15 November 2010

Soupy Sunday

A few weeks ago the weather shifted from ridiculously hot to ever-so-slightly cool; a shift that signals fall here in Texas. Seasonal transitions always inspire me and this one was particularly welcome because it meant I could finally have another dinner party. (My house is so tiny that any group of four or more for dinner requires dining al fresco.) Anticipating that this day would eventually, mercifully arrive, I've been drooling over the "sunday suppers" in this cookbook, dreaming of making a whole menu for friends some Sunday this fall. The cool breezes, however, did not blow in a windfall for the ole bank account and instead I settled on a far more humble, but no less delicious menu.

We would have soup. Soup, I think, is the perfect main course for a simple dinner party. Many soups can be made at least a day ahead (I'm a big believer in soup tasting better the next day), reheated, and served. Hearty bean and grain-based soups make a filling meal that usually pleases vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Pair the soup with a salad, and maybe some breads and cheese, and you're set.

For my soup party I decided to try out a very unique sounding lentil soup from one of my favorite food blogs, 101 cookbooks. Usually Heidi's recipes look and sound gorgeous but I've made very few because they often call for whole grains, produce, and spices that I don't readily have available. This soup, however, appealed to me in its simplicity--it's nothing more than lentils and split peas seasoned with a few flavorful ingredients. Plus the recipe called for coconut milk and I'm a complete sucker for coconut milk-based soups.

So here she is folks, coconut red lentil soup. What she lacks in looks she makes up for in flavor, I promise. I'm not a big fan of split pea soups in general but combined with the lentils and all the other fabulous flavors they were really nice here. I decided to serve the soup over white basmati rice which was tasty but unnecessary given the heartiness of the soup itself. And, because I couldn't help myself, I also served these delicious, slightly spicy sweet potato biscuits on the side. As you can see from the photo below, my biscuits were a bit on the squat side, but I assure you, this is a winner of a recipe. Lily brought a tasty cranberry and walnut salad and Amanda and Lenny's carrot cupcakes took it over the top!

All told, soupy Sunday was a smashing success and I'm already scheming up the next one. Here's a parting action scarfing shot of the evening. Hopefully those pictured will forgive me.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup
*from the Esalen Cookbook via 101 cookbooks

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils
7 cups water
1 medium carrot, diced
2 T peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 T curry powder (make sure it's fresh!)
2 T butter
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14 oz can coconut milk (you can use 'light' if you're feeling virtuous)
2 tsp fine grain sea salt
handful chopped cilantro

Rinse the peas and lentils well under running water. Place in a large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, add carrot and 1/4 of ginger, cover and simmer for about 30 mins. until peas are tender.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is fragrant. Careful not to burn it! Set it aside. Place the butter in the pan over medium heat and add half the onions, the rest of the ginger, and the raisins. Saute for a few minutes, then add the tomato paste and saute for a few more. Add the curry powder to this mixture and then add it to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt.

Simmer uncovered for about 20 more minutes or until it reaches your desired thickness (longer for thicker--you can always thin it with more water). Serve topped with cilantro and remaining onions as garnish. It's also great over rice or another whole grain.

Serves 6-8 generously.

11 October 2010

Toast with Roasted Butternut, Goat Cheese and Saba

When it comes to all things food, I like to think I'm pretty well informed. I spend a lot of time (probably an unhealthy amount) reading, daydreaming, and writing about food, so when something totally new and unexpected in the foodie realm crosses my path, I usually perk up and pay attention. When a mysterious ingredient called saba made its way onto my radar, though, I was pretty slow on the uptake.

Months ago a sweet friend and fellow food lover gave me a bottle of this new-to-me condiment. Saba, I learned from the luxuriously decorative bottle label and some googling, is a syrupy reduction made in Italy from grape must--a byproduct of wine-making. Apparently, during her tenure at San Francisco's Pizzetta, my friend would serve saba drizzled over fresh summer fruit and berries. It certainly sounded intriguing but since it wasn't yet summer and I had no fresh berries on hand, I left my bottle of saba unopened, happy enough that it would grace my kitchen shelf with its beauty.

Then, a few weeks ago, I received the latest issue of Saveur magazine. Lo and behold, within its pages was a lovely little piece on saba's Spanish sister, arrope, a syrup made from muscat grape must. The story featured chunks of pumpkin, simmered in this dark syrup, and served with bread and goat cheese. I immediately thought of my bottle of as-yet-unloved saba and before long whipped up what's now my new favorite appetizer (actually, who am I kidding? It's my new favorite meal!). Saba, it turns out, is fabulous! Its flavor is difficult to describe--kind of like a combination of molasses and a good balsamic vinegar.

In my riff on the Saveur recipe, I drizzled saba over bread spread thick with bucheron cheese and topped with chunks of roasted butternut squash and beets. Saba's sweetness make is a particularly great counterpoint to the saltiness of fresh cheese and helps bring out the sugar in the veggies. As delicious as this first experimental combination was, I'm already itching to try out some other possibilities. Next time around I'm thinking some kind of roasted winter squash or pumpkin pureed, and then spread on toasted slices of bread, topped with crumbles of goat cheese or grated sheep cheese, and finished with a flourish of saba. I'm sure it would also make a fantastic glaze for roast chicken.

As we transition from summer to fall and even slight shifts in the weather shed a different light on things, it's the perfect time to seek out something new to taste. Whether it's saba (available here in TX at Central Market) or something else altogether, you never know what delicacies you might discover.

28 September 2010

Key Lemon Pie

We had a potluck on sunday night and I wanted to make something new. I found myself dreaming of lemons and ginger once again and came up with a different twist on the traditional Key Lime Pie. I think the gingersnap crust was the perfect balance to the tart lemon filling. It was so easy and super yummy...As you can see it was a hit, we only have half of a piece left!

Gingersnap Pie Crust:
1 1/4 c finely ground gingersnap cookie crumbs (~ 20 cookies ground in food processor)
2 T sugar
1 tsp+ minced crystallized ginger
5 T unsalted butter, melted

- Move oven rack to center of oven and preheat to 350.
- Mix cookie crumbs, sugar, and ginger in medium bowl.
- Add melted butter and stir until evenly moistened.
- Press crumbs firmly and evenly onto bottom and up sides of a 9-inch diameter glass pie dish.
- Bake until crust is firm and slightly darker in color, ~ 8 minutes.
- Cool crust completely

Key Lemon Filling:
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 c plus 2 T fresh or bottled Key lemon juice

- Whisk together condensed milk and egg yolks until well combined.
- Add lemon juice and whisk until well combined and mixture thickens slightly.
- Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven for 15 minutes.
- Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools).
- Chill, covered, for ~8 hours in the fridge. (If you have less time, put in freezer for 30 minutes in middle of chilling period to turbo cool.)
- Serve pie topped with freshly whipped cream.

26 August 2010

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

Mandelbrodt doesn't quite fit into the category of cuisine that my dad refers to, lovingly, as Jewish soul food. It stands apart from traditional eastern European Jewish dishes like potato latkes, creamed herring, chopped liver, and tzimmes , with its blatant lack of even a single ingredient of the holy Jewish soul food trinity: garlic, onion, and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Despite these shortcomings, mandelbrodt (translated literally as 'almond bread') holds a special place in my sentimental heart, mostly because my grandmother made them on holidays as a special treat. She'd transport the cookies from Houston in a wax-paper lined tin that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and potpourri like everything of hers did. I loved them.

