Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pies are the new...

In the same way violet is the new pink and blueberries are the new pomegranites, pies (or piemakers) are going through a bit of renaissance, surfacing in a combination of popular and indie culture.

Its yet another snowy afternoon in Maine (we've had storms every few days in the last two weeks, totally 18 inches on the ground -- a record for December). Scott, Willa, and I are nestled in with hot cocoa and tea. We just finished Waitress, a two and a half/three star indie film, about (go figure) a Waitress who's special place in life is creating pies. Savory pies. Sweet pies. Creative pies. Non-sensical but delicious pies (e.g. a marshmallow mermaid pie or Joe's Horny Past Pie).

The movie came out this summer, shortly before Pushing Daisies priemiered on ABC during the 8 PM primetime Wednesday spot. Pushing Daisies is one of the few TV shows that I'll make time for this season, primarily because I love fast paced dialogue, and well, its got a quirky unformulaic plot. Most of the show is based at the "Pie Hole," owned and operated by Ned, our hero, more often than not referred to as "the Pie Maker" by the show's narrator.

Which brings be back to my original conundrum which is whether or not pies or piemakers are experiencing the renaissance. I think its the latter, as I don't actually see any real pie creativity making its way into modern cuisine (and I should know, I live in Portland home to the creative economy and fabulous restaurants :) There is something however common about the piemaking characters. They are certainly all quirky. While not quite social outcasts, they seem to spend more time in their own heads than is generally accepted as normal. However, this lends itself to an independent persona than a character flaw. They are sympathetic, to the extent of being forlone, and they are sad. This doesn't quite mesh with the character of the pie -- which I generally characterize as down home comfort food, made by all around happy people (mostly women), with their trademark perma-grin.

So if indeed the pies and their piemakers are reemerging in life -- what/who are they replacing? I'm not sure there is a desert or occupation that currently holds that place in pop or indie culture...

Friday, December 14, 2007

This year's cookbooks roundup on Slate

Nice commentary on the year's best cookbooks from cookbook writers, chefs, etc. 3 pager, starting here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lamb Chops

So I love lamb —particularly lamb chops---and a while back I decided to try the recipe that Mari posted but since I was in a hurry and I didn’t have all the ingredients, I changed it up a bit. (I should’ve taken a picture because it looked pretty too!) This recipe makes about 8 lamb chops.


8 lamb chops
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons (lightly packed) fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ tsp dried thyme (one day I dream of having a little herb and vegetable garden so I don’t have to rely on my dried herbs!)
1 tsp zaatar (this is a spice mixture of oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and some other spices. You can find green zataar at any Middle Eastern grocery store. It also tastes delicious on oven roasted potatoes)
½ cup chopped tomatoes
¼ cup chopped onions
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp meat tenderizer

Preheat oven to 425F.

First, I crushed the cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle first but didn’t roast them. I added all the ingredients (except the tomatoes and onion and olive oil) to a bowl and mixed the ingredients. I coated the lamb chops with this mix and poured the oil on top of the chops and coated the chops with the oil.

I then lined a glass baking pan with foil and put the lamb chops on the foil. You can pour any marinade on top of the chops. Then slice onions and tomatoes in thin slices and put these on top of the chops. I sprinkled a tiny bit of zataar on top of the whole dish and then covered the dish with foil and put it in the oven.

Bake for 35-45 minutes.

Delicious and super simple. The lamb was juicy and very flavorful.

Maybe next time I will share my Thanksgiving experience too. Our halal turkey came from Detroit, feathers and all. Imagine 3 women (none of us ever having made a turkey) sitting there pulling out the feathers with eyebrow tweezers, knives, you name it. I have to say though—the turkey turned out pretty darn good at the end of the day!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another Caja China Thanksgiving

I had actually vowed that our next Caja China adventure would be either a whole lamb or a goat, but our plans for Thanksgiving jelled too late for me to arrange for either:

me: I know it's late, but can you tell me if I can get one of the following from you: a) a whole lamb; b) a whole goat; or c) a whole turkey
organic farmer (from whom I buy lamb and goat chops): Well we don't sell lambs, and the goats we have you'd have to come and get live, we can't butcher it for you. I do have some tom heritage turkeys left.
me: (visions of bringing cute pet goat to WV with us in the back of the subaru station wagon together with our portuguese water dog and having to slaughter said cute goat) Er, I'll take whatever turkeys you have left. (no idea what the difference between a tom turkey and a non-tom.)

So I show up at the farmers market last Saturday, and discover that the smallest tom turkey is a 20.9 pounder. The cookbooks say that you should count on 1lb per person, 1.5lb per person if you want leftovers. Our guest list for Thanksgiving looks like 5 adults and two toddlers. But beggars can't be choosers.

And being a faithful Christopher Kimball foodie, I set about brining the turkey the night before. I have a brining bag (an essential tool if you want to brine without depending on the weather outside being cold enough to stick a turkey in brine in a cooler), but the Morton's salt, contrary to its slogan doesn't pour. As I try to maneuver to reach a chopstick to stick in the salt canister, the brining bag loses its balance on the kitchen counter, and about 12 gallons of water go all over the floor, in particular dousing my poor dog who has been sticking close to me in the kitchen hoping that I will drop something tasty.

Break in the action as I go find a rag and bucket to wipe up 12 gallons of salt water off the floor. I decide that I will not bother telling my husband about this since he was out battling other desperate husbands for the last loaf of bread for stuffing at the local supermarket (he had called earlier: "Listen, Panera's closed. The supermarket is about shopped out, but there are three kinds of bread here ... hang on [Hey, that's my bread.] just tell me which one you want.") and he's worried about the tom turkey getting cooked in time anyway.

But when husband comes home he goes to the basement to pick up something and he returns with furrowed brow, muttering something about another leak in the house (we have been plagued by leaks both in WV and in DC--flat roofs on both houses), so I have to confess. Including the fact that that's the reason the dog is sorta damp and he's looking very chastened.

So come Thanksgiving Day, we roll out the Caja China despite forecasts of rain, and heat the coals, tuck the turkey in, and pray that splitting the difference between the directions on the web and the pamphlet which was included in the original box (which I had, of course, left in DC) will somehow work. (Web instructions suggest a turkey takes 3+ hours, the pamphlet suggests that a turkey <20lb>20lb takes 2.5 hours). I shouldn't have worried. There were a couple of very dark spots (where the turkey, being as tall as it was, got closer to the heat source than might have been advisable) but it was the tenderest, moistest, tastiest turkey I've ever cooked. And it was done in 2.75 hours, all 20.9 lb of him.

Other dishes:
Cheese and Onion Pie
Tarte Tatin
Pecan Tassies
Arugula and feta cheese salad
Roasted butternut squash with Moroccan spices
Bacon, sage, and apple stuffing
Mushroom stuffing (vegetarian)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Homemade Apple Sauce

The weekend's weather could not have been more perfect -- blue skies and highs around 60 -- and made for excellent apple picking. We headed north to Ricker Hill Farm in Turner, an orchard specializing in P.Y.O organics -- including Cortland, Macs, Black Oxfords, and Sweet Jane's. Despite a slightly clumsy state, I still managed to pick a bushel and a half that should make for some good seasonal meals. I started last night with a homemade, and super simple, apple sauce to complement a pork loin and eat at will.

4 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp lemon zest
3 lbs mixed variety apples
3 lbs macintosh apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350. Toss together orange juice, lemon zest, and apples (peeled, cored, and quartered) and put in dutch oven. Top with brown sugar, spices, and butter. Cover and bake for 75-90 minutes. Whisk together.

It's a sweet apple sauce and when served warm could accompany a pork roast or vanilla ice cream equally well. I tend to like my daily apple sauce unsweetened, but I definitely won't mind tapping into this recipe for an afternoon snack.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Metaphysical Club for Development ... and Turkey Chili

About 2 months ago we started a little "club" at Bill Easterly's urging to get together and stake out new and unexpected directions to take development. Last night we hosted it at our place, which meant I needed to cook something that would not have me leaning over the stove at the last minute--it needed to be all done and ready by the time people showed up. Hence turkey chili, although in fact it got significantly modified both intentionally and unintentionally--but with good results, it seems. People really liked it. This comes from Bon Appetit by way of Epicurious, and my modifications are included. (and I'll try to remember to take pictures next time).

I served it ladled over brown rice.


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 jalapeno pepper chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup chili powder [the unintended substitute was Berbere powder, because I thought I had chili powder, but didn't. I used a tad less than 1/4 c of berbere since it's hotter than chili.]
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
fresh kale, washed and chopped--quantity really depends on how large your pot is. It reduces a lot, but at the beginning you will be limited by the headroom in your pot
3 15-ounce cans small white beans, rinsed, drained

Shredded cheddar

Chopped red onion
Chopped fresh cilantro
Plain low-fat yogurt or light sour cream


Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and pepper; sauté until light brown and tender, about 10 minutes. Add oregano and cumin; stir 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high. Add turkey; stir until no longer pink, breaking up with back of spoon. Stir in chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon. Add tomatoes with their juices, breaking up with back of spoon. Mix in stock and tomato sauce. Add washed chopped kale. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add beans to chili and simmer until flavors blend, about 10 minutes longer. Discard bay leaves. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium-low heat before continuing.)

Ladle chili into bowls over rice. Pass red onion, cheddar, cilantro and yogurt separately.

Serves 8.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fabulous and Easy Short Ribs

I am a huge short rib fan -- the tender meat and infused flavor never fail to rock my world. Our food friends, Joe and Molly (and their soon to be foodie son, Gabe) were visiting this weekend. Mollly innocently suggested that she had seen a fabulous-looking short rip recipe (with gorgonzola polenta) in the recent Bon Appetit. I was immediately sold. The recipe, it turns out, was super easy, and produced amazing flavor. While the recipe calls for the short ribs to be marinated overnight in the herbs, I didn't have time, and instead chopped the herbs with a tbsp of kosher salt to release their flavor and created a rub. I immediately browned the the herb rubbed short ribs, dumped in a bottle of $10 cabernet, let it boil, and then put it in the oven. I didn't touch it again for two hours. The result was fabulous. I highly recommend. The gorgonzola polenta was good too, not too over powering for the subtle and rich flavor of the meat. I also nixed the sauce -- it turned out too greasey with the fat from the short ribs and the roux. It also tasted too salty and would have overpowered the meat.

8 to 9 pounds meaty beef short ribs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup (about) vegetable oil
2 750-ml bottles Cabernet Sauvignon
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour


Planning tip:
With its various elements, this dish lends itself well to team cooking. Seasoning the meat ahead, making the gremolata, browning the ribs, and deglazing the pan are separate steps that allow everyone to take turns. But if you'd prefer to work ahead, the short ribs will taste just as good a day later. Either way, you're golden.

Arrange ribs in single layer in 15x10x2- inch glass baking dish. Mix rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper in small bowl; sprinkle all over ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before continuing.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy wide ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add ribs to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch, adding more oil to pot by tablespoonfuls as needed. Transfer ribs to large bowl. Pour off drippings from pot; discard. Add wine to pot and bring to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Return ribs and any accumulated juices to pot; bring to boil. Cover; transfer to oven and braise until meat is very tender and almost falling off bones, about 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Bring to simmer before continuing. Using slotted spoon, transfer ribs to large bowl; cover tightly to keep warm. Skim any fat from top of braising liquid. Boil liquid until reduced to 2 generous cups, about 20 minutes. Mix 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour with fork in small bowl until well blended. Whisk butter mixture into reduced braising liquid. Whisk over medium-high heat until sauce thickens very slightly, about 2 minutes.

Divide Gorgonzola Polenta among plates. Top with ribs and sauce. Makes 8 servings

Gorgonzola Polenta:

5 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 3/4 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)*
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/3 cup whipping cream

Bring 5 cups chicken broth to boil in heavy 4-quart saucepan. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. Return mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until polenta is tender, stirring frequently and adding more chicken broth by 1/4 cupfuls if polenta is too thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Gorgonzola and cream; stir until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Sold at some supermarkets and at natural foods stores and Italian markets. If unavailable, substitute an equal amount of regular yellow cornmeal and cook about half as long.

Planning tip:
Polenta sets up quite quickly and becomes firmer after cooking, so plan on making it as close to serving time as you can manage.
Makes 8 servings

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blueberry scones with spelt flour

This is a very belated post on blueberry scones. It comes from Cook's Illustrated--and according to my in-laws, the best ever scones they've had. The tricks involved are freezing the butter and grating it (instead of mixing in cutting in cold butter) before folding into the flour, as well as essentially rolling the blueberries in (like a jelly roll). It also worked well when I substituted spelt flour for half of the flour required. I'd have to transcribe my notes to get this recipe online, but if anyone is interested, I'd be very happy to share ...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is local food better for you ...?

Swept up by Michael Pollan's oratory about his completely local meal, and the neighborliness of supporting local producers at our farmer's market, I have been steadily narrowing my choices down to fresh local food and feeling good about it. Trust Tyler Cowen to burst that bubble for me with the following post, which explains that depending on how that kohlrabi was conveyed to market, it may or may not have a larger carbon footprint than the organic food from Chile.

Aargh. And now I recognize that the appeal of eating local was as much about solving my paradox of choice than anything else--I like the idea of cooking with what's available, what's cheap, and what's abundant instead of putting together menus from scratch, and that's pretty much all there is to it. It's convenient--because it cuts through the data smog. And perhaps that's all the reason I need for now. That is, until I read the next book on my list, which is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle ....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

As many people know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It sings to me - a day to give thanks, a holiday that hasn't been corrupted by American consumerism, and a day (and in all honesty, it turns into days for me) of my favorite past time, cooking.

But this post really isn't about Thanksgiving. It's about sour cherries. Or rather, sour cherries is the reason I'm blogging about Thanksgiving in early July.

My first and regular contribution to the Thanksgiving meal started when I was young -- maybe 7 or 8 years old. I was in charge of the cherry pie, which I truly enjoyed constructing because of lattice work. While using canned pie filling (gasp), my mother did teach me a valuable skill having me make my own pastry crust. A skill I pride myself on these days (though I have yet to master Mari's whole wheat crust). As I evolved as a cook (coinciding with a competitive cooking streak between my father and I) and Thanksgiving became hugely gourmet at the Nelson household, the cherry pie went away. It was, afterall, made from a can and you know how I feel about overly starched syrupy fruit.

However, if Mari could obsess about rhubard, I am now obsessing about sour cherries -- and more importantly, access to sour cherries. They should be in season right now (in DC I would be making my blue berry sour cherry jam) and perfect for a real cherry pie, enhanced only by a touch of cinnamon. The cherries can of course be preserved, and stored for Thanksgiving, and I am a little more than excited to reintroduce the cherry pie.

But while cherries may be in season, they probably aren't ever going to make it Maine, and certainly not to our farmer's market. Quick aside on the farmer's market, I've been initially put off from our farmer's market because its lettuce lettuce and more lettuce. I complained about this to someone who said -- "its Maine; lettuce is the only thing in season until August." All the same, I don't think we grow cherries (rhubarb, peaches, pears, and apples.. but no cherries) and anticipating a dearth of my much needed fruit, my obsession is growing.

