Friday, January 30, 2009

Wherefore art thou, Bon Appetit?

  • Pin It
I knew the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit had arrived. Knew I'd seen it. Could not find it. Looked everywhere. Was getting concerned I'd thrown it out by accident.

Just now, found it. In 10-year-old son's room.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recipe: Savory bread pudding with caramelized onions and Comte cheese

  • Pin It
Oh, yes, my husband is a happy man today. Because, you see, he is home for lunch, and a little earlier I made savory bread pudding.

I believe I've already enlightened you about my love affair with sweet bread pudding, especially my signature version with chocolate and cherries. But savory bread pudding, that's another thing entirely. Combine stale leftover bread with grated cheese, crumbled bacon, an herb or two, and a custard base of eggs and milk or cream, and you've got - well, you've got heaven in a baking dish. And, to bring the dish up another notch (if that's even possible), today I included the unbelievably delicious caramelized onions I made yesterday, using the method in an article by Russ Parsons in last week's Los Angeles Times.

I'm writing the recipe the way I made it, but you can change the cheese to your taste, mix in leftover cooked vegetables, switch out the herbs. It's completely flexible. It's a great side dish for a dinner party because you can assemble it ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, or even overnight, before you bake it.

Savory bread pudding with bacon and caramelized onions

  • 1/2 loaf leftover challah
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups heavy cream plus 2 cups milk (or 4 cups half-and-half)
  • 2 cubes porcini bouillon (available at gourmet stores, or leave it out)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups grated Comte cheese (Gruyere is a good substitute)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
  • 3/4 cup caramelized onions (substitute: 2 sauteed onions)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Tear the challah into bite-sized pieces and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Leave them out for a few hours to make them slightly stale. Alternatively, toast them in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes to dry them out.

Soften the bouillon cubes in 1/4 cup of the milk.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the cream and milk. Fold in the bread cubes so they can absorb the liquid. Fold in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Let the mixture sit in the bowl for an hour, stirring it up every 15 minutes to redistribute the ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray a 9x13 baking pan with cooking spray and turn the bread mixture into the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, until the top is golden and puffy. It will fall after a few minutes out of the oven, but no matter. It will taste just as lofty.

Recipe: The story of my roast chicken

  • Pin It
I'm going to say something really radical here. Are you ready? Sitting down?

I like roasting chicken cut up, rather than whole.

I know this is clearly not the mark of a real cook. I admit it. I am not a real cook. I am a busy, multitasking, corner-cutting home cook. And I have a butcher who is willing to do all the messy stuff.

So I go to the wonderful Bob's Market, just around the corner, and I ask Rich the butcher for two of their terrific corn-fed whole chickens. And I ask him to cut them up for me. He knows how I like it by now: in eighths, with the backbones in a separate package for making stock.

I come home with four legs, four wings, four breast halves, and four thighs, which go onto baking sheets. No, I do not separate the dark and light meat. I like them to commingle, so that the fat from the dark is available to baste the light. I sprinkle everything with a generous amount of garlic salt, which I consider to be a deity among seasonings. And then into the oven it goes.

The oven I preheat to 450. When I slide in the chicken, I turn on the convection for 15 minutes. No more, or things will be dried out. I find that the blast of circulating hot air gives the skin a head start on crisping. After this initial period, I turn off the convection and turn the oven down to 375. About 40 minutes later, it's all done. Oh, I look in on it occasionally, baste once or twice. But that's all the TLC this chicken requires.

While the chicken is roasting I start the stock. I put the backs and any odd scraps of fat I've pulled off the thighs into a pot with water and turn it on. No onion or carrot or anything else. Just chicken. I let that simmer until the roasted chicken is done.

The first thing I do when the chicken is cool enough to handle is to eat the wings. All of them. All by myself. My reward for being the cook. Haven't you wondered, Michael, why there are never any wings on the chickens I roast? Ha.

And then I do something completely un-real-cook-like.

I get out a big plastic container. I take all the chicken meat off the bones. Some comes off in big pieces, some I have to pick. Doesn't matter. This chicken I will serve to my kids, or put into quesadillas, or make into chicken salad, or throw into a casserole. It is a necessary component of my culinary life.

