Thursday, June 30, 2011

Caramelized onion and lavender tart

Woo! I'm getting crazy with the tarts these days.

This one uses dried lavender, which gives a lovely herbal bite to the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The original recipe used crisped proscuitto as a base (that is, proscuitto sauteed a little bit until crispy), but I used some leftover ham which I thought worked just as well. Other things you might use: country ham, crumbled bacon, or go veggie and use blue cheese crumbles.

I also used the walnut crust from the bacon and chard tart. It's my new all-purpose tart crust.

Loosely adapted from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals:

2 big onions, sliced (I used Vidalia onions)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 oz proscuitto or ham or bacon or blue cheese or whatever
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 oz grated cheese (I used parmesan; gruyere would also be yummy)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Caramelize the onions by sauteing on medium-low, in olive oil or bacon fat, for the better part of an hour. Let them get dark, the darker they are the sweeter they taste. Meanwhile make the tart crust and par-bake it according to the instructions.

Remove the onions, and saute the meat in the same pan with a little more olive oil. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese and herbs.

Brust the tart crust with the mustard, layer the meat in the bottom, add the onions. Pour the egg mixture over all that, and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Carrot and cilantro salad

4-5 carrots, grated (a food processor grating blade works great for this)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

For dressing:

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil
salt and pepper

Mix the carrots and cilantro together. If you grated your carrots in the food processor, use that to make the dressing. Combine all but the oil, whir, and add the oil in a slow stream until emulsified. (Or whisk together in a small bowl.) Add dressing to carrots just before serving.

Cool, quick, cheap, tasty. The perfect summer salad. (And in my opinion, a more flavorful and less mayonnaise-y alternative to slaw.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gardening update

I have little green tomatoes now! (Little green Cherokee Purple tomatoes, to be precise; the other varieties are flowering but haven't produced any fruit yet.)

The herbs are coming along; the chervil and cilantro have already flowered; the rosemary and lavender are hanging in there (but they're growing so slowly, I may not have anything to harvest until next year); the basil is just starting to take off. I harvested the first few leaves of basil the other day.

Also, the borage has produced its first blooms.

Borage is fairly uncommon, but it's an edible flower. One of the few truly blue things in the plant world. And awful pretty.

Speaking of blue, I cut these off the bushes in the front yard. I don't know what they are, the previous owner planted them.

I also have a particularly pernicious rabbit. After a rainy spell last week, when it rained for three days straight, I came outside to discover he'd nibbled all my cauliflower down to the roots. He'd also decapitated most of the green bean plants and one whole squash plant. Needless to say, I was livid. When it's not raining, I can spray down repellent, which works--it's just that when it rains, it washes all away and I can't put more down. Let's hope we don't get any more prolonged rainy spells like that. As it is, I'm not sure I'll be able to get any cauliflower this year.

So if anyone has any rabbit tips, let me know. My grandmother volunteered this helpful information: "Just trap them under a box and club them to death. That's what I used to do." I'm pretty sure I don't have it in me to club a rabbit to death.

Unless, of course, I catch it eating my tomatoes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Garlic scape pizza

Garlic scapes are the curly top of the garlic plant, available only a few weeks a year as the garlic ripens. I was fortunate enough to get a bag in my CSA box last week. They taste like a milder, greener (green as in salad) version of garlic. And they look like a vegetable version of bend-y straws, which is fun.

For the pizza, I laid down slices of fresh mozzarella and the unused bits from yesterday's tart--a few tablespoons of caramelized onion and a few leaves of wilted chard. Topped that with the garlic scapes, and a layer of parmesan. When it came out of the oven, I garnished with the torn first basil leaves from my garden.

Hooray! I'm finally getting basil!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bacon, chard and walnut tart

I've never had a lot of success with tarts.

A lot of tart recipes call for complicated crusts, which turns me (and most everyone else) off. The few times I've attempted a tart, I made my standard pie crust recipe instead--which clung to the inside of the tart pan and essentially ruined the tart-ness of the tart. In later years, when my crappy yard-sale tart pan gave out, I just made the "tart" in a pie pan, with a pie crust.

Well, the other day I was at Williams-Sonoma picking up a salad spinner, and I noticed several kinds of tart pans on their sale table. It was on sale, it was good quality, I no longer owned a tart pan, so I picked one up.

And lo, this recipe for a Bacon, Chard and Walnut Tart fell into my lap.

And lo! I already had all of the ingredients! Including a brand-new tart pan!

Now I know why my tarts always failed--a flaky pie crust will cling to the inside of the tart pan. You want a more crumbly crust, like this one, which was way easier to put together than I thought it would be. This may turn out to be my default tart crust from now on.

Reprinted here, from Food52:

Serves 8

Walnut Tart Crust:

1 1/2 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnut meal (made from whirring walnuts in a blender until fine)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup toasted walnut oil
1/2 cup ice water (you probably won't use it all)

Bacon, Chard and Walnut Filling:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, heated in a hot skillet for a minute or two until "toasted" (be careful not to burn them)
1 cup chopped thickly sliced bacon
1 cup chopped sweet/Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil
1 bunch green chard leaves, chopped
4 eggs, preferably organic and free-range
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for optional garnish
1 pinch sea salt
dash of ground black pepper

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, walnut meal, and the salt.
2.Add the toasted walnut oil and mix well.
3.Add about 1/4 cup of the water, and using your hands, mix until it starts to form a dough. Add more water, a tablespoon or so at a time, and keep using your hands to mix until it comes together into a ball.
4.Roll out into a little bigger than the bottom of your tart pan on a floured surface. It's ok if it falls apart a little- it's better not to overwork it and just to press the extra pieces into the tart pan.
5.Rub the bottom and sides of your tart pan with toasted walnut oil and then transfer the rolled-out dough into the tart pan. Using the heel of your hand (or whatever that part of your hand under your thumb is called), press the dough into the bottom and half-way up the sides of your tart pan. Any pieces that broke off while you were rolling can be pressed in now. I am all for charmingly rustic tart crusts, so don't worry if it doesn't look perfect.
6.Prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork, then cover with a layer of foil and place pie weights or a layer of dried beans on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the weights/beans and foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until crust just starts to brown and become fragrant. Set aside while you make the tart filling; reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
7.In a cast-iron skillet, cook chopped bacon for several minutes, until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Pour half the bacon fat into another skillet and leave the rest where it is.
8.Add chopped onion to one of the skillets along with the tablespoon of toasted walnut oil. Cook for about 20 minutes over low heat, stirring every now and then, until well caramelized.
9.In the other skillet, cook the chard over low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes. until fully wilted. When the onions are done, combine them with the chard, the toasted walnuts, and the cooked bacon in a large bowl. Add the thyme leaves and mix well.
10.Add the eggs, cream, and maple syrup to a small bowl and whisk until blended. Add this to the bacon mixture and combine. Pour into the par-baked tart shell.
11.Place the filled tart pan on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake until the center of the tart is set, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing the tart from the outside and bottom of the pan; garnish with additional fresh thyme if desired before serving.
Notes: This is WAY better made ahead of time and reheated, as the filling will thicken more and the flavors will meld better. A perfect thing to make ahead for a fancy brunch.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Egg white frittata with broccoli

Due to my recent batch of mint-chocolate chip ice cream, I had a lot of egg whites left over. (Ice cream calls for egg yolks.) There were six or seven egg whites, too many to just discard, so I decided to make an egg white frittata with a head of broccoli I had floating around.

I added a couple of whole eggs to beef up the egg supply. I got out my cast-iron skillet, cut up the broccoli into big rough florets, and sauteed them for a minute in olive oil. I then added the eggs, let that cook for a couple of minutes, added a layer of grated parmesan, and popped the skillet into the oven at 425 for five minutes or so, until the eggs were puffy and a little browned on top.

I served the whole thing with some roasted potato wedges. Such a virtuous meal--veggies and protein, and I used up three separate things (egg whites, broccoli, and the last of the potatoes). The broccoli was still crunchy, the potato wedges were roasty and crunchy around the edges, and the egg white had enough cheese to keep it from being totally bland.

To compensate for all the healthiness, I had two glasses of white wine with it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stuffed zucchini (and stuffed peppers)

This was a "let's throw this all together and see what happens" kind of  meal. I had two zucchini and two green bell peppers--not quite enough of either to do anything interesting with--and some fresh mozzarella. I thought "maybe stuffed peppers?" and decided to do the same thing with the zucchini. I didn't want to go through the effort of cooking up a separate batch of rice or quinoa or anything to stuff the veggies with--and then realized I had a container of Italian sausage-heavy spaghetti sauce I'd made over the weekend.

So I "stuffed" the veggies with spaghetti sauce, topped with the mozzarella, and baked. The zucchini I cut into long pieces, and stood on end. My original plan was to hollow them out with a melon baller, but the melon baller was bigger than the actual zucchini, so I just scooped off the top a little. I baked everything at 400 for a half hour or so, putting the cheese on top halfway through, then putting more cheese on top when they came out of the oven.

It was actually a very nice meal, if a little sloppy due to all the sauce. (Be sure to serve this with some nice garlic bread, to sop up all the sauce!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blueberry-violet mojito

Isn't it a pretty purple color?

Muddle together in the bottom of a glass:

Several mint leaves
Several blueberries
A squeeze of lime

Add a splash of Creme de Violette; ice cubes; then white rum and club soda.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mint-chocolate chip ice cream (with fresh mint!)

I harvested my very first mint the other day!

So I made mint-chocolate chip ice cream, courtesy of David Lebovitz: (reprinted below)

For the mint ice cream:

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
pinch of salt
2 cups packed (80 gr) fresh mint leaves
5 large egg yolks

For the chocolate chips:
5 ounces (140 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream, salt, and mint.

2. Once the mixture is hot and steaming, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to infuse the mint flavor.

3. Remove the mint with a strainer, then press down with a spatula firmly to extract as much mint flavor and color as possible. (You can also use well-washed hands to do it as well, making sure the mixture isn’t too hot to safely handle.) Once the flavor is squeezed out, discard the mint.

4. Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top.

5. Rewarm the infused milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then slowly pour some of the warm mint mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

6. Cook the custard, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. If using an instant read thermometer, it should read around 170ºF (77ºC).

7. Immediately strain the mixture into the cream, then stir the mixture over an ice bath until cool.

8. Refrigerate the mixture thoroughly, preferably overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

While the mixture is freezing, melt the chocolate in a small bowl over a pot of simmering water, or in a microwave oven on low power, stirring until smooth. Place a storage container in the freezer.

9. When the ice cream in the machine is ready, scribble some of the chocolate into the container, then add a layer of the just-churned ice cream to the container. Scribble melted chocolate over the top of the ice cream, then quickly stir it in, breaking up the chocolate into irregular pieces. Continue layering the ice cream, scribbling more chocolate and stirring as you go.

When finished, cover and freeze until firm.

Notes: I skipped the chocolate melting stage and just dropped in chocolate chips. It's better to melt the chocolate. Also, this ice cream is MINTY. Store-bought mint ice cream is much subtler in its mintiness. This is not a bad thing, it's just, you know, MINTY.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Raw kale salad with bacon

I FINALLY found something summery to do with kale.

I keep getting kale in my CSA box. As if I didn't eat enough CSA kale this winter, now I gotta eat it all summer, too? But my normal winter methods for eating kale (soup, etc.) just won't fly in June.

Fortunately, I discovered this recipe for Raw Lacinato Kale Salad with Bacon and Egg. And behold! I had all of the ingredients, including two bunches of kale.

Let me tell you, this salad is a rock star. Best of all, since it's kale, the salad doesn't wilt under all the dressing. Best of all part two, this dressing would work well on any kind of salad.

Reprinted here, from food52:

1/4 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 bulb spring garlic, minced
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons raw honey
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced sage
salt to taste
6 eggs
1/2 pound bacon
2 bunches kale

1.For the dressing: In a food processor, combine the feta cheese, vinegar, garlic, egg yolk and honey and blend. Slowly add the grapeseed oil with the food processor running until it is emulsified. Add the olive oil and salt accordingly. You don't want it to be too thick. Add a little water so it is more of a salad dressing consistency, not mayo. You can also loosen it with more vinegar if it is not acidic enough for you. Add the sage at the end for a flecked green look and further depth of flavor.

2.For the eggs: Cover the eggs with cold water in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil then shut off the heat, cover the pot and wait for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, submerge the eggs in ice water. Wait another 10 minutes then peel the eggs and slice or mince them.

3.For the bacon: I used a chili cured bacon, but you can use what ever you want. Cook the bacon until crispy (rendering out the fat), then chop into small pieces.

4.Remove the stems from two bunches of kale. Tear into bite size pieces. Toss the kale in the dressing and garnish with the minced egg and bacon. Serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberry-rhubarb pie

Best. Pie. Ever.

What makes it super-fantabulous instead of just regular fantabulous are the fresh strawberries. So please, if at all possible, do not use frozen or supermarket strawberries. Go to your local farmer's market and find a box of tiny, misshapen fresh strawberries. Your taste buds will thank you for it.

I also got a batch of fresh rhubarb in my CSA box this week. So you know I was gonna make a pie with it.

Start with this pie crust.

2 pints fresh strawberries, hulls removed, halved
A handful of red rhubarb stalks, sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Big pinch of salt

Press the bottom crust into the pie pan, add the filling, add the top crust (cutting out some sort of pattern in the top crust) and crimp the edges. Brush the top crust with a mixture of one egg yolk and a little water.

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then lower to 350 and cook for another hour to an hour and a half (when the top is nicely browned).

Warning: this pie will be gooey and drippy and you may very well eat the whole thing in one sitting.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A guest post on gardening

Check out my guest post on Get Rich Slowly!

Here's a slightly different version of the same post (basically, more pictures and different captions):

Gardening equipment is expensive.

But gardening itself doesn’t have to be.

This is my first attempt at full-scale gardening. This is the first year I’ve lived in a house, with a yard; previous gardening efforts were limited to containers of herbs, and the odd tomato plant, on windowsills or apartment patios. To complicate matters, it’s my first year living in New England, so the climate is new (and frightening). We had an intensely bitter winter, in which my backyard was buried under five feet of snow from January through the end of March; and then an intensely rainy and chilly spring.

The container garden tradition continues...

So I knew this first year would be an experiment, and I approached it as such. In February, I began collecting seeds (heirloom and/or organic when possible), with the idea to plant one or two of everything and see what took. Here’s what I bought:

Tomatoes (several different kinds, including Jubilee, Amish Paste, Cherokee, and cherry)
Peppers (habanero, jalapeno, Thai, cayenne, Serrano, and bell: green, yellow and purple)
Green beans
Butternut squash
Pie pumpkins
Swiss chard
Beets (regular and striped)
Brussels sprouts

(Some of these I won’t plant until late summer/early fall, like the beets and Brussels sprouts.)

And herbs:
Basil (regular, purple, Thai)

Ambitious, I know.

The seeds cost around $100 total, although I got quite a few tomato seeds from my sister. I had a lot of one-time start-up costs; I had to buy a hoe, a rake, a shovel, a pitchfork (for the compost pile), a hose, and four florescent shop lights to start the seeds indoors. I also needed quite a lot of potting soil and seed-starting mix. I still had all the plastic containers from my various container gardens, which I used to start the herbs.

But I also learned what I didn’t need to spend money on.

Due to the climate, I knew I would have to start most everything indoors. (Because of the very rainy/chilly spring, I didn’t get the last tomato seedling in the ground until June 4.) I have a sunroom attached to the back of the house, walled almost entirely in sliding glass doors. It’s lovely in the summer, but bitter cold in the winter. I closed off the heating vents and kept it unheated through the entire winter. It was the perfect place to start seedlings (lots of light, out of the way), except for the cold—at least twenty-five degrees colder than the rest of the house, far too cold for delicate seedlings. I put a space heater in there for the seed-starting project—which promptly doubled my electric bill.


So next year I’ll wait a few more weeks, until things warm up slightly, and skip the space heater.

I kept the florescent lights set on stacks of bricks, just above the seedlings, so I didn’t need to install shelving.

Note the variety of containers the seedlings are in...

And the repurposed silver dinner tray.

The bricks were free—the house came with two random piles of bricks in the yard. I bought special seed-starting kits, but quickly figured out that I had plenty of things around the house that I could re-purpose for seed starting. All of these things can easily be used, most of which you probably already have, all of which I used at some point:

Yogurt/sour cream containers
Egg cartons
Grapefruit and orange halves (eat the fruit first)
Bottoms of milk jugs
Paper cups (these actually worked the best of anything)
Toilet paper tubes (fold the bottom under to make a little cup)
Paper towel tubes, cut in half (see above)
Cleaned out food and coffee cans (any size)
Cleaned out soda cans, cut in half
Those plastic tubs mushrooms and lettuce come in
Plastic take-out containers
I even repurposed some random, lidless Tupperware.

(Just make sure you cut/punch holes in the bottom of everything, for drainage.)

Instead of drainage trays, I used box tops. Instead of row markers, I used a Sharpie and extra bricks. Instead of purchasing nine zillion tomato cages, I used sticks and twine. (All those winter storms brought down a lot of big tree branches; I simply went to the piles of deadwood in the back of the yard and stripped out large branches which I stuck in the ground, one for each tomato plant. Ditto for pea trellises.)

Exceedingly high-tech stick method; but the tomato plant seems to like it.

The previous occupants had left a small garden in one corner of the yard, maybe six feet by six feet. Obviously too small for everything I wanted to plant! But renting a tiller to plow up a section of the yard would have been far more expensive than I thought it would be. So I didn’t.

Instead, I took a hoe to the lawn and chopped out additional rows. For the tomatoes, I chopped out one hole at a time, in various locations around the yard. I filled in the vacant flower beds with herbs. I planted edible flowers around the mailbox. Every square inch of usable yard real estate was reappropriated for gardening; and when I’d filled in the edges, I chopped out grass and planted everything else in the lawn.

If I had my way, I'd plow up the entire lawn and turn it into a giant vegetable garden. Less grass to mow.

Now, maybe this method will work against me. Maybe lawn grass growing between the rows will end up stunting the growth of my plants. But so far, everything is growing really well. And the grass will grow back, if it turns out this method doesn’t work.

One note: it’s far easier to chop up the top layer of grass with a hoe, and use a trowel to dig up the dirt, than it is to try to dig an actual hole with a shovel. Grass is tough to dig through, but surprisingly easy to pull up.

The only other costs have been Miracle-Gro and rabbit repellent. My yard backs into a nature preserve, so it’s like Wild Kingdom out there. I’ve seen rabbits, raccoons, skunks, snakes, groundhogs, foxes, turtles, deer, and any number of birds in the yard. It also appears that I have an entire chipmunk colony tunneling under the yard. I can't shoot them (I live in the 'burbs) and I can't trap them (too many). So I have to coexist, somewhat uneasily, and hope they don't eat my garden. The homemade repellents (typically a mixture of cayenne pepper or hot sauce sprayed directly on the plants) didn’t prevent my cauliflower and corn from being nibbled. So I’ve been spraying commercial rabbit and deer repellent around the yard, and so far, so good.

Not including the $100 for seeds, I’ve spent around $600 on gardening so far this year. But of that, I think I can safely budget no more than $200 total for next year, for seeds and potting soil (and possibly more rabbit repellent). I won’t need to buy a hoe, shovel, pitchfork or hose again, and I know I can start my seeds without special seed trays and equipment. I also have a lot of seeds left over, which I can save in the back of the refrigerator for next year, cutting next year’s seeds costs down to probably $60 or so. (And frankly, I won't be planting all of that stuff again next year; only what's most successful this year.)

For the rest of this summer, the only reoccurring costs will be the Miracle-Gro (which I can eliminate next year, as my new compost pile will be producing compost by then) and more rabbit repellent (stupid rabbits).

Will the garden turn out to be more cost-effective than my CSA? ($475 for weekly boxes, May – November) That remains to be seen, but it’s looking good right now. If the rabbits don’t eat everything, and we don’t get a freak tornado or hailstorm, I should have a bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers. The green beans are shooting up, the squash is coming along nicely, and the container herbs are getting close to the point where they can be harvested regularly. I’ll be sure to report back at the end of the summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strawberry salad with wasabi vinaigrette

It's getting to that time of year where I'm more interested in sitting outside looking at my garden, than I am being inside in the kitchen cooking. Despite an abundance of produce, last night was one of those nights. I just couldn't summon my cooking mojo. So I pulled together a quick dinner of leftover biscuits, the last of the wild boar sausage, and a simple strawberry salad with fresh strawberries.

The salad was just red-leaf lettuce, strawberries, a handful of toasted pecans, and some crumbled goat cheese. But wow, were those fresh strawberries awesome.

For the wasabi vinaigrette:
1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste or powder
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the first three together, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly, to emulsify. Adjust to taste.

The sharp hotness of the wasabi is a perfect foil to the creamy goat cheese and the sweet strawberries. (This vinaigrette also goes really well with any salad featuring avocado.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

That old Boston standby, Legal Seafoods

It rained all last weekend, so I couldn't get any yardwork/gardening done. Having no other plans, I was a little stir-crazy, so eventually my husband and I decided to go out.

Normally, "going out" is an event, budgeted and planned ahead. This is perhaps the first time in our marriage when we've had the money to even consider "going out" as an option when bored, and not as a special occasion.

We went to a new, upscale outdoor mall near where I work. There's a Whole Foods, several upscale restaurants, lots of upper-end shopping (Aldo, Williams Sonoma, J. Crew), and a big movie theater. We started at The Yardhouse, which featured a gazillion different kinds of beer. Between us, we sampled Dead Guy Rogue Ale, Arrogant Bastard, and Delirium Tremens. Clear winner: Arrogant Bastard.

For dinner, we went to Legal C Bar, which is the upscale bar version of Legal Seafoods, a Boston-area stalwart. We had some cocktails, and discovered Absolut Brooklyn. What does Brooklyn-flavored vodka taste like, you ask? (Not like asphalt and hipsters, which was my first guess.) Red apple and ginger, actually.

Then we had the raw seafood tower (oysters, clams, shrimp, crab legs). Of those, the oysters were, and always will be, the clear winner. I like raw oysters far better than I like raw clams, the crab legs were messy, and the shrimp--despite the waitstaff's assurances that the shrimp were fresh--were previously frozen and in fact were so cold they may as well have been still frozen. So now you know: when eating raw seafood, save your money for oysters, sushi, and ceviche. Skip the rest.

We wrapped up the evening with The Hangover II at the multiplex. (Not nearly as good as the original; but then, sequels never are.) A couple of weeks ago we saw Bridesmaids at that same multiplex; that's two movies in a month, and prior to Bridesmaids, I don't think I'd seen a movie in the theatre road trip in 2009? Frankly, the experience doesn't do anything for me. It's $22 just to get in the door for the two of us (plus popcorn, since apparently my husband is physically incapable of watching a movie without popcorn); I'd much rather just wait for Netflix and watch at home for practically free.

But hey, the point is that $22 + popcorn is not the huge budget-buster it once was. Nor is a day of "going out," which, happily, was less expensive than I'd feared. Largely because I was mentally pricing beers and cocktails at New York prices ($14 each) instead of at suburban MA prices ($6-8 each). Even the tower of seafood for two was a reasonably priced $47, and not the $80+ it would have been in NY.

I guess there are some advantages to the 'burbs, after all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Purslane; or, Tacos de Verdolagas y Huevos

I found purslane at the farmer's market yesterday.

Wait, let me back up. I went to the farmer's market yesterday. This seems unremarkable, but it was the first farmer's market in my area this summer. The very first one. So I went, and bought:

Fresh eggs
2 quarts of fresh strawberries

After I gorged myself on fresh strawberries (small and misshapen, but fresh strawberries taste so much better than the store version; when was the last time you bit into a store strawberry that dripped juice like a peach?), I turned my attention to the purslane.

Purslane is a weed. Literally. But a very tasty one. If you see it growing wild, pick it. It tastes like a cross between arugula and broccoli and okra, and it has the highest concentration of omega-3s of anything on the planet, including fish.

Using my fresh eggs, I whipped up a quick batch of these purslane and egg tacos (or Tacos de Verdolagas y Huevos), and damn. They were really so much better than I thought they would be.

3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion
2 cups purslane, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 large fresh tomato, diced (I used two canned whole tomatoes)
1 jalapeno, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, diced
Tortillas (I used flour, but corn would be better)

Beat the eggs and set aside. Over medium-high heat in a large skillet, saute the onion in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the purslane, cook another 2 minutes. Add the tomato, jalapeno and garlic, cook another minute. Push everything to the edges of the pan and add the beaten eggs. Slowly scramble the purslane mixture in with the eggs, until done. Serve on tortillas with salsa and queso fresco or goat cheese.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wines from my collection: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier

This is a lovely little bottle I picked up at Costco. (I forget what I paid for it, but it retails for $14, so almost certainly less than that.) It's a great summer wine: cheap, flavorful, easy to drink, good with food or by itself. I'll definitely be going back for more.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Couscous salad with kale and feta

I was planning a more elaborate dinner last night, but I got sidetracked.

I killed a snake.

Naturally, after that, I wasn't really thinking about cooking.

I went outside to check on the garden after I got home from work yesterday afternoon, and I let the cats out to play while I did. One was terribly interested in a particular bush, he kept smelling it and dancing all around it, and I ignored it for the first few minutes. But he kept smelling and prancing, and finally I went over there to see what all the fuss was about.

About that time a snake slithered out.

It wasn't big, or poisonous. A little black-and-yellow garter snake of some variety, I imagine. It would have been hard-pressed to swallow anything bigger than a cough drop. Nevertheless, I certainly didn't want it getting inside the house. So I scooped up the cats, deposited them inside, and came back with the hoe. And chopped the snake in two.

Then I ran back inside and called my husband to come home and remove the corpse.

So I wasn't really inspired, dinner-wise.

Anyway, this is pretty simple to throw together. Had I been more inspired, I would have played with the flavors more--added a little mustard and/or vinegar to it, some seasonings, etc. It's just cooked Israeli couscous mixed with chopped kale, crumbled feta cheese, and a little olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. I put the kale in with the couscous during its final minutes of cooking, then drained both and mixed with the cheese. If you have some black olives, those would be good to throw in. I added some chopped sundried tomatoes, as well.

I didn't get a picture of the salad, either. I did get a picture of the dead snake, but I figured that would be a little off-putting in a blog about food.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sweet potato hash with bacon

Growing up, my mother used to make a concoction she called "hash" that was, frankly, gross. It had corned beef in it.

Happily, I rediscovered hash (without the corned beef). Hash, properly done, is like a hash brown. Everybody likes hash browns. It's just potatoes (or in this case, sweet potatoes) diced finely and cooked with onions and peppers until everything is crusty and crunchy.

3-4 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 pepper (red or green), diced
5-6 slices of bacon

Fry up the bacon in a large skillet (try not to eat it all) and remove from the pan. Drain off all but about 3-4 tablespoons of bacon fat. (You're saving it in your bacon fat jar, right?) For a veggie version, skip the bacon and add olive oil. Saute the onion and pepper until just coated with bacon fat, and add the diced sweet potatoes. Mix with the onions and peppers, and pat down into a single layer. Cook over medium heat until the sweet potatoes are done. Resist the urge to stir. You want the potatoes to get crusty and crunchy, so don't stir more than two or three times (just often enough to make sure there's crustiness on all sides). Crumble up the bacon, add back in, and serve.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wines from my collection: Mauritson Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

This is the other wine my oenephile friend brought with her when she visited over Memorial Day weekend. Mauritson Cab is from a small winery near Lake Sonoma in California; it's dense and fruity, but not tannic, and a great wine to drink with food. (Which seems obvious, but some wines are best all by themselves, and some are best when combined with food.) It retails for about $35.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gardening update

Look! My pumpkin plant has a flower!

And my tomatoes are coming along very nicely.

The container garden of herbs is just getting to the point where I can start harvesting.

So in general, it's doing pretty well. I finally got all the tomato and pepper seedlings in the ground; some of the pepper seedlings haven't done so well, but others have. Given the recent heat and more recent rain, the tomatoes are dark green and glossy. I replanted a row of beets which has already sprouted. I think I even have some volunteer potato plants out near the compost pile.

THIS is the part of gardening I like--the part where you've done all the actual work, and it's just a matter of waiting for the harvest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fiddlehead pizza

Another previously undiscovered culinary delight, thanks to my CSA box. In pizza form.

This one was very easy to pull together. I sauteed the fiddleheads for just a minute in olive oil with garlic and then a splash of white wine at the end. Then I sauteed one sliced Vidalia onion (grilling it would have been better) and layered the pizza with olive oil, mozzarella, onions, fiddleheads, a mixture of parm and mozzarella, and a sprinkle of Italian herbs on top.

Fiddleheads taste a little like asparagus, so they go very well with cheese and bread.

Doesn't that look yummy?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wines from my collection: Fiano Seghesio 2009

An old friend of mine from college visited over Memorial Day weekend. Since college, we've both become wine buffs (or, as some people would say, "alcoholics"). She brought some of her favorite new discoveries with her, and this was one of them.

Fiano Seghesio 2009 is a bright white grown in the Russian River Valley near Sonoma, California. It's floral and pear-y and retails for around $20. I liked it, too--and I don't often get excited about white wines, as too many of them are too sweet for my taste. This one isn't too sweet, it's nicely balanced and went very well with our lazy afternoon in the sun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chicken curry

You know there aren't many shortcuts in my kitchen, but Thai Kitchen curry paste is one of them. Mix a big spoonful with a can of coconut milk and some fish sauce, and you've got instant thai curry.

I had some chicken that needed to be used up, so I combined a little chopped, cooked chicken with a bag of frozen peas, three sliced carrots, and half an onion with the thai curry, above, and served over basmati rice. The beauty of the Thai curry is that you can use whatever you have--all veggies, or tofu, or shrimp, or beef, or pork, or whatever. All of the above. Peas, carrots and half an onion just happened to be the veggies I had on hand. I've also used mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, you name it.

Homemade Thai curry is the only thing that can satisfy a craving for Thai food (that doesn't involve going out and buying Thai food, which isn't really an option out in the 'burbs anyway).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spinach and taleggio pizza

Ooooooh, this was a good pizza. Taleggio is a kind of Italian stinky cheese; I had a little bit left over from a run to the fancy cheese store, but it was a bit past its prime to eat by itself.

So I started by putting down olive oil, then slices of the taleggio (maybe 1/4 lb). I followed up with a package of thawed frozen chopped spinach, with all the water squeezed out, and the very last of the chicken andouille sausage, maybe half a sausage's worth. Topped it all with mozzarella and parm.

The relative bitterness of the spinach offset the richness of the cheese perfectly. I should have made two.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bok choy with fried shallots

Part of my CSA box this week was two heads of bok choy. In winter, I would have thrown them into a soup. But in summer, I try to avoid soup when possible.

Bonus: this recipe allowed me to use both the bok choy and the last of the shallots. The fried shallots were great--sort of like milder, mini-onion rings. Without the breading.

From epicurious:

1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 pound shallots (about 6), thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 pounds baby bok choy, halved lengthwise if large (2 to 2 1/2 inches long), bottoms trimmed but left intact

Heat a wok or 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until a drop of water vaporizes instantly. Pour oil around side of wok, then tilt wok to swirl oil, coating side. When oil just begins to smoke, fry shallots in 3 batches, stirring, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Toss fried shallots with 1/4 teaspoon salt (shallots will crisp as they cool).

Pour off all but 3 tablespoons oil from wok, then add garlic, bok choy, and remaining teaspoon salt to wok and cook over moderate heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Serve topped with fried shallots.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Neptune Oyster

While roaming through Boston last weekend, we happened upon Neptune Oyster and decided to give it a shot, based on the recommendation from a guy working a high-end wine shop in the North End. (When in doubt, wine and cheese shop employees will almost invariably have good restaurant recommendations.)

It didn't disappoint.

We gorged ourselves on fresh seafood, starting with a round of Wellfleet oysters. I also discovered the Kusshi oysters, from British Columbia, and Summerside from Prince Edward Island; the Kusshi were very meaty, and the Summersides were almost lemony. The Wellfleets were terrifically briny, as always, but I may like the Canadian ones better. We paired with a LaCryma Cristi Dei Feudi 2009 from Campagna, which was delightful--it had an almost salty aftertaste, which went perfectly with the seafood.

Next came a hamachi ceviche with a jalapeno pesto. I could have eaten a huge plate of that--it was really good. (I had to explain the concept of ceviche to my husband--raw fish or seafood which is marinated in citrus juice, so that the texture changes and becomes similar to the texture of cooked fish/seafood, even though it's still raw. Very light and refreshing. Yum.)

I moved on to P.E.I. mussels in a Thai curry sauce (which I sopped up with a side of fries, moules frites-style); my visiting friend had seared scallops with a black bean-corn thing, and my husband had the lobster roll.

One of the things I missed most in Southern California was good, fresh seafood. You'd think Southern California would have good seafood, but you'd be wrong. That was one of the (few) saving graces of moving from there to Boston--I knew I could finally get good seafood again. Restaurants like this are perfect for scratching that itch--super-fresh seafood, small, inviting ambience, good wine list. We'll definitely go back.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Soft-shell crabs

I looooooooooooooooove soft-shell crabs. They're one of my favorite food indulgences, and if they're on a menu, I am forced to order them.

Soft-shell crabs are regular crabs, caught in the act of molting their old shell. This only happens during a particular time in their growth cycle, so they're only available for short periods of time during the year. Once they outgrow their old shell, it comes off, and there is a brief window before the new shell hardens up--so that the crab can be eaten entirely whole. No shell to shuck. You can eat it in one piece, legs, head, belly and all.

This may sound gross, but trust me, it's goooood. (And don't worry--the guts and whatnot cook into the meat, so that they're indistinguishable from the crabmeat itself.)

I found them at Whole Foods just before my dinner party last weekend, so I knew I had to work them into the menu somehow. The entree was shrimp n' grits (with fresh Gulf shrimp, chicken andouille sausage, and cheese grits with Comte cheese), so I used the soft-shell crabs as a particularly decadent garnish.

To cook them, soak them in milk for about an hour. Then dredge them through a mixture of all-purpose flour, mixed with a liberal amount of Old Bay, and fry in vegetable oil for a few minutes on each side until crispy. That's it. Serve hot.

I served these on top of the shrimp n' grits, but I've also served them on a bed of arugula with a fresh mango salsa, which--if possible--is even better.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lemon meringue pie

My husband had never had lemon meringue pie before. Can you imagine?

The homemade version is a wee bit time-consuming, but is absolutely worth the effort. You will never go back to pre-made versions again.

I used my standard pie crust recipe (2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup each milk and vegetable oil) and pre-baked it. Which means you weight the pie crust down with pie weights or dried uncooked rice or beans (to prevent it from rising or puffing up, though you don't need to do that with my pie crust recipe, as there is nothing to rise) and cook it at 400 until browned and mostly done. Brush with an egg yolk (to seal the pie crust, so the custard filling doesn't make it soggy) and let cool.

From The Joy of Cooking:

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together in a saucepan, add:

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
2-3 teaspoons lemon zest

Whisk in until no yellow streaks remain:

4 egg yolks


2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, in pieces

Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, bring to a simmer, then cook until mixture is thick. Pour into pre-baked pie shell, and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the filling. Go make the meringue. Beat on medium until foamy:

4 egg whites at room temperature

Add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, and continue beating until soft peaks form.

Add 1/2 cup sugar, gradually, and continue beating until peaks are stiff and glossy.

Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and immediately remove the plastic wrap from the pie and anchor the meringue to the filling at all points. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Baked whole flounder with tomatoes and capers

I apologize profusely for not getting a picture of this. During last weekend's dinner party, between all the people, all the wine, and all the prep work, I completely forgot to get out my camera.

But this, the second course, was delicious. The flounder were whole, with the heads, tails and gills removed, so that all you had to do was peel back the skin and separate the cooked flounder from the bone. Served with the tomato-caper dressing, below, and a nice chenin blanc-viognier. The dressing was perfect--just enough to dress up the taste of the fish, but not overwhelm it.

From New York Magazine:

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed and dried
½ cup onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
½ pint grape tomatoes, sliced
2–3 pound whole flounder, skin on, cleaned and gutted with head removed
Salt and pepper to taste

Dressing: In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, parsley, onion, lemon juice, capers, garlic, and tomatoes and place over low heat until warm, about 2–3 minutes. Allow the mixture to steep for a few minutes before serving.

Fish: Preheat oven to 425. Rinse the gutted fish and pat dry. Brush both sides with two tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover a roasting pan with baker’s parchment paper to prevent sticking, and place the fish light skin side down in the pan. Place in oven and roast until the flesh turns white and pulls away from the bones, about 18–20 minutes. Serve with dressing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Figs with gorgonzola and balsamic

Well, that's the recipe right there. Fresh figs, with a crumble of gorgonzola (or other good blue cheese), and a dribble of good balsamic vinegar. This was the appetizer at this weekend's dinner party.

Fresh figs are also great with proscuitto, or goat cheese, or really any number of pork/cheese options. (Figs, for those that aren't familiar with them, taste like the inside of a Fig Newton--only, you know, better. Fresher. Fruitier.)