Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Samba

A friend of mine used to regale me with her stories of Brazil: the beaches, the parties, the people. One memorable evening she hosted a Brazilian dinner, and in her apartment we feasted on the complex Brazilian signature dish, feijoada. I don't remember if she served this cocktail, the caiparinha, made with sugar cane alcohol, called cachaca. But it, too, embodies Brazil.

First, put on the Carlos Jobim.

Then, for each drink, quarter a lime, drop into a tumbler. Sprinkle with two teaspoons of sugar. Muddle. Add two ounces cachaca. Mix. Fill half the glass with ice. Stir. Sip.

I don't think I'll have to admonish you to drink responsibly. Unless you're Brazilian, more than two of these and you'll be on the floor.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You say Popsicle, I say Paleta

This LA Times story from a few years back is worth revisiting. And although I don't plan on driving to downtown LA or Lynwood, or whipping up a batch of cucumber-chile popsicles, I do plan on buying plenty of La Michoacana paletas, or Mexican-style popsicles.

What makes them so good? Besides the fresh fruit, creamy style, or flavors? (Strawberry, lime, guava, among others, and my daughter's favorite, bubble gum).
My guess: they use sugar. Not corn syrup, not fructose, but sugar.

I just devoured a strawberry paleta. Delish. And, for those who count, 61 calories.
See you in the freezer aisle

Monday, July 27, 2009

Aubergine, berenjena, melanzane

An eggplant by any other name can be just as intimidating.

The first time I cooked one was for a sublime dish named moussaka. I had a craving for it, unshelved all the cookbooks, found a recipe that looked great, and dove in. By the time I had finished frying one eggplant it had completely absorbed two cups of olive oil. I didn't attempt eggplant for years after that. (The secret is raising the heat, of course, but I didn't know that then.)

Now I know just a bit more, even a couple of recipes that don't require frying (but ah, how delicious fried eggplant is!) and here are a few.

1) The most obvious: grilled eggplant. Slice a large, deep purple eggplant lengthwise 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. You may find recipes that require you to sprinkle salt on the slices, set in a colander for an hour, then wipe off the moisture and salt. All I can say to that it, what a pain in the behind!!! I've done it and not done it and I honestly can not tell the difference. Grill. 4-8 minutes per side depending on your heat and your patience. I like to sprinkle garlic salt and drizzle olive oil. Serve with roasted peppers.

2) Doesn't "melenzane a la vaporetta" sound better than "steamed eggplant"? The first name is exotic, the second conjures steam tables in a dark, unventilated cafeteria.
Cube one large eggplant. (Don't like the peel? Peel it before you cube it. I give you permission.) Saute half an onion in a skillet until soft. Add minced garlic. Add the eggplant, and stir until covered with oil, add a third of a cup of white wine, one cup or more diced or canned tomatoes, cover and simmer until soft. Salt to taste, a sprinkling of parsley for color. I like this aside a serving of brown rice. It makes you feel virtuous.

3) Baba ganoush: Steam two large eggplants until tender. I put them in my pasta pot, set them on the insert, and cook over bubbling water. Takes 30-40 minutes to cook through, check by prodding with a fork. Slit the cooked eggplants open, scoop out the flesh, chop coarsely. In a skillet slick with olive oil, saute garlic. Add the chopped eggplant, cook out a bit of the moisture. Add half a cup of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, salt to taste, and a dribble or two of sesame oil to deepen the flavor. Delicious as a side dish or dip.

Got your own favorite eggplant dish?

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the Grill

Just as the Italians surprised me with their approach to the grill, so did the French. One of their secrets? A dry marinade. Use it to tenderize pork or lamb chops or cubes for a kebob.

This marinade is from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Per pound of meat: one teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, a tiny crumbled bay leaf, and that wonderfully pungent aromatic: dried sage. I like half a teaspoon of the stuff.

Sprinkle it on both sides of thin pork chops, and let it sit for at least an hour in the fridge. Let the chops come to room temperature, and grill on high for 2-3 minutes a side. Terrifically flavorful.

Goes with anything: potato salad, hummus, pasta salad, etc, etc. Oh yeah, and a nice crisp bottle of cold rose. Of course if you start with the rose it won't really matter how much you charred those chops.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bountiful Produce

The goddess of bounty smiled on me the other day. I went shopping for a gumbo blowout, dragging a market flyer, skeptical of the prices advertised within and I discovered this place. Super King! I over did it, but who can resist peaches, cherries, strawberries and plums, melons for under $1 a pound? I threw in cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, red peppers, string beans, lychees, fennel and then stopped with a realization: I didn't have to buy it all today. The store would be here tomorrow, and the next day.

But I still had to figure out what to do with all those vegetables.

Here are a two ideas that don't involve heat:

Peel, slice and cover with plain yogurt. Add minced garlic, dried mint, and salt to taste. Let the flavors marry, or at least co-exist peaceably. (Sorry. How many times has that joke been made?) You now have a fuss-free version of Tzatziki.

Trim off all the green bushy stuff and feed that to your rabbits. You will have a bulbous root. Trim off any of exterior layer that looks battered. Bisect, vertically. Now slice as thinly as possible. The root will be layered like an onion. Separate the slices, now you have half rings or circular slices.
Add salt, pepper, and olive oil. A little off-beat salad for an off-beat day.

Need 101 more ideas? Check out Mark Bittman's right here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coffee Variations

We have friends from Eritrea who invited us over for a fabulous meal of Ethiopian food, which culminated in their coffee ceremony. It's quite elaborate, the hostess gathers her equipment: stool, portable gas stove, coffee beans, special coffee maker and coffee cups. We watched her roast the beans, brew the coffee, and happily sipped the strong sweet brew. Apparently in Eritrea and other parts of Africa drinking coffee is a social event, not to be done solo. I kind of envy that, in my conflicted, individualist-driven American way.

These days I find myself unable to finish that pot of espresso coffee I've brewed in the mornings. Since I don't have a coffee klatsch to foist it upon, the simplest thing is to save it for iced coffee in the afternoons. Here are a few other ideas:

1) Frappe, popular in Greek cafes along the Plaka in Athens. Take your martini shaker. Add a serving of your leftover espresso or strongly brewed coffee. If you need sugar, add it to the coffee while the coffee's still warm. If you use sweetener, add it to the martini shaker. Heap in half a cup of ice, and a splash of milk to taste. Shake it like a caffeine addict on a jag. Pour it all, now nice and frothy, into a tall glass.

2) Cafe ligeois? Strain the ice out of the above recipe, and add a scoop of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla or coffee.

3) Thai ice coffee, this version is super simple and I make absolutely no claims regarding its authenticity. Using your leftover espresso or strongly brewed coffee, again, pour a serving into a glass. Blend a tablespoon of condensed milk (can one ever have just ONE tablespoon?) with a tablespoon of milk. Blend into coffee, add ice.

And remember to invite the neighbors over.

Friday, July 17, 2009

In Praise of Wise Latinas

Apparently today you can be a sexy Latina, a pregnant Latina, a spicy Latina, but pair the adjective wise with the noun and parts of the populace froth and roar and tell formally avowed Wise Latina that she has "some 'splainin' to do."
Since I was raised by, work with and am one, I thought I would bring up a couple of examples, and a meal in their honor.

From the distant past:

Malinche: So wise she has confounded historians and been reviled by the populace she practically spawned. Her linguistic talents brought collaboration (some say betrayal) between the Spaniards and the natives.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: the first writer and intellectual of the new world. Oh, gosh, she did this in Spanish. Perhaps you haven't heard of her.

From the nearer past: Linda Chavez, conservative aide to Ronald Reagan.
Dolores Huerta. Ever hear of her hubby, Cesar Chavez?

Immediate? She's not just wise, she's brilliant. Alma Guillermoprieto is an incisive
intelligent journalist.

A spackling, a sampling. And as you chew on the pervasive power of ethnic branding, Starving Reader, and identify a number of wise Latina contemporaries in your world, here's a meal:

Mole, in honor of the educated Spanish nuns and the wild mixture of flavors, brought by the ingredients the laborers harvested.
Beans, a pre-Conquest staple.
Hand made corn tortillas. Inhale the scent of freshly ground corn, turned into masa and then heated on a comal or griddle. Rustic and elemental. Like wisdom.

Accompanied by a bottomless vodka martini. So I can forget that "wise latina," for certain people, is an oxymoron.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And more peaches

Hibachis were kind of a craze when I was a kid. We cooked hot dogs, toasted marshmallows, and then forgot about this little gadget. Years later I became friends with an American who had spent her teenage and early twenties in Italy. I watched her make pasta from scratch in about twenty minutes (from mixing, to rolling out, to cutting the flour into ribbons); she made us espresso in that nifty moka maker. And she grilled us dinner on her hibachi.

You wouldn't think Italians would be the go to people for grilling, would you? If you can get past Marcella Hazan's rather condescending tone in her instructions, you will find terrific recipes for grilling fowl, vegetables, and fruit. Yes, fruit. Like all those peaches and apricots you've got hanging around.

Grilled peaches:

Hazan cooks her fruit over the dying embers of a coal fire. To get your best bang out of the stainless steel furnace in your back yard set it to low.

Bisect the peaches horizontally. (I find the pit comes out more easily). Twist, separate the halve and remove the pit.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar on each half. Skin side down, grill the fruit for five minutes. Turn, cook for another two or three. Remove from heat.

You will be rewarded by a concentrated intensity of flavor.

Got bananas going brown? Don't toss 'em, grill 'em. Without slicing through to the other side, make an incision in the skin the length of the banana. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar, grill on low for five minutes, turn. Cook another two minutes, turn again. Into the incision add a tablespoon of rum, brandy or cointreau. (Off of the grill, if you please. The last time I tried this half the booze went up in flames). Cook another minute or two. Remove from heat.

The goal is to slightly char the skin. My efforts, however, have been overly enthusiastic, and I tend to charred by nature. (Too many roasted peppers in my past, I believe). Just remove the charred bits before diving in.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Heat has Hit

It is impossible
to ponder lighting the oven or turning on the stove top. The only thing I want to do is to lay on the floor and hope that the heat dissipates from my body. The tv and laptop generate too much heat, and the appetite flags.

But it's never too hot for ice cream or gelato. Here is a Marcella Hazan recipe for lemon ice that will turn any day into a celebration. Besides the ice cream maker and ingredients, you will need patience: the sugar syrup must be cold before you use it.

Bring 1/4 cup lemon peels, without the pith, (from approximately 2 lemons), 3/4 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes. Strain and cool.

When cool, add 1/3 cup heavy cream. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker. You will have the most delicious lemon gelato. Very rich and very wonderful.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My friend, Al Fresco

We've had such marvelous, temperate weather. Any excuse at all to sit outside will do. So, off to Magnolia Lounge or Lucky Baldwin's. So many, many places where we can watch a movie, listen to music, enjoy the perfect evening. Right down our street there will be a Neil Diamond tribute this summer. Can't wait.

But of course, all ruminations here lead to food. Pack a picnic: up market or down?

Memories of picnics past: Fried chicken, pasta salad, the perfect pecan pie, all this for a sunset at the beach. Roasted cornish hens, pates, broccoli salad, this for "The King and I" at the Hollywood Bowl. After a few of these elaborate concoctions it occurred to me that the prep took longer than the event, not counting the drive there and back. With that in mind, one particularly flush summer we shared a box at the Bowl, as well as meals packed by Bristol Farms, and heard B B King. Dirty secret: the meal wasn't as good as home made. Just convenient, if that was what you were willing to pay for.

There's Brazilian music tonight. But instead of going crazy constructing the perfect menu with synchronous side dishes, I'm going to take it easy and figure out something with whatever I've got hiding in the fridge and pantry. And pack the surprise cupcakes a friend brought over.
See you under the stars.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beets Me

I love vegetables. The first time a friend made beets for me, sauteed in butter, a little salt, a little sugar, it was memorable. So different from those slivered things at the salad bars when I was a teen.

In Europe beets are pre-cooked and vacuum packed. Still good. Recently I've found them packaged like that at Middle Eastern and upscale stores out here, but I haven't been willing to pay for the cost of someone else doing the boiling.

Or the baking. Like the following recipe, which is served cold. It's delicious and terrific for a Mediterranean salad, middle eastern side dish, etc. Again, I wish I could credit the source, but I copied it down from a magazine ages ago while I waited for my daughter at the orthodontist's.

I baked the beets last night while it was cool and I was watching a movie. This afternoon I'll slice and season them, in time for my book group. I'm planning on picking up a rotisserie chicken at Soumarelo's along with some humus and tabouleh. I'm looking foward to it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cover three pounds of beets in a baking dish with foil, or wrap them individually in foil.
Bake for 90 minutes or more, depending on their size, until tender. Cool. Peel. Cube, julienne or slice, as you prefer.

3 tbls lemon juice
1 tbls olive oil
3/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin

Toss with dressing, garnish with parsely or mint. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Patriotic Foods

This weekend I plan on eating a lot of all-American food: popcorn! Chocolate ice cream! Hot dogs and diet Coke! Throw in some hamburgers and fries, ketchup and I may not be able to buckle myself in for the drive back. Even though I won't be cooking I had already been thinking about all-American foods in honor of Independence Day when I came across Garrison Keillor's post in Salon, where he inveighs against oddly yellow, store-bought potato salad. I thought, those poor people, they just don't know what the good stuff tastes like.

You will need:

--one large russet or two small waxy boiling potatoes per person (once they start, they won't be able to stop)
--one egg per six small potatoes.
--Best Foods Mayonnaise
--chives or green onions

Place potatoes and eggs in pot, bring to boil, lower heat. Set timer for six minutes. After six minutes of a simmering boil, remove eggs. Continue boiling until potatoes are tender. Drain.

When cool enough to handle, peel waxy potatoes (or perhaps you cleverly planned ahead, and did that before you put them to boil). Peel the eggs.

I like slicing the potatoes in half, and creating thin half scallops, but some people prefer cubes.
Place your sliced potatoes in your serving dish. Salt. Grate your hard-boiled eggs onto the potatoes. Salt lightly. Lavish your wonderful mayonnaise on top of this, to taste. Gently mix.
Throw in a tablespoon or two of minced chives, mix gently again, and toss a few more on top for garnish.

I prefer it room temperature to refrigerator cold. Wonderful stuff.

Which prods me to remind you, starving reader, that potatoes, from Peru, are a new world food, just like tomatoes, corn, chiles, beans, chocolate, etc., etc. People on both of these north and south continents refer to their countries as part of "the Americas." Yes, indeed, proud to be an American.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When life gives you peaches---

White peaches can be had for 99 cents a pound this week at my big chain store down the street. What? Got a little too optimistic and now they're getting too ripe too fast?

For people who aren't a fan of cobbler, here's another thought:

Skin your peaches. If the skins don't slide off easily make a cross at the base, drop into boiling water for 15 seconds, drain, cool, peel.

Pit your peaches. Plop into your all-purpose blender. Add lemon juice to keep from discoloring (half a lemon for every 3-4 very ripe peaches) and a little sugar (a tablespoon for 3-4 peaches) to balance the lemon. Puree!

Ready for the fun? Pour into a champagne glass until a third full. Add another third of champagne. Swizzle with a chopstick. Sip. Savor. Repeat.