I hate going back to work after a long weekend. It makes me behave like a whiny kid being dragged out of bed to get to school. I had wanted to plan a lunch trip to the Farmer's Market for something to look forward to, but I couldn't bare to go outside in the freezing twenty degree temperature we're having. So when I got home Monday night sans fresh produce and craving a home-cooked meal, no one had to convince me that what I needed was some good old-fashioned comfort food for dinner, something like my grandma would make. For me, comfort food is often simple Eastern-European influenced American food, which is what my Grandma mostly cooks. Two of the quintessential staples in my grandma's kitchen are paprika (the only spice she uses besides salt, despite my pleading for change) and egg noodles. I quickly realized I needed a recipe for paprika chicken.
I phoned Grandma. "Hello, Ma? You've made paprika chicken, right?" Being that I remember the red stuff sprinkled on everything, it's hard to be sure what I was eating at times. She confirmed she had, but not in a long-time. When I asked if she recalled how, she replied, "Well, you take a lot of onions and put them on the bottom of the pan, and place the chicken on that, and then cover it with water and cook it for an hour." "Ah, yes", I thought, the fundamental cooking technique of my grandma's food, was take some type of meat (roast beef, brisket, turkey, anything really), water and onions and let simmer for an hour. You can vary this with ketchup or paprika for flavor, but it doesn't matter the results always taste the same. This isn't to say she isn't filled with all sorts of amazing wisdom and strength, much of which I have yet to master, but recipes are maybe best left to the internet.
The internet didn't fail me and I found a wonderful looking recipe, from one of my favorite food bloggers, Joy the Baker, that was exactly what I had in mind. It used sweet Hungarian paprika, chicken thighs, large amounts of onions, and sour cream. It was served over egg noodles. I was starving the second I saw it. And, thankfully it delivered. It was old-fashioned, and filling in that eating at grandma's kind of way (when grandma does some of her better dishes, like chicken soup). It is great winter food, every bit as warming as a bowl of soup. The only thing I would try to do differently next time is add a bit of smoked paprika along with the sweet for a sauce that wasn't so mild. Not that mild is a bad thing in this type of dish, perfect for a rough Monday when you're faced with returning to the grind.
Recipe adapted (very little) from JoytheBaker.com
2 - 2 1/4 lbs. chicken thighs, with skins and bones
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups of onions, finely chopped (about 2 small ones)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sweet Hungarian paprika (or a mixture of sweet and smoky or sweet and hot)
1 14oz. can of whole tomatoes, drained¤
1/2 cup of chicken broth or water
1 1/2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour, mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons of sour cream, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
Pat chicken dry. Remove skin and reserve. Heat oil in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot, then cook skin until it renders about 1/4 cup fat. Remove chicken and set aside.
Cook onion with salt in fat in pot over moderately high heat, covered, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if necessary, until onion is very tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and broth, stirring vigorously to break up tomatoes. Add chicken and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Simmer, uncovered, until chicken is just cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Check by cutting a small incision and making sure it's not pink. (Note: My chicken took longer than 10 minutes).
Stir flour mixture and stir into sauce. Simmer, stirring, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. If sauce is still not thick enough, you can always, add a touch more flour/water mixture.
Remove from heat, then season with salt and stir in 2 tablespoons sour cream. Serve, sprinkled with parsley, over egg noodles.
Tonight is New Year's Eve and a house party with a few close friends is a great way to ring it in. I think any good party should have plenty of bite-sized foods to keep the guests happy. When I first started to think of my favorite party foods for this post, I originally thought of tapas. They're perfect for hungry guests, but rather than try to re-create a tapas menu for a New Year's Eve party (although that does sound fun) I figured I'd pick one delicious option that you may not be familiar with.
Bacalao, dried salted cod, is a Spanish staple, although it is eaten throughout European Mediterranean countries and parts of the Caribbean. It was everywhere in Spain when I was there. I think they even have stores that specialize in it. It is economical and it should be on your radar. You can even store it in your cabinet, and it is a lot sexier than canned tuna. Although Atlantic cod is is severely over-fished, there are other more sustainable sources for cod, so you should check that your bacalao came from one of these sources (use this chart as your guide). The fish must be soaked in water for 24-36 hours before using it to reconstitute it and get rid of the salt coating.
These fritters, are part potato and part cod. You cook the fish and the potato together first until the potato is soft enough to be mashed and then you flake the fish, taking care to remove any stray pin bones that may have been left. When combined with parsley and a bit of garlic and you have one tasty fried ball of goodness, well worthy of ringing in a new year with. They are traditionally served with aioli, which is a garlicky homemade mayonnaise sauce, if you weren't familiar with it. But really any spicy sauce would be delicious here. In a quick improvise last night I mixed an Asian chili sauce I had lying around with mayo and it got raves. Just make sure that if your eating garlic, so is the person you plan on kissing at midnight.
Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year everyone!
Bacalao Fritters aka Buñuelos de Bacalao
Adapted from The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas. Recipe can be easily doubled for a large crowd. Don't forget to start soaking the bacalao in advance!
1/2 lb. skinned and boned dried salt cod
1 lb. medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 egg yolks
Oil for frying
Cover the cod with water and leave in the fridge to soak for 24-36 hours, changing the water a few times. Drain.
Place peeled potatoes and cod in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Then cover the pot and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.
Drain the potatoes and cod. Set the fish aside to be crumbled (best done with your hands) and take care to look for any small pin bones left. Take the potatoes and pass through a fine sieve, or alternatively pass them through a food mill. Ideally, you want them to have a light and fluffy texture. Mix the potatoes and the cod with the remaining ingredients. Set mixture aside in the refrigerator for at least an hour before frying. The mixture keeps for about half a day max in the fridge, if you want to prep ahead.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan with oil to fry the fritters in. Roll the mixture in your hands, like your making meatballs and then fry until golden brown. Keep them warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.
I love gingerbread. It is a holiday classic. It may not be inventive or cutting-edge, but not everything should be. The recipe I follow came from Bon Appetit's December 2006 issue. It is slightly spicy, with a deep brown-sugar and molasses flavor. It puts a twist on tradition by suggesting you flavor your icing with juniper berries. This part I could take or leave. I know there are a million and one gingerbread recipes out there, and every year I say I'm going to experiment with others, but for the last three years all those who have tried them seem to love them so that I haven't found a reason to mess with a good thing. I wanted to share this recipe with you in case your looking for a well-tested classic version.
