Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Eggsactly How I Would Do It, If I'd Thought of It

cutouteggs According to the good folks at Cook's Illustrated, if you'd like silky smooth deviled egg filling, run the yolks through a Mouli grater (for small batches) or a fine sieve (for large batches) before mixing with the other ingredients. Consider yourself informed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Spain, Chicken, and Bouillabaisse

paprika Sometimes imagination fails me and I'm forced to fall back on an old stand-by. Not a bad thing really, especially if it's been a while since I've made it, but disappointing at the same time since I love to try my hand at new dishes. Nevertheless, the following recipe is one that my family loves and will eat (if I haven't served it the week before). My husband's family is originally from Spain and since we've been together, I've been inspired by family gatherings, trips to Spain, and most of all, Penelope Casas to infuse a Spanish sensibility in my cooking. As an average American WASP, I crave ethnicity and cultural differences. Green bean casserole and mushroom soup-based cuisine are my only authentic heritage, so I've had to make it up as I go along. Trying on my husband's heritage for size, I found it fit nicely--garlic, olive oil, fabulous wine, chorizo, what's not to like? Over the years, the following chicken recipe has slowly evolved. Its original inspiration was a Martha Rose Schulman recipe in Mediterranean Light, which in turn, was inspired by bouillabaisse. To transport it south of the Pyrenees, I decreased the wine and chicken broth, increased the garlic and added smoked paprika to the mix. The original recipe was a little finicky about cooking technique; I found that just plunking all the ingredients together in a pot or large covered saucepan and simmering for 45-60 minutes was far easier and just as tasty. My only problem with the dish--actually all chicken dishes--is the gradual erosion of bone-in, organic chicken pieces available in this town. I really don't understand why the groceries around here think I want pallid boneless breasts and thighs. I can still get a whole chicken, no problem, but butchering a chicken is a real pain. I mean, I have a nice (Wusthof) knife, a great knife sharpener, yet no matter how sharp my knife is, I still have to brutally hack off the wings and legs, while the slippery chicken slides around the counter and befouls me with its slimy juices. I didn't go to culinary school, I admit, so technique may play a part in my ineptitude. Nevertheless, the whole business just seems needlessly time-consuming and unnecessarily nasty. Why can't a real butcher at the store or the chicken packaging place do this for me, like they used to? I believe in organic farming fervently and love the superior taste of happy chickens--I just can't let myself succumb to the easy convenience of Purdue although I'm sorely tempted at times. The nearest Whole Foods Market is 75 miles away and besides, I live in a semi-major metropolitan city and shouldn't have to drive to a far smaller town to get the variety I want (although I have). What's going on? Enough ranting--onto the (did I mention it's child-friendly?) recipe: Chicken with Saffron, Smoked Paprika and Garlic 1 organic chicken brutally butchered by hand in Richmond or professionally cut into 8 pieces if you're out of town 2 TB. olive oil 1 small onion, diced 5 cloves garlic, minced 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes 1/2 c. white wine 1/2 c. chicken broth 1 t. dried orange peel 1 bay leaf 1/2t. dried thyme 1 t. smoked paprika 2 large pinches saffron (toasted lightly in a small skillet beforehand to bring out the flavor) salt and pepper to taste Remove skin from chicken and lightly salt with coarse salt. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a dutch oven or large saucepan, and sauté the garlic and onion until soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, chicken, white wine, chicken broth, dried orange peel, and spices. Stir gently and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 45-60 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve with small new potatoes or couscous (my favorite, but not my family's), a large green salad, and a crisp and flavorful Albariño. Serves 4.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Is My Blog Burning No. 16: Eggs!