And I take all the bones and skin - including the ones left from the wings after I've devoured them - and throw them into the stock pot. Using already-roasted chicken scraps gives my stock a full, meaty flavor you just don't get from raw chicken. My chicken stock takes like big, fat, weightlifting chickens. Nothing delicate about it. The stock simmers for another hour or so. I strain it, cool it, de-fat it, and put it away for soup, or casseroles, or cooking rice in, or a hundred other things.

The end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The perfect sweet roll: A sugar bomb for my sugar daddy

  • Pin It
Isn't this one of the most gorgeous pieces of pastry you've ever seen?

I had the good fortune to attend a baking class the other night on simple yeast breads, taught by the darling Clemence Gossett of Gourmandise Desserts. I've been to two classes of hers now - well, one was a demo, and this latest was a hands-on class, so two different things, actually. She's got a great energy, happy and warm and non-doctrinaire, which I think is so important when you're in the kitchen. Don't like it this way? Do it another way! Want apricots instead of apples? No problem! Dough a little sticky? Fix it like this! I really enjoyed the three hours we spent in the beautiful professional kitchen over at the St. Joseph Center in Venice. Anyone here in L.A. who wants to spend a few hours making sweet treats would do no better than to drop into one of Clemence's classes.

The simple yeast dough we used for these sweet rolls (and some other sweet rolls, and some savory rolls) was a revelation to me. I'm not going to publish the recipe here, because it belongs to Clemence and I haven't asked her whether I may, but suffice it to say that I have never used buttermilk in a yeast dough before, and this dough is awfully good.

We rolled the dough out and filled it with apples and nuts and sugar and cinnamon and butter and pecans and...lots of deliciousness. And we made a sugar-butter syrup to pour into the bottom of the pan and over the rolls. And some of the other rolls had a cream cheese glaze. Really, the aroma that night - I will dream of it for months.

For the savory rolls we folded in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and some dried thyme, but we forgot to add salt to the dough, which we agreed would have made the rolls better. We did put salt on top though.

I brought home a bakery box with a few samples of our work. Both my husband and my children were happy and impressed.

Regarding the title of this post: My husband did call this sticky bun a "sugar bomb" when he tasted it. He is not, however, technically speaking, my sugar daddy. I do laundry and dishes, and I only occasionally prance around in revealing lingerie.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recipe: Impromptu pasta with broccolini, mozzarella, onion and chicken sausage

  • Pin It
This was one of those nights where I experimented and the results were quite good.

Our neighbor Susanna showed up at the door yesterday with a bag of organic greens from her husband Victor's garden. So lucky, we are, not only to have nice neighbors, but neighbors who bring us homegrown organic produce! One bag had chard and kale, and that's still in the refrigerator. The other had adorable broccolini, already washed and begging to be used.

So I boiled up some bow tie pasta. While that was in the pot, I sauteed a sliced onion with three chicken sausages (the ones that are already cooked, Italian Parmesan flavor) sliced into coins. When the onions were softened and the sausage rounds were brown around the edges, I added three cloves of chopped garlic and the chopped broccolini. When the pasta was done, the toppings were too.

I tossed it all in a bowl with cubed fresh mozzarella (smoked would have been good too, but I only had fresh), a handful of grated Grana Padano, ground pepper and the juice of half a Meyer lemon.

I loved it. Husband loved it. One kid ate everything but the cheese. The other kid ate only the cheese. Jack Sprat lives on.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An abundance of salt

  • Pin It
A guest in my kitchen recently discovered that I have nine different kinds of salt in my cupboard (yes, I know there are only eight in the picture - I discovered the ninth after I had put my camera away).

For those of you who may be as salt-obsessed as I am, let me detail, from approximate left to right:
  • Kosher salt - all-purpose, although I tend to use it only for making gravlax (cured salmon) because it has been in the back of my cabinet, and I prefer sea salt for everyday use
  • Fleur de sel (in the glass jar) - sea salt from France, very expensive; I use it sparingly on salads or blanched green beans, where I want a little crunch
  • Smoked Maldon sea salt - sea salt from England, smoked over oak; smoked salt has, well, a smokey flavor that you don't get from plain salt
  • Himalania pink salt - from the foothills of the Himalayas, with trace minerals that actually make it pale pink; it tastes like regular salt, but I like the color
  • La Baleine - fine crystal sea salt from France; this is my everyday salt
  • Halen Mon smoked salt (it has a very long Welsh name, but I'll spare you) - Welsh sea salt, also smoked over oak; I sprinkled this on top of the cheese straws I made a few weeks ago
  • Murray River gourmet salt flakes - from an underground river in Australia; also pink
  • Truffle salt - sea salt with bits of black summer truffle; a true luxury sprinkled over scrambled eggs or a toasted cheese sandwich
  • Hawaiian 'Alaea sea salt - a truly orange coarse salt that gets its color from Hawaiian clay; I use this decoratively, because its color really shows on top of focaccia, mashed potatoes, salad, or the lovely salted-caramel truffles I made over the holidays
  • (not pictured) La Baleine coarse salt - the same sea salt from France described above, but in big crystals; this goes into our table salt grinder

And there you have it. A lot of salt. Good thing we have kidneys.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Be still, my heart

  • Pin It
I got the following email today. Just as I read it, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

Dear Erika,

Penzeys Spices is coming to Santa Monica! Our second Southern California store (located just one block east of the Third Street Promenade) will be opening soon. With construction underway, we'll be heading your way in the next couple of weeks to put the finishing touches on the place and to look for a staff to work with us. We have full and part time positions available for people who Love to Cook and Cook to Love. The ideal candidates have a fantastic customer-oriented personality, a love of food and spices, and enjoy a physically active work environment....


Is there any possibility that a job at Penzeys would pay enough to make it worth doing? Probably not. But it sure would be fun. For me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Recipe: Rosemary flatbread with grapes, blue cheese and honey

  • Pin It
The other day, after craving it for weeks, I made the rosemary flatbread with grapes, blue cheese and honey from Food & Wine magazine's October 2008 issue. It wasn't hard - the dough is a fairly standard pizza dough. I don't have a pizza stone (I know, I know) so I heated my sheet pan up in the oven before I put the flatbread on it to bake, to give it a little extra crunch. I probably could have baked it a little longer, because my grapes didn't shrivel as much as the ones in the magazine's photo, but no matter. It was a success.

No one was here to share it with me.

So I ate the whole thing.

And it was delicious.

And I didn't even feel guilty, because no one else in my house likes blue cheese!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recipe: Banana chocolate-chip muffins for Weston's birthday

  • Pin It

Both my kids have January birthdays, so for us, the holiday season isn't over until January 19. Holiday shopping, holiday wrapping, holiday cooking, holiday entertaining, New Year's Day, and then...there's more! Birthday shopping, birthday cooking, birthday parties. By this time in January it's the homestretch and I am completely spent.

And then I remembered that tonight I had to bake two dozen banana chocolate chip muffins.

When kids at our school have birthdays, parents send a treat so the kids can celebrate in class with their friends. Last week Emery wanted brownies, and I delivered. This week Weston wanted his favorite muffins. Lucky for him his dad is out of town, else there would not be enough tomorrow to go around in class. It's been known to happen that I've baked two dozen of these beauties at night and had only a dozen left 24 hours later. And none left 24 hours after that. They're awfully good.

print recipe
Banana chocolate chip muffins
This is my kids' favorite recipe in my baking repertoire, hands down. Banana muffins studded generously with chocolate chips, with a dash of wheat germ for the conscience.
  • 1 cup very ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 large)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute white whole wheat flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper or foil muffin liners, or spray tin with cooking spray.In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mash the bananas with the sugar. Add the egg and beat about 30 seconds. Add melted butter, yogurt and milk and beat about 1 minute more.Put the flour and salt into the mixer with the banana mixture. With a small sieve, sift the baking powder over the flour (believe me, it's worth it - you really don't want to bite into a lump of baking powder). Beat on low speed until flour is just incorporated; do not overmix. Add the wheat germ and mix briefly. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir in the chocolate chips.Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake until tops are golden brown and a tester comes out with melted chocolate but no crumbs, about 30 minutes. Cool in the tin on a rack.These freeze very well (and my husband will tell you they taste equally good frozen).
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 muffins

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recipe: Orange cauliflower vinaigrette

  • Pin It
I cannot say enough good things about cauliflower. Especially the bright orange organic cauliflower now available regularly at our local 99 Cents Only store. I have taken to stopping there around 9:30am a few days a week, because that's when they put out all the fresh produce they've gotten in that morning. For $10 I walk out with a bag brimming with salad greens, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, oranges, and today, even apricots from Chile.

