Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
About this meme: Melissa at the Traveler's Lunchbox read a BBC poll of "50 things to eat before you die" and devised a slightly different version for food bloggers everywhere. And that is to "create a list of food bloggers' top picks for things they've eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die." Click on her link to see how this project works.
Ok. Deep breath. Here I go:
Cassoulet: Preferrably in Toulouse in southwest France, its purported birthplace, a claim that's been in question for over 100 years, as nearby Castelnaudary also claims that fame. Cassoulet is a dish made with beans, Toulouse sausage, and duck or goose confit. In Toulouse anyway. Castelnaudary and Carcassonne both have their versions which contain different meats. In Paula Wolfort's The Cooking of Southwest France, she devotes an entire chapter to cassoulet, its history and often fought-over origins, as well as several recipes. Cassoulet is rich and hearty. One must take care not to eat too much, especially if one is not used to such richness. I speak from experience--and it's an experience one should try at least once.
Seared Foie Gras appetizer at the Corner Table Restaurant in Minneapolis. Placed on a bed of locally grown, organic spinach, sprinkled with toasted walnuts and dusted with bee pollen, I know it's not PC in some circles, but I eat meat and I LOVE foie gras. This was done to buttery, divine perfection.
Roast Leg of Locally Raised Lamb: I've run into many people who won't eat lamb; claim to hate it. I would venture to guess that some of those many lamb-haters would be converts once they took a bite of this recipe. Our lambs are raised just across the fence from our property by our neighbors, D & M. On organic grassland. We watch them grazing in the fields, knowing that the only thing going into their bodies is good, wholesome grass, fresh air and clear, clean water. This lamb is rich, succulent, meaty and delicious. I wish all lamb-haters could have just one bite.
Salade aux Gesiers de Canard: Or, Salad with confit of duck gizzards. Again, you have to travel to France to get the real thing. And not just to France, but to the Perigord Noir region where the violet mustard is made and the walnut oil is local and the confit of duck gizzards, well, I just do not have words. There, in Sarlat, is where I had the most delicious salad I've ever, ever tasted. I continued to order it throughout our travels in the region, finding it in Domme, Rocamadour, Albi, Carcassonne, Cahors and St. Cirq Lapopie. And no matter that I brought back the local mustard, have found a source for French walnut oil, and have tried many times to replicate the recipe, it's not the real thing. You'll just have to go there. Trust me.
This has turned out to be somewhat of a travel essay to boot. I admit that I adore French food, especially from the countryside where we spent so much time. And I love sharing it with any who will listen (or read).
Okay then, here are my picks. I visit these bloggers often to see what they're up to and I'm always glad I do.
Julie, of A Mingling of Tastes, is a writer and newlywed living in Fort Lauderdale, known to cross state lines for an authentic tapas bar.
Cyndi, of Cookin' With Cyndi, lives up in the San Bernadino mountains and does some lower carb, downhome cooking.
Michelle, of Je Mange La Ville, lives, cooks and creates wonderful arty things in Portland.
Mimi, of French Kitchen in America, is the daughter of a chef and grand-daughter of avid French cooks and tells us that a love for food and food preparation can make any kitchen French.
And finally, a new blogger who I enjoy reading is Shane from Shane With Thyme On Her Hands, who doesn't really have much time now that the school year has started, but I do hope she will join us and have some fun!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I've had a beautiful, plump duck breast from Grimaud Farms in my freezer. Even in its frozen state you could see that it was plump. And its plumpness got even more noticible after it had thawed. Such a plump little duck breast I said as I took in out of the freezer, placed it on the counter and waited for it to thaw. You see, I'd never cooked a duck breast before. Part of my process when I need to think about how I'm going to go about cooking something, especially when I've never cooked that particular something before, is to look at it, talk to it, see if it will talk back. If it doesn't, then I go talk to something else. Like other ingredients. Would they like to be included in the cooking of the duck breast? Would, say, the bottle of Fig & Balsamic Vinegar and some green peppercorns like to have a go at the duck breast? Or wait, maybe the Pomegranates au Merlot sauce and the green peppercorns? A little orange juice perhaps?
