June 28, 2011 § 7 Comments
Having lots of pots of herbs growing on our little balcony has allowed me to develop another brand new obsession. Salsa verde. I’m telling you people, this stuff is magical.
Imagine someone walking out to a lushly growing herb garden and snipping a bountiful spray of fresh herbs from each patch. Then, grinding them all together into an emerald green paste, with some garlic, capers, and anchovies because, you know, why not?!
The result is a massive wave that breaks over your taste buds in a spray of woodsy, grassy, briny, garlicky flavor. I’ve been racking my brain, and I don’t think I can think of anything else I’ve had in quite a while that packs so much beautifully blended and balanced flavor into even a tiny bite.
I discovered salsa verde when making a riff off of the summer squash gratin from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. My mother and I cooked it up while I was at home, with a few tweaks and the addition of a hefty amount of extremely good Italian sausage. It was seriously delicious (though it had too much bread-crumb action sprinkled throughout for my taste).
February 28, 2011 § 8 Comments
I had never cooked with Meyer lemon before this winter. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even tried Meyer lemon before this winter. Not that this need be particularly surprising. After all, Meyer lemons tend to be the provenance of California back yards and farmer’s markets, neither of which are exactly easy to find in New England. And, if you’re not in California it’s a little bit harder to come by Meyer lemons because they have a delicate constitution and don’t much like traveling. So, you mostly have to head to high end or specialty grocer’s to find them. And there they cost a few pretty pennies more than your plain old workhorse lemons, which has always led me to pass them by.
But somehow about a month ago I found myself with my hand hovering over the sunny pile of Meyer’s tumbling voluptuously out of a barrel at the market. I mean, maybe it was time to find out what all the fuss was about. Or maybe it was just that the saturated goldenrod color of the lemons, the same radiant hue as the yolk of an egg from a very happy chicken, was too appealing in cold, dark mid-January to pass by. I bought one. Then I had to start searching for what to do with it. There is certainly no shortage of options. You can add zest and juice from Meyer lemons to pastas, sauces and soups or any variety of baked goods. Because the skin of the Meyer is paper thin and supple you can eat it along with the rest of the lemon, allowing you to slice the lemon thinly and tuck it within the folds of the batter of cakes or quick breads or casseroles. You can even batter and fry pieces of the lemon as a crispy appetizer. I decided to go with making a tart. Which was lovely, but left me with the distinct feeling that the custard filling of the tart was actually enveloping some of the character of the lemon in a haze (albeit a delicious creamy haze), preventing it from shining as much as I had a sneaking suspicion it could. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.
Not surprisingly, given my track record of following recipes, I didn’t exactly make a cassoulet. I did make a wonderful confit of red peppers and onions, which I will get to momentarily, but first I’d like to reminisce about cassoulet…Cassoulet is a traditional French stew that has approximately twelve-hundred and sixteen different types of meats and fats in it (well, maybe not exactly, but it does usually have at least 5 or 6), takes about 3 days to make, and is pretty much the most astoundingly hearty, warm you to the very core of your existence and stick to every bone in your body foodstuffs mankind has ever derived. (It also has beans in it, which is why I can no longer eat it – sigh 😦 ) I have had true cassoulet just once, back when I studied abroad in Paris. By chance, one of the weeks I was there, the parents of one of my dad’s best friends were vacationing in Paris. In spite of the obscurity of my connection to them and the fact that I didn’t really know them at all, as soon as I learned from my parents that these lovely people wanted to take me out to eat, in a rather nice neighborhood, I was immediately determined to become their new favorite granddaughter-stand-in. I went and found them at the gorgeous, extremely French country-style, hotel where they were staying, and when the concierge tipped us off to a tiny bistro, tucked down at the end of a cobblestone rue where generally only locals go and where the wait staff didn’t speak a lick of English (so much the better, French is far better for the digestion), we knew exactly what we were doing for lunch. It was a cold, rainy, profoundly grey spring day. Just the sort of day when rustic French cooking is exactly what is needed to drive the damp-chill out of your joints. The bistro did not disappoint. I was served a steaming cassoulet redolent with bay leaf and bacon fat, and flecked with rich duck confit. Followed by a creme brulee that was so perfect, I can’t even describe it. It was the ideal type of creme brulees, the creme brulee that is exactly what you imagine creme brulee ought to be, and to which real life versions almost never live up. That meal was amazing. I can never be thankful enough to those friends for taking me out to lunch.
