Friday, June 29, 2007

Crab enchiladas

Thursday 28 June

. . . not to be confused with the crab crêpes we made earlier this month, though their proximal cause was the same: a trip to TJ's (Trader Joe's). Whatever structural similarities they may have is due to The Universal Theory of the Pancake (UTOP-ia).

We had some left over tomatillo salsa and some cheese, so we were nearly there.

We ground up the last of the feathery cilantro from the garden in the Robot Coupe, used the grater wheel therein to grate some Colby-Jack and a baby Swiss (also cheese), then mixed into it 1/2 a lb. of crab and a chopped half of a small onion, plus just enough crema (sour cream) to bind. All rolled into 8 of Don Raul's finest tortillas (on sale for 69¢ at IGA!), and topped with the aforementioned tomatillo salsa. Baked at the People's Temperature for half an hour.

Bubbly goodness. We could only eat 3 each. But wait for future developments.

Potato and ham gratin

Wednesday 27 June

We had a knuckle of first-cut ham just sitting around, and there were potatoes sprouting in the bin. A potato and ham gratin is the logical solution, but you can be misled by many of the recipes out there. Most say to slice the potatoes thin but not to cook them; instead, you are supposed to make a complicated bechamel and cheese sauce for them and bake, very slowly, until they're tender. Which as far as I've seen, will be never.

It's more practical to pre-cook the potatoes until they're edible. If they're boiling-type potatoes or Yukon Golds, you can slice and parboil them; we had small Russets, so we gave six of them two ten-minute rides in the microwave, essentially steaming them. Then we sliced them a quarter-inch thick. The ham was sliced into thin flakes, and we grated about a half pound of Colby-Jack cheese. All this got layered into a buttered casserole, in the order: ham, potatoes, cheese. We paused at the last layer of potatoes, poked a few holes in the layers, and poured over about a half cup of cream into which we'd whisked a dab of Dijon mustard - wish we'd still had some of our whole-grain, but this would do. Then we topped it with the final layer of cheese, covered the casserole, and baked at the People's Temperature for about 15 minutes covered, then another 20 uncovered, till it was browned and bubbly. Despite our hunger, we let it rest for 10 minutes more, which makes it good solid food rather than palate-burning molten lava.

Mango Chicken

Tuesday 26 June

Back when Holt's parents lived in Ontario, we used to go out to dinner to Toronto's Chinatown in a big family group - even there where they love big families, ten adults and eight children is quite a group. All the dishes got passed around, and since it's sweet and not too spicy, everyone loved mango chicken so much that we needed several orders of it. So far as we've seen, it hasn't caught on as much in the States - but when mangoes were on sale at Findlay Market, we got a couple and tried our hand at it.

The best way to cut up a mango is the one we saw on an episode of Poirot. Cut around the circumference of the mango down to the stone. Then, run a thin soupspoon around the stone. The curved inner surface of the spoon follows the curved outer surface of the stone. Cut all the way around and you'll have a perfect mango half. Do the same with the other half (but this'll be a tad drippier). Then cut deep criss-crosses on each half and turn it inside out. It'll look like a Japanese squeeze toy hedgehog. You can now flatten your hedge-hog and cut right along the skin line. This works better than any other method I've seen.
(Here are some links including a video. They use the hedgehog trick but not the spoon trick:
One guy here knows the spoon trick:

Now, get your Chinese-style mise-en-place. In a bowl, mix a teaspoon of soy sauce with a teaspoon of Shao Xing wine and a grind of white pepper, then add two deboned and cut-up chicken breasts. Let them marinate while you do all the following other stuff. In a cup, mix up a sauce out of a teaspoon of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of ketchup (yes, ketchup, it's traditional), and a teaspoon of brown sugar, to make it sweet-and-sour. Slice up a mild onion or so, and if you've got it, a red or green bell pepper. For spice, chop up a clove of garlic and a tablespoon of ginger, and break off the radial pieces of a whole star anise (without the stem) and crush them a bit with the side of a knife. And of course, have your mango standing by.

Once all that's done, you get your wok hot, add some oil, and stir-fry the onions first for a minute or two with a pinch of salt. Then stir in garlic and ginger, then the peppers, if any. Set aside the vegetables when they're done to your liking, and reheat the wok with more oil. In this, stir-fry the anise for a few seconds, then the chicken until it's opaque. Then put the sauce in a crater in the center and stir it, making sure it cooks enough to melt the sugar and brown the ketchup. At last, throw the vegetables back in to reheat, and add the mango, stirring gently so it doesn't break up too much. Eat it hot, with alacrity.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pork Scaloppine Marsala with Sugar Snap Peas and Ham

Monday 25 June

A bag of sugar snaps had been left, lonely and forgotten, in the fridge for a week, so they were were a little tougher than needs be. So we strung 'em high and treated them as a stir fry. Fried up in a pan, added little cubes of first-cut ham, then a dash of wine, lowered the heat, covered and cooked till tender. (Holt's benchmark for beans will always be his grandmother Nonnie's beans, done in a pressure cooker with a ham hock for company. Cornbread to mop up the pot likker. Heavens!)

Meanwhile, the porklets (which we generally cut off as thin slices when we buy a big pork tenderloin, and freeze 5 or 6 together for a meal) were patted with thyme, kosher salt and pepper, then fried in oil and removed to a hot plate. The pan was deglazed with the marsala, then got a final monter au beurre. While making the sauce, we removed the lid from the sugar snaps and cooked off all the liquid, which left the ham cubes slightly browned. Sure we dirtied two pans, but everything was just right - and besides it was Barbara's night to do the dishes.

Beef Stroganoff

Sunday 24 June

When we prepared the tenderloin last Saturday, there was a scrappy bit we trimmed off and froze. You don't waste almost a pound of meat at 8.99/lb., no matter how scrappy. It called out for a dish that needs beautiful beef in small slices, so Beef Stroganoff was a perfect solution.

Back when I was compiling the Fear and Loathing Cookbook, I had six different methods and sets of ingredients for this dish: Classical Beef Stroganoff, Neo-Classical Beef Stroganoff, Post-Classical Beef Stroganoff, Post-Modern Beef Stroganoff, etc. Yet one summer when I was off archaeologizing and Holt looked them over, he complained that none of them reflected what I actually did when I made Beef Stroganoff. So now I can make it up to him by setting down what I actually do - at least, some of the time.

I can't be too doctrinaire because much depends on the type of beef you have available. If it is a lovely tender piece, you want to cut it (always across the grain) in quarter-inch- or third-inch-thick slices, each one or two inches long. If it's a tougher cut, say top sirloin or london broil, cut each slice paper-thin, so it will be tender to eat.

The big secret is, from here on, you treat this dish as if it were a Chinese stir-fry. So you marinate your beef slices in a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of Shao Xing wine (or dry sherry), and a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, plus a little grind of white pepper.

While it marinates, slice up about a pound of white mushrooms and a big yellow or white onion. Heat up your wok or teflon pan, and in some oil, stir-fry the onion with a little salt. When it's translucent, add the mushrooms and keep frying until they're dark and have given up their liquid. Set them aside and scrape the pan clean.

With new oil in the hot pan, stir-fry the beef, tossing rapidly to make sure each piece fries on its own, not in a clump. If the slices are paper thin, they should be done in only a couple of minutes, but even the thick slices won't need much longer; you want them rare on the inside. As soon as no slice is bloody-raw on either side, throw the vegetables back in and mix it all thoroughly to reheat. At this point, you add gobbets of sour cream to your liking (I like at least 3 or 4 Tablespoons), and again to your liking, a tiny dab of Dijon mustard.

You can serve this on noodles if you like (or if you need to stretch it to feed three); we don't often see the necessity. We just put it on warm plates and snarf it down. Incidentally, Stroganoff always reminds me of my childhood friend Rita Ivanoff, whom I once saw flick spoonfuls of sour cream onto a frying hamburger. It's something about the Russian soul - or liver.

Grilled Shrimp Choriatiki on Saffron Pasta

Saturday 23 June

We had Ruth and Michael over for a casual dinner. The idea, you see, was a sort of Greek salad on pasta, more or less inspired by this recipe.
Simple and easy. In fact, it was simple and easy, but each step took a lot longer than we thought it would. So we just put the guests to work, and kept the wine glasses topped up.

Earlier we had made a batch of pasta dough, colored and flavored with a lot of saffron threads (see here for making pasta.)

The appetizers, while we grilled various things, were
• one fish, two fish, red fish, bluefish pâté with
• freshly baked pane pugliese
• fresh small local strawberries, which Ruth brought from Athens (Ohio, that's why they were local), which went very well with
• a runny brie (I don't care how fuc . . . oh, never mind)

The grilled objects were:
• a mess o' shrimp (or shimps) marinated in a little olive oil and garlic, skewered (so they didn't fall off like last time).
• a mess o' cherry tomatoes, skewered too.
• a mess o' red onion, sliced through the root. These, too,
probably should have been skewered.
• a mess o' green pepper slices, which didn't need to be skewered.
(Note, the word skewered, which looked weird to begin with, now begins to take on an almost hallucinatory feel.)
As each one was grilled until just tender we tossed it in another bowl with extra-virgin olive oil and
• a mess o' fresh oregano, finely chopped
• a half pound or so of crumbled feta.
A final droozle of oil, and we ladled it all onto the just-boiled pasta, which the guests had helped pitch and catch as it went through the pasta machine and the fettucine-izer.

This worked out beautifully. Very few cherry tomatoes were dropped on the floor, and absolutely no shrimp. The cherry tomatoes that were not on the floor but in the bowl gave up just enough juice to wet the pasta, along with contributions from the other vedge and shrimpage.

For dessert:
blueberries in Triple Sec (the true water of life)
Graeter's mocha chip and mango sorbet
meringue cookies.

Squash Blossom Frittata

Friday 22 June

We haven't had the treat of a freet (frittata) for months now.
Look here for the basic technique.

The lovely zuke and squash plants in the garden inspired this one, modeled after your basic Italian stuffed zucchini blossoms.
So on top of the freet, we arranged yellow squash blossoms alternating with strips of fresh mozzarella and anchovies, plus one squashlet with its blossom in the center. We omitted the final dusting of cheese, so that the beautiful blossoms could shine through.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Gnocchi à la Parisienne

Thursday June 21

This is one of the genuine early-20th-century recipes you can still find, as if encased in amber, in Beard on Pasta. It's basically pasta with mushroom, ham and cream sauce, but not only are you supposed to make the gnocchi out of choux paste, and enrobe the whole thing in a Madeira-tinted béchamel, but you pile the result into individual puff-pastry vols-au-vent. At least three species of stodge. No wonder the man weighed four hundred pounds.

We wanted something to do with an end knob of first-cut ham and a pound of mushrooms. So we simplified, adapted, improved. First we started the water for gnocchi - Trader Joe's potato gnocchi, so Italian, not French. We sliced and sautéed the mushrooms with some fresh thyme from the garden, while cutting the ham into batons. When the mushrooms were dark, we added heavy cream and cooked it down. The ham went in at the very end, just before we drained the gnocchi and tossed the whole thing together. No Madeira, which would have interfered with the flavor of the thyme.

The result was rich and succulent enough for Beard himself - though if he were around, we probably would have disguised it under the name Gnocchi alla Parigi.

Chicken Breasts and Tomatillo Salsa

Wednesday June 20

Jungle Jim's, Cincinnati's oddest and best exotic food store, offers shoppers plenty of obvious attractions, including posh restrooms disguised as port-a-potties, an abandoned monorail, huge tanks of live fish, and a giant animated chimp dressed as Elvis. But we often sneak into one of its less blatant features, the marked-down produce alcove. The Jungle has high standards, and things that still look perfectly good get marked down to ridiculous prices after only a couple of days. Which is how we ended up with two pounds of organically-grown tomatillos for 59 cents.

We once tried a cooked tomatillo salsa, but in our opinion, it took all the zip out of them, in both flavor and texture. So Holt just made his classic New Mexican Tomatillo salsa: Into the Robot Coupe go a clove of garlic, ground first with some salt; then the tomatillos, then lots of red onion, lots of fresh coriander leaves, and the juice of a lime. Problem with tomatillos is, they give up a a great deal of watery juice (and will continue to do so on the plate). The grinded-up mix needs to be drained in a sieve. However, it can get too drained so we put a bowl under it and can add back just the right amount of wetitude and moistosity.

While this was going on, we sautéed a pair of chicken breasts, at first with wine, but once the salsa had been drained, with the extra juices from it. To serve, Barbara plated out a fresh green mound of salsa on the bottom, with the chicken resting on top; while Holt deglazed the pan and made a quick brown sauce with all the lovely scrapings.

Grilled Corn and Shrimp Salad

Tuesday 19 June

Gourmet published two recipes with this same title, one in 1992, the other five years later; corn, shrimp, salad, and grill are all summer favorites, so why not combine them all? We made the earlier version, which had more southwestern flavors and didn't involve skewering everything.

We only had four ears of corn, but that was plenty for the two of us, and it smelled wonderful on the grill. Maybe we should have skewered the shrimp, as a few of them tried to escape through the grill bars, but we re-captured them with - what else? - skewers. Since we had less corn, we only chopped a quarter of a big red onion, which was plenty; the coriander came from the garden, though the plants are setting seed and had only a few leaves around the base. Still, there was no need for the called-for watercress, or any underlying salad stuff at all, as the whole thing mounded up beautifully on the plates, and tasted like grilled summer heaven. This is going to become a house standard.

Cold Tenderloin and Salad

Monday 18 June

When you've had good beef cooked to your likeness (in our case, medium-rare), you don't want to cook it further or even warm it up, as it will just get tough and lose its flavor. We prefer to have it cold, just sliced a bit thinner to expose fresh surfaces. Which is what we did with day-before-yesterday's tenderloin. It was adorned with a few roast vedge that managed to survive, and a salad of mixed garden lettuces - they're just beginning to bolt, so salad days are numbered, but I'm picking the youngest, smallest ones for as long as I can. A sprinkle of red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette was all it needed.

Tilapia à la Tenderloin

Sunday 17 June

After all that rich meat, we needed something light the next night. As Constant Readers know, Trader Joe's frozen tilapia fillets are our default fish when nothing fresh is around. We generally sauté them, and this time the coating was flour mixed with whatever toasted-cumin-and-coriander spice rub was left over from yesterday's tenderloin (below). Tilapia fillets are firm enough so you can toss them with the coating in a paper bag.

There was some vegetable or other but we can't remember what. At least the nice Muscadet that Caroline and Jeff brought lingers in the memory.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Saturday 16 June (Bloomsday)
Not the San Francisco neighborhood, but a very tender beef tenderloin, also from our Jungle Jim's expedition (they were out of veal breast). We were having Jeff and Caroline over for dinner, and wanted something special but also relatively casual.
Appetizers featured the usual crackers and olives, plus:
Roasted red and yellow peppers (a recurring fave)
Smoked bluefish pâté. This was a recipe I scribbled down at a party in Swarthmore ca. 1989, but never made it because we haven't been able to obtain smoked bluefish. But since Holt now smokes 'em if he's got 'em, we can now produce the delicious stuff in minutes; here's how. In the Robot-coupe, whirl the following ingredients until smooth: a half-pound of smoked bluefish, 3 oz. of cream cheese, 3 oz. of butter, a dab each of mustard and prepared white horseradish, and a good grind of white pepper. We were licking all the utensils, even the sharp ones.
Alas, it proved too hot to have appetizers in the garden, so we stayed indoors in air-conditioned bliss and proceeded to:
The Tenderloin, rubbed with a spice mixture of toasted cumin and coriander seeds (recipe here, but I cut the amount of kosher salt in half, and would scant it even more next time).
We followed Julia's advice on tenderloins, however, didn't pre-sear, and allotted 35-45 minutes for the roast. Needless to say, Julia was right. The automatic thermometer did its job nicely and beeped at 125º.
Even before the tenderloin went in, we started some red onions and carrots roasting in its destined pan, then added the parsnips along with the beef. All the vedge ended up nicely caramelized at the end.
Next course: salad, of varied lettuces fresh picked from the garden.
And dessert, of course, featured Graeter's ice cream. Since Caroline is from here, we had to have Graeter's out of local piety; but we also serve it to all out of town guests, to blow them away with how good it is. Our friend Helene, for example, was so taken with it that she had it at every meal, indeed AS every meal, for as long as she was here. So we offered a choice of strawberry chip, mocha chip, coconut chip, or mango sorbet, but to fancy-shmancy it up, Holt (as the Fabulous Baker Boy) had used his magic pastry bag to build little meringue nests, for the ice cream to sit in, and for fresh blueberries to be sprinkled attractively on top of.
He ended up with some left over meringue mixture, so he tossed in a bunch of ground hazelnuts (including the ones left over from the topping for the orzotto way back when) and made a batch of little meringue macaroonas (which is TWO forbidden dances) as well.
Jeff and Caroline live in Ithaca, and it's thanks to them (and the Finger Lakes wineries) that we had such a good time last summer. So we served Lamoureaux Landing Chardonnay and Red Newt Pinot Noir, for that touch of nostalgia. There was also Masi Campofiorin, which we bought entirely for the label; it says "Nectar Angelorum Hominibus" ("nectar of the angels for men,") which Jeff rightly adjudged a dative of advantage.

Smoked Tomato Sauce on Gnocchi

Friday 15 June
When we pulled the bluefish from the smoker on Wednesday night at about 10, the charcoal was still glowing. It seemed a waste to just let it go out, so we tossed about 10 roma tomatoes, halved, on the grill, and just left them overnight. They ended up lightly dried and smoky, perfect for a sauce or coulis. Another benefit: the current batch of romas from Madison's have that annoying flaw of the modern tomato: a thick skin, which curls up into unpleasant little papery straws when cooked. But the smoking made it easy to peel the skins off. It made us think of our friend Helene, an aficionado/aficionada of pens and paper, and wonder "if onionskin paper, why not tomatoskin paper?" of a roseate hue.
All it took was a quick and simple sauté of half an onion, a clove of garlic, and the smoked tomato halves, all chopped fine, with a little white wine to help them along. Poured the sauce over Trader Joe's miraculously simple gnocchi. No cheese, which would have interfered with the subtle smoky taste.

Scallops and Pea Shoots

Thursday 14 June
We first read about pea shoots, AKA snow pea leaves (豆苗 dòu miáo according to Wikipedia, and not to be confused with pea sprouts, which look like green bean-sprouts), in a Times Magazine cooking article back in 1980 - in the desert of the Molly O'Neill years. It prompted a flurry of fury, letters from all over the country saying thanks a lot for telling us how to cook something only available in New York's Chinatown.
About a week later, on a New York visit, we went out to dinner with Steve (Language Hat), a well-known chowhound, and the special (not on the menu) was . . . snow pea leaves. Wonderful, tender, fresh.
Not so long after that, on a summer stroll in Toronto's Chinatown, on the street was a guy selling . . . could it be? "Snow pea leaves?" we asked, having never seen them in their natural state. "Soapy lees," he agreed. We bought a pound, smuggled them over the Canadian border, and stir-fried them with garlic and broth, trying, in want of a recipe, to duplicate what we had had in the restaurant. Pretty close and pretty tasty.
It's only been twenty-odd years since then, and Jungle Jim's here in Cincinnati now has snow pea leaves (or as more people seem to call them, pea shoots) in season, as well as bluefish. We got a pound, and decided to use them as a bed for some nice dry scallops. It has been a while since we had had them (Jungle Jim's being the only local source), and I'm afraid my right hand has lost it cunning. I went looking for a couple of recipes for pea shoots, found this one, and it was . . . not a disaster exactly, just way too vinegary for such delicately-flavored greens, not to mention clashing with the scallops. Further, I should have trimmed them much further back (too much tough stem) and chopped them into shorter lengths. The scallops at least were exactly au point, but we basically had to lift them out of the resulting sauce and eat the shee poots by themselves. Still, live and learn. So here's a nicer way to cook pea shoots.
P.S. I also made some pickles and though we've only had them for lunch, they looked so pretty in the sunlight that I had to include them here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Roasted Bluefish and Asparagus

Wednesday June 13
Whenever we drive out to Cincinnati's best (and oddest) exotic food market, Jungle Jim's, we leave dinner plans up in the air, because we know we will come home with something we'll want to cook immediately. In this case, it was a sparkling fresh six-pound bluefish, lovingly scaled and filleted by one of Jungle Jim's obliging minions. (Usually we keep and use fish heads and bones, but bluefish is too strong to make good stock.)
Bluefish doesn't keep well, either, and though we love it, we couldn't eat that much of it at a sitting. So when we got home, Holt fired up the smoker and had one side of it brined and mesquite-smoked by the end of the evening.
The other fillet was dinner, prepared in the simplest way possible, as bluefish has a savor that needs to stand out on its own. First we roasted a sheaf of fresh asparagus in olive oil in a 500-degree oven, then removed it to the warming plates. We put the fish, skin side down, in the same oiled pan, and continued to roast until it was just done. We then drizzled it with our homegrown basil oil, and a few crystals of salt. Elegant but simple, which is what people often say about me.


Tuesday June 12
No, we weren't sipping it for dinner, like gods or hummingbirds. Nectar is a restaurant run by a local chef, Julie Francis. We often meet her at the Farmer's Market, near Nancy's Shadygrove Farm stall; while we buy our little baggie of something, she trundles away a bushel of chives. As both she and we are fans of local produce, we felt we should go to her restaurant and see what she was doing with it.
Nectar is in Mount Lookout Square. Almost everyplace in Cincinnati is called Mount Something, but this locale's name is particularly inapposite, as it's in a hollow, and only looks out on the other side of the street. But the inside of the restaurant is warm-colored and woody (if a bit too resonant - you can hear everyone's conversations except your own). We could see Julie laboring at the stove through the broad kitchen pass-through at the back.
For starters, we had one plate of tender little calamari in a Spanish fantasy of aioli, chorizo, and romesco sauce, and a fine tuna tartare - the raw tuna in succulent chunks and wearing a hat of avocado purée, lettuce, and saffron threads, drizzled with ginger-miso vinaigrette.
Our main courses were a nice spiced duck breast with green tea soba noodles and braised Asian greens, and tasty coriander-coated slices of leg of lamb, with cannellini and local turnips and beets; the roasted beet greens sopping up the sauce at the bottom were particularly memorable.
Nectar's wine list is small but full of excellent, unusual choices, and with very little markup. We immediately pounced on the 2006 Conclass, the same wine Tom brought for our not-so-fat Tuesday dinner; and later, keeping with the Spanish theme, had a glass of the 2004 Tomas Cusine "Vilosell" (Costers del Segre), which harmonized well with the lamb. It was meaty, rich, long-lasting, and threw a sediment like a raisin-pie, a feature which shows up in some Côtes de Rhône and Provençal wines we're fond of.
So next time we see Julie at the Farmer's Market, we will tell her that we like her attitude, her restaurant, and her food - particularly the beet greens.

Napa Sausages with Peppers and Onions

Monday June 11
Pretty much a repeat of what we had on February 5.
Is it something about Mondays?

Ahi Tuna and Asparagus with Prosciutto

Sunday June 10
As you read below, the one thing missing from Saturday's theatrical antipasto was the roasted asparagus, sadly left behind. But that only made us more eager to get back to it, so on Sunday we reunited it with its Italian friend, rolling each spear up in a paper-thin slice of prosciutto, and fanning them out on plates.
The protein was no slouch, either. We sautéed some Ahi tuna steaks, and when they were rare, set them aside and tossed fresh-picked, chiffonaded sorrel leaves into the pan with a droozle of olive oil, a squeeze of lime, a shot of wine, and a forkful of capers. The sorrel sauce went on the fish, the fish went on the plates with the asparagus rollups, and everything went with everything else most wonderfully.

Antipasto Under the Trees

Saturday 9 June
The weather has been unusually springlike this week, making us feel like we ought to have a picnic before Cincinnati's usual heat, humidity, and mosquitoes make it impossible. Fortuitously, this is also the time that the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company does its Plays in the Parks. There is no author we like more than Shakespeare, and no play we like more than Much Ado about Nothing - and that was what was to be performed at Saturday's locale, Eden Park.
Since we would be sitting on benches rather than laying out dishes on a blanket, we prepared an elegant antipasto that could be eaten from plates on the lap. There was genoa salami and provolone on HoltParkerHouse rolls baked that day, plus a variety of olives and marinated artichoke hearts. There were also to be roasted asparagus spears rolled up in prosciutto, but unfortunately the asparagus got left behind in the fridge, so that had to wait for another day. It all went well with Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay, discreetly sipped from a thermos - we didn't want to run afoul of any Dogberries of the law.
The evening was soft and cool, and the Seasongood Pavilion, among the trees in Eden Park, was nicely populated but not crowded. The performance, like Hero, was too low for a high praise…everyone mugged and giggled and shouted, and one actress's voice could be used to strip paint. But in the end, Shakespeare always wins out, and we all had a lovely time.

T-bone Steak with Braised Vegetables

Friday June 8
We not only had some bok choy left over from last night (see below), but also some braised radicchio that had been in the fridge for almost a week. Friday is the night to clear the decks of all such things. Since both vegetables brought powerful flavors to the table, we decided to go with the unmarked case for our protein: steak, anointed with a bit of Worcestershire to bring out the meatiness, and pan-fried. A successful maneuver; despite the conflicting ethnicities of bok choy and radicchio, the steak in the middle made the meal a veritable co-prosperity sphere.

Asian Barbecue Chicken

Thursday 7 June
Somehow the sight of the hoisin sauce sitting in the fridge set off a desire for something in the Chinese mode. Then Epicurious gave us the recipe for this Asian Barbecue Sauce, which can be used on anything from spareribs to salmon (I wouldn't put it on any subtler-flavored fish, though - the power of the sauce would wipe it out). It's fun to cook up the caramel for the sauce—the phase transitions from white crystals to dark liquid to darker solid back to melted sauce reminding us of the more dangerous experiments in Chem.—and the addition of five-spice powder makes it a bit more complex.
We decided to use it on broiled chicken. The trick here is to get the chicken very close to done, then lacquer on a coat or two of sauce for the last ten minutes or so. Otherwise the sauce just burns while the chicken is still raw.
We served this with bok choy, stir-fried with ginger and garlic, then covered and steamed for a bit with a cube of frozen veal stock and a bit of the barbecue sauce. Very Asian, very American - after all, the bok choy came from the IGA.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Variation on a Favorite Theme: Penne alla Saffi

Wednesday June 6
This is undoubtedly the meal we make most often. Though we haven't had it since March, for three months before that we ate it about once a month, and the basic recipe was given back in September.
This time, we had plenty of asparagus, as it was on sale at IGA, but we were low on first-cut ham. So we chopped it up fine instead of cutting it into matchsticks, as we usually do. It distributed its flavors nicely, as intended.

Tilapia and Chard from the Yard

Tuesday June 5
This is a version of the very first dinner blog we ever posted, on September 1 2006.
We were amazed to see how differently we had treated the same basic ingredients (this chard is a plant that actually wintered over in our garden, and the tilapia is still Trader Joe's frozen, so they really were the same). Last time we saw the meal as Spanish, with pimenton de la Vera and sherry vinegar. This time it was more Italian: the cornmeal coating for the fish was seasoned with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and the chard was sautéed in olive oil with minced garlic (first the nice red stems chopped up, then the chiffonaded leaves). When the chard was tender, we threw in some chopped black oil-cured olives, simmered it some more, and dressed it with red wine vinegar.
Spanish, Italian - we like them both.

Mideast Feast

Monday 4 June
Sometime about a decade ago, I was browsing through Dean's Mediterranean store and came upon a tub of dried fava beans. On a pulse impulse, I bought a pound, and it's been sitting in a glass jar just being decorative since then. But now I am growing fresh favas out in the garden, so I thought that this was the time to use up the dried ones.
I spent a lot of summers eating and excavating in Turkey, so I have a very high opinion of the creativity and freshness of that cuisine. My go-to guy for recipes is Özcan Ozan, who runs the Sultan's Kitchen restaurant in Boston and published a cookbook of the same name, both featured on his fetchingly-misspelled website.
His suggestion for dried favas was the following, which I annotate in my usual smartass fashion here:
Kuru Bakla Ezmesi/Dry Fava-bean, Its Purée
Warning - this takes two days.
1 lb. dried fava beans (a favorite of the Department of Redundancy Department)
1 onion, chopped
ca. 1 tsp. salt
3 1/2 cups water
extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 shallot or half a red onion, chopped
Soak the beans overnight. The next day, get a nice early start; peel and throw away their dark-red skins. Ozan then says that you bring the beans, chopped onion, salt, and 3 1/2 cups water to a boil, turn down the heat, and let them simmer for an hour, until tender. This confirms my belief that cookbook writers live in a fantasy land, at least where beans are concerned. Two hours of simmering, and the beans were not even past crunchy. It took another full hour IN A PRESSURE COOKER before they were anywhere near soft. And don't say it was because the beans were old - we've had the same process with beans we'd just bought.
Once they're finally done, throw the beans and a splash of the cooking liquid into a food-processor and purée, adding a bit more liquid only if it needs it - the result should be quite thick. Spread this out in lightly oiled flat square baking dish (or the like), and although it's been a full 24 hours since you started this, let it chill in the refrigerator overnight.
The next evening, bring it out, score it into bars with a knife, and sprinkle it with the oil, lemon, parsley, and shallot. Serve each bar on a plate, or mash them up a bit for a sort of fava hummus.
Of course, you can't make a meal just out of what Holt called "Turkish fart-cakes" (though in fact they had very little of that beany effect). So during the endless simmer, I had made tabouli, using the simple Moosewood method that makes all others look silly: to a cup of bulgur wheat and a tsp. of salt in a bowl, add 1 1/2 cups boiling water; cover and let sit for 20 mins., then fluff it up with a fork. Dress it with more olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and a huge amount of parsley, and let it chill overnight with the fart-cakes. Just before serving, chop up lots of tomatoes, feta cheese, scallions, more parsley, and anything else you feel would be good, and toss it in, adjusting the dressing and seasoning.
Just to round out the meal, we had olives and Israeli-style pickled turnips and beets - the latter is Dvorah's recipe, which I'll give when I do up the next batch. Right now, I'm tired. Bean-cooking really takes it out of you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Crab Crêpes

Sunday 3 June
It's easier to make than to say three times real fast:
crab crêpes, crab crêpes, crab crêpes.
Made some crêpes, using new Joy's recipe, which I didn't like nearly as much as Old Joy's, or Old Moosewood's (which is the house standard): too eggy, too watery, and only made 6 (really 5 1/2) crêpes.
But the filling was nice: just a simple béchamel with a dash of cayenne and nutmeg, enriched with one egg (off heat) and stiffened up with some Colby-jack (the only sticky cheese we had on hand - swiss would be more traditional), into which we folded a whole can of Trader Joe's one-step-up-from-their-cheapest brand crab meat (well worth it). Rolled up the crêpes, spread any filling that had leaked out on top, and grated on some Romano. Baked for 20 minutes and then under the broiler for 5. This was very, very tasty.

Veal Chops with Braised Radicchio

Saturday 2 June
The Cheap People at Findlay Market had had nice tight heads of radicchio for a buck a pop. They were slightly grubby-looking, but once the outer leaves were removed, they were perfect. We had seen a recipe for braised radicchio, but we couldn't find it anywhere in any of our Italian books. Turned up finally in new Joy.
We cut the radicchios (radicchi?) in wedges and fried with a little mirepoix of onion and carrots.
Once all the wedges
were browned on their edges,
we add to the vedges
(ok, I'll stop now)
a little white wine, veal stock cubes, salt, pepper. We covered the pan, but in fact the vedge gave off more than enough liquid.
Meanwhile, we pan-fried the veal chops (previously frozen, from Valentine's Day), seasoned with just a little salt, pepper, and thyme. The instant-read thermometer did its trick and at 125º, they were perfect in pink.
Loaded up the plates with the chops, the radicchio, then reduced the vedge juice, bound it with a little cream, and poured it over. The slightly bitter radicchio did a great job with the mild and sweet flavor of the veal. A most appealing vealing.

Salade Niçoise

Friday 1 June
Something light for a hot summer night. We had just a few creamer potatoes left, so boiled them whole, then cut into quarters. Poured over them oil, vinegar, and just a dab of the last of our homemade coarse-grain mustard, smooshed out with a little Dijon. Tossed with leaves of various lettuces from the garden (red and green oakleaf, black-seeded Simpson, arugula, and some I don't remember), lots of varied olives, sliced tomatoes, shallots, a lonely little zuke, the last of the big giant jar of artichoke hearts, and a can of nice Genoa tuna in olive oil. That was about it, and pretty good too.

Penne with Zucchini and Ham in Creamy Pesto

Thursday 31 May
Some tender little zukes from the market, a hunk of first-cut (i.e. the tail-end of Schad's) ham. Cut them into batons, fried them up, and tossed them over penne with a sauce of last year's pesto, defrosted, warmed, and loosened up with a dash of cream.