Time was running out, dinner was going to be very late, and I still hadn't decided, so I made up tiny little batches of what I thought might make several good sauces for the duck and shoved small spoonfuls into my husband's mouth to let him decide. And so he did. And this is what I did. That duck breast never did say a word on the subject.
1 plump little duck breast (I got mind from Grimaud Farms)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil for the pan
1/2 cup good Merlot
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (see note)
2 tablespoons Pomegranates au Merlot sauce
1 heaping tablespoon green peppercorns packed in brine
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Score the fatty side of the duck breast in a cross hatch pattern, taking care to not cut through to the meat.
Generously sprinkle both sides of the breast with kosher salt and black pepper.
In an oven proof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. When the pan is hot, place the duck breast skin side down and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn the breast over and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. Pour off most of the accumulated duck fat and place the skillet and duck breast in the oven for about 5 minutes more or until the meat is slightly pink. Remove from the oven and place the duck on a plate tented loosely with foil. Return the skillet to the top of the stove over medium high heat and deglaze with the red wine, scraping the browned bits off the bottom. Add the orange juice and the Pom-Merlot sauce and reduce the liquid by at least half or until a thick sauce forms. Add any juices that have accumulated under the duck breast then add the green peppercorns and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
Slice the duck breast across the grain.
To serve, spoon some sauce onto a warm plate, place a few slices of duck on top, drizzle a bit more sauce over the duck, eat, swoon. Now the duck's talking.
When I want to use orange juice in a sauce and find that I don't have any in the house, I use a couple of large spoonfuls of frozen concentrate instead. I don't dilute it with water. I just let the other liquidy ingredients take care of that. I've found it to be very successful and tasty.
End of summer organic tomatoes and sweet white corn are abundant right now in our markets, as well as the first local (inland) eggplants with their shiny, purple-black skins. I wanted them all. In one dish. Layered. With the flavors of each vegetable melting into the next, like a French tian. What is a tian? According to my French cookbooks, it's a dish, mainly of vegetables, created in layers and baked to a glorious, crusty goodness. It can contain cheese and grains but almost always is topped with bread crumbs. Originating in Provence, a tian is a shallow earthenware casserole as well as the food it contains. Upon doing a google search however, a lovely site called French Gardening dot com specifies a tian as a bowl with a top wider than the bottom, for making dishes like cassoulet. After reading that, I'm not sure which is the real thing, but I'm going with my French cookbooks and French food authority Patricia Wells and trust that the tian is more of a gratin dish.
(Speaking of cassoulet, when we were in the southwest of France last fall, I had the opportunity to indulge myself in this rich bean, sausage and duck dish. Once in Sarlat, ending in a very uncomfortable, sleepless night; the second time being a more enjoyable 2-hour lunch accompanied by a beautiful bottle of local red wine in Carcassonne. For a humorous and educational piece about cassoulet and its origins, I recommend you read this. And as soon as I get my nerve up, I'll make it and post it here.)
Back to my tian. As I've been writing this, I've googled many words to find links for you to peruse at your leisure, and in doing so have found that some of my fellow food bloggers have already posted recipes for vegetable tian or at least a dish using many of the same ingredients. I'm in good company.
1 large sweet onion, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into thin slices, like half-moons
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
2 red bell peppers, seeded and deveined, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, silks removed, kernels cut from the cob
3 medium oval eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 large ripe, red tomatoes, skins removed, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
6-8 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper (I use Tellicherry)
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I use locally made, whole wheat Brio croutons and crush them into crumbs)
Olive oil for the pan
Ovenproof oval or rectangular ceramic or glass dish that will hold all the ingredients
Lightly oil the baking dish (tian) and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add the onion slices and saute until soft, but not browned. Spoon into the tian and spread over the bottom.
Adding more oil to the skillet as needed, increase the heat to medium high and saute the mushrooms until they are limp. Layer on top of the onions.
Spread the uncooked corn kernels over the mushrooms and sprinkle with the marjoram.
(As you are building these layers, you can sprinkle a small amount of kosher salt and black pepper over each one.)
Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of everything and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to moisten.
