Spoonin' some slurpy stuff about the world's drippiest drool

Monday, December 30, 2013

Himalayan Rock Salt Plate

As we usher in 2014 I have several new tools and toys to report on.

Salt plates, made of pink Himalayan rock salt, 1 1/2" thick, are my new obsession. The salt imparts a slightly seasoned flavor to the meat while sealing in juices. So far, I have cooked steak, potatoes and lobster tails on my plate, all with positives results.

The key to this cooking approach, is slowly heating the plate until it is at 500 degrees - plenty hot for searing and cooking meat. You do not have to season meat - the salt plate will do that - although I did add a bit of truffle butter to the steak before serving.

The meat gets beautifully carmelized, but I found the cook time to be a tad longer, and would suggest thinner cuts of meats rather than filets.

Clean up is not a major deal either - treat your salt plate like a cast iron skillet - absolutely no soap, and don't soak it in water. Let it cool, at least an hour, rinse it, scrub it then rinse it again. It will discolor, so I keep one side for cooking and leave the other side clean.

These plates are versatile and can also be refrigerated then used to serve cold foods like sushi. Lucky, special people have two, one for cooking, one for serving.

As for tonight's meal,

Salt Plate Grilled Lobster Tail and Purple Majesty Potatoes with Cilantro Vinaigrette

4 10 oz lobster tails
2 pounds small (1 1/2- to 2 inch) Purple Majesty Potatoes
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Slowly heat salt plate for 20-30 minutes on gas stove top, increasing heat level every 5 minutes, until flame is on high. Plate is ready to cook when you feel heat holding your hand 2-3" from plate.

Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, red-pepper flakes, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until well blended, then stir in cilantro.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and toss with olive oil. Add potatoes cut side down to salt plate, cook for 8-10 minutes then flip once and cook an additional 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette. Keep potatoes warm, covered.

Remove lobster tails from shell. Add to salt plate and cook 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with 1/4 cup vinaigrette, then keep warm, covered.

Top potatoes with lobster tail and drizzle with additional vinaigrette. Serve warm.

This vinaigrette is a definite keeper, just enough heat and a nice acid balance. This would be lovely on arugula or quite frankly any greens, starches, you name it. Even steak or poultry.


-Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:S Adams St,Rockville,United States

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgivukkah 2013

I am fairly anal when it comes to Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday - family, friends, lots of cooking, and no presents required. I spend a good bit of time thinking about the meal, planning the menu and then choreographing the cooking.

This year added a twist.  Chanukah began before Thanksgiving, opening up a whole world of food possibilities to the our dinner.  How do you merge a meal centered around oil with one centered around turkey.  Ok, the obvious is to fry the turkey and be done, but that would be too easy, and I might end up burning the house down.  No, this required more thought and creativity - and for me, a lot of notepaper.

Chanukah Cooking and Traditions

When Jacob was little, we would give him clues to find his present each night.  The number of candles that night equaled the number of clues he would receive, sometimes they were math, sometimes geographic, sometimes in French, occasionally they involved friends or even making a phone call to get the next clue.  Thankfully, Jacob outgrew the treasure hunt - we were running out of ideas for clues.

Our food traditions have stayed fairly constant; latkes of some sort, jelly donuts every so often, and the heart stopping, stomach swelling crispy, deep fried spare ribs.  The recipe calls for pork ribs, but that just seemed wrong for Chanukah, so I used beef back ribs.  Braised until they are falling off the bone, coated in flour and quick fried, then coated in a thick Asian style barbecue sauce, even if they kill you, you will die with a smile on your face. It was clear to me, that this years menu had to include those ribs.

I like to start Thanksgiving with a soup - usually a thick, squash based something or another.  A recipe for pumpkin sage matzo balls intrigued me though, so a clear soup made more sense.  I opted for a simple chicken consumme - a double cooked broth, in theory perfectly clear - except when you put fluffy matzo balls in it whose molecules are held together by a few eggs and a lot of prayer. Truthfully, these did not wow me (I knew I should have added Vodka), but the consumme, rich with chicken essence and a nice splash of sherry was a worthy vessel.

Latkes were also a no brainer.  I knew we would be having lots of starch in the Thanksgiving portion of the meal, so I opted for root vegetable pancakes - carrots, parsnips, onions and potato.  And hate me if you will, I fall on the side of sour cream with my latkes, so that is what I served.  Period.

As for jelly donuts, that tradition needed a slight modification.  Many pies and cakes would be arriving with our guests, guests whose pastry skills make anything I try to bake look like it came from an Easy Bake oven.  I bowed to the master's and went the savory route instead - Cod Beignets.  Salt cod, soaked, cooked in a milk broth, then added to an herbed batter to be fried o a golden brown and served with an herbed yogurt sauce.  No grape jelly oozing onto our laps, but otherwise a nice addition.

Thanksgiving Cooking 

With the added interest of Chanukah in the mix, it made sense to keep the Thanksgiving recipes pretty traditional.  Our turkey is made on the grill, stuffed with onions, lemons and herbs.  Giblet stock, roasted garlic and pan drippings make for a succulent gravy.  Turkey selection has varied over the years.  Butterballs gave way to organic, with the somewhat ironic emphasis on the quality of life of the bird.  I prefer a bird with a pop up timer, which is stupid - those timers often fail to pop, or as happened this year, pop up prematurely (I am smiling, but will not make the obvious joke).

Grilling the turkey, frees up the oven for other uses, speeds up the cooking process, and makes for a moist, flavorful bird.  I use a poultry thermometer to double check the pop up - 180 degrees at the thigh and done.  Just make sure you have a full propane tank before you start.

No turkey is complete without a dollop of cranberry whatever - the 2013 version of which combined cranberries, orange and Chambord (instead or cranberry juice).

The sides were predictable; Brussell Sprouts with Bacon and Lemon (can I just give a plug for Fresh Market - their smoked bacon is ridiculously good),

Sweet Potatoes with Mini Marshmallows and Pecans

and, of course, Mashed Potatoes.  I can confirm that the key to great mashed potatoes is warming the cream and butter before adding them to the cooked potatoes.  I would also suggest using a ricer to mash the potatoes - the less stirring, the fluffier the potatoes.

And stuffing.  What a wonderful invention.  Ours was sausage, fig and chestnut.  It was flavorful, but had I to do it again, I would double the sausage.  Having fig in every bite is fine, but even better if it is accompanied by a chunk of sausage.

Cooking And Choreography

With a thick stack of recipes in hand, and stored on the computer for posterity, timing needed to be considered.  My goal, make as much as possible in advance and then reheat, leaving Thursday free for last minute cleaning, table setting and hopefully a shower.