Cauliflower, I find, is an extremely versatile vegetable. It's good raw with dip. I love it roasted with olive oil and sea salt until it's just browning, then served with a squeeze of Meyer lemon on top. Sometimes I steam a head with a single small potato, then puree it with a little yogurt or sour cream and parmesan cheese, as a healthy stand-in for mashed potatoes.

Today I felt like something on the lighter side - it's hot here in southern California - so I steamed it until it was crisp-tender, then dressed it with my standard French-style vinaigrette. If you dress it while it's still warm, the cauliflower will absorb the dressing better, and in fact it will keep its color better, too.

Orange cauliflower vinaigrette

1 head of orange cauliflower, broken into florettes
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower about 8 minutes, or until the florettes are tender but not mushy. While the cauliflower is steaming, combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.

When the cauliflower is done, tip it into the bowl. Toss gently, then taste. Add more salt if necessary, or more lemon juice, or even a bit of vinegar if you want it more punchy.

Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This should come in a brown paper wrapper

  • Pin It

I don't know what all you other people read late at night when you're having a little, shall we say, quiet time...but, me, I reach for the Penzeys Spices catalog. When it showed up in today's mail, my day got a whole lot better.

Sweet. Savory. Aromatic. Exotic. They've got it all. And, in my opinion, they do a good job selling their wares. Their stuff is extremely fresh. You can buy it in small or large quantities. Their prices are good. Their selection is huge. And, in addition to individual spices and herbs, they do these fantastic spice blends that have really livened up my recipes.

Here are a few of my favorite items from this gem of a booklet:

  • Bangkok Blend (sweet peppers, garlic, ginger, black pepper, galangal, hot peppers, lemongrass, basil, cilantro - add it to noodles or mix with cooked rice)
  • Breakfast Sausage Seasoning (salt, sugar, paprika, black pepper, sage, dextrose, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, thyme - mix with ground pork or turkey, shape into patties, and fry or broil)
  • Garden Salad Seasoning (Romano cheese, poppy seeds, salt, sesame seeds, onion, garlic, chives, white pepper - sprinkle on salad or a baked potato)
  • Ozark Seasoning (salt, Tellicherry black pepper, spices and herbs, granulated garlic, paprika - good on roast chicken)
  • Parisien Bonnes Herbes (chives, dill weed, French basil, French tarragon, chervil, white pepper - excellent in omelettes)
  • Sandwich Sprinkle (garlic, coarse salt, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, black pepper - my older son will not eat a chicken sandwich without this)
  • Shallot-Pepper Seasoning (coarse salt, Tellicherry black pepper, shallots, tarragon, bay leaves - great with sauteed chicken or veal cutlets)
  • Soup Base and Seasoning (comes in beef, chicken, ham, pork, seafood, turkey and vegetable flavors - among the best soup stock concentrates I've found)
And there are more, many more, I haven't tried yet. When my birthday rolls around this year, will someone please remember that what I want more than anything else is a gift certificate to Penzeys?

You can shop there too - it's all available here. (And no, they aren't paying me anything. Quite the opposite, I'm afraid.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Recipe: Pasta frittata, the highest and best use for leftover pasta

  • Pin It
I think the original leftover pasta frittata came to me via a very old issue of Gourmet magazine. That must have been in the late 80s. Since then I've made this dish in dozens of ways. The methodology is always the same; the ingredients vary wildly depending on what's in my pantry or refrigerator at any given time.

The frittata above was made with leftover whole-wheat penne with pesto and baby spinach. But you can use any shape pasta, any kind of sauce, any add-ins. It works with everything.

Someday, when I write my first cookbook, I'm going to call it The Goddess of Leftovers. Because, truly, I am.