Cover with foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes to create a browned crust on top.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
2 - 8 ounce ahi tuna steaks, sushi grade
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground Tellicherry peppercorns, divided
2 tablespoons safflower oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh, peeled ginger, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 pound fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (regular soy sauce will overpower the cream sauce)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon coarsely cracked peppercorns on one side of each ahi steak and press in to adhere. Set aside while preparing the sauce.
Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottom skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, cliantro, ginger and garlic and saute until aromatic, 30 to 45 seconds.
Mix in mushrooms and soy sauce and simmer 30 seconds more or until the mushrooms "melt".
Add the 1/2 & 1/2 and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon and thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste then remove the sauce from the heat and keep in a warm place.
In a large cast iron (or other heavy) skillet, heat the safflower oil over medium high heat. Place tuna steaks, pepper side down, in hot oil and sear for 2-3 minutes.
Turn the steaks over and continue searing until desired doneness is reached, about 2 minutes for very rare, 3 minutes for rare to medium-rare.
Remove to a cutting board, allow to sit 2-3 minutes then slice into thin slices.
Place a pool of the shitake-ginger sauce on each plate and lay several slices of the seared ahi on top of the sauce. Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
Note: In my previous ahi recipe, I specified using Land O'Lakes Fat Free 1/2 & 1/2. I used to use this product freely until I discovered the amount of carbs it contains, which is double that of low-fat milk. So, if you're counting carbs, I can no longer recommend the use of this product for that purpose. If you're counting fat, I would recommend its use judiciously. I still use it in certain recipes, such as custards, ice creams, clafoutis, etc. For me, using heavy cream or even regular 1/2 & 1/2 is just too much fat and calories.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Black, white, pink, green. I imagine that most cooks, much like me, use pepper everyday and don't think much about it. Not like the thought that goes into adding a favorite herb to a dish, or, indeed, creating a dish to spotlight a favored herb. Pepper is simply a "well, of course" spice that is added to most savory dishes without a second thought.
When I was a child, the only pepper in my parents' house was from the Schilling or McCormick can, already ground. I never liked it and consequently never used pepper in my cooking until I was well into adulthood and discovered the joys of freshly-cracked black pepper. Now I can't imagine not using pepper, either as a condiment on top of, or as part of the deep, warming spices of a savory dish as it's cooking. My favorite black pepper is Tellicherry. The taste is deep, smokey, pungently intense, with just the right amount of bite.
Wikipedia tells me that "Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe berries of the pepper plant. The berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures cell walls in the fruit, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the fruit around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer around the seed. Once dried, the fruits are called black peppercorns." Originally grown only in the Malabar area of southern India, black pepper is now also grown in Malaysia, Brazil and Indonesia.
My husband puts freshly cracked black pepper on his cantaloup then proceeds to eat every slurpy bite while groaning in ecstasy. I am horrified. As I was growing up, my parents put salt on their home-grown cantaloup. I followed suit until I realized that a good melon actually tastes better to me without salt. Since then I've eaten my melon unadorned. Until the other day.
Yep, I can still learn a thing or two about taste. As I was cutting up a luscious, honey-scented melon for breakfast and watched my husband grind pepper all over his serving, I thought of the taste of the Tellicherry peppercorns. I thought of the taste of a chilled, ripe melon. Lo and behold, the light bulb went on. I tried it. I liked it. All these years... Who knew?
Although I realize that pepper is a spice, I'm hoping this post qualifies for Kalyn's Weekend Herb blogging. Check out what other herbs food bloggers are talking about this weekend at Kalyn's Kitchen. If you're a blogger and want to join in, read about WHB here.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
1 sweet or sour French baguette, sliced through the middle, lengthwise
1 cube unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted and ground (see note below)
2-ounce tin of anchovy fillets, drained, patted dry and minced
2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3-4 shakes Smoked Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce
3/4 cup asiago cheese, ground to pea-sized chunks in food processor
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
In a bowl, combine all the above ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Spread half of mixture on each half of the baguette. Taking care to not cut all the way through, cut each baguette crosswise into serving-size slices about 2/3 of the way through. Make a "boat" with foil for each baguette half and toast in a 400-degree oven until browned, hot and bubbly. Save a few pieces for yourself because they'll be gone in the blink of an eye.
