Monday, June 18, 2018

The Awesomest of Cauliflower Wedges (yes, you heard me)--Review

If you had told me prior to last month that I'd ever get excited about cauliflower, I would have given you that face...you know the one. And if you don't, let's just move on.

Working my way through Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Every Day (although admittedly I have not yet used it EVERY day), I came upon her recipe for roasted cauliflower, with the ultra sexy title of CAULIFLOWER WEDGE (pages 42-43). But I like the understated title because it holds a secret...

THIS IS THE BEST CAULIFLOWER YOU WILL EVER HAVE.

Ok, so maybe it is *my* favorite cauliflower. It doesn't have to be yours. It is light and flavorful, and you can still taste the sweetness of the cauliflower. And it looks pretty on the plate!

Part of what makes this recipe so great is these:






Those are fried capers. I'm certain if you put fried capers and parmesan on just about anything you can eat it! Except eggplant. There is no helping eggplant.







The recipe calls for only a few ingredients:  cauliflower (go figure), capers, parmesan, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, currants, scallions, flat-leaf parsley.  I won't reproduce the recipe here, but you can experiment and probably figure out a close approximation. 

I'm also grateful to this recipe because I learned a new word:  FRICOED. Yeah, that's an example of "verbing" (which is also example of "verbing" but...) Frico, at least originally, means a wafer of shredded cheese and potatoes. Perelman uses it to refer to the parmesan crispies (a term I prefer) that form in the oven as you roast the cauliflower, as in "fricoed bits of Parmesan" (43). Whatever you call them, be sure to pull them up off the baking sheet and sprinkle them on top when you serve the cauliflower. Because everything is better with fricoed crispies.




Monday, June 4, 2018

Summer of Salads: (Review)-- Smashed Cucumber Salad (Smitten Kitchen)

I received Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Everyday cookbook for Christmas, and finally had the time to crack it open. I started with the Smashed Cucumber Salad with Salted Peanuts and Wasabi Peas (page 50)... As always with a copyrighted recipe, I'll post the ingredients, but not the amounts.

The basics: seedless cucumbers, kosher salt, sake, rice vinegar, sesame oil, hot pepper flakes, salted peanuts, wasabi peas

So, this recipe had me at "wasabi peas"--so much so that I completely overlooked the SAKE (hence why I have it italicized and emphasized up above). I didn't read the recipe beforehand, because I thought that wouldn't be necessary for a "salad" and because I am sometimes not-so-smart like that. That would have saved me from my omission of sake, but alas. And I usually always read the prose from Deb Perelman because she's hilarious.

So, what to do when you don't have sake? Internet to the rescue! There were two suggestions for substitutions: 1) rice vinegar diluted with water and 2) sherry. The recipe already called for rice vinegar and when given the choice of diluted vinegar water or alcohol, you can guess which one sounded more appealing. So I subbed sherry for sake and have made it a priority to get sake so I can try this again (I'll update here). The sherry worked, but I have a feeling the flavors will be markedly different with sake.

A few notes:

1) "Smashing"
If you've never taken a meat tenderizer to a cucumber, it is surprisingly satisfying. Beyond that, Deb Perelman swears it helps the cucumbers absorb the flavors, so who am I to argue? I'm not totally sold on the trend of getting rid of cucumber seeds--I happen to like them. So, I kept whatever didn't fall out during the smashing process.


2) "Marinating"
Perelman does a pre-salting/marinade step in a colander over a bowl. I'll be curious to try everything together than just the salt and sake, which is how I approach cucumber salad. The pre-marinated cucumbers then get tossed in the remaining ingredients. Deb is on the fence about dressing the salad ahead of time.  After eating leftovers the day after, if you are ok with slippery cucumbers, I say go for it...let them stew a bit! That said, I'd probably go with thin slices in that case, because you lose the whole mouthfeel of the crunchy crushed cucumbers.

3) Toppings!
Do know that the wasabi peas lose their oomph after a bit, so if you do plan on having leftovers, sprinkle the crunchy stuff per serving, not in the bowl.


OVERALL:  Really lovely salad--I made it as the only side to accompany some grilled arctic char. That was perfect and made for a light and healthy summer dinner! I'll be curious to try it with the sake to see how it compares, but mostly I just longed for a slightly more acidic taste, so I'll have to customize the amounts and experiment.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer of Salads: Cucumber-Honeydew Salad with Feta

Honeydew is always hit and miss with me, usually because it is either too sweet (overripe) or not ripe enough. I came across this recipe from Rikki Snyder (via Pinterest) however and was intrigued, because I was looking for something that would accommodate honeydew at almost any level of ripeness. It did not disappoint!
I did find that I didn't have the patience to use the melon baller on the entire thing, so that's why you see chopped honeydew in my salad. I'm sure there is some home economics maven out there who is incredibly disappointed in me. I'm sorry. However, I did find the strength to make just enough for a wonderful cocktail of my own devising:

  I made this with gin (Sapphire (TM))--I'd use Hendrick's (TM) next time---I muddled the honeydew and it is basically a G & T with muddled honeydew.  Very subtle. And the thyme garnish? Well, I've become a big fan of garnishing my cocktails with whatever herbs I have on hand. I had a nice martini at EVOO last night that featured torched rosemary. I'm not quite up to torching my garnishes...yet.

Served with grilled halibut and asparagus. The arugula is a must, in my opinion, and the entire salad would not be the same without it. I'd DEFINITELY use it if the honeydew is very sweet and you don't want fruit salad. The dressing is really wonderful and works well with the feta cheese. This will be a summer staple.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Other Cultures Cooking Project: Cannellini and Lamb Soup (Ottolenghi/Tamimi)


Cannellini and Lamb Soup from Jerusalem, p. 135, photo by RM

This is probably one of the best soups I have ever made and was absolutely perfect for the snowy wintery weather we've been having.












A few things.

It calls for 20 cloves of garlic.
 

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KITCHEN GADGET ALERT: GARLIC EDITION!


This is my favorite tool to peel garlic. It shouldn't cost more than 2 bucks. You don't need anything fancier. All you need is a clean, stable, and dry surface. The older the garlic, the easier it is to peel.

This actually works, believe it or not, in removing garlic odors from your hands. Yes, I know, you can rub your hands all over your stainless steel kitchen faucet, but forgive me if I think this is more graceful. And a shout out here to Katie (over at Cook The Book Fridays) who sent me my steel soap one year for Christmas!

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I made no substitutions, except that I used canned cannellini beans because planning ahead enough to soak dried ones never happens. I threw them in with the potatoes in the last 20 minutes of cooking time. I recommend letting your taste, smell, and sight guide you, rather than following the cooking times exactly. I didn't need a full hour to simmer the meat and the potatoes were done in about 15.

Also, if you've never used cardamom pods, you are missing out.

This particular recipe reflects the culinary influence Jews in Yemen who settled there in the 1950s. I'm not interested in getting political here on this blog, but I am interested in a cultural exploration of food. The cardamom, turmeric, and cumin were beautifully balanced. Ottolenghi notes that adding cinnamon would make it more in the tradition of Aleppine Jews.

We paired it with a good and relatively inexpensive red blend from South Africa. I suggest decanting and letting it breathe. My husband says I always say that, but with this wine, I really mean it! It was heavy on the berries and fruit, but became a much more interesting wine by the end of the glass.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Other Cultures Cooking Project: Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Malouf)

I will start this post with a pseudo-apology to the Ohio College of Clinical Pharmacy. Yes... in the unlikely event that my Other Cultures Cooking Project becomes more a more popular choice in Google algorithms, I apologize pre-emptively to anyone more interested in Zocor (TM) than za'atar.

With that out of the way...welcome to the first official Other Cultures Cooking Project Post! I did spend ample time agonizing over the name--I hesitate to use "other" as I am "other" to other others, but setting aside academic navel-gazing, I think we understand that it is contextual: "other cultures foreign to me." And we can understand that I'm not even sure what constitutes my "culture" so there's that too.

What started this is that I believe food is one of the most important (and enjoyable) ways to learn about people--culturally, socially, economically.  I like to learn. I like to cook. I like to eat. So, a no-brainer, in other words.

I will still feature occasional recipes that are fairly close to home, but I'm making a concerted effort to break out of my culinary comfort zone (sometimes named "Ina Garten") to learn about the larger world, especially as we become increasingly and frighteningly insular in this country. Yes, that is political commentary.

For Christmas I received Greg and Lucy Malouf's Saha: A Chef's Journey through Lebanon and Syria. It seemed a perfect place to start this journey. The book itself is gorgeous and informative. I'm enjoying reading the prose and learning about a part of the world about which I know little, save for the horrific images on the TV and in newspapers right now. The recipe featured in this post comes from a section of the book that illuminates the Bekaa (Beqaa) Valley, one of the major agricultural regions in Lebanon. In contrast to the lovely photographs of greenery and produce, the Maloufs describe a poor and unsupported sector that never fully recovered from the civil war. The valley is home to a variety of Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox sects so in this respect, the name of the recipe is not surprising.

Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Saha, p. 137)
Recipe: 4/5 stars
Ingredients*: baby turnips, baby carrots, baby leeks, shallots, cauliflower, baby green beans, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, cilantro, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, red bird's eye chili
Good as leftovers: YES! See below.
Ease: 5/5
Challenges/Surprises:
  • Obtaining certain ingredients at local grocery store (namely allspice berries and a red bird's-eye chili).
  • Using half my body weight in olive oil  (slight exaggeration)
Alterations/Substitutions: Baby veggies were hard to come by in New England winter, so I used fully grown carrots, turnips, and leeks--chopping them to more manageable size.

Notes for next time: The recipe calls for one clove of garlic. Perhaps my Italian-American heritage will not allow me to appreciate the subtlety in a single clove. I'll be using at least two next time, particularly if we claim that the dressing is "garlicky." 

 ---
Evidently, "boiled vegetable salads" are common to the eastern Mediterranean. My mouth does not water when I hear "boiled vegetables," but this was a delightful surprise. First, the vegetables are "boiled" in olive oil, not water. The thought of using this much oil for anything other than frying has never occurred to me, but I can see the benefits! The oil infuses the vegetables with the subtle spices of the bouquet garni (or Malouf's far less pretentious "spice bag") and the sherry vinegar dressing highlights--rather than competes with--the natural flavors of the vegetables (in particular the leeks).

Better yet--storing the vegetables (out of the oil) in the fridge overnight yields a wonderful chilled/pickled salad for the next day!

*Quantities of ingredients are left out in order to protect copyright

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cooking in 2015 & Bittman's Mini Minimalist

Happy New Year! I'm not a big one for resolutions, but I've realized that I've been slacking on cooking, and that has to change (for both budget and health considerations). I do love Blue Apron, but while I'm on break from teaching I'm trying to plan meals and cook more often.

Santa was kind enough to bring us Mark Bittman's The Mini Minimalist set, as well as Ottolenghi and Tamimi's Jerusalem cookbook.

Thus far in the new year, I've made Bittman's "Broiled Bluefish or Mackerel with Green Tea Salt" (The Mini Minimalist: Meat, Fish & Poultry, 20-21). We had to substitute sea bass as that was the fish that was available and least likely to compete with the green tea (something told me salmon would be funky).

The neat part of this recipe is the green tea powder with coarse salt. Bittman recommends grinding one's own green tea, but I went for Matcha powder since I had it on hand.

The recipe worked out fairly well, except that I'd cut the salt down to 1/2 tablespoon next time. You will have to adjust how much salt you want according to your taste. I served it with "Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger" (Bittman, The Mini-Minimalist: Vegetables, 48) and "Rice Salad with Peas and Soy" (Bittman, The Mini-Minimalist: Pizza, Pasta & Grains, 86). The rice salad was really excellent as were the leeks. With the latter, the recipe doesn't make a lot, so I recommend more than two leeks.


Broiled Sea Bass with Green Tea Salt; Rice Salad with Peas and Soy; Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger

Feeling more adventurous, I tried the "Slow-Cooked Lamb with Fresh Mint Sauce" the next day. I toyed with the idea of doing this in the slow cooker, but I think the cooking time would be much longer as most slow cookers seem to fall under 250 degrees at their highest temps. The recipe is for a six pound leg of lamb, and I should have cut the cooking time--probably in half. Bittman doesn't provide a temperature guide. But aside from being well-done, it was very very good. The secret is poking holes in the lamb and stuffing those holes with a paste of  minced garlic and salt. If you enjoy spackling, you'll enjoy this process:
Not so beautiful at this point, but you get the idea. The good news is, I'm glad I chose to do it in the oven because I don't think it would have looked like this in the slow cooker:
 It was supposed to be accompanied with a green beans and tomato dish, but I forgot to buy the green beans. So, quick n' dirty salad to the rescue. The mint sauce would have been better if I had remembered to make it sooner--I didn't have the patience to let the sherry vinegar and sugar become more viscous, so all the mint floated to the top of the "sauce." That's what you see scooped on the finished product below:

Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb with green salad
RECIPES USED:
Broiled Mackerel (Sea Bass) with Green Tea Salt (Bittman): 4 stars
Rice Salad with Peas and Soy (Bittman): 4.5 stars
Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger (Bittman): 4.5 stars
Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb (Bittman): 4 stars

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blue Apron: A Review



5-Spice Pork Buns with Red Cabbage, Carrot & Thai Basil Salad (4/4 stars)
A friend was kind enough to send me a free trial of Blue Apron, a subscription cook-it-yourself service. I was skeptical at first, based on some of the  criticisms I have below, but after three weeks,  I'm quite hooked. It has been perfect for this busy end of the semester as it removes the parts I hate most: planning and shopping.  I don't plan on using it much this summer when I have access to farmer's markets, and time to think about something other than my career, but since many have asked, I thought I'd do a little review here.

Orange-glazed Chicken Drumsticks with Mashed Yucca and Arugula Salad (4/4 stars)

PROS:
  • not having to plan the meals (which I like to do occasionally, but not for the entire week)

  • no food waste, as they send you only the amount that you need for the recipe

  • no food shopping other than to pick up staples (breakfast stuff, etc) for the week

  • geared toward people who don't know how to cook a whole lot, so, for example, a recipe will direct you to "peel a lemon, avoiding the pith, then cut the peel into zest with a sharp knife."  Glory hallelujah was I ever excited to have my Microplane zester. (I have this under "pros" though because they really are serious when they say you just need salt, pepper, and olive oil). 

  • there's no minimum commitment, so with 6 days notice, you can do it, or not do it, for the week. Cancelling the service involves writing an e-mail.

  • The price runs $55-$65 for three meals a week for 2 people. That's very reasonable considering how much money I spend eating out at restaurants and paying for food that is sustainable and organic.

CONS:
  • packaging.  Supposedly it is all recyclable and/or biodegradable, but there is A LOT of it, as you might imagine. It comes with these huge monstrous ice packs which can be re-used (by you), or defrosted and emptied of their gel. This is a pain. And my freezer can hold maybe one or two of these things...so if I'm getting one every week...

  • not knowing where the food came from.  I will say this---the produce is quite beautiful, actually.  The meat seemed to be high quality, but I have no idea about its sustainability. Their website says "emphasis on sustainable practices" but that doesn't really tell me anything.  I appreciated the organic soba noodles, but my primary concern is not the soba noodles.
Cod over Linguine with Fresh Peas, Meyer Lemon & Spring Herbs (3.5/4 stars)
SO...

In a perfect world, this is what I'd love to see:

  • Less packaging: Have key ingredients for the week and the cook has to be responsible for portioning the parsley or scallions,  for example. This is part of learning how to cook!
  • Packaging Pick-Up: If there was some way to pickup the boxes, liners and ice-packs when the food gets dropped off, that would be fantastic. I'd even be willing to pay a bit extra to have some way to plop a return label on the box, seal it, and send it back with those materials that the company can reuse.
Fennel-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Grapefruit, Mustard Greens & Japonica Black Rice (4/4 STARS)
 I think Blue Apron is really a great service and very well-suited toward:

  • People who are very busy but don't want to eat take out or go out every night.
  • People who want to learn how to cook
  • People living on their own (3 meals = 6 meals, as there is a 2 person minimum)
If you wind up using the service, I do recommend buying a Microplane zester as almost every recipe has some sort of zest in it! That zester is my absolute favorite kitchen tool.

More Info:
This article in from Fortune Magazine (online) reports that Blue Apron is doing quite well. It also mentions how it contrasts with Plated, a similar service.