Leftover pasta frittata

any kind of leftover pasta, with sauce on
6-8 eggs
a few handfuls of shredded cheese (I use mozzarella, but others would work)
a handful of grated parmesan or romano cheese
salt and pepper
anything else that you think might work: crumbled bacon, diced cooked chicken, leftover cooked vegetables, capers, chopped anchovies, a few sun-dried tomatoes....

Preheat the broiler on high. Put the rack on the second-highest shelf - you want it more than a couple inches away from the heat (in my oven, anyway) or the frittata will burn on top.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. You want there to be enough egg that you can see it, because the egg will surround the pasta in the pan and make a sort of omelet around it. But you don't want there to be so much egg that it's mostly egg. It's a balancing act. (And if you don't get it exactly right, don't worry, because it will still taste great.)

Heat an ovenproof skillet over high heat. Swirl in some olive oil, then dump in the pasta-egg mixture. As it sets, lift up the edges with a spatula so more of the egg can run underneath.

When the bottom is set and browned, take the skillet and put it under the broiler. Check it after three minutes to make sure it's not burning. I usually leave it in about five minutes, but last time I did end up burning it, so next time I'm going to be more careful.

When the top is golden brown, remove it from the heat and let it sit in the pan for about 10 minutes. The residual heat will cook the egg all the way through, if it hasn't already, and letting it cool will allow it to set up a bit before you take it out and cut it.

After a little bit, slide the frittata onto a board. Cut into wedges. Eat hot, warm, cold, whatever.

My favorite combination, by the way, is leftover pasta with pesto, to which I add capers, anchovies, bacon, and mozzarella. Try it and tell me what your favorite combo is!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Exotic edible: Candy with crickets?

  • Pin It

Look what my kids got for their birthday from their very creative aunt Julie!
N.B. the ingredient list in the first picture: The second ingredient is "cricket," the third "insect larvae."
Both kids were amused. Neither is willing to taste it, though. Not sure I can blame them.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Recipe: Deepest, darkest brownies

  • Pin It
I've always been quite jealous of my good friend Judith, because, unlike me, she grew up in a household that baked. Lots of other things happened in my house with great regularity: chess, knitting, music, intricate discussions of gross medical procedures. But baking - no.

In our family, kitchen skills skipped a generation. My mom does a lot of things extremely well, but cooking is not one of them, and baking she never even attempted. My grandma Rose was an excellent baker, and though her repertoire was limited, the things she did bake were legendary. An angel food cake so light it seemed to float off the plate. Honey cake in the fall for the high holidays. And rugelach - not the standard flaky cream-cheese pastry, but a sturdier, almost crisp cookie crescent painted inside with cinnamon sugar and studded with walnuts and raisins. She made huge batches of those several times a year if we were lucky and left us with a freezer full of zip-top bags. (In case you're wondering, they tasted better frozen.)

More on the rugelach another time, and back to my friend Judith. In Judith's family, every generation baked. And bakes. This is a family where the women never seem to need much sleep and, as a consequence, always have a few things in the oven, a few projects at the sewing machine, several full-time jobs, and the patience to read to the kids for hours on end. Boy, do I envy that. Me, I need my eight hours. And more patience.

When Judith and I were in our early twenties and lived a few blocks away from each other in New York, I knew nothing about baking. I tried, because it seemed like something I'd like to learn to do. But I was ill-equipped, both in skill and in equipment. Judith bought me my first cooling rack after watching me put freshly baked cookies on the broiler tray from my toaster oven. I still have that rack and still use it. And still think of her every time.

There are always delicious home-baked treats in Judith's house, as I assume there were always delicious home-baked treats in her mother's house during her childhood. Now Judith's two little girls are carrying on the family tradition and bake too. When I make delicious home-baked treats for my family, especially these brownies from Judith's mother A.M., I hope I'm making my house a little more like hers.

These are deep, dark, fudgy, squidgy brownies. I have rarely been able to get them out of the pan without ragged edges - none of those neat precise squares for me. I think they taste better this way.