I hadn't had mandelbrodt in years and for some reason recently had a craving for some. The craving sent me digging through my binder of family recipes where I discovered that it certainly wasn't just my grandmother who had a fondness for these dry, biscotti-like cookies. Among the recipes I found no less than four takes on mandelbrodt, all slightly different, from several women of my grandparent's generation on both sides of my family. I'm guessing the dessert's popularity and sticking power has to do with the fact that it uses relatively inexpensive, easily-obtainable ingredients, can be made in large batches, requires no refrigeration, and gets better with age.

When I baked up my first batch recently, I decided to go with Mrs. Harry H. Berman's (aka Aunt Buck, my mom's great-aunt from Chattanooga, TN) version. I liked the look of her recipe and I liked Aunt Buck. In addition to Harry Berman, she went through several husbands in her life, and in her youth was a formidable fisherwoman. By the time I knew her she was an old woman who wore a wig--a fact that fascinated me endlessly as a kid. She gave me little diamond earrings. Surely her recipe for mandelbrodt would be awesome.

The basic process of mandelbrodt-making is to mix up an eggy batter, roll or spoon it into a log or multiple logs, partially bake and then slice the logs, and then bake the slices, turning once so they become golden brown on both sides. Then, while the cookies are still warm you toss them with cinnamon sugar. They are especially tasty with a cup of coffee or tea, or dunked into bowl of ice cream.

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

**be warned--this recipe makes a lot of cookies--probably 4 dozen, depending on the size 'logs' you make. the good news is that they keep well in a covered container and will earn you sugary kisses when you pawn them off on friends

4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blanched almonds (I used toasted whole almonds and chopped them up a little)

(cinnamon sugar coating--I eyeballed this--I don't like it very cinnamony but you can make this to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Measure, then sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat first five ingredients thoroughly, then add sifted dry ingredients and then nuts. Beat thoroughly.

Using a tablespoon (Buck specifies a tablespoon--I say use whatever spoon you want), spoon mixture onto an ungreased cookie sheet making about 4 strips (or logs) about 1 1/2 inches apart (I made 2 larger logs rather than 4 small ones). Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or when firm and slightly brown on bottom. Remove from oven and slice into small slices diagonally. Loosen from pan with spatula and then turn each piece onto a sliced side. Return to oven and brown for about 15 minutes or so. Remove from oven and flip each cookie over to the other side and bake for another 15 minutes. When golden brown on both sides, remove from oven, let cool slightly. Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a large ziplock back. While the cookies are still warm toss them into the bag with the cinnamon sugar, seal, and gently shake around to coat the cookies. You may have do do this in several batches and will have leftover cinnamon sugar.

Will keep well in a covered container for at least a week.

19 August 2010

A Meal in Thirty

Hi Folks! It's been a while since I've checked in here...been busy. I thought I'd drop in tonight do a little show and tell about what I had for dinner because it was, in a word, delectable.

Here it is: Seared Steelhead Trout with Fresh Herbs, Tomatoes and Olives; Sauteed Zucchini; Quinoa.

Ain't she purty? (The food that is, not the photo stylings. What can I say? It was dark. I was hungry.) You wanna know something great? The whole thing, from opening the fridge to sitting down to eat, took all of 30 minutes. Yes, I timed it.

The one sneaky trick I had up my sleeve was a tupperware full of pre-cooked quinoa, but since it takes only 20 minutes or so to cook quinoa, even without that advantage I still could have pulled off the meal in much less than an hour. And so can you! Here's how...

Ingredients (makes 2 robust servings):

1 cup quinoa (you'll have leftovers)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1/2 large onion or one medium onion, roughly chopped
Bragg's or soy sauce to taste (maybe 1-2 T?)
about 3 T. olive oil
1 lb. steelhead salmon filet
6ish cherry tomatoes, chopped
8 ish kalamata olives, chopped
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/2 a lemon
about 1 T. or so dry Vermouth or white wine
small handfull of fresh parsley, chopped
about 1 tsp. of your fave dried spices for fish (I use a blend that features fennel seed which I love)
pinch dried red pepper flakes
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Bring two cups of water to boil. Rinse quinoa in a fine strainer and add to boiling water. Stir, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Begin to heat up a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat. Meanwhile, chop your onions and zuke. Film the bottom of the pan with about a T. or so of olive oil and when hot, add the onions, stirring frequently until they begin to turn transparent. Add zucchini and about a T. or so of Braggs/soy sauce and stir. Cook, stirring frequently and adding more sauce to taste, until zucchini reach your desired level of softness (I like mine pretty soft--probably about 8 mins).

Meanwhile, begin heating the saute pan for searing your fish over medium high heat. While pan heats, sprinkle dried herbs, red pepper, kosher salt and pepper over the fish. Chop tomatoes, olives, garlic, and fresh herbs. When pan is hot, add about 2 T. oil to the pan and quickly add the fish, skin side up. One you place the fish in the pan, don't mess with it for about 2 minutes or so. After a couple of minutes it will be have a nice golden browned crust and you will be able to easily flip it without it sticking. Flip it over and sear the other side for another couple of minutes. Depending on how rare you like your fish, you will only need to cook it for about 4-6 minutes total, so after about 4 minutes check it--if it's cooked enough in the thickest spots go ahead and remove to plate (it will continue to cook a bit so best to err on the rare side).

Keep heat on under the fish skillet and toss in tomatoes and olives, stirring for a minute or two until they begin to soften. Add garlic, half the fresh parsley, lemon juice, and vermouth/wine. Cook for another couple of minutes, toss in the rest of the fresh herbs, and pour over the plated fish. Serve zucchini and quinoa (with butter if you like) alongside.

Bon appetit!

P.S.: Since you'll have leftover quinoa, you might want some ideas for how to use it. In addition to this meal, here's what I've done with one cup of quinoa I cooked earlier this week:
--1 meal of quinoa 'fried rice'--stir fry whatever veggies you have laying around with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and whatever sauces you like to use. Stir in an egg at the last minute
-2 meals of quinoa 'taco salad'--heat quinoa with cooked/canned black beans and stir in cooked veggies (broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, etc.). Top with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, avocado, and salsa.
-quinoa salad: mix quinoa with chopped jalapeno/serrano, red onion, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, chopped cilanto, dired cranberries. Dress with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper

This isn't gourmet stuff here folks, but it's good, healthy, cheap, and quick eating.

I'd love to know your favorite ways to use quinoa too!

28 July 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

My mom grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and her favorite "southern" foods from her youth often showed up at our table. Okra was a regular staple, as were collard greens, cheese grits, and sweet potato biscuits. Every once in a while as a special treat Mom even made her absolute favorite: boiled peanuts (there's a future post there for sure folks). Fried green tomatoes, however, never graced our plates, probably because Mom isn't a big fan of tomatoes period and also generally avoids anything fried. But when I fell in love, as a young girl, with the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, she gamely handed over her cast iron skillet and let me try my hand at making them using the recipe included in the book. I don't really remember much about the results of this early foray into the kitchen so I think they must have been pretty lackluster. Probably I was just disappointed that simply by making them I wasn't somehow magically transported to the Whistle Stop of my romantic/nostalgic fantasy.

Recently gifted several large green tomatoes from the prolific garden of friends (thanks Blaine, Laura, and Bill!), I decided to try again. Honestly, I'm now no more experienced in the nuances of frying anything, much less tomatoes, than I was back then, and I had no real recipe to use as a guide, but that didn't stop me. I also didn't have a camera on me to document these shenanigans and had to use my phone so I apologize for the extra-lousy photos.