I normally make these cookies at least twice during the holiday season. The first batch always seems to disappear before being wrapped up and gifted out to friends and family. The only changes I've made to the original recipe are switching out light brown sugar for dark, and using unsulphured blackstrap molasses in place of regular. It's a subtle change that make for a more intense cookie. It is the perfect cookie to practice your decorating skills on (and I learned I could use a LOT more practice) and make into a snowy weekend project. This batch was made after a wonderful holiday brunch my cousin hosted during Hanukkah. It was too cute to see four people each measuring out different ingredients and generally buzzing around the table.
After the dough rested, we set up two separate rolling stations (photos at this point were getting a bit blurry after a few mimosas) and went to work lining up the cut out shapes on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheets. This would be perfect work for little kids, but the only kid we had on hand was still too little to help. Not that any of us big kids seemed to mind handling the task. These cookies bake up crisp, and the thinner you roll them out the crisper they will be. We went with about 1/4 inch thickness on the dough to have them be a bit more chewy. They also need to be carefully watched towards the end of the baking time, unless you don't mind them a bit well-done around the edges (I save those imperfect ones for myself).
Once they're baked, let them cool and prepare the royal icing to decorate as you wish. That's when the real fun comes in. This time around we skipped the juniper flavor used in the original recipe (of course if you want to give the juniper a try, find it here). We used lime juice in place of lemon juice for the royal icing, simply because we were out of lemons. But we all agreed the lime was a nice little twist that we would make again. We used Martha Stewart's royal icing recipe, and it was a very good thing.
Adapted from Bon Appetit. See links above for two different icing options.
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in molasses. Beat in dry ingredients. Gather dough; divide into 4 pieces. Shape into disks. Wrap; chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Roll out 1 dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 3 1/2-inch cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer to sheet. Gather scraps; chill.
Bake cookies until almost firm in center, 12 minutes. Cool on sheets 2 minutes, then cool on racks. Repeat, using all dough.
Note: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.
You know these cookies. You've seen them in the cookies by the pound section of the bakery case. You've even eaten them before and loved them, most likely without knowing their name. They're an old-fashioned cookie, generally known as Lace Cookies because of their porous looking appearance. It appears there are lace cookie variations from one European country to another (like most cookies). French lace cookies were traditionally made with almonds, while Irish lace cookies were made with oatmeal and milk or cream, and German lace cookies are also oatmeal-based cookies, but with ginger, cloves and cinnamon added. My recipe came from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, originally written to help bring some consistency to our young country, by creating recipes that were formulas. Fannie (as I like to call her) Americanized things in the process by removing any country of origin, and simply called them Lace Cookies. Additionally, many newer American versions today call for corn syrup, but I prefer to bake with butter when I can.
I'm entering this into the Share Our Strength, 12 Days of Sharing cookie jar. (A great cause, read more about it at In Jennie's Kitchen).This cookie recipe should be categorized under, Stupidly Simple, because it is. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour melted butter over it, then a beaten egg and some vanilla. Drop onto a cookie sheet and bake. Nothing more too it. It's the kind of recipe you'd be well-served committing to memory to whip up off the top of your head while visiting family, or away for the weekend skiing. The results would impress your onlookers and fool everyone into thinking your a culinary whiz in the kitchen. Sit back, smile, and think, "Ha, ha."
There's only a few tricks to know how to pull this recipe off without a hitch. First, you must must space the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches apart, depending on the size of your cookies. Second, you should stay close to the oven while these babies are baking. They go from well-done to slightly burnt quickly. My suggestion is to keep the oven light on (if you have one) and keep an eye on them after they've been in there for 3 minutes. Plus, it's fun to watch the cookies bubble away and bake. Third, you really must use some patience and give them a few minutes to cool before you try to move them off the cookie sheet. If you slide your spatula under one while it is still hot it will squish into the middle and resemble a piece of caramel. That is an irreversible error. Obviously it will still taste good, but baked goods should also look good too.
This being a holiday cookie, you should consider some options to gussy up your cookie creation. Consider shaping the cookies into a tuille by bending them around the handle of a wooden spoon while still warm (not hot). Then let them cool in that shape. This is a pretty example of how a tuille shape makes a more impressive presentation. My personal favorite is the way I had them as a kid, where the bottom is coated with melted chocolate. Yum. And, coating things with chocolate seems like a good task to include the kiddies in on. (Personally, I wish someone had let me do that as a kid, rather than play with a dreidel. I'm just saying.)
Holiday Lace Cookies
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
1 1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal (not anything instant or quick-cooking)
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (about 10 tablespoons) melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Melt the butter. Add to the
dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until
Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. Drop cookies about
1/2-1 teaspoon at a time onto cooking sheet. Take care to keep them spaced about
2 inches apart. They will look small but will spread as they bake.
Bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until firm. Watch them closely after 3
minutes, depending on how well done you want them. Let cookies cool on the
baking sheet for a few minutes before you touch them. Carefully, using a
spatula lift off baking sheet to cool completely.
I did some Hanukkah food research today, and to my surprise there are two schools of thought. One belief is that holiday foods must be fried, while others merely require the food be cooked with olive oil. The holiday foods I grew up with were always fried, so I assumed that is what they needed to be. But after consulting with the all-knowing, all-seeing internets, I realized that there are sources out there that do not feel the frying aspect is necessary. Despite fried food's deliciousness, I decided that I don't need to celebrate this particular miracle from thousands of years ago with trying to create my own miracle (namely not gaining a pants size or clogged arteries from eating fried food for 8 days). I'm going with the more sensible, "cooked with olive oil" tradition.
With that cleared up, I proceeded with a quick light supper (borrowed from my brunch repertoire) of Huevos a la Mexicana. It is basically eggs scrambled with the colors of the Mexican flag, green (chiles), white (onions), and red (tomatoes). It is another one of these modest dishes where a few very ordinary ingredients combine to make a fine meal. I always serve these egss with small corn tortillas for a more authentic flavor then the supermarket flour type.
Cook the onions in miraculous wonderful olive oil until translucent, then add the chiles (leave the ribs on for a spicier version), and the tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes until some of the juice from the tomatoes renderss out a bit, and the chile is no longer raw. Then pour in some beaten eggs and mix it altogether. Cover and let the eggs set. That's it, nothing fancy. Although this is not holiday fare to serve your relatives, it is technically within keeping with the tradition. It will allow you to bravely plough through one of the eight days without feeling remorse for subsisting on fried food and holiday cookies for the next week (or two). Viva la revolución!
Hanukkah Huevos (a la Mexicana)
Adapted from Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4-1/2 onion, chopped
2 chiles, finely diced (serrano or jalapeno)
1 tomato chopped (or about 3/4 cup of diced canned tomatoes)
3-4 eggs, lightly beaten
Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and saute until transparent. Add the chiles, tomato, and salt and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until eggs are set. Break up with a wooden spoon once done. Serve with warm corn tortillas.