My schedule:
Monday - Cranberry Relish
Tuesday - Soak cod, make chicken stock, braise ribs
Wednesday - Make beignet batter, make consumme and matzo balls, bake stuffing, assemble sweet potatoes
Thursday Morning - Make yogurt sauce, make latkes, make brussel sprouts, bake sweet potatoes, make mashed potatoes
Thursday Afternoon - Make turkey, fry beignets, roast garlic, make giblet stock, reheat the crap out of everything.

Let me say two things about this.  One, if John Hartranft was not an amazing human with an incredible knack for organizing and cleaning pretty much the entire house, this would not have been possible. Two, if Cheryl Hartranft was not a mind reader, anticipating my every need as the afternoon progressed as well as being a dish washing demon, I would still be asleep.

Did I mention I caught myself on fire at one point?  In a complete Bugs Bunny moment, I checked the oven to see what was burning, because it sure smelled like something was on fire.  Thank you Cheryl for pointing out that the something was me.  Thankfully, while my favorite apron was rendered useless, I was left intact.  On the plus side, the apron was from the gift shop at The Inn at Little Washington - I guess I will have to go back.

One more note - thank you to Christine Brehm for teaching me to properly carve/attack a turkey.  I must admit, I have always been tentative about grabbing drumsticks and cracking joints, but with a few deft moves, Christine had legs and wings separated, and both turkey breast sides off in one piece, ready for carving.

With the dark meat added to the platter, into the soup pot went the carcass, onions, lemons and all, with some fresh herbs to make turkey stock.  A few years ago, our dog Ginger actually dragged the carcass out of the trash can, so this is both a cost effective approach and a means of keeping the house clean.

With the Chanukah and Thanksgiving entrees and sides on the table, what a relief to turn over the reigns to those who have the patience to create pastry marvels.  Pumpkin, pecan, apple (that Jacob hid in the basement fridge and we didn't remember until too late), pumpkin cream, and peanut butter, chocolate cake.  Oh how I love other peoples desserts!

So, here are most of the recipes I worked from.  The grilled turkey recipe is not online, but is simple - wash it, rub it with oil, stuff it with a cut up onion, a cut up lemon, rosemary and thyme salt and pepper inside and out, toss it in a roasting pan (on top of a rack), and grill at 350 ish, basting every 30 minutes or so.

Basic Brown Chicken Broth
Pumpkin Sage Matzo Balls
Salt Cod Beignets With Herbed Yogurt
Root Vegetable Latkes
Crispy Deep Fried Spare Ribs
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Sausage, Chestnut and Fig Stuffing
Cranberry Relish
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Bacon

I hope you all had an fun filled Thanksgiving. and I wish you a holiday season full of miracles.  As for me, I have some leftovers to reheat.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Red Lentil and Coconut Soup with Black Rice, Tumeric and Greens

Taken from Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison, this is absolutely one of the tastiest lentil dishes I have made in a while. The richness of the coconut milk, the bright acidity of the limes, the creaminess of the lentils and slight chewiness of the black rice make a wonderful combination. And don't leave out the tumeric - besides giving the dish a lovely yellow backdrop, it is SO good for you. If tumeric were human, it would be Superman.

Click here for more on tumeric.

Start to finish, this takes about an hour. No meat required, but the braised chicken I added did make a nice addition.

1 1/4 C red lentils
2 Tbsn ghee or sesame oil (I used sesame oil)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 tspn ground tumeric
1 tspn curry powder
2 tspn ground cumin (I was out of cumin, I added a tspn of coriander - I know, they are not interchangeable)
2 tspn black or yellow mustard seeds
Minced cilantro stems from one bunch of cilantro
1 (15 oz) can light coconut milk
4 C water
Sea salt
Juice of 2-3 limes
Few handfuls of tender greens (spinach, chard) (I used a bunch of chard)
3 to 4 Tbsn coconut butter (I left this out - it tasted too good without it, I saw no reason to add the extra calories on top of the coconut milk.)

To Finish
About 1 cup cooked black rice
Red pepper flakes
Ground black pepper
Yogurt (since I topped the lentils and rice with sliced, braised chicken thighs, I left this out)

Rinse the lentils, cover with cold water, and set aside while you dice the onion and sauté the onion mixture.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, stir, and cook gently until it begins to soften, about 6 minutes. Add the spices and cilantro stems. Stir once more, and cook for several minutes longer.

Drain the lentils and add them to the onion mixture. Stir in the coconut milk and add 4 cups water and 2 tspn salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook until the lentils have broken down into a purée. Give them a stir every 5 minutes or so. They should be done after 20 minutes, but they can go another 10 min if you want them smoother.

When the soup is done, stir in the lime juice to taste, then taste for salt. (I used 2 1/2 limes, and added a tspn or two of salt - make sure you taste as you add). At the last minute, drop in the greens and cook just long enough for them to turn bright green and tender. Just before serving, stir in the coconut butter. (Or not)

Ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Add a large spoonful of black rice, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a good twist of black pepper to each. Spoon yogurt around the rice and serve.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gluten Free Rosemary Chestnut Muffins

When it comes to baking, I am a novice.  When it comes to creating baked recipes, I am two steps below a novice.  However, with a container of gluten free flour mix burning a proverbial hole in my pocket, I had the urge to experiment.

I had chestnut flour already from another recipe, so I decided to rework the cornbread recipe to a chestnut muffin.  Chestnut flour can become very dense, very fast, so a little goes a long way. Understanding the role of each ingredient is key with baking - I am trying hard to learn to balance these different chemistries to create specific textures and flavours.

The following recipe is a start, but there is lots of room for improvement (all suggestions are welcome). The result was more in the popover family than the muffin family - fairly light and airy, a little bit eggy. However, the top was a bit chewy, a little too elastic - maybe using only one egg would solve that.  It is moist - but again, to cross back over to muffindom, maybe a little less sourcream.  There are multiple leavening agents at work here too - the xanthan gum and the baking powder may be a bit too much - maybe only one tspn of baking powder is necessary.  Don't skimp on the honey, though - the chestnut flour needs that added sweetness, and I would probably add another 1/4c of the chestnut flour to get more of that flavor.

Gluten Free Rosemary Chestnut Muffins
1/4 C Crisco
3 Tbsn Honey
2 Large Eggs
3/4 C Sour Cream
1/2 C Milk
1 C Gluten Free Flour Blend
(2 C rice flour, 2/3 C Potato Starch, 1/3 C tapioca Flour, 1 tspn Xanthan Gum)
1/2 C Chestnut Flour
2 tspns Gluten Free Baking Powder (I used regular)
2 tbsn Fresh Rosemary
1 tspn salt 

Heat oven to 425 deg F.  (Next time I will start with 375 deg and go a bit longer - the bottoms were a bit dark by the time the inside was done).