What I did have was Laura's advice to double dip the sliced tomatoes--first in buttermilk, then in a mixture of flour and cornmeal, then once again in the buttermilk and finally the flour mixture. Laura's from Georgia so I figured she should know. It was great advice because these suckers were delicious! Really really good. If you wait until the oil is hot enough and fry them just right, the slightly sweet, slightly tart tomato gets cooked to the point of tenderness but not sogginess and is perfectly paired with the crunchy cornmeal batter. They were fantastic hot and straight out of the pan, lukewarm for seconds a little later, and still truly awesome leftover the next day cold straight from the fridge! Ketchup entirely optional.

If you can manage not to eat them all up unadorned as I did, I think they'd be phenomenal as a base for a poached egg with hollandaise, or some kind of gravy. Or how about a fried green tomato shrimp remoulade? I'm thinking yes.

Fried Green Tomatoes

**Please use this recipe as a loose guide. I was kinda eyeballing everything as I went, had to pour out more buttermilk, flour, and cornmeal a few times, and didn't really measure. I think it's a pretty forgiving process, though.

3 green tomatoes, sliced into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1 cup (ish) cornmeal
1-2 cups buttermilk (lowfat is fine)
peanut or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Pour oil into a heavy skillet (cast iron is my fave) until it's about 1/2 inch deep (feel free to use more oil if you're feeling particularly extravagant or nostalgic). If you're frying up a lot of a tomatoes or want to finish relatively quickly, you might want to use more than one skillet. Heat at medium temperature until oil is quite hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, mix together the flour and cornmeal along with a good bit of salt and pepper on a plate and pour the buttermilk into a shallow bowl. When the oil is hot (you can test by tossing in a sprig of fresh parsley or other herb and seeing if it sizzles up nicely), start double dipping the tomatoes (buttermilk, then flour mixture, then buttermilk and flour mixture again).

As you finish dipping each tomato, drop it in the skillet. You want to fry only maybe 4-5 at a time depending on the size of your skillet--avoid crowding them. After a few minutes check the tomatoes--when they are golden brown, flip over and fry the other side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels (now's not the time to skimp for the sake of the trees, folks). You might need to finish with a little extra salt to taste.

**Lily's lovebird, Birdy, helped me with my frying technique. Also, we made fried okra--same concept entirely.

19 July 2010

Really Like Your Peaches

I wait impatiently all year for peach season. Sure, all fruits and veggies are at their prime when eaten freshly picked at the right time of year, but I think peaches are particularly so. To me, summertime is made all the merrier by the fact that it's peach season here in the Texas hill country. I've had California peaches fresh from the orchard and Georgia peaches too, and I have to say with more than a pinch of native pride, give me a Texas peach any day. To my palette anyway, a Texas peach is sweeter, juicier, and somehow just peachier than any other. Lucky for me and the countless other Texas peach fanatics, it's been a banner year.

A few weekends ago some friends and I drove out to an orchard near Fredericksburg, in prime hill country Peach territory, to pick some straight from the source. If you have ever gone berry picking only to be dismayed by how looooooooong it took to fill your bucket or box, you should really try peach picking. In what seemed like a matter of minutes we had picked a peck of big, fat peaches. Actually, we picked about half a bushel which, if you can picture it, is about enough to fill your standard office file box. Even though I shared the box with a friend and ate fresh peaches every day as they began to soften, by last week when the vast majority of them ripened simultaneously, I had a helluva lot of peaches on my hands.

Intent not to waste even one precious peach, I knew I'd have to get a little resourceful. Freezing was an option, but with my luck I'd forget about them and they'd succumb to frost bite--a shameful end for such seasonal treasures. I opted to bake them instead and my tastebuds, and those of several willing dessert guests, are rather pleased with the choice (as for my waistline, well, the jury's still out).

A good number of the blushing yellow fellows found their way into a Peach Pudding Cake, baked last week and consumed with such gusto that I failed to capture its fleeting presence with a photograph. You'll simply have to take my word for it that this dessert is PRIMO. Slices of peaches arranged over the top of rich vanilla cake batter sink down to the bottom when it's baked. The thin sheet cake's center is soft and pudding-like but the high butter content creates a divine crispy edge. It's not the most beautiful dessert to look at, but as with most things important in life, it's not the looks that count. A generous spoonful or two of cold heavy cream over the top comes highly recommended.

Later in the week, restored by a few days of comparably ascetic fresh peach eating, I went back to the baking board with cobbler on my mind. It couldn't be just any cobbler, though. I wanted it to really feature the peaches, their flavor unadulterated, and to have a biscuit topping with some real character. Enter the sweet cornmeal biscuit recipe from Deb's cobbler. With such a toothsome topping, juicy slices of cooked peaches, brightened by just a little bit of brown sugar, lemon, and cinnamon, meet their perfect match. Double the biscuit recipe and you'll have plenty of topping plus some leftover to make impromptu peach shortcakes!

Isn't that just peachy?

Peach Pudding Cake

This recipe is from Bon Appetite but supposedly the original source is the Hyde Park Bar and Grill here in Austin. Their cake is called Wom Kim (???). Anybody want to join me there sometime for a little comparison taste test?

4 cups sliced, peeled peaches (dunk peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to make peeling a cinch)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/4 t. baking powder
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar (I used less but my peaches were especially sweet)
2 T vanilla extract (yes, 2 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
cream or whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9 x 13 inch glass dish w/ veggie oil and set aside. In a bowl whisk together all the flour, baking powder, salt, and soda. In a separate bowl use an electric mixer to beat butter until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, incorporating both well. Using low speed, add dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk in three additions each, beating well between each addition. Transfer batter to baking dish, spreading evenly. Arrange peach slices over the batter, overlapping them slightly. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil w/ vegetable oil and cover cake w/foil, spray side down, sealing edges. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil covering. Return to oven and continue baking until top is golden brown, edges are crusty and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean--about 40 more minutes. Cool for an hour and then serve topped with cream (whipped or not).

Peach Cornmeal Cobbler

6 cups sliced, peeled peaches
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used regular and a little less)
2 T flour
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Biscuit Topping:**double this for lots of topping**
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal (not sure if mine met the specs...worked out fine)
3 T dark brown sugar (used regular and a little less)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss together peaches and seasonings and pour into a 2 quart ovenproof dish.

Make dough: Stir together flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the dry mixture with your fingers or pastry blender. Stir in buttermilk with a rubber spatula until wet, tacky dough comes together.

Drop dough over the peaches by the spoonful covering most of the surface. Bake until the fruit and syrup are bubbly and the biscuits are browned (Deb says this should take 20-25 mins but at that point mine was still raw--I cooked it for about 40 mins). **you may want to place a baking sheet underneath it in the oven to catch drips. Let cool a bit and then scoop into bowls, top with cream or ice cream.

**Special shout out to Katie and Leah for their baking assistance. Merci!!**

09 July 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

All of the sudden, it is raining zucchinis in our garden at Twin Sisters Farm. Every day and every meal, I am trying to come up with creative ways to incorporate more zucchini into our bellies. I have made zucchini/chard enchiladas, two types of zucchini bread, and will attempt to make Smitten Kitchen's zucchini and ricotta galette this weekend. So far in the battle of the zucchini, the chocolate zucchini cake has been the victor. I first made a healthy version using plain yogurt and vegetable oil. Then, Jill Mason raised the stakes with this super moist and addicting version which uses milk and a healthy dose of butter. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed!

