Thursday, September 28, 2006

Stuffed Mushrooms

The purpose of stuffed mushrooms is stuff, left over stuff. In this, the humble stuffed mushroom differs in its esthetics and ethics little from the raviolo, the kreplach, the shu mai, or any other members of the family Dumpling-idae, except in that the container is pretty tasty itself.

The only secret to stuffed mushrooms is to pour about a teaspoon of olive oil into the hollow of the cap itself and sprinkle with kosher salt and bake at 375º (the People's Committee is meeting to determine whether 350º or 375º is the People's Temperature) for 10 minutes before stuffing, thus rendering said 'shrooms more tender and juicy.

The filling this go-around was 3 slices of bacon (left over from I've forgotten what - we usually use crumbled sausage, but what the hell, this was there), 1/2 a small onion. fresh thyme and marjoram, the mushroom butts, and grinded-up bread (frozen scraps from the finger foods party), all chopped up fine (and dandy). Sautéed the onions in bacon, added the herbs and butts and then tossed in bread crumbs. Too dry, so I added a couple of frozen veal stock cubes (after a big poitrine de veau [farcie, braisée « à l’ancienne »] a couple of months back, we made tons of veal stock, which we saved by freezing it in ice cube trays à la pesto, then storing the cubes in paper bags in the freezer).

Back to 'shrooms. I let the stuffing cool (since I do not have Julia Child's asbestos hands). Scooped up into little bullets (not too tight), plopped into the hot mushrooms. Baked about 10 minutes more, then topped with a grated nubbin of mozzarella (from a salad) and baked until it bubbled.

See what I mean about left-overs?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Penne ala Saffi, with asparagus, ham, and cream

This is the pasta dish we make most often, which tells you how good it is. Also, how much Holt loves asparagus. He scrutinizes every bunch offered in Findlay Market, and picks the plump ones with fresh, tight tips and good green color; he won't pay more than $1.50 a pound for them - well, mostly he won't. When we get them home, we saw off the bottoms of the stems and put them in a plastic container with some water, as if they were flowers - which they sort of are. This keeps them fresh in the refrigerator if you have to store them for a few days.

Fortunately for us, Cincinnati is the source of one of the world's best hams: Schad's. It has a pure ham flavor, slightly smoky, dense but supple texture, in the German/Central European tradition. It ain't country, and it's not one of those jellified ham-and-water products you find in supermarkets. Also, Krause's in Findlay Market will sell you the end-knob as "first cut," at a lower price. So there's another reason to make Penne ala Saffi.

So, snap off the ends of your bunch of asparagus, and cut them on the bias into inch-long pieces, separating tips from stalks. Cut the ham into matchstick-sized strips. Grate a bunch of cheese, parmesan or pecorino romano.
Get the water boiling, but don't put the penne in yet. Instead, drop in the asparagus, stalk pieces first, and then after a couple of minutes, the tips. When they're almost as tender as you want them, fish them out with a sieve (it's not hard, they float), drain them in the colander, and throw them in a wide pan with a pat of butter. Now you can cook the penne in the slightly-green but still boiling water.
Heat up the pan and add enough heavy cream for as much pasta as you're making. Start it simmering and thickening, and put in as much cheese as you want. Toward the end, add the ham - it should heat, not cook. Season with salt and white pepper. When the penne are done, drain them and throw them in the pan, tossing it all about until the green, pink, and white are beautifully distributed. Serve and eat, with fervent thanks to Aurelio Saffi, Italian patriot

Tandoori Chicken (without the Tandoor)

تاندور Tandoori
Someone check if the Urdu is right

A great little recipe from one of our favorite (or favourite) cookbooks, The Larousse Book of Country Cooking (now sadly out of print).
Take 2 chicken breasts and cut 3-4 deep slits in the meat.
Cover them, taking care to work the marinade into the slits, with
1/2 cup yogurt
1 TBSP grated ginger
2-3 cloves grated garlic
2 TBSP coriander
1 TBSP cumin
1 TBSP turmeric
Marinate in the fridge till you get home. Easiest just to put the whole thing in a covered pyrex baking dish.
Slam into a 375º oven (see? the people's temperature) for c. 30 minutes covered. Then 10 more or so uncovered to crisp up the coating.

Notice: no red coloring, which is strictly for tourists. Muck with the spice mixture to your heart's content, or burn.

(Note on chicken: the internal temp for poultry should be 155-160º. The quick read thermometer is even better than sliced bread. We now never travel without one and give them away to friends.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How to Make Three Pounds of Pesto

1. Scatter a $1.39 packet of basil seed in the garden.
2. Go away for a month.
3. Come back to find Birnam Wood has come to Dunsinane.
4. Invite over Julie and Michael.
5. Put out snacks for the laborers: a tapenade made of green olives ground with artichoke hearts; lox and cream cheese blended with a little lemon juice and white pepper; brie; crackers.
6. Put out wine for laborers.
7. Do step 6 before step 5.
8. Harvest two shopping bags full of basil stalks.
9. While others are harvesting grind about 1/2 lb. of asiago and 3/4 lb. romano in the RobotCoupe (the earliest form of the Cuisinart; a wedding present from Brian and Catherine: their weddding, not ours). Set aside.
10. Wash the leaves.
11. Set everyone to stripping the leaves.
12. Do step 11 before step 10.
13. Spin each batch of leaves in the salad spinner.
14. Do it again.
15. In the bottom of the RobotCoupe toss a garlic clove and kosher salt. Grind.
16. Add big handful of walnuts and another of pignoli. Grind.
17. Pack in one salad-spinner-ful of basil. Salt with kosher salt. Douse with extra-virgin olive oil. Grind.
18. Dump into biggest salad bowl in house.
19. Repeat steps 13-18 about four times.
20. Scoop out a cup of vivid green essence of summer and serve over nice potato gnocchi from Trader Joe's.
21. Serve with any wine that's cold.
22. Tell stories with friends.
23. Send friends home with Tupperware full of pesto.
24. Repeat steps 1-23 until either the first frost hits or you run out of Tupperware.

Kitchen tip, from Martha, I think: Pack the pesto into plastic ice cube trays and freeze. Then pop them out and put in a freezer bag. 2-3 cubes is usually enough to sauce pasta for 2 people. Save a bit of the pasta water to reconstitute and freshen up with a bit more cheese. Stuff'll last till next harvest.
Kitchen tip from me: All "recipes" for pesto are at best rough indications, or to be blunt, delusional. I found on the web this "Official Recipe" for Pesto from the CONSORZIO DEL PESTO GENOVESE. Notice that even it calls for "bunches" of basil leaves, and various "cups" and "spoons" of oil, pignoli, and cheese, none of which are standardized measures in Italy.
La Ricetta Ufficiale del Pesto
It does, however, specify that the oil must be Ligurian. Ma certo!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Scallops Provincial

Nice little bay scallops at the fish place ($5 a lb.). I wanted to do something vaguely Provençale with tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. Problem is that all three main ingredients, scallops, tomatoes, mushrooms, give up liquid like crazy. Unless you can get so-called dry scallops (usually just the big ones), almost all scallops in the US are soaked in a potassium or sodium tripolyphosphate solution to keep them fresher while shipping. It's really not that bad (it's about the only way we'll see scallops in Cincinnati), but it does mean that most scallops are in fact a scallop and water product and need to be treated accordingly.
I started with the scallops but this is the better way (So I'm violating the Laws of the Kitchen. So sue me).

Sauté a small onion and a glove of garlic in some olive oil, add the mushrooms, cook till brown. Pour into a bowl. Add some more olive oil. Add the scallops and cook all on one side for a minute and a half. Try to turn all the scallops evenly to the other side. It can't be done, but never mind. Toss the scallops anyway and cook another minute until opaque. Fish them out to the same bowl. Add to the scallop juice (and there will be a lot) a mess of tomatoes chopped in goodly chunks (we've got some nice black plum tomatoes coming in) plus kosher salt, fresh oregano and thyme, a shot of red pepper flakes, and some saffron (we're probably the only people in North America with too much saffron, the results of gifts and friends abandoning their spices to our tender care when moving). The saffron adds an amazingly subtle flavor and color. Pour in any juice from the bowl. Cook on medium until tomatoes are thickened a bit. Now fish out the tomatoes from the soup, put them in the same damn bowl, crank up the heat, and Reduce the Juice. When it's thickened, add all the stuff: mushrooms, scallops, and tomatoes. Re-hot the savory mess and eat with big spoons.

Steak with Gorgonzola Butter

This is a way to jazz up a grilled steak when you don't have any other plans for it and time is running out. Get out a hefty pat of butter per person, and an equivalent amount (by volume) of gorgonzola cheese. Cut them up into smaller bits so they come to room temperature faster, and mash them together, seasoning with salt and white pepper. I use a thin, flexible knife to cut and mash, but whatever works; you could even use a palette knife, if you happen to have one. The taste will be strong and very salty when you try it on its own, but put a great big wodge of it to melt on the steak just before serving, and it's very heaven.

Many seasoned butters make great toppings for steak, despite being trayf as hell. It should be regular gorgonzola, of course, not gorgonzola dolce, which is harder to get anyway. We actually freeze leftover gorgonzola (to keep it from getting any bluer than it is), so when we do this, we chip or shave bits off the frozen block and can still get it melded into the butter before the steak is ready.

We had this with a salad of chopped-up beefsteak tomatoes, red onion, and ricotta salata, and a bottle of nice pinot noir, for the complete steakhouse experience (but without having your legs stick to those awful red leather banquettes).

Friday, September 22, 2006


There's a dearth of good game recipes in most cookbooks. This is a problem if you have a mighty Nimrod (and we mean that only in the nicest sense) for a brother-in-law. JoDee's husband David keeps us plentifully supplied with venison, V-burger, and the occasional pheasant.
The problem with pheasant is that, as a wild bird whose main job is to escape things that want to eat it (like us and David), it doesn't have a lot of fat, so the meat can be dry if overcooked. Add to that the problem with almost all fowl (but most noticeable on the upcoming Thanksgiving turkey) that the breast is done well before the legs.

There are many variations, but the main points are mushrooms, gin, and juniper berries, to give it that dark, woodsy, boscaiolo taste. (Now, in best Julia Child voice, or rather, your imitation of Dan Ackroyd's imitation of Julia Child, say, "And a bottle of gin for that juniper flavor"!). There's a version in Joy, but it perversely lacks the mushrooms.

So, take a pheasant, remove the breast meat, and cut off the legs (that's pretty much all there is to a pheasant; see above on "try to escape"). Watch out to remove any remaining bits of birdshot that may be in there, or you may break a tooth on what you thought was a peppercorn.

Toss the carcass into a pot with some white wine, thyme, peppercorns, celery tops, shallot butts, what have you, and make a little stock while you're doing the next bit. (The secret to stock, taught to me by Barbara: never let the heat get above the ideal point where only one or two bubbles lazily break the surface).

In a pan, sauté some bacon (this is equivalent of barding the breast, if you were going to roast it). Sauté the legs first for 3-4 minutes a side, then when you flip the legs, add the breasts, and cook legs and breasts till just brown on both sides. Remove to a plate. (I know this is going to sound complicated, but in fact you only wind up dirtying two extra plates, and they can go into the dishwasher, which is working again, or, heck, just plunk the finished dish right back on them). Then add about a pound of thickly sliced or quartered mushrooms. Sauté on high till they brown and have given up some liquid. Remove to a second plate (you'll see why in a sec.). Toss in some butter, and add a couple of minced shallots. When they're starting to color, take off the heat for a minute (to reduce splashing) and deglaze with 3/4 cup of gin (taste first to make sure the gin is still OK. It is? Good.) and 1/2 of sherry. One older recipe I've seen calls for 1 1/2 cups of port in addition to this, but 1) that would make the dish too sweet, and 2) all our port is good (thanks, William) but our sherry is mediocre. So in it goes. Then add a cup or so of the stock, plus 10-15 crushed juniper berries (in case the gin isn't doing its thing) and a bay leaf (or, as we thought when we were kids about my mother's spaghetti sauce, just leave the window open).

Now lower the heat, add the legs, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Then flip the legs and cook for ten minutes more. At this point, uncover the pan. The sauce should be pretty well reduced now; if too little add more stock. So add the breasts, and any meat or mushroom juice. Cook open for 3 or 4 minutes a side and add the mushrooms (this keeps them from just rendering all their liquid into the dish). Hot up for a bit and serve on clean or dirty plates.
Looking back, I think I would have added a shot of tomato paste just to darken the color and flavor. Older books call for truffles and decorated with fois gras, but then they always do and that's just showing off.

Serve with a pinot noir. We had Muirwood, which was mellow and about 13 bucks in our part of the woods.

And now you have a reason to encourage your friends and relations to go out and shoot little creatures.

Pasta al Salmone

This is one of our favorites. It's quick, simple, delicious, and elegant. It's also half Italian and half Jewish, as we generally make it with nova lox. (Ah for the days when we could just drive across the Kosciuszko Bridge to the Acme Smoked Fish outlet. As for Russ and Daughters, Queens of Lake Sturgeon…I don't want to talk about it. Now we have to get our bargain lox pieces and ends from Trader Joe's, which is not as genuine an experience, though still good.)

Start the pasta water boiling (penne or fettucine work best) as you pour a glass of Chardonnay into the cook. Assemble the ingredients for the sauce: heavy cream, butter, and vodka (preferably lemon, with an entire lemon peel marinating in it according to the old Sardis method). Pull the lox apart into thin inch-long strips and leave it out to take the refrigerator chill off. In a wide frying pan, boil down about a half-cup of the cream until it becomes thick; lighten with a shot of vodka (if necessary, pour another into the cook, but don't add it earlier or may curdle the cream). Enrich (the sauce, not the cook) with a pat of butter, and keep it warm until the pasta is done. Drain and shake the pasta well, and throw it into the pan; toss while strewing lox in bit by bit at the last minute (you're trying to keep it from clumping up, which lox tends to do). Serve on warmed plates immediately.

You can use other types of smoked salmon for this, but make sure not to really cook it, as it will just fall into flakes - still tasty, but not as refined. And if you want the lemon flavor without the lemon vodka, you can add a bit of lemon zest instead, or additionally. But do not grate cheese on this or any other fish-based pasta sauce, an American habit that makes Italians blanch and cross themselves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fish and Squish with Sorrel Sauce

Sorrel is flourishing in the garden. Not only the main ingredient of schav (beloved of Barbara's grandmother - Barbara herself hated it - and crossword setters everywhere; Russian shchav), but it always puts me in mind not only of the sorrel soup scene in Brideshead but also a scene in a just post-war Michael Innes novel, where after a rationed dinner of whale meat, some poor blighter is carried out babbling about the sorrel soup scene in Brideshead.

Did a variant on the now classic Troisgros brothers' sorrel sauce. So:

A small mirepoix of shallots, carrots, and celery, seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper; cooked in butter.
Then a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and sage (the fun part is using the parsley sprigs for auto-bondage) thrown in with:
1/2 cup wine (from my own glass) and 1/2 cup water (or just my salt tears).
Cook till reduced.

At this point the Troisgros brothers (indeed, all classic French cooking) and I part company, because every French recipe at this point will say: "Press hard on the vegetables to extract all the flavor and discard the solids." And I can't . . . I just can't.

So into the lovely tiny squares of brightly colored and beautifully sautéed vegetables add
1 cup of cream. Cook till reduced (the Troisgros brothers use a stick of butter rather than the cream).
Get a mess of sorrel, and treat it as spinach: wash thoroughly and strip out the central ribs. Then cut into a chiffonade (roll the leaves into big doobie--I mean cigars--and cut into strips crosswise).
Cook for 2-5 minutes until the sorrel changes color to dark spinachy green.

We served this with pan-fried tilapia fillets and some baby yellow squash (squishes) just steamed whole for about 5 minutes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

(This ain't no) Eggplant Parmesan

I have a sort of history with Eggplant Parmesan, as I grew up as much in my friend Karen's house as I did in my own, so you could say that I was raised by Neapolitans. Her father was generally the cook, and I came running around the block every time I heard him tossing a salad. But it was Nanny who taught me to make eggplant parmesan. The eggplant had to be sliced paper-thin, you dipped the slices in egg and then dredged in seasoned breadcrumbs, you fried them all individually, and then you packed them in tight layers with rich sauce ("red gravy") and spices and mozzarella, and baked it until it bubbled. It is beyond gorgeous, but it takes a lot of time and work.

The next historical incident was when I was living with a bunch of other graduate students in a communal household known as the Ali Ben Buddha Society, in Brookline Massachusetts. Even then I loved city markets (and bargains), and one Saturday at the Haymarket in Boston, I somehow ended up paying only a dollar or two for eleven eggplants. I brought them home, assembled the proper ingredients, and began frying. Four hours later, I was able to assemble it all in a giant turkey-roasting-pan, and I set it to baking. At dinnertime, I served it with some fanfare to my ten hungry housemates. It was gone in ten minutes. Its only memorial was the resulting recipe in our communal cookbook, entitled "A Shitload of Eggplant Parmesan."

So, last week we had gotten a few eggplants - Japanese, not Italian or American - from the Pepper People at Findlay Market. They were nice, but we had no real plans for them. And Lynne had happened to leave most of a jar of Emeril's Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce in our refrigerator. We don't eat prepared sauces, especially if they say "BAM!" when you open them, but we also hate waste. Could we make a quasi-eggplant parmesan out of these two remainders? Problem was, after a long day sweating over scholarship (and blogs), we didn't have time for all that breading and frying. So we tried an experiment: we sliced the eggplant with the Benriner, dipped it in seasoned extra-virgin oil, and spread it out on trays in the oven to roast, rather than fry. We thickened the sauce with some tomato paste, and mixed in chopped fresh oregano leaves. Then we began layering them together with grated mozzarella. Unfortunately, there was WAY too little eggplant, especially without the breading to give it body, and WAY too much sauce for the two thin layers we ended up with. But anything with bubbling golden mozzarella on top of it is still okay in my book, even if it ain't eggplant parmesan.

Too Many Avocados, and Blackberry Napoleon

Two buys at Findlay Market this Saturday: five avocados for $2 and two baskets of blackberries for $3. The blackberries you could examine and they were nearly perfect. Avocados, however, are always more problematic and these were starting to get squishy, but since the going rate was a buck an avocado, it seemed worth the risk. (A favorite line from Umberto Eco's Travels with a Salmon: "I asked for a lawyer and they brought me an avocado.") (full text on a Chinese blog:; just scan down)

Problem was, we didn't dare open them till the last moment, so that meant we couldn't really plan what to do with them until we'd see what we had to work with. In the end we had one perfect, one almost perfect, and three kind of mangy, adding up to three and a half avocados, still a bargin. The two nice ones we simply filled with a blend of mayo, a healthy shot of Madras curry powder and a dash of soy sauce (the only dip that goes faster at any party is the unreconstructed, old-timey, white-trashy-but-never-to-be-beat sour cream and Lipton onion soup mix. I don't think that anyone has used the mix to make so-called soup in generations.) The three over-ripe ones got smashed for guacamole: lots of coriander leaves, cumin, hit of garlic, and lime juice. We used some of the grape tomatoes in lieu of chips (we had run out).

Now dessert and a bit of backtracking. When I made the ladyfingers for the finger foods party, I just used a half recipe of genoise, thinking in my not-really-thinking-about-it-at-all sort of way, that since when I make tiramisu, I just use a sheet of genoise cut into three slabs rather than ladyfingers (the usual way in Italy, in any case), that genoise would substitute for ladyfingers in every case. So, follow the directions:
Preheat oven to 400º F
3 eggs: whip till pale and creamy (au ruban), 5 minutes
1/2 cup sugar: whip in, 5 more minutes
1/2 cup flour: fold in gently
2 TBSP melted butter, fold in at the end.
Put all this in your trusty pastry tube.
Start to worry when it leaks out the end.
Worry more when you pipe it out into fingers that rapidly spread.
Give up worrying when you look in the oven after 5 minutes and see that everything had spread into something broad and partially fused, but lovely and brown at the conjoined edges.
Go to Old Joy and make a real recipe for ladyfingers, which necessitates separating the eggs and folding in beaten egg whites, which makes the ladyfingers stand up all nice and puffy-like.

The mistakes, however, were mighty crisp and tasty. So I resolved to let nothing go to waste and use them later, while relating the tale at its proper moment. So invoking the Third Law of the Kitchen,* I renamed them Genoise Crisps. They've kept marvelously without refrigeration, still crisp after a week. I stacked them into a Napoleon (everything with layers is a Napoleon these days), using whipped cream for mortar. All berries are baptized in the true eau de vie, that is, Triple Sec. Voila!

*The 4 Laws of the Kitchen:
1. Never apologize.
2. Never explain.
3. When all else fails, rename it.
4. Every recipe begins with "Pour a glass of wine into the cook" (This last we owe to Jon Solomon).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Three Little Peppers (and How They Grew)

Sausages and Peppers, but another Amerigo Vespucci special, since the peppers were one red bell pepper and three little poblanos that nice Nancy at the market gave us since she hadn't sold them anyway. Our way of preparing this dish owes much to the ambrosial sausage and peppers of the Festival of San Gennaro in Little Italy, New York, which began on the very day we cooked this.

The sausages were an experimental brand (Blue Grass). Their metts and brats had been pretty good. Unfortunately, their cosidetto "Italian" sausages tasted just like metts and brats. Still, browned up and smothered in onions and peppers and then cooked covered along with a splash of white wine, not bad eatin' for the pennies they cost.

Nonetheless, oh for the pork stores of New York and New Jersey...

Penne Carbonara

I first learned this dish from the old (and preachy) Vegetarian Epicure, a.k.a. Veggie Eppie, when I was living with various packs of wild olerovores (which, if it isn't a real word, ought to be), so I had no idea for years that Spaghetti Carbonara was supposed to contain bacon. The slightly toasty taste was done by browning onions and it's a great touch. We use plain ol' American bacon (though our favorite--i.e., the cheapest--brand sometimes has a slight maple smell which, alright, doesn't really go with the dish), and I frankly prefer penne to spaghetti for holding on to the sauce. So like nearly everything we cook, it's inauthentic. So there.

The difficulty in spaghetti carbonara, of course, is getting the heat exactly right. Too high and you've just got scrambled eggs, too low and the eggs and cheese never achieve that creamy consistency. The cook books usually say that the heat of the pasta alone is supposed to be enough to cook the eggs, but usually tain't so. I find by cooking the onions and bacon first, having the heat off under the frying pan, and keeping the residual heat from the burner where the pasta pot was in reserve, it's usually possible to regulate the temp nicely.

(A long rant about the way that America is being turned into a third world country by the greed of the right wing as evidenced by the fact that our food is less safe than in Italy, specifically salmonella in eggs, has been deleted.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chicken and artichokes

This is one of our standbys, as we always have a giant jar of marinated artichoke hearts from Costco in the fridge.

Take as many chicken parts as you want and sauté them on all sides until lightly browned. Remove them for a minute and sauté a small chopped onion. Put them back in and throw in sliced artichoke hearts (you can add a dollop of the oil they marinate in). Glug in some white wine, cover, and let poach for about a half hour, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.

If you like, you can throw in another vegetable (how 'bout those green beans, still coming up in the garden?! Or diced yukon gold potatoes could be good) during the process and let it cook with the chicken until both are tender.

We try to balance the amount of wine, the evaporation from under the lid, and the absorbency of the vegetable so that there's a thick sauce left when the dish is ready, which means there's generally too much liquid (better than having things burn). So we put the chicken and vegetables on warm plates in a low oven and boil the liquid down until it's thick enough to be poured back on.


Perhaps the last of the leftovers meals, though Holt is still munching the empanaditas for lunch.

We had some prosciutto and provolone that didn't get used for cute tea sandwiches. So we defrosted two thick pork tenderloin slices (no veal available for prices less than gold, unfortunately, and anyways it's Porkopolis), and while they were still half-frozen, Holt delicately cut sidewise into each, resulting in four thin slices. When those were defrosted, he pounded them flat. (Motto I actually saw on a paper bag from a butcher shop in Corona, Queens: YOU CAN'T BEAT OUR MEAT.)

Put a layer of prosciutto and a layer of cheese on top of each slice, sprinkle with chopped fresh sage, fold each slice in half, dust them with seasoned flour, and fry them in oil, only a couple of minutes on each side. Deglaze the pan with white wine, of course, and "monty" (monter au beurre - throw a slab of butter in there) for a sauce. We served them on a bed of rainbow chard from the garden, sautéed until tender and tossed with a little balsamic vinegar.

We've had saltimbocca at various places, both in the US and in Italy. It is often just bare scaloppine with a slice of prosciutto on top, which means that both meats go their own way (i.e., the prosciutto just twists up) and the flavors don't meld. Or it's rolled up like involtini, which means you have to add liquid to poach it so that the middle isn't left raw, and you lose the quick-fried goodness of the thin scaloppine. The technique above solves all those problems. Result: little savory packets of tender meat stuffed with cheese and ham.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Still more leftovers

The day after that, we took the leftover empanada filling, mixed it with some leftover cream cheese and some colby/monterey jack on hand, and stuffed it into the six tiny roasted poblano chiles that hadn't gone into the corn casserole. Holt forms the mixture for rellenos into pepperlike shapes and sort of wraps the roasted chile around them, so the little poblanos stretched out bigger than I thought they would. Then he dipped them in egg, rolled them in seasoned cornmeal, and fried. We serve them on a bed of pico de gallo, which benefits from the season's fresh garden tomatoes and coriander, plus red onions and a good shot of lime juice. You drain that to put it on the plates, but this time we saved the drained juice and drank it with a shot of lemon vodka, as a sort of New Mexican Bloody Mary (Maria Sangrienta?).

Our dishwasher is now fixed. Let the bells ring out and the children shout.

Monday, September 11, 2006


But cute leftovers.
We generally make too much of everything for a party, and part of the fun is re-working the leftovers to make good different stuff. So the day after the finger food gathering, we made a tiny shrimp salad with the few remaining crustaceans. (The reason for their short survival is that Benita, who is four, announced that she no longer cared for shrimp, which had been her favorite food. I thought this was physiologically impossible, as human children are genetically preprogrammed to love shrimp--an inheritance from our ancestors in the depths of the African savanna.) Added a little minced red pepper, celery, shallots, tarragon. Heaps of mayo to bind.

Then a cute little potato salad from the four remaining fingerlings cut into 1/8th inch dice. Red onion and dab of horseradish mustard, olive oil, and white wine vinegar.

The cucumber sandwiches, now denuded of their shrimps, were still pretty tasty. Toss in a few more puffs to mop up a wiggle of crab dip (a.k.a. crab filling) along the edge of the plate, and Roberto è tuo zio.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Finger Lakes/Finger Food

Since we brought back a number of wines from the Finger Lakes (mainly Seneca) as booty from our raid on Ithaca (see Odyssey Book XXV), we thought we'd have a finger foods party. So besides fingerling potatoes and lady fingers for dessert (get it?!) we had just appetizers, which after all (or before all) are often the best part of a meal anyway.

We invited Kathy and Russel, and William and Shirley and their daughter, Benita.

Our dish washer is still broken, so Barbara made a virtue of necessity: plastic plates, but with a sprig or two of fresh herbs between two transparent ones for each person.

We had two "flights" of three hors d'oeuvres each. Not in fact hors d'oeuvre at all, being rather a lot of oeuvre, but an oeuvre of love. Most of the recipes are from Martha ("She was framed") Stewart.

1. Cute prosciutto and provolone tea sandwiches.
Dedicated to Dr. Christian Barnard, the plucky little springbok. Used the commercial thin-sliced party breads (I can make a pain de mie, but I can't slice it that thin or that perfectly). Set up an assembly line. Barbara punched out a heart in half the white and pumpernickel slices, swapped the hearts, buttered each slice, then filled the little sandwiches with prosciutto (scissors worked best) and provolone.

2. Croustades filled with caponata.
We had already made a huge batch of caponata the last time we had a mess o' eggplant. The bread baskets were not as successful as I'd hoped. You start with squishy white bread, which we refer to as duck bread because the ducks in Burnet Woods pond are the usual recipients of the Wonder Bread (you wonder how they dare call this stuff bread) that comes with the barbecue from Mr. Pig. Slather with melted butter, cut into squares and bake 10 min. in a mini-muffin pan. OK, but not as crisp or golden as in the book. Made them the day before and maybe should have recrisped them in the oven. Or used more butter? Nice buttery taste though. (Had a similar difficulty with Martha's corn tortilla cups, which just got kind of chewy.)

3. Crab Puffs.
Made lots and lots of little choux paste puffs. The ones on the top baking sheet were perfect (thanks to Silpat and my sisters Jo Linn and Becky who gave me the Silpat). The ones on the lower sheets were naturally a bit paler, but a few of them didn't stay as puffy after they left the oven. I've decided it's worth the extra time to bake them one sheet at a time. Since there's no leavening the choux paste can wait for a second round in any case.
At first I didn't think the filling tasted crabby enough (8 oz. crab, 2 oz. goat cheese, 6 oz. cream cheese, minced red onion, dash of Tabasco--Mr. McIlhenny's best), but it improved considerably after a few hours to let the flavors ripen. Maybe a zot of lemon juice next time. Whipped it into a frenzy in the Robot Coupe (thanks, Brian and Catherine!) so it was easy to pipe in.

FLIGHT TWO (after a quick tour of our garden, especially the roses, which Shirley helped choose and plant)

4. Mussels with a red onion confit.
Probably the simplest and maybe the most satisfying. The nice guy at the Findlay Market fish shop hand-picked the mussels, so there wasn't a bad or broken one in the bunch. Did basic mussels mariniere but with red onion instead of garlic and no parsley. Strained the broth back over it to keep the mussels moist while they cooled. Then just served each on the half-shell with the confit, which I like to have around for roasts, etc. (red onion semi-caramelized in red wine and sugar, and finished with sherry vinegar--I think the recipe is in New Joy). Just a snip of thyme leaves for garnish.

5. Shrimp and cucumber sandwiches.
Round, round, round. Probably should have tried for a more Malevich/Suprematist look. Tiny whole wheat bread slices cut with a round cookie cutter, smeared with a great coriander-parsley-shallot butter (cook the shallots in a little butter, deglaze with a little white wine, let cool, beat in butter at room temperature). Then top with a decorative cuke slice run through the Benriner (thanks, Barbara!), top with half a shrimp (flat side down) and some tiny coriander tops.

6. Empanaditas.
A new favorite. The dough is very soft, so it gets refrigerated after being stamped in rounds. The beef filling is sweetened with ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander (ground seed this time) and a little sugar. Used a gorgeous tomato from the garden, red stripes on yellow flesh. Too pretty to go into a sauce, but it was ripe. The em-pan-ad-itas (little em-breaded objects, I realized in my other role as Mr. Language Person) are baked, so I did them the day before. That way I wasn't on my pins the entire day.

The wines were:

Lamoureaux Landing Chardonnay

Lamoureaux Landing Pinot Noir (reserve 2002). The Cabernet Franc, which was their best red varietal the last time we were up in Ithaca (we gave a case to Maggie and Michael for their wedding as the most cellarable of the New York State wines we had tasted) was a little lackluster this year.

Arcadian Wineries Starry Night Riesling (I'm not a big fan of Rieslings, but it is the Finger Lakes grape and this one was pleasantly dry).

Red Newt Cellars Caberet Franc.

Bon Appetit! is what we had.


We greatly miss the Friday Fish Truck in Ithaca. After our swim at the local (very friendly YMCA) we'd stop by a truck which took up its stand in a nearby mall parking lot and buy fresh fish from Maine. (Starting on their epic journey in the dawn, for the precious load of lobsters must get through as the mighty engines go "ta-pocketa-pocketa"). Swordfish, flounder, and the best of all, the occasional bluefish (one fish, two fish . . .). Singing "Fish heads, Fish heads, Rolly-polly Fish heads," we'd rush them back to the apartment, later to be immolated on Jeff's grill.

Now we're making due mostly with frozen fish from Trader Joe's. The tuna has to be grilled with loving care to keep it from drying out. The flipper-method (so to speak; see below on steak) does it up a treat. Topped with the left-over green sauce from the artichokes, just as predicted.

Portobellos for pasta

One of our best memories of Italy is stopping on a Tuscan roadside after scrambling over the Etruscan ruins at Veii or somewhere, and buying fresh porcini mushrooms, like earth-covered jewels, from the guy who had probably just hunted them up in the woods. We gave him tens of thousands of lire (it was back in a reasonable time, before the Euro, so okay, it was maybe five or ten bucks) and he handed out a brown paper bag from the back of his truck. It was like a drug buy in the States, but in Italy there are lots of illicit food transactions like this (white truffles are probably the highest-priced one).

This is one of the ways we would treat fresh porcini if we had them, a variation on the classic funghi trifolati (there's that truffle again). In the States, we use portobello mushrooms, which are nowhere near as flavorful, but have similar texture. Start some spiral pasta boiling; rotelle or cellentani are good. Chop three or four mushroom caps into half-inch dice; sauté in a large pan with lots of extra-virgin olive oil, adding minced garlic and a bountiful sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves, chopped rosemary and parsley. When the mushrooms are dark and flavorful and most of their juice has boiled off, keep them warm, season with salt and pepper, and maybe add an extra shot of your best, most fruity, extra-virgin olive oil (don't skimp; here oil acts as a sauce would, melding and conveying all the flavors). Drain the pasta and toss it in the pan with the mushrooms. Serve it on warm plates, with no cheese or anything else. Eat Italy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

From the New World

We got a dozen poblano peppers from the Nice People's stand at Findlay Market on Saturday. Normally we'd make Chiles Rellenos, but these were teeny little half-sized peppers, too finicking to stuff and fry individually. We roasted them, and waited for inspiration, which came on Wednesday.

New Joy has a recipe for a fresh corn casserole with roasted green chiles. We sautéed the kernels from three cobs of bicolor corn with half a red onion, chopped up six of the poblanos, and added them and a grated 8-ounce block of monty jack/colby cheese to the eggy custard Joy recommended. The only seasoning was dry oregano, salt and pepper. Strangely enough, Joy gives no oven temperature or timing, but we baked it uncovered at the People's Temperature (375 degrees), and it was puffy and golden at 45 minutes.

This is New World comfort food ("you call it corn, we call it maize") with the subtle zap of chiles. Actually, not so subtle, as you can never predict the heat level of individual chiles, and one or two little darlings in this batch were of the eye-watering level of Hatch or Chimayo, luckily calmed by their eggy surroundings plus a couple of cold Goose Island beers. Still, the dish warmed us both with memories of New Mexico: my first, incendiary, taste of green chiles while visiting Phoebe and her Mom and Dad in Santa Fe, while Holt was more or less weaned on a jalapeño and raised on a "bowl of green."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hybris (with Shrimp)

Our dishwasher has died the death, so we're keeping things real simple. Had the last of the Bolognese, perked up with extra oregano and tomatoes, over pasta, Only then remembered a nice recipe I'd seen for a risotto Bolognese. Too late!

After a searing Thai lunch of holy basil stir fry and rice noodle soup, retreated to the calmer waters of the Mediterranean for Garides me Feta: shrimp with feta in a Greek tomato sauce. I (Holt) disdained to look at a recipe for something that I've cooked so often. Hybris, the gods hate hybris. I forgot the cinnamon and allspice, which is what makes the Greek sauce Greek. However, a lot of very aromatic fresh marjoram made up for it. Then I forgot the black olives and tossed them in at the antepenultimate moment.

The shrimps were from those 1-pound freezer bags, which are great to keep around for quick meals, but they and the feta threw off a lot of water. So after the shrimps were pink, I hauled them out with the melted feta, kept them warm on the plates, and reduced the sauce over high, periodically pouring in any liquid from the shrimp. The result was an almost Indian gravy, russet brown, thick and creamy with inclusions of shrimp and feta. Not sure we didn't like this better than the traditional way.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Just Steak

Bought a top sirloin steak on sale at our local IGA, where they stock decent meat and slice it an inch thick if you ask (thanks, guys). Rubbed it with a little oil and put it on the grill, flipping it over about once every two minutes, which gives a better result than the char-one-side-until-rubbery-then-turn-to-the-drippy-blood-side method. We ate it with salt and pepper; it didn't need anything else.

Oh, and we had some of those green beans. What did Ernest Hemingway eat for Labor Day dinner?


Much of our cooking is dictated by what's fresh at Findlay Market, the open-air urban and farmers' market where we shop every Saturday. We have good relationships with many of the salespeople and farmers - the Nice People, the Sister of the Nice People, Nancy from Shadygrove - but we're not so trusting with others, due to past experience. For example, the Gonifs, who sell discount produce and have a permanent thumb (we don't know whose) on the scale. We will sometimes buy their stuff, but only if it's sold by count, not by weight. This Saturday, we got five good-looking artichokes for $2.

I think that these were a different breed from the usual globe artichokes. They were pine cone shaped, spikier than usual, and fought back as Holt tried to trim them. We prepare them by boiling in a pressure-cooker for about 20 minutes, until they're as tender as artichokes can be, which is not very. We serve them stem-up in individual majolica bowls that look like green cabbages, with another bowl for stripped leaves in the center; eating them involves a lot of tossing and splashing. The chokes turned out to be colorful, purple and white, but there was very little heart for all that effort.

But for me, the best thing about artichokes is the dipping sauce, again served in individual bowls, since you have to have it close to your chin to avoid drippage. Nowadays a stroll through the garden is all you need for herbs, so Holt made a green sauce of minced garlic chives, sorrel, tarragon, oregano, and lime thyme, with capers, lemon juice, lime juice, and olive oil. If there's any left over (there rarely is) you can put it on a piece of fish, or toss it in a salad.

A Seedy Piece of Pig

Friday 1 Sept.
We had Lynne and Tom over for dinner. Since we were just back, we hadn't had a chance to go shopping, so we needed to do the householders' equivalent of the CIA (the good CIA) paper-bag test, i.e., see what's in the freezer. Rummaging around produced a pork loin. Life in Cincinnati features a lotta pork.

Lynne and Tom are old friends and old Rome hands so I thought about doing Marcella Hazan's pork loin in milk (the good folk up Bologna way seem to favor meat and milk; see "Kid Seethed in its Mother's Milk" in the "Abominations" section of The Fear and Loathing Cookbook). Turns out they've already done it, with great success.

Nu, so anyway. I wanted to do a recipe I'd seen in the new edition of Joy of Cooking (hereinafter just Joy). Still dairy, but basically you marinate the loin in tzatziki: yogurt, garlic, mustard powder, lemon juice, pepper and kosher salt (oh, the irony, the bitter, bitter irony). Then after about six hours, pat on a crust of bread crumbs and either ground almonds or, in this case, mixed seeds: mustard, fennel, poppy, coriander, and sesame. I would have thrown in cumin as well, but we were out (Holt grew up in Albuquerque, so he tends to throw cumin, coriander, and chili--La Santa Trinidad--into just about everything).
Joy says 10 minutes at 450º then 45 at 250º, but in fact, even for a fairly flattish loin (and you know how that can hurt), it took closer to an hour and a half. Nice and tender and the crust does keep it moist. Just a salad on the side. (Did we mention the green beans?)

Lynne and Tom had brought a lovely bottle of dessert wine (Muscat) which went very well with Graeter's vanilla topped with strawberries in rum (from my sister JoDee) and cinnamon-flavored pears in wine (from our colleague Michael's own trees).

N.B. Graeter's is the best ice cream on the planet--and we're eaten our way systematically though the gelaterias of Italy and I've even tasted the unspeakable Blue Ice Cream of Tbilisi.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Too many green beans

The past few days have been devoted to clearing up the garden, seeing what survived a month and a half of planned neglect. Herbs are flourishing: oregano, cilantro, chives, tarragon, sorrel, sage, basil, and thymes of various flavors. Something is chomping up the heirloom tomatoes, though: it waits until the fruit is just on the point of ripeness, then gulps half and leaves the rest butchered and dripping from the stem. A friend suggested chipmunks, but they'd have to be the size of beagles to eat that much; I'm thinking possums or raccoons.

Between bouts of weeding, I wandered among the green beans, and picked everything the bushes had on them. Most of the beans were past their prime, so we parboiled them and soaked them in a mustard vinaigrette, for salads. But we needed something to do with the remaining shitload of beans. After foraging in the freezer, we found some chicken legs, and then got onto Epicurious to browse the possible recipes involving those things. Settled on Chicken and Green Bean Coconut Curry.

Holt does most of the Indian cooking, because he loves to lay out the spices on a white plate, like a palette of earth colors. We're pretty well prepared for this cuisine, but even we didn't have 27 fresh curry leaves, dried Indian chiles, and a block of tamarind on hand. So we used tamarind concentrate despite the warning not to, and Italian red pepper flakes, and chicken legs instead of breasts, and of course monkeyed with the amounts, as there are only two of us. We also didn't do that sizzling oil at the end, as anything that has a can of coconut milk in it is already oily enough, as far as we're concerned.

The result was fairly luscious, soaking in a rich brown sauce like flavorful mud, with a bit of an oil slick on it, just on the point of breaking. I know that sounds bad, but Indian food is earthy in a good way.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Tilapia with Swiss Chard

We're just back from Ithaca, where we were staying in a downstairs apartment, kindly loaned us by our friend Kathy. A nice place, but we were reduced to the primitive circumstances of our noble pioneer ancestors (of whom we have none): we were cooking on an electric stove.

On our first night back, we had a classic Spag Bol, which we had made the night before. Real Bolognese ragu, with a mirepoix of minute cubes of onions, celery, and carrots. Then plain ol' grinded-up beef, milk added slowly, and more tomatoes than any citizen of Bologna would countenance. Mighty tasty.

(BYW, I'm planning at some point in the future to open the best Italian restaurant in Sydney and call it SPAG BOL.)

Wednesday night was tilapia with Swiss chard. The tilapia had tried to escape from Luft Stalag Freezer and attacked Barbara's feet. So we condemned it to death. Tossed the fish in a paper bag with a little corn meal, kosher salt, and one of our favorite new discoveries, pimenton de La Vera, the smoked Spanish paprika that gives the amazing octopus at Fino in London its kick. Fried it in a little olive oil.
The Swiss chard (which is neither Swiss nor chard--discuss) is from our garden, one of the few plants to have survived a month of neglect. It was lovely and tender, much more delicate even that the nice stuff we get from Findlay Market. Stripped the leaves, did a chiffonade, chopped the stems, deglazed with a little Sherry Vinegar. Just a mouthful, but went well with the fish.