28 June 2006

i like to peel it peel it

I love my vegetable peeler!

The other day I was peeling carrots for a salad and I was thinking about how disappointing it is when slices of carrots sift to the bottom of the salad bowl and don’t get picked up by the salad tongs. Sadface.

Then I was trying to figure out a way to present the carrots more prominently in the salad, and I just kept on peeling and peeling and peeling, until eventually, there was no more carrot left to peel, only a beautiful pile of graceful and translucent carrot ribbons. How happy this made me!

So if you have an extra thirty minutes to peel instead of chop, use your vegetable peeler and peel peel peel. The strips turn out looking so elegant with the perfect amount of crunch in your mouth.

These shaved carrots go very well with grilled meats, especially those with Moroccan spice rubs or marinades.

Shaved Carrot with Cilantro and Cinnamon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (lemon juice works as well]
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
4 carrots

Whisk the first 6 ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into thin ribbons.
Add the carrots to the bowl other ingredients and mix.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and/or more quantities of the other ingredients. You should be able to taste the cinnamon and the cilantro, but not so much that you can’t taste carrot.

19 June 2006

Lime in Risotto...Wha?

If you have ever before lived on the third story of a non-air-conditioned building in Chicago during the summer, you might know that using the oven or the stove can be an uncomfortable experience.

If you have ever before prepared risotto, you might know that the process entails standing over a stove and stirring constantly for at least twenty or thirty minutes.

If you have ever before tasted “Fresh Corn Risotto with Basil, Tomato, and Lime” from The Joy of Cooking, you might know that even if your apartment is 96 degrees and you are so hot that you have taken multiple cool showers and after the seventh one you just decided not to put your clothes back on, then the only logical course of action left available is to make “Fresh Corn Risotto with Basil, Tomato, and Lime” from The Joy of Cooking.

To enhance your experience of this incredibly unique flavor explosion, put your clothes back on (or not) and feast out on your back porch (or a mountain top) while sipping a glass (or three) of cool, crisp white wine (not Yellowtail).

The lime, and the corn, and the basil, and the tomatoes…you just can’t imagine its taste until you have really tasted it, and only then you can imagine the taste, because you have already tasted it and you want it to taste it everyday.

risotto grains

Fresh Corn Risotto with Basil, Tomato, and Lime
~from The Joy of Cooking

1 cup peeled and diced ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
5 cups chicken stock
2 cups corn kernels from 4 or 5 large ears (I used frozen corn once and it was still delicious)
2 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted
½ cup finely chopped scallions (white part only)
1 ½ cups Italian rice (I use Arborio rice)
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Purée 1 cup of the corn kernels in a food processor.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan medium hat until the foam subsides. Cook the scallions for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Keep them from browning by not letting the heat become to high.
Add the rice and stir, coating the grains with butter.
Add the wine (I love the the hisssssssss as the wine hits the grains coated with hot butter)!
Cook and stir until the wine is absorbed.
Here is the key to creamy, perfectly textured risotto: using a ladle, add 1 cup of stock to the rice. Stir the rice over medium heat until the stock is absorbed. Add the remaining stock, one ½ at a time, cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more. (Sometimes I get impatient and I add a cup of stock instead of a ½ cup, but I have to do that when my husband isn’t watching or else I get slapped on the wrist with a hot, brothy ladle.)
Keep adding stock in ½ increments, stirring all the while, until the rice is almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add the puréed corn mixture with some more stock and stir for another five or ten minutes, until rice is tender. Add the non-puréed corn kernels and the fresh tomato mixture. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Don’t you dare use the icky Fake Parmesan Cheese in the green cylinder! Instead, try to find an aged hunk of parmesan, preferably imported, and grate it yourself, lovingly, with a vegetable peeler.

17 June 2006

High Maintenance Cucumber Gimlets

One can divide most of human activity into two components: process and product…process being the manner in which an activity is carried out, and product being the result of that process. I like to take this description a step further and break down a process into high maintenance or low maintenance (HM and LM), these adjectives clarifying how much effort goes into said process. The resulting product is then described as a high quality product or a low quality product (HQ or LQ).

Allow me to present you with a visual explanation and some concrete examples of various process vs. product combinations:
(scroll down to the gimlet recipe below if you don't care about my theory and you just want to make the cucumber gimlets right now)

Many would agree that most advantageous quadrant to inhabit is Quadrant IV, in which one achieves fabulous results (HQ) with a minimal amount of effort (LM). Quadrant IV people are usually wildly successful beyond your dreams because everything they do comes naturally to them, and everything they touch turns beautiful, and they still have time leftover to exercise and sleep well. I wish I was a Quadrant IV person.

Those who dwell in the first two quadrants, I and II, are those who consistently attain low quality results, whether they are trying too hard (HM) or not trying at all (LM). Most Quadrant I folks, though, are content with not over-exerting themselves, so I wouldn't feel too bad for them.

I am happiest, however, to remain in Quadrant III, where things take way too long to do and I should probably be doing something else that is more productive. But when I am finished with whatever the HM activity is, I am happy because the glorious HQ product is wonderfully worth the effort.

Take these cucumber gimlets, for example. On a hot summer day when your friends are over, should you be spending fifteen minutes making a cocktail? Nooooo. That would be so HM.

But if that cocktail is a cucumber gimlet, then yes, you should spend fifteen minutes making said cocktail because the HQ product is so worth the HM effort. The extraordinary shade of green (not effectively captured in the photograph) will make you want to weep with joy. You probably won't weep, but you will want to. And the taste of the drink, sweet and refreshing, not unlike licking a cold cucumber, will make you so happy with you decision to go Quadrant III and make this HM cocktail.

Cucumber Gimlets
-serves 4 (actually….serves 3 if you have friends who drink like mine)
-adapted from Bon Appétit

2 English seedless cucumbers (the long, skinny ones that you buy already wrapped in plastic…you could use the regular, chunkier cucumbers, but once I used those and the gimlets did not taste very cucumber-y.)
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup gin (don’t add an extra lucky shot like I know you usually do…that will cover up the subtle taste of the cucumber)

Peel the cucumbers and cut into large pieces. If you would rather, you could swordfight with the cucumbers because English cucumbers break easily upon forceful contact with other cucumbers, and that method works just fine and is more fun for all involved, including spectators.

Blend the cucumbers until the mixture is very smooth. Here’s the high-maintenance part: strain the cucumber purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on the sieve to push out every last drop of cucumber water. Discard the solids left in the sieve, or, let me know a good use for them, because they seem too lovely to discard.

Add the gin, sugar, and lime juice to one cup of the strained cucumber water. Stir until sugar has dissolved.

Shake with 6 or 7 ice cubes and pour into martini glasses.
A nice garnish, if you want to go even more Quadrant III, is to stick a toothpick through a slice of cucumber and a slice of lime.


14 June 2006

I Shall Never Sauté an Onion Again

Now that I have discovered the joy of roasting onions, I vow to never sauté an onion again. As I make this vow today, I realize that I will break this vow tomorrow when I want to eat something with sautéed onion in it. But for today, I am happy to live a life during which I only roast onions.

If you have never before roasted an onion sprinkled with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then you are like the old me, when I had never before roasted an onion with salt, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. That was only a few days ago. Once you try this, you will be like the new me, who loves to roast onions with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

You could even wear this t-shirt:

In all seriousness, this is a fantastic, fantastic, fantastic recipe:

(It really tastes so much better than the name of the recipe suggests. Not that the name sounds bad, but it doesn’t sound as good as it tastes.
So….I am going to rename the salad. Sorry, Epicurious.com. The new name for this salad is Hey! Make this Salad Right Now!

2 large red onions, peeled and coarsely cut
2 large Vidalia onions, peeled coarsely cut
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 slices of uncooked bacon
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, minced or sliced
Red wine vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line two baking sheets with tin foil. Spread the onions out in one layer on the sheets. Sprinkle the two sheets with the salt, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. With your hands, smoosh the onions around until they are coated with all the good stuff. Roast the onions for twenty to forty minutes, until they are very soft, and quite a few have started to caramelize and small pieces are turning dark brown.
Let the onions cool.
While the onions are roasting, chop the uncooked bacon into small pieces, cover with a paper towel, and cook in the microwave for 5-6 minutes.
Toss the onions with the tomatoes, the bacon, and the basil.
I usually sprinkle a little more salt, oil, and red wine vinegar, tasting after the addition of each yummy ingredient.
Served chilled, warm, or room temperature.
Serves 6.

11 June 2006

A Good Book

Last week I was supposed to have my wisdom teeth removed. Two days before the appointment, however, the oral surgery department notified me that they were closing immediately, and I would need to take my business elsewhere. Mysterious, no?

At first I was distressed about the cancellation, for I had purchased several books to read while guiltlessly lying around the house and asking my husband to please make me a smoothie! I was much looking forward to the reading and the lazing and the not feeling guilty, and then my joyous anticipation was stolen away with one phone call.

But then…I realized that I could still lie around the house, not completely guilt-free, but completely pain-free (hooray), and still able to eat solid foods instead of sloopy foods. One of the books that I lazed around the house reading is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.

What a cheery man Jacques Pépin is! Always ready to celebrate the ordinary day with friends, family and good food. For all of his experience working in elegant four-star restaurants, he still delights in an informal approach to cooking and eating. Example: sometimes he mixes leftover wines from different bottles and drinks them together in one glass! Isn’t that mind-boggling? There is no doubt that he can recognize a great wine and appreciate it, but at the same time, he is content tasting whatever there is wherever he happens to be. That makes me feel better about how I will act the next time a guest brings Yellowtail wine to my house to drink with dinner (really, people should know better by now); if Jacques Pépin can enjoy a homemade concoction of whatever wine is around at the end of the night (he even admitted to mixing red and white!), then I can make myself enjoy a glass of Yellowtail and not complain about it after the guest leaves.

Here are some excerpts from his memoirs that made me smile (a smile that includes my still-intact wisdom teeth):
In contrast to my small, energetic mother, my father was big, barrel-chested, and jovial – a happy guy, a man’s man, more like one overgrown kid under our roof than an authority figure. He’d throw us into the air and catch us, bounce us on our beds, and wrestle with us, and he was always up for a game of soccer or rugby, a sport at which he excelled. He loved to drink wine in the company of his many friends. It always put him in a cheery mood, and when he had a few too may glasses of Côtes du Rhône, he would sometimes remove his shirt and dance on a table, La Bresse’s answer to Zorba the Greek. When fooling around like this, he would show off by hurling walnuts against the outside windows of the café with the accuracy of a major league pitcher. The nuts shattered each time but never broke the glass. It was his private trick, and he got a kick out of seeing our puzzled faces. No one ever found out how it did it. My mother, who tried it once, broke the window, and Roland and I never dared attempt it .

To match our engagement party, our wedding feast was going to have to be truly special. As soon as Gloria and I told Craig that we planned to get married, he insisted that the wedding be held at his home in East Hampton. Gloria spent the night before the wedding in a motel nearby. I slept at Craig’s. Or, rather, tried to sleep. Sensing that it wasn’t quite right for me to be a cook at my own wedding, I went to bed early so I would be fresh and thoroughly rested on the big day. Who was I kidding? Lying in bed, I heard the amiable buzz of my friends cooking in the kitchen. I felt left out. So I came down and joined Jean Vergnes, Jean-Pierre Lejeune, Roger Fessaguet, Michel, Pierre, Jean-Claude, and Craig. I was still in the kitchen and hour before the ceremony.

...I have always tried to make my kitchen the site for special family occasions, the heart of our lifestyle, and the setting for celebrations. I had always hoped for a dwelling built around a kitchen open to all the other living spaces. The Madison house allowed me to realize that dream.
I felt no need to kowtow to convention or to conform to the design of a standard kitchen. Mine had to be functional, easy, and friendly. The first rule for me is to feel good in my kitchen. The worktable should be the proper height; pots, pans and lids accessible; outside light plentiful. There should be wood-textured cabinetry with smooth, non-porous counters, a stove with alot of BTU's, a large refrigerator, an ice machine, and plenty of sharp knives and rubber spatulas.
Our kitchen is wide open; I do not mind when the smells of cooking drift through a house.

07 June 2006

purple purple

Recently I went to a wine tasting party. The theme: Purple.
We were to bring any wine that had purple on the label and any food pairing that was purple. How awesome is that?

We have done wine tastings in the past where there are more specific assignments, such as wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, or Italian whites. Choosing a regional category allows you to get a decent sense of the wines from a particular corner of the world...until, sadly yet happily, you have consumed too much wine during the course of the evening, and you somehow forget to carefully taste each wine and intellectually discuss its characteristics with your fellow wine tasters. But you always remember one or two bottles from each night that you will buy again and again.

With no geographical restrictions limiting my selection, only chromatic restrictions, I chose a 2002 Pinot Noir from the Eyrie Vineyards in Dundee, Oregon. I had been eyeing it on the shelf at Binny's for weeks and could hold out no longer. There was only one problem: no purple on the label.
No purple, no problem, no purproblem, I just shaded the label in with a purple colored pencil. I was found out, but who cares. The wine was delicious and I will buy it again!

The purple food pairing was a chicken salad with dill, red (purple) onions, and red (purple) grapes...a unique and refreshing combination of flavors. I wouldn't say that it went fantastically with the pinot noir, but again, who cares.

Chicken Salad with Dill, Red Onions, and Grapes
1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
¼ c. mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, not the same, it’s not the same)
½ c. red onions, minced or chopped finely
½ c. fresh dill, chopped
3 cups red grapes, cut in half

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; salt and pepper them.
Heat a pan with 2 tbs. olive oil. Sautée chicken pieces until cooked through but still tender, stirring occasionally to prevent browning. Set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare remaining salad ingredients. Assemble them on a plate so that you can admire their raw beauty:

When chicken is cool, dump in medium-sized bowl and stir in mayonnaise, red onions, and dill. Salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in the grapes so as to not smush them.

Everytime I make this salad, it tastes different. You should add each ingredient to taste, in case your onions are particulary potent that day and you don’t need the entire amount, or the dill is bland and you need more than a ½ cup.
You should also probably double the recipe, because once the salad is gone, you will definitely want more, and there won’t be anymore, and you will be sad. In order to prevent this sadness, make more in the first place, and then you will have more when you want more instead of not having more when you want more.

Charlie wants to know when the next wine tasting is.

05 June 2006

Best Lemon Cake Ever!

One of the best things about Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake recipe is that it makes two loaves, so you can bring one loaf to a friend’s house and keep one loaf for yourself...
joy of joys!

As your friends bite into the moist, mouth-puckering sweetness, they will never know that you have one more untouched lemon cake sitting at home on your counter. They will only find out about your little lemon cake secret if you just can’t take the guilt and you burst out smiling, your mouth filled with lemon cake, and exclaim, I made two loaves and only brought one, ha ha ha!"

Your friends will also never know why this cake is so delectably lemony, unless of course you tell them the jaw-dropping secret: after the cakes have been baked and removed from the loaf pans, you turn them over and pour a sweet lemon syrup into them. The cake soaks up the syrup and stays moist and lemony for all times.
Isn't that fascinating? I daresay that the cake-baking aspect of my life will never again be the same, now that I have been exposed to this mind-blowing cake-moistening process. When I saw the Barefoot Contessa do this on TV, I was speechless for at least three minutes until I rose and exclaimed, "I must have some lemon cake!"

Lemon Cake, adapted from Ina Garten
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice

2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans. (I sometimes use smaller loaf pans for cute little lemon cakes loaves. Make sure to shorten the baking time if you use the baby loaf pans.)
Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small bowl. Microwave for one minute and stire until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them down UPSIDE-DOWN on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely. Make sure when you turn them right-side up that you don’t let the top of the cake stick to the rack, or the tops of your cakes will not be as pretty as you want them to be.

Slices say, "Lest you become overwhelmed with the steps, persevere! Don't skip the syrup or the glaze! The extra steps are worth it!"

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Watching the glaze dribble down the sides is one of the best parts. Let us please be reminded to not take it for granted that life allows you wonderful moments such as watching glaze drip down the sides of cakes.