2.5 c flour
0.5 c cocoa powder
2.5 t baking powder
1.5 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1.5 sticks (3/4 c) butter, softened
2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
2 t orange zest
2 c shredded zucchini
0.5 c milk (I used a mixture of buttermilk and soymilk.)
1 c chopped nuts (I skipped this.)

- Preheat oven to 350.
- Combine flour, cocoa, bkg powder, bkg soda, salt, cinnamon; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar with hand mixer. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in vanilla, orange zest, and zucchini with a spoon.
- Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk into wet ingredients. Add nuts at end if using.
- Pour batter into a bundt pan that has been greased and dusted with flour.
- Bake for about 50 minutes, until tooth pick comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 15 minutes before continuing to cool on a wire rack. Yum!

02 July 2010

Summertime Tastes Good

So it's officially summer around here. Although the past few days of hurricane-induced clouds, rain, and 80 degree high temperatures have been a bit deceiving, there's really no doubt about it. And summertime in Texas is certainly no walk in the park. Spending any time outdoors means enduring sweltering heat, abundant mosquitoes, and compromising sweat stains. But our summers are also not without their pleasures. For me, summer means the chance to while away a whole afternoon hopping back and forth between the baking heat of my beach towel and the frigid waters of Barton Springs or Deep Eddy. It means warm summer evenings and fabulous, nighttime, star-filled swims. Summer brings impromptu lakeside picnics and driving home in the evening sitting on a towel, swimsuit still drying. It means late evening poolside dinners with friends and family, vases bursting with the bright colors of zinnias, and the scent of citronella in the air.

But best of all, it's the season of my favorite food. Summertime bliss comes in the form of sweet watermelon (with seeds!) and Pecos cantaloupe, Fredericksburg peaches, basil, tomatoes, okra, squash, green beans, and eggplant in every form you can imagine. This year the flavors of summer arrive conveniently on my doorstep on a weekly basis in the form of a farm share/CSA basket from Tecolote Farm. Although the farm has a long waiting list, by a stroke of luck I got to sign up, and now Leah and I split a basket of phenomenal local produce every week.

It's been about a month so far and every week the basket is different. Weeks past have brought leeks, carrots, beets, and lots of okra (hence the recipe below). This week's basket was particularly summery--chock full of tomatoes, eggplant, basil, cucumbers, and a very fragrant yellow melon. It arrived just in time to fuel a holiday weekend sure to bring good friends, great food, and fireworks!

Roasted Okra
**my new favorite way to prepare okra. so easy and so tasty too! next I want to try grilling it...will report back. Although I haven't yet tried it, I think it would also be great to roast fresh corn kernels and halved cherry tomatoes with the okra--and a little bit of fresh chopped basil at the very end.

okra (maybe 1 lb for two people??)
olive oil
salt (I use kosher)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash okra and slice off stem ends. Cut small (3-4 inch) okra pods in half lengthwise and larger pods into quarters. Pour about one tablespoon or so oil in bottom of bowl large enough to hold all the okra--add okra and mix to coat, adding more oil if it seems necessary. Sprinkle on about 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt (to taste) and mix. Spread okra out on a baking sheet so that it's not crowded (if you're cooking a lot of okra use more than one sheet). Place in heated oven and cook for 15 minutes until it starts to brown. Using spatula or tongs turn the okra and cook for another 10-15 minutes until very browned and crispy. Remove from oven, taste for salt, and serve immediately for ultimate crispness.

19 June 2010

Polenta Pound Cake

I go crazy for a.) any new baking recipe, b.) something that incorporates almonds or almond extract, and c.) anything with lemon zest. I found this recipe while looking to Deborah Madison for inspiration for a simple yet delicious dinner party dessert and it met all of the above criteria. Give this cake a try if you are looking for something that isn't too sweet and is a little bit different...

1/4 lb unsalted butter
1 c sugar
zest of 1 lemon (I recommend more than this)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 c sour cream or yogurt (I used plain yogurt)
1/2 c plus 2 T cornmeal (I used polenta)
1 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 pine nuts (optional if you don't like nuts)

- Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour loaf pan.
- Cream butter, sugar, zest until fluffy. Add eggs, then flavorings and yogurt.
- Stir in cornmeal, flour, bkg powder, and salt.
- Spoon batter into loaf pan, shake to remove air pockets.
- Scatter pine nuts on top and press them into the batter.
- Bake until golden and/or toothpick comes out clean (about 1 hour)
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then finish cooling on rack.
- I served it with vanilla frozen yogurt and raspberry sorbet and it was quite yummy. But also suggest fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) and whipped cream or ice cream.

09 June 2010


I'm a sucker for a good pickle. (Yes, Leah, I wrote that line just for you). Like my Eastern European/Russian forbearers, I consider the pickle to be much more than simply a side act to the sandwich. Whether we're talking a garlicky, crispy dill with pastrami, chopped slivers of cornichon gracing a potato salad, or even the essential relish in my mom's signature tuna, in my opinion pickles deserve top billing.

Lately, much to my delight, I've noticed pickles of all stripes popping up on restaurant menus and in the pages of fancy food magazines. At hipper-than-thou Austin establishments, quick pickled red onions top burgers, and house-made pickled cukes grace many a side. Pickling things, long considered an activity fit only for bubbes, seems to be a part of the growing vogue for canning and preserving amongst the food-minded, DIY folk of my generation. New books on pickling and canning line bookstore virtual shelves faster than you can shake a stick (or dill spear) at them. This, as you might imagine, makes me very happy. And eager to join in the fun!

Despite our collective love of pickles, the Masons haven't done much pickling at home and have always been exceedingly brand loyal to the Claussen Kosher Dill ("the world's most excellent pickle"). Content with our Claussens, forays into home pickling were strictly limited to my mom's summertime canning of "dilly beans" and the occasional bumper pepper crop. When I rope my mom into canning some garden-fresh beans for me this summer, I'll be sure to record the process and share it with you here. If you've never had a spicy, dill-infused pickled green bean, you're missing out!

Lacking the patience and the shelf space for an extensive pickling/canning project myself, I've recently experimented with quick pickling (also known as refrigerator pickling). Happily, quick pickles don't require all the sterilizing and boilings of 'real' pickles and the result is just as satisfying. A few lackluster experiments with apple cider vinegar and soggy cucumbers got me off to a rough start but I think I finally hit the jackpot with these pickled carrots.

Going into this rather blindly, I was aiming for somewhere between giardiniera and escabeche--lots of vinegary tang, balanced by a tiny bit of sweetness, and some spice. And, miracle of miracles, that's exactly how they turned out! The best part is that they took almost no time to make and tasted delicious after only a day in the fridge! In a week I've eaten my way through more than half the jar. Tasty eaten alone as a snack (who needs measly baby carrots when these savory treats grace your refrigerator shelf?), they're also great in California rolls and alongside cheese quesadillas. Next on my agenda is a riff on an appetizer of boiled eggs topped with pickled carrot and chive blossoms served at Franny's in Brooklyn, written about in this post--the original inspiration for my pickled carrot experiment.

I'm seeing a lot of carrots in my future this summer folks! Hope you like the smell of vinegar!

