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

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.


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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!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Rockville, MD