Hanukkah may have some traditional foods, potato latkes (aka potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (aka jelly doughnuts), but in general the rule is anything fried goes. So, while shopping for potatoes to make latkes, I changed my plans when I saw these striking artichokes in the market. I had to have them. They were beautiful and festive, perfect for a holiday meal. Next, I set out to think about what I could do with artichokes for the first night of Hanukkah. I recalled reading about a fried artichoke preparation that originated in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, simply called Carciofi alla Judea (for more about the history of this dish click here). I have never had one of these prepared for me, but I thought, "how could anything fried taste bad?" Unfortunately, there was nothing miraculous about this meal, except for the amount of olive oil I wasted.
I jumped on this idea, lured by images of lightly browned, crunchy, earthy artichoke petals that would impress you and inspire you to put down the potatoes and fry something different. I didn't do my research. If I had I would have seen that this dish is best prepared with baby artichokes, for their more tender leaves. I might also have realized that frying them whole was an option, as used in some other versions of this recipe.
The recipe that I found and put my faith in (it was on a great Jewish blog after all) called for peeling off the tough outer leaves and slicing the artichoke in half before you start on the two-step process of cooking them in a mixture of olive oil and water until softened (see the photo above), and then frying them until crispy.
My artichokes looked like fried goodness, glistening as they came out of the olive oil. After a sprinkle of some fleur de sel salt and a squeeze of lemon I could barely wait to grab a piece. I started with the outer leaves that looked more well-done, hoping that it would taste like a crispy french fry. Not exactly. The tops of the leaves were tough and difficult to chew, if not near impossible. "Ok", I thought, not giving up hope, "the inside leaves will be better". They were better, but not great. In the end, I resorted to eating the leaves as if they were steamed, scraping the tender bottom part off and discarding the rest of the leaf. We agreed that it seemed like a waste and definitely not the intended result.
The one saving grace of this dish was the artichoke heart. I guess that's why I couldn't be too upset. It was tender and a bit smoky tasting from the oil. It was definitely good eating, especially with a bit more salt. I'm sure my inexperience in making these was to blame for the flawed result. However, I bet they could be spectacular when done correctly, so please do not let that discourage you from trying this dish (just make sure to get baby artichokes). And, the best part of Hanukkah, there are 7 more nights to fry things and get them right.
Carciofi alla Giudia
Reprinted from The Jew and the Carrot (http://www.jcarrot.org)
4 medium sized artichokes (look for vegetables with soft, long, flexible stems)
Plenty of olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Fill a large bowl with water and the juice of one lemon. Working one artichoke at a time, trim the stem to 1 1/2 – 2 inches. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer dark green layer of the stem, revealing the softer, lighter green center. Cut off the artichoke’s thorny top (horizontally) using a serrated knife and then carefully slice the artichoke in half, (vertically).
Remove the artichoke’s tough outer leaves until only the soft inner leaves remain. Using a small spoon, remove the hairy “choke” at the center of each artichoke half. (It may seem like you are wasting a lot of the plant –which is kind of true. Assuage your guilt by composting them!)
At this point, open your windows and turn on a fan!
Fry #1: Select a pot that is large enough to comfortably hold all of the artichoke halves. Place them in the pot, fill with oil until chokes are half covered. Then add water to cover. Bring pot to a simmer and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes until they are cooked but not too soft. Remove with tongs and place on a platter.
Fry #2: Heat about one inch of oil in a cast iron pan (or other heavy pan). Using a pair of tongs, and lots of care, place the choke halves side down in the oil. Be really careful–hot oil splatters and hurts.
Fry for about 12 minutes, flipping the chokes halfway through, until brown and crispy on both sides. Turn off the heat and remove the fried chokes with tongs. Place onto paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.
Simple pleasures are best, right? Well, dinner tonight was simple, so I guess that's why it was also the best one I've had in quiet awhile. I made an improvised winter version of a Jamie Oliver recipe for chicken thighs. Seasonal swaps included - summery cherry tomatoes for good quality canned Italian ones, and fresh oregano for some rosemary. I made do with skinless chicken this time, although the alternative would have been much better since the recipe called for frying the chicken until three-quarters of the way cooked first. I missed out on crispy skin, but this extra step (rather than just throwing it all in a pan to bake) was such a great idea that I got a good sear on mine and it still turned out delicious. This one's a keeper folks.
A word about chicken. Chicken thighs are the best part of the chicken. I think if you have to choose one part to cook, that's the one you should go with, it's hard to mess up really. It's white meat's, more juicy cousin. The expression, "juicy thighs" must have it's origin from a man who knew his way around a chicken. (Ok, I may have just grossed myself out there, but maybe now you'll remember it). I didn't even realize I really liked chicken until I made the switch to using dark meat after eating one too many chicken strips in salad that tasted no better than styrofoam popcorn.
The genius of this simple recipe is that it is cooked in separate parts almost completely, and then bakes together with a vinaigrette poured over for flavor. The result is crispier chicken and perfect roasted potatoes. It was hearty but not heavy. I finished it with a dash of balsamic vinegar right before I served it because I just love balsamic and rosemary together. It was a success despite the substitutions. This rustic chicken bake is a simple pleasure you should try, but would you mind coming over and doing my dishes for me first? That would be lovely.
Chicken Potato Tomato Bake
Adapted from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver.
1 lb. small potatoes (new potatoes, red potatoes, whatever is in season)
6 boneless chicken thighs, preferably free-range, antibiotic free chicken
1 14oz. can of diced or whole tomatoes, drained of juices
Fresh rosemary, a few sprigs
Red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar
Scrub the potatoes and put them to cook in a pot of boiling, salted water.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Clean chicken and cut each thigh into 2-3 pieces. Put in a bowl and toss to coat with a few tablespoons of olive oil and kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a heavy oven safe skillet and fry chicken, skin side down until almost cooked, about three quarters of the way done. You may need to do this in batches. Don't move the chicken or flip it or you'll lose the sear.
When potatoes are fork-tender, drain and place in a bowl. Lightly smash each one with a fork. Set aside. Drain tomatoes and set aside.
Make the vinaigrette either in a mortar and pestle or finely chop the rosemary and muddle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar, and pepper.
Once all the chicken is cooked, place it all back in the pan with the potatoes and tomatoes tucked in around it. Pour the vinaigrette over the pan and bake in oven for about 25 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink. Before serving, splash a bit of balsamic vinegar over the dish.
Cold sesame noodles are ubiquitous on Chinese take-out menus but I've never been a huge fan. The cold sticky sloppy mess of noodle just never appealed to me as much as other options. Then one day I was looking around for something to do with soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles, if you're not familiar with them). They are one of my favorite healthy go-to staples in the pantry and what reminded me this would be a good submission for Fight Back Fridays. Soba are often served in noodle soups, or served cold with a dipping sauce. That is what gave me the idea for this dish. A noodle salad that I could whip up for work week lunches, as well as a light dinner that would be more substantial than a green salad. The items that you add in can be altered to suit your preferences or what's in your fridge that night.