Spicy Pickled Carrots
1.5 cups water
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 bag carrots (one pound??) or about 6 medium to large carrots
1/2 or 1 whole white or yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (or more if you like garlic), peeled
about 6 or so spicy pickled peppers (peperoncini)
medium size glass jar with tight-fitting lid or other glass or heavy-duty plastic container with tight lid

**use this recipe merely as a guide--feel free try pickling other veggies or changing proportions to suit your tastes

Bring the water to a low boil and add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved and remove from heat. Add vinegar, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes and set aside to cool a bit. Put a pot of water large enough to hold all the carrots on to boil. Meanwhile, rinse, trim, and peel carrots and cut into desired shape (I prefer thick matchsticks). When water boils add carrots and blanch for no more than 3 minutes, then drain them in a colander, immerse in an ice-water bath for a few minutes(keeps them crisp and bright), and then drain again.

Place some of the onions, the garlic, and a few peppers in bottom of jar or container. Add about half the carrots on top, then the rest of the onions/peppers and top with remaining carrots. Pour vinegar and spice mixture over the veggies and be sure to cover them completely (if you have a small jar you may have too much liquid--that's fine, you just don't want too little). Cover and refrigerate. Your pickles will be ready to eat in day or two and will get a little stronger the longer you keep them. If you manage to not eat them immediately, as long as you keep them refrigerated and don't go digging around in the jar with grubby fingers, your pickles will keep for several weeks.

07 June 2010

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

Alpine, Texas is a tough place to own a restaurant. They seem to be going in and out of business all the time. Unfortunately, one of the most recent closures was our landladies' restaurant "The Gulf Station Cafe." It was a cute little place on the railroad tracks that tried to serve healthy, yummy food to a clientele which prefers large quantities of less-than-healthy fare. Anyways, one of the unforeseen benefits of the restaurant closing has been that we have received an interesting assortment of extra food. We had a large bag of whole cranberries which I made into a cranberry coffee cake a few weeks ago, a large block of feta cheese which is hanging out in our freezer awaiting inspiration, and lastly a bunch of kalamata olives. When life gives you olives, make olive paste- right? If it is ever raining olives in your neck of the woods, give this recipe a try. It is down-right delicious!

Tapenade (Adapted from Epicurious)
1 3/4 c kalamata olives
3 T + 1/4 c toasted, chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
1/4 c olive oil
2 t dijon mustard
1 garlic clove (I used 3 or so)
1 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh oregano
1 t fresh sage (my plant just died, so I skipped this)
Pinch of cayenne

- Pulse olives and 3 T of toasted nuts in food processor.
- Add oil, mustard, garlic, and spices. Pulse to mix.
- Stir in remaining 1/4 c chopped nuts.
- Chill until ready to serve. Serve with sliced bread, cheese (sharp cheddar or a nice blue cheese give a great counter-flavor) and an assortment of veggie adornments such as cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves or whatever creative stuff you pull out of your garden or fridge.

28 May 2010

Easy As Pie

My mom's quite a gal. She can nail just about any jazz standard, whip up a batch of incomparable coffee ice cream, and maintain an effortless air of patience and calm amidst the storm that the rest of us constantly create around her. I count myself lucky to possess a good deal of her genetic material--responsible, surely for our shared impeccable taste for expensive shoes, jewels, and all the finer things in life.

And what, I ask, could be finer than a slice of homemade pie? Not much in my mom's book, or mine. The trouble is, Mom has a hard time getting pies to cooperate. Her numerous attempts at making the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie from scratch have almost always ended in curses (coming from my mom even curses are adorable) and gratuitous whipped cream toppings. Summertime desserts at my mom's table are peach and berry cobblers--delightful in their own right but just not quite pie. The problem, you see, is the crust. Despite trying all the tricks in the book, Mom's crusts have a tendency to stick to the counter, the rolling pin, or just fall to pieces. When baked, they like to slip and slide their way down the edges of any pie pan, ending up misshapen and not quite capable of fully containing anything. Fancy crimped edges or a lattice top? Forgettaboutit!

Now I normally wouldn't dream of airing my mother's culinary dirty laundry online for all to read. However, I'm sure she'll forgive me for doing it now because a) I'm confident she's not the only one with pesky pie problems and b) I am also sure that her dreadful days of disappointing pie baking are now a thing of the past. I know this to be the case because she is now equipped with a new set of pie-making know-how thanks to a private class we were lucky enough to attend together last Sunday.

My lovely sister, brilliant and generous soul that she is, came up with the idea of a pie-making class for my mom for Mother's Day this year. A few weeks after the fact, my mom, sister, aunt, cousin, and I gathered together to take a class with Marilyn, one of my parents' longtime friends and an accomplished cook and baker extraordinaire (check out her website here). We spent several hours gathered around Marilyn's massive butcher block island and watched as she whipped up three different kinds of pies (two sweet, one savory) all while sharing priceless pie-making pointers with us. She made it look easy as pie and gave us all confidence that when we stepped out of her hallowed kitchen we, too, could make something so beautiful and tasty.

I think my mom went home and baked up a blueberry pie the next day. I managed to wait a few days before I made this--my very first pie! I used blackberries, cheap and abundant at the grocery right now, and it was really, really good. Really good. And honestly, it wasn't hard to make at all! I'm sure my next pie will be even better...especially if I manage to acquire a few of the tools my kitchen is missing (note: fingers do not work as well as a pastry brush for applying an egg wash).

I am now even more convinced that some of the best gifts we can give and receive are not things but experiences--experiences that end up being something you'll have with you forever and also, preferably, eat.

Although I would love to share Marilyn's recipe for double-crust fruit pie with you here, I don't feel comfortable doing so since she does this professionally and I don't have her permission. I will say that her recipe used equal parts butter and shortening and resulted in a tender and flaky crust that is, to quote Jill Mason, "to die for." I'll see if Marilyn will allow me to share the recipe but meanwhile hopefully you will be content with using the following pointers gleaned from the class with your own favorite recipe. Try 'em out yourself and I'm sure you too will soon be rich in pie.

**pie making is easier with the proper tools. these include the following:
--a food processor or a pastry blender (either option works equally well but the manual route provides a bit more careful control)
--a pastry scraper to sweep under the dough as you're rolling it out to prevent sticking
--a simple 9" pyrex pie pan
--a pastry brush (you can use an unused paint brush from the hardware store)
--a rolling pin--any style will do

**the cold is your friend: make your crust with very cold butter and shortening and even flour straight out of the fridge

**don't potchky (mess) with it too much--this rule applies to the whole process, from blending the fats into the dry ingredients to rolling the dough out and placing it into the pan. Blending should just take a few short pulses in the food processor or with the hand blender--you need not worry about creating uniform "pea size" crumbs. As long as it is generally mixed together and wet enough to squeeze into a ball, you're golden. Too much fussing and your dough will warm up and become difficult to work with.

**refrigerate the dough balls (actually more like pucks) for at least an hour before rolling out

**make sure your work surface is coated in a thin, even layer of flour and use flour on your hands when messing with the crust to prevent sticking.

**when rolling out the dough just work from the center out and work around in a circle--no need to flip the dough just move it around to make sure it's not sticking and if it is, re-flour the work surface

**when placing the dough in the pan you can fold it into quarters, line the pointy part of the resulting triangle of dough up with the center of the pan and unfold--like magic your crust is perfectly centered

**instead of pulling the dough down and over the edges of the pan, you should actually lift the edges up with your hands and kinda coax the dough down as you settle it into the pan--maybe I'll add a little video demo of this soon? i think this is the step that helps keep the dough from shrinking back.

**after placing the top crust over the filling, tuck its edges under the edges of the bottom crust but on top of the edge of the pie plate--this seals the deal and creates a thick edge that you can decorate with crimps and press down onto the plate with a fork, etc.