Combine shortening and honey in a large bowl.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy.  Add eggs, mix well.  Stir in sour cream and milk.  Reduce speed to low; add all remaining ingredients.  Beat until just mixed.

Pour batter into a  greased muffin tin.  Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick in center comes out clean.  Serve warm.  

Serve with honey butter or apple butter (an excellent suggestion from John Hartranft).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sour Cream Corn Bread (Gluten Free)

I made gluten free corn bread last night, mainly out of curiosity.  Don't get me wrong, I have dramatically reduced my gluten and wheat intake, with positive results, but this was about playing with new ingredients.

As I trundled down the grocery aisle, with a number of unfamiliar faces in my cart, I realized I had no real idea what the role of these new ingredients were in this recipe.  Time for a bit of research...

Tapioca Flour

Also known as tapioca starch, tapioca flour, made from cassava root,  is used as an alternative to wheat flour, helping to bind gluten free recipes and improve texture of baked goods.  It adds crispness in crusts and chew to breads and cookies, as well as being a great thickener in sauces and soups - it never discolors and has no discernible taste or smell.

Xanthan Gum

Basically, a bacterium that is allowed to ferment on a sugar, then dried and milled to create a powder, xanthan gum is used to imitate gluten in gluten free baking.  It gives dough elasticity, holds cookies together, and helps cakes rise and stay light.  It also is an excellent emulsifier and thickener, and creates a creamy texture.

So, now I have a container of fake wheat flour to mix with things like corn meal for gluten free baking. Perhaps a mix with chestnut flour, honey and rosemary - I'm thinking muffins.  But I digress.  Here is the recipe for Gluten Free Corn Bread:

Sour Cream Corn Bread (from Land O lakes)
1/4 C Butter (I used Crisco instead)
3 Tbsn Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1/2 C Sour Cream
1/2 C Milk
1 C Gluten Free Flour Blend
(2 C rice flour, 2/3 C Potato Starch, 1/3 C tapioca Flour, 1 tspn Xanthan Gum)
2/3 C Yelow Corn Meal
2 tspns Gluten Free Baking Powder (I used regular)
1/2 tspn salt (I don't want to oversalt, but 1 tspn instead would definitely increase the flavor)
(I added sage and cayenne pepper for a bit of kick.  I also think corn kernels would be a good addition, as well as green chilis)

Heat oven to 425 deg F.

Combine softened butter and sugar in a large bowl.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy.  Add eggs, mix well.  Stir in sour cream and milk.  Reduce speed to low; add all remaining ingredients.  Beat until just mixed.

Pour batter into greased 8 inch square baking pan. (I baked mine in a cast iron skillet).  Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick in center comes out clean.  Serve warm.

The result is pleasant enough.  It does not have the wonderful, sweet graininess of standard corn bread though.  Rather, it lighter and breadier.  Maybe a little less baking powder?  Maybe a bit more corn meal?  I suppose more experimentation is in order.  Nevertheless, it is pleasant, and was an excellent accompaniment to the vegetable chili that you will see here next...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chard, Ricotta and Saffron Cakes

Chard, ricotta and saffron. In a pancake. With sour cream on top. Can you say comfort food? The chard gives this an earthy flavor, the ricotta adds depth to the texture, and saffron makes it look and smell lovely. The trifecta.

Saffron is made from the saffron crocus.

Someone interesting saffron facts:

Saffron used to be used by Greek courtesans (prostitutes for the royals and wealthy men) as a perfume on behalf of its pleasant aroma.

In the Middle Ages, one could be sentenced to the punishment of being buried alive if they tried to alter saffron by adding in other substances. This would make the saffron not pure, but unknown to others, mixed with other materials to increase the quantity and weight of the substance. Therefore the seller would illegally make more money off of the saffron.

In order to cure hang-overs, Romans would sleep with expensive pillows that were stuffed with saffron.

It takes about 75,000 crocus flowers to make one pound of saffron spice.
4,500 crocus flowers make up one ounce of saffron spice.

Saffron can cost up to $315/oz. to $5,040/lb. WHAT?!!!

Elderly women are usually given the job of removing the saffron stigmas from the crocus flowers, a very strenuous job, because there are no machines that can separate these three delicate stigmas from the flower.

The beauty of saffron is that it can be used sparingly and still impart fabulous aroma and color. It can take a long time to go through even an ounce. Good thing - especially at those prices!

This recipe is from "Vegetable Literacy", by Deborah Madison. Awesome vegetable and grains cookbook, beautifully written and photographed.

Chard, Ricotta and Saffron Cakes

12 cups trimmed chard leaves Make sure you rinse these really well or they are likely to be gritty
2 pinches saffron threads
1 cup white whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheeseI used whole milk ricotta to give the cake more moisture - I'm sure the world won't end if you use skim
1/3 cup or more grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil or ghee, plus extra for frying
thick yogurt or sour cream, to finish
micro greens or slivered basil leaves, to finish
Boiled, diced baby beets for garnish

Wash the chard, drain and put it in a pot with the water clinging to the leaves. Cover and cook over high heat until wilted. You want the chard to be tender but not overcooked, so keep an eye on it and taste it frequently. Add a few splashes of water if the pot threatens to dry out. When the chard is done, put it in a colander to cool and drain.

Cover the saffron threads with 2 tablespoons boiling water and set aside.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. In a second larger bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, milk, and eggs until blended. Add the oil and the saffron, then whisk in the flour mixture. Returning to the chard, squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop it finely and stir it into the batter.

Heat a few teaspoons olive oil or ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by the spoonful into the hot pan, making small or larger cakes as you wish. The batter is quite thick and it will not behave like a pancake. You need to give it plenty of time in the pan to cook through. Cook until golden on the bottom, then turn the cakes once, resisting any urge to pat them down, and cook until the second side is also well colored, maybe 3 minutes per side, or longer. I found 2 minutes per side to be enough - it will depend on your stove - pay close attention

Serve each cake with a tiny spoonful of sour cream and a finish of diced beets and beet thinnings.

This is a really easy recipe to make, and the pancakes are satisfying without being heavy.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:S Adams St,Rockville,United States

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stuffed Romano Peppers

When a master chef's Mom talks, I listen. This recipe, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Mom, caught my eye, in my continuing trek through "Jerusalem". The flavors are delicate, and even the tomato sauce the peppers sit in to steam, ends up being delicious. Having made the recipe, there are some tweaks I would like to try, to coax a bit more flavor from the lamb, but overall, nice flavors and textures.