eggs The Seattle Bon Vivant is hosting Is My Blog Burning? No. 16 and the theme this time around is eggs. It's not hard to think of literally dozens of recipes that would showcase the lovely farm eggs of Brookview Farm I buy every week--you know, the ones I've been exhorting you to go down to the Farmers' Market and buy? Wherever you might get them, farm eggs are worth seeking out and paying a premium for--consider yourself lucky if you have access to them at all. In a previous post I mentioned living on a farm and not being allowed to touch a single one of the many, many eggs the chickens there laid every day. In fact, I had to listen to the farm manager complain about all of the eggs she was forcing herself to eat and how monotonous she found it. All the while I fumed inwardly, cursing this woman and her lack of imagination. I had to drive 25 miles into town to buy pricey organic eggs on a grad student's salary! I knew what I would do with all of those extra eggs if I had a chance. As I thought about eggs in the here and now however, the infinite possibilities dazzled me. Should I bake something (I'm always looking for an excuse), should I scramble a few with chorizo (now that's breakfast), or should I just highlight the intrinsic goodness of the egg itself? Deviled eggs are a minimally gussied-up hard-boiled egg and seemed to fit the bill the more I thought about them. Besides, they sustained me through pregnancy. Afterwards, post-partum, post-nursing, I began adding horseradish to the predictable mix and serving them to unsuspecting guests (that's a great face to see). Although they were good, it wasn't until I traded in my boring old jarred horseradish for wasabi that these babies began to sing. You've just got to have the best eggs available for this recipe to make it work, and when you do, you've got a recipe that bites back. Without further ado . . . Wasabi Eggs 6 eggs (if you let them sit in the refrigerator for a few days or even a week after purchasing, the whites will gel a bit more and the egg will be easier to peel) 1/4 cup mayonnaise 1/2 t. Dijon mustard 1/2-1 t. wasabi paste (brands vary in strength, so taste it before adding more) salt and pepper to taste Hard-boil eggs (I wouldn't even presume to tell you how to do this--everyone is convinced their way is the best way). Peel and slice in half those six now chilled and newly hard-boiled eggs. Plunk the yolks in a medium bowl and mash thoroughly with a fork. Add mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and wasabi. Stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste and fill whites with yolk mixture. Serve proudly and refrain from mentioning your little variation on the traditional deviled egg.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Party at My House

watermelonmargarita2 Bob Blumer (aka The Surreal Gourmet) is always an inspiration to me--primarily because he takes some of the sting out of entertaining. You know how it is, you make a great dish one night you want to share with your friends and so a week or so later, you invite them all over. After a hellish day shopping and cleaning your house, by the time evening rolls around and your guests start arriving, your supposedly fun dinner party has transformed itself into an excruciating chore you can't imagine why you wished upon yourself. Instead of cooking, you're ready to chuck it all in the trash and go out for dinner. Even the carefully planned cocktails are just an ineffective balm to take the edge off the stress. Or is this just me? In all of his books (and particularly The Surreal Gourmet Entertains), Blumer plots a strategy to calm even the most neurotic of host(esses)s like me. He clearly outlines the steps for a successful dinner party for each dish, including not only tips for what can be made ahead, but also wine and music suggestions (and as the former manager of Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry, his advice is both informed and broad, not to mention, ultra-cool). Couple that with flavorful and unusual dishes (Dishwasher Salmon? Don't knock it till you've tried it), I find myself turning to his books almost every time I (foolishly) entertain. His "Build-Your-Own Burrrito Fiesta" on p. 70 of The Surreal Gourmet Entertains last night inspired me to try the dinner party thing once again. Marinated and grilled pork tenderloin provided the base for the burritos with guacamole and salsa recipes following. His marinade is fine but really can be stepped up to a full-fledged adobo with the addition of garlic and a little oregano (recipe to follow). Since I had guests bring guacamole and salsa, I can't attest to those particular recipes, although I've had such good luck with Blumer's books, I wouldn't hesitate to make and serve them without reservation. Nonetheless, besides the pork and the recommended condiments (things like sour cream, green onions, cilantro--obvious really, but I love having it spelled out for me in list form), I felt compelled to put my own spin on the whole burrito theme. It occurred to me that the fresh peaches I had ripening away on the counter might make an interesting salsa--if you can do it with mangoes, why not peaches? The sweet and spicy chunks complemented the smoky meat perfectly (if I do say so myself) and my only recommendation is to serve it with a slotted spoon because it was a little too juicy after sitting for an hour at room temperature (the peaches, not the pork). Pushing the theme a little farther, I remembered that summer is the perfect excuse to serve margaritas. In Off the Eaten Path, Blumer has a frozen watermelon margarita recipe I've served before. I recalled though, that it needed a little punching up. It wasn't quite strong enough and I really wanted the watermelon flavor to shine. More watermelon and less ice didn't really do the trick. More tequila and Cointreau instead of triple sec helped but it still wasn't quite enough. Then I remembered my favorite Switch soda--it's a carbonated juice my children adore and are actually allowed to drink--strawberry watermelon. Ah ha! Three or four frozen strawberries added to the mix enhanced the watermelon flavor just enough without the whole thing morphing into the predictable margarita so many restaurants seem to have whirling away in a big slurpee machine behind the bar. Now, don't think I actually relaxed that evening. Despite the Los Lobos and EL Vez albums playing on shuffle and repeat, I never did calm down completely. Blumer isn't a miracle worker, although, come to think of it, maybe I should have taken his advice and done tequila shots out of the empty lime halves. That might have been his best advice after all. , , Adobo Pork Tenderloin (inspired by the Surreal Gourmet) 1 1b. pork tenderloin 1/2 c. fresh lime juice 1/2 c. fresh orange juice 4 cloves garlic, minced 1 t. cumin 1 t. oregano 1 t. coarse salt 1/2 t. black pepper Combine the juices, garlic, and spices in a large ziploc bag with the pork. Marinate a minimum of two hours. Pat dry, and grill over indirect heat for 18-25 minutes (turning in 5-6 minute intervals) until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F. Slice thinly and have guests wrap with warmed flour tortillas, choosing their own condiments. Serves 4-6. Peach Salsa 3 ripe (but not mushy) peaches, diced 1 small red pepper, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced fine 2 green onions, chopped 1 jalapeno, chopped 2 Tb. fresh lime juice 1/2 Tb. honey salt and pepper to taste Combine all the ingrediants in a small bowl and allow flavors to meld at room temperature for about one hour. High-Test Watermelon Margaritas (based on a recipe by the Surreal Gourmet) 3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed and frozen 3-4 frozen strawberries 3 Tb. (or 1 1/2 oz., if measuring with a shot glass) fresh lime juice 6 oz. tequila 2 oz. Cointreau 1 c. ice Place everything in a blender and whirl away like a slurpee machine until smooth. Serve in salt-rimmed glasses and be prepared for seconds. Serves 4-6, depending on the size of your glasses.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Happy Pigs