September 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
Have you heard? Foraged is the new local. Which makes local food the new organic. Which makes organic, I don’t know, the new black? Or maybe the “please, please, make an effort to buy food that reaches at least this standard of quality, yes I know it’s expensive (though not for everything), but this is your health, your planet, your humane treatment of farm workers and animals we’re talking about here.” (Somehow I don’t think that’s going to catch on as a slogan…)
Anyway, foraged food has been catching on for a while and it seems to be really picking up steam now. Many popular restaurants (especially in California – big surprise) are now relying on locals to forage various interesting greens and mushrooms for them. The cutting edge restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen is exploring new territory in Scandinavian cuisine by actually looping right back around to explore the old territory of the wild berries, roots, herbs, fish, and other foods that have been traditionally collected in the area to craft beautifully plated dishes that distill the essence of the landscape and culture. I know some people are a bit skeptical, but I’m a firm believer in terroir, the term used in wine to describe the way a particular place imparts a unique flavor to the grapes that are grown there. And, if it works for grapes, why on earth shouldn’t it work with other food too?
September 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
We had to get up to catch a flight at 4:15 am this morning, also known as waaaaaaaaaaaaay too early o’clock. And let me tell you, I am not a very highly functioning person when I’ve only gotten a few hours of sleep. Most of my thoughts are about as coherent as, “ooooh, that’s a red thing!” or “hey! Birds fly. And planes fly too! But planes do not have feathers. Hmmm.” Or, as I survey my pretty barren pantry, “butter is good. Onions are good. Butter and onions are good.”
And that’s about all you need to know for this recipe. Butter and onions are good. And, when they’re slow cooked together with a pinch of herbs and just a little port to enhance the sweetness of the onions, then they are meltingly tender, fragrant, sweet, and luxurious. Oh, and good. You can make these onions and serve them over pretty much any roasted or grilled meat. You can serve them on bruschetta or crackers with soft cheese, cured meats (like prosciutto or salami), or add them to sandwiches (especially roast beef!) or use them as a bottom layer for a pizza or savory tart. For example, try these onions on a pizza with blue cheese, chicken, and sauteed summer squash or greens. Or with goat cheese, prosciutto, figs (or grilled peaches), and arugula. Oooh, I know what I’m having for dinner…once I take a nap.
July 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have found a new activity to add to my list of favorite summer activities! Other favorites include: distracting myself from runs and hikes to pick berries, powering various boats via paddles, drinking cold things while sitting in the sun (or shade, depending on the temperature), jumping up in down in the water while singing a little happy song to myself, having sing-alongs on the porch, scrambling on sun warmed rocks, and eating far more ice cream than can possibly be good for me. My newfound activity is watering the vegetable garden with our hose. It has to be with our hose, or else with one that is similarly leaky, because an important aspect of the enjoyableness of the whole thing is achieved by getting doused by the spray from around the nozzle, and eventually finding yourself quite as watered as the garden. You see (I’m sure some of you are seeing this far more clearly than others), it appears that the summer has taken a double-dog dare to be as scalding hot as possible for as long as possible, just to see what we’ll do. And, I’m finding that pretty much the only way to survive is by frequently submerging, spraying, dousing, or in other words, soaking myself with lots of cold water. Oh, and I also find myself daydreaming about freezing myself (probably naked!) into an ice cube. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 26, 2010 § 6 Comments
I’ve been having an long-running debate with myself about whether it’s ever worth it to go buy a bunch of parsley. I’m not really a parsley girl to begin with (cilantro is another story – I’m fanatical!). Then, so many recipes that call for parsley call for at most a couple of Tablespoons in the recipe and as a garnish. And then you have this big bunch of parsley leftover, standing in a jar of water, getting more and more wilted in spite of your best efforts to garnish everything in site, until finally it’s so bedraggled looking you have to sacrifice it to the trash/compost (sadly this even happens frequently with leftover cilantro as well). And I HATE wasting food. So what’s the point? I can make do without garnishes. I could cheat and use a bit of dried parsley in dishes that call for the fresh stuff. Maybe I should just cut fresh parsley out of my life all together. Would that make me a poor excuse for a cook?
Well, a winner has suddenly been declared in this internal debate. And, exactly on the opposite side of the one towards which I have been leaning for a long time. Never again will extra parsley go to waste! Indeed, I may start buying it in extra quantities. Oh yes! It’s true. I have contrived to put parsley to use in a delicious and unexpected way that has completely changed my opinion of the stuff: herb jam. Yes, it sounds totally weird. But it tastes totally phenomenal! Salty, earthy, a little smokey, a little bright and acidic, and only very slightly green. So good, it may be my new favorite snack, and appetizer, and sandwich spread, and…you get the idea. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 26, 2009 § 2 Comments
I Love holidays! Love with a capital L (as you can see). I’m like a little kid, I get completely overexcited about holidays, especially the winter holidays that bring friends and family together around festive tables to combat the potential dreary winter blues. And, I’m an absolute sucker for traditions. I’m one of those people who likes to do the exact same thing every year for each holiday and heaven help you if you try to get me to change because it’ll be an uphill battle (though I’m always ready to adopt new traditions to have in addition to those I was raised with)! I firmly believe that having the rhythm and dependability of strong traditions in our families and on our holidays roots us in a way that allows us to then be more creative and accepting of differences in the rest of life.
Given this, you can probably guess about how much variation there is from year to year in what I think should be cooked and served for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s right. Zippo! Same thing, every year, and it’s good every time! On the other hand, I feel completely free to experiment with the principle ingredients of holiday dishes the rest of time. Right now I’ve been playing with cranberries, for example. I got, shall we say, a little enthusiastic when I was buying cranberries in preparation for Thanksgiving. So, I’ve been using cranberries in other ways, besides as a side dish for the bird. One of the first places they showed up was in several loaves of pumpkin bread. I also tried drying some – that was a total fiasco. Now I’ve moved on to pairing them with savory dishes. Turkey isn’t the only meat that goes well with a bit of something sweet-tart on the side. Pork and chicken, basically the other white meats, are good with cranberries as well (and though I’ve never tried it, I would imagine that salmon, baked with mustard on it (don’t ask why but I imagine cranberry sauce being good with mustard, maybe I had it on a sandwich once) would be good with cranberries too – I may try it and get back to you). « Read the rest of this entry »
August 29, 2009 § 4 Comments
I was going to wait a few more days before I posted again (I don’t want to set too high of a standard for myself for frequency of writing, after all!), but I’m afraid I can’t stop myself because I’m completely overexcited by the dish I made last night. True to form, I had an unplanned assortment of ingredients to use, but the fact I had an eggplant inspired me to try to make dish a friend of mine had once served me, called a caponata. Caponata is a Southern Italian stew or spread that has a delicious and uniquely zesty combination of flavors that would be a good spread on crusty bread – potentially with salami (works with salty-sweet) or chicken (works with almost anything!) or over pasta, even rice. I looked at some recipes, and (not surprisingly) didn’t have all the ingredients, plus I had some extras I wanted to use up. So, I experimented. The flavors you want in a caponata are sweet, sour, and salty on top of the tender, almost creaminess, of cooked eggplant. Kind of like a Sicilian version of Chinese sweet and sour chicken…except completely different.
Here’s what I had: 1 onion, garlic, 1 eggplant, 1 zucchini, 1 patty-pan squash (a summer squash that looks a lot like a ufo), 2 large tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, olives, capers, raisins, a little sugar, and butter (normally I would have used olive oil here, but I was out). « Read the rest of this entry »