Ruth's Stuffed Romano Peppers

8 Romano or other sweet peppers If you use bell peppers , you will need a deeper pot, and may want to steam them a bit longer, due to the thicker skin. I could not find sweet long red peppers, but the green worked fine - just not the sweetness that I associate with a red bell pepper
1 large tomato coarsely chopped I used canned Italian diced tomatoes
2 medium onions
2 C veg stock

3/4 C Basmati Rice Go easy on the rice, I felt like it overpowered the meat a bit
1 1/2 Tbsn Baharat Seasoning You can buy this as a mix or make it yourself. I'll post the recipe below
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsn olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
14 oz ground lamb I only had about 12 oz - it really wasn't enough - the lamb is so delicate, it really needs enough presence
2 1/2 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsn chopped dill
1 1/2 Tbsn dried mint
1 1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and ground black pepper

Make the Stuffing

Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then cook for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water and set aside.

Dry fry the spices in a frying pan. Add the olive oil and onion and fry for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Pour this, along with the rice, meat, herbs, sugar and 1 tsp salt into a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix everything together. I found the lamb sort of disappeared behind the rice. Maybe a bit more salt would help. Part of me wonders if lightly browning the lamb with a bit of salt would elevate the flavor a bit. I also think it may be possible to skip the first step and let the steaming process cook the rice. If you do that, be sure to rinse the rice really well first, or it will be too starchy

Now the peppers

Starting form the stalk end, use a small knife to cut lengthwise three quarters of the way down each pepper, without removing the stalk, creating a long opening. Without forcing the pepper open too much, remove the seeds and then stuff each pepper with an equal amount of the mixture.

Place the chopped tomato and onion in a very large frying pan for which you have a tight fitting lid. Arrange the peppers on top, close together, and pour in just enough stock so that it come 1/8 inch up the sides of the peppers.

There were only two of us, so I did not make more than we could consume.

Season with 1/2 tsp salt and some black pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer over the lowest possible heat for an hour. It is important that the filling is just steamed, so he lid must fit tightly; make sure there is always a little bit of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Serve the peppers warm, not hot, or at room temperature.


Baharat Seasoning
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 small cinnamon stick, coarse lay chopped
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cardamom pods
1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

Place all spices in spice grinder and grind till a fine powder is formed. Store in an air tight container for up to 8 weeks.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce

In my quest to cook my way through "Jerusalem", literally and figuratively, I bring you cod cakes in tomato sauce. Billed as typical of Syrian Jews, this dish combines a vibrant, aromatic sauce with flaky, delicate cakes full of savory flavors.

make sure all ingredients are finely chopped to easily form the cod cakes
white bread, crusts removed 3 slices
cod (sustainably sourced), halibut, hake or pollock fillet, skinless and boneless 1 1/3 lb/600g
medium onion 1, finely chopped
garlic cloves 4, crushed
flat-leaf parsley 1 oz/30g, finely chopped
cilantro 1 oz/30g, finely chopped
ground cumin 1 tbsp
salt 1 tsp
large free-range eggs 2, beaten
olive oil 4 tbsp

For the tomato sauce
olive oil 2 tbsp
ground cumin 1 tsp
sweet paprika ½ tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
medium onion 1, chopped
white wine 125ml/1/2 cup
chopped tomatoes 400g/14 oz tin I know, broken record, nevertheless, use Italian tomatoes - they taste so much better
red chilli 1, deseeded and finely chopped
garlic clove 1, crushed
caster sugar 2 tsp
mint leaves 2 tbsp, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

First make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a very large frying pan for which you have a lid, and add the spices and onion. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the onion is completely soft. Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Make sure you cook off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes, chilli, garlic, sugar, ½ tsp of salt and some black pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until quite thick, taste to adjust the seasoning and set aside. This is a really versatile sauce - I plan to use it with other proteins and pasta dishes. I'm thinking it would be great with shrimp and penne. I also think kalamata olives are a natural addition to this sauce

While the sauce is cooking make the fish cakes. Place the bread in a food processor and blitz to form breadcrumbs. Chop up the fish very finely and place in a bowl with the bread and everything else, apart from the olive oil. Mix well and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into compact cakes, about 3/4"/2cm thick and 3 1/4"/8cm wide. The mixture should make 8 cakes. If they are very soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up. You can add dry breadcrumbs if necessary, but try not to - the cakes should be fairly wet. Heat up half the oil in a frying pan and sear the cakes for 3 minutes on each side, so they colour well.

Add the remaining oil as you fry the cakes. Place the seared cakes gently, side by side, in the tomato sauce. Add enough water to partially cover the cakes, about 1 cup/200ml. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the cakes to settle, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with mint. The mint adds a bit of color, but I did not find it to be essential.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saffron Chicken with Herb Salad

The more I cook, the more I understand that cookbooks, like many of my favorite record albums (yes, albums), tell a story. Cooking only one or two recipes from a cookbook is like listening to only one or two songs from an album - it can be difficult to get the whole story that the author, or artist is trying to convey.

Lately, I have tried to cook my way through my cookbooks (ok, I did stop short at the sheep's head recipe in Momofuku - just didn't have a big enough pot). If it is a well written cookbook, there will be lessons learned through the journey - ways to apply methods to varied ingredients, differences and similarities in styles from culture to culture, chef to chef. Sometimes it is the introduction of new ingredients, or combinations of ingredients.

My latest acquisition is an excellent example - cooking these dishes, I feel a sense of the city of Jerusalem, bustling, diverse, vibrant. A cross section of cooking traditions, spices, herbs and approaches representing ethnicities from all over the Middle and Near East as well as Eastern Europe and North Africa. Cooking, like music, is a fabulous bridge to geography and history - only it tastes better.

This particular recipe caught my eye. Orange and fennel are a glorious combination. Especially if the orange is amped up with honey, saffron and vinegar, boiled down to a soft syrup, and processed into a chunky dressing. Essentially, orange gold, and definitely the foundation of this lovely, crunchy, fragrant recipe from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

If you are not familiar with fennel, click on the link below. Extremely healthy and very versatile, with a distinctive licorice flavor that sweetens and mellows with cooking, fennel definitely adds dimension and brightness to many dishes.

Fennel Facts

Now for the recipe:

1 orange
2 tbsn honey - more is better than less if the orange is not overly sweet - you will be cooking down a lot of peel and pith, so the honey counteracts the bitterness
½ tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp white-wine vinegar
Enough water to cover the oranges
2 1/4 lb skinless chicken breast
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 small fennel bulbs, sliced thin Including the fronds
1oz picked cilantro leaves
1oz picked basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced -I only had a green chili, but added thinly sliced red mini peppers for color and a little extra sweetness
1 garlic clove, crushed
Salt & black pepper


Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Slice off the top & bottom of the orange & cut it into 12 wedges. Discard any seeds. Place the wedges in a small saucepan & add the honey, saffron, vinegar & just enough water to cover the wedges. Bring to a boil & simmer gently for about an hour. At the end, you should be left with soft orange pieces & a few tablespoons of thick, fragrant syrup. Place the oranges & syrup in a food processor & blitz until you have a smooth, runny paste, add a little more water if need be. Blitz is my new favorite cooking term.