So.. question for this gang... anyone ever ordered fresh fruit directly from a distributor or whole saler and if so, could you provide me with some direction? If it turns out OK, I will in turn supply you with home made cherry pie filling.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Blogging by proxy: Mangue-Passion Framboise

So most of you on this blog don't know my friend Motome, who is going on to the advanced Cordon Bleu pastry course. If she weren't spending all her waking time attending classes, working full time, and being a parent, she would be blogging on this blog. So here's a post by proxy of a beaauuutiful cake.

"Attended the first lecture of the advanced CB course yesterday. Much of the first part is chocolates - culminating in the making of a fancy box out of chocolate for the chocolates and chocolate figurines.
Also candy-making, more fancy cakes, and finally, a wedding cake. The final exam this time is creating one's own recipe. All this will be hard work, but I think I feel pretty excited about it.
Just found a photo of one of the things I made last term that's pretty - called mangue-passion framboise. The stripey sponge cake is a lot of fun."

Cooking what you have ...

A neighbor of mine just recommended I look at this cookbook by a friend of his. I love the idea of riffing off of 5 spices--it really speaks to the way I cook, which is ingredient oriented. I like to go to the farmers market, pick up the things that look particularly good, and during the week I look at the refrigerator and my larder and figure out the menu for that evening. While I will occasionally put together a menu and go shopping for it, it has to be a pretty special occasion for me to do that.

Let me know if any of you test this out, or have a chance to browse at the bookstore. If it shows up at my favorite bookstore Candida's, I will pick it up.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Aarrgh, Eli. You've made me obsess about rhubarb now. I already left two comments on Eli's post, and I feel ridiculous posting a 3rd comment, so here's my own post.

Eli, I think one solution to rhubarb soupiness may have to do with the way it's cooked. (Another solution of course is pectin or gelatin.) Christopher Kimball suggests sauteeing rhubarb before including it in pie, and here's someone else--the Wednesday Chef--who has a roasted rhubarb recipe. And as you can see in the picture, her rhubarb retained it's shape and didn't go all gooey on her. Of course you'd need some gooey-ness in preserves, but perhaps you could mix the two to get the right consistency?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Rhubarb Weekend

When I was 15, I participted in an exchange program that led to a long time friendship with a French woman -- Claire Lise. For years, we'd split the summers -- she'd spend 3 weeks with me in small town Connecticut and I'd spend 3 weeks with her travelling from Paris to Port Croix to Normandie.

Normandie was my favorite -- her family had a farm house that would accomodate Claire's grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Her Grand Mere nourished a magnificent garden -- from which I learned to eat tomatoes like apples, right off the vine, giving rise to my summer addiction. Her rhubarb patches were thick and productive -- and every year I'd go home with jars of rhubarb jam. It was green, fresh, and only slightly tart.

I've tried for many years to immitate it. Which was why I was thrilled when Megan called to let me know her rhubarb is in abundance and her kitchen is free this weekend. (Incidentally, she needed someone to play with her dog this weekend as she bikes 100 miles.) Megan lives 45 miles north of Portland, which in Maine easily qualifies as the middle of farm country no where, and we often refer to her farm house as George's country home (as she tends to spend a lot of time there when I'm otherwise on the road.

I love making jam -- its cathartic the way rolling your own pasta is relaxing. I preserve the old-fashion way, boiling my jars. I've gotten creative too as I've gained in experience -- mixing wild cherries with apples, cranberries, and blue berries. I've made elegant jams from plums and thyme and pears and mint.

But I've never been able to properly produce Claire's grandmother's rhubarb jam. My aesthetic issue is that its not green -- and there isn't much that I can do about that. American rhubarb has more pink in it than that of France. So I'll igore that and move on to my bigger issue, which is that I can't mimick the freshness. Getting the jam to set requires enough sugar that it adequately squelches that taste. I've tried cutting down on the sugar and ended up with a syrupy ice cream topping (especially good when served slightly warm). I've tried cooking it longer and ended up having to throw out a pan. I've tried cutting back on the water and the sugar and ended up with nothing at all.

Any French jam makers out there with some Rhubarb expertise?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Calling spice aficionados in the DC area!

So for those of us on this blog in the DC area ... did you notice that Penzey's has opened a store in Rockville MD (near the Woodmont country club, so pretty far up north)? I've only purchased spices from them online, so I can't wait to make my way up Rockville Pike to smell everything in person. Please post if you make it there, and give us a scout report ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dinner for a mixed crowd

So fellow bloggers, I have to cook up a dinner for Sunday night this weekend, for 8 people that includes 2 vegetarians. I need to make sure there's enough vegetarian fare without making the non-vegetarians feel deprived or too challenged. I'm wavering between two menus:

Menu 1:
Porcini tart
Grilled asparagus/spring onions
Chickpea with carmelized onions and escarole
Baked ziti

Menu 2:
Vegetarian curry (chickpeas, cauliflower, green peas, tofu)
Brown rice
Okra sauteed with ginger, cumin etc.
Raita like cucumber salad

Any thoughts, suggestions, modifications? ...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eli and Dorie Greenspan

Just saw a posting in BlogHer (more about Blogher below) about an interview with Dorie Greenspan, baker extraordinaire, and Eli's one-time neighbor. Dorie is the reason I started obsessing about macaroons and other egg white based desserts earlier this year, and according to Eli, Dorie is the reason Eli is a foodie.

And BlogHer is a great site. I first found out about it when I was asked to jury a prize for women who did extraordinary things for women in science/technology, and Elisa Camahort, one of BlogHer's founders, was nominated for the prize. And I've been a faithful reader ever since. I think it does a fantastic job of bringing all the different aspects of women's lives and interests and concerns together ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Asparagus from Seville and lamb from Bon Appetit

So two quick recipe shares. One is from a bodega in Seville, the other from Bon Appetit.

Roasted asparagus--everyone has had it, right? Lightly coated in olive oil, a bit of kosher salt, roasted in the oven for 15+ minutes. Quite good. But much much better when roasted with some spring onions. To keep the roasting time equivalent, cut the spring onions to about the same size of the asparagus. The spring onions will carmelize a bit, and it was really surprising to me how much of a difference it made to include them. I kept the ratio of asparagus to spring onions about 3:1.

Second recipe tip from Bon Appetit. Now I have to confess, I got a gift subscription and didn't find a recipe that called to me in the first 3 issues so I was beginning to think I was in the wrong audience for this. But then I came across this recipe (full recipe) for a lamb marinade, and it was amazing. You will see that the full recipe includes a sauteed asparagus dish--I actually substituted the Seville asparagus instead since I had the oven on anyway, and the timing worked to cook both together (though you have to be vigilant on both the lamb and the asparagus when the oven temperature is as high as 500F).

For those of you who just want the marinade recipe, here it is:
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups (lightly packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup (lightly packed) fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup (lightly packed) fresh cilantro leaves
2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika (pimentón dulce)* or sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Roast cumin lightly in a frying pan, put all the ingredients (except for the olive oil and lemon juice) in a food processor, chop fine, then drizzle in 2 Tb of the oil. Then set aside 2Tb of the mash to mix with the rest of the oil and lemon juice and reserve to use as a relish after meat is cooked. The rest of the marinade use to marinade the meat, 4 hours minimum recommended. Worked great with lamb, but I think it would be also fantastic for chicken and fish.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Challenge -- a Foodie's Baby Shower

I realize that there is already an answer to this challenge, and it is: Catering. But that won't do, so I throw out my challenge to this universe of creative foodies. Last June, I hosted a wedding shower for my foodie friend Molly. Molly didn't really want a shower -- she thinks they are cheesie by nature, but knowing her family and his, it was in the cards. I did my best to make it as non-shower-like as I could, specifically focusing on the menu. It was simple, but good. A few of the particulars included shrimp & cilantro summer wraps, dumplings, and curried chicken salad. Molly loved her wedding shower, finding great pride in it being the only wedding shower she's ever been to where people raved about the food.

Nine months later (I do love the timing), I find myself hosting a baby shower for Molly and the one thing she has requested is that people rave about the food. I could do a repeat performance, given that the items worked well in quantity, but Molly, being a foodie, would notice (no one else of the crew would, but Molly would and that's all there is too it).

A few ideas I'm toying with are: mini-crab souffles (shockingly simple to prepare and cook), shrimp salad in wonton 'bowls,' Asian eggplant spread, and cupcakes (cocunut, cardomon-orange, and cinnomen devil's food). As you can tell... none of these items stick together in a 'menu' form. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Beets to Burgers Redux

As some of you know I've been reading a lot of food-related books lately: Heat, by Bill Buford (he was a lay apprentice to Mario Batali--about whose newest restaurant Del Posto I will get around to blogging soon), The Ominvore's Dilmma, by Michael Pollan, and now there's a new book out on vegetarianism (which I haven't even seen, let alone cracked).

But I thought this review from Slate did a great job of detailing the dilemma that Eli described so well in her inaugural post for this blog:

... vegetarianism grew up as an aberration swathed in asceticism and self-denial. Nobody was supposed to live sumptuously on a vegetarian diet; the point was precisely the opposite. Radical preacher Roger Crab, who became a hermit in 1652, renounced meat with a fervor typical of the early vegetarians and decided to eat only "broth thickned with bran, and pudding made with bran, & Turnep leaves chop't together, and grass." Had he been lucky enough to be a devout Hindu instead of a heretical Christian, he might have been eating the glorious vegetarian cuisine developed in the South Indian temple town of Udipi, notably those big, airy crepes called dosas, filled with spicy potatoes and accompanied by a few spoonfuls of coconut chutney and a little cup of hot, soupy sambhar, laced with vegetables and tamarind. When vegetarianism is about what to eat, instead of what not to eat, life picks up considerably.

In recent decades, the West has finally started to catch on. Anna Thomas, Deborah Madison, and all the other gurus of contemporary vegetarian cooking have dismantled the bleak, defiant approach to food that for so long characterized meatless menus in Britain and America. Nut patties and boiled carrots have given way to a new culinary tradition that draws on nearly everything in the edible kingdom—vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, grains, herbs, and spices—and evokes flavors from cuisines around the world. The absence of meat is unremarkable, just as it should be.

And who chooses to eat this way? People who like food, whether or not they call themselves vegetarians. There was a bloodless revolution, all right, but it happened in the kitchen. The rest is commentary.

Let's get back in the kitchen and lead the revolution ...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hallowell, nesting just south of Augusta along the Kennebunk has proven to be one of our favorite towns in Maine. It is home to the Liberal Cup, a a brewery and pub who's owners decided to protest the establishment of the Republic Planning Committee across the street. Mainer's have a sense of humor. Scott and I (though if you know my husband you know its really just Scott) have dreamed up half a dozen business plans for Hallowell -- including a bookstore, martini bar, and kayak rental/packed lunch spot.

Hallowell is also home to my favorite brunch spot -- Slates. Its menu, two full pages, is handwritten every day and resembles the notebook of a middle school girls. Its packed full of local ingreedients and yummy but uncovential combinations. Lobster and peapod omelettes with gouda cheese. Garlic, brocolli, and brie scrambled eggs. Bloddy Marys mistaken for horseradish with a touch of tomato juice. But the best part is the Brunch Bread -- freshly cooked bread with fruits and nuts. Slate's bakes the bread for each order, always fresh, alwasy warm, and always good.

Last Sunday was a normal Sunday at Slates, the wait time was a good 40 minutes and the food was as always worth it. Molly, Joe, Scott, and I were there -- it was part of Molly and Joe's culinary introduction to Maine (essential step in our 5 step migration strategy). We had just finished a delicious meal and were gaining enough strength to pay the bill and leave, when we were evacuated. What started out as plumes of smoke escaping from a poorly insulated building, turned into a wild blaze. The fire was officially extinguished more than 24 hours later. They were unable to save the building.

The future of Slates is yet unknown, but I am sure that hardiness will persevere and it will reopen. It is touching however given how quickly restaurants come and go in the world, how one restaurant can mean so much.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Truffle photos!

I have finally gotten my photo-blogging act together and managed to capture images of something I intended to blog about. Of course, these chocolate truffles were somehow doomed to delays all along. They were originally destined to be distributed to my colleagues at GlobalGiving on V-day. Then an old friend showed up from CA on the 13th and foiled that plan. And besides, V-day was a snow day here in Washington, and various people were out of the office as well. So they dawdled into the office on the 15th when there were even fewer people there.

However, I think they were pretty successful. The dark chocolate ones had a wasabi ginger dark chocolate ganache, dark chocolate covering, and toasted sesame seeds. The milk chocolate ones had dark chocolate/vanilla ganache and were trimmed with lavendar salt.

The recipe I used was from Epicurious, of course, and I split the ganache in two bowls, added powdered wasabi and ginger (after deciding that fresh wasabi and ginger could queer the consistency of the ganache, and the recipe seemed to make it clear that the ganache teetered on a delicate equilibrium) to one bowl, and vanilla to the other. I used Callebaut chocoloate in big bricks (from Whole Foods) for the chocolate, and pulverized it in the food processor to make the ganache (I didn't see how else to get that huge quantity of chocolate to melt in heated cream).

One interesting thing I noticed that the microwave tempering works quite well, but that when the tempered chocolote cools off, you are in danger of havind the chocolate get dusty (the look that Heshey's has often). As I dipped the truffles in the gloppier, too cool chocolate, it hardened with that dusty look. Things improved when I zapped the tempered chocolate ever so slightly again.

All in all it was lots of fun, although I had to go at it over sever nights to ensure it set at every stage. I have every intention of making more creative flavors--curry insides with coconut trimming, or berbere insides with pine nut toppings, something with pink peppercorns ... the possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Soul food from India

With each passing day here, it reaffirms my faith in listening to that inner voice, intuition or whatever else we call it and to follow it to where it takes you. And so I’m enjoying the serendipity that’s brought me to this blog. I'm in foodie heaven, and loving it! Thanks Mari for inviting me here.

I'll write a short note of introduction since its my first post on the blog -- A culinary greenhorn, I only started my explorations over the past couple of years. While the smells from my Mom's kitchen were wonderful, I spent much time running around in sports courts to escape the 'girls should know how to cook ' stereotype. Recently, the dreary weather made me crave for home. And I indulged my homesickness with some Indian style soul food-- a huge bowl of lentil curry or Dal. I call it curry mostly because it is too rich in spices to be put into the soup category.

The yellow dal is one of simplest Indian meals and there are subtle and not so subtle variations to the recipe in different parts of the country.

Here's mine. In many restaurants in India, this is probably offered as ‘Dal Fry’.

Dal (Serves 2-3)

1.5 cup yellow lentils (pre-soak in water for about 10-15 minutes)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp of cumin seeds
Salt, Red chili powder to taste
1 tsp coriander powder
1tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp dried Fenugreek leaves
Half bunch fresh cilantro
1 tsp Blended mix of cloves, black pepper and cardamom (garam masala)

Pour a dash of oil and add cumin seeds. Once the cumin seeds start to release their flavor, sauté the onions till pink. Add all the spices and continue to sauté the onions, keeping the flame on medium. Using too little oil will suppress the full flavor of the spices. Sauté till the onions become a deep pink. Rinse the lentils and add. Add three cups of water and let the lentils cook on medium flame. Add more water if you would like curry, but adding more than 4 cups will dilute the flavor of the onions and spices.

Garnish with finely chopped fresh cilantro.

For simpler version, leave out all spices except salt, red chili powder, turmeric and coriander powder.

Happy experimenting!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bev's Buck Eye's -- the best I've had

Its wicked cold here. When I was 13, my Dad and I got stuck on a ski lift in the middle of an ice storm. The power went out, the generator failed, and it took a couple of hours for them to crank us down manually while my slowly froze to the chair. That was the coldest I have ever been, until today.

We also have over a foot of snow... We had a base of 6 inches, and got another 12 Wednesday. We officially called a snow day. Bev in my office made Buck Eye's. These are the best darn Buck Eye's I've ever had -- and considering I use to work with two fabulous Buck Eye's, I've had my share of yummy ones. What made these so good was that the peanut butter center, while solid, was very very creamy. Must be the butter:)

Bev was kind enough to share her recipe:

Combine 1 cup PB, 1 3/4 cups 10X sugar, 1 stick margarine (i use butter). chill...roll into balls, put in freezer for a few minutes,and dip in melted milk chocolate. in lieu of double boiler, put one saucepan in a larger one that has a couple of inches of water in it. these freeze/refrigerate very well. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

More egg desserts--Pavlova

Another post to feed my recent egg obsession from Bron Marshall, who has a lyrical (and patriotic) post on Pavlovas. Has anyone ever tasted one? Crunchy on the outside, marshmallowy on the inside, topped with cream and tart fruit (kiwi, berries), and named after the legendary ballerina.

Monday, February 5, 2007


A trip to 'northern' Maine (quotes to emphasize that i could get to Paris France before I could get to the true north of Maine... it is one BIG state) had me thinking about good healthy dishes... Something that will fill me up and warm me up during this Artic-blast, while not leaving me ready for a siesta or reliving my freshmen 15.

Case in point -- the other day I was offered a choice of beef tips over mashers or polenta casserole for lunch. Perfect for a freezing cold snowy day, but less than perfect for making sure I get my doseage of good carbs.

I found one great solution at a restaurant in Camden. I thought this fell into Mari's quick and easy category. This recipe is a tribute to Dana who for as long as I have known her has eaten a spinach salad with feta and tomatoes every day for lunch. This variation was served warm:

Partially sautee a bag of baby spinach -- half the salad was still fresh greens the other was wilted.
Throw feta cheese into the pan and let it melt.
Add roasted red peppers, feta cheese, and pine nuts.
Serve as is, or add grilled chicken, perhaps even a grilled sausage, etc. I had grilled duck breast on mine -- not super easy but yummy all the same.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cheater's stew

So I have accidentally figured out a way to make decent stew on a school night that doesn't involve actually making the stew on the weekend before. I made coq au vin (used the New Best Recipe after checking out the Cordon Bleu and Julia Child versions) several weeks ago, and accidentally ended up with a lot more vin than the coq required. So after reducing the liquid down I reserved about 2 cups and put it in a ziplock bag into the freezer. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but it seemed like a bad idea to throw it down the drain. Last night I had gotten chilled in the morning and badly wanted to have some stew for dinner, except I only had an hour to get dinner ready. Sauted some chicken pieces, set them aside, sauted garlic and minced onion until browned, threw in the chicken with a can of tomato puree and some canned chicken stock, diced turnips, carrots and celery, and the 2 cups of reduction from the coq au vin. Simmered for an hour, which was long enough to get the veg and chicken quite tender, but had the rich flavor of a stew that had actually been simmered for many more hours than that.

(serves 4)
<1lb chicken, cut up (any parts, pref without skin)
2 carrots
4 turnips
2 celery ribs
1 onion
2 garlic
1 can tomato sauce
1 c chicken broth
2 c reserved reduction from some other dish that you actually spent time simmering and reducing properly.

Combine as above.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A sense of place

I went to a Josh Ritter concert last night (he came highly recommended to us from Jessica Stoner at Pandora) and although I had heard his songs before, it was only by listening to him in concert, in person, that I realized how much he defined himself by where he is from, which is ... Moscow, Idaho. And seeing him there in person it all sort of makes sense--crazy subtle songs about the missile silos and the cold war (as if he's old enough to really remember the cold war!), wolves, westerns, gold mining--the almost perfect tension between a really subtle sensibility and the obscurity of Idaho.

So why am I writing about Josh Ritter in this food blog? Because of 2 somewhat random things. As he took the stage in his natty new suit, he said that to be suited up in Idaho, all you need is a fluorescent orange cap--and admitted that it might pass for a suit in Maine. Which of course reminded me of Eli (Eli, were you there when Jessica confessed to her crush on Josh?) who despite being from Connecticut, followed her own sense of place further north to Maine, and I really do believe that that is where she belongs. It just feels right. And then the whole concert was an exposition of how place was a deep source of creativity for Ritter. And while I have all sorts of explanations about how I lack that deep sense of place that Josh and Eli do, in food sensibilities, I definitely feel Japanese. And I believe that this vestigial sense of place fuels my enjoyment and creativity in food.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tip from Michele:

A good foodie friend (actually, I think I mean a good friend who is a foodie) recommended this website to me--she knows Suzanne, who is one of the founders. I haven't had time to explore it fully, but it looks great--I already found a recipe I want to try for chickpea flatbread, and I like the tip on how to free up pomegranate seeds.

The only question that I have is something I've actually been pondering for some time, which has to do with cookbooks. Loulie's has a nice section on cookbooks, and I suspect everyone on this blog has their own set of favorite books. What frustrates me about my cookbooks is that I have really only scratched the surface of most of them, and every time I give in to temptation and acquire another cookbook, I realize I'm putting myself further away from ever really getting the full value out of my existing cookbooks. Maybe it's because my own approach to cooking meals is to head to the market, buy things that look fresh or appeal to me on whim, and head home to look for a recipe that will use them--and it tends to put me on a shorter exploratory leash.

How to other people approach the dilemma? How often to any of you plan out menus (daily, weekly) and then systematically go out and get everything for it?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Macaroons and angel food cake

I've become mildly obsessed with meringues lately. It started over Christmas when the Washington Post published a cookie insert that included a raspberry goat cheese meringue cookie. (I've reproduced the recipe below, with some suggested modifications). They were a big hit, so I moved on from there to rosewater angel food cake (courtesy of Now I have to confess I've never thought it was worth eating, let alone making a cake that didn't include butter or egg yolks. I've long believed that fats are essential to enhancing aromas (and the science bears me out) so I was very pleasantly surprised that rosewater and lemon icing and raspberries really did the trick.

And for the next post that includes a recipe, I resolve to include a photo.

The meringues can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks; the cookies can be assembled, covered and refrigerated a few hours before serving. The modification I've suggested is to add almond flour to the mix, so that the meringues don't cook up with a peak, which makes them very odd to balance and store when you sandwich goat cheese and raspberry jam in between)

3 large egg whites

1 cup almond flour

1/2 t cream of tartar

3/4 cup superfine sugar

Pink food coloring paste (optional)

About 3 tablespoons raspberry jam

4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line 1 or 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix almond flour with sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (with whisk attachment) on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites, until foamy. Then place the bowl of egg whites into a pan of hot water, continue whisking as the whites heat up to 100 degrees. Remove from hot water, add cream of tartar. Gradually beat in sugar/almond flour, mixing to incorporate after each addition, until a smooth, glossy, stiff meringue forms. Add a dot of food coloring paste, if desired.

Use a dot of the meringue mixture to stick down each corner of the parchment paper on the baking sheet. Drop the mixture onto the baking sheet in 1/2- tablespoon amounts spaced 2 inches apart. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (if you are using 2 baking sheets, rotate them top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking). The meringues should be crisp on the outside and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Carefully dislodge them from the paper and rest them on their sides to cool completely.

To assemble, spread half of the meringues with the jam and the other half with the goat cheese, on their flat sides. Press each jam half against a goat cheese half, resting the cookie sandwiches on their sides. Cover and refrigerate if not serving within 1 hour. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Going Whole Hog

As anyone who reads my other blog knows, I have a thing for pigs. It was reinforced the other day when the Washington Post issued a whole food section on pigs, sausages, rillettes--all foods I looove. And the thing people marvel about when it comes to pig is the notion that you can use the whole beast (another book on my to read list). So it is in the spirit of the whole hog that I'm joining Eli in this new foodie blog. I've tried my best to represent my whole self in one blog, but the excitement I feel about being able to write more extensively about food--the eating and the making of it--is proof that this is definitely the way to go.

I'm also excited about the idea of this being a group blog. The eclat with which we simultaneously proclaimed our readiness to become vegans, and the speed with which we both abandoned the idea are both true--and it was a very joyful moment. To be able to recreate this in virtual space is a very cool notion.

Beets to Burgers

As soon as I realized that in cyber space you could be anything you wanted -- I knew I could finally be ELItheCHEF, my alter ego -- the part of me that loves to create and experiment in the name of Epicurian Exploration. Building lasagnas is architecture to me. Rolling out pasta is cathartic.

I know I'm not alone in the world because the great thing about foodies is it doesn't take long for us to self-organize, connect, and share. We could be in that taco joint and we'd know we were there because we had discovered the best tacos around (Natasha's in Portland is my bet -- lightly grilled haddock with apple slaw, wasabi cream, roasted habanero served on a crispy taco).

There are costs to be a foodie -- never able to diet is one of them. This site may have had its birth as Mari and I emerged from a Vegan restaurant in the Mission thinking that a Vegan lifestyle might be a rewarding toxic-free way to live. The concept was quickly dismissed as we realized that as Vegans we'd have to say no to the best darn cheese burger in town when it passed our paths. In a foodie's world, beets and burgers are equals.

Before this site came many meals, restaurants, conversations, blog entries (and more blog entries). We thought a common space would be all the more 'fruitful.' So share a recipe. Put out an epicurian challenge. Discuss the best darn taco's in town. Join Foodies without Borders.


As for me... Its 6 AM in Portland and snowing. My motivation for leaving bed this morning is a lunch meeting at Duck Fat. Duck Fat has gained a global reputation a la Bon Appetit for rendering french fries from duck fat in the Belgian Style. I'm very excited to get my first taste.