Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pear salad with walnuts, cheese, and balsamic

This was the first course to Saturday's dinner party. Thinly sliced pears (I used Forelle pears), with crumbled toasted walnuts, golden raisins, and grated grana padano cheese on top, with a very small drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette (good balsamic vinegar and olive oil mixed together). A beautiful light way to start the meal. I served with an inexpensive bubbly (with a raspberry in the champagne flute to class it up a little).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Roasted eggplant and pepper quesadillas

1 peeled, chopped eggplant
2 chopped green peppers
mozzarella cheese

That's essentially it. I mixed the chopped veggies with a little garlic olive oil, and roasted at 400 until soft. Then I layered those with shredded mozzarella inside two tortillas, and toasted those in a skillet until the cheese was melty. Served with salsa. Yum.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lime sherbet

I had a whole bunch of limes about to go bad, so I made a batch of lime sherbet.

Note: real lime sherbet is not green. It's off-white. If you're eating green lime sherbet, that means it's full of dye.

Adapted from David Lebovitz:

3 cups whole milk
3/4 cups sugar
zest of 1 lime
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Heat the milk and sugar until the sugar dissolves, and add the lime zest. Chill completely in fridge. Add lime juice, then pour into your ice cream maker and follow instructions.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Potato curry

Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes everywhere. Somehow, through the last weeks of the CSA and the backlog I already had, I have accumulated roughly 15 pounds--EACH--of potatoes and sweet potatoes. I got a lot of potatoes I need to get through.

So I made a potato curry. Not the most starch-free dish, by any stretch of the imagination, but I put some frozen peas in it. That makes it healthy and full of vegetables, right?

7-8 peeled, chopped potatoes
1 chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 chopped jalapeno
1 inch or so of peeled, chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
3-4 tablespoons curry powder
3 cups water
1 package frozen peas
Basmati rice, cooked (I used brown basmati)

Heat the butter, and add the onion, jalapeno, ginger, mustard seeds, and salt and pepper. Let cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the curry powder and cook an additional 2 minutes or os. Add the potatoes, stir well to coat, and add the water. Bring that to a boil, then cover, lower heat, and let simmer 15 minutes. When the potatoes are soft, remove the lid, turn the heat back up, and let boil for a few minutes to reduce the water. Add the peas, cook maybe 1 minute longer, and serve hot over rice.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gardening update

Tomatoes, squash, and cauliflower seedlings. Note inventive use of lawn as grassy garden patch.

Rain. That's the update.

For about two weeks straight here in Boston, it rained. Every day was cloudy, grey and overcast (when it wasn't actively raining), and late May temps struggled to clear 60 degrees. For several days, there was standing water in the garden, because the ground was too saturated to absorb it.

I'm really, really pleased to report that it looks like summer has finally arrived. The forecast is rain-free and sunny for at least the next 10 days, and temperatures are in the 70s.

Early morning shot of actual non-lawn garden. Note vigorous kale in far left row.
 Which is good, because I still haven't transplanted all the seedlings yet. I've been transplanting the tomatoes, a few at a time (the ones I transplanted right before all the rain started are on the verge of dying--they're all limp and yellow, so I'm holding some seedlings in reserve to replace them, if the sun doesn't perk them up). The rest of the garden is planted (green beans, corn, cucumbers, etc.), and the early stuff (kale, peas, spinach) is finally showing signs of life.

I'm hoping to get the rest of the tomatoes and all the peppers transplanted within the next two weeks. I'm hoping that's not too late.

Tomato seedlings, in lawn.

More tomato seedlings, in lawn.

Containers moved outside and finally showing actual greenery.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cookbook review: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

The problem with most "grains" cookbooks is that they're boring. There are only so many things you can do with quinoa, or couscous, or wheatberries, or whatever. And it's all very well and good to have recipes for seven-whole-grain bread or tart crust, but how many people can easily find rye berries, or whole wheat pastry flour, or flaxseed?

Fortunately, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals is the best of the grains cookbooks. Interesting recipes, great photos, and not too many completely bizarre ingredients. Most importantly, it's full of recipes I might actually use, and that my husband might actually eat without giving me that "You're making me eat hippie food" look. Recipes like Saffron Waffles with Orange Cream, for instance. Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart with Walnuts. Lamb Burgers with Bulgur and Mint. Fig Muffins with Goat Cheese.

And there's no sneaky hiding-the-white-flour in the recipes, either. Now I just have to figure out where I can buy whole wheat pastry flour.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eat: Dinner at the British Consulate, a Pop-Up

There's a blurry line between "underground restaurant" and "pop-up restaurant," though one of my fellow attendees at this past weekend's pop-up opined that "underground" is technically illegal, and "pop-up" is just in a non-restaurant venue--i.e., legal.

Whether legal or illegal, it was awesome. Eat hosted a pop-up dinner at the British Consulate, featuring a British-inspired menu. This was my first foray into the underground/pop-up world in Boston, and it was a smashing success.

First, the British Consulate. I've no idea how they got that space, but let's just say that the Brits have their conference room lighting down to an art. The meal was held in the lobby and a large conference room, both equipped with automatic chain-mail curtains and automatic lighting worthy of a Pink Floyd concert. It was full dark outside, but the lighting stayed at a perfect 9-AM-sunlight-just-coming-through-the-curtains setting the whole time. Sometimes pink, sometimes blue, but always bright-daylight-esque. Everyone was impressed. James Bond jokes abounded.

Second, the meal itself. Cocktail hour featured a local Berkshires-made gin, Greylock Gin, in Tom Collinses for everyone. Appetizers were haggis on toast, grilled cheese sandwiches with mango chutney, and boar sausage wrapped in puff pastry. There was a string quartet playing Beatles songs. There were quite a lot of people there, I'd say at least 60 or 70, far more than I was expecting. But that's the best part of this kind of dinner--being able to interact with all the strange new people. It's much more fun, and intimate, than a restaurant meal.

First course: Seared foie gras on a crumpet with maple gel, HP powder, and pickled berries. Imagine breakfast, with foie gras. A crumpet is sort of like a cross between a waffle and an English muffin. Best of all, the lady beside me didn't want her foie gras, so I got a double portion.

Second course: chicken korma soup with fiddlehead ferns. The lighting changed to a blue setting for this course, which is why the soup looks blue. It wasn't actually. They added a dusting of fenugreek to give the whole thing a curry vibe.

Third course: a riff on bangers and mash. An Earl Grey-smoked duck sausage with egg, grilled tomato, brussels sprout, and local fried egg. The sausage and the egg were the best parts.

Main course: locally-caught hake (not cod as per the menu) wrapped in a sort of pastry shell, with basil tartar sauce. The fish was excellent, light and flaky, and I really liked the basil tartar sauce. My husband said it was the best fish he'd ever had. Note pink lighting.

Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding, sort of deconstructed. The plates were fun, but beware of serving food on a sloping plate. A good portion of everyone's dessert ended up sliding off the plate onto the table.

The wine was by Bear Flag, which I'd had in California, so it was good to see a wine that I was already familiar with.

It's heartening to see such a lively alternative restaurant scene in Boston; I'm looking forward to attending a lot more of these, now that we're settled in. Maybe I can finally get my own underground restaurant up and running.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spaghetti with fiddleheads, speck and goat cheese

The rest of our anniversary dinner. Spaghetti (OK, some linguine was mixed in) with fresh fiddlehead ferns, goat cheese, and speck. A squeeze of fresh lemon would have been nice, too, but I was out of lemons.

I sauteed the fiddleheads gently, added the cooked pasta (with a little pasta water), and mixed in quite a lot of goat cheese. I added shredded speck and more goat cheese on top. Easy peasy.

The longest part of the preparation was explaining to my husband exactly what a fiddlehead fern was, and why he had never seen them before. (Answer: they are a wild fern that blooms in the spring, in a tightly coiled "fiddlehead" shape; as they grow, they unfurl upwards, which is why they're only in season about two weeks a year. He never saw them before because a) they're only in season about two weeks a year, and b) because they have to be foraged wild, it's not something Safeway would carry in the produce section. They taste crunchy and a little green, sort of like less dense young broccoli.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grilled peach salad with baby kale

Our anniversary dinner yesterday started with this salad. Grilled peaches with fresh baby kale, spinach and arugula, picked from our garden. With some really good goat cheese, and a sprinkle of top-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The garden isn't much yet--it's been too rainy. But between the kale, spinach, arugula, sorrel, cilantro, and chervil, I got enough greenery to make two small salads. The peaches came from the last CSA box--they weren't entirely ripe, but since I grilled them, it didn't matter.

The perfect way to start out a special dinner!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy first anniversary to me!

A year ago today, I got married to the most wonderful man, in the most fun wedding ever. Today I'm going to cook something special and open a bottle of good wine (and, frankly, spend the rest of my time, you know, not writing blog entries). So you'll pardon me if I skip a day here.

Here are some pictures of the food from the wedding, to tide you over:

Didn't that seafood gumbo just look divine? It tasted divine, too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Salty Maria

I sent my husband to the liquor store the other day with a list. One of the items on the list was "any good tequila under $30," as we were out of tequila.

He came home with this:

I'd never seen it before, but it's actually really good.

I decided to try some with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Normally grapefruit juice is too bitter for me, I have to cut it with orange juice or something, but the combination of this tequila and the straight grapefruit juice was perfect. A lovely summer cocktail.

(Now if we could only get some summer weather around here.)

I've dubbed it the Salty Maria. (Salty = grapefruit juice from Salty Dog, Maria = tequila from Bloody Maria.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ricotta risotto with dandelion greens and speck

The speck was an inspired touch.

Speck is a kind of thinly sliced cured pork. The finished risotto was full of fresh dandelion greens, and therefore a touch bitter, so I piled some speck on top and hoped for the best. The fatty richness of the meat offset the bitter greens perfectly. Next time I won't pile them on top, I'll work them all the way through.

Note: because the ricotto is a gloppy cheese, make sure all the broth in the risotto is fully absorbed before adding it. Otherwise you'll end up with something closer to soup.

Standard risotto-making applies. (Onion in oil; arborio rice; add broth and/or wine and stir until rice is done and liquid is absorbed.) About 2/3 of the way through the process, add a chopped bunch of dandelion greens. At the end, stir in about 1/2 cup of ricotta, plus the usual big handful (or two) of shredded parmesan.

If adding speck (or proscuitto), slice into thin ribbons and stir in just at the very end, right before serving.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mustard greens tart

Gosh, you can put just about anything on puff pastry and it'll taste good.

This is essentially a sort of puff pastry white pizza. Two puff pastry sheets, smeared with ricotta cheese, topped with grated cheese and caramelized onions, topped with slightly sauteed mustard greens and baked. We ate it as a main course, but it would work well as an appetizer, too.

Two sheets of puff pastry, thawed enough to unfold
Ricotta cheese
Grated gruyere, comte, or good cheddar cheese
Caramelized onions (about 1 big onion)
1 head of mustard greens, roughly chopped

Saute the onions in olive oil until they begin to color; then lower the heat to medium-low and let cook down for at least 30 minutes, until dark brown. Don't rush this step--the darker they are, the better they'll taste.

Open the two puff pastry sheets on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, and smear each with ricotta cheese (maybe 1/2 cup per). Add the caramelized onions. In the onion pan, add a little more olive oil and quickly saute the mustard greens, maybe 5 minutes, until they start to wilt. Sprinkle grated cheese over the onions (maybe 1/2 cup per), and top with the mustard greens.

Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar

On Saturday night, my husband and I treated ourselves to a rare night on the town, by going to the new Island Creek Oyster Bar on Commonwealth Ave in Boston.

I confess it wasn't in our budget. But we'd had a bad couple of days and desperately needed a pick-me-up. This was money well-spent.

We had a bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc with our meal, as it featured oysters (naturally). The waiter wasn't much of a sommelier; I asked which bottle, of the many on the wine list, would go best with all the different kinds of oysters and he said, "Sauvignon blanc." Well, yeah. Duh. I could have figured that out myself.

A couple of cocktails to start. I don't remember what was in this, but it was good.

My husband had the lobster roll.

I had the scallops, with asparagus, tasso, and celery root puree.


Dessert was heavenly: a rhubarb and blackberry crisp with basil ice cream.

Of course the highlight was the oysters (which we did not consume after dessert, don't let the order of the pictures fool you). We had two of each kind:

Island Creek, from Duxbury, MA
Rocky Nook, from Kingston, MA
Chatham, from Chatham, MA
Moonstone, from Point Judith, RI
Umami, from Narragansett Bay, RI
East Beach Blonde, from Charleston Pond, RI
Wild Belon, from Harpswell, ME
Misty Point, from Pope's Bay, VA
Hama Hama, from Lillywaup, WA
Blue Pool, from Lillywaup, WA
Shigoku, from Bay Center, WA
Kumamoto, from Puget Sound, WA
Cape Spear, from New Brunswick, Canada

Contrary to previous findings, the East Coast oysters were all much brinier and meatier than the West Coast specimens.

They were all good, though.

Who needs retail therapy, when you can have restaurant therapy?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Creme de Violette (and the original Aviation recipe)

This is violet liqueur. As in, made from violets.

I know what you're thinking: "Wouldn't that be like drinking alcoholic soap?" Well, no. While I wouldn't drink it straight, it does add a lovely floral note to cocktails, sort of like a floral grappa.

And it's purple.

Really! Check out this cocktail made with just a little creme de violette:

It's purty.

The original recipe for an Aviation is:

2 parts gin
1/2 part lemon juice
1/2 part maraschino liqueur
1/2 part creme de violette

Garnish with maraschino cherry (or lemon twist, as above).

If nothing else, drinking a purple drink is a lot prettier than drinking a gin-colored drink.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Apple-cabbage slaw

A great slaw, with no mayo required.

From Food52:

1 cup apple, thinly sliced

2 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1 small red onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, (organic if possible)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Woo! I found real maraschino cherries!

Real = not that nuclear-red dyed shit. If it comes on top of an ice cream sundae, it's not a real maraschino cherry, it's pumped full of red dye and corn syrup. Tastes like it, too.

Real maraschino cherries actually taste like cherries, and are dark, dark red--in dim bar light, sometimes they look like olives. But they taste so gooooood, and no red dye or corn syrup in sight. I had a plan to make my own this summer, but I found a jar by Luxardo in a fancy cheese shop and jumped on the opportunity.

Luxardo also makes maraschino liqueur, which tastes nothing like either real or fake maraschino cherries. It's clear, and in taste resembles a slightly fruity grappa. It's strong. And is one of the key ingredients (in making your own maraschino cherries, but also in) the classic drink called the Aviation.

2 parts gin
1 part maraschino liqueur
1 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Shake, serve in well-chilled glass with a (real) maraschino cherry.

Collard green pesto

Well, I guess you can make pesto out of pretty much anything, huh?

This turned out way better than I thought it would, frankly. But it doesn't shine on pasta--collard green pesto needs to be served on a big platter of cheese grits. Yeah. Cheese grits.

Anyway, it was also spicier than I thought it would be, probably because I used jalapeno-stuffed olives.

1 big bunch collard greens, tough center ribs removed
7 large brine-cured green olives (2 1/4 ounces), pitted
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Blanch collard greens briefly by bringing a big pot of water to a rolling boil, adding the greens, and cooking until soft, maybe 15 minutes. Transfer collards with tongs to a colander to drain, gently pressing on greens to extract excess water. (If making pasta, reserve water in pot for cooking pasta.) Coarsely chop collards.

Blend olives and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add collards, water, vinegar, salt, cayenne, and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. Turn off motor, then add cheese and pulse to combine.

Serve over cheese grits for full power.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Carrot pizza, Thai-style

This is an interesting pizza. "Interesting" in the sense that it's good; but I found myself missing the cheese. However, it's a great vegan dish, it's low-calorie and light, and would make a great appetizer as well.

It's basically pureed cooked carrots, with Sriracha, coconut milk, and fresh herbs. I cooked, then pureed, the carrots. On the pizza crust, I spread a little olive oil, then the carrot puree, and cooked it like I would a regular pizza. While it was cooking, I opened a can of coconut milk and set it to boil, to reduce it by about half (coconut cream would also work, without the reducing).

When it came out of the oven, I added a fair amount of Sriracha, and drizzled the coconut milk over that (maybe 1/3 cup of each) and topped with chopped fresh cilantro and mint.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maple vinegar

This was an experiment, courtesy of the New York Times.  Check out the recipe on their website: I figured anything made with maple syrup and dark rum would be good.

After three weeks of fermentation in the back of my cupboard, I had a jar full of maple-y, not too vinegar-y, maple vinegar.

After further experimentation, here's what a jar of homemade maple vinegar is good for:

1. Salad dressing, especially on any salad with blue cheese and/or nuts.
2. On stinky cheese or blue cheese.
3. The Times claims it's good in a martini, though I haven't gotten that far yet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Red velvet cake, without the red (or the icing)

Then why make it, you ask? What's the point of red velvet cake if it's not red, and doesn't have icing?

Don't worry, it's still good.

Red velvet cake is a pet peeve of  mine. I can't tell you how many times I've had red velvet cake (usually at an office party) that is nothing more than regular white cake with a ton of red food dye added. People: This is not red velvet cake! I don't care how red it is.

REAL red velvet cake is made with cocoa and buttermilk. And tastes chocolate-y. The red color originally came from a chemical reaction between the unprocessed cocoa and the buttermilk. (Hershey's isn't the right kind of cocoa; but it's okay to use, that's what I used.) Some people added a little beet juice to enhance the reddish tinge (adding beet juice doesn't affect the flavor). Then I guess everyone decided they liked the red color so much, most red velvet cake recipes these days call for TWO BOTTLES of red dye.

Even if the cake is made the right way, with cocoa and buttermilk, if it has two bottles of dye in it, I can't taste anything but dye. (You do know food dye is made from petroleum, right?)

But I had some buttermilk I needed to use up, so I decided to make it anyway, with or without the red. I didn't make the icing because, hey, I was lazy. Plus I figure that way, it's more acceptable to have cake for breakfast. Without icing, it's just like a cake wedge-shaped muffin, right? Right?

Anyway, here's the recipe. Should you choose to add the two bottles of dye (ewwww, btw), add that to the cocoa powder to make a sort of paste before adding it to the batter. And wear an apron, that crap stains.

2 1/2 cups sifted flour (sift by itself first, then sift with the other dry ingredients, as per below)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift the first three ingredients together, and set aside. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla and cocoa (or cocoa/dye paste). Add 1/3 flour mixture, then 1/2 of the buttermilk, and so on. Scrape down the bowl and make sure everything is well combined. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda (yes, it will fizz) and incorporate that into the batter. Divide into the cake pans, and back at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Cook 3 tablespoons flour and 1 cup milk until thick. Cool COMPLETELY. Cream 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until fluffy, and fold that into the flour/milk mixture.

Another pet peeve: cream cheese icing on red velvet cake. Good and all, but the flour/milk icing above is the authentic one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pea, zucchini and bacon risotto

I've been getting bags of sugar snap peas in my CSA box for the last two weeks now, meaning I had about two pounds' worth of peas to get through. I also had three zucchini, two of which I used for the zucchini-potato frittata, so I decided on a simple springtime risotto.

The basic risotto recipe is simply arborio rice, an onion (or shallot), parmesan, and broth and/or wine. Saute the chopped onion in olive oil until soft. Add a cup of arborio rice to that and toast for a minute. Add a splash of white wine to deglaze.  

Add more wine and/or broth, in small amounts, and keep stirring so that the rice absorbs most of the liquid between additions. When the rice is done, and the liquid is mostly gone, add a couple handfuls of parmesan cheese, stir and eat.

In between all that, you can add whatever you like to flavor it. I added the peas and the sliced zucchini about 2/3 of the way through, and added crumbled cooked bacon at the very end.

The dish ended up being more vegetable than rice, but I'm okay with that.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Zucchini-potato frittata

This recipe proves the awesomeness of a good cast-iron skillet.

It was the perfect frittata--light on the inside, crusty on the outside, full of cheesy veggie goodness. I threw in lots of bacon, too. When I ate the first bite, I detected a faint aura of maple. "Hmmmm," I thought, "there isn't any maple in this. And there isn't any sugar to caramelize. I wonder where that maple flavor is coming from?" The mystery maple flavor was much more pronounced along the crust.

Then I remembered a batch of maple-cured bacon I'd made in that pan.

The ghost of that bacon had come back to haunt my frittata.

In the best possible way, of course.

I used this recipe from The Kitchn, adapted below:

2 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, sliced

4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
3 waxy potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 pound bacon
6 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar

Get out your good cast-iron skillet, and fry up some bacon.

Remove the bacon (leaving the bacon grease) and saute the onions and potatoes in that for several minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Remove the potatoes, add a little more bacon fat, and saute the zucchini.

Meanwhile mix the eggs and cheese together in a bowl. Add the potatoes and zucchini, with salt and pepper, along with the crumbled-up bacon strips you cooked earlier, and mix. Add a little more bacon fat to the pan, and pour everything back into it. Let cook for 10 minutes over medium-low, without stirring, so the eggs can set. Slide the whole thing into the oven.

Bake at 350 another 10-15 minutes, or until not jiggly in the middle.

Look how yummy that is:

See all the nice potato layers?

One more time:

I'm definitely going to be doing more things with potatoes and eggs.