Season the chicken breasts generously with salt & pepper & drizzle with half the olive oil. Place the chicken on a very hot, ridged griddle pan & sear for about two minutes on each side, to get some good char marks all over. Place the chicken in a roasting tray and roast for 15-20 minutes, until just cooked. The juices will run clear when cooked through.

Set the chicken aside, and when it is cool enough to handle but still a little warm tear it up in to bite sized pieces. Place the chicken in a large bowl & pour over half the orange paste & gently mix together. I used more than half the paste - the chicken is fairly unadorned, I really wanted to rev up the flavor. I still had enough left over to put on salmon for another meal. The remaining orange syrup will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the oil, & toss gently. Taste, season with salt & pepper & if you like add a little more olive oil or lemon juice.

One additional note - the basil may be overkill - coupled with the fennel, the flavor was a bit overwhelming, the mint was definitely lost in the mix. If you use all the herbs, consider chopping them rather than just tearing them for smaller bits in each bite.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Monday, September 30, 2013

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

My husband beat me to the leftovers this afternoon. That is a very good sign - not only did we like it last night, we both were inclined to enjoy it again today.

This wonderful mingling of flavors, acidity from the tomatoes, velvety richness from the feta, the sharp jab of the caraway is absolute comfort food.

I found this recipe in a fabulous new cookbook - Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Both were born in Jerusalem in the same year, Tamimi on the Arab east side and Ottolenghi in the Jewish west. Together, they have created a cookbook that explores all the different cultures that inhabit Jerusalem, providing bits of history and tradition as they go. The result is a look at a fascinating region in terms of its food - sometimes very similar across all cultures, other times very specific to an ethnic group.

1 cup / 200g pearl barley
2 Tb / 30g unsalted butter
6 Tb / 90ml olive oil
2 small celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 small shallots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, cut into 1/16-inch / 2mm dice
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 strips lemon peel
1/4 tsp chile flakes
one 14-oz / 400g can chopped tomatoes
scant 3 cups / 700ml vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups / 300ml passata (sieved crushed tomatoes)I used strained Pomi Tomatoes
1 Tb caraway seeds
10 1/2 oz / 300g feta cheese, broken into roughly 3/4-inch / 2cm pieces I would suggest even smaller pieces, maybe 1/2 inch
1 Tb fresh oregano leaves

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water and leave to drain.

Melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan and cook the celery, shallots, and garlic over gentle heat for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the barley, thyme, paprika, bay leaf, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the risotto does not catch on the bottom of the pan. When ready, the barley should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.

Meanwhile, toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes. Then lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining 4 tablespoons / 60ml olive oil and gently mix to combine. Be sure to use flavorful olive oil - you will be adding it back into the dish at the end.

Once the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and then divide it among four shallow bowls. Top each with marinated feta, including the oil, and a sprinkling of oregano leaves. Definitely taste before topping with feta - mine needed more salt.

I also added shrimp at the end - marinated peeled shrimp in lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, garlic, salt and red chili flakes. Three minutes before the risotto was done, the shrimp went into the risotto to cook. Truthfully, marinating probably wasn't necessary - I decided to cook the shrimp in the risotto instead of grilling it at the last minute.

Enjoy. I plan to cook my way through this book, perhaps saffron chicken next...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rum Cake

I don't always bake (like ever), but when I do, I prefer it to involve large amounts of rum.

Baking, unlike cooking requires precision. It is an edible chemistry project with little room for imbalance. I hate it. But, when a friend turned 50, a birthday dinner was in order, and so was cake. I opted for rum cake - the rest of the meal had Cuban flavors, and rum cake seemed a perfect finale.

It was not a confection on my culinary radar, until a recent trip to Boston and a lovely visit with my great pal, Paula. Dinner in the North End ended with rum cake at a great little bakery. Often a traditional Italian birthday cake, this rum cake had layers of pudding commingling with layers of cake, topped with rich frosting.

The Cuban version mixes pudding with the cake mix, as well as rum, then adds layer upon layer of rum laden glaze to the top of the cake, to be greedily absorbed - yielding a moist, delicious rum soaked dessert.

Rum Cake

As for the rest of the meal, I have included the link I used.

Cuban Style Dinner - Braised Pork, Sweet Potatoes and Accompaniments

Some basic comments:

Brown the pork before you start the braising process. I tried it their way - it was not as moist as I would have liked. Keep your heat low - even with fattier cuts like pork shoulder.

Do make the cabbage salad in advance, it softens the cabbage a bit and really let's the flavor develop. Adding the basil at the end is also a must - it adds a very bright element. I'm thinking if basil is not available, caraway seeds would be interesting, or maybe some shredded fennel.

Taste the corn before you serve - if you use unsalted butter, you may want a bit more salt.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

O is for Octopus

I first encountered octopus in Milan a few years ago. Baby octopus served in a bell jar atop ratatouille and mashed potatoes - for me, absolute comfort food. When I got home I was on a mission to find and cook octopus. Years later it is still a struggle to find fresh octopus, but cooking it is easy.

This recipe is meant for a whole octopus. My visit to our local Asian market yielded cuttlefish, squid, live eels,frogs and turtles for cooking but no octopus. My last go with cuttlefish taught me that they are not the same as octopus. I was just starting to eye the fresh conch meat, thinking about the workout I might get pounding it into submission, when I decided to ask the seafood man about octopus. They had frozen young octopus. Not ideal, but worth a try.

This recipe from Food & Wine is a keeper - colorful, textural, flavorful and healthy. And easy - once the octopus is braising you can relax and get the salad ready, or have a glass of wine, or read my blog, or have a glass of wine, or...