Note: To toast fennel seeds, heat a cast iron skillet on medium low heat. Add the fennel seeds to the dry pan and toast the seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are slightly browned and giving off their pungent scent. Watch them as they can burn easily. Immediately remove from the heat and place in a bowl to cool. When cool, grind in a spice grinder to a fine-ish powder, or use a mortar and pestle to achieve the same results.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
All I did was to put a bit of olive oil in a skillet, heat it to medium low, add two tilapia fillets, sprinkle them with just a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. When they were golden brown on one side, I flipped them over, squeezed the juice of a navel orange into the pan and over the fillets, ditto with about 2 tablespoons of Sauvignon Blanc, added a few pinches of dried marjoram and shook the pan a little bit to distribute it all. I let the fish cook on this side for about 4 minutes, basting them with the pan juices, until they were just firm to the touch. By the time the fish was done the liquids had reduced to a glaze. I removed the fish from the pan and onto two plates and quickly drizzled what pan juice would come off the bottom of the pan on to each fillet. (I did help the glazed stuff off the bottom of the pan with a spatula.) Done! And utterly meltingly tender, delicious, perfect! The orange juice and white wine reduced to a concentrated burst of flavor and the marjoram added the perfect herbal note. I don't know what all the fuss is about.
Monday, August 21, 2006
This very simple summer side cooks up fast and easy. Add herbs and spices to compliment a main dish, or keep it simple like I did for my Pt. Reyes Stuffed Pork Chops.
2 medium zucchini
2 large cloves garlic
3 bell peppers, red and yellow, charred and peeled
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Pinch dried marjoram (optional)
Olive oil for the pan
Char the peppers over a gas flame until blackened and blistered. Place in a sealed paper bag to sweat for 15 minutes. Remove from the bag and, with your fingers, push the skin off the peppers. You can run your fingers under cold water to remove the char, but don't do it to the peppers or you'll rinse their great flavor down the drain. Cut the stem end out, remove the seeds and membranes and slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces, then crosswise into 1/2-inch squares.
Peel the garlic, smash with the side of a chef's knife then mince finely.
In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it has cooked to a golden brown.
Add the zucchini and stir to blend with the garlic. Cook slowly just until the zucchini is tender crisp.
Add the bell pepper and stir until the peppers are heated through and the zucchini is fully cooked.
Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
If serving with the pork chops, add 1/4 teaspoon marjoram, crumbled, to the veggies just before serving.
The bottle of 8-year old balsamic vinegar that I have says "vinegar", but it's so rich and thick that I call it syrup. If you don't have a well-aged balsamic vinegar, you can reduce a young balsamic vinegar by more than half, until it is thickened, and approximate the taste in this onion confit. But it really won't taste the same so do consider purchasing a bottle of the good, well-aged stuff.
I made this red onion confit to accompany my recipe for Pt. Reyes Original Blue Stuffed Pork Chops. It compliments the tangy, creamy blue cheese perfectly.
1 medium red onion, peeled and halved stem to stern
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon good olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar (or 1/2 teaspoon Splenda Sugar Blend)
2 teaspoons, or more to taste, well-aged balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt to taste
Thinly slice each onion half cross-wise into half moons.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat.
When the butter is hot, add the onions, stirring to separate, and allow to cook slowly until tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes or more.
Add the sugar and the vinegar and stir, cooking until the onions are practically melting. Keep the heat adjusted so the onions don't burn. You want soft, tender onions with no burned edges.
When the onions are done, season to taste with the kosher salt.
And that's all there is to it! You can do more by adding herbs, orange zest and/or juice, but this is the basic, simple, unadorned result and it's delicious all by itself.
A note about the sugar. Many of you know that I'm a Splenda gal but when it comes to caramelizing, sugar is really the only choice. The Splenda Sugar Blend will do okay, but you won't get the rich, caramel-y consistency and taste that you do with sugar. For low carbers, the addition of this very small amount of sugar won't do damage, especially when paired with a protein like these pork chops.
Thick cut, very lean pork chops from Costco are featured here. Usually I either cut them into cubes to use in several dishes, or slice them in half for more manageable single servings. This time, not really knowing what I was going to do as I began to prepare dinner, I started to slice them in half, got half-way through, got an idea and stopped slicing, leaving pockets instead. As you may imagine, food porn photography moments were abundant.
