Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Late to the balsamic vinegar party

More than twenty years ago Marcella Hazan urged Americans to sprinkle a bit of sugar on their strawberries, along with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Gradually this stuff climbed into menus and crept onto our kitchen tables.

I haven't been a fan of its sweetness in my vinaigrette, but it's in my pantry, waiting.

The other day I was eating a pretty nice peach. And I thought about the vinegar, and how I had never tried it on strawberries because the thought horrified me. Within a moments I had sliced the peach, sprinkled sugar on, let it macerate a minute, then added a splash of the balsamic vinegar.

What had I been afraid of? The result was a mouth popping combination. My daughter looked skeptically at it, sampled it, then begged for her own. Ah, what's next on the culinary experiment horizon?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yippee! 100 today--

Posts, not years, or degrees, thank the gods (oops, too much Battlestar Galactica). Today a couple of my favorite posts:

Enfrijoladas: I wanted to popularize this not-very-well known but delectable dish, and, as bonus points for mentioning lard, it got me invited to a biscuit heaven brunch. Arugula: I just loved the fairy tale aspect. A comment in this post led to rose musings, recommendations, and savorings. This post led to a gumbo gambole.

A round of appreciative and loud applause from me to faithful commentors, aka Margaret, Karin, Petrea, Karen and Susan. And CO, you were my very very first unknown to me to leave a comment, thanks for posting and thanks for hanging around. Italo-live from Italy, mille grazie for infusing all of us with your humