Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Question From My Mother

Well, lucky me - I have another cooking question to answer, this time from my mother. She writes:
I made oven-baked fries seasoned with fresh dill, oregano, pepper, and kosher salt. I tossed with olive oil. Still, I thought they were bland and not at all like the Greek-style fries that I love. Ideas? Probably fresh garlic would do the trick?
I love oven-baked fries, and we used to get them at a fantastic, family-run Greek restaurant near our house when I was at home. They always sliced the potatoes lengthwise in wide, flat oval-shaped sheets, maximizing surface area for a tangy and heartily-seasoned treat.

But, back to the question at hand: Yes, I think you are quite right that fresh garlic would make the fries more robust. I would approach these like a Greek-seasoned crouton; creating an olive-oil based mixture to brush over each potato slice. In this case, since you are going for Greek, I would keep the oregano but forget the dill. Dill can be nice, but it won't really go with the garlicky taste that you are after here. Instead, I would replace it with another Greek flavor, such as dried mint, or maybe parsley.

I would also recommend adding some lemon juice to your spice and oil mixture. This will definitely impart some Greek-ness to your fries. Here is my recommendation, in rough recipe form:
Oven-baked French Fry Dressing

1/4 c. olive oil
2-3 pressed garlic cloves
generous kosher salt and freshly-grated black pepper
dried oregano and mint to taste
2 or so tbs. lemon juice

Whisk ingredients together thoroughly, and spread on potato slices using a kitchen brush.

Let me know how they turn out next time!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Peas in a Pesto

For most of my life, I was firm in my stance on peas: I hated them. I picked them out of my samosas; rejected them steamed or boiled, fresh or frozen. And then, last year, I had the great fortune of giving peas another shot. It just took a spoonful of tender tinies, with a dash of salt, and I was hooked. I loved peas. They were so healthy, colorful, sweet, and versatile!

My love affair with peas has not faded over the past year, and I include them in as many recipes as I can. Not only are they bright and sweet, but they are incredibly healthy - the perfect cross between vitamin-rich vegetable and fiber-rich legume.

I'm not sure where I got the idea for a pea pesto, but it sure was a good one. My pea pesto is very simple and includes just about all of the ingredients for a traditional basil pesto in addition to peas. I usually serve it on pasta, both because of its creamy texture and because the sweet pea flavor is a perfect complement to whole grain pastas, such as whole-wheat linguine or even sprouted wheat pasta (Trader Joe's sells reasonably-priced sprouted wheat papardelle that we buy in quantity). Any extraneous pesto makes a delightful dip for pita chips or spread for sandwiches.

Here is my rough recipe for pea pesto - I haven't included precise measurements because I usually just adjust the proportions as I go. I do, however, start with 2 cups of peas for 3-4 pasta servings.
Delicious Pea Pesto

2 c. frozen tender tiny peas
handful of basil or parsley leaves
a few crushed garlic cloves
handful of grated parmesan cheese
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
pine nuts or walnuts (optional)

Defrost peas in the microwave. Combine warm peas and the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth and creamy. Add a bit of pasta water if the pesto is too thick.


When I'm feeling particularly inspired, I serve the pesto and pasta with a generous sprinkling of toasted walnuts on top. Lemon zest would also be lovely. In the picture below we served the pesto as a dip for homemade farinata wedges (recipe and post coming soon). Enjoy!




Sunday, October 28, 2007

Searching for Sherbet

With nearly a quart of leftover buttermilk in the fridge, we got thinking. You can make ice cream out of cream, milk, ricotta, and yogurt, so why not buttermilk? Some cursory internet searching made it obvious that this was not an original idea, and we quickly came upon a David Lebovitz (the reigning ice cream king) recipe for lemon buttermilk sherbet.

I have vague memories from my early childhood of recoiling at the sound of "sherbet" (though I remember it as "sherbert") because it just meant some poor imitation of its more delicious cousin, ice cream. But what exactly is sherbet? In Australia, it means beer. In England, it describes a (different) fizzy drink. Wikipedia has an entire entry entitled "Sherbet (disambiguation)." In America, sherbet can, it seems, mean anything from sorbet to ice cream. I guess we can stick with the dictionary.com definition of
A frozen dessert made primarily of fruit juice, sugar, and water, and also containing milk, egg white, or gelatin.
It couldn't be easier to prepare – the only ingredients are water, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and buttermilk – and boasts a tart and grown-up taste. Directly out of the ice cream maker, the sherbet was delicious and refreshing, even if the texture left something to be desired after a few days in the freezer. I guess we've learned a few things about sherbet.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eating "Healthy"

As Jonathan noted in a recent post, I am the bearer of a modified version of his pumpkin bread. This modified version is what I like to call "healthy." I'll explain the special definition of "healthy" momentarily, but first it is important to note that this blog, while gooey with homemade-ice cream and greasy with homemade mayonnaise, is actually a pretty healthy, self-contained little universe. Most of my own recipes (you'll see plenty of them soon) are whole-grain, chock full of vegetables, or otherwise nutritious. So, that is why you'll see so many "healthy" treats, starting, of course, with pumpkin bread.

One should note that "healthy" is not the same as healthy. Steamed broccoli is healthy. Reduced-fat muffins are "healthy." Oat bran is healthy. Whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies are "healthy." Get the idea? Now, to make things even more complicated, some "healthy" recipes really are quite nutritious, while others aren't quite as nutritious, but are improvements over other, really unhealthy things. I think that you can decide for yourself whether "healthy" is close to healthy or to unhealthy. However, I am here to guide you taste-wise. If a "healthy" recipe really tastes quite different from the original, you will be amply notified.

Many of my recipes are "healthy" because I have a raging sweet tooth, and couldn't possibly live without delicious treats like pumpkin bread, gelato, and brownies. Especially brownies. When I crave something sweet and home-baked, but haven't necessarily earned the right to indulge myself, "healthy" recipes save the day. I fully advocate the occasional and utter indulgence, but perhaps not every day. Or at least not at every meal.

If you are still skeptical of the idea of "healthy" recipes, and would prefer to just have the honest-to-goodness stuff less frequently, consider this: how incredibly awesome it is to have something home-baked that can serve both as tasty dessert and as hearty breakfast. If this doesn't make the case for "healthy," I don't know what does.

Now, enough of that intellectualized "healthy" crap, and on to the recipe for "healthy" pumpkin bread:
"Healthy" Pumpkin Bread

1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 eggs
1 c. + 3 tbs. solid-pack pumpkin puree
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. buttermilk

Sift dry ingredients (not sugar) and mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix wet into dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 min., or until tester inserted comes out clean.

Jonathan will be quick to tell you about the time when I made this pumpkin bread way too "healthy." It was basically healthy at that point. It was also rather...spongy? This recipe is the happy medium, and you will hardly be able to tell the difference between it and the original, unless you do a side-by-side taste test. I'll admit that the original is better for dessert. But this is pretty damn good.

Venison

As I was fortunate enough to sneak in a dinner sans Mia this evening, I was able to enjoy one of the few great pleasures in life, red meat. Beth proposed venison, and I agreed to walk to Savenor's to obtain it. Savenor's is about the size of my bedroom, and, in addition to a few readily obtainable potatoes and fruits, it sells meat. And I'm not even sure it sells regular meat - what it really sells is irregular meat.

I asked the butcher for help finding the right cut of venison. We wanted something that we could sear and/or roast such that we could finish eating before Josh Beckett threw his first 12-6 snapdragon for a strike. He brushed off my question by saying that, obviously, any of the multitudinous venison cuts available could be prepared in my fashion, but really what I wanted was bear or wild boar. I was careful to be both contemplative and noncommittal. When he was done explaining how truly stunning the $60 blob of bear meat tastes, I kindly asked him to give me one of the two venison tenderloins that were co-packaged.

An uncooked venison tenderloin is an alarming thing to behold. I have pictures, but they're available only by special request and after a background check. The best description I can think of is that a raw venison tenderloin looks like a common leech, but 20 times the size. Anyway, I did a simple kosher salt and black pepper spice rub, and then, after washing my hands thoroughly, I used the new silicone pastry brush to paint the entire thing with olive oil. I sauteed it over medium heat for about 4 minutes per side, and then we put it in the oven at 450 degrees for another 5 minutes or so.

The result was superb. It was the best meat I have ever tasted - tender, free of any gristle that might get in the way of the eating experience, and, most importantly, intensely flavorful. I really have no choice but to urge strongly that you head to your favorite specialty rare meat grocer and try it for yourself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Question From My Sister

An aspiring foodie herself, my sister Emma came to me last night in search of some culinary advice. I was pleased with this request, not only because it presented me with a challenge and future blog post, but also because when I still lived at home 3 or so years ago, Emma could barely make herself a bowl of cereal. My, how she's grown! Her question is as follows:

The other night, I made whole wheat cous cous with a little butter, salt, and cumin, then served it with sauteed onions, peppers, and broccoli, with plain yogurt on the side. It was good, but a bit bland. Can you suggest something to spice it up a bit?
Here are some general tips, and some specific ideas for this meal:

My first tip is to pick a flavor theme for this meal. When I'm throwing a bunch of veggies and grains together, I usually am thinking that it will have Indian-inspired spices, or Moroccan-ish flavors. This shouldn't hold you back by any means, but should give you some direction, and hopefully make the meal more interesting.

Next, I'd think about how to cook the grains in this recipe. I almost never cook grains without adding some seasonings. This adds depth of flavor and allows you to mix and match tastes without over-seasoning one element of the meal. When I make quinoa, for example, I usually start by sauteing some garlic and onion in the saucepan, and then adding the water and quinoa. Cous cous is a bit trickier, since you don't cook it in the same way you cook other grains - most recipes call for steeping the dry cous cous in hot water for about 5 minutes or so. However, feel free to add spices or crushed garlic to the steeping water. This will infuse the cous cous with whatever flavors happen to be tickling your taste buds. Another easy option is to steep in broth rather than water. Instant flavor, minimal effort.

Ok, so what to do with this recipe? I have a few suggestions:

Take the Mediterranean/Moroccan route: When cooking the cous cous, add a dash of cinnamon, cayenne, and cumin to the steeping liquid. Throw in a splash of good olive oil, too. You could even try some chopped green onions or other fresh herbs, if you have them on hand. Once the cous cous has steeped, try adding one or a few flavorful accents. I love garbanzo beans, raisins, and toasted pine nuts. The beans and pine nuts also add some protein to this meal.

Now for the veggies. I'd skip the broccoli in this case, since it doesn't really fit the Mediterranean flavor profile. If you still want something green, try sauteing some spinach with those onions. Add some garlic, cayenne, salt, pepper, and cumin, and you've got yourself a flavorful accompaniment for the cous cous. And what about the peppers? In my mind, nothing tops off a Mediterranean meal like roasted red peppers. Roast whole peppers over the burner of a gas stove, or pop them in a hot oven until skins are charred. Let them cool, and then remove the burned skins.

For the yogurt on the side: You could keep things simple by serving Greek-style yogurt with nothing added to it. The rest of the meal is flavorful enough that this is a good option. However, if you want to get fancy, you could try a tzatziki-like yogurt dish. Mix the plain yogurt with shredded cucumber, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic. Let it sit for a bit so the flavors can mingle before serving.

Try any or all of these steps, and see how it turns out. Of course, if you don't want Mediterranean influences, you could also try Indian: curry powder, garam masala, peas, raita-inspired yogurt, tomatoes, and cauliflower; or Latin American: cumin, garlic, chili powder, black beans, sauteed peppers and onions, low-fat sour cream, etc.

Hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All the Fixins

On Saturday night, overcome by a false nostalgia for some down-home cooking, I decided to make a "traditional" American meal. I say "false" nostalgia, because my family was never the meat-and-potatoes type. A normal meal at 7 Kings Pine Rd. in Westford, Massachusetts, usually took the form of a Chinese-inspired stir fry with bok choy and soba noodles, turmeric-infused rice with daal and chickpeas, or ubiquitous rice and beans (my favorite!).

For the most part, I have inherited my mother's inclination towards ethnic culinary experimentation, and keep the nearest pantry stocked with garbanzos, tofu, garam masala, cumin, plain yogurt, miso, and hot paprika. A former pesco-vegetarian, I am relatively apprehensive about preparing meat and tend to mix and match various vegetable dishes, soups, and mezze when serving a meal.

On Saturday, though, I was inspired to go completely New England-traditional. Ok, so I added a hefty sprinkling of cayenne to my pumpkin soup. And curry. And cumin. But for the most part, my meal was tame: salad with granny smith apple vinaigrette and walnuts, (spicy curried) pumpkin soup, and lemon-herb roasted chicken breast with potatoes and homemade stuffing. I will admit the potential for having been influenced by reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit (it was the Thanksgiving issue).

In particular, the magazine inspired my chicken: we purchased an entire skin-on, bones-in chicken breast, which afforded me the opportunity to mix some fresh herbs in some butter and rub it between the skin and the breast meat. I then slipped about 10 or so thin slices of lemon under the skin, and sprinkled the outside with some kosher salt and pepper. That was it. No stuffing the cavity, no kitchen twine, no giblets. I just popped that baby in a roasting pan alongside some quartered, oiled, and seasoned potatoes and some of the stuffing I had prepared (in copious amounts).

Speaking of the stuffing: I had originally intended to do an easy wild rice stuffing, which requires no bread. Upon returning from Whole Foods, however, I found half of a stale loaf of rustic whole wheat bread, ripe for cubing. And so it was that I reserved the wild rice for the pumpkin soup, cubed the bread, toasted it in the oven until dry, and then mixed it with the other stuffing ingredients:

Olive oil/butter
Carrots
Onion
Celery
Mushrooms
Dried cranberries
White wine
Chicken broth
Sage, salt, pepper, etc.

I haven't included measurements in this pseudo-recipe, but as long as you mix the above in rationally-devised proportions, you will come up with something delicious. As I mentioned before, some of the stuffing got prime seating next to the chicken breast, and the rest was baked in a separate pan. Simple, not outrageously unhealthy, completely delicious. Take a look:




I also mentioned a pumpkin soup with wild rice. It was quite tasty, incredibly easy, and beautiful, but I will withhold the recipe until I get the seasonings just right. This time around I think I may have overdone it with the cayenne. Stay tuned, but for now, a visual offering:




It should be noted that the morning following this hyper-American feast, I was visited by the insane notion of making a leftovers omelette. We had a few potatoes and a hefty helping of stuffing left, and I made an omelette for two using 4 eggs, a large frying pan, and an utter disregard for visual appeal. It may not have been pretty, but Jonathan and I agreed that it was one of the best omelettes we had ever eaten. Served with generous amounts of organic ketchup, of course. Why does ketchup make everything taste better? (This is not rhetorical, please post a response in the comments section, if you are so inclined.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Homemade Mayo

Jonathan's brother, Andy, recently embarked on the culinary adventure of making homemade mayonnaise. He, like me, has noticed a cultural trend that stigmatizes mayonnaise, causing yuppies and calorie-conscious gym-goers alike to claim that they "hate" mayonnaise, and that it "grosses them out." As both a yuppie and a calorie-conscious gym-goer, I must admit that I generally abstain from mayonnaise. However, I will not go so far as to say I hate it, and I certainly appreciate that the non-conformists among us are willing to whip up a homemade batch now and again.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of making homemade mayonnaise, the key element is emulsion. Since mayonnaise is a an emulsion of vinegar and fat (oil, egg yolk), careful precision is necessary while mixing the ingredients. Andy explains his experience below:

The first step is combining together in a bowl:

2 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tbs. lemon juice
Minced garlic, to taste
Salt, to taste (1-2 tsp.)
1 egg yolk

Next, beat this concoction with a whisk until it is completely mixed. Now comes the hard part:

Add the oil (about 3/4c.). This must be done quite literally one drop at a time. With the addition of each drop, you have to demonically whip the concoction to force air into it. Once you've worked a decent amount of the oil into the emulsion, you can start adding the oil 2-3 drops at a time. On our first go we whipped for a while and produced a light liquid - nothing near mayo. In an act of desperation we dumped the mixture into the blender, which, miraculously, did the trick. However, to test the method, we made a second batch that started in the blender, and this didn't fare as well. Not surprisingly, many online recipes warn readers about the arm-soreness related to making mayonnaise.

Fortunately, it's easy to tell whether you've succeeded in creating the proper mayo emulsion. After adding the oil one of two things will happen: 1) Just when you think your arm will fall off, your emulsion will magically turn into real, live, mayonnaise. This is success. 2) Just when you think your arm will fall off, your emulsion will continue to look like a thin, unappetizing liquid. This is failure. Toss it, and start again, preferably with someone else doing the whisking this time.

According to Jonathan, when asked whether homemade mayonnaise was worth the effort, when there are so many other things to make, Andy replied that "only someone who has never tried homemade mayonnaise would ask that question."

It's probably not an everyday project, but apparently worth it on special occasions. And, to appease those who are appalled by the unhealthiness of recent posts (honest-to-goodness ice cream, while delicious, is best consumed in moderation), we will be posting some healthier recipes soon. I promise.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Honest-to-Goodness Ice Cream

If you had stopped by 20 Ellery St. a few weeks, you would have found me and Jonathan waiting anxiously, like 10-year-olds with upcoming birthdays, for the UPS guy. We startled at every faint rustling coming from the direction of the front door. We raced down the stairs at every ring of the doorbell. We almost became hysterical when, on the day that our package was supposed to arrive, the UPS guy was late and didn't make our delivery until 3pm.

What, you ask, could possibly evoke such giddy enthusiasm from two jaded and sarcastic 20-somethings? Well I'll tell you: it was an ice cream maker.

Jonathan picked out a wee Krups machine, which has a removable freezer bowl and a cute plastic churning paddle. I can't say I'm completely confident that the whole contraption will survive much longer than a few months, but as far as I'm concerned, the pure excitement surrounding its advent is worth the price (which, as you might imagine, was not very steep).

Just a couple weeks into our ice cream-making careers, we have already turned out several successful batches. Our first go was a low-fat mocha gelato, which we thickened with cornstarch instead of egg yolks, and which was speckled generously with grains of freshly-ground espresso powder. Rave reviews, although even I, the obsessive healthy-food taste rationalizer, can't say that low-fat is the same as the real thing.

We opted out of dairy for our second experiment: apple cider sorbet, made with fresh apple cider and locally-grown MacIntosh apples. The sorbet was a deep caramel color, with the unmistakeable taste of real New England apples (the best).

Next came an attempt at frozen yogurt....but we have decided that it shouldn't be spoken of again. So we'll update you when we've found a post-worthy fro-yo recipe.

Last night, though, was our crowning achievement: thick, delicious, perfectly-textured, honest-to-goodness ice cream. We made banana (flecked, of course, with a little Valrhona 70%) because we had a few ripe specimens in the kitchen. We started the egg-based custard late Friday night, chilled it overnight, and churned it to creamy perfection late yesterday afternoon. We popped it back into the freezer for a few hours (after a preliminary tasting), and it was ready to scoop and serve by dessert-time. We invited some friends over to share in our culinary joy, but most of them couldn't make it. Too bad - we had to eat it all ourselves.

More delicious pictures and anecdotes to come. But for now:


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pumpkin Bread

By request, I am posting our famous (stolen from a website lost in the sands of time) pumpkin bread recipe. Mia also has a "healthy" version of this recipe, which she may or may not post in the future. This version is not really that bad for you, and it is extremely delicious.

Pumpkin Bread

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. + 3 tbs. solid-pack pumpkin puree
1/2 c. vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients (not sugar) and mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix wet into dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 45min., or until tester inserted comes out clean.



Baked Eggs

I am authoring this post, even though Mia was responsible for the meal in every way, because I already published it to my blog.

Inspired by my new favorite food blog, 101cookbooks.com, I decided to experiment with baked eggs this morning. We used oiled ramekins, lined them with bread (whole wheat pita for me, sourdough toast for Jonathan), piled in a few diced tomatoes and onions, seasoned with parsley, salt, and pepper, and then plopped an egg on top. We baked them at 425F for about 10 minutes, just until the yoke was set. They were fantastic. Similar in gooey deliciousness to poached eggs, but with all the flavors of a tasty omelette.




Friday, October 19, 2007

Pumpkin Biscotti

The other night, I, alone, and by myself, with no help whatsoever, made pumpkin biscotti, using a slightly modified recipe from Simply Recipes.

Ingredients:

• 2 1/2 cups of white whole wheat flour
• 1 cup of sugar
• 1 teaspoon of baking powder
• 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
• Pinch of ginger
• Pinch of cloves
• Pinch of salt
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 cup of pumpkin purée
• 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-some raisins, chocolate chips, and/or walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and spices into a large bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, and vanilla extract. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Give it a rough stir to generally incorporate the ingredients, the dough will be crumbly.

3. Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough. Add the raisins, walnuts, and chips. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Form the dough into a large log, roughly about 15-20 inches by 6-7 inches. The loaves should be relatively flat, only about 1/2 inch high. Bake for 22-30 minutes at 350 F, until the center is firm to the touch.

4. Let biscotti cool for 15 minutes and then using a serrated knife cut into 1 inch wide pieces. Turn the oven to 300 F and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. Cool completely.
Biscotti may be still a tad moist and chewy, so if you prefer it crisp let it sit uncovered overnight in a dry space. Serve and enjoy.
Makes approximately 15 cookies.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Red Ramekin Debut

Hello and welcome to our new blog! We are aspiring gourmets and are excited to share some simple recipes, pictures, and general musings on food.

-Mia and Jonathan