**be sure to cut slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape--an odd number is better than even (aesthetically and maybe even, you know, spiritually)

**brushing the top of the pie with an egg wash (one beaten egg, one tablespoon cold water) and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar makes it purty.

**place the pie pan on a baking sheet in the oven to prevent nasty oven spills

**and (this is a tough one folks) you must let the pie cool before cutting and serving it--the fruit needs to cool somewhat to set otherwise your pie will be runny and sad (but still taste good!)

19 May 2010

Salad Days

I like most salads just as much as the next person; as a side or precursor to the main dish, playing second fiddle to the starring act. I've never been a salad for lunch everyday kinda girl and I'm a little more than picky when it comes to lettuce (no wilted, tasteless baby greens for me, thank you!). Granted, there are better-than-average salads that have been known to get me really excited. There was, for example, the great food love of my childhood--the 'special' salad at Paesano's in San Antonio--that featured avocado, hearts of palm, and tomato. I think I had it all of two times and I remember it fondly still today. Or, more recently, there was the cardoon and chervil salad at Chez Panisse and, even better, my friend JZ's avocado and grapefruit salad sprinkled delicately with spicy red pepper. Oh and of course there's Lamar's caesar salad (I'll post the recipe soon but be warned, it only tastes right when Lamar makes it) and Carolyn's spinach and avocado delight (Carolyn, how do you make it so good?!). I'm sure there have been many, many more standout salads in my life but they have mostly faded away now, brushed aside in my memory to make room for the more spectacular dishes.

All that as a sort of preamble to something strange that's been going around here foodwise. I've been making salads like crazy. Like everyday...for lunch or dinner. I think it's the heat and also the way I've been cooking and shopping for food. Despite the onset of summer temperatures, there have been beautiful lettuces at the farmers market and baby beets in my garden. I've been buying dried beans and making a batch a week that I add to salads for a bit of extra heft. Plentiful fresh eggs from friends and the market are hardboiled (steamed, actually, for 12 minutes and then dunked in ice water) and sliced over the top. Basically, a salad makes a perfect platform for enjoying fresh, beautiful produce and proteins in their most basic, unadorned, delicious state.

Instead of a recipe, I'm going to leave you with a few more photos of recent salads that have been enjoyed and devoured at my table in the past week. Perhaps they'll inspire you, too, to enjoy these salad days.

Salads pictured at left from the top are:
Two salads in one--kidney bean and rice salad with green salad

More kidney beans but this time with boiled potato and fresh cilantro

This salad was awesome--avocado, walnuts, radishes, beets--what more could you ask for? I usually dress my salads simply with olive oil and some kind of vinegar but this crazy carrot dressing is fantastic if you love ginger (I do).

05 May 2010

Bread. Yum.

A couple of weekends ago I decided to forgo spring cleaning my house in order to conquer my fear of making bread. I mean, life's short, right? I decided to use Jim Lahey's "revolutionary" no-knead method, and boy am I glad I did! Turns out, making crusty, wholesome, delicious, beautiful bread at home is well within reach of a novice, accident-prone baker like me. And the truth is, it requires so little active working time that I could have baked bread and cleaned my house too (um, I didn't).

I might be one of the last food-blog readers around to experiment with this fabulous recipe and technique. Back in 2006 Mark Bittman published an article on Lahey's method in his Minimalist column for the New York Times. You can check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

Since then it's made the rounds of the world wide web and gained many devoted fans. It's easy to see why the bread made such a splash. Instead of calling for the traditional multiple rounds of kneading and punching down the dough, this recipe relies on the power of a long fermentation process (about 12-18 hours) to do all the work. After about 14 or so hours, your mixture of yeast, flour, salt, water and whatever else you fancy turns into a bubbly dough-monster like so:

After turning it out onto a floured surface, all you do is tuck in the sides and form it into a roundish shape and then place it on a smooth dish towel covered in a generous layer of flour and/or corn meal or wheat bran to rise for a few more hours.

Meanwhile, you heat the oven and a covered cast-iron or ceramic pot really, really hot. I used my 5.5 qt. round le cruset dutch oven, outfitted with its new, steel, heat-proof knob (can you believe such a pricey item comes with a plastic knob!?!) and it worked great. You then turn the dough ball out of the towel straight into the hot pot (I ran into trouble here with my first loaf when the dough stuck to the towel--again, cover the towel generously with flour/meal/bran).

Then you bake it for a while covered and then uncovered and, viola! A perfect loaf! The only difficult part is waiting a full hour for the tempting thing to cool completely. According to Lahey, cutting into hot-out-of-the-oven bread is a really bad idea for retaining moisture content, etc. I believe him, and you should too.

In short, I think this method is tops! If you've been intimidated by bread-making at home like I was, I urge you to run to your local library or bookstore (or borrow it from a friend--thanks Lily!) to check out the whole book and its many different recipes. mmmm...think I'll go eat some toast.

PS: Have you experimented with no-knead bread? Please share your recipes and tips if you have!

No-Knead Basic Bread Recipe

see recipe in the Times:

The only differences between this recipe and the one I followed from Lahey's book are the following:
-use 1 1/3 cool water (might need an additional tablespoon or two if it seems too dry as mine did) instead of 1 5/8
-you can use any kind of dry yeast, not just instant
-the 15 minute resting period in step 2 can be completely skipped
-cook at 475 not 450
-i suggest about a 5 quart pot instead of the 6-8 quart listed in the Times--the dough spreads in a larger pot and makes a flatter loaf

***I also made a walnut and fig loaf from the book. This involved using the same basic recipe and procedure plus these changes to the dough:
-1/2 cup chopped dried figs
-1/2 cup chopped walnuts
-3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon yeast instead of 1/4
-1 1/2 cups cool water
-pinch black pepper

23 April 2010

Cilantro Pesto

Pesto ranks up there as one of my favorite foods--always has been. Come summertime, there's nothing I like more than a bowlful of pasta rich with pesto's spicy blend of basil, pinenuts, olive oil, and parmesan cheese (particularly--sigh--if I happen to be eating it beach-side in Moneglia in the true pesto motherland). The only trouble is, it's not always summer. Sure, basil and even high-quality ready-made pesto are available year-round in grocery stores but I'm a pretty firm believer that food tastes best when it's seasonal. Although it's starting to get plenty hot here, and light, summer foods are beginning to seem like just what the doctor ordered, basil season has yet to arrive at my house.

As a kind of interim measure, I decided to try making cilantro pesto instead. For some completely illogical reason, in my mind cilantro doesn't fall under the same seasonality limitations as basil. It's ripe for the picking off the grocery shelf all year long! A quick googling turned up a lot of different cilantro pesto recipes but I ended up settling on one from a back issue of Gourmet to use as a guide. Unlike a lot of the other recipes, this one doesn't call for parmesan which, although it's apparently good, sounds strange in combination with cilantro. It also includes some Asian flavors which is what I was craving although a more Mexican-flavored cilantro pesto (without fish sauce and sesame oil--plus a little cumin and serrano or jalapeno pepper) would also be really good on lots of things.

As you can see from the photos, I tossed some udon noodles with the pesto and made a cold noodle salad (delish) but there are so many other things that could be done with this tasty green stuff. Some other ideas:
-toss with cooked rice and serve warm as a side to grilled meat or let cool and combine with veggies, pieces of cooked tofu or chicken and serve as a salad
-marinade for or dip/drizzle for grilled or baked tofu, fish, or shrimp
-rub under the skin of a roast chicken

This summer I think my basil pesto is in for some stiff competition!

Cilantro Pesto
adapted from Gourmet

2 cups packed cilantro leaves (about 2 medium bunches)
2 tablespoons pine nuts (blanched almonds would also be good)
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce (veggie substitute soy sauce)--may want more to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (I omitted)
1/4 cup mild olive oil

-a few sprigs of mint--recommended!
-fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper to taste or some dried red chili flakes

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth--just a few minutes. You may have to stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings.

15 April 2010

Pea Shoots

Is there anything more evocative of spring than delicate, baby pea shoots? Maybe pencil-thin asparagus. Or fluffy yellow chicks. Oh and newborn lambs! Ok, so there are lots of springy things out there but I'm going to try to focus on pea shoots for a bit since they're my most exciting recent food discovery.

If you haven't ever tried pea shoots I suggest you hightail it to your local farmer's market stat, before the season's over. If you can't find them there, you might also check Asian groceries--it seems pea shoots are common in Chinese cuisine. If you love sugar snap peas like I do you'll be happy to discover that the shoots taste, well, pretty much exactly like sugar snap peas! Their leafy texture, though, suggests different types of preparation.

Just picked and very young, delicate shoots can be eaten raw as a salad or mixed in with other salad greens (try an Asian-inspired dressing with rice vinegar, ginger, and sesame oil). More mature shoots are great chopped or torn into smaller pieces and quickly sauteed or stir-fried in a little oil and garlic, just enough to wilt and tenderize (word of caution--these little guys shrink to almost nothing when cooked so start out with a lot more than you think). You can tell a mature shoot by the presence of a spring-like coiled tendril at its tip which you should take the time to pinch off, otherwise your shoots will stick together in a big, tangled clump no matter how you prepare them. Trust me. Mix cooked shoots in with some soba noodles, small chunks of smoked tofu, and a similar Asian dressing and you have a delicious, easy lunch or dinner in a bowl!

Or, for a Frenchy twist, you can do what I did and make an omelet. Paired with a salad of mixed greens and baby beets and a glass of wine, it made for a taste of spring that made me wish, again, that this season would last forever. Or at least longer than it usually does in Texas!

PS: Now that I'm turned on to these delicious little guys, I'm eager to learn more ways to cook with them. If you're familiar with pea shoots, what's your favorite way to cook and eat them? Please do share.

Springtime Omelet with Pea Shoots
1 serving
1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
two generous handfulls (maybe two cups) of pea shoots, trimmed, chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 fresh farm eggs, lightly beaten with a splash of milk or cream
1 tablespoon butter

Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

salt and pepper to taste

optional: a slice or two of prosciutto if you're feeling decadent (I was)

Add half the butter to a small hot pan and when foaming, toss in the garlic and pea shoots, stirring for a minute or two until the leaves wilt. Remove from pan. Add the rest of the butter (and more or oil if you need it) to the pan and when it foams add the eggs. Let cook until the egg begins to harden around the edges of the pan. Spoon the pea shoots over the middle of the omelet, grate cheese over the whole thing, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the top (also add the prosciutto if using). With a rubber spatula, gently fold the omelet in half or in thirds (taco style--my preferred method) and cook a bit longer until the eggs are no longer runny. Turn out of the pan onto a plate and dig in!

12 April 2010

Rhubarb Citrus Tart

I've been intrigued by rhubarb for a while now. Usually disguised as a fruit and featured in springtime desserts, it is technically a vegetable! Despite its unassuming appearance (the stalks look a lot like pink celery), for me rhubarb conjures up romantic notions of times-gone-by. Classic rhubarb desserts seem to either represent good old fashioned Americana (strawberry rhubarb pie) or prim Victorian England (rhubarb fool)--either way they appeal to my imaginary sensibilities.

Curious to know if rhubarb appealed to my real sensibilities as well, last summer while in New York City I bought some from the farmer's market and cooked it up. I stewed it gently for about 20 minutes on the stove with a hefty amount of sugar (rhubarb is very tart and recipes usually temper this by combining it with sweet berries like strawberries and an ungodly amount of sugar, surely canceling out any positive benefits of eating vegetables for dessert!). The resulting compote (is there any less-sexy name for a dessert?) was good, especially spooned over greek yogurt or ice cream, but I knew I could do better.

Although rhubarb doesn't seem to be a popular Texas crop and isn't available in our local Austin farmer's markets, I couldn't resist when I saw some good looking stalks at the grocery store this week. A quick epicurious.com search landed me with this tart recipe and I'm happy to report, it was way better than my first experiment! And much prettier. Admittedly, it is a bit of a cheater recipe, as it calls for a frozen puff pastry crust (which I used despite being a bit appalled by the scary list of ingredients), but I bet you could be a purist and make something equally good if not better if you can pull off a delicate tart crust. As it is, though, this tart makes an impressive and delicious finish for a springtime barbecue, especially when accompanied by some homemade vanilla ice cream. It's deceptively quick and simple to make too, even if you take the time to lay out each thin piece of rhubarb in a precise (ahem) manner. Try it and you, too, will enjoy eating vegetables for dessert, I promise!
P.S.: There have been many other culinary shenanigans around these parts lately including experiments with pea shoots, quick pickling, a glorious roasted chicken, breaking in my birthday BBQ pit, and a very entertaining evening spent attempting to fish a lost dishtowel out from behind my stove with a hanger (PSA: the bottom drawer of your oven is removable people!!!). I'm hoping to write some posts here about all of these noteworthy items and more, so stay tuned...meanwhile, here's a little visual preview:

Rhubarb Citrus Tart
based on a recipe from Gourmet, 2009
serves 8

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal (about 1/8" thick)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 with rack in middle. In a medium bowl stir together juices and sugar, add rhubarb and let stand, stirring some, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut puff pastry in half lengthwise and roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin until each measures about 7 x 11 inches (making two smallish tarts instead of one large one increases the crust factor and decreases center soggy pieces). Transfer to a large baking sheet and make a border around each one by scoring (not cutting through) a line parallel to and about 1/2" from each edge. Prick all over the center with a fork.

Strain rhubarb in a colander over a bowl, reserving juices. Top center of each pastry with half of the rhubarb, overlapping the pieces slightly. Bake about 30 minutes or until crust is puffed and golden. Meanwhile, reduce juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until you have about 1/4 cup of thick glaze. Brush or drizzle glaze (I didn't use all of it) over the baked tarts and scatter orange zest over the top. Enjoy!

04 April 2010

le radish

Did you know the radish plant is edible in its entirety? I've always tossed the prickly leaves, assuming they aren't good to eat but lately I've heard some rumors about them that make me want to change my wasteful ways. That and the fact that I just harvested my first spring radishes from my little garden and its seems doubly wrong to throw away something I've grown myself. These little guys were supposed to be long, elegant, bi-color french breakfast radishes but some of them turned out kinda short and stout (appropriate given who grew them!). I ate them in a salad today, setting the tops aside for some future use (perhaps chopped and mixed into another salad?). When I harvest the next round I think I'll try the recipe below (I think it would be a great side for fish or something off the grill).

Sautéed Radishes in the French Style

adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
serves 6
2 Tblsp unsalted butter

2 bunches small radishes
Salt and fresh ground pepper

1/3 C white wine- she uses Vermouth

Pinch of sugar

2 Tblsp chopped fresh tarragon

Directions: Heat butter in a 12” skillet over medium high heat. Clean and halve radishes lengthwise, discarding only the leaves that were slimy or yellow. Leave tails intact as well. Throw them into the pan and give a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the wine or Vermouth and sugar continuing to cook until the liquid has disappeared. Toss the radishes with the tarragon and a bit more butter if desired.