A.M.'s brownies, with a few twists of my own

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp almond extract (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt together the chocolate and butter over low heat. Let cool a few minutes. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs, beating well. Add the salt, flour, cocoa powder and extract(s). Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the brownies are set and the middle has cracked a little (that's how you know it's done, and not liquid, in the center). Let cool, cut, and dig in.

Preheat the oven

Friday, January 9, 2009

My favorite cookbook you've never heard of

  • Pin It
You know how sometimes you find a random item on sale at a random store, and you buy it because you think, well, it looks interesting, I have a little cash in my pocket, why not? And then it turns out to be something you treasure for years?

This has happened to me with shoes (ah, the tapestry-topped boots I bought at Botticelli in Rockefeller Center in 1988, on a whim, and wore to holes); with clothing (oh, hot-pink-and-wine silk skirt and tunic that saw me through more than a decade, I wish I had you in my closet right now!); and, more recently, with this cookbook.

I was in Palo Alto about eight years back, killing time between meetings, so I stopped at the mall. Which mall? Don't know. Some mall. A big one. With a bookstore, not a big chain, as I recall, something more local. As I thumbed through the stacks on the remainders table, this book, The Cafe Pongo Cookbook: More Than 220 Recipes from the Hudson Valley by Valerie Nehez, caught my eye. Looked homey. The few recipes I glanced at looked fine. It was on sale. So I bought it.

I think I have made more recipes from this book than from any other cookbook I've ever owned, and that includes Julia Child, Martha Stewart, The Joy of Cooking, and many other mega-hits.

There's something about the way Nehez writes that really grabs me. I think it's because she's telling the story, through these recipes, of her largely accidental entry into the restaurant and catering business, which sounds so appealing - the life I wish I had had, maybe. Also, being a native New Yorker who spent a lot of time upstate, I have a soft spot for the Hudson Valley. In fact, last summer when we were passing through the area on our way to Vermont, my nine-year-old son almost convinced me to detour through Tivoli so we could stop at one of the restaurants begat by Cafe Pongo (which, sadly, no longer exists).

I changed the way I cook steak because of this book - cast-iron skillet heated to smoking, kosher salt in the skillet, five minutes on the first side, two minutes on the second side. And the corn-and-scallion pancakes are a summertime staple. The marinated red onions, soaked in a sweet-sour spiced vinegar, add zip to any sandwich and are almost always sitting on the top shelf of my refrigerator in an old pasta sauce jar.

I think the book is out of print, but if you come across it - snap it up. And Valerie Nehez, wherever you are, thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Recipe: Five things to do with shredded zucchini

  • Pin It
My husband categorically hates zucchini. I'm sure my kids would say the same if I actually asked them. Which I don't - because I've learned to hide it, disguise it, slip it in where it's completely unexpected. So here, Dave Letterman-style, are my top five things (I couldn't think of ten) to do with shredded zucchini:

5. Make muffins. I use a recipe from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, page 111, omitting the walnuts and walnut oil because my kids go to a (&^###) nut-free school, and adding a few healthy things. Yes, I would really prefer to put in the nuts. My kids know these muffins have zucchini, but they taste so good that they don't care. My favorite recipe: Whole wheat zucchini muffins with wheat germ

4. Make zucchini squares. Mix a few eggs, some chopped green onions, a cup of Bisquick or the equivalent, shredded cheese of any kind, and shredded zucchini, and bake at 350 degrees in a brownie pan until golden brown on top. Cool, cut into squares, eat as finger food. Does not taste like zucchini. At all. Great for brunches or cocktail parties. See the recipe: Zucchini squares

3. Make a Mexican casserole. Mix leftover rice or crushed tortilla chips, some leftover cooked chicken or ground meat, salsa or enchilada sauce, shredded cheese, and shredded zucchini. Does it really need the zucchini? No, it's fine without, but any chance I get to put vegetables into my kids, I take. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown on top. I often make this for breakfast - I mix it up the night before, stick it in the oven, turn the timer on so it starts baking at 5:30am, and it's ready when the kids get up. See the recipe: Mexican chilaquile casserole

