Let it sit for 30 minutes more, wrap each slice in paper towels, and press firmly to extract as much water as you can withut damaging the slices. Unwrap and set aside.

Pour the flour into one large bowl or pie tin. Pour the bread crumbs into a similar container. Place the beaten eggs in a bowl in the middle. You should have eggplant to the extreme left, flour on your proximate left, eggs in front of you, and bread crumbs (which you may season if you wish), to your right.

Pour 1/8" of olive oil into your skillet. Heat over medium high heat until it shimmers.

DIp the eggplant slices in the flour, coating well on both sides, and shake off any excess. Now dip the slice in the eggs, again coating well on both sides, and let the excess drip off. Finally dip the slice in the bread crumbs and coat well on both sides, gently shaking off off the excess.

Fry the slices for two-three minutes per side, flipping once. The slice should be golden brown when finished. Remove from oil and set aside. Coat and fry more slices until you have completed all your eggplant.

Split your loaves in half lengthwise and slather each side with finely chopped garlic and butter Bake on a large cookie sheet until the bread is hot and the inside lightly crispy.

Put the marinara in the microwave in a bowl for one to two minutes to heat it. Cover with a paper towel to prevent spatters.

Remove the bread form the cookie sheet and add the eggplant slices. Set oven to broil. sprinkle the three cheeses evenly over each slice, using all of it. Place the sheet under the broiler for one minute to 90 seconds until teh cheese is golden.

Spread the marinara on each loaf half, then add two eggplant slices. Fold over, add any other ingredients like peppers, onions, or mushrooms and eat.

So why don't I have a sandwich above? Well, the store didn't have the right bread, but I took a flyer and bought some frozen garlic bread. What I didn't count on was that it would be sliced along the wrong axis. Ah well.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:45 AM | Comments (5)
July 30, 2006
Happy Holidays...

condies.jpgI am totally my mother's daughter.

Whenever I visit my her in Illinois, I go through her refrigerator, sniffing at the out of date cheese, cold cuts and condiments. "Mom, you mind if I toss this mustard that is two years out of date?" And I roll my eyes when I talk with my siblings about the dangers of eating out of Mom's fridge.

And my mine? Pristine, full of fresh ingredients and condiments that are well within their date? Of course not! It's easy to be judgemental with someone else's refrigerator contents, but it takes vigilance to deal with one's own cupboard of poisons. I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to chutneys. And because the Critic has a reputation for loving hot mustard and spicy sauces, we get a lot of those as gifts. And then there is my generous Midwestern family, who see that I am more than amply stocked in jams and jellies. I have a complete shelf in the fridge devoted to condiments and jams and that isn't nearly enough: they spill onto other shelves and into the door. And they go out of date.

By the time you read this, I'll either be in the US or on my way there. Two glorious weeks of holiday, sitting by my mother's pool or simply basking in her air conditioning. And then a beach holiday in Cornwall, at a delightfully named village called "Frogpool". Because of the five week holidays, we had to find a cat-sitter. Through the bulletin board at work, I found someone who is taking up duties in Paris in August and needs a place to stay while looking for a flat for his family. He is a cat lover and garden lover in need of an apartment; we are cat and garden owners in need of someone to look after them. A perfect match.

In fact, it's like having a house guest over, but worse. He's going to use the fridge. He's going to see those out of date chutneys and the withering strands of onion leaves in the cooler bin. He's going to see the stacks of books in every room, spilling off of tables, piano and anything that doesn't move. He's going to wonder what exactly that cheese I left in the cheese bin is doing walking all over the kitchen table.

So I had to do a little summer cleaning. These two were the ones that didn't fit in the dishwasher. If you could read the dates, you'd see January 2006 on the left and April 2005 on the right. They are gone, emptied, washed and sent to the recycling bin. Now I just need to attack the cheeses...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:09 PM | Comments (5)
July 28, 2006
Reverting to Bachelor Mode

My wife and I moved to Maryland so she could further her medical studies at a major university medical center here. She's already board certified, but she's subspecializing and this requires a fellowship - a course of three years of study, research, and work in her subspecialty.

We both knew that the first year would be the hardest and that I'd probably only see her at bedtime and in the morning briefly, but I didn't realize how important it had been to my cooking to have her around as the second diner. It's hard getting pumped up to cook for just yourself, so I've found myself reverting to a few of my bachelor habits. One of these is eating foods from jars, without doing anything else to the contents. That sounds fine, but the combinations tend to be pretty strange, depending on what I have a taste for. I thought I'd share last night's meal which was particularly all over the place.

I started with a little herring in sour cream. This is not something we ordinarily have around the house, but it sounded very good to me. My one regret about our trip to Amsterdam last year is that I didn't get to try herring from one of the stands there. My Dutch ancestry reasserts itself from time to time, however, by forcing me to buy jars of herring.

So what goes best with herring? Why, green mango pickle in an insanely spicy sauce of course. I'd picked this up at a local Persian store that also carries some Indian specialties. I found it hard to get the last bits of insanely hot sauce from the bottom of the bowl so I brought some pita into the mix.

And once you have pita, its imperative to break out the garlic hummus. Mmmm. Garlic hummus. If you like hummus, but are afraid your guy friends will make fun of you for eating it, get garlic hummus. You'll smell so bad, they won't be able to question your guy-ness.

I tried to figure out as I was eating exactly how these foods went together. The only common link that I could find is that I'd never serve them to the Redhead. I might try her out on the hummus, but I wouldn't expect her anywhere near the herring or the mango pickle.

So what do you eat when the spouse isn't around? What foods do you hold off on until that business trip or that late night at the office keeps your better half out of the kitchen? I'm hoping I'm not the only one who comes up with these Frankenstein creations.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:15 AM | Comments (8)
July 26, 2006
Salade de haricots blancs et saumon grillé

salmonbeansal.jpgI hoard recipes. The Critic hoards entire magazines, but I tend to rip out the relevent pages and tuck them away for future use. I have a manilla file where they are all supposed to wait for that mythical day when I have the time to sort through them, try them, type them into a database and maybe get rid of the scraps of paper. But actually, they are everywhere: tucked between cookbooks, stuck under the jewelry box in the bedroom, in the magazine rack of the living room with 3 year old TV guides. It's a silly habit because I almost never try these recipes. They sound great the day I read and rip but then afterwards, the glow is gone. I think, "Why did I save that?" As the exception that proves the rule, I present this recipe which was mainly based on a Nigel Slater recipe published in the Observer in June of 2004. I noticed it on the desk in the bedroom that I never use because the bedroom is really for sleeping and getting dressed, not desks. I was looking for something else and it caught my eye and because I knew I had foolishly (or wisely)* invited two groups of people over for a barbecue this week I stopped to look and see if it would give me an idea for a dish. And it did!

* I am a temporarily single mother this week, as the Critic is off fishing (unsuccessfully so far) in Canada. So it is up to debate whether it is wise to invite over friends for dinner and have adult conversation or foolish to increase the stress in a stressful life by hosting a dinner party.

Nigel's recipe calls for cooking dried cannellini beans, soaking them overnight and then boiling them for 40 minutes. Personally I have never found that big beans cook that quickly, even with an overnight soak. And I'm a single mother this week; I have no time for unnecessary work. I bought a big jar of cooked haricots blancs and substituted them. Another substitution was the odd spinach I bought at the organic market this weekend that I used instead of the cress in Nigel's recipe. As it turned out, this worked very well as the spinach was slightly bitter and gave a sharp flavour to the salad.

It was a fantastic salad - perfect for a hot summer lunch but also a nice way to round out a barbecue dinner for nine, when it's difficult to say whether you have prepared enough or too many turkey cutlets and hamburgers. If there is any left for dinner the next day, the flavours have had time to intensify and it's even better.

Salade de haricots blance et saumon grillé (serves 6 as a side dish, 4 as a main)

400 g cooked white beans or 200 g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and then cooked 40 minutes or until tender but still a bit meaty.
800 g salmon steaks
1 small purple onion, chopped
2 handfuls of cress or heirloom spinach

For the dressing:
a small handful of basil leaves
3-4 stalks of tender young tarragon
a very small handful of parsley leaves (they are not really out of the nursery stage on my terrace garden yet)
50 ml of your best olive oil
1 tiny clove of spring garlic
2 Tbs of lemon juice

Cook the salmon on the grill until opaque and cooked through, skin side down and lid on the grill. This will ensure that if anything sticks to the grill it's the inedible skin and not the delectable fish. While it is cooking, rinse the beans (if they come from a jar), clean and chop the spinach and mix them together with the onion. Remove the salmon from the grill if it is done. Very finely chop the herbs and then toss them over the bean mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients, first chopping the garlic as finely as you can. Toss the beans and onions mixture.

By now the salmon will hopefully have cooled down enough to handle. Break it into just-slightly-larger-than-bite-sized pieces, taking care to remove any bones you may find. Toss the beans with the salmon and serve at room temperature. If you used dried beans, taste first for salt as it may need a pinch.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:20 PM | Comments (8)
July 25, 2006
Salade Océane

saladoceane.jpgOne of the perks of my former job as a Law Slave (i.e. legal secretary) was the little booklet of tickets restaurants that I received each month with my paycheck. French law requires that firms that do not have a subsidised cafeteria must supply employees with these tickets which can be exchanged for a set value of food. Mine were more generous than some, giving me 9.20 euros per day for my lunch. That said, I was working near the Champs-Elysées, where lunch is not cheap. All this is to explain why I am very familiar with the standard salads available in Parisian cafés. I ate in a lot of cafés and I ate a lot of salads. There is the salade d'Auvergne, which will probably include some country ham and Cantal cheese. The Parisienne, which is sometimes ham and cheese and sometimes chicken, tomato and egg. My favourite was the Périgourdine, which at my favourite café was so decadently fatty as to make a salad unhealthy: foie gras, confit de canard (fatty smoked preserved duck), country ham with thick slabs of fat on the edges and preserved gésiers (gizzards, sounds gross perhaps but I am totally addicted to them). You could hardly see the green beans, salad and tomatoes under all that meat. Thank heavens I do not live in the Périgourde.

One salad that seems to vary more than most with the taste and inclination of the chef is the salade océane: I've seen it with little pink potted shrimp, watery canned tuna, surimi (though not all at once). As I stood in line at the market last weekend, I spied some lovely plump pink cooked shrimp lying on the rapidly melting ice and bought a few hundred grams for the Critic's and my lunch. Then I saw a gorgeous rotisserie chicken and bought that for lunch too. The combined effects of going shopping before breakfast and a two week heat wave can lead to this kind of thing: I wanted to buy everything (and smelled) gorgeous, but especially the ones that didn't involve any cooking. So the Critic and I had warm roasted chicken for lunch, and I looked for something interesting to do with the shrimp the next evening for dinner. A nice cool oceanic salad.

Salade Océ ane

I always feel a bit silly giving a recipe for a salad. Mostly it's just "assemble these ingredients together and make them look pretty". The originality - if any - is in the decision of what to include.

Assemble these ingredients on two plates and make them look pretty:

Gorgeous juicy shrimp from the market (I cheated on the photo - we had a lot more than two shrimp each)
Soft tasty salad (I used feuille de chêne, cleaned, spun and ripped in big pieces
6-8 lightly steamed new potatoes, cut in large hunks
2 ripe tomatoes, cut in eighths
1 large spring onion, cut in thin strips
1 cup cucumbers, cut in small cubes
4-6 anchovies (if you are so inclined)

and for the vinaigrette:
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
a dash of salt
1 Tbs herbs: chives, parsley, thyme, basil, chervil and shallots (I use a frozen mix from chez Picard, the frozen food store)

Serve with soft buttered bread, a bowl for the shirmp shells and lemon slices. It's a great summer dinner or lunch, cold and healthy and yet filling.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:20 PM | Comments (5)
Spinach-Peanut Soup

A can of boiled peanuts got me started on this recipe, though they make no appearance in the soup. Along with the bitter melon and donut peaches and chiles I told you about yesterday, I also purchased a can of a Southern delicacy - boiled peanuts. I'll be trying those later on in an install ment of "I Wouldn't Eat It".

But those legumes put peanuts on my brain. Somehow the peanut thought got lodged in a piece of the brain that was thinking about spinach, and this quick and delicious recipe was born. I'd originally only intended to use half the spinach I use in the recipe, but it needed it. It called out to me and said - "Barrett, more spinach, please."

Who am I to disagree with a talking recipe?

I find recipes with spinach sauteed with a peanut sauce and African peanut and groundnut stews online, but I don't see anything like this anywhere. For now, I'm claiming this as an original, but I invite you to put your own stamp on the recipe.

This recipe takes about 30 minutes from start to end.

Spinach-Peanut Soup
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 lb. baby spinach, picked, washed, dried
2 small hot chile peppers
1 teaspoon cumin
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 lemons, zest and juice
salt to taste
peanuts in the shell for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of peanut oil in a stock pot. Add sliced onions and ginger garlic and reduce heat to medium. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Sweat onions until they are soft and sweet. Add the chile peppers.

Add 1/4 of the stock and half the spinach. Cover. Cook five minutes. Add the rest of the spinach and cover. Cook for five more minutes.

Add the rest of the stock, the cumin, and the peanut butter. Stir very well. Cook covered for about ten minutes.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup smooth. Add the zest of two lemons and their juice and stir well. Serve with peanut garnish.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:44 AM | Comments (6)
July 24, 2006
Bitter Melon with Chiles, Yogurt ,and Peaches

Bitter Melon is a vegetable that Americans don't eat a lot of. To my Hollywood trained eyes, it looks an awful lot like something a face sucking octopus-alien would hide in. I don't think any face sucking octopus-aliens do hide in them, however as bitter melon is apparently a staple of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Latin cuisine and news of attacks by emergent face sucking octopus-aliens would certainly have reached the mainstream press by now. Or at least the Weekly World News.

Nevertheless, I've always looked at the pale green fruit with curiosity and a bit of dread. I mean, it's called BITTER melon. Just how bitter could it be?

While driving this weekend, I stumbled on a farmer's market and a bumper crop of local bitter melon - fresh, bright green, and beautiful. The time had come to end my bitter melon inexperience. Along with the bitter melons, I picked up local donut peaches and a pint of small, hot green peppers. I didn't know then they were all destined for the same skillet.

I can't say this recipe is authentic to ANY culture. It's just what I came up with after tasting the melon in its raw (and very bitter) form. Like many of my recipes, I started with a very basic idea - in this case, that bitter melon could be treated with basic fried spices and chiles - and worked from there. Eventually, I added a little of all the other flavors, from sweet to umami, to help balance out the bitter to my bitter-wimpy American taste buds.

One recipe note - the anise in this recipe is crucial. It shapes the bitter flavor of the melon to make it easier to enjoy. The peaches and lime juice balance the melon and give your tongue multiple sensations to enjoy at once.

Bitter melon is not necessarily for everyone, but it might be something you end up enjoying.

Bitter Melon with Chile Yogurt and Peaches
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, whole
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon aniseseeds, whole
black pepper to taste<
2 garlic cloves

1/2 onion, cut into thin half-moon shapes - about 1/8" each
5-7 bitter melons (about 5" in length each)
3 small hot green peppers, cut into 1/4"-1/8" dice, seeds and stems included
juice of one lemon
2 small peaches or 1 enormous peach, cut into 1/4" dice. Peeling only necessary if peel is particularly tough
1/4 cup yogurt
2 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce), may substitute soy sauce

Cut off the very tips and stems of the melons. Cut all but two melons in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and pulp. Discard. Slice the other two, with seeds and pulp, and the hollowed out halves into 1/4" slices across the width. The seeds and pulp are the source of much of the bitterness and you can control the bitteness of this dish by increasing or decreasing the amount of pulp and seeds in the dish.

It's a lot of ingredients, but this dish comes together quickly.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet until hot over high heat. Add spices, garlic, and onions and stir until onions are well coated. Reduce heat, and sautee until onions are slightly softened.

Add melons and peppers and stir. Sautee for seven minutes over medium heat. Add lime, nam pla and yogut and stir well to coat. Add peaches and continue to sautee until the peaches are soft and the bitter melon is just barely softer than crispy.

Serve with rice or nan.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:40 AM | Comments (6)
July 20, 2006
Empanadas or Unhealthy (but tasty) Colombian vegetarian cuisine: Part 3 in a series

empanadas_jf1.jpgI recently did a search on this great cooking website I like to go to (TooManyChefs) and was kind of surprised that there was not one recipe for empanadas. Now maybe I should have searched for sambusac or some such related stuffed dough but I didn't. I think someone once did some samosas here.

The empanada is popular all around Ibero-America (been looking for a chance to use that word) and has been for many moons. Stuffed with, essentially, whatever is local - (if you'll allow me to generalize) fish on the coast, meat inland, potatoes and peas in poorer areas. Aside from what's inside, another line of demarcation is whether they are baked or fried. If you couldn't guess from the title of this post, they are almost always fried here (occasionally they are baked, but it's rare) and that's what we'll be doing too.

Here in Colombia, the most popular types are chicken (the more gourmet ones will have an olive and raisins in there as well), beef (usually with some potato), and cheese (which is rather sweet). Since I can't choke down more than one sweet cheese empanada (and because we keep a vegetarian kitchen), I'm choosing to use a tofu/okara mixture in these empanadas. If you're in the area, stop by Deli Soya (Cll 78 # 12-03) for lunch. The filling I'm using here are the burgers they sell for take away, which are nicely spiced. If you are going to use meat filling, cook and shred the meat before adding it as a filling.

Empanadas

Yellow corn flour
Water
Filling of your choice

Put some flour in a big bowl. Add room temperature water and mix with your hand until you get something that resembles dough. I didn't measure how much flour or water, but I remember thinking it seemed like a lot of water, but it gets absorbed. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

empanadas_jf2.jpg

Take a plastic bag and rip it so that it's one long sheet of plastic. Rub a little oil on the plastic and throw down a small ball of dough. Fold the plastic over and between the two sheets of plastic, roll out the dough to be fairly thin. Open up the plastic, put a teaspoon or two of filling on the dough, fold over the dough onto itself (with the plastic) and cut out an empanada with the top of a jar, etc (I was using an old yogurt container). When you lift the plastic, you should get a nicely pressed out stuffed ball of pastry. Hopefully the pictures below will give you an idea of what I'm trying to describe here.

Take those to the fryer for a few minutes on each side until the dough is crispy. Remove to paper towel and serve. Eat them all up, because they don't keep the fridge. The dough gets all weird.

empanadas_jf3.jpg
empanadas_jf4.jpg
empanadas_jf5.jpg

Posted by Justin at 7:42 PM | Comments (8)
July 19, 2006
Canicule Cooking: Gazpacho and Pita pockets

gaspacho.jpgHere in Paris we are in the middle of a canicule, or major heat wave. As the temperature today soared as high as 38 degrees Celsius (100 F) offices sent workers home earlier, motorists were begged not to drive in the city and the local city crêche set up paddling pools in the garden. In Chicago, this would be just a normal if somewhat irritatingly hot summer day. Here, it's a cause for crisis alert (level 2 according to the city hall). Barrett has often scoffed at my reaction to heat or cold extremes here in Paris, implying I've become something of a wimp after a dozen years in a temperate climate. Well, he may be right. Or maybe it's the fact that I live in a place which is totally unprepared for extreme weather because it's usually temperate. Do you think?? It's a lot easier to be phlegmatic about 100 degree heat when your office and probably at least one room in your home is air-conditioned. At the very least, I know that the bar at the corner of your street will always be air-conditioned in Chicago. (Trust me, I visited a lot of them in my wild and reckless youth...and even in my slightly doddering approaching middle age...)

Here, we have fans. And those Evian spray bottles. The boy likes the two when they are combined and I can't blame him.

As for cooking...you just don't want to go there. The barbecue, which seemed such a charming summer idea a week ago, fills you with dread. It's right next to the window to the living room. Yay, 400 F heat right next to our main living space. So I haven't been cooking much.

And what does the intelligent cook do when she doesn't want to cook and nor does she want to starve? Well, this cook is lucky enough to live in Paris, where there are quite a few options. For example, I can purchase a lovely organic rotisserie chicken at the market on Saturday. We love roast chicken but I refuse to make it when the temperature outside seems to be reaching the heat of an oven. And then there are vegetables: ripe tomatoes and deep red peppers, succulent cucumbers and spicy peppers. So I made dinner without turning on a single heating element, perfect in this hot weather.

Both Barrett and Justin have posted their recipes for Gazpacho so it's a bit redundent to post mine here. But I will. Mine has cucumbers and no ice cubes, so obviously it's waaaayyy different from theirs. And we had the chicken for lunch on Saturday, but the remains (mostly dark meat) were mixed last night with a 1/4 cup mayonnaise, a small handful of fresh oregano, a heaping teaspoon of grain mustard, a pinch of salt, a dash of red wine vinegar and a half a roasted pepper and made a lovely stuffing for a pita pocket. No cooking. And to accompany, cold, bursting with vitamins and flavour gazpacho.

Meg's Amazing Gazpacho (makes 4-6 bowls)

8 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 a long cucumber (about two cups, chopped)
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, chopped
4 spring onions, sliced finely
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup really nice olive oil
2 pinches of salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 slice of stale bread, soaked in a bit of water and then drained
garnish: hot pepper oil and garlicky croutons

Put half the tomatoes and garlic and 1/4 the cucumber, pepper jalepeno and onions in a food processor. Add half of the vinegar, olive oil, salt, coriander, basil and bread. Repeat. Store the soup in the refrigerator for at least two hours and then serve with the remaining ingredients as garnish.

On a hot evening you may actually find that the spicy soup that makes you sweat is a good thing. At the slightest breeze, you'll cool off more quickly.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:12 PM | Comments (6)
July 18, 2006
Zucchini Fritters

In the Midwest United States, summer means a lot of zucchini. It starts off with neighbors offering each other a few zukes from the surprising crop they've grown in their little back yard garden, and as the rich black soil offers up more and more zucchini without cease, it turns into a competition to see who can get rid of their zucchini first. It's not entirely unheard of to hear the doorbell ring, and when one goes to answer it, finding a bushel of zucchini on the front step and a fading cackle of "It's yours now! It's yours!"

So how do you use up this sometimes overwhelming bounty? I've done pies, and breads and muffins, but I hadn't done fritters for a while.

The Redhead and I disagee over whether one should eat fried food in the summer. She would, of course, prefer I never ate fried food at all, but that's another story. In general, when she thinks of summer foods, she thinks of fruit and lemonade and light salads. I, on the other hand, think of corn dogs and fench fries and hush puppies. Basically, she thinks spa, and I think carnival midway.

She did, however, enjoy this zucchini fritter recipe which is most definitely fried. One piece of advice - you must get as much moisture out of the shredded zucchini as you can. Other recipes use bread crumbs and other filler to help absorb the moisture, but if you do it right, you can make a credible fritter with just vegetables, eggs, and a little oil.

I did not make the salsa, which you can purchase in any grocery store. I used a particularly garlicly one (Safeway's organic garlic lovers salsa), which complemented the zucchini well.

Zucchini Fritters
2 lbs shredded zucchini/summer squash
2 eggs
1/4 cup dry cheese - I used queso cotija, a Mexican crumbling cheese
1 jalapeno (or more if you like it hot)
salt and pepper
vegetable oil
tomato-based salsa of your choice

This recipe makes about enough for two people as a main dish or four as a side.

Shred the zucchini on the big holes on a box grater. Add a pinch of salt to the shredded zucchini to help draw out the water. Wrap the zucchini in a linen-style towel or napkin (you know, smooth cloth) or cheesecloth. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the bundle. Let it sit for an hour wrapped and squeeze again.

Remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapeno. Finely dice the flesh of the pepper.

Unwrap the zucchini and dump it into a bowl. Beat two eggs lightly in a separate bowl. Dump the eggs into the zucchini bowl along with the cheese, diced jalapeno, a pich of salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix well.

Heat enough oil in a small skillet to cover the botom 1/4" deep. When the oil is hot and a bit of zucchini sizzles when placed in it, you are ready to begin frying the fritters.

Take 1/4 cup of the zucchini mix and lower it slowly into the oil. I packed a 1/4 cup measure with mix, then inverted it on the spatula I was using to slide it into the oil, then squished the fritter to be down with the spatula so the crown of it was just peeking out over the oil.

Fry the fritter until the bottom is browned. The edges should be a rich brown, the middle may still be pale. Flip the fritter carefully (so the oil, if it splashes, will splash away from you), and fry the second side until it's also browned. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels and blot to remove some of the oil.

Let the oil come back up to temperature and repeat with the rest of the mix.

While frying, don't let the oil start to smoke. If it does, turn the heat down a little until the oil is back to being hot, but is not smoking.

When you are done. Take a couple big spoonfuls of your favorite salsa and spread them across the middle of the plate. Lay the fritters on the salsa and serve. The salsa should be room temperature or cool and the fritters hot.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:39 AM | Comments (11)
July 17, 2006
Eating locally, eating organically: an update on the garden

newtaters.jpgYesterday I looked out at the terrace garden and made a brief survey of what was working and what wasn't. I started out inspecting the rhubarb plant, to see if I could harvest a few stalks to supplement the organic rhubarb I bought at the market on Saturday. I decided to prune the two least healthy looking stalks and then turned my attention to the five potato plants in the same baby bath planter. (I bought it at the flea market for 35 euros, a great deal I think.) The stalks of three of the potato plants were yellow and leggy and withered so I decided to take them out too. And to my surprise, with the stalks came a half dozen baby potatoes!

I have to say that when I planted those old sprouted potatoes, I hardly expected them to grow into plants, much less prove fruitful. I am frankly delighted. This was a very small harvest, enough to augment the half a home-grown zucchini I gave the boy for dinner last night. But if those spindly failed plants could yield enough for dinner for a toddler, what is happening deeep in the soil of my big planter where four big healthy plants are still growing and prospering? I am tickled to the core just thinking of them. (It must be the Irish in me...my mother's maiden name was Kehoe/Keogh and her mother's name was Madden...)

So what is doing well and what is not? I'm so glad you asked.

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Thanks to the combined wisdom of our readers and their advice, I am feeling a bit more confident about the zucchini. I'm watering them generously but not too much. I'm cross pollinating like mad whenever I see flowers. And I have already harvested two tender zucchini. I'll post the recipe for the first one later, but the second one was steamed with the new potatoes for the boy. And yes, I tasted one of the steamed new potatoes and it was truly delicious. Do potatoes you grow yourself really taste better or is it just the concentrated attention you give to them that fools you into thinking so?

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The strawberries have been going through a fallow period. I'm okay with that; I understand that they were probably forced with artificial sunlight fertilisers to produce copious fruit before I bought them and would need a bit of a rest afterwards. They have finished resting and have now sent out long tendrils all over the shelves and terrace and have new flowers. I'm watering them generously and eyeing the tiny buds of fruit as they develop.

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To be honest, the peas are not doing well. I've never had great success with peas, but I perservere because it gives me a use for my decorative hummingbird trellis and because - when they grow well - they are at least pretty. But the cat (and the neighbor's cat I suspect) turning the planter into a litter box has not made life easy for my poor peas or lilies of the valley. I have a couple of pods that I'll probably pick tomorrow and add to whatever vegetables are on the menu. At least the daisies are doing well. (Note the new solar terrace lights we bought this weekend; they are still charging but I'm hoping they'll work well and light our early fall dinners.)

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Here you see the rhubarb plant. When I first moved to Paris and saw rhubarb in the supermarkets I was amazed. Where I come from, no one buys the stuff, they give it away. It's like a weed; it grows with no effort. Why should I pay for something that was free and readily available all my life? I spurned the store-bought stuff and dreamt of my grandmother's garden. Over time I came to realise I was cutting of my nose to spite my face and so I started to buy it at the market and at the frozen food store. And then I found this plant at the market. SOLD to the salivating girl with a stroller. It has done okay so far, but I'm hoping it will do even better now that I've pruned out some of the potato plants. The violets that I planted under the potato and rhubarb leaves are still alive but not very happy. We shall see if they survive the summer; I hope they do as I am almost as nostalgic about violets as I am about rhubarb and lilies of the valley.

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Here you see the tomato plants and herbs, all doing reasonably well. The tomato plants are still relatively small, no doubt because I ignored my brother's advice to nip every third branch of three to encourage upward growth. They have small, firm, green fruit though and I expect a bumper crop. I wish I had asked the vendor at the market what variety of tomatoes they are though; I have no idea whether to expect cherries, plums or beefsteak. (To be honest, I doubt it's the latter as they are very tiny and not growing that fast.) The herbs are growing well, with the exception of the cilantro, in a planter on the base. I assiduoussly tore off all it's flowers for weeks, but it never sent any energy to leaf growing as a result. And since the leaves were spindly and white, I decided to try giving it a break from so much sunshine under the tomato planter. It seems to have rallied a bit, but I've given up on stripping it's flowers so it will probably soon arrive at the end of its life cycle.

Can anyone tell me whether the plant next to it is a lilac? I was given several planters a few years ago and assured they were lilacs but I killed half of them and the other half have never shown a sign of wanting to flower. So I don't know if I'm nurturing weeds or worthwhile bushes.

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I've been wanting to buy a lavender plant for the terrace ever since we bought the flat and I can't say why it has taken three years to buy one. When I saw this one at the organic market a couple of months ago I had to have it. I made a promise to myself this year that - whatever the cost - I would have a nice garden on my terrace, with vegetables and fruit. And so I bought it. Isn't it pretty?

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And lastly we move to the indoor garden: my lemon tree. What a fantastic find this was, when I bought it at the flower market outside the préfecture de Paris where I was picking up the card giving me the right to live and work in Paris for the next ten years. I expected it to die an early death (as did all my attempts at olive growing) but to my surprise it bore fruit. First one ripe yellow lemon and then a few others and now I have four of them growing again. For me, Ms. Determinedly Non Green Thumb, it's a true miracle of life.

So there you have it, the update on our little urban farm. Any advice or suggestions are, as always, most welcome.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:05 PM | Comments (3)
July 14, 2006
Fried Green Tomatoes with Edamame Succotash

As a life-long Northerner, I have to admit that on the drive to my new home in Maryland from Chicago, I shuddered just a little when we crossed the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and the sign informed us we were heading south of the Mason/Dixon line.

You see, I was raised on the mean streets of Chicago on the gentle streets of a Western suburb of Chicago by wolves by a father who was raised near Chicago and a mother raised in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan and in Minnesota. The furthest south they ever ventured was to Chicago's Midway airport to pick up relatives. For them, and me, the South was a mysterious land filled with pork cracklin', pick up trucks, and Roy Clark. They didn't really get Southern culture or cuisine, and so my childhood was devoid of okra and moon pies and sweet tea.

I'm a lot more Southern-friendly. My wife comes from the near South, and of course, being on the more equatorial proximate side of Mr. Mason's and Mr. Dixon's line has its culinary advantages. Among these is the understanding that Southern farmers have of the uses of green tomatoes. I first sampled fried green tomatoes in a bar in Atlanta. I was there for a business trip and the attraction of such a strange sounding dish was too much to resist. They arrived with a little marinara sauce and after a bite or two, I was hooked.

This last weekend, I was at a farmer's market near the Annapolis DMV, and I spied a beautiful batch of large hard green tomatoes. Of course I bought some, or I wouldn't be writing this post now. I asked the farmer to pick me out a good box and got four large specimens, which we enjoyed this last week.

I'd never tried preparing fried green tomatoes before, but I had an idea of what was necessary. And luckily, this week, I have the help of Southern resident Rosalind (my mother-in-law) and her friend Susan in the preparation of this dish. Many tomatoes were dipped and many edamame beans shelled through their assistance.

Why edamame succotash? My wife hates lima beans and this needed a veggie relish of some sort. Favas or edamame in succotash are a good substitute for those who hate hate HATE lima beans.

I hope y'all will try this simple Southern classic. We served it with a version of our very own creamy red pepper soup.

serves 4
Tomatoes:
4 large green tomatoes
2 cups corn meal
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup buttermilk

vegetable oil for frying (quantity varies, depending on skillet width)

Edamame Succotash:
1 1/4 cups shelled edamame beans
2 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup your favorite marinara sauce

About thirty minutes before you're going to cook the tomatoes, slice them into 1/4" rounds and salt lightly on both sides. Place on paper towels and let some of the moisture drain out of them.

Put a big pot of water on to boil. Shuck the corn, retaining one or two pale green leaves from the husk. Place the leaves and corn in the water once it boils and cook for ten minutes. When it's done, stand your corn up in the center of a large bowl and cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp chef's knife.

While the corn boils, dice your red bell pepper into 1/4 inch pieces, about the size of a large corn kernel.

Combine the edamame, chopped bell pepper, and corn with the butter, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and set aside in a microwave-safe bowl.

Pour enough light vegetable oil in a largish skillet to make it 1/4" or so deep. Use corn oil or peanut oil if you want to give the dish additional flavor notes. Turn the heat on to medium-high and let the oil heat.

Next, set up a shallow pie plate with the corn meal, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Pour the buttermilk in another bowl (one bigger than the tomato slices).

Have a large plate ready to receive the tomato slices. Dip a slice in buttermilk. Let most of the milk drain off, then dip the wet tomato slice in the cornmeal mix, covering it on both sides. Shake the excess off, and place on the receiving plate. Repeat until all the slices are prepped for frying.

Take a few grains of cornmeal to test the oil's temperature. If you hear a sizzle when you drop them in, the oil is ready.

NOW FOR PETE'S SAKE, BE CAREFUL. Frying can be dangerous if you're not smart about it. Don't let any small children of the "pull-the-pan-down-on-themselves" variety get too close to the stove (always good advice, but especially around hot oil), and beware spatters yourself. And of course, always have a fire extinguisher ready in case things get out of hand.

Also, wear protective clothing. Frying in the nude is not just dangerous and painful, it's aso a little gross. (*Spatter*-OW! What? Ewwww.)

Carefully place each slice of tomato into the frying pan. Don't overcrowd the pan. The slices shoudl not be touching. Fry for about 90 seconds on one side until it begins to take on a little brown color, then carefully turn the slice with a pair of tongs and put the unfried side face down. Fry for another 90 seconds or so (or longer if your oil isn't quite as hot) until that side too takes on color. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to blot a little of the oil off.

If your pan is small, and your tomato slice plentiful, you may want to put a plate in the oven at about 150F and transfer the fried and drained slices to that plate to keep them warm.

Repeat the frying with the rest of the tomatoes. As you get close to finishing, place the microwave safe bowl of succotash into the microwave and nuke on high for about 90 seconds to warm through. Remove and place the marinara sauce in the microwave. Cover with a paper towel and nuke for about a minute or so on high until the sauce is hot.

Place 1/4 of the tomato slices partially on top of each other on four plates. Stir the succotash and taste for seasoning. After adjusting, spoon the succotash over the slices of tomato. On either side of the row of slice, spoon marinara sauce.

The sweet ripe red tomato in the marinara complements the sour and salty fried green tomato, which has been made soft enough to eat by the heat of the oil. The succotash, even with the butter, adds a little interest and freshness to the meal. Even the most inveterate Yankee (like,er.. me) will enjoy this bit of the South.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | Comments (1)
July 13, 2006
Patacones or Unhealthy (but tasty) Colombian vegetarian cuisine: Part 2 in a series

IMG_2434.jpgNot long ago, Barrett pointed out that you can do something with plantains to make them taste delicious. It's called double frying. This is all based on a theory that if fried food is tasty, frying your fried food makes it tasty times two (or maybe tasty squared, we're still calculating the autoregressive conditional hereroskedasticity of sequential fryings). Anyhow, I took it upon myself to try the double fry at home as part of my continuing series on unhealthy (but tasty) Colombian vegetarian food.

I think it goes without saying, but be sure you are buying firm green plantains. Estimate about one per person for a side or appetizer.

These get served up as a side to just about anything: grilled meat, soup, and in some places probably sopa de patacones. That's how much they love them.

Patacones
Some plantains (each will make about 5 patacones)
Vegetable oil
Salt

As Barrett pointed out, you really ought to score the skin instead of trying to peel from the top like a banana. Score it top to bottom 4 times and use the side of your thumb to peel away the outer skin (as opposed to the top of your thumb). Don't be discouraged if the first one doesn't come off so cleanly. You'll be an expert in no time.

Prepare a bowl of salt water and set aside.

Cut each plantain into 5 (or so) pieces and lay them into a pan of hot oil (cover the bottom, but not much more--it's not a deep fry). Fry for a few minutes on a side, until they turn yellow and then just a spattering of brown. Rotate with tongs or a fork to get all sides evenly fried. Remove from the oil to a strainer.

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Next, use a plastic or paper bag folded over several times, a plate, your tostonera (if you've got it, flaunt it), even the plantain skins themselves to smash the plantains. Take caution (if using a method that causes your palms to be very close to the plantain) because they are fresh out of the fryer, after all. Then dip each into the bowl of salt water (or you can, of course, salt them at the very end) and back into the fryer until they are done (usually determined by the color, a nice light brown all around).

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Remove to paper towel or strainer and salt (if you didn't do the salt water step above). Eat them just as is, or with a salsa of tomato, onion, cilantro, and a little jalapeño. If this seems too healthy for you and you really want to meet your maker sooner, top the hot patacones with a grated cheese of your choosing. Something bland like Mozzarella or Monterey Jack is typical. Save that expensive block of Casu Marzu for another use. Then take that whole thing and fry it one last time. I'm just kidding. Although...

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Posted by Justin at 8:36 AM | Comments (14)
July 12, 2006
Pesta, Pasta and Spring Vegetables

bastapasta.jpgI made a truly wonderful pasta dish recently. Bright green and healthy looking, it sang with flavour. Do you want to see it? Well, you can't. All you can see is a tantalisingly empty bowl. I meant to take a photo, I really did. But first we had an unexpected dinner guest, the Critic's former boss. So although we didn't get out the good silverware, I did kind of want to keep up appearances of being a semi-normal family that doesn't photograph the food when it reaches the table. I thought, "There's plenty. I can photograph the leftovers tomorrow and no one will be the wiser."

There weren't a lot of leftovers. And I was just absently finishing the last bite and thinking how lovely it was and how wonderful it would be to tell our readers about it...when I remembered the photo. So you'll have to imagine it: twirly bits of pasta glistening with olive oil and basil, a slightly nubbly texture from the nuts and delicious young peas, meaty broad beans, soft rings of leek and tender baby zucchini peeking out from the nooks and crannies.

The Critic asked for seconds, and as regular readers will know he is no vegetable fan. He asked for seconds when there was still meat on his plate. It was that good.

I have to admit that this dish does take a fair amount of time and effort. It's mainly the fault of the broad beans, but I think they add a nice depth of flavour. You could substitute them with another spring vegetable and save some time though.

And although pine nuts are the traditional cornerstone of a pesto sauce I substituted almonds. They brought a sweetness to the pesto that complimented the young vegetables nicely. If you are a traditionalist, though, you can use pine nuts instead.

Pesto, Pasta and Spring Vegetables (serves 3-4 as a side dish, generously)

1 kilo of broad beans, unshelled
500 grams of peas, unshelled
2-3 small zucchini
2-3 small leeks

300 grams of pasta - rottini are good, as they give the sauce something to stick to

1 cup of fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup very good olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
100 grams of toasted almonds

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

This recipe is all about shelling. Shell the peas first. Put them in the steamer insert (if you have one) for your medium saucepan. Or put them in a bamboo steamer. The thing is, that you want to cook them gently and retain as much flavour as possible. Before you start cooking them, though, wash the zucchini and cut them into small (one cm) cubes. Toss them over the peas. Then clean the leeks and slice them in thickish rings. Spread them over the zucchini and cook the lot together until the peas smell done (about six minutes) and the leeks are soft. Set them aside.

Shell the broad beans. Put them in a pot of salted boiling water and cook until tender, about six or seven minutes. If they are really young and tender you can just drain them. Mine were a bit big and meaty and so I plunged them in cold water and started shelling the individual beans.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the packet, probably about 10 minutes to get it al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, make up the pesto sauce. Put the basil, toasted almonds, garlic and half the olive oil in a mini-blender and whizz it for a moment or two. Scrape the lumps off the side of the container and add a bit more olive oil. Whizz it again. Keep going until you have a smooth sauce the consistency you want; it may take a little more olive oil or a little less. Err on the side of generousity, though, as it means more flavour for the pasta and vegetables. And olive oil is relatively healthy anyway.

Toss the vegetables with the pesto and, when done, drain and add the pasta. Toss to coat, add half the grated parmesan and toss again. Before serving, taste to see if it needs a little salt and pepper; it will probably be the better for both. Serve with the remaining parmesan in a bowl and let your guests add as much as they like.

It's a lovely early summer pasta dish, equally good warm or at room temperature.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:30 PM | Comments (7)
July 11, 2006
Salade Niçoise: the non-tacky-touristy-version

nicoise.jpgFrom its birthplace in the south of France to the cosmopolitan center of France, the salade niçoise can be found in just about every cheap café in the nation. The Critic loves to order it, because he knows what to expect and it mainly includes things he likes: tomatoes, potatoes, tuna, anchovies, green beans and, occasionally, overcooked rice. I'm not a huge fan for a variety of reasons: overcooked rice, canned tuna, the frequent absence of anchovies, the fact that it's on the menu in every season and every clime. Bleh. It's not that I don't like the idea; I am just so frequently disappointed in the execution. (As with many things: don't ask me about Caesar's salad in the UK unless you are ready for an hour long rant...)

What I do like about the salad, when it's properly done, is the healthiness of the ingredients that still manage to make you feel like you've had a proper meal. I also like the fact that it's not too heavy on your stomach when the weather is hot and your appetite low. And I really like sharp mustardy vinaigrette.

So I thought of this salad on my recent experiments with broad beans. I found that broad beans had a lot of the same flavour as green beans, but with a meatier texture. And they are still in season. So I picked up a couple of tuna steaks from the market and a kilo of broad beans and a few new beets because they are so pretty and taste so rich and buttery. I already had lettuce and cucumbers in the refrigerator and the only ingredient I forgot - and didn't miss, let me hasten to add - was gently steamed new potatoes. The hard-boiled eggs that traditionally adorn a salade niçoise were left of intentionally as I'm not all that keen and the Critic actively dislikes them. The rice was left out because I think it's a disgusting trick that restaurant owners use to cheaply add bulk to the salad.

And please spare me the comment from An Expert On French Food, telling me that this isn't the "real" salade niçoise. Yes, I know that. This is my take on the dish and you can love it or leave it. I love it. Olives are also traditional in a Salade Niçoise and if I had any on hand I would have included them.

Meg's Salade Niçoise

Interestingly enough, the Larousse Gastronomique does not have any reference to salade niçoise; I suppose it's a sign of its bourgeois appeal. And also interesting - to me - is the fact that Schott's Food Miscellany (a book I highly recommend if you love food and love trivia), lists broad beans as an element in the salad and green beans as a possible substitute. I have never seen broad beans served in a salade niçoise and thought I was being relatively original.

1 kilo broad beans (weight before shelling)
3-4 young beets
6-8 small new potatoes (optional)
2-3 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1/4 a cucumber, thinly sliced
2 large handfuls of lettuce, preferably something soft and tasty or a mixture
2 tuna steaks
7 anchovies
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard
salt, pepper

Top and tail the beets, wash them and put them in a pot of boiling water. If you are including potatoes, wash them and set them to steam. Shell the beans and put them in a pot of boiling salted water. The beets will probably be done by the time you get the beans cooking. If so, drain them and pour cool water over them. Peel the skin off and reserve once they are cool enough to handle. Check the potatoes and remove them as well, if done. Cut them in large chunks (if necessary) and reserve. Once the beans have boiled for six or seven minutes, check whether they are tender. When they are, drain and then plunge them in cold water to cool down. You have a choice at this point: if your beans are young and tender or if you like chewy beans, you can leave them as they are. If not, peel them and toss them with a tablespoon of the olive oil and one of the anchovies, chopped.

Take another tablespoon of the oil to brush the tuna steaks. Cook them on a hot grill until they are as done as you like; be aware they cook very quickly.

Start the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar and mustard well. Then gradually add the remaining olive oil, making a smooth emulsion. Salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad by arranging the lettuce on two plates and then the beets, beans, tomatoes, onion and sliced cucumber. Lay the tuna steaks in the center and drizzle half of the vinaigrette on each of the salads. Garnish with the remaining anchovies.

It's a bit of a time-consuming salad, it's true, but it really is worth it. The bold flavours work well together, salty and yet healthy, low calorie and yet filling. A perfect summer dinner.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:49 AM | Comments (7)
July 10, 2006
Grilled Baba Ghanoush

As part of moving to the Baltimore/Washington corridor, I was requred by the Secuity Unit of the Baltimore Urban Reaches Board (SUBURB) to purchase a gril. After much negotiating, which consisted mainly of me pointing at grills at Lowe's saying "How about that one?" and the Redhead saying "No" when she saw the price, we settled on a classic and inexpensive charcoal Weber kettle grill.

One of my friends says that the difference between cooking on charcoal grill and a gas grill is 40 minutes. I don't disagree that charcoal takes longer than a propane tank grill to get going, but I do like the flavor that smoke from the charcoal gives the food cooked on it. In our case, that food includes portobella mushrooms, fish, corn, and for this dish - eggplant.

Baba Ghanoush is a classic Middle Eastern dish usually served with pita as a starter or as part of a mezze-style dinner with hummus and a parsley and lemon salad. Smoky charred eggplant is blended with tahini, a thin paste or thick sauce (depending on your perspective) made from sesame seeds, and good olive oil. A touch of salt and a hint of garlic seal the deal. You can find tahini in most supermarkets with a decent ethnic foods section or in any Arabic/Persian market.

You could make this dish without a grill. If you do, first char the eggplant lightly with your broiler or with gas burners before baking it on a cookie sheet to soften up the flesh.

Griled Baba Ghanoush
1/4 cup vegetable oil for prepping the grill
1 good sized Italian eggplant - about 1.5 pounds.
1/4 cup tahini
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
chopped parsley or a pinch of sumac to garnish

First start your grill and get your coals hot. I use a chimney-style starter and a little newspaper. You'll know the coals are ready when a light gray ash coats them all. I don't recommend using matchlight or other charcoal soaked with lighter fluid. It may give a gasoline taste to any food cooked on the grill.

Move all the coals to one side of the grill. This gives a choice of using a direct or indirect heating method with the egplant. It also lets you add other items to the grill, like the shallots I grilled for a recipe for shallot-yogurt moosir that I'm working on.

Using tongs, dip a wad of paper towels in the vegetable oil and wipe the grill lightly with it. This will help prevent food stickage.

Poke a few holes in the eggplant with a fork or knife all over the body of the vegetable. Place the eggplant directly over the coals. Put the lid back on the grill and leave the smoke holes about half open. After 15 minutes, check on the eggplant. Flip the eggplant so the cooked side is up and replace the lid. Cook another 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, if the eggplant isn't soft throughout, either continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes on the grill, or finish the eggplant in a 375 F oven until it is soft, but not without structure throughout.

Peel the finished eggplant. Leave some charred bits clinging to the veg, but get most of the tough skin off. Cut the eggplant into 1-2" chunks. Precision is not required as this is all going into the blender.

Ideally, you should wait until the eggplant has cooled completely for this next step. Place the eggplant chunks and the tahini in the blender. Peel and smash the garlic cloves and add them to the belnder. Using pulses, blend until the eggplant is a lumpy paste. Add a pinch of salt. Add the lemon juice a bit at a time, blending lightly, until you like the flavor. Put the blender on a low setting and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, stopping to taste occasionally until you are staisfied with the texture.

Cool completely in a refrigerator, preferably overnight so the flavor can develop more. Serve with pita wedges.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:01 AM | Comments (10)
July 9, 2006
Calling all gardeners: zucchini advice needed!

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I have only had moderate success growing zucchini on my terrace. The first time I tried, I had four gorgeous plants that grew so quickly that I was obliged to go out and buy larger planters as even a novice zucchini grower like me could see that they were stifling in the small narrow planters. It's true I grew up in the Midwest and helped my mother and grandmothers in their vegetable gardens every summer, but it had been 15 years since I'd personally seen how large a zucchini plant can grow (answer=very). So the first batch of plants had lots of foilage with many beautiful flowers, followed by a few misshapen fruit, skinny and wrinkled on one end and round and glossy on the other.

When we moved into our new home in the 17th, I planted them in a much deeper square planter and awaited with great anticipation some nice big zucchini. Again, I had lots of big healthy leaves, loads of flowers and then...they just withered away. Before you can ask, yes I was watering them daily so it didn't seem to be a drought related problem.

Fast-forward to this year. I dragged the deep planter to the sunniest corner of the terrace. Previously, they had been in a more convenient spot in terms of traffic on the terrace, under the eaves of the roof. So I worked on the theory that on our Northwest-facing terrace the plants would need some help getting enough sunshine.

Please excuse the long-winded history of zucchini growing. I'm getting to the point.

It seems to be working: loads of big green leaves, loads of flowers and loads of zucchini. BUT. If you look a little closer in the photo, you'll see that the two vegetables closest to the camera are looking fine, just about large enough to harvest and very healthy. But some of the ones lower down are all wrinkled and unhealthy looking. Should I harvest the entire lot of zucchini, healthy and unhealthy and hope that it will flower and fruit again? I gave it a little worm tea (liquid fertiliser from my wormery) earlier in the summer; does it need more? Or more water? Should I have pruned back to only two or three zucchinis earlier in the season, on the basis that a plant can only support so many vegetables at once?

Let the experienced gardeners out there please come forward and guide me; I find it embarrassing that the one plant that my grandmother and mother grew to over-abundance with no effort at all is escaping me!

(Oh and if you have any advice on getting spinach to grow to a decent size - i.e. more than four leaves - before bolting that would be most welcome too. *sigh*)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:13 PM | Comments (21)
July 7, 2006
Ice Cream, I'm gonna make Ice Cream!

I scream, you scream, we all scream for frozen dairy products. I've had a desire to make ice cream for many years now. My blogging partner, Meg, was kind enough to give us a French Donvier manual ice cream maker many years ago, but I've been unsuccessful making ice cream, making a mushy soupy sweet mess or unsatisfying icy white crystals instead of ice cream. I'd been discouraged enough that I'd pretty much given up on making the stuff from scratch.

However, with my recently acquired cooking skills, I thought the Fourth of July seemed like a great day to declare independence from the commercial ice cream makers and finally make a batch of Barrett's American-style Ice Cream

Now, ice cream is not originally American, but it has a long history in this country. Ben Franklin supposedly brought it back to the US from France, but Ben purportedly brought a lot of things back from France, and some of these stories are less accurate than others. What is known is that the Founding Fathers loved the stuff, especially Thomas Jefferson. Visitors to Monticello often remarked on the ice cream dishes served there, and the earliest American recipe for ice cream comes from Jefferson's notebooks.

I started with what might be one of the simplest of ice cream recipes - 2 cups milk, 2 cups heavy cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1 cup powdered sugar. I combined the ingredients, and simmered them over a medium low heat, stirring constantly. Ten minutes later, the mix had thickened a bit and evenly coated the wooden spoon I used to stir it.

I cooled the mix on the oven top until it had reached near room temperature, then transferred it to the refrigerator. About half an hour later, when the mix was refrigerator temperature, I assembled the Donvier ice cream maker, using the core I had frozen the day before.

Following the directions, I tuned the crank on the ice cream maker3 times every thee minutes. Ignoring the directions, I continued this for 30 minutes instead of the 15-20 minutes suggested in the directions. Voila. Instead of the mess I had made before I had an ice cream-like substance. A little loose, sure, but very much like ice cream. I packed it into a container and put it in the refrigerator to freeze.

The result - ice cream! A little harder than commercial ice cream, but recognizably ice cream! Wow. It only took me 40 years to get to this point.

So now that I've made plain vanilla ice cream, watch out. We'll have some tasty variations soon, starting with the vanilla base that I've made here. Cherries are particularly plentiful right now...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:33 AM | Comments (10)
July 6, 2006
Arroz con coco or Unhealthy (but tasty) Colombian vegetarian cuisine: Part 1 in a series

arroz_con_coco_jf.jpgIt's true: vegetarian food doesn't have to be good for you. Just ask the Colombians.

You don't see me posting a lot of Colombian dishes here on TMC because dishes are nearly always meat-based (and we keep a vegetarian kitchen), and the veggie dishes that do exist are either bland (more unseasoned corn flour?) or horrible for you (I like fried things as much as the next guy, but come on!) and often both. But here we throw caution to the wind and make what is probably my favorite veggie side dish found here and in other countries in the region that are in or border the Caribbean.

Obviously for most of you reading this blog, the crux is finding this jar of coconut. Try your local Latino or Caribbean market. Otherwise grate yourself a fresh coconut (haven't you always wanted to invest in one of those little stools that has a little, what I can only describe as a, cowboy spur?)

This rice is generally served on a side plate with a half of avocado (you know, because there's not enough fat in the coconut). They serve it with grilled meats of all varieties. If you're having soup, the side of rice is usually plain.

arroz_con_coco_jf2.jpg

Arroz con coco

1 small jar of concentrado de coco (4.3 oz or 125 gr)
5 cups water
2 cups rice
2 t salt
2-3 T sugar
raisins to taste

Put it all in a pot together and cook it up as you normally would. These, by the way, might be high-altitude directions. Four cups of water might be what you want.

Posted by Justin at 8:20 AM | Comments (20)
July 5, 2006
Eggplant stuffed with Fruit and Nut Rice

I'm not quite sure how the idea for this dish entered my tiny brain, but a few days ago, I got the urge for a savory and sweet rice dish stuffed into an eggplant. Perhaps it's homesickness for the nearby Arabic/Iranian neighborhood that we left in Chicago. Rice that is yellow with tumeric is mixed with sauteed vegetables spiced with fruits, nuts, and spices usually found in Christmas dishes, and the lot is stuffed into eggplant halves. It's reminiscent of either Tehran and Dehli or Kedzie and Lawrence.

I had no guide to this dish so I felt my way through the spices. The description I give below is of the right way to make this dish, but by no means is it the way I used. I'd add a little cinnamon, taste it, add a little mustard, taste it, add a little more cinnamon and some cumin, and so on until I had something I thought tasted good. You could do the same thing, if you wish, but the attached recipe will give you a guide to work from.

Is this dish more Persian or Indian in influence? Well, the Mughal rulers of Northern India came to the subcontinent from Persia, and much of their influence is still felt in Northern Indian foods today. I think you could get away with adding more Indian spices to the rice, and eggplant features in both cultures' cuisine.

One interesting ingredient here is sumac. Sumac is a red sour spice that in the right neighborhood markets is so cheap you have to split a $1 supply with a friend who used to write for this blog (or at least I had to). It changes the rice's color to a dirty red/yellow so you may want to let guests add it at the end as a sprinkle to retain the brighter yellow color of the rice. I incorporated it into the dish directly.

So here's a recipe that's a little bit of yellow rice, a little bit of nine jewels rice, a touch of Christmas, and a little bit of whatever the heck tasted good to me on a Summer night in July 2006.

Eggplant stuffed with Fruit and Nut Rice serves 4-8

2 cups calrose or other medium grain rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons tumeric
1/2 teapsoon salt plus some for salting the eggplant

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons tarragon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
2 good sized Italian eggplants (the usual kind found in US Supermarkets)
1 zucchini, cut into 1" dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup pistachio meats, chopped coarsley
2 more tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water

drizzles of olive oil additional

First, the basic yellow rice - in saucepan, combine butter, rice, tumeric, 3 to 3-1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for ten minutes or so until the rice is fluffy and yellow. Set aside.

Next prep the vegetables. Cut the leafy top off your eggplant with one crosscut. Split the eggplant legthwise, and with a knife or grapefruit spoon, carefully hollow out the halves until there is 1/4" -1/2" of flesh clinging to the skin of the eggplant. Retain the cut out portion, seeds and all. Now salt the inside of the eggplant flesh lightly and set, cut side down, on a paper towel.

Dice the zucchini and pepper if you have not done so already, then dice the eggplant into approximately 1/2" chunks.

In a saucepan, over high heat heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add all the spices except the sumac after the oil is hot. Stir for about 45 seconds. Add the vegetables (bell pepper, eggplant, and zucchini). Toss and stir until the vegetables are evenly coated with oil and spices. Taste, and add more of any spices you'd like to taste more of. Adjust salt and pepper.

Add the rice to the pan along with 1/4 cup of water. Stir and combine the rice and vegetables well. Once the water has cooked off, add in the nuts and fruits and stir well. Remove from heat. You may add th esumac in now and stir or hold it out as a garnish spice later.

Preheat an oven to 350 F.

Brush olive oil on the insides of the eggplant shells. Pepper liberally. Using a spatula or serving spoon, dish the rice mix into the eggplant half.

Put the eggplant halves on a cookie sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes until the uncut eggplant flesh is soft and tasty. Remove using a tongs and spatula (spatula underneath, tongs around the sides) to a serving plate. You may serve a half an eggplant per very hungry person or a half of a half (a quarter) to a more normally hungry person.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:17 AM | Comments (5)
July 4, 2006
Happy 4th of July, America!

tatersardine.jpgOn my way home from work today I stopped at the supermarket and bought hamburgers, hotdogs, buns and tomatoes. This is the modest way I generally celebrate the 4th here in France: the lowest common denominator of American cuisine. And I remembered the leftover potato salad in the fridge, which I made for a picnic this weekend which was sadly cancelled at the last minute.

I had intended to make a chicken salad and possibly a potato salad. "No mayonnaise!!!" one of the party shouted down the phone at me when I mentioned the menu. Hm, yes, there is a bit of a heat-wave here in Paris. And so I had a brainwave as I stood in line at the fishmonger's stall at the market on Saturday morning: potatoes and grilled sardines. Meaty, summery, not your average potato salad, perfect. I highly recommend it for your 4th of July picnic if you are having one.

Grilled Sardine Potato Salad (serves 4 as a side dish)

1 kilo new potatoes
500 grams sardine filets
1 Tbs fresh thyme
2 Tbs capers, drained and rinsed
2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash and cut the potatoes in large chunks. Set them to steam while you prepare the rest of the salad. Toss the sardines with the thyme and a tablespoon of olive oil. Grill them on a medium hot grill, just a few moments, enough to cook them through. If your grill has a cover you won't even need to turn them over; they will cook quickly. (Don't worry about the odd bit of charring on the fish though; they will be all the tastier with a little smoky edge to them.) When they are done, set them aside in a bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Add the capers. When the potatoes are done, toss them in this bowl and stir quickly to coat them. Add salt and pepper, the tomatoes and the chives and stir again. Lastly, gently stir in the sardine filets along with any juice that may have accumulated in the bowl. They can break up a bit, but the salad will look and taste nicer if there are recognisable chunks. Serve at room temperature, but do refrigerate if you are not going to eat it right away.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)
July 3, 2006
BLT Salad, Veg style

Moving to Maryland has been an experience and a half. Yes, our bed finally arrived, but though it took four men to move the bed and the rest of our stuff onto the truck in Chicago, it took two and a half men (one being a ten year old boy) five long hours to unload our posessions in the rain last week.

Since then, I've been trying to figure out exactly how I fit twice as much stuff into a kitchen half the size that I have now, yet I can't fit what I currently have into the new kitchen. Hunh.

Aside from that, we've been painting, patching, repairing, adjusting, tightening, loosening, buying a new car, and generally adapting to life in the heart of deepest darkest suburbia. Oh, and spending. Lots and lots of spending on newly essential items.

One item essential to the new life was getting DirectTV after a year without cable or satellite (it was a token gesture to help fund the downpayment on our current domicile). This means I can now enjoy Food TV and the scientific peregrinations of Alton Brown once more. I missed the mad scientist of the kitchen.

As chance would have it, the first show of his I happened on of his was the tomato pecker show (it's a bird, theoretically - get your mind out of the gutter) where he transforms tomatoes into all manner of dishes including a bacon, lettuce, tomato and bread salad - a BLT panzanella. This sounded good to me and a simple dish to help ease me into my new kitchen (which, by the way, still has the old stove - it takes time to get workmen out to install a gas line, apparently. Give me a few weeks.)

Of course, Alton has no problem eating bacon or meat of any variety. We, however are pescetarians (otherwise vegetarians who eat fish), and real bacon was right out. Losing the bacon means losing the bacon fat and drippings which are important to the original recipe. I thought a bit and worked out a vegetarian version of a blt sandwich in salad form. I retain most of Alton's tricks like mixing uncooked and cooked tomatoes, but I use olive oil instead of bacon grease, and do a couple of other things a little differently as well.

If you are also eschewing meat or just pork, try this version of Alton's BLT Salad. Or, if you prefer, use real bacon and cut the olive oil usage in half.

NOTE: I have pictures of this salad, but I'm still looking in boxes for the card reader for my PC. I shoudl find it later today and will add a pic to this post.

BLT Salad, Veg Style
1/2 loaf french bread
1-1/2 heads Romaine lettuce
2 Eight oz. packages cherry or grape tomatoes
1 Eight oz. package Smart Bacon or other vegetarian "fake-en"
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt, pepper to taste

The day before, cut the bread into 1" or smaller cubes. Leave out to get stale. If you foget to do this step, cut the bread up and toast in an oven at 150-200 F until the bread is crispy, but has not taken on any color.

Wash and drain all your vegetables.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Add the vegetarian bacon substitute (what a horrible name for such tasty stuff). Fry until crisp, turning once. Work in batches if necessary. Remove finished bacon to a plate, but do not drain. You want that oil. Once all the bacon is finished, chop it up into 1/2" or smaller pieces.

Cut one package of cherry tomatoes into halves. Cut the other into quarters. Add the halves to the same skillet you cooked the veggie bacon in. Add a pinch of salt and the red wine vinegar. Over medium heat, sautee the tomatoes, tossing frequently until they soften take on a little color here and there and the red wine vinegar is evaporated - about 5 minutes. Remove to a large bowl.

Cut off the core end of the Romaine and discard. Slice the romaine lengthwise once, then into 1" strips with cuts perpendicular to the first one. Add to the bowl the cooked tomatoes are in.

Add the bacon and uncooked cherry tomato quarters to the bowl. Mix well.

Now, add half the bread to the skillet you cooked the bacon and tomatoes in with one tablespoon of olive oil. Toss and warm the bread. Once all the oil and residual bacon and tomato flavors have been absorbed, remove the cubes to the bowl. Repeat with the rest of the bread.

Toss the salad well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:57 AM | Comments (3)
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