31 March 2010

Meemaw's Tzimmes

There are some foods we love simply because someone we care for deeply makes them for us. I can think of no better explanation for the fact that I always ate my grandmother’s tzimmes, and loved it, despite being a strict vegetarian for my entire childhood and young adulthood (not for health-related or political reasons, mind you, but a natural distaste for meat). It didn’t hurt, of course, that Meemaw’s tzimmes was also incredibly delicious.

Tzimmes (roughly pronounced sim-mus), is a classic example of European Jewish peasant food—some meat, cooked with some garlic and onion, and stewed for a long time with potatoes, readily available veggies, and maybe some fruit for sweetness. It is simple, honest food that is a comfort to eat and an inexpensive, satisfying meal in one bowl. You would never know it was so simple, however, given its esteemed and sacred position in my family.

We only eat tzimmes at Passover. Let me rephrase that…We used to eat tzimmes at Passover. Someone will probably correct me on this but I really don’t believe it’s been a part of our seder meal for about a decade now, ever since Meemaw, the keeper of all tzimmes secrets, got sick with cancer and passed way. As she was getting older, Meemaw started writing down her recipes and even gave both of her daughters-in-law a handwritten cookbook that included a recipe for tzimmes (as well one for pistachio gelatin salad—a dish apparently in her repertoire which I, sadly, never had the opportunity to sample). Referring to this list of measurement-less ingredients and the sketchy outline of steps that followed as a recipe was really pushing it, however. Perhaps because of the recipe’s lack of precision, but more likely because of the missing singular ingredient (Meemaw), the few attempts family members have made to cook the dish without her always seemed lackluster.

This week while home preparing for Passover I had a strong urge to try my hand at it. Now there’s nothing, really, in my cooking ‘career’ to have led me to believe with much confidence that I could pull off even a passably similar rendition of my grandmother’s fabled dish. First of all, I don’t cook beef (the star ingredient in Meemaw’s tzimmes although some people make vegetarian or chicken versions). Also, unlike other members of the family, I never really paid much attention to what Meemaw was doing in the kitchen, I guess simply because I had not yet developed my own interest in all things culinary while she was alive. So I went into this with a few handicaps, which makes what I’m about to tell you even more remarkable, or perhaps proof of some kind of ghostly intervention from the other side…I made Meemaw’s tzimmes and it was good. Really good.

So good, in fact, that I am going to record my own more detailed version of her recipe here for you, as well as for myself, as a guideline to follow when I try making it again next Passover (or maybe at some other special occasion—some things, after all, must remain sacred). Although the recipe is more detailed, please keep in mind that I have only made this once, with a great degree of trepidation and guesswork and not a whole lot of scientific method, so things might still seem a bit vague and imprecise. Which brings us to the other secret of Meemaw’s tzimmes: it’s a pretty resilient dish and difficult to royally screw up. I’d recommend sticking fairly close to the list of ingredients (don’t throw anything green in there, for G-Ds sake!), but otherwise you can do this to taste, varying amounts here and there as you like. One of the greatest revelations to come out of this process for me, for example, came from deviating from Meemaw’s fuzzy directions to cook the thing on top of the stove (where, according to my mom, she would potchke (mess) with it incessantly) and, instead, cooking it mostly in the oven. In other words, you have my permission to take creative license, as long as you cook it with love. For I think it’s love, cheesy as it may seem, that is the true secret ingredient in Meemaw’s tzimmes, and thankfully, it’s in steady supply and knows no measurements.

Meemaw’s Tzimmes

Recipe inspired by Betty Lee Mason, the inimitable Meemaw

Shout out to Mark Mason for (re)interpreting the recipe and guiding me through the foreign land of beef cookery-thanks Dad!

About 10 or 12 main course servings

1 medium brisket, preferably grass-fed, local, organic, petted-every-day beef (I used a 5.5 lb brisket); you don’t want one that’s trimmed as the ‘fat cap’ is essential to the dish’s, um, lusciousness.

1 large onion, diced plus another ½ an onion for grating with the potato

3 large potatoes (I used plain old baking potatoes), peeled

2 sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered and cut into chunks (maybe 2 inch chunks—not too small otherwise they will just turn to mush)

1 lb. carrots, sliced into rounds (again not too small)

1.5 cups pitted prunes (or to taste)

1 tablespoon or so canola or other high-heat oil

3 cups hot water

1 tablespoon honey

4 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste—I’m not a big fan of cinnamon so I used a small amount)

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered

salt & pepper to taste

optional: 1-2 cups red wine

Use a paring knife to pierce brisket and insert garlic pieces all over on both sides. Salt and pepper the meat. On the stove, over medium-high heat, place a heavy dutch oven large enough to hold the meat in one layer (you can also cut the brisket into two pieces, brown them separately, and then rotate them frequently during cooking to ensure even cooking). You can also use a deep roasting pan with a tight fitting lid. Add oil to the warm pan and brown meat for several minutes on both sides (it’s important not to mess with the meat too much while browning in order to get a good crust on it—when it’s fully browned it will release easily from the bottom of the pan). Remove meat from pan, leaving drippings and add diced onion, stirring until softened. Add optional red wine to the onions or a bit of water and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with your spoon to release all the good stuff. Return the meat to the pan, cover, and cook over medium heat for about an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes and making sure nothing’s burning.

While brisket cooks do the following:

-preheat oven to 350

-grate the potatoes and ½ onion (Meemaw certainly did this by hand but I used the grater attachment on my cuisinart). Mix together with salt (maybe 1 teaspoon?) and pepper and cover with a thin layer of flour (or matzoh meal if it’s Passover).

-mix honey, brown sugar, and cinnamon into the hot water (this is the liquid you will braise and baste with)

After about an hour of cooking, add about 1-2 cups of the sugar water mixture, cover, and put the whole thing in the oven to cook for about another hour, checking periodically to baste with accumulated cooking liquid or add more if it’s drying out.

When you’ve hit the two hour total cooking mark, remove from oven, pull out the brisket and place on a plate. Form slightly compact balls of the grated potato, squeezing out any excess liquid, and then place them in the hot fat/liquid at the bottom of the baking dish—try not to stir or disturb these grated potatoes during the rest of the cooking process so that they can sit there, gathering fat and flavor and forming a golden brown crust. Return the meat to the dish, covering the grated potatoes and then place the carrots, sweet potato, and prunes on top, adding another cup or so of the sugar water mixture. Cover and return to oven and cook for about another 2 hours, checking frequently (every 15-30 minutes) to stir the vegetables and baste the whole thing with liquid accumulating in the pan. Occasionally flip the meat, especially if you have it cooking in layers. I had plenty of liquid in the pan but if yours seems to dry out and risk burning toward the end of cooking, add some water. You should taste the veggies and cooking liquid too so you can be sure it’s seasoned to your liking.

After about 4 hours of cooking time the meat should be very tender. Remove the whole dish from the oven and pull out the brisket, tenting on a plate with foil for about 10 minutes or until cool enough to slice. Slice across grain with sharp knife and return to pan with vegetables. Season w/ salt & pepper to taste. If you ended up with a lot of liquid, return the whole thing to a 325 degree oven, uncovered, for about ½ an hour. The final result should be a stewy but not soupy tzimmes.