2. Make meatloaf. With zucchini. It keeps things moist, doesn't add any strong flavors, and again, the vegetable thing.

1. And my favorite thing to do with shredded zucchini: Zucchini pancakes. Mix a couple of eggs, a few cups of shredded zucchini, some chopped green onions, feta cheese, a half-cup of Bisquick (just enough to bind it), salt and plenty of pepper, and a tablespoon of herbes de Provence (or a mixture of tarragon, oregano, chives, basil...whatever you like). Heat a skillet, add a little olive oil, and fry up heaping dollops into pancakes. My kids eat these with their hands right out of the pan. And yes, they know what's in them. They just choose to ignore it. See the recipe: Zucchini pancakes (also called Bisquick zucchini fritters)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Recipe: Short ribs of beef, braised in wine and port

  • Pin It
Well, that may be the least appetizing food picture I've ever taken. Aren't you glad I shared it with you anyway? Rest assured that these short ribs, braised in port and red wine with dried fruit, tasted much, much better than they look here. Sort of a brown plate, eh? Clearly I forgot to pick parsley from the garden while it was still light outside.

I love cooking short ribs because the actual work part is so short (about 15 minutes) and most of the cooking happens on the stove or in the oven without any human interaction whatsoever. I got so much done while these were cooking! And still, when it was time for dinner, there they were, steaming and falling apart and filling the house with this absolutely fabulous scent.

This can be a very grownup dinner, a big hit at a dinner party, but all the kids at the table tonight - and the one under the table, too - ate it up.

I used boneless short ribs, which are called English cut in my store, but the bone-in kind are fine too, and in fact they probably have slightly more flavor. I just don't like the hassle of picking out the bones and cartilage, personally. And I used the dried fruit I had on hand, but other good choices would be prunes, cranberries, cherries or raisins. Also, my husband has a wonderful port collection, so there's always something on hand for me to use in a recipe, but if you don't have port, use more wine and a little brown sugar.

Erika's sweet short ribs

4-5 lbs short ribs
salt and pepper to taste
3 large onions, sliced
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup dried chopped dates
1/2 cup dried currants
1 cup dried apricots
3 cups red wine
1 cup port
2 cups beef stock (I used water plus three packages of Savory Choice liquid beef stock concentrate)

Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper.

In a heavy pot over high heat, sear the short ribs in batches until they are dark brown on all sides. Do not move them while they are cooking; let them get good and brown before you turn them. Don't crowd the pan, either, or they will steam instead of browning. When one batch is done, move it to a plate and do the next. This process should take about 10 minutes total. While the ribs are browning, slice the onions into half-moons.

When the ribs are browned and resting on the plate, put the onions into the pan. Using the fat left in the pan, saute the onions about five minutes, until they start to soften. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook for another minute, until the flour is all mixed in and you don't see any white. This flour will thicken the sauce as the ribs cook.

Now add the wine, port and stock to the pan. Stir briefly. Put the ribs and any juice that has accumulated on the plate into the pot, and then put in the dried fruit. The liquid should just reach the top of the ribs.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for two hours. Or three. Or even four. You want the meat to be soft, falling off the bones if there are any, so soft you can pull it apart with a fork. If you have to go out, as I did today, move the pot to a 300 degree oven, where it will cook just the same and you don't have to leave an open flame burning in an empty house.

When you're ready to eat, taste the broth and adjust the seasonings. It should taste both salty and sweet, which probably means you'll need to add salt at the end to balance out the wine/port/fruit sweetness.

Serve over mashed potatoes, or rice, or noodles, or just with some crusty bread to soak up the delectable juices.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Recipe: French lentil salad (or, The romantic lentils of Le Puy)

  • Pin It
The first time I ate this sort of French lentil salad was in Paris, at a restaurant on the Left Bank - perhaps called L'Entrecote? - that my husband says he has tried and failed to find again on subsequent trips. But it's by no means unique to that particular venue; tiny "lentilles du Puy" in a garlicky, mustardy vinaigrette with herbs and lardons (meaty chunks of bacon), served at room temperature or perhaps a tad warm.

The lentils are the key to this dish. They're not the normal brown American lentils we use for soup. They're smaller, darker brown or greenish, and the authentic ones are grown in and near Le Puy, which incidentally is a charming town in the Auvergne where my husband proposed to me on a snowy March evening many years ago. Did we eat this lentil salad that night? I have no idea. But it's possible.