Pan Seared Octopus with Italian Vegetable Salad

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
One 2 1/2-pound octopus—cleaned, head and tentacles separated
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (If you don't like spicy, go easy here - but it is really good spicy)
One 750-milliliter bottle dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 fennel bulb—halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced (Cut the slices bite sized - otherwise it will be difficult to scoop with your fork)
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced crosswise (Holy heck, you should see the size of the carrots they had at the Asian mart. - sadly, bigger does not mean sweeter)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt
1/2 cup lightly packed parsley leaves
4 large radicchio leaves
Fennel fronds, for garnish (optional)

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the octopus and cook over moderately high heat, turning, until lightly browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes. (The octopus will give off a lot of liquid, even if you dry it with paper towels - cook it in batches and drain it or you will braise it rather than sear it

Transfer the octopus to a plate. Add the garlic cloves to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Carefully add the white wine and bring to a boil. Return the octopus to the casserole; if necessary, add up to 1 cup of water to cover the octopus. Cover the casserole and braise over moderately low heat until very tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. (Keep an eye on the liquid in the pot - towards the end it will get pretty low)Transfer the octopus to a plate and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the red wine vinegar with the lemon juice, oregano and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, carrot, onion, scallions, chickpeas and a generous pinch of salt and mix well. Let stand for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parsley and season the salad with salt.

Using a paper towel, wipe the purple skin off the octopus tentacles, leaving the suckers intact. Cut the tentacles in half lengthwise, then cut them into 3-inch lengths. Cut the head into 1 1/2-inch pieces. (Not necessary with baby octopus)

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the octopus cut side down and cook over moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, about 1 minute. Turn the octopus and cook for 20 seconds longer. Transfer the seared octopus to a paper towel—lined plate to blot any excess oil and season lightly with salt. Transfer the octopus to plates. Fill the radicchio leaves with the Italian salad and set beside the octopus. (I just sliced the radicchio instead)

Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.

By the way, did you know that one of the arms on a male octopus is "special"? This is one of the entertaining octopus fun facts linked here:



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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Black Quinoa Salad with Lemon, Avocado and Pistachios

Serves 4

Talk about a grain that isn't a grain, but instead a seed related to spinach. High in protein, happy to take on any flavors you want to throw at it, quinoa is a versatile backdrop that doesn't drown you in carbohydrates. This recipe layers healthy upon healthy - quinoa, greens avocado. Great flavors and textures. Quick to make too. Slam dunk.

2 heaping cups cooked black quinoa (I used red quinoa, there is also white quinoa)

8 ounces beet greens or chard, cooked, drained and finely chopped(I used dandelion and turnip greens, blanched quickly in broth with some sprigs of thyme)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 or more tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch of sea salt

10 mint leaves, slivered

Heaping tablespoon finely sliced chives

1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced crosswise

Crumbled feta, ricotta salata or smoked ricotta

Pistachios, coarsely chopped (I didn't chop them - I really wanted a mouthful of crunch).

1. Toss the cooked quinoa with the greens, using your fingers to distribute the greens.

2. Whisk the lemon zest and juice, oil, cumin and salt into a vinaigrette. (Taste the vinaigrette - make sure it is lemony enough - I think it needs more lemon juice )- Pour it over the quinoa and greens. Add mint and chives; toss. Taste for salt.

3. Spoon the salad onto a platter. Top with avocado, feta and pistachios, then serve.

This recipe makes eating healthy easy. All hail quinoa!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Corn Pasta with Hickory Smoke Rubbed Pork

Corn pasta. If you are trying to be gluten free it is an option. Lately, I have been trying to reduce my gluten intake - mostly out of curiosity at the impact this reduction would have. So far, I have lost a few pounds, maybe or maybe not due to glutenlessness, and I feel better digestively - definitely due to glutenlessness.

So, in thinking about what to do with corn pasta, I felt like a seasoning adjustment was in order, for anything I put on top. Actually a seasoning elevation I suppose. Spicy, smoky, but with a sweetness that flour based pasta might not stand up to.

For the sauce, Italian diced tomatoes. In my opinion, there is a difference. I have taste tested many diced tomato brands, side by side. The Italian brands, certified or not, are heads above the rest in flavor. Add fresh oregano coarsely chopped, salt and pepper. A good dose of pepper - I kept tasting until it was spicy, and robust - as defined by me - so just taste until you are happy with the flavor.

For the meat, I went with pork chops. Marinated overnight in olive oil, apple cider vinegar and a hickory smoke rub that I found at a spice shop in Charlotte:

The flavor of BBQ potato chips - smoked salt, paprika, garlic, onion, pepper, oregano - yum. I broiled the pork - four minutes or so per side for a 1" thick chop. Then let it rest about five minutes before slicing.

One note on the pasta - the package says nine minutes - start checking at six - mine was a tad soft at eight minutes - I should have checked it earlier.

All in all, other than marinating overnight, this is a quick (30 minutes) dinner that has a lot of flavor, no gluten and is not over the top in fat or calories. Enjoy.

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Location:Rockville, MD

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cooking for a cook

Few things are more daunting than cooking for someone who is a master in the kitchen. Especially if they are from Italy. It is a worthy challenge, but one not entered into lightly.

Last night we spent a lovely evening with a friend we had not seen in forever. She is from Sicily originally, and understands the value of great food as well as quality ingredients. And she knows wine. Fortunately, I had a few days to plan our menu, a subject I approached by deciding what I would not make, which was anything even vaguely resembling Italian cuisine. No point creating unnecessary stress, on both of us.

So, what did that leave? Nothing too heavy, foods appropriate to summer and the available fresh produce. Glancing at my cookbook shelf, I spotted the Momofuku cookbook - and remembered the fried chicken recipe within.

Daunting may be a theme here. Most recipes in this book are actually a compilation of multiple recipes, or multiple cooking approaches, making the cooking more of a journey than a task. The up side is bold, unique flavors, using the occasional unfamiliar ingredient.

So, the menu. A traditional summer picnic, Momofuku style:
Fried chicken
Cherry Tomato Salad with soft tofu & shiso
Roasted Sweet Summer Corn with miso butter, bacon and roast onions

Fried Chicken

4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c kosher salt
3-3 1/2 lb chicken cut into quarters
4 c neutral cooking oil (I used veg oil)
Octo Vinaigrette (yup - recipe within a recipe)

1. Combine water, sugar, and salt. Add chicken in a sealed container. Refrigerate for 1-6 hours. Turn the chicken occasionally to distribute the brine.
2. Drain the chicken. Steam the chicken for 40 minutes(keep an eye on the chicken - if it feels done take it out - I would go shorter next time - some of the white meat was a bit dry, over med heat, leaving the lid on the steamer slightly ajar. Let the chicken cool then refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
3. Remove from the fridge at least 30 before frying.
4. Heat oil in fryer to 375 degrees. Oil should be deep enough to submerge the chicken. Fry til golden 6-8 min. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.
5. Cut into pieces. Toss with the vinaigrette ( recipe below), and serve hot.