Pt. Reyes Original Blue is really the star of this dish as takes the humble pork chop to new heights. Add to that a red onion confit - a perfect compliment to the blue cheese - and the whole thing is a heavenly taste treat, cholesterol be damned. Original Blue is available through their link above, and also here, and at a well-stocked gourmet cheese section in some markets.
2 thick cut pork chops, trimmed of fat
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2-3 tablespoons Pt. Reyes Original Blue, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper (I use Tellicherry)
olive oil and butter for the pan
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.
Standing each chop on a narrow side, slice part way through to make a pocket.
Sprinkle the inside of each pocket with dried marjoram, saving a bit for the outside of each chop.
Stuff each chop with 1/2 of the blue cheese and secure the edges with toothpicks.
Sprinkle both sides of each chop with remaining marjoram and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat olive oil and butter in a cast iron or other ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the chops and sear on each side until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until the meat is just barely pink inside, 6-8 minutes more.
Remove the chops to a plate and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm.
You may have to spend a little time pushing the melting cheese back into the chops, but this in no way detracts from either the presentation or the taste.
Serve with the red onion confit and a medley of sauteed zucchini, garlic and roasted bell peppers.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Mercat Boqueria at 91 Las Ramblas, Barcelona was one of those serendipitous discoveries. To me, this was the ultimate in displays of food porn. See it for yourself (and forgive the yellow-ish cast in many of these photos, the lighting was non-optimum) and enjoy.
Incredible fruit displays
Papayas and ?? (anyone know?)
So much candy (I did NOT eat any!)
Fish and their heads
The three little pigs, really! Click on photo to enlarge. That's me approaching this display, not quite believing my eyes yet.
A very long aisle of fish.
The End. For Now.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I subscribe to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's e-newsletter of recipes "Weeknight Kitchen", part of her American Public Radio broadcast "The Splendid Table". When I received the newsletter this morning, the Tomato Panzanella with Mozzarella and Olivada looked so good I knew I would make it for Beach Night tonight.
I was so intrigued by Lynne's recipe with the dressing made with tapenade that I only changed one thing: the bread, which I cut into cubes, drizzled with olive oil and Italian herb mixture and baked in the oven until crispy. In essence, I made croutons. Adding to the splendor of this dish, all of the ingredients used were organically grown, much of it locally.
Most of you know that I try to cook low-carb, which doesn't include a lot of bread. But because this dish was for a crowd and I was going to be eating just a small amount of it, I wasn't too worried about the carb factor. Plus, to balance things out, I prepared some blacked chicken breasts for protein which went quite well with the salad.
Tomato Panzanella With Mozzarella and Olivada
10 ounces good artisan bread (I used Brio's Pain au Levain)
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons dried Italian herb mixture, crumbled
1 red onion, peeled cut in half and sliced thinly in half-moons
1/2 cup scallions (green onions), white and green parts, sliced thinly
Medium-size English cucumber, peeled in stripes, cubed
1 tablespoon capers, drained
3 large, organically grown red tomatoes, peeled, cored, chopped (see photo)
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup or more coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
(See below for dressing recipe)
In a large bowl, toss cubed bread with olive oil and Italian herbs and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Bread will be just crispy, not hard. Set aside to cool.
Combine the onions, cucumber, capers, tomatoes, garlic, basil and mozzarella in a large bowl. You can refrigerate it at this point if making ahead but bring to room temperature to finish for serving.
About 15 minutes before serving, combine the salad with the croutons and allow to sit for 10 minutes to allow the croutons to absorb the juices. Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing and serve at room temperature.
from Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Weeknight Kitchen
2 Tablespoons black olive tapenade (I used Trader Joe's brand)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
small amount cayenne pepper (I used a small portion of 1/8 teaspoon
Combine all ingredients and whisk together well. This will keep in the fridge for several days, but bring it to room temperature before using. (And, darn, in my haste to get to the beach on time, I forgot to photograph the dressing, which, by the way, is fantastic.)
We had another one of those cherished, beautiful evenings on the beach.
See? Everyone's happily waving at you!