A quick dressing of creamy peanut butter (all-natural of course), soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and honey are blended together to make the dish. I think the peanut-sesame combo is the key here. Peanut-sauce is often too much peanut-butter flavor with nothing else. Here, when mixed with the soy sauce and enough heat (from red pepper flakes or sriracha) it is more balanced and, frankly more interesting than the one-note flavor it has on its own.
The only add-ins to this salad I strongly suggest be included are chopped scallions and cilantro, to keep with a South-Asian flair. These flavors just work together and brighten up the peanut-flavored sauce. The rest is up to you.
Make a batch of this to have on hand during a hectic week of pre-Thanksgiving cooking madness. As long as the dressing is made, you only have to take the 3 minutes to boil the soba noodles to pull it all together. Save yourself from greasy take-out in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Or, take this for lunch the week after, because there are only so many leftover turkey sandwiches that any person should have to endure.
Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad
Adapted from Recipezaar. Do not dress the noodles too far in advance or they may get a bit soggy.
For the dressing:
1/2 cup smooth all-natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons peeled fresh ginger, chopped
1-2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper flakes or sriracha
For the salad:
1/2 package soba noodles, cooked and rinsed under cold water
3 scallions, chopped (green and white parts)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thick strips
1/2 cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 large handful of cilantro
Using a blender puree all the dressing ingredients until smooth (about 2 minutes). Alternatively, whisk all ingredients until they appear well combined.
Cook the soba in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender about 2-3 minutes; drain and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a large bowl, then add in the remaining salad ingredients.
Just before serving pour the dressing over the cooked pasta and veggies. Toss well to combine.
I'm a sucker for a pretty package, so when I saw the photo of the crumbly, flaky, lattice-topped fig crostata in November's Gourmet magazine, I instantly wanted to make it. I thought finding a new option for the dessert table on Thanksgiving could be a good idea. Then I remembered I come from a family of non-adventurous eaters, and die-hard traditionalists. It's apple or pumpkin or nothing. I figured that should not hold me back. I could bake this a week early, and find out for myself if it was as delicious tasting as it was attractive. Maybe it would be worth trying to convince my dining companions this Thanksgiving to give something new a try.
A crostata is an Italian form of pie made of a shortcake cookie-type of dough. It has as many variations and the internet is filled with recipes where a crostata dough is used as a free-form crust where the sides are folded around the filing, similar to a French galette.
This recipe is made in a springform pan, where the crumbly dough is rolled out and simply pressed into the pan and up the sides. That's easy enough. The lattice-top is a bit more involved. I'll admit anytime I've tried to make a lattice-topped pie crust it ends with a lot of cursing and frustration as my strips soften and fall apart as I try to place them on top. Inevitably I often throw my hands up in defeat and roll the whole mess into one big ball and try for a normal pie crust. But, I finally have figured out that the freezer is my friend and I can fix this problem by popping the strips into the freezer to flash chill if they get difficult to work with. This trick saved the day and made the intricate, impressive looking top easy enough for even novice bakers.
The filling smelled incredible while cooking and filled the kitchen with those warm spice aromas that we associate with the holidays. I'm sad to say that when it was all pureed and baked it tasted like an orange flavored fig newton. It was tasty, but the similarity to a fig cookie made it not that desirable as a holiday dessert. On the other hand, it also made it seem healthier than a pie and I ate it for breakfast today.
My official taste-test verdict? If you're a fig enthusiast, this pie is worth a try. But be prepared for the harsh reality that like me, you find that you are more like your family than you care to admit, and realize that it ain't turkey day without a pumpkin pie.
Recipe from Gourmet Magazine, November 2009
For Pastry Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cold water
For Fig Filling
12 oz soft dried figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
To make the dough:
Blend together flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps (alternatively do this in a bowl with your fingers). Add yolks, vanilla and water and pulse until incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together then divide dough in half and form each half into a 5-6 inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic warp, until firm at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
To make filling:
Simmer figs, water, orange juice, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally, until figs are soft and mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped (mixture should not be smooth). Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly. Stir in butter, eggs, vanilla, zest and walnuts.
To make tart shell:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Roll out 1 portion of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12-inch round (dough will be soft; chill or freeze briefly if it becomes difficult to work with). Peel off top sheet of parchment and carefully invert dough into pan. (Dough will tear easily but can be patched together with your fingers). Press dough onto bottom and 1 inch up side of pan, then trim excess. Chill tart shell until ready to assemble.
Roll out remaining dough between parchment into 12-inch round. Peel off top sheet of parchment, then cut dough into 10 (1-inch wide) strips and slide (still on parchment) onto a tray. Chill until firm, about 10 minutes.
Spread fig filling in shell. Arrange 5 strips of dough 1 inch apart on filling. Arrange remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart across first strips to form a lattice. Trim edges of strips flush with edge of shell. Sprinkle top with sugar.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake until filling is slightly puffed and pastry is pale golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then remove side of pan. Gourmet suggests you serve crostata with mascarpone.
I don't have many recipes that I make over and over again, preferring rather to keep experimenting and trying new dishes. There are so many delicious things to eat it's hard for me to keep eating the same old things. Sometimes. This soup is one of the few exceptions to that rule. It's been in my repertoire since I started cooking post-college. It's incredibly versatile, healthy, quick and economical. It can be eaten hot or cold. It can be made with summer or winter squash. What more do you want from a recipe? Not much. You can see why even if I wanted to move on from this soup and leave it in the past, it would be difficult.
The original recipe, that I often make without much variation to it came from a short-lived but much beloved food magazine, Taste. It was an oversized glossy filled with beautiful photos of gorgeous places and foods around the world published by Williams-Sonoma . That was the first time I mourned a magazines demise. Gourmet was the second (cue the heavy sigh).
Zucchini-curry soup as the recipe called for was served cold and as a first course. My version of zucchini-curry soup is served hot over rice (of any type) and as a one-dish meal, perfect for lunch or a light dinner. This has been my go-to meal for many, many years. In fact, I spent one week of being unemployed years ago eating this for lunch and dinner in its various forms, hot and cold, with rice and without. It didn't let me down. I have even seen the recipe re-purposed in a Williams-Sonoma soup cookbook, where it was prepared with fresh oregano in place of the curry. I like curry way too much to bother switching it out, but I assume it's safe to try other spices if curry isn't your thing.
