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Archive for the ‘cheese’ Category

we surprise ourselves

We’ve all done it, right? In a frenzy to feed a growling stomach, we make a quick breakfast-lunch-dinner with whatever is in the kitchen and we surprise ourselves. There’s no planning, no shopping, no browsing, no flipping through cookbooks. We throw something together and hope it works. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes we take a bite and say out loud, “Damn, I cook good.”

Tonight was one of those nights when humility took a backseat.

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I’ll be staying at a friend’s place for a while and went shopping a few days ago for what I consider the absolute basic groceries. Coffee. Milk. Grapefruit juice. Bread. Eggs. Cheese. Kale. Lemons. Apples. Pears. And a shallot.

A shallot? Yes. Why? I am not entirely sure.

When dinnertime rolled around this evening, I spent almost an hour contemplating going out-ordering in-going to bed without dinner, decided I couldn’t not eat, and then couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. Not knowing what I was looking for, I started unpacking some of my kitchen stuff, and found my favorite pan – the heavy blue pan that I lugged over 200 miles and across three states.

And then it came to me. Grilled cheese.

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In about 20 minutes (it would have been 15 had I not paused for photos), I took that first bite of crunchy bread, pulling the sandwich away from my mouth, cheese stretching, kale falling.

Chipmunk cheeks full and still chewing, I mumbled, “Damn this is good.” Followed by, “Damn, I cook good.” And then I took another bite.

Sorry, modesty. You’re sleeping outside tonight.

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Grilled Cheese with Kale

Coat a pan with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Slice a shallot and sauté, stirring, until it starts to brown. Overfill the pan with several handfuls of torn kale, and keep stirring until the kale cooks down to about an eighth of what you put in. Don’t forget the salt and pepper. Grab 2 slices of bread and generously cover one with shredded Comte cheese,  the other with the kale mixture. Pile one slice on top of the other. Whisk an egg on a plate or shallow bowl and dip the sandwich into the egg, just like you’d do for french toast. Add some more olive oil  to the pan and heat it up again. Pan-fry both sides of the egg-dipped sandwich until brown. Be careful when flipping – you might drop half the filling and have to scoop it back up. Not that it happened to me.

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I’ve lost my kitchen.

In the battle against my friend’s CSA (shared with me while they were on vacation), the CSA won. 

Earlier this week, my friend Ilana and I drove out to the farm to gather our goods. It’s a half pick -em-up and half pick-your-own kind of farm.

I will spare you the details of everything rolling around on my counters and threatening to nudge open my refrigerator door.  Luckily, farm-fresh food seems to stay farm-fresh longer than store-fresh food stays store-fresh. So my abject fear of watching everything rot before being able to stuff it all in my mouth has been allayed.

Over the past few days, there have been salads, tomatoes by the handful, sauteed chard, and zucchini bread.

And today, I give you frittata.

It can’t get much easier that frittata, which is essentially a quiche without a crust.

Here’s the formula: slice and saute some vegetables, beat some eggs, sprinkle some cheese, bake, broil, and eat.

Seriously. That’s it.

Best part? It’s great cold.

And so, I also give you breakfast.

Zucchini and tomato frittata with feta

The inspiration for this frittata came from Steamy Kitchen and the New York Times. Use whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand – asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, chard, basil, mint, thyme. I like to slice everything really thinly so it cooks quickly (easiest if you have a mandoline).

- 1 onion

- 2 zucchini

- 1-2 tomatoes (depending on size)

- 1 T dill

- 2 T olive oil

- 2 t butter

- 5 eggs

- 2 T milk (I used 1%)

- 1/4 C feta

- salt and pepper

Prep. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put one rack in the middle of the oven, one rack below the broiler. Slice onion into thin half moons. Using a mandoline or knife, slice the zucchini into very thin rounds. Slice the tomato into ~1/4 inch rounds. Chop dill.

Saute. In a non-stick, ovenproof pan (8- or 9-inches), heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add butter and onion and saute until the onions brown (but don’t let them burn), about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Continue to saute until the zucchini wilts and starts to brown, another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Whisk. Whisk together the egg, milk, and dill.

Pour. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg mixture over the zucchini. Stir a little bit. Arrange sliced tomatoes and crumble feta on top of the eggs.

Bake. Bake the frittata on the middle rack until the eggs set, 7-8 minutes.

Broil. Turn on the broiler and move the pan to the rack below the broiler. Broil for 2-4 minutes until the feta and tomatoes start to brown.

Eat. Traditionally served room temperature or cold (when it’s much easier to cut), I love this right out of the oven.

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I promised you summer and here it is again.

This time it’s dinner. (Don’t worry, a fruit and almond tart is coming your way soon).

This dinner was eaten as close to outside as you can when you live in the city, and your balcony is barely large enough to hold your (flourishing!) herb garden let alone a chair, and your view, if you can call it that, is a parking lot and the City Hall belfry whose bell  chimes every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. So you open all the windows and doors and sit in the summer breeze stirred by the fan. Because no matter how nice it is outside, this just isn’t the type of dinner that can be tucked under a sheet of foil and into a picnic basket and carried to the park. This pasta must be eaten mere minutes out of the pot (or in my case, after a few quick frames and a prayer that at least one of them does the food justice).

The formula is simple. Cook and drain a handful of pasta. Quickly sauté some vegetables with oil in the same pot. Add back the pasta for a few minutes. Pour over hearty greens and let them wilt. Grate some cheese. Sprinkle with something crunchy.

Now I skipped one step, perhaps the most important step, because I wanted to give it a paragraph all to itself. Just before you lift the pasta pot off the stove and run over to the colander in the sink, scoop out some of the cooking water. Hold onto that starchy, salty water because you’re going to use it very soon. When the vegetables are cooked – softened but not so much that they no longer look like themselves – add in some of the set-aside water along with the drained pasta. As you mix everything together, the starch and oil will unite into a silky smooth sauce that just barely coats everything. The sauce all but disappears into the rest of the ingredients, but you know it’s there. Under its light gloss, the pasta shines, the vegetables sing.

And with that, I’m off for a  walk. Happy weekend everyone!

Pasta with tomatoes and arugula

This is not really a recipe, but more of a technique, so feel free to substitute whatever ingredients you like. I used orecchiette, that little ear-shaped pasta, but anything will do, even plain old spaghetti. Instead of grape tomatoes, try zucchini or mushrooms or peppers (though the peppers will probably need to cook a little longer). Any hearty green should work as well – how about young chard or spinach or my favorite, pea shoots? Herbs – basil can’t be beat in the summer, but mint would also be great. I’ve made this with mozzarella instead of parmesan. And for crunch, try other nuts (they really are better if you toast them) or ground pita chips. But whatever you do, don’t forget to scoop out that pasta water.

Serves 1

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high. Throw in a few pinches of salt and return water to a boil. Add 2 handfuls of dry pasta (about 1/2 cup) and cook for one minute less than the directions suggest.

While the pasta is cooking, throw a handful of blanched almonds into a 350ºF oven to toast for about 5 minutes or dry toast them in a small skillet over medium heat — watch them carefully because the window between toasted and burnt is a small one. Cut in half 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes (about 20-25). When the almonds are toasted, roughly chop them by hand or with a few pulses in a food processor.

When the pasta is ready, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and put it aside for later. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).

Return the pot to the stove, lower the burner to medium and drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomatoes, another small pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the tomatoes start to release their juices and break down; don’t let them turn to mush — they should still look like tomatoes. Add back the pasta and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir for a few more minutes. The starchy water plus the oil will make a nice silky sauce that lightly coats everything.

Arrange a handful of arugula on a plate or in a bowl. Pour the pasta and tomatoes over the arugula. Over the pasta, tear 3-4 basil leaves , grate 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan, and sprinkle a few pinches of toasted almonds.

Eat quickly. Have some gelato for dessert.

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Welcome to week 2 of my cooking techniques course. Last week was knife skills. This week, eggs.

Of course, I walked into class this morning with all of my very very very dull knives to sharpen. Brian, one of the school’s purchasing managers and my new best friend, sharpened all my knives for me. But more on that later.

First, let’s get to the food.

A few tidbits about eggs. The fresher the egg, the thicker and more dense the white (“albumen”) and the more prominent the little umbilical cord (“chalazae”). To check for freshness before cracking, place in a glass of water – if it sinks it’s fresh; if it floats, that means that the air cell (that little bubble you sometimes see in hard-cooked eggs) is big and the egg is less fresh. Since eggs shells are gas permeable, the older the egg, the more air enters, creating a big air cell.

Always crack an egg on a flat surface (a countertop is great) to avoid getting shells in the eggs.

Separate yolks from whites using your hand rather than passing from jagged egg shell to jagged egg shell.

Eggs boil at 180ºF, water at 212ºF. So be careful when adding eggs to hot water and other liquids if you don’t want them to scramble.

Always beat egg whites at room temperature. Copper bowls are best, but if you don’t have one, add a pinch of cream of tartar or sugar to help stabilize the whites.

We cracked and cooked no less than sixty eggs, folks. That’s more than five dozen. And we definitely cracked five baker’s dozen because some of them inevitably made it into the garbage. Between the twelve of us, we pretty much ate them all. If you’re counting, that’s about 5 eggs per person.

When I was first learning to speak French, my teacher used English-French puns to help us learn pronunciation. In french, un œuf is an egg. The pronunciation is not entirely obvious, especially when  you’ve only barely mastered the alphabet. So she told us, “one egg is enough.” One egg, un œuf is pronounced like “enough.” Sort of. If you don’t think about it too hard.

Puns are never funny by the time you explain them.

Moving on and back to cooking, we started class this morning with a few egg basics.

Hard-cooked eggs.

Note, I did not say hard-boiled eggs. Because hard-cooked eggs are not boiled. Instead, you put the eggs in a single layer, add water to cover eggs by at least 1 inch, cover and bring water to a boil and then remove the pan from the heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for 10 minutes. That’s it. Run under cold water or put in an ice bath until completely cooled. A little trick – the air cell usually forms at the bottom (the fat end), and if you crack it there, it’s easier to peel because you more easily get under the shell membrane (that thin, translucent film under the shell).

Soft-cooked (“coddled”) eggs.

Same as hard-cooked, but you let the eggs stand in the water off the heat for only 4-6 minutes.

Poached eggs.

This is the basis of the eggs Benedict (no bacon for me) that my team made. In a saucepan, bring 2-3 inches of water to a boil. Here’s a trick so you don’t have to pull out your ruler: unless you have abnormally long or short fingers, your index finger is about 3 inches from tip to palm. From finger tip to second joint is about 1.5 inches. So, just stick your finger into the (not yet boiling) water to make sure you have enough (un œuf!).

Prepare a bowl of ice water next to your stove. Boil the water and then lower the heat to a simmer. Break a cold egg into a small bowl. Hold the bowl very close to the water (I actually put the bottom of the bowl into the water) and quickly tip the egg into the simmering water. Cook until the white is set and yolk begins to thicken but is not hard. This takes about 3-4 minutes. To test the egg, gently lift it out with a slotted spoon and gingerly touch the white. It should feel firm. If it’s not yet done, slip it back in to the simmering water for another 15-30 seconds. When the egg is ready, take it out of the simmering water and slide it into the ice water for about half a minute to stop the cooking. Then drain on a paper towel.

To make the eggs benedict, toast an English muffin brushed with butter, top with poached egg and then hollandaise (see below). If you’re eating bacon/ham, put it between the muffin and egg.

Next, we moved on to egg-based “mother sauces.” The main components of hollandaise and mayonnaise are egg yolk, fat, acid, and an emulsifying aid. Hollandaise is a cooked sauce, mayonnaise is uncooked. Hollandaise uses butter, lemon juice, and cayenne. Mayonnaise uses oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and mustard (dry or prepared). After mixing the yolks with the acid and emulsifier, add the fat very slowly. Really slowly. Teaspoon by teaspoon, and whisk to incorporate in between additions. You can increase the amount of fat towards the end, adding a tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and other flavorings at the end.

Hollandaise. 

Melt 8 ounces butter.  In a saucepan, mix together 1/4 C water 2 T lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper and reduce over medium heat down to 2 T. Why take 2 T lemon juice, dilute it, and then reduce it back to 2 T? Here’s the deal:  heating an acid activates it, so you need to dilute it with water so it’s not too strong, but you only want about 2 T of acid for the sauce. Cool slightly, and whisk in 3 egg yolks over very low heat until the mix is thick and creamy. Remove from heat and pour warm melted butter in teaspoon by teaspoon, whisking constantly. If the sauce thickens too much, add a little warm water to thin it out; if you need to reheat the sauce, add some extra water and warm over low heat, whisking periodically.

Mayonnaise.

Whisk together 2 egg yolks, 1/4 t dry mustard (or 1 t regular mustard), 1 t lemon juice or wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in 1 C vegetable oil teaspoon by teaspoon as with the hollandaise. If the mix gets too thick, add a little water or lemon juice to dilute. Add salt to taste.

A few mayo notes. The ratio of yolk:oil ranges from 1:1/2 C to 1:1 C. Commercial mayo tends to go to heavy on the oil — that’s why it’s lighter colored than ones you make at  home. If you “break” your mayonnaise, i.e., added your fat too quickly without incorporating, you can add another egg yolk and then slowly slowly whisk in more oil.

Mix cooked egg yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and finely chopped chives and fill hard-cooked egg whites for deviled eggs.

Cheese soufflé was a masterpiece. While I wasn’t able to make this myself, I was an interloper, trying to pick up as many tips as I could.

For a soufflé, it’s important to have your “mise en place” all prepared. Greasing a soufflé dish and sprinkle with cheese. Make a collar out of aluminum foil to help the soufflé rise: rip a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the dish, and then grease top half of the foil, followed by a sprinkle of cheese. Cut a piece of string long enough to tie around the dish.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. (For a dessert soufflé, bake at 400ºF  because you want the inside to be a bit gooey.)

Then make a béchamel. In a saucepan, scald 1 C milk (it’s scalding when you stick your finger in and you yank it out because it’s too hot; no need to boil). In another saucepan, make a roux by melting 3 T butter until foam subsides and whisk in 3 T flour. Cook roux for ~ 2 minutes while whisking. Add half the scalded milk, whisk, and then add the remaining milk and whisk again. Bring to a boil while stirring, reduce down to a simmer, and cook until thickened. Then turn off the heat. Season with salt, pepper, a few grates of nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. (Nutmeg is a great complement to dairy, making cream creamier and cheese cheesier.)

To the béchamel, add 3 egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in 1/2 C grated cheese (we used Gruyère).

Clean a copper bowl really well – wipe down with a vinegar-salt solution, rinse with water, and wipe completely dry. Beat 4 cold egg whites until stiff and glossy. (Let’s be honest…at home, I will probably just use my mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar.) Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Then pour the cheese mixture into the egg whites. Use a spatula to fold the remaining egg whites into the cheese.

Immediately and gently, spoon the soufflé mixture into the prepared dish – fill about 1/2 inch from top. Tie the aluminum collar around the dish (cheese obviously facing in).

Bake on the bottom rack until a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Once the soufflé goes in the oven, don’t open the door for at least 20 minutes. Don’t even touch the door.

While the soufflés were baking, I brought my knives downstairs for a little sharpening. Actually I brought two blocks full of knives (one dairy, one meat) to sharpen. Actually, I brought two blocks full of knives for Brian to sharpen. After a quick inspection, he identified the five that were worth saving. He also scolded me for throwing my knives in the dishwasher.

Brian sharpened each knife on three or four surfaces and then a final honing on a steel. I watched. Well, until I heard that the soufflés were coming out of the oven and I rushed upstairs to snap a few photos.

We also made a few quiches, a frittata di cipolle (onion omelette), and pipérade and scrambled egg (a dish from the Basque region of the Pyrenees). To seal the deal, we made strawberry basil black pepper ice cream.

Luckily, we don’t have to clean all of our own dishes. Because you know how I hate to wash dishes.

Are you ready for another FrEnglish pun?

What happened when three cats fell in the lake?

Un deux trois quatre cinq

Get it? You probably know that un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq is counting from one to five in French. But in FrEnglish, you can read the first three words in French as un de trois, meaning one of three and the last two words transliterated into English as cats sank. So, what happened when the three cats fell in the lake? One of the three cats sank.

Am I the only one giggling?

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down on paper

As I write this, I am gobbling down the best thrown-together dinner that I’ve made in a long long time. I just had to get it down on paper before it went the way of many of my other creations scrambled together in a hunger-induced frenzy. No pictures tonight because there’s no natural light and I’ve got to get  packing for Thanksgiving.

After walking in the door, I had a glass of wine in my hand before I even set my keys down on my table. Keys down, I grabbed a Diet Coke too. I had swiss chard in the fridge and nothing on my mind other than the need to feed my hungry belly.

Hold, on. I need to go get seconds.

I trolled around the web and turned to some tried and true sites because I didn’t have the time or patience to get creative. I found a recipe for sautéed swiss chard and one for spaghetti and swiss chard. With enough inspiration I set to work.

I rough chopped a big bunch of chard and swirled it in a huge bowl of water a few times, rinsing until the water ran clear.  I sautéed a chopped onion and a heaping tablespoon of garlic (right from the jar…classy, no?) in a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I put a pot of water on to boil. I cut the red stems from the leaves and threw them (the stems) in with the onion and garlic. I added a few tablespoons of the soon-to-be pasta water, covered the pan with my cutting board, and let it cook until the pot of water behind it started to boil. I threw a big pinch of salt into the water and added 3 handfuls of macaroni. I removed my cutting  board cover from the pan, added the chard leaves to the stems and sprinkled on a few more tablespoons of the now pasta water. I covered the chard again. I checked my email. Nothing from my boss. That’s good. Two more minutes to go on the pasta and the chard is nice and wilted. I threw it in the same bowl I had washed it in, added  salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of crumbled feta and stirred. As it melted, the feta turned pink from the red stems. My pasta timer went off. I poured the macaroni into a strainer and then straight into the bowl of chard. A few slices of butter, a final stir, and dinner was ready.

Wow. My quickest post ever. 46 minutes flat.

The best part – I have lunch for tomorrow.

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home, sick

I was home a few weeks ago with a summer cold. Yes, a summer cold. With little energy to work, let alone cook, but a few deadlines that could not be missed, I soldiered on, fighting battles in my pajamas with my laptop balancing precariously on bent knees.

Every once in a while, I would stumble to the kitchen for a fortifying meal. Cereal. Tea. Feeling adventurous? How about some toast?

And finally, I had an appetite but barely more than a few scraps in the fridge. I pulled together all my creativity and threw together something fabulous.

Wow. I didn’t know I had it in me.



Arugula pesto

- 1.5 – 2 handfuls baby arugula

- 4 garlic scapes (or you could use 2 cloves roasted garlic)

- 2 T olive oil

- juice of 1/2 lemon

- 2 pinches salt (or to taste)

- a nice wedge of gruyère (1-2 T)

- chopped tomato

Throw arugula and roughly chopped scapes (or roasted garlic) into a food processor and pulse a few times. Slowly add olive oil and continue to process until a paste forms. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Add cheese and continue to process until you have a slightly chunky pesto.

Make pasta (I used orzo) according to the package directions. I like mine al dente. Drain but don’t rinse. Toss with the pesto and chopped tomato while still warm.


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confession

I went to a high school with an honor code. Our teachers would leave the room during exams, trusting that since we had signed the honor code, there would be “no lying, stealing, cheating, or plagiarism.” We sometimes even chatted with one another during exams, knowing that whatever topics we discussed would not be related to the test we were taking.

the last slice

So, I come to you today, my head hung low, to confess that I sometimes — no I often — cheat in the kitchen. I use pre-minced garlic. I use margarine a lot (for parve desserts). My biggest shortcut though is that I sometimes use lemon juice instead of fresh lemons.  Even when a recipe has this citrus component as its main ingredient. A little squirt in a stir-fry when a lemon is not to be found– not such a big deal. But, I have done it for lemon bars. Yes, lemon bars. Where the main flavoring is lemon.

And, here I present to you my latest and greatest cheat – a bastardization of a beautiful recipe for lemon mascarpone blondies with a few modifications, including the use of bottled lemon juice in lieu of freshly squeezed lemons and their zest. But, I have to tell you, this must be one kick-ass recipe because despite my cheating, it rocked.

This lemon mascarpone “tart” tastes like a lemon bar whose lemony top and cookie bottom merge into one. It is rich and decadent without being overly sweet. That being said, it was not overly citrusy either — perhaps the downside to cheating with jarred lemon juice. I imagine one could play up the tart part of it a bit more by making a chocolate crust of sorts, even using a thin layer of brownie base if you like the combination of lemon, made rich with mascarpone, and chocolate.

Cheating Lemon Mascarpone Tart

cooling, pulling away from the pan

I found this wonderful recipe for Lemon Mascarpone Blondies developed by Garret McCord and posted on Simply Recipes. Rather than using lemons, I was going to use limes because I had brought back some key limes from my recent trip to Miami, but having made some “caiparina mojitos” with them at a picnic last week, I didn’t think I could bear to juice the 2 dozen I would probably need to get 2 T of juice. But I did have some Goya lemon juice in my fridge. I didn’t have an 8X8 pan to bake the blondies in, but my 10-inch solid bottom tart pan worked nicely and made the blondies look fancy though a bit flat.

I made the batter by hand because my Kitchen Aid is parve, and this is very easy to make the “old-fashioned way.” It took less than 15 minutes to make the batter. This could be a great holiday recipe for those who are observant during the upcoming Rosh Hashanah.

Serves 8-10 and best eaten chilled.

- 1/2 C butter, melted
- 1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 t vanilla
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese (I used Vermont Butter & Cheese brand – Kof-K)
- 2 T Lemon juice (I used Goya brand lemon juice in a bottle; original recipe calls for 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice)
- 2 1/2 t lemon zest (I left this out)
- 1/2 t baking powder
- 1/8 t of baking soda
- Pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 1 C all-purpose flour

Bring mascarpone to room temperature for ~15 minutes while preparing other ingredients so it will be easier to work with later on.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and lightly flour pan (8X8 pan or 10-inch solid bottom tart pan).

Melt butter in saucepan or microwave. As someone who often substitutes margarine, I have to tell you that the smell of the melting butter was absolutely heavenly. I might be converted to a more frequent butter user.

Pour melted butter into large mixing bowl and mix in sugar with whisk. Then add egg and vanilla and continue to whisk. Add mascarpone, juice (and zest if using) and switch to a spatula for mixing. Finally add in baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour, continuing to use spatula for final mixing.

When all ingredients are incorporated, the batter will be pretty pourable. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean and without clinging crumbs, and the blondies start to pull away from the edge of the pan. In my oven, this took a full 30 minutes even though my tart was a bit thinner than an 8X8 square would be.

I suggest chilling before serving. It makes the tart easier to slice, less crumbly, and more dense.

(I tried to candy a few thin lime slices to decorate the top, but unfortunately they didn’t taste very good (thought they looked pretty). This wasn’t worth the effort and I wouldn’t do it next time.)

I had to take a small taste

I had to take a small taste before bringing to my friends

slice from above

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oh la vache!

I really get a kick out of being a foodie and my newly-minted status as a food blogger. I get excited when I receive food samples to try. Even when they don’t turn out to be very good. So I was particularly excited when I received not one, but two packages on the same day. One from Ermitage, the other from Stonyfield Farm.

envelopes

Back in June, I submitted to Ermitage my zucchini raclette tart recipe (props to Natalie of 5-Star Foodie for inspiring the recipe). This French company makes a lot of kosher French and Swiss cheeses like raclette that they import, and they sent me this little cow timer as a merci.

La vache l'ermitage

This cow makes me laugh so much because even thought it’s a mere kitchen timer, when you click on the Ermitage link, there is a little video of mooing cows making French puns…when cows moo in French, they apparently say meuh, which sounds like “mais” – which means “but” and is part of an emphatic expression “mais oui” – but of course! — or “mais non” – of course not! Ok, it’s not so funny when you explain it to death (or at a dinner party like I tried to do after receiving my little vache timer …). But listen to the mooing cows on the Ermitage site. And think of me giggling.

And giggling.

And giggling.

Vachement très drôle. Truly very funny.

Apparently Ermitage is a fan of word plays (or maybe it’s just all French) – check out the tagline on their stamp: Prenez l’air, prenez l’Ermitage – take flight, take l’Ermitage (the cheese). Or maybe it means something different – Frenchies…please help here!

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

I guess I picked up an affinity for trying to figure out some of these French puns of sort when I started learning them in high school as a way to learn French pronunciation. The first one I mastered was that “un oeuf is enough.”

As for Stonyfield Farms, no puns here. Just a lot more vaches. And some coupons.

Stonyfield Farm

I was contacted by Stonyfield out of the blue because they found me while looking for kosher blogs (!!) and wanted me to test their relatively new line of kosher, organic, Greek yogurt called Oikos. I warned their PR person that I would not guarantee a good review. I plan to taste the yogurt plain and to probably make one sweet dish, one savory dish (mmm…tzatziki?) to test it out.

It has taken me some time to get around to this because I went on a few little vacations, but I’ve been walking around with these Oikos coupons in my wallet and can’t wait to pick up the yogurt when I have a chance. And I am also at work on a more formalized policy on how to work with companies that approach me for product reviews or endorsements.

In the meantime, feel free to send me your favorite Greek yogurt recipes and French puns.

A bientôt, mes amis.

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uncommonly good

Watermelon Feta Salad close-up

On Thursday night, some friends organized an evening picnic on Boston Common to watch a little Shakespeare. The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company was putting on Comedy of Errors. Having spent at least a half-dozen summers in Manhattan and never making it to see Shakespeare in the Park (despite living anywhere from a few steps to a few blocks from said Park), I was very excited to finally partake in a little outdoor drama.

And of course friends, good food, and wine.

Our hosts, Noam and Tammie, invited picnic contributions, quoting the first Shakespeare play that I had ever read (and whose prologue I still have memorized), “Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers” (Romeo and Juliet, 4.2).

Well, lick we did…read on, my friends.

Having been privy to some little cherry tomatoes from my CSA (they called them pear tomatoes, but they were more globular than narrow) and a few tiny fruits from my tomato plant, I wanted to incorporate these precious beauties, especially rare this summer due to the blight, into a salad.

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my window sill garden

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my windowsill garden

I picked up a beautiful seedless watermelon and made what is a very common salad in Israel and the Mediterranean but whose mix of salty and sweet caused several of my friends to look at me somewhat askance when I announced, “Voilà, watermelon-feta salad!” as I unpacked my  savory-sweet delight.  Of course, Noam, the Israeli in our crowd, came to my defense when no one wanted to try the salad, saying (my apologies for paraphrasing), “This is a classic salad in Israel, but we tend to make it with Bulgarian cheese. It’s a great combination.” I dressed the salad and served up bowls with an encouraging smile during the intermission. By the end of the play, we were picking out the last bits of watermelon flecked with feta and basil ribbons, licking our fingers (well, that might have only been the cook, er, me).

And the salad was so good, I made it the next night too.

Watermelon-Feta-Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

salad with red leaf lettuce

I first heard of and tried this seemingly strange and uncommon combination in Israel and wanted to get some background on why is so popular there. A source on Wikipedia suggests that watermelon originated in the Nile valley. Add this fruit that is 92% water to some sweltering heat, described by a favorite food blogger as “wading through warm honey,” in a Mediterranean area known for salty semi-firm yet crumbly cheese, and the experimental combination seems inevitable. Once tried, the desire to repeat the experiment is nothing short of addictive. The juxtaposition of textures – the creamy saltiness of the feta, the crisp sweet chill of the watermelon – play off one another nicely. I added the crunch of fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes and added some basil from my windowsill garden. There are so many variations and I’ve made a bunch of suggestions at the end. This salad is best served cold; make sure to add the dressing no more than 20 minutes before serving, as you don’t want the watermelon to lose its turgor.

Serves 6-8 people.

4-5 handfuls of spinach (1/2 a 10 oz bag…i.e, 5 oz) or a head of red leaf lettuce or other leafy greens.

10-12 pear tomatoes

- 1/4 of a seedless watermelon

- ~ 1/4 C feta — I use Israeli goat milk feta that is softer and more like Bulgarian cheese than a hard Greek-style feta (the brand is Pastures of Eden and I buy it at Trader Joe’s; I like it because it is not too salty; I found a nice review about it in the San Fran Chronicle). It is best to keep the store the feta in water and change the water every few days.

- white wine vinegar – 2 T

- extra virgin olive oil – 5 T

- basil (20 leaves)

- salt and pepper

Assemble salad: Rinse and spin the spinach or greens and rip into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Cut the watermelon into ~1-inch cubes. Crumble feta over the salad.

feta crumbled over spinach

Make dressing: Chiffonade the basil and put into a small bottle (I use an empty spice container).

- 003 (2) crop

The dressing is a standard vinaigrette (typically 3:1 oil: vinegar) that’s just a tiny bit lighter on oil – add oil, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt. Shake up to emulsify. Dip a green leaf into dressing to taste for salt and adjust seasoning for taste.

dressing

Chill salad until ready to serve. Dress ~ 15-20 minutes before serving.

chilled, dressing on the side

This is such a versatile salad and there are so many variations you can play around with:

- Shake up the greens – mild greens work here as do those that are more bitter (like arugula)

- Add more salt with capers or olives

- Add some bite with thinly sliced or chopped red onions (I like to quick pickle them in a little white vinegar to cut some of the raw onion’s sharpness, described here) or spring onion

- Use a different acid in the dressing: instead of white wine vinegar, use a sweet balsamic or lime or lemon juice

- Try different herbs: mint, cilantro instead of basil

- Add some heat to the dressing with peppers

Here are a few more recipe ideas I found when looking around the web, one from Janna Gur for Watermelon Cubes with Salty Cheese and Capers and another Ynet article including a salad from Erez Komorovsky that adds blackberries and red onion to the mix.

watermelon-feta salad with spinach


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no (e)scape from destiny

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Updated photo: I made this pesto again this summer and took a few more pictures. (September 2013)

garlic scape pesto

Joining a CSA has really expanded my food repertoire. Kale. Hakurei turnips and chard. Last week, dandelion greens (hmmm…yeah, they’re still in the fridge). I was most excited about the garlic scapes that I got a few weeks ago because I had read about them in the foodblogosphere and had just recently seen a recipe for scape pesto posted on Dorie Greenspan’s website.

I had grand plans to make this pesto in mid-June, even offering to take scapes off the hands of fellow CSAers who might be befuddled by the strange scraggly curly creatures, but kept getting side-tracked by travel, life, an extravagant meal, and a friend visiting from Paris. All good things, but my small allotment of scapes sat lonely in the fridge, the ends slowly turning from their bright green to a sad pale yellow.

scapes

A “fleeting pleasure” according to Dorie with their short June season (we’re not really on a first name basis, but calling her Ms. Greenspan seems a bit formal…I hope she’ll forgive me this gaffe). Would their long sojourn in my vegetable crisper ruin their delicate flavor?

I put them on my counter, playing with their beautiful curves, snapping photos along the way, and these wiley creatures seemed to cry out to be used up, literally crawling into my mini-food processor.

scapes, crawling up

scapes, crawling in

Apparently, a scape can’t escape its destiny, and who am I to deny this little guy its inevitable future? So, scape pesto I made. With only 3 measly scapes, I cut Dorie’s recipe down appropriately, failed to use any measuring cups (par for the course in my book) and probably added too many almonds, liberally dousing the mix with a mild extra virgin (not that intense Unió because I wanted to let the scapes shine in all their glory).

The end result was light and fresh, though not as green as Dorie’s. Alas, those several weeks I so thoughtlessly squandered! Perched atop some perciatelli with lots of parmigiana, and then mixed in, the scapes seemed at home. Destiny delivered on a fork and a spoon.

scape pesto on perciatelli

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