porkchop Market Report 6/16/05: As the humidity lifted yesterday and the cool breezes blew in overnight, it was not only almost bearable yesterday but downright pleasant first thing in the morning at the Farmer's Market. It was easy to ruminate over the pleasures of pastoral living as I took in the sights and sounds of the decidedly urban landscape around me. I lived on a farm about a hundred years ago, just outside of Charlottesville, but even then, I really was just a tourist. I didn't run the farm (which primarily raised Angus cows and brood mares), wasn't even allowed to collect any eggs from the farm's prolific chickens. I did, however, have a small garden that ran riot with tomatoes and basil; because of its fecundity, I felt like a real farmer. Decidedly delusional, I know, particularly when I realized that the sharp, acrid stench making my nostrils burn as I took my daily walk down our dirt road was chemical fertilizer spread by the small planes I heard periodically. All of my organic efforts in the garden and at the table were negated every time I left my house and breathed in the air. I could forget about the darker side of farming (not just the chemicals but, you know, all that hard work) yesterday though and concentrate on the food. I wanted to make the strawberry jam I read about on The Amateur Gourmet's site--I love his sense of humor and real, practical advice--and so inspired, I made my way to Amy's Garden. Unfortuantely, no strawberries this week, but she did have her amazing bicolor squash, sugar snap peas, tiny beets, pac choi (baby bok choi) and little, red-skinned potatoes. Most of her greens were sold out by the time I arrived, just after 9 am, and I had to make due with some peppery arugula. I was slowly perusing the other stalls, sipping a bubble tea (note to self: not my favorite), when tucked away in the corner, I discovered the wares of the Double A Farm, home of free range pork products. I've been increasingly frustrated with the limited cuts of organic pork, beef, and recently, chicken (!) available in the local grocery stores. Why, I ask, why can't you buy bone-in pork chops? Or ribs? I'm happy to see the bacon and the pork tenderloin but why can't I have variety in my choices? The farmers at Double A Farm have solved at least the pork part of the problem. They have not only nice, thick bone-in chops but ribs, bacon (actually, thick uncured strips of pork belly) and yes, spicy homemade sausage. I can even get fresh rendered lard (don't knock it till you've tried it in your pie crust) if I call ahead (434-535-8406; ask for Linda or Ronnie Beale). I immediately went home and made plans to make Pork Chops with Golden Onions and Wilted Tomatoes with sauteed bicolor squash and garlic. The chops were as I'd hoped, juicy and flavorful, and this recipe was gratifyingly easy, complemented by Amy's outstanding squash. Why are her squash bursting with so much flavor? How does she get them to taste so unexpectedly delicious? How many other ways can I think to serve them? All questions I hope to answer as the summer wears on. Hopefully, everyone else in Richmond will join me as I cook and eat my way through the Farmer's Market this season. , , squashrow2

Friday, June 10, 2005

The 17th Street Farmer's Market

strawberries2 I have a hard time making it to the Farmer's Market every week now that I have children and my synapses have somehow derailed. I just can't seem to remember to go until it's too late. All of the local organic (and non-organic) farmers come to 17th and Main every Thursday throughout the summer and early fall between 8:30 am and 2:00 pm to sell their wares. This year, in addition to the lovely fresh produce, eggs, and meats, there seem to be more stalls than ever with vendors selling a plethora of handmade goods. This week proved the exception however, when I actually noticed "Farmer's Market" written on my calendar and retained the information long enough to get into my car. I triumphantly returned home laden with bags full of eggs, greens, peas, and squash. Although I was drawn to the eclectic jewelry next door, I decided to spend my money at Amy Hicks' stall (Amy's Garden) and splurge on strawberries and flowers. I've been wondering where the local strawberries have been--not in any grocery store (I know of) as in past years. Amy's were beautiful and lushly fragrant, glistening, beckoning to me from beside the brilliantly colored flowers. I had to have them and as Amy warned me that they wouldn't last past today, I couldn't believe I had an excuse to eat them all immediately. They turned out to be a mixed bag; the larger ones, although pleasing to the eye were bland and less pleasing to the palate. The smaller ones, however, were exquisite little flavor bombs, sweet, juicy, and all too easily gobbled up. Even better, I didn't have to drive forever in my car and sweat it out picking in a strawberry field with two cranky children who are too hot to understand why this is supposed to be fun. I also found lovely bicolor squash and lots of fabulous greens--Asian greens, arugula, mesclun. Always popular, a crush soon developed around Amy's stall and I decided to get out with what I had. Although tempted mightily by the scent wafting from nearby of homemade crepes filled with amazing things like marscapone and rasberries or goat cheese and spinach, I resisted with almost inhuman inner resolve (where did that come from?) and browsed, bought three dozen farm eggs (I really, really love them) from the Brookview farm, and was talked into some freshly picked oyster mushrooms from Dave and Dee's Homegrown Mushrooms that did, in fact, lived up to Dave's hyperbole. Fresh mushrooms, like fresh eggs, really do taste far, far better than what we're all used to getting in the store--their earthy succulence perfectly complimented the organic steak with which I served them. Of course, to truly appreciate the subtleties of the mushrooms flavor, I need to make either a risotto or pasta dish that features them as the main ingredient. Maybe next week. I can only hope the proper sequence of neurons in my maternal brain fire properly on Thursday, reminding me to get there before the market closes.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Heat and the Humidity

flayslaw2 Grilling is mandatory at the moment for most of us here sweltering on the East Coast. The thought of turning on my oven makes me want to run for the nearest take-out joint but the thought of eating pizza again makes my family glare at me with murderous eyes and demand Captain Crunch for dinner instead. Therefore, I needed something to grill and something cool to go with it. I wasn't in the mood for a lot of fussing and at the same time, I wanted a little more than plain, grilled fare at the very least. I turned to Bobby Flay (his cookbook that is, Boy Gets Grill) who is not only innovative (anyone who has incorporated Spanish flavors so thoroughly into his repertoire is my kind of cook) but reliable as well. His Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Soy Sauce, Fresh Ginger and Toasted Sesame Seeds fit the bill perfectly. I took some shrimp out of the freezer--now that's a lifesaver; everyone should keep frozen shrimp in their freezer all summer long--brined it in a mild solution (2 Tb. coarse salt in 1 quart of water) until thawed and turned to page 116. Here's a link to the recipe on the web. It was a lovely Asian mélange of flavors: the piquancy of the ginger and garlic married nicely with the smoky flavor of the grill without overwhelming the sweetness of the shrimp. I also tried the Crunchy Vegetable Slaw with Peanut Sauce and Crispy Noodles on page 66 (it's renamed Crunchy Noodle Salad with Cabbage and Peanut Sauce for his Food Network show) Flay recommends as a side dish but I wasn't nearly as impressed. Although I loved the peanutty dressing, it lacked a certain something, a certain oomph to complement the shrimp and its rather subtle flavors. Both the shrimp and the slaw are a little two nut-ridden for my taste when eaten at the same meal and I wanted more of a contrast. Then I remembered another slaw I've made many times in the past, the Surreal Gourmet's (aka Bob Blumer) Psychedelic Coleslaw. Some sesame seeds, yes, but that dish packs a wallop and is gorgeous to boot, with the crazy purples and reds and yellows of the red cabbage and peppers all intertwined and dripping with a spicy, sweet dressing you want to lick from the bottom of the emptied bowl. With a food processor, slaw is a snap and you get all of those phytonutrients raw vegetables are supposed to be brimming with to boot. That would have been the perfect accompaniment to Flay's shrimp and next time, you can bet it'll accompany mine.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Best Cake in the World

cakemaking2 Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha! For years I've been garnering accolades for Martha Stewart's amazing Italian Cream Cake, listed on pg. 555 of The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It's a moist, heavy cake I frost with a cream cheese icing spiked with a little sour cream and sometimes Fiori di Sicilia (although I adore this fragrant, orange/vanilla flavoring, a little bit goes a long way and I have a tendency to overdo it at times, necessitating long breaks in between uses). Everyone truly raves about it, and it's the kind of cake that pulls you back in for a second, guilty slice. But Martha’s connection with this recipe compromises some of the pleasure for me. I don't want to cook from her cook book and even more importantly, I don't want to admit my signature dessert is really the creation of an obsessive-compulsive control freak who makes me feel inadequate every time I see the cover of her magazine at the check-out counter (even going to jail seemed to make Martha more successful--where is the justice in that??). I feel weak succumbing to her cultural power and just a little but used. But damn, this cake is really good. I was relieved, then, when researching the possibility of finding a link to this recipe, to discover that Martha can't really claim this recipe as her own. After sifting through dozens of recipes, her only significant change is to leave out the coconut and nuts that are ubiquitous in every other recipe. Not a bad innovation actually, since I personally loathe coconut, but the measurements and ingredients are consistent with a cake made by Emeril Lagasse on his show. I don't really want to be associated with Emeril either particularly, but still, it remains a cake worth making. Suitable for any occasion when you just want a slam dunk dessert (I seek them out). I do have a few tips: 1. Leave out the coconut (duh). 2. I can't vouch for those nuts. 3. Use cake flour and sift it twice before sifting it with the salt. 4. Increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. 5. Have all of your ingredients at room temperature (especially the eggs) 6. Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk instead of sifting it the dry ingredients. 7. Use Plugra butter! It really does make all baked goods taste better! Any cream cheese icing will do, but I particularly like the Cook's Illustrated version with its added tablespoon of sour cream. The tang of the sour cream subtly enhances the buttermilk used in this cake (it's secret ingredient, actually) which a plain cream cheese icing fails to do.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Food a Nine-Year Old Can Make

grater2 At last, a recipe even a nine-year old can make. And in fact, mine did, after attending a cooking class by the incomparable Johnny Giavos of the Sidewalk Cafe, 3 Monkeys, et al. Actually, my daughter learned a lot of recipes she can make on her own that night, but so far, the only one she's been able to remember and reproduce was Johnny's extra easy version of mac and cheese. Now, I guess Johnny is a little more persuasive than I am or maybe it was the do-it-yourself aspect of his presentation, but no one has ever eaten the macaroni and cheese I lovingly prepare by hand. Nope, Annie's from the box always wins, hands-down, every single time. And I end up eating my scrumptious, nutritious mac and cheese for days and days, all by myself. Johnny changed all of that. Here's his recipe, as remembered by a nine-year old chef: Giavos Mac & Cheese (*remember, all quantities are approximate) 8 oz. pasta of your choice (i.e. about half a box) 1/2 c. each, three cheeses of your choice: my daughter remembered cheddar and Manchego; we added Gruyere to the mix because we had some on hand 2-3 Tb. milk 2 Tb. butter lots of salt NO PEPPER! Cook the pasta according to its directions and drain. Add back to the pot over low heat; add butter and milk. Slowly sprinkle in cheese, and when melted and creamy, remove from heat. Serve. (Will feed two adults as a side dish and two children as the main course, with leftovers for lunch the next day. As nutritious and delicious as my more complicated--and spurred--version.) I didn't have to do anything at all except boil the pasta. What could be easier?