Octo Vinaigrette . You can use this on anything - it's that good.
2 Tbsn finely chopped garlic
2 Tbsn finely chopped ginger
1/4 tspn pickled chiles
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1/4 c light soy sauce
2 Tbsn neutral oil
1/4 tspn sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsn sugar
Black pepper

If you have the time and inclination, this is a great recipe. All the prep is ahead of time, with just the frying at the end.

Now on to the sides.

Cherry Tomato Salad


12 oz of silken tofu drained
(I completely understand the addition of tofu - like mozzarella, the idea is to neutralize the acid from the tomatoes. However, if you use really flavorful cherry tomatoes, honestly, it is not necessary. It is an absolute pleasure to have that explosion of tomato and vinaigrette in your mouth, with nothing to dull it. Your choice, of course)
2 pints of cherry tomatoes
1/4 c sherry vinegar
1 Tbsn light soy sauce
1 tspn sesame oil
1/2 c neutral oil ( I used olive oil)
Kosher salt and pepper
6 shiso leaves thinly sliced
To find shiso, a relative of basil with a different flavor, I went to my Japanese market. They did not have fresh shiso leaves, so the Owner pointed me to a package, completely in Japanese. When I opened it to appeared to be the dried remnants of something that bore no resemblance to the pictures in the book. It had a slightly peppery flavor, so a used it anyway. I have no idea what it was. Probably not shiso.


1. Cut the tofu block in half. Using a 2" ring mold, cut cylinders of tofu out. Carefully slice those cylinders in half to produce eight thin rounds of tofu.
2. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bow. Cut an small x in the bottom of 2/3 of the tomatoes. Drop them in batched into the water for 10 sec then pull out with a slotted spoon and place in the ice bath to cool.slip off the skins. Put them in the fridge for 10 min to cool.
3. Cut the remaining tomatoes in half.
4. Stir together the vinegar, soy sauce, and oils in a mixing bowl. Add all the tomatoes and toss to coat.
5. To serve, place two tofu rounds in a shallow bowl, sprinkle with salt. Top with 1/2 c of tomatoes/sauce and sprinkle with salt, pepper and top with shiso leaves.

This is pretty, delicious and actually quick to make. I recommend this one!

Roasted Sweet Corn

Finally, the corn. This is a very complicated recipe, that I am going to simplify significantly. No picture - it was not a pretty dish. (There's no picture in the book either, apparently David Chang doesn't think it's pretty either). With that said, the flavor is pretty spectacular.

1. Combine 2 Tbsn of shiro (white miso) and 2 Tbsn unsalted butter. Make sure you mix it so it is one color, not streaky. Take a taste - you will want to put it on everything.

2. Slice a large sweet onion thinly. Heat 2 Tbsn oil over med high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add onions. Don't touch them at all for three minutes. Then add a pinch of salt and turn them gently. Let the onions alone to cook another 4 minutes it so, then turn the pile and reduce the heat to med low. Turn every 10 minutes for a total of 45 minutes. The object is carmelized but not dried out or burned. Keep an eye on them, they should be soft and golden. Put aside to cool.

3. Cook six slices of smoky bacon in a skillet until lightly crisp - do not overcook. Drain on paper towels and remove the fat from the pan.

4. Add 1 Tbsn oil and heat on high till it smokes. Add 4 cups fresh corn kernels. Sauté 3-4 minutes till the kernels turn yellow and start to brown. If they start to pop, reduce the heat.

5. Add the bacon and onions to the corn. Add miso butter, 1/2 c chicken broth ( the recipe really calls for ramen broth, an all day adventure that combines the flavors of seaweed, shiitakes, chicken, pork, bacon and vegetables. And I'm sure it added dimension to my dish, but for only half a cup, seriously, chicken broth is fine.), a pinch of salt and pepper. Glaze the corn mixture with butter and broth by stirring for a minute or two.

6. Serve warm with sliced scallions on top.

All in all, not a bad showing. And the likelihood of a pasta making session in my future. Life is good.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Poached Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives and Green Beans

Summertime. For us that means relaxing on the porch, drinking wine, and enjoying the sounds and aromas of summer. It means fresh, home or farmers market grown vegetables and fruit. Often it means John spinning tunes from what has become a fairly large music collection. Tonight, we are enjoying a sampling of the many songs written by Shel Silverstein. If you were not aware, besides being a fabulous children's writer, Mr. Silverstein was also was a writer/ cartoonist for Playboy (I guess people did read the articles), and a prolific song writer.

Cover of the Rolling Stone - written by Shel Silverstein, sung by Dr. Hook

Yup, he wrote that. Google him - you'll be amazed.

Summertime also means not spending any more time than necessary heating up the kitchen. So, tonight I revisited a recipe that I tried out while staying with very kind friends in Charlotte. Low calorie, high protein and lots of fresh flavors. And quick, which makes it ideal.

Poached Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, and Green Beans ( from Epicurious.com)

4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (1 3/4 lb total)
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups water
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
1 fresh thyme sprig
3/4 lb haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3 cups)
1/2 cup brine-cured green and black olives such as picholine and Kalamata, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon torn fresh oregano leaves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Sprinkle chicken all over with 1 tablespoon salt and let stand.
While chicken is standing, bring water, broth, and thyme to a boil in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot, then add beans and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 6 minutes. Transfer beans with a slotted spoon to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Add salted chicken to broth and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let stand, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes .
Transfer chicken with tongs to a cutting board and cool, about 5 minutes.
While chicken is cooling, stir together tomatoes, olives, oregano, pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons oil in a bowl.
Holding a knife at a 45-degree angle, cut chicken across the grain into 1-inch-thick slices.

Divide green beans among 4 plates, then arrange sliced chicken over beans and top with tomato olive mixture.

This recipe is very straightforward and takes very little time to cook. One note - this is a simple recipe - the ingredients have nowhere to hide, so they need to be fresh and high quality. I recommend tasting the oregano leaves - mine had gone a bit bitter.

I served this dish with oven roasted potatoes seasoned with Barnegat Bay Butchers Rub from Savory Spice Shop in Charltte, NC, a heady combination of salt, garlic, pepper, Saigon cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. TSA detained for bringing it through security, but it is so worth it.

Enjoy! Happy September!