I can find these lentils in my local grocery store, but depending on where in the world you are, you might have to hit more of a gourmet shop.

French lentil salad

1 500-gram box lentilles du Puy (also called green lentils)
juice and zest of two lemons
four cloves of garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cooked bacon (I use the bagged kind from Costco, but any will do) (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, any kind (I used parsley, chervil, tarragon, cilantro, rosemary, savory) (and if you only have dried herbs, that's fine too)

Rinse the lentils in a strainer and pick out any rocks - yes, sometimes there are rocks, and your teeth will appreciate the two minutes it takes to look for them.

Put the lentils in a saucepan, cover with water by a few inches, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the lentils about half an hour, or until al dente. You don't want them mushy, and the exact cooking time will depend on how long they've been sitting on the shelf in the store, so start checking them after about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, mix together the lemon juice and zest, garlic, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper in a big bowl. If you're using dried herbs, add them now.

Drain the lentils when they're ready and add them to the vinaigrette. You want to do this while the lentils are hot so they absorb the flavors of the dressing. Add the chopped bacon and toss everything together.

Wait 10 minutes, until the lentils have cooled slightly, and then add the fresh herbs. (They will wilt less, and lose less of their color, if you let the salad cool before adding them.)

Let the lentils stand at room temperature for an hour or two before serving.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Recipe: The last (cheese) straw

  • Pin It
What is it with me and cheese lately? First, on New Year's Day, an experiment with gougeres (French cheese puffs), which were tasty if a bit deflated. This morning I woke up thinking about two wedges of leftover cheese in the top refrigerator drawer. One was Manchego, the other I have no idea.

Inspired by a recent entry on Macheesmo about his homemade cheese straws, I decided to attempt something similar. Snack food for breakfast? Why not?

Cheese straws with smoked salt
makes about 4 dozen small logs

4 Tbsp cold butter, cut into little pieces
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups (approximately) shredded cheese (I used Manchego and my mystery cheese)
4 Tbsp (approximately) cold water
1 tsp smoked salt

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Put the butter and flour in a mixing bowl and rub together with your fingers until the butter is in pea-sized lumps. You don't want it to be uniform; it should have a bit of texture to it.

Mix in the cheese with your hands until it is all coated with the butter-flour mixture.

One tablespoon at a time, add the water, mixing with your hands as you go. When the dough starts to come together, STOP ADDING WATER and squeeze the dough into a ball. You can let the dough rest in the refrigerator at this point, or you can bake it right away.

Roll out the dough (I did this on a piece of parchment paper) and cut into whatever shapes you like. Sprinkle with the smoked salt. Regular coarse salt will work too, of course. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan for 8-10 minutes, or until slightly golden on top. Try mightily not to eat all at once (you will fail, as I have).

Cheese Straws on Foodista

Friday, January 2, 2009

The mysteries of my pantry

  • Pin It
Every few months I get into home-organization mode, and invariably I start with the pantry. Last time I cleaned out I found these lovely items that must have seemed interesting when I bought them but have not yet inspired me to use them. I need help. What to do with these? 1. Habanero honey. Use in a marinade for pork tenderloin, maybe?
2. Green masala paste. Mix with yogurt and braise chicken thighs? Not sure how spicy this is, but even if it is I suppose the yogurt will tame it a bit.
3. Sun-dried tomato pesto. The problem here is that my husband hates sun-dried tomatoes. I should have used this on some of the crostini on New Year's Eve. Maybe this will wait until the Superbowl party we always attend.
4. Chestnut puree. I had never tasted chestnuts until I met my Hungarian husband and his Hungarian parents, and now I'm hooked. I could eat this stuff straight out of the jar, but there must be a better use for it. Sometimes we make palacinta (Hungarian crepes) and use this to fill them. Other suggestions welcome.
5. Danish something jam, given to us by our lovely neighbors who travel to Denmark each summer to see relatives. I wish I knew what kind of jam this was....
6. Lingonberries in syrup. One of the best reasons to shop at Ikea! But a year later, here they are in the pantry. Other than eating them as jam, I have no brilliant ideas. And we don't seem to go through a lot of jam in our house.
Help. Post suggestions!