Now that it is November, winter squash is more likely what you may have on hand, instead of zucchini (which is what I had this weekend). I think any type of squash and curry are a natural pairing. To keep the soup seasonal, merely roast winter squash (acorn or butternut perhaps) for an added layer of flavor rather than cooking it in the stock, and then mix with the rest of the ingredients before pureeing. Now you have a basic blueprint for a squash soup than can be adapted into a Spring-Summer soup, or an Autumn-Winter soup and that's all the reason you need to make this soup over and over again.
Zucchini Curry Soup
Adapted from Taste magazine.
1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thin
2 tablespoons, olive oil
2 teaspoons, curry powder (I use Madras-style curry)
pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
4 zucchini, sliced into thin rounds (or about 2 winter squash)
4 cups, chicken stock (although vegetable would be fine too)
plain yogurt for garnishing
In a large pot, combine onion, olive oil, curry powder and salt. Stir over low-medium heat until onions soften, about 3 minutes.
Add stock and zucchini. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. (If using winter squash, roast them first at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes with a little olive oil, scoop out flesh and add to put of onions and stock instead of this step.)
Puree vegetables and stock with an immersion blender or in a regular blender in batches, until it is a smooth texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of yogurt on top.
I finally found some time to bake for Dessert Corps again this week. I really do love doing it, even if it's very hard not to take a taste of the finished product. I'm also considering this post as my contribution for Fight Back Fridays, because allowing the soup kitchen to serve homemade desserts rather than the food "product" alternatives is food justice in action. Sometimes I think about doing a quality control, but in the end self-control kicks in and I choose not to hand over a dish with a piece missing, but boy oh boy it was hard this week.
The local CSAs donate some of their extra fruit during the summer months to the soup kitchen, so I didn't pick my fruit, it picked me. I kind of like the surprise element to it all. This week they had some extra doughnut peaches (also known as Saturn peaches or pan tao peaches) and blackberries. Doughnut peaches are a very sweet heirloom variety of a peach that are delicious. They are also less acidic than the larger more common variety of peaches. I set out to think about what to do with these star ingredients. I love the combo of blackberries and cornmeal but wanted to make a one-dish dessert that would be easy to serve, so that ruled out making a blackberry sauce. I also wanted to utilize all the fruit so it didn't go to waste. I was leaning towards a cobbler but I wasn't super excited about it. Then I found a recipe for a cobbler that incorporated cornmeal into the biscuit topping. Indecision ended there. Blackberries and cornmeal baked goods (think pancakes) are a natural pairing. That matched with the sweetness of the peaches would be excellent.
Cobblers are a pretty simple dessert to make and don't require any stand mixers or fancy equipment. I have always loved old-fashioned American style desserts despite their humble techniques and plain Jane appearances. There is something so comforting to me about being able to whip up a dessert with not more than a bowl and a wooden spoon (dream bubble pops above my head to my creepy 1950's sitcom fantasy of me and one of those frilly half-aprons setting out a pie to cool in my window). Back to reality and East Williamsburg. Regardless, a cobbler dough is a cinch to put together all in one bowl. It is a type of biscuit dough and as soon as you mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones you can smell that doughy goodness. Set that aside while you prep the fruit.
Peel and dice your fruit, peaches in this case, and mix in a pot with a thickening agent, in this case cornstarch and some sort of sugar, a bit of lemon juice, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Mix together and let cook for a mere five minutes. You're fruit mixture will be transformed what looks like and smells like the inside of a slice of warm pie. Yum. I think I might consider using less sugar next time, because I was concerned that the amount used in this recipe might mask the natural flavor of the peaches. But, being that this recipe was Southern in origin, I just went with it.
After the peaches are cooked all that is left is to assemble the cobbler. Mix the berries into the peach mixture, very carefully. Then pour into a greased baking dish (note the one in the photo is obviously too large, but I couldn't find a smaller disposable size to bring to the soup kitchen) and drop tablespoons of the biscuit dough all over the top of the fruit mixture. Maybe it's just because I didn't actually get to have a dish for myself but I can still smell how delicious it was, a mix of aromas of warm peach pie and freshly baked biscuits. Incredible, really. I just hope that it the diners thought it tasted as good as I thought it smelled.
Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
Adapted from Epicurious and Down Home with the Neelys. If you do decide to make this cobbler write me and let me how it turned out.
For the Biscuit Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the Filling:
2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 pints fresh blackberries
To make the biscuit dough - whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (using your hands works well). Using a fork, stir in the milk and egg just to combine.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 7 × 11-inch baking dish.
To make the filling - take your prepped peaches and place in a saucepan with the brown sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, and pinch of salt over medium-high heat. Bring the peaches to a boil, stirring frequently (this is an important step otherwise you'll have caramel). Reduce the heat to medium- low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens and the peaches have softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and blackberries. Transfer the filling to the baking dish.
To assemble - use 2 tablespoons, one to scoop up batter and the other spoon to push it off the spoon onto the fruit mixture. Drop spoon fulls of batter to cover the fruit evenly. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with some granulated sugar, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly and thick around the edges.
Cool for 10 minutes. Would be great served warm with ice cream.
I made zucchini fritters the other night. A fine thing to make to use up some of the mid-summer abundance of squash. While I was standing there with my box grater, grating up zucchini I kept hearing Vince, this hysterically energetic infomercial guy who sells some chopping kitchen gadget. At one point in this particular commercial while he's demonstrating all the things you can grate, he says things like, "fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini". Hey, what about zucchini, that rhymes too! (This guy has a ton of ridiculous lines one of my favorites being, "stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life" that I can't seem to get out of my head, probably cause his commercial is on once a morning while I'm trying to watch for the weather.) Anyways, if you haven't seen Vince in action, it's kind of funny in that infomercial way. Watch it here (localappetite does not endorse the use of this product, only the use of this kind of enthusiasm for cooking).
In case you hadn't guessed by now, I've been on a one-dish kick this summer. It's insanely hot in my kitchen and basically when I have the time to cook, I'm not making entire meals. Something fresh and tasty that utilizes my CSA produce is basically the only thing that has been motivating me this summer. I've just been rounding out the meals with more cheeses, eggs, dips and fruit. It has been a good way to handle eating at home without being in the kitchen for too too long. I was a little hesitant to fry for these fritters. But, Nigel Slater's entry on the same in The Kitchen Diaries had been in the back of my mind for some time. The only essential step to this process is the time to allow the zucchini to sufficiently drain (see photo above) otherwise you'll end up with soggy fritters that will fall apart when you try to cook them.
The one surprising thing about this recipe was that it added an extra step, which although I followed, I think I would recommend you omit it. Instead of simply mixing the grated drained zucchini in a bowl with your binders, egg and flour, and then frying, he writes that you should saute it all in a pan first and then add the flour and egg and then make little balls and fry in a second pan. I thought he might be onto something (maybe it added extra flavor or helped to further dry out the squash?), but after cooking the recipe through, I think it was an unnecessary step, leaving you with an extra pan to clean. I wouldn't want to do that to you. Either way you do it, you'll end up with light and moist zucchini fritters, if you don't flatten them too much into more of a pancake shape. As you know zucchini works well with almost anything, but either feta or Parmesan would be interesting. I used dill for the seasoning, but definitely just go with what you like or have on hand. And just like zucchini itself, this dish is versatile and will go with whatever else was on the menu for that night. Or, if you're like me, it's ok to just eat this and save room for dessert. It's too hot to eat a big meal anyways, right?
Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater
3-4 zucchini, grated
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove of
1/2 cup grated cheese, your choice
1 handful of fresh
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Coarsely grate zucchini and place in a colander. Salt liberally and allow
to drain for about 30 minutes. When ready to use take handfuls of it and squeeze
out any additional water before placing it in a bowl.
Mix drained zucchini with the rest of the ingredients. It will be a slightly stiff mixture. Heat a heavy pan with enough olive oil for frying. Drop mounded tablespoons into the pan and allow to brown. Keep your eye on them as
the oil gets hotter (they will cook very quick at the end) and take care when
flipping the fritters as they fall apart easily (a spatula and a fork together worked best for me).
Elote is the Mexican name for grilled corn on the cob smothered with crumbly cheese, lime juice and a bit of cayenne pepper. It is a specialty in the Yucatan peninsula and lucky for me available in various restaurants and flea markets around Brooklyn, if you know where to look. However, if you haven't had one of these, please stop reading and go find one. It truly is one of the best street foods I can think of. It transforms a cob of corn into an explosion of flavor. I would make this treat for myself on a regular basis if I had access to a grill, but since I don't (sob, sob) I used to just wait until I went out for Mexican food to have it. That all changed last night.
I think I'll probably make this little beauty of a salad at least once a week, or as long as I have access to the fresh ingredients. My corn on the cob actually came from my CSA. Now if we could only grow avocados up there...
On the issue of eating locally, I have been thinking a lot about how cooking different cuisines can work with a sustainable cooking philosophy. There are always going to be certain essential ingredients that are not going to be available locally if you're preparing dishes from regions and countries with a different climate. In summer I tend to cook a lot of Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, and things like citrus, or olives, or certain cheeses aren't locally sourced in the Northeast where I'm located (as far as I know). It's in these situations I think there is room for flexibility. The goal is to support sustainable food and food purveyors by voting with your fork, but it is not to suffer in the process. I think eating local is the right thing to do, and if everyone did it there would be a change in our broken food system. But, I also think allowing yourself to purchase things that are unavailable in your region is alright too. Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.
Back to the dish. I got the idea for this salad after reading Mark Bittman's article last week in the NY Times Dining section. It was another one of his mega-lists of quick and genius flavor combinations. If you missed it, go and read it here. I know I'm going to use this list again and again when I'm having a cooking block. It's no coincidence that I picked his idea for deconstructing elote for a corn salad as my first dish. It is perfect for a picnic, or when you don't have access to a grill. Or for someone who just wants to eat with a fork.
Basically, you take the corn off the cob and quick roast it until it gets a bit brown in a skillet. This will cause a wonderful toasted corn smell to infuse your kitchen. Combine that with the essential components of elote, fresh lime juice, creamy queso fresco, and some heat (either cayenne pepper or chilis) and you have elote in a bowl. I added a few ingredients to plump up the salad, which just made it a bit more into a meal. Once done, take your salad and a cold cerveza onto your fire escape and you can almost pretend you are sitting in a plaza in Mexico as the sun sets. Buen provecho!
Deconstructed Elote Salad
I mixed the leftovers with some cooked shrimp for lunch today. Options are endless.
3 ears of corn
queso fresco (to taste)
fresh lime juice (about 1 big lime or 2 small ones)
1 jalepeño, deseeded and minced
cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup)
1 scallion, chopped
cilantro (small handful)
Take corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Place in a pan with some olive oil and cook stirring to avoid it sticking, till the kernels have a toasted look to them. Place in a
bowl and mix with the cheese and lime juice. Chop all the other ingredients
you're using and mix together. Easy Peasy.
I really like pickled things. There are some vegetables I like even better pickled than raw, such as red onions. Lucky for me making pickled red onions is a snap. They will keep in the fridge for a few weeks (or more) to help add something extra to a sandwich, a salad, or whatever needs jazzing up. I have not ventured into the world of canning, yet, but these types of pickles do not need preserving that way. You can pretty much quick pickle almost anything, but red onions are the ones I think everyone should try. Yes, I know it's been done before. And, yes I know this isn't going to be an amazing culinary creation that will make you a bit hungrier as you read this. But, I can tell you that having this jar at your disposal, really does brighten up an otherwise dull dish. It's a condiment in the spirit of Fight Back Fridays as it is definitely better for you than any store bought, corn syrup loaded, preservative-laden, condiment you can purchase.
These red onions are tangy, and sweet. They have the satisfying pickle crunch that people love. They're acidic, and depending on your pickling spice of choice, possibly spicy. And, they're EASY!! Before I made these quick pickles I never would have guessed, how easy.
Take a red onion, or two, or three. Get out your sharpest knife, or a mandoline if you have one. Slice the onions as thin as you can get them.
Next, you have to prepare the pickling liquid. There are probably a million variations of spice and flavoring for this kind of thing. One constant is the acid. Either apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or even rice wine vinegar if you were doing an Asian-inspired pickle. This time I was going with a recipe I found in my awesome Greek cookbook, The Olive and the Caper, by Susanna Hoffman, so I used the red wine vinegar. Put one part vinegar to one part water into a pan with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I used raw cane sugar, but I have tried brown sugar in the past, which was very sweet and delicious too. I threw in a bay leaf for flavor. You can throw in some peppercorns, or other whole spices of your choice. Bring the vinegar-water-spice mixture to a boil.
Once the sugar has dissolved, it's ready. Pour over the onions to let them marinate before refrigerating.
After about 45 minutes, you can use them right away. The flavor will get better over time though. So, pour the rest into a jar with a lid, and store in your fridge to use over, and over again.
Apricots are a gamble. They look to me to be a tiny, tasty smaller cousin of a peach. When I saw them in the farmer's market on Saturday, I assumed they would be as sweet as the fruit they were sharing the table with, cherries and plums. But, as Nigel Slater wrote about apricots in The Kitchen Diaries, "their eating quality depends more on luck than good judgement." Although this statement made me feel a bit better about my purchase, I still had a basket of gorgeous, but very tart, fruit on my hands. Personally, in the summer when fruit is as juicy as it is right now, I hesitate to bake it into anything. Sweet fruit is a dessert all on its own. Sunday night was a different story. I wasn't going to let my apricots go to waste. I took Nigel's advice and decided to "tease out their flavor with warmth" (why paraphrase when he says it better than I could?). I decided to go with a classic French dessert, the clafouti.
Clafoutis are traditionally made with cherries, but many different types of fruit would work well. For instance, Julia Child gives different variations using plums, pears or blackberries (although she didn't mention apricots, maybe it is not traditional). I took my recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle cookbook (my favorite favorite cookbook of all time). It is essentially a pancake-type of batter poured over fruit.
Some variations (I checked quite a few) use more cream than others and some seem more custard-y than others. Regardless, this was my first clafouti, so I guess I have plenty of room to try others. It did remind me of a Dutch-pancake, something I used to make for brunch sometimes, which is also a batter poured over fruit that puffs up as it bakes, and deflates quickly as it cools.
I think in the end my clafouti was satisfying, although the apricots were still quite tart even after baking. The batter was lighter than a cake, but more egg-y tasting than a pancake. If I replicated this dish, I think the apricots could benefit from marinating in some kirsh and sugar, a Julia Child suggestion from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'll admit I probably should have had another basket of apricots to place in the cake to sufficiently cover the pan. But, then again, sometimes home cooking is about making due with what you have, and I only had one basket of apricots. Looking at the positives - I liked that it wasn't as heavy as a cobbler would have been, had I done that instead. I even think the leftovers could make an acceptable breakfast, and what's better than dessert for breakfast?
Fresh Apricot Clafouti
Adapted from a recipe by Georgeanne Brennan in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. I noted where I substituted ingredients, but if I set out to bake this again, it would be preferable to have the full-fat dairy ingredients.
1 cup milk (I used reduced-fat only cause that's all I had)
1/4 cup heavy cream (I used light cream)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon almond extract (I used vanilla)
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
apricots, halved and pitted (enough to cover most of the pan)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a deep baking dish. Combine all the ingredients, except for the apricots in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy. (Alternatively, mix all the ingredients in a blender if you prefer).
Pour just enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom with a layer about 1/4 inch deep. Put the pan into the oven for 2-5 minutes, or until just set.
Remove pan from the oven and arrange apricots face down evenly around the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the apricots. Bake until puffed and brown, about 30-35 minutes. It is done if a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serve warm and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
I've only had two pickups from my CSA this summer, but for one person a half-share has been more than enough. To be honest, I got a bit nervous at the shear volume of vegetables at which I came home with the first time. The eggs also have been a lot for just me to consume quickly, but it has been interesting to dream up meals with a fridge overflowing with fresh herbs and really bright yellow farm fresh eggs (I've made enough omlettes in the past month that sometimes I feel like I'm working the brunch shift in my kitchen as my second job). This past week's share had me extremely excited to see the presence of one of my all-time favorite vegetables, the zucchini. These zucchini, were small baby globe shaped ones. Very cute. They were on my cutting board before I even unpacked the rest of the groceries that night.
I knew they were going to be prepared in a Mexican style because the night before I had made a big pot of black beans with some of the amazing fresh epazote, which is normally hard to find in NYC, that I also get from the CSA (For those unfamiliar with this herb, check out this explanation). Beans are better the next day, and in this case, I had planned to have them with whatever veggies I came home with.
A quick dice of these little guys (I wondered if they would taste the same as the long cucumber shaped zucchini - which they did) along side a jalapeño, some vine-ripened tomatoes, onions and garlic (both from the CSA too) and you're all set.
The tomatoes let off their juice and at the last minute I added some chopped epazote leaves and some oregano (dried from the last pickup). Of course you could use cilantro, I was all out that night. If you're the type that needs to add cheese to everything, which I am, crumble some queso fresco on top (or use feta if that's easier to find). It was exactly what a summer night meal should be, light and refreshing but also satisfying alongside the rice and beans. All I was missing was my sangria and a sunburn.
Veggie Medley a la Mexicana
Totally flexible veggie saute, this time it was with Mexican inspired flavors, but switch out the chili and epazote for some basil and thyme and it would be a la Provencal style. As the summer progresses some corn would have been a good addition.
1 medium yellow onion chopped
2-4 garlic cloves minced (or to taste)
1 jalepeño, de-seeded and de-veined, minced
3-4 zucchini (depending on their size) chopped
2 vine-ripened tomatoes chopped
Epazote, or Cilantro leaves chopped
Put about two big swirls of olive oil in a saute pan and allow to heat up. Once hot, add your onions and saute until they're translucent. Add the garlic and pepper, watching it so it doesn't burn, saute until fragrant. Then throw in the tomatoes and zucchini. Cover and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. Mix a bit, add a good amount of salt & pepper and fresh herbs. Stir and serve.
Duck confit, or Peking duck may be the classic dishes that come to mind when one hears that duck is on the menu for dinner, but that would be too mono-cultural for Brooklyn. Last night, I had a fabulous dining experience, at a duck themed dinner party hosted by Hapa Kitchen, which is a group of chefs and volunteers who joined forces to celebrate the one thing that most of them have in common, being of half-Asian decent. Their focus is to create menus that combine their different culinary traditions, and if their take on duck was any indication, they are doing a fabulous job. I suggest to everyone to sign-up for their mailing list to hear about upcoming events.
If the prospect of five-spice-duck-pastry with hot pepper jelly (an addictive combo of flavors that I nearly forgot to snap a photo before it was devoured), or steamed duck buns with dijon mustard wasn't enough to lure me in (which it absolutely was) I went there in the interest of supporting a supper club that was showcasing local ingredients on their menu. All of our vegetables were from Sang Lee Farms, an organic farm out on the Northfork of Long Island and all of our wine was from Wölffer Estates on the Southfork of Long Island (aka the Hamptons). They poured a different wine to complement each course, but I particularly loved the Rosé. I really do encourage people to start seeking out NY wines to support the great work that's going on in our backyard. Sang Lee Farms runs some CSAs around Brooklyn (Crown Heights and Dumbo) and a couple in Long Island as well as selling their great products at a farmer's market down by the South Street Seaport. Hot pepper jelly may have skyrocketed straight to the top of my must have list after tasting the one that Sang Lee produces.
As the courses flowed and a room full of virtual strangers found so much to chat about, that the volume level in the apartment was increasingly escalating, we continued with a chilled cucumber soup with a duck dumpling. This was refreshing and light and the perfect palate cleanser for the main entree. I love cucumbers and cucumber soup in the summer, but this was the best one I can remember having in a long long time. It had texture, rather than being pureed to a smooth consistency, which I think added something unexpected and made it into more of a cool cucumber sauce for the rich duck dumpling. For photos of this dish and the delicious buns I mentioned, you can check out the blog MortaDiFame written by this amazing girl Jen (yes, another one) that I met at dinner, plus her photos are excellent.
Moving along with dinner, the main entree was a seared duck breast which was perfectly seasoned and cooked, served with the sweetest, most tender baby bok choy. I think this course alone was worth coming to dinner for. I can't tell you how many times I've tried both duck and bok choy only to find them not to my liking. Either stringy duck that tasted of nothing but fat, or bok choy that was so bland it seemed like boiled celery. This time, I not only enjoyed them, I was sorry I didn't have a doggie bag for lunch today with more in it.
The salad course was a mixture of greens with crispy duck skin, which added a salty and crunchy component to the different greens that were dressed with a mildly sweet dressing. The crispy duck skin reminded me of Spanish-style Chicharrónes (fried pork rinds) that people sometime snack on by themselves. I wouldn't have guessed it before I ate this salad, but seriously throw some crispy duck skin on anything short of ice cream and it probably will improve it.
Finally, the dessert course combined a French dessert that almost everyone without their own blowtorch at home are happy to see on a menu, crème brûlée, and a classic Asian dessert ingredient, sweet red beans. Some who are unfamiliar with beans in a dessert may think this sounds crazy, but it worked, it really did. The thick sweet custard really went well with the added texture of the beans. The only critique of dessert I had is that it was a bit heavy after such a large meal that it was hard to finish. I think it might have been the only course where the plates weren't bussed back to the kitchen completely clean. So much good food & wine, so much good company, and a ton of excitement and gratitude on everyone's part really made last night hapa-ning. (sorry I had too!)
The weather this month in New York was more like monsoon season than the start to summer. There have been a few brief afternoons when it stopped raining, and on one of those days about a week ago I scored some gorgeous red rhubarb. I know they say that your perception of food is influenced by the way it looks and smells as much as the way it tastes, and in this case, I find rhubarb to be so beautiful looking that I would have tried to eat it, even if I didn't already know it yielded tasty results. Once known as the "pie-fruit" due to its frequent use in, you guessed it, pies (strawberry-rhubarb pie being one of my favorites), it has found its way into many more creative uses recently. I've been reading about rhubarb bellinis, and rhubarb mojitos (check out Brooklyn Farmhouse's recipe for this one), and even savory dishes with rhubarb (again, the Jamie Oliver cookbook), but as this was my first time cooking it at home I chose the very simple, very common, rhubarb compote. It also has the added bonus of making a great breakfast companion to yogurt, or working just as well on top of some ice cream for dessert. Which is right up my alley seeing how I eat breakfast and dessert interchangeably.
There are as many recipes for rhubarb compote as there are food blogs on the internet, but I'll tell you what I did anyways, and what I learned from it. The best thing about this preparation was that it took no time at all to cook. I even made it before work, although to be honest I had cleaned and prepped the rhubarb in advance, when I originally brought it home from the farmer's market. Unfortunately, I made it a bit too sweet, but it was still perfect over vanilla ice cream for dessert that night, and the next, and probably tonight too.
Rhubarb can be stringy, almost like celery if not cooked until soft enough, but since it breaks down so quickly try to avoid over cooking it, otherwise you'll end up with something more of a jam consistency. Then again, rhubarb jam is also a treat so don't really fret about it.
I chose to flavor the compote with the juice of an orange, although the zest would have been nice too, if you want a stronger orange flavor. I also added some fresh ginger, to give it a bit of a kick, which contrasted nicely with the sweetness. I didn't add any additional liquid other than the juice of 1 orange, but you could certainly add some water if you'd rather have more rhubarb syrup at the end. I was after a thick consistency and that's what I got. I mistakenly added about 1 1/2 cups of rhubarb, where I think I should have added about 1 1/2 lbs., which is why my rhubarb to sugar ratio was off. No worries it really was delicious as an ice cream topping, and if I had had some angel food cake, or biscuits, it would have been on top of that too. Meanwhile, I luckily have some rhubarb left due to my faulty arthimetic, (which will probably end up in a cocktail) while I sit home waiting for the sunshine to return.
I think this recipe could handle lots of different variations, really whatever you have on hand will work. I had an orange, so that's what I used, but lemons, or additional fruit would be nice too.
1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces,
1/2 cup raw
cane sugar (regular is fine too)
Juice of 1 orange
1 inch piece of
ginger, chopped fine
Place all ingredients into a heavy pot and set to simmer on medium-low. In about 4-5 minutes you should see the rhubarb start to break down and get juicy. Simmer until it is your desired consistency. Probably
no more than 10-15 minutes.
Put on top of anything that could use a sweet accompanyment.
The first and most important event is the opening of Food Inc. the movie. It is playing at the Film Forum in Manhattan and I highly recommend you go see it. I was fortunate enough to see a screening this past Wednesday followed by a Q&A with the Director Robert Kenner. I think this film is important, as in this is the issue of our generation important. It is a well done documentary that covers the reasons why you have no idea of what you're really eating. It goes into the political, economic and social justice issues that are intertwined with food safety and food policy in this country. I took tons of notes during the film about the facts that blew my mind intending to put them into a post for this blog. But, on second thought, I hesitate to do that because I think it is important that everyone see this movie for themselves. Images are more powerful than words, and although the movie does have a clear bias at times, there is no denying that some of the imagery in the film will leave you completely clear on where you stand on these issues.
The second event that I wanted to highlight going on this weekend, is an Urban Gardening Workshop and Plant Sale on Sunday, June 14 at 2pm through the Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The farm is at 44 Eagle Street. You can even volunteer to help them with the farming on the roof, (a mere 6,000 sq. foot roof), if you feel like getting your hand dirty and getting in touch with your inner farmer (oh, don't pretend you never had overalls!). For more about the farm and the awesome farmers, Annie and Ben, check out the writeup on NotEatingOutinNY.com here. If farming isn't your idea of fun, then you should go for the mere curiosity of being on a farm that also has the world's best view of NYC's skyline. Oh, and buy a plant for your windowsill while your at it.
What this Movie Will Do:
Educate people about the changes they should push for in Washington and on a local level, to keep our food safe;
Expose big agro-businesses and lobbyists for pushing for profits at the expense of food safety, ethical treatment of animals; and of workers rights violations;
Give you a reason to reconsider some of your food choices.
What this Movie Will Not Do:
Try to convince you to be a vegetarian (although there are some graphic images);
Try to sway you into feeling guilty about what you eat (we're all being mislead).