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Location:Rockville, MD

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kale, Toasted Chickpea and Plum Tomato Stew

We have three tomato plants in our garden. One plum tomato, which is happily providing fruit, one beefsteak tomato, which is grudgingly providing smallish, non beefsteak looking tomatoes, and one plant that is pretending to be a tomato plant, but has yet to give any fruit.
Thankfully, this recipe only requires plum tomatoes. Of the top five cancer protecting foods, this has two - tomatoes and kale. The other three are listed on the chart below -

- unfortunately hot dogs and doughnuts are on the other list...
Here is a rough estimate of the ingredients ( I wasn't working from a recipe - just tasting as I went):
1 can chickpeas
2 tbsn Olive oil divided
1 onion diced
2 garlic cloves diced
2 tbsn cumin
2 tbsn coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c veg broth
1/4 c wine
26 oz of Pomi tomato purée
Salt and pepper to taste
Two bunches of kale - stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
10 small plum tomatoes sliced
1. Toss the chickpeas with about 1 Tbsn olive oil. Toast for about 12 minutes, until the chickpeas start to brown. Remove from heat, toss with salt (to taste).
2. Heat 1tbsn olive oil in a large pot over med high heat. Cook onions 4 minutes, add garlic and cook one more minute.
3. Add spices, sauté for 30 seconds.
4. Add wine, cook till mostly evaporated. Add broth and tomato purée. Taste and adjust spices. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add kale. Cook till wilted, stirring often - about 3 minutes.
6. Remove from heat. Top with sliced tomatoes.
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Location:Rockville, MD

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Fig Skewers

As I write this, Jacob is upstairs cleaning his room, possibly for the last time. Tomorrow he leaves for Penn State, for NROTC training and the beginning of his next great academic adventure. I am proud and sad and excited for him, and I wanted his last home cooked meal for a while to be memorable.

As if in anticipation of my mindset, fresh figs unexpectedly showed up at our door last night. Actually our neighbor showed up at our door bearing a bag of figs from her fig tree. Of course, this led to a scouring of recipes that would do justice to a gift of fresh figs. And a search for fun fig facts. Here are a few:

Eating figs can help you quit smoking due to their high alkalinity.
Many believe that it was actually figs, not apples in the Garden of Eden.
Figs are higher in fiber than any common fruit or vegetable and are also extremely high in calcium.
Figs were the training food by the early Olympic athletes and a token of honor.

Seems fair that Jacob be seen off with honor and a meal fit for an Olympian. We have every reason to believe he will go on to do great things.

The search for fig oriented recipes ended with this one, from Epicurious.com:

Click here for recipe

The sweet figs, goat cheese, rosemary, honey and pork blend really nicely. Make sure to season the pork well before grilling - you want to get a nice crust on the outside of the meat. And while the goat cheese seems slightly odd, don't be stingy - it adds a velvety richness that absolutely complements the unadorned pork.

And so, Jacob, we send you off with a belly full of sweetness and a soul full of goodness. You make us so proud.

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Location:Rockville, MD

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Sweet-and -Sour Onions

Gift giving is an art. It is an act of stepping outside your own likes and desires to consider the needs, or wants of another. When done properly, there is joy for the giver as well as the receiver.

Recipe books are always a winner for me. Each time I pull the book off the shelf, good memories of a dear friend come with it. This one appeared at my door quite unexpectedly, and is not only a hysterical parody of the book series, but also has some very good recipes. All commentary is from the perspective of the chicken, which seems very inclined toward the various "treatments" it experiences.

Tonight's draw from the book came under the heading "Dripping Thighs". But first lets talk corn.

I make a lot of corn in the summer. It is so versatile, and there are a million ways to prepare it. My current favorite is the crab boil approach. Into boiling water I throw a combination of herbs and seasonings and let them steep. Sometimes I go cilantro, jalapeño, lime, palm sugar and garlic - quite flavorful. Tonight I used dill, pickled garlic and a bit of brown sugar. The result was fresh summer corn with a lovely undertone of dill. This is a great way to use up extra herbs, and the flavors never overpower the corn.

Ok, back to dripping thighs. This is quite a simple recipe, with a high flavor return.

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs - pat them dry with paper towels
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tspn + a pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Onions: (personally, I would double this part - the onions make the dish)

1 sweet onion thinly sliced
1 C white wine ( the good stuff - you will taste it)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsn honey
2 Tbsn unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl toss the chicken with the garlic, 1 tspn salt and the pepper.

2. In a small saucepan, simmer the onion, wine, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt until most of liquid is evaporated - about 20 min. Mix in honey and butter.

3. Spoon the mixture over the chicken and toss well. Spread the thighs :-) onion mixture, and any juices on a rimmed baking sheet ( I think a cast iron skillet might actually be better). Bake until the chicken is no longer pink and the onions are tender - at least 25 minutes. ( I ended up finishing it in the broiler to get it browner).


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Location:Rockville, MD

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Doing The Unthinkable

Today I did the unthinkable, I put summer tomatoes in the oven.

And with good reason - they were bland. I had purchased them yesterday for the usual exorbitant summer tomato prices, and was anticipating that luscious, vibrant summer tomato flavor. Not so much. So, disappointed, I decided that a quick broil might coax out a bit more flavor. It did.

Coincidentally, maybe, I just added this cookbook to my collection. It is well written, with vegetables separated by family, fun bits of history about the evolution of each vegetable, beautiful photography and a plethora of recipes for an absolute carnivore who is desperately trying to eat healthier (while refusing to give up wine, ice cream or chocolate).

Within the nightshade section of the cookbook was the following recipe:

Beefsteak Tomatoes Baked with Feta Cheese and Marjoram

(As interpreted by me...)

Thickly slice beefsteak tomatoes (I assume 1 per person). Top with the strong cheese of your choice - they recommend feta, I went with a cheese from the farmers market - a sheeps milk gray with streaks of blue - very creamy but not quite as sharp as the feta.

Sprinkle with marjoram (or oregano) and drizzle with olive oil (thyme or sage might also have been nice - the goal is to match the pungency of the herb to the pungency of the cheese).

Broil for 7 minutes (don't go that long - I went for 5 minutes and the tomatoes were getting soft).

Sprinkle with more marjoram (or whatever herb you used), salt and pepper.

Very quick and simple for an easy summer dinner, and even the blandest tomato will be elevated.

Enjoy, and be sure to leave room for wine and/or chocolate and/or ice cream. Life is short.

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Location:Rockville, MD

Soup Kitsch Rebirth

Seriously? A book on food blogging? On reflection, though, it makes sense.

Over the last five years or so, I have been posting food pics on line, occasionally accompanying those photos with a recipe. At first, there was minimal thought about presentation, visual balance of colors, textures etc. I was just thrilled that at least it looked edible. Now, while I am still happy when the food comes out looking appetizing, I actually spend time on occasion composing the photo. If I don't like the way it photographs, the dish is not likely to get posted.

Having a blog is different. There is more room to explain why you are discussing the pathetic looking thing on the plate. There is also an art to recipe writing - clear directions and expectations, with bits of experience thrown in, because, frankly, at least for me, that is the point to the blog.

So, I will try this again, in the hopes of having a little more to show for myself than a bunch of pretty photos with no attached recipe or information.

Happy cooking!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD