Friday, November 13, 2009

Flounder La Bella Fortuna

I miss Art Bloom. It sneaks up on me sometimes. I used to go and visit him regularly, and I was remembering recently how a friend and I once made the long drive from Bard to P-Town, just to watch the Academy Awards with Art. He was delighted that we had come to see him, and made his standard "special occasion" meal for us; which always took just as long to prepare as it did to eat -- probably 8 hours from shopping to dishes. The courses were always pretty much the same: some variation on steamed mussels, broiled bluefish, lobster and corn, maybe a salad; and vanilla ice cream for dessert. There was lots of wine and bourbon, of course, to go with all that good local seafood.

I remember every detail of the room looking over the bay. The way the light changed from season to season; how it felt to lie on my back and read with the little orange cat Fire sleeping on my chest, and the sound of distant foghorns and the tide coming in. Art and I would talk about Niall and Scott and Beverly; about music and movies and books and relationships. We had adopted each other as family, and those memories of visits to "the kibbutz" before Art got sick are very precious.

Art's special occasion bluefish came from Howard Mitcham's Provincetown Seafood Cookbook - still one of my all-time favorites. Mitcham, a wild man in the venerable P-Town tradition of brilliant and insane kitchen innovators, was still around when I was a kid, and my parents once took me to the restaurant where he did a very brief professional stint, to eat the Haddock Almondine that he had made famous.

I bought some flounder the other night, and enjoyed a little riff on Art's fish, with some updates of my own. The traditional recipe as I remember it, involved squeezing a lemon over a piece of bluefish or halibut, seasoning it with salt and pepper, and then spreading mayonnaise over the fish before broiling, about which Mitcham says:

"Now listen: when I say fresh homemade mayonnaise I mean exactly that. If you try to squeeze by with that cheap commercial mayonnaise then you will have defiled a fine fish who sacrificed his life for your enjoyment."

I seasoned our fish with sumac and pimenton, salt and pepper, squeezed a lemon over it, let it sit while I preheated the broiler and then spread a little mayonnaise and dijon mustard mixture over the fish and topped it off with a mix of panko and parmesan before broiling. Bill was completely knocked out by the sweet, fresh flounder and it disappeared in a flash. Simple and delicious.

flounder or  swai filets
garlic powder
dijon mustard
grated parmesan
chopped parsley for garnish

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tomato Vegetable Soup with Rice

This is my take on Lydia Bastianich's famous Potato Rice Soup that uses a Parmigiano-Reggiano Rind for flavor. I've made it into a rainy-day-at-the-Cape tomato soup, switched out the celery (which I never have in the fridge) for fennel (which I always have in the fridge) and cut back on the rice so the leftovers don't turn to sludge overnight. This is a hearty soup. It would be terrific pureed, as all tomato soups are, and, in fact, that might just be the key to reviving the leftovers now that I think of it...

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 small red potatoes, washed and cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1 large carrots, diced large
1/2 cup fennel, diced large
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup leftover French onion soup (obviously, this was what was on hand. Next time, I'd probably increase the chicken broth by half a cup, and saute half an onion, diced large, with the other vegetables.)
4 cups hot chicken broth
2 2-inch-squares Parmigiano rind, exterior scraped
1 fresh or dried bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup long-grain rice
1/4 cup chopped basil or parsley or spinach (optional)

1. In a deep, heavy 4- to 5-quart pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Potatoes will stick to pot; adjust heat to prevent stuck bits from becoming too dark. Stir in carrots and celery and cook, stirring, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables.

2. Add broth, onion soup, Parmigiano rinds and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, scraping up bits of potato on bottom, then simmer. Cover pot and cook until potatoes begin to fall apart, about 40 minutes. Stir in rice and cook until rice is tender but still firm, about 12 minutes. Remove bay leaves, stir in parsley or other green leafy chiffonade (if desired), and check seasoning. Remove rinds and cut into small pieces. Put a piece in each soup bowl and ladle soup on top. Serves 4-6

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Restaurant-ish Pasta

More pasta. Its not all we're eating...really! I just can't find time to blog lately. I'll get around to writing up the fragrant keema mattar, velvety chocolate bread pudding, pickled beets, pineapple zucchini cake with cream cheese frosting and fabulous lemon chicken sometime soon, but for right now, with my preliminary literature review due at 9am and a long night of blurry-eyed proofreading ahead, I will just note that tonight's pasta was spectacular, if I do say so myself. Layers of flavor, good balance and pretty to look at. Bill ate himself into a food coma and passed out on the couch, indicating that perhaps this dish is a little too "restaurant-ish" for every day usage.

3 cloves garlic
1 scallion
6 sun dried tomatoes
hefty glug of white wine
juice of one lemon
olive oil
spoonful of chicken fat
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 T pesto
large handful of shrimp, sheeled and deveined
red pepper flakes
handful frozen peas
2 T pesto
copious amount of chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
pesto bread crumbs

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Linguini a la Campagnola

I used to live down the block from a little neighborhood Italian restaurant where they make this dish: a fantastically savory pasta in garlic and oil with sun dried tomatoes, perfectly sauteed broccoli and a hunk of broiled goat cheese to swirl into the mix.

I made a double batch, thinking we'd eat the leftover portion for lunch the next day, but BT went back for fourths, until finally all that remained was an empty pan. Instructions to follow.

sundried tomatoes
goat cheese
salt and pepper


Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream

Cook the eggs or don't cook the eggs - that part's entirely up to you. But make this ice cream. Make it without any further delay.
This is my ideal strawberry ice cream, exactly as is.
(The only element I might play around with in the future is maybe mixing everything in the blender for easier pouring and fewer bowls to wash.)

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup sugar in a mixing bowl, and set aside to macerate in the fridge for 1 hour. In a large mixing bowl beat eggs until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 3/4 cups sugar, mixing well. Stir in milk and vanilla and mix well. Mash strawberries to a puree. Add the strawberry puree to the custard and mix well. Gently stir in whipping cream just until combined. Pour into a chilled ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rotelli, Asparagus and Peas with Saffron Cream

Unable to leave well enough alone, I made a number of strategic changes to (an already perfectly good) recipe from Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook. (Not using any saffron in the saffron cream, for one thing...!)

Madison writes: "The peas are small and fresh, the asparagus, pencil thin. The fragrant saffron-flavored cream makes this pasta filling and substantial. This is a rather special dish, fine for a company dinner." I most wholeheartedly agree.

4 - 6 ounces fresh pasta (tagliatelle or wide fettuccine would be ideal.
1/2 bunch asparagus
1 cup green peas
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 tablespoon butter
2 scallions finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup heavy cream
Salt, to taste
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
1 thin strip lemon peel; very thinly slivered
Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Melt the butter in a wide saute pan, and gently cook the shallots for several minutes, or until they are soft. Add the cream and the saffron infusion, bring to a boil, reduce slightly, and season with salt. When the pasta water is boiling, add salt, and cook the asparagus, and then the peas, in the boiling water. Scoop them out when they are done and add them to the cream. Next cook the pasta; when it is done, add it to the cream, turning it over several times with a pair of tongs to coat it with the sauce. Add the chervil leaves and the lemon peel, and serve on warm plates with grated Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

Serves 2

Friday, June 26, 2009

Linguine a la Vongole

Not much of a recipe to record, but damn if this wasn't extra special good...
1/3 - 1/2 lb linguine
1 sundried tomato chicken sausage, sliced lengthwise and then horizontally into 1/2 inch slices
4 plum tomatoes, quartered
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
12 littleneck clams, cleaned
generous pinch crushed red pepper
generous glug of white wine
handful chopped fresh oregano or basil
handful chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons pesto
salt, to taste
handful chopped fresh spinach

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spaghetti al Burro e Formaggio

This is really an amalgam of two comfort dishes from the Italian restaurants I worked at a million years ago when I was still cooking for pay. At Ciro and Sal's the pasta al burro e formaggio is pure solace: a whiff of garlic, handfuls of freshly grated cheese and lots of chopped parley to brighten the whole thing up. At Carmine's the lemon butter sauce is also a favorite of mine -- the flavors given extra depth and complexity with the addition of white wine and chicken stock and basil. So here, then, is Ciro and Carmine's love child, all grown up: a little lighter and more modern, with the combined wisdom of north and south. (Bill went back for third helpings. How bad could it be?)

1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
4 tablespoons of butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced (or more to taste)
1 hearty glug of white wine
1 hearty glug of chicken stock
1 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into thin half moons
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach (or substitute 1/2 fresh basil, if you have it)
1/2 cup fresh parley, chopped
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

CJ's Pesto

Well, it turns out this is really Marcella Hazan's pesto recipe, but since it was passed down to me almost twenty years ago by the lovely and inimitable Courtia Jay Worth, I will always think of it as "CJ's pesto" whenever I make it. It is life-affirming, verdant and-- ah, that reminds me. There's a word for all of that in Spanish: reverdecer. It means to become green again, as in fields after a winter frost. Maybe that's what I need a little dose of right about now.

2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

Blend first 5 ingredients to a paste in a blender. When evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the cheeses by hand. Incorporate the butter.

Before spooning over pasta, add a tablespoon or so of the pasta cooking water to achieve the desired consistency.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Scallion Spinach Pesto

I adapted this recipe from the Wild Leek Pesto over at Kalofagas, using almonds instead of walnuts, and changing all of the proportions in little ways, to suit my tastes. It was extremely delicious on pasta the first night; equally tasty smeared on a piece of broiled fish the next; and finally, tonight, wickedly good stuffed into brined and pan-roasted chicken breasts. (Bill's favorite variation.)

Looks like the scallion pesto may stay in regular rotation for a while...Thanks, Kalofagas!

1/2 cup almonds
1 cup chopped scallions (green part only)
1 clove of garlic
1 1/2 cup of baby spinach
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

Blend. Taste. Adjust. Apply liberally.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sizzling Rice Soup

I loved this soup when I was a kid. Over the years it has completely and inexplicably disappeared from all but a few old-school NYC Chinese restaurant menus; but no matter, I've started making it at home. In fact, we've eaten it three times this week, in an effort to make up for lost time.

The loud sizzle is a special moment in my day. What can I say? I've always loved those little tableside flourishes. Plus, it's a kind of perfect duo: combining the guilty-pleasure-sensation of pop rocks, with the inarguable health benefits of chicken vegetable soup.

3-4 ounces frozen shrimp, thawed
2 tablespoon rice wine
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped raw broccoli
½ can of sliced water chestnuts
¼ cup sliced scallions
handful of snow peas
4-6 rice cakes from 1 package Chinese rice cakes (or you can make your own, which I did the other day but would prefer to not ever have to do again in the future.)

In a bowl, mix together the shrimp, cornstarch, sherry and soy sauce and set aside. Poach the chicken breast in the chicken broth in a soup pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat and allow it to simmer until the chicken is just barely cooked through. Remove the chicken breast and set aside too cool slightly.

Add the shrimp mixture, green onions, water chestnuts and broccoli to the pot over medium heat. Simmer for 3 minutes. While the shrimp is simmering, cut the reserved chicken breast into chunks and add the chicken back into the soup. Add the snow peas and adjust for seasoning.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Brown the rice cakes in the oil very briefly on each side. They should be very hot. Remove the rice cakes from the oil with a slotted spoon, and blot on paper towels.

Add the rice cakes to the soup at the table. If both are hot enough, the soup will sizzle loudly.

The Apple Cake of Righteousness

It's Shavuot...
So why am I baking an apple cake, one might wonder, on the one day of the year I could completely justify making blintzes for dinner, or even a cheesecake...

I'm really not sure. It just sort of happened; but now that I think about it, I suspect it has something to do with the fact that my main peeps have been sick for the last couple of weeks. First my mom and now Bill. I've been nursing both of the patients -- which for me mostly means cooking enormous batches of soup, loading everyone up with Chinese herbs and kvetching loudly that no one is washing their hands often enough. Last week I produced multiple batches of matzoh balls for my poor sick mom, and now for the last three days I've been turning out pots of sizzling rice soup, meal after meal (luckily, Bill loves sizzling rice soup, or the repetition wouldn't be much of a comfort to him in his drippy, feverish state.)

I suddenly found myself making many of his faves yesterday -- fish with wild leek pesto, popovers, tom kha gai, and now this -- this apple cake that he loves best of all. I couldn't swear to it, but I believe the original recipe came out of the Settlement House Cookbook a million years ago. And did I mention that this apple cake, which my grandmother used to make for Rosh Hashanah, is also my mom's favorite thing to eat? Strangely, she and Bill have the same favorite foods, along with sharing the same hypervigilant, overly analytical nursemaid. Of course, this is the best apple cake in the world, so it isn't hard to love.

Anyway, since it is, in fact, Shavuot, let me quote Megillat Ruth by way of reminding my sick mother and my sick husband where I'm coming from and where it's at...

"But Ruth replied: Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."

(Ohhhh...the righteousness...the righteousness...)


6 apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
pinch of allspice and nutmeg (optional)
1 cup raisins
5 tablespoons sugar

2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar, or a little less according to taste
1/4 cup apple juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with spices, raisins and sugar and set aside.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, apple juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apple/raisin mixture over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples/raisins on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lemony Herbed Rice Salad

I adapted this recipe from Viana La Place, adding a variety of fresh produce that was still warm from from Irwin's garden. It's a keeper -- light, fresh and full of flavor.

1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 large or 1 small lemon
1 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped cooked vegetables (we had leftover steamed asparagus and broccoli, so I used those -- but it could have been any variety of vegetables, really)
1/3 cup green olives, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and simmer over moderate heat until just tender, about 14 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

In a large bowl, toss the rice with the olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the fresh herbs and other ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lemon Bars

I didn't have a camera at the ready to record Bill's exultant lemon bar dance, so this happy photo from last summer will have to suffice. Make these lemon bars. Do it now. They cause spontaneous dancing.

The warm filling has to be added to a warm crust for the chemistry to work out correctly, so start making the filling as soon as the crust goes into the oven. Be sure to cool the bars completely before cutting them.

Photo by Tim Connor
Recipe from Baking Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen, 2004)

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more to decorate the finished bars
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces

7 large egg yolks, plus 2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
2/3 cup from 4 or 5 medium lemons, plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream

1.To line a 9-inch square baking pan, fold two 16-inch pieces of foil or parchment paper lengthwise to measure 9 inches wide. Fit 1 sheet in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides of the pan (overhang will help in removal of baked bars). Fit the second sheet in the pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place the flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt in a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers into an even layer over the entire pan bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

1. In a medium non-reactive bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until just combined, about 5 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt; whisk until combined, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium non-reactive saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency and registers 170°F (76°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the curd through a single-mesh stainless steel strainer set over a clean non-reactive bowl. Stir in the heavy cream; pour the curd into the warm crust immediately.
2. Bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center 3 inches jiggle slightly when shaken, 10 to 25 minutes, depending on too many factors to name. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil or parchment handles and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, wiping the knife clean between cuts as necessary. Sieve confectioners' sugar over the bars, before serving. Makes 16 bars

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saag Paneer

This is a much lighter version of saag paneer than you would get in an Indian restaurant, but the flavor is right on the money.

10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
8 ounces paneer
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
peanut oil or ghee
2 teaspoon dhanna jheera powder or 1 tsp ground cumin and 1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp red chili powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp sugar, or to taste
condensed milk, to taste
tsp garam masala (optional)

Dice paneer into 1 inch cubes. (In restaurants, they fry the paneer cubes briefly in a pan to seal and lightly color the surface. One could do this, although I generally do not.) Drain on paper towels and set aside.

In a blender or food processor, puree the chopped onion, ginger garlic paste and fenugreek leaves with 2 tablespoons of water. Set aside.

Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, snf stir fry the pureed ingredients for 5 - 6 minutes. Add the dhanna jeera powder and stir fry for another 30 seconds. Add the spinach and stir fry until most of the liquid has evaporated, moving the mixture in the pan constantly so it does not burn. Add the tumeric and red chili powder, stirring for a minute. Add the tomato paste and warm water (only add the water if the mixture is too thick at this point)

Add the prepared spinach and stir constantly over a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the paneer cubes, salt and sugar to taste (add only enough sugar for a rounded flavour; the mixture should not taste sweet). Cook slowly for another 5 minutes. Finally, stir in the condensed milk (adding less or more depending on how thick and/orcreamy you like it). Sprinkle with garam masala and serve.

Serves 4 as part of a meal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bean Burgers

Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

These taste significantly better than they look. In fact, I somehow scarfed two of them down while I was "testing" the recipe. I've been looking for a great bean burger recipe, to go along with those homemade whole wheat hamburger buns I've been turning out. We'll see if Bill likes them, too...

1-1/2 cups cooked beans of any kind
1 cooked potato (any sort, soft enough to mash)
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon cumin
cayenne to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
paprika to taste
1/3 cup cornmeal (enough to form patties)
1 ear of corn cooked & shaved
6 meatless meatballs, cooked and mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mash the the beans and potato together in a large bowl and set aside. In a food processor, pulse the garlic, onion, cilantro and lemon juice together until no big chunks are left. Add to the bean mixture. Add the spices and corn and taste for seasoning. Add the cornmeal and mashed vegetable meatballs and taste for seasoning. Form into patties of desired size. Put the patties on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.
Turn on the broiler and broil the patties for five minutes on each side. Serve on hamburger buns.

The pattie mix will keep well in the fridge for about a week.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken 'Tagine' with Olives and Preserved Lemons

Bill says this was even better than the food he ate in the prince's palace in Marakesh. ( sweet...)

8 chicken thighs, skin removed
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon adobo (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
pinch of ground allspice
pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup salad oil
juice of 1 lemon

2 grated onions
1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and each half cut crosswise into 3 wedges
1 cup chicken stock

1 - 2 preserved lemons, pulp removed and discarded, peel finely diced
1/2 cup mixed, chopped fresh cilantro and parsley
1 1/2 cups ripe green olives, pitted and diced small

1. The day before serving, remove the ceramic insert from the slow cooker. Layer the potato wedges on the bottom of the ceramic insert. Rub the chicken thighs with a paste made of the spices, oil and lemon juice. Stack the chicken pieces on top of the potatoes and pour any remaining marinade over all. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.

2. The next day, set the filled ceramic insert on the base of the slow cooker and turn to low heat. Add the grated onion and chicken stock. Cover and let cook for 6-8 hours. DO NOT LIFT THE LID DURING COOKING.

4. Add the olives and fresh herbs to the sauce when the chicken is very tender and the flesh falls easily from the bone. Continue cooking 5 to 10 minutes, uncovered.

5. Adjust for seasoning, and add more lemon juice, if desired, to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve at once, over couscous.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Coffee Cake for Mary

John's mom, Mary Wieczorek, passed away this week. Her memorial service was this afternoon, and everyone present spoke very movingly about what a wonderful cook she was, how generous she was, and how much she will be missed.

I have some of her recipe cards here, for recipes she sent me at various moments. I am looking forward to making them, and to keeping her memory alive in that way.

I made a coffee cake to bring to the memorial, with a cinnamon chocolate streusel topping. It was an easy cake to make, but I sweated over every step, fully as much as if I had been making it to pass Mary's inspection. She had high standards and a great palate.

I'd like to think that she would have enjoyed the afternoon, the cake, the new rosebushes and her beautiful family and friends coming together to celebrate her life and her gifts.


1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate morsels
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup of vanilla sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

butter or shortening for greasing pans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Blend the filling ingredients together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the yogurt and vanilla and blend until smooth. Add the dry ingredients, and mix well. Turn half the batter out into either two greased loaf pans or one greased 8 inch square pan. Scatter half of the filling over the batter, then top with remaining batter. Bake for 15 minutes and then carefully top with the remaining filling mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is brown and the center is firm when pressed lightly. Let cool in the pan for five minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Friday, May 1, 2009

(Leftover) Rice Pudding

This was a Tyler Florence recipe, until I started messing with the proportions and adding nutmeg and whatnot. Now it's just ridiculous. Rich and creamy and good. Bill says Viola used to make a baked leftover rice pudding that was out of this world. I'll get to that next.

3 cups white rice, cooked (I used jasmine rice, since that's what we had in the house)
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or more, to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Combine cooked rice, milk, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Add raisins and vanilla. Cook for 25 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and the ground nutmeg. Spoon pudding into a serving dish and dust with remaining cinnamon. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Lagrimas Negras and Perfect Cuban Black Beans

Today, on this date, I would normally be in Miami, en route to Havana. Every year for the last eight years, I've been teaching a film intensive at the EICTV during the week of my father's yarzteit, quietly mourning and celebrating at the same time, in one of the places where I feel most at home and most fulfilled. This year, for the first time, I cancelled my trip. There's a little too much going on in my life and not enough time to get everything done. I'll go to Cuba in November instead. It was the right decision, but I'm having a momentarily deep pang of regret nonetheless. I wasn't even aware of it, until I suddenly found myself loading up the pressure cooker with black beans this morning, and humming Lagrimas Negras under my breath. When I realized what I was doing, I burst into a chuckle. (Lord only knows what Bill thinks I'm doing, laughing by myself in the kitchen.)

Cuba is changing, of course, in unforeseeable ways, and people constantly ask me what I think will happen next. For me, the biggest changes have not involved the new administrations or the changing travel restrictions or the rising exchange rate of the dollar. The biggest change in this last period of time has been the dissolution of my Cuban family, as I have watched my closest friends in Havana (one of the happiest couples I have ever known) go through a bitter divorce and estrangement. Just last month one of them moved to Italy, taking their son Marcel with her, after several astonishing years and finally reaching the point of no-turning-back.

Now, I have many friends in Cuba, and I am always very happy to see them when I arrive, but my family, that beautiful and bright little jewel in La Vibora, is gone forever, and even now I mourn that loss.

This first week in May is Marcel's birthday, and this will be the first year out of his seven years of life that I am not there to celebrate with them. The houses have been sold, the parents have remarried, and I am left wondering what it means to still have these addresses in my head, ready to direct taxi drivers through the hills of La Vibora and Santo Suarez to homes that no longer exist: Calle Heredia, entre Infante y O'Farril. Estrada Palma entre Goicuria y Juan Delgado. These phones numbers I've known by heart for years - my first call when I land and the last before my plane takes off. The number I repeatedly ask the operator to dial during any kind of personal transition, so I can talk to my beloved sister: "cuarenta, ochenta, setenta y siete, por favor."

What will they eat in Padua on Marcel's birthday this year, I wonder. Will his father call from Cuba during the party? Will I call from New York, I, his auntie, who suggested that they name him Marcel after Duchamp? Will they sing Happy Birthday to him in Italian? I'll visit them all separately in Italy and in Cuba, of course, and life will go on. Of course, I know that. Of course. But how I miss that family and that home where I spent so very many happy hours talking, laughing, eating and feeling loved. I will always miss them as they were, that inimitable little constellation of stars.

I hope Marcel's parents find it in their hearts to forgive each other someday, as in the words of the bolero -- the one every Cuban knows how to sing, the one about leaving:

Aunque tu me has dejado en el abandono
aunque ya se han muerto todas mis ilusiones.

En vez de despedirme
con justo encono
en mis sueños te colmo
en mis sueños te colmo
de bendiciones.

Even though you have left me abandoned
even though all my hopes have died
instead of saying goodbye
with justified rage,
in my dreams I shower you
in my dreams I shower you with blessings.

Perfect Cuban Black Beans
1 pound dried black beans
8 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pieces smoked pork neck bones or 1 large ham hock
2 bay leaves

1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled, and mashed with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
Olive oil for sautéing
(OR 1 jar of prepared sofrito instead of the previous 4 ingredients)

1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 clove of garlic mashed to a paste (or garlic powder, to taste)
1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
olive oil (optional)
chopped cilantro and white onion for garnish (optional)

Combine dry beans with water, olives oil, bay leaves and pork bones in a 4 - 6 quart pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 22 minutes and let the pressure release naturally. Ideally, leave time for the beans to cool in the liquid. If there isn't time for this step, it is probably better to cook the beans at high pressure for 24 or 25 minutes instead of 22 minutes at the outset.

Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito if making it from scratch: chop onion and green pepper. Mash the garlic with salt and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle. Sauté the onions and green pepper in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add mashed garlic and sauté for another minute or so.

When the beans have cooled slightly, remove the pork neck bones. Remove any edible meat from the bones. Discard the bones and chop the meat up finely, adding it back to the pot along with the sofrito, oregano, cumin, vinegar, and wine. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the finely mashed garlic clove or garlic powder, to taste.

Thicken the beans by taking about 1 cup of beans and mashing them to make a thick paste. Mix the mashed beans back into the pot. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the sugar; then drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the beans. Immediately cover the pot, remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve the black beans over white rice, garnished with cilantro and chopped white onions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

English Muffins

(Photo by Steve at Pulp Kitchen)

Bill asked for Eggs Florentine for his birthday breakfast last weekend, so I made my first-ever-English muffins as the foundation. MAN! The result was so wildly superior to those little cardboard mass-produced things, I couldn't even believe it. Nooks! Crannies! The whole nine.

(They're also incredibly easy to turn out, but please don't tell that to Bill. You just mix everything up and leave it to sit overnight. They cook on the griddle in the same time it would take to make pancakes. Ssshhh...he thinks I did something really fancy...)
(Adapted from the blog "Winos and Foodies")

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees)
1/2 cup warm milk (same temperature range as the water)
2 1/3 cups bread flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, place yeast, sugar and half the water. With a fork, whisk until yeast is dissolved and cover with a towel for at least five minutes. Mixture should start to foam. Add remaining water and milk and cover for another five minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flours and salt. Add in yeast mixture. With a rubber spatula or your hands (or with a dough hook in the bowl of a standing mixer), gently mix ingredients, until just combined. Pour onto lightly floured work surface and knead for up to 8 minutes, or let the stand mixer do all the work if you are using one. the dough will be very soft.

Place dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic and a tea towel. Allow to double in size, at least 90 minutes, or alternatively, overnight.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate. Roll into a rope at least one inch thick. You'll want no more than 8 or 9 pieces from the dough. Roll each piece into a ball and roll in cornmeal or rice flour. Place on a baking sheet and top with a second baking sheet for a second rise, about 20 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease or use an oil spray.

Allow to cook on first side for about 10 minutes; you'll notice puffing and the first side getting golden. Flip onto second side using a spatula, and cook for about the same amount of time. Place cooked muffins in a tea towel to keep warm.

Open with a fork or serrated knife, and toast for best nook-and-cranny action.
These freeze beautifully for later use.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tangy Creamed Spinach

Of course, then I had to figure out the "Florentine" part of the eggs Florentine. I decided to go with a sort of faux creamed spinach with a poached egg on top, and no hollandaise. The creamed spinach was killer, and I'll make it again and again. I did miss the hollandaise, though, so next year I'll either have to work that out OR I'll make the creamed spinach a littler wetter, pile it into a broiler pan with a couple of indentations for the eggs to nestle in, and bake the eggs right on top with some parmesan and a little cream...We'll see.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt a tablespoon or so of butter and saute one small onion, finely diced, with 2 cloves of minced garlic until everything is soft and translucent. Stir in 16 ounces thawed and drained frozen spinach, and one crumbled beef boullion cube. Stir in 8 ounces sour cream, 1/4 cup parmesan (or more to taste), salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.

This keeps well and is a good base for eggs florentine, or as a side dish or as a stuffing for fish fillets, etc...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Southern Black-Eyed Peas

It is a sad fact that there is less and less soul food to be found in Harlem. I mean - in Harlem restaurants, at any rate. The old restaurants have mostly gone out of business, many of them just over the last year. Bill and I found this out the hard way, when I was craving biscuits one Sunday morning last fall, and we pounded the pavement for an hour, only to find that virtually all of our old haunts had closed. (Thank god for Margie's Red Rose Diner. I'll cry my eyes out when those screen doors close for good.)

The following week an article about the death of soul food in Harlem appeared in the NY times, with this beautiful photo by Chester Higgens, Jr.

M&G diner is/was just a few blocks from us, and Bill used to refer to it as his "office." The diner managed to stay open for 40 years, but is now permanently closed, and I guess we'll be turning out our own biscuits and salmon cakes and black-eyed peas from now on.

2 quarts water
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked for at least 6 hours ahead of time, unless you are using a pressure cooker
1 large ham hock
3 slices uncooked bacon, diced
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and boil gently until peas are tender, stirring occasionally. This takes about 1 hour on the stove. I've also done it in the pressure cooker in much less time - you just have to be really careful not to overcook the peas which can happen easily. If using a pressure cooker, use a little less water and add a little oil so the beans won't foam up and clog the valve.

Remove the ham hock to a cutting board. While the hock is cooling, partially mash the peas to thicken the liquid. Continue to simmer the peas, uncovered, to reduce the liquid by half for a thick but still soupy consistency. Taste for seasoning AFTER the liquid has reduced down to the finished consistency.

While peas are simmering, cut any edible meat off the cooled ham hock, discarding everything else. Return the chopped meat to the peas.

Serve in bowls with biscuits for dipping.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

10 Minute Naan

Success! I'll be making this a LOT from now on. Easy, satisfying, delicious. Recipe to follow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dal Shorba (Indian Red Lentil Soup)

Red lentils are always a good "welcome home" when Bill comes off the road. We ate this hearty soup with fresh, homemade naan. Hard to go wrong, really.

Adapted from a recipe by executive chef Vikram Sunderam of Rasika restaurant.

8 ounces dried red lentils (1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 3-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
3/4 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cups water, or as needed
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup packed mint leaves (from 1/2 bunch)
1 cup packed cilantro leaves (from 1/2 bunch)
Lemon wedges and yogurt, for garnish

Rinse and drain the lentils; sort through them to discard any debris.

Heat the oil in a large (at least 4-quart) pot over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown; reduce the heat as needed to keep the onions from burning. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, turmeric and curry powder; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring to blend the spices. Add the water and bring the soup base to a boil.

Add the lentils to the soup base along with the bell pepper, mint and cilantro. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the soup barely bubbles at the edges. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender.

Process the soup in batches in a blender until smooth, filling the blender no more than halfway; or use an immersion (stick) blender in the pot. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh strainer. Season to taste with salt; adjust the consistency with additional water as needed. Serve with lemon wedges.

Muttar Paneer

Another keeper by Arvinda Chauhan. I might add some cubed potatoes next time for a little more body, but the flavors are pitch-perfect.

1 tbsp sunflower oil
3 to 5 whole green cardamom pods (optional)
5 to 6 dried curry leaves (optional)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup puréed fresh tomatoes
OR 1/4 cup canned ground tomatoes
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Indian chili powder or ground cayenne
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas
3/4 cup cubed paneer
1 cup light cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. garam masal

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add cardamom pods and curry leaves (if using). Cook until golden brown. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, ground coriander, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, salt and sugar. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add peas and paneer. Stir well. Stir in cream. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add water, stir and
simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and creamy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and garnish with cilantro and a sprinkling of garam masala. Serve with naan and basmati rice.

Paneer at home

This recipe, by the lovely Arvinda Chauhan, yields approximately 3/4 cup of cubed paneer, enough for the Mattar Paneer recipe above. Bill's been craving saag paneer lately, so I've got the paneer all ready to go. Couldn't be easier.

4 cups homogenized milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Line a colander with a thin muslin or cheesecloth. Place colander
over a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a boil. Turn off heat. Add
vinegar and salt and stir until the milk curdles. Pour and strain curdled
milk through cheesecloth. Twist cheesecloth tightly to extract as
much moisture from the paneer as possible.
Line a plate with another cheesecloth. Place paneer ball in centre
of plate and apply a heavy weight on top to form it into a block.
Allow paneer sit for 6 to 8 hours to drain out excess liquid. Remove
cheesecloth and gently cut paneer into cubes. Add to your
favourite Indian curry and enjoy!
Note: If not using immediately, place the block of pressed paneer
into an airtight container covered with whey and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Chana Punjabi

The Wednesday Chef's Chana Punjabi recipe looks hard to resist. Now that I've got the pressure cooker working overtime on dried garbanzos, I figure I could get this on the table (from scratch) in under an hour and for a fraction of the cost. Mmmm...

Serves 2

1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and add onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

2. Purée mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and place over medium heat. Add paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

3. Cover and simmer until sauce is thick and chickpeas are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir pan about every 10 minutes, adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro, adjust salt as needed and serve with cooked rice, if desired.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Basbousah for Carmen

My friend Carmen got married last month. Her new husband is Egyptian, and for the last couple of years we've been talking about how much she loves his cooking, and about the merits of Middle Eastern food in general. This recipe, adapted from Joan Nathan, is one of their wedding presents. I'd like to think it's got a little touch of both of their cultures in it: semolina and almonds for him, and a drop of miel para la iyalocha. (Maferefun Ochun!) A honey-glazed cake for a happy home, with lots of love from me and Bill.

2 cups cream of wheat
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 dozen blanched almonds (available in Middle Eastern stores)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cups water
2 tablespoons orange flower water (or vanilla or even 1/2 cup lemon juice or orange juice -- if you use fruit juice, zest the rind of the fruit before you juice it and add a little minced zest to the cake batter. I added a shot of grand marnier to the syrup for an orange-infused basbousah last night, and it was divine.)

whipped cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the cream of wheat and baking powder in a bowl. Add the sour cream, sugar and melted butter and mix well.

2. Grease a 10 inch round cake pan and dust with the bread crumbs. Pour in the filling and pat down until it is even. Make a diamond design by scoring the mix with a knife. Put one blanched almond in the center of each diamond. Bake for 30 - 45 minutes, until golden on top.

3.In the meantime, bring the sugar, honey and water to boil in a saucepan and let simmer until it is a thick syrup. Add the orange flower water or other flavoring.

4. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over it. Let stand until cool. Serve each diamond-shaped piece of cake with whipped cream.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Moroccan Eggplant Salad

This Sephardic classic is always a major favorite on our seder table. I roast the eggplant on baking sheets instead of the more traditional pan-frying.

2 large eggplants
2 tablespons kosher salt
olive oil
1 small can tomato paste
2 cloves of garlic, mashed to a paste
juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Harissa or dried red pepper flakes, to taste
1 tablespoon ras al hanout
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Cut the eggplants in quarters, lengthwise and slice each long piece into 1/2 inch half slices cross-wise. Pat dry, toss with olive oil until all slices are coated and spread out on a couple of sheet pans. Roast at 400 degrees until browned, turning once and making sure not to burn the slices. This can take anywhere from 15 - 25 minutes.

Mix together the tomato paste, garlic, lemon juice, spices, and half of the chopped cilantro in a serving bowl. Add the eggplant slices, coating them with the tomato mixture. (Can be made up to this point a day ahead of serving) Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6

Friday, March 13, 2009

Arroz Con Pollo

Photo by Brianna Rohlehr

I was very happy with the big steaming pot of arroz con pollo that we surprised James with up in Hastings-on-Hudson last weekend. (Did I mention that we love the Rohlehrs?)

It's a tricky dish, and all kinds of things can go wrong with the timing. I read somewhere that parboiled rice was the key, and it worked out very well, but I'm quite certain I can get it to work with regular rice next time.

Happy Birthday, James!

4 strips of bacon
1 chorizo link, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into thin half moons
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
Salt, pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, pimenton, ground cumin, olive oil and white vinegar for marinating chicken
Olive oil for frying
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper), chopped
5 cloves garlic mashed
1 (12 oz.) bottle of dark beer
3 1/2 cups rich chicken stock
1 (8-ounce) can of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Bijol or 1 tablespoon annatto oil (for coloring)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
3 1/2 cups of parboiled rice (or a slightly smaller quantity of regular long grain white rice)
1/2 - 3/4 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup roasted red peppers, cut into strips

Twelve to twenty-four hours ahead, combine the spices, oil and vinegar in a food processor or a mortar and process into a smooth paste. Rub the mixture all over the chicken and under the skin. Cover and keep refrigerated until about an hour prior to cooking. Let the chicken come to room temperature while prepping all the other ingredients.

Sauté the bacon and chorizo in a large frying pan. Reduce heat to low and let the fat render out -- about 10 minutes. Once the fat is released, remove the bacon and chorizo, increase temperature to medium-high and add the chicken to the hot bacon fat. Remove the chicken when it is browned on both sides.

Add a little olive oil to the same pan you fried the chicken in, and sauté the onion and green pepper until the onion is translucent. Add the mashed garlic and cook an additional minute or two, stirring frequently.

Take the chicken stock and beer and pour into a large covered pot. Add the browned chicken pieces, cooked onions and green pepper, tomato sauce, Bijol, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper, bacon (crumbled, chorizo and olives. Bring everything to a rolling boil, reduce heat, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes.

Add the rice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. When the rice has absorbed some of the liquid, cover and simmer on low for about 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Add the frozen peas and red pepper strips during the last five minutes of cooking.

Birthday Cake

We don't just love the Rohlehrs. We lurve them.

And we were very happy to be around to celebrate a particularly auspicious birthday with them last weekend.

I set out to make RLB's golden layer cake with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream, but...well, the best laid plans, you know...The night before the surpirse birthday lunch, the cakes went all kerflooey and sank to pancake height in the middle. I was pretty much beside myself until I came across a recipe for Dorie's Berry Surprise Cake. With that inspiration in mind, I quickly hollowed out the sunken layers, filled them with whipped cream and berries and frosted the whole assemblage with the white chocolate cream cheese buttercream. Considering that it was very nearly a complete disaster, I was extremely pleased with the results. Folks went back for seconds, so that's always a good sign. If I make "Rohlehr Cake" again, I'll make sponge cake layers, as Dorie intended.

Thanks to the magical Mrs. Rohlehr, for cooking up that surprise and letting us be a part of it. Here's to many, many more celebrations together.

Photos by Brianna Rohlehr

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seafood Chowder

Chowdah! Just the sound of the word (combined with the sight of our beach) makes my heart race. I am so ready for summer.

5 slices of bacon, diced small
1 yellow onion, diced medium
1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced medium
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed well
1/2 - 3/4 lb basa or cod filets, diced large
12 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
chicken or fish stock
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the bacon over medium heat in a large pan with a lid. After about two minutes, add the potatoes and onions to the pan, and saute everything together for a few minutes until the onions have begun to soften. Add the clams and just enough stock to barely cover the potatoes and onions, and come about 1/4 up the sides of the clams. This was about 2 cups last night, but could be a little more or less, depending on the size of the pan. Cook, covered for two minutes. Add the shrimp and fish and cream (I didn't measure the cream -- I would say it was about 1 1/4 cups) and cover and cook for four to five minutes longer. The clams should be open at this point. They may need up to a minute longer. At that point, discard any clams that have not opened.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Scallion Oil

(Recipe by Eileen Yin Fei-Lo)
3 bunches of scallions, washed, dried, ends cut off, each scallion cut into 4 pieces
3 cups of peanut oil

Heat wok over medium heat. Add peanut oil, then add scallions. When the scallions turn brown, the oil is done. Strain the oil through a fine strainer into a bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Pour the scallion oil into a glass jar and refrigerate until needed.

Chinese Baked Bun Dough

(From the Dim Sum Dumpling Cookbook by Eileen Yin Fei Lo)
1 ½ teaspoons dry yeast
5 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1 1/3 cups high-gluten flour (Pillsbury Best Bread flour, enriched, bromide preferred)
1 small egg, beaten
3 ¾ tablespoons peanut oil

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in hot water. Set in a warm place for 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon the outside temperature. (In winter the longer time will be required).

When yeast rises and a brownish foam forms on top, add flour, egg, and peanut oil, stirring continuously with your hand. Begin kneading. When the mass becomes cohesive, sprinkle a work surface with flour, place dough on it, and continue kneading. Knead for about 15 minutes, picking up dough with a scraper and sprinkling the work surface with flour to prevent sticking.

When smooth and elastic, place dough in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put it in a warm place to rise. Dough will take from 2 to 4 hours to rise, depending upon temperature (it will take longer in cold weather). Dough will perform better if stored overnight and used the next day.

Char Siu Hum Bao (Chinese Baked Roast Pork Buns)

Were these just as savory as any char siu bao in Chinatown? As addictive as the taboo bao in The Untold Story? As traditional as the bao in Once Upon a Time in China? Well, I'd certainly like to think so, and I believe Bill will back me up on this point. (And really, after eating five bao in two days, he'd better back me up.) The recipe isn't complicated, it just takes a bit of time to complete all the steps. Well worth the effort, if you're far from a ready source of hot hum bao and need a fix.

Sauce Ingredients

2 teaspoons oyster sauce
¾ teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons ketchup
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
Pinch of white pepper
3 tablespoons chicken broth
½ teaspoon sesame oil

Combine the sauce ingredients. Reserve.

For buns:

2 teaspoons peanut oil
1/3 cup onions, cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup Roast Pork
1 Baked Bun Dough recipe
1 small egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Scallion Oil

Prepare Filling: Heat wok for 30 seconds over high heat. Add peanut oil and coat wok with spatula. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add onions, lower heat to low, and cook, turning occasionally, until onions turn light brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add roast pork, raise heat, and stir-fry to combine the pork with the onions, about 1 minute. Add Shao-Hsing wine and mix well.

Lower heat, stir sauce mixture, and add to pork and onions. Stir until well mixed and sauce thickens and bubbles. Turn heat off. Remove mixture from wok and transfer to a shallow dish. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 4 hours, uncovered, or overnight, covered.

Prepare Buns: Preheat oven to 350F. Cut 8 squares of waxed paper, 3 ½ inch on a side.

Remove dough from bowl, knead several times, then roll it out with your hands into a sausage shape 8 inches long. Divide into 8 one-inch pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping others under a damp cloth.

Roll each piece into a ball, then with your fingers, press to create a dome and a well.
Place 2 teaspoons of pork filling into well. Hold bun in one hand and with the other turn the bun, pinching it closed. Pressh firmly to seal. Place completed bun, sealed side down, on a square of waxed paper. Repeat until all buns are made.

Place all buns on a cookie sheet, at least 2 inches apart, to allow for expansion. Put buns in a warm place for about 1 hour to permit them to rise. Using an atomizer, spray each bun lightly with warm water. With a pastry brush, brush each bun with beaten egg.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Halfway through the baking time reverse the tray in oven. When buns are golden brown, remove them from the oven, and while still warm brush them with Scallion Oil. (As the buns cool, the crust tends to slightly harden. The brushing with Scallion Oil prevents hardening, as well as adding piquancy.) Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Char Shui

(Recipe adapted from Eileen Yin Fei Lo)
2 ¼ pounds moderately fatty pork shoulder or butt
1 ½ tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp. light soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp. honey
1 ½ tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. shao Hsing wine
3 ½ tbsp. hoisin sauce
½ tsp. five spice powder (I like Penzey’s brand)
black pepper to taste
red food coloring (optional)

Cut meat into strips 1 inch thick and seven inches long. Using a fork, tenderize meat by piercing all over. This also allows the sauce to penetrate.

Mix marinade ingredients into a ziplock bag large enough to hold meat.

Place meat in bag, mush it all around in the marinade so it is all covered, then push out all of the air, seal bag and leave it in the refrigerator for twenty four hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place roasting rack on rimmed cookie sheet, and drape meat over it. Roast for 20 minutes, until the meat is done. Baste the meat as it cooks a couple of times with some of the marinade. Allow to cool after it is done, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

Tangy Red Lentil Soup With Niçoise Olives

Once a month, when I know I'm going to be home for a couple of hours, I make a big batch of rich chicken stock, using the Edna Lewis method. Last week there was an article in the NYT about how making stock is (supposedly) too much work, results in too many pots to wash and is altogether not worth the effort. Along with the article they listed a number of soup recipes in which the bones cook right along with the soup, instead of requiring the separate step of making stock first and then soup later.
This was one of those recipes, and I'm here to tell you, people: TAKE THE TIME TO MAKE A BIG BATCH OF STOCK ONCE A MONTH WHILE YOU'RE WATCHING A VIDEO OR CONDITIONING YOUR HAIR. There is no substitute in terms of depth of flavor. I had to triple the amount of tomato paste called for and add a whole mess of salt to this recipe just to give it flavor. Other than that, it was pretty good. A nice occasional change from our Turkish red lentil standard. The olive garnish is very cute.

1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, unpeeled, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 small can tomato paste
1 pound red lentils, rinsed
1 pound chicken backs
4 thyme sprigs
2 lemons, halved
1/4 cup whole niçoise olives.
Pimenton, for garnish
1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine celery, carrot, onion, garlic, olive oil and salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add lentils, chicken backs, 8 cups water and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until lentils have broken down, about 30 minutes.

2. Discard thyme sprigs. Remove chicken backs, remove meat from bones, chop meat and return meat to soup. Using an immersion blender, partially purée soup. Taste and add salt if needed. Ladle soup into bowls, squeeze in lemon juice and serve topped with olives.

Yield: 8 servings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lighter Potato Gratin

This was a major hit. Bill is now fully on board in regard to the superiority of the Yukon Gold potato.

Onion mixture:
1 Tbsp butter
1 big onion, sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped finely
Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 tsp red chili flakes
Salt & pepper

4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (approximately 1/4 inch rounds)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8x8 inch baking dish.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in another pan, prepare the bechamel sauce/white sauce by melting the butter, blending in the flour & adding the milk gradually while stirring constantly till the mixture thickens, 3-4 minutes. Add salt, pepper and red chilli flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Arrange half of the potato rounds in a layer, slightly overlapping in the baking dish, and season with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Spoon half of the onion mixture over the potatoes. Repeat to make a second layer with the remaining potatoes, season, and sprinkle the rest of the caramelized onions over the top.

Pour the white sauce as evenly as possible all over the potatoes.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed, potatoes are tender and the surface is golden/lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hertzberg Boule

I've been baking fresh bread every few days since the Hertzberg book arrived. Let them eat sammiches!

Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1-1/2 packets)
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6-1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Cornmeal for pizza peel

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100°F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold tap water and get an identical final result; then the first rising will take 3 or even 4 hours. That won't be too great a difference, as you will only be doing this once per stored batch.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.


3. Mix in the flour—kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don't press down into the flour as you scoop or you'll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. If you're hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don't knead. It isn't necessary. You're finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you're using. Do not use screw-topped bottles or Mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Lidded plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available (see page 14 of the book). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 5 hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours), before shaping a loaf.

The scoop-and-sweep method gives consistent results without sifting or weighing. It's easier to scoop and sweep if you store your flour in a bin rather than the bag it's sold in; it can be hard to get the measuring cups in a bag without making a mess. Also: Don't use an extra-large 2-cup-capacity measuring cup, which allows the flour to overpack and measures too much flour.

Relax! You do not need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as traditional recipes.

On Baking Day

5. The gluten cloak: don't knead, just "cloak" and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or whatever your recipe calls for) to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it's not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.

6. Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel: Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn't need to be covered during the rest period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking ("oven spring").

7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

8. Dust and slash: Unless otherwise indicated in a specific recipe, dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross, "scallop," or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.

9. Baking with steam: After a 20-minute preheat, you're ready to bake, even though your oven thermometer won't yet be up to full temperature. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Because you've used wet dough, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or "sing," when initially exposed to roomtemperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days: You'll find that even one day's storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the 14-day storage period. Refrigerate unused dough in a lidded storage container (again, not airtight). If you mixed your dough in this container, you've avoided some cleanup. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. We often have several types of dough storing in the refrigerator at once. The dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.


Follow the directions for mixing the Boule dough and add 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (2 teaspoons fresh) and 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves (1 teaspoon fresh) to the water mixture.

You can also use herbs with the other bread recipes in this chapter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Creme Brulee

This really couldn't really be any easier, but it never fails to impress. (And Bill likes playing with the butane torch.) Niall says people like creme brulee because its vanilla pudding you get to order in French -- i.e., familiar comfort food dressed up as a sophisticated dessert. We surprised Gloria with creme brulee on V-Day this year. A hit!

9 egg yolks
3/4 cup superfine white sugar plus 6 tablespoons
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream together egg yolks and sugar with a whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.

Pour cream into a medium saucepan over low heat. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean down the middle, scrape out the seeds and add them to saucepan. Bring cream to a brief simmer, do not boil or it will overflow. Remove from heat and temper the yolks by gradually whisking the hot vanilla cream into yolk and sugar mixture. Do not add hot cream too quickly or the eggs will cook.

Divide custard into 6 (6-ounce) ramekins, about 3/4 full. Place ramekins in a roasting pan and fill pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until barely set around the edges, about 40 minutes. You may want to cover loosely with foil to prevent browning. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Transfer the ramekins to the refrigerator and chill for 2 hours. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on top of each chilled custard. Hold a kitchen torch 2 inches above surface to brown the sugar and form a crust. Garnish with cookies and fresh fruit. Serve at once.

Variation: Before dividing into ramekins: add 3 ounces of shaved dark chocolate for chocolate creme brulee; add 4 slices of crystallized ginger for ginger creme brulee; add 3 slices of orange peel for orange creme brulee. Let steep 20 minutes to infuse the flavor. Strain out the ginger and orange peel before baking.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lemony Shrimp with White Beans and Couscous

Adapted from Real Simple
Photo by Kan Kanbayashi

1 10-ounce box couscous (1 1/2 cups)
2 cups chicken broth
Kosher salt, cayenne pepper and pimenton to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
4 scallions, chopped
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 15.5-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 2 lemons

30 minutes before cooking, marinate the shrimp in half the lemon juice and the spices.

In a saucepan, bring 2 chicken stock to a boil. Stir in the couscous. Cover and let sit off heat for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork before serving.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and scallions and cook for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they begin to turn pink, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the beans, parsley, lemon juice, the remaining butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust for seasoning. Serve with the couscous.

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake with a Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce

The photo of this outrageous and unparalleled cake came from Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn, but the recipe itself is pure Regan Daley. SO moist. SO good. A new favorite.

1 cup raisins
1/3 cup brandy
1 cup unsulphured dried apple slices (if only rings are available, cut them in half)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (preferably freshly ground)
1-1/2 cups tightly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 medium sized tart cooking apples, such as Northern Spy or Rome Beauty, one peeled, one unpeeled, both cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Additional unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pan

Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce (recipe below) warmed slightly, to serve.

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the brandy for 45 minutes. Add the dried apple slices and macerate for a further 15 minutes. Do not drain!

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan and line the bottom and up the two long sides with a sheet of parchment paper, letting the paper hang over the edges by an inch or so. Lightly butter the paper. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together into a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl with a hand held electric mixer or whisk, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend both sugars. Add the eggs and beat on medium speed until thickened and pale, about 2 minutes with a machine, 4 to 5 minutes by hand. Add the cooled melted butter and mix to blend. Fold in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just enough to moisten most but not all of the flour. Add the dried fruit and brandy mixture, chopped pecans, and diced fresh apple, then fold them into the batter with long, deep strokes. Don’t fret about the ratio of fruit to batter — there is a remarkable amount of fruit but it bakes into a wonderfully chewy cake.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and set in the center of the oven. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the center springs back when lightly touched, a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a wire rack and cool. This cake keeps beautifully, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 5 days, although it is best within 2 or 3. Serve warm or at room temperature with a healthy pour of the warm Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce. Makes enough for 10 to 12 people (or 2, if you give them a couple of days ...).

Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce
Makes about 2-1/4 cups

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream (36%)
2-1/2 tablespoons brandy

Combine the butter, sugars and cream in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir this mixture over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a very gentle boil, stirring all the while. Cook 5 more minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the brandy or other liqueur. Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. To rewarm, either microwave the uncovered sauce on low power or transfer the cold caramel to a saucepan and stir over low heat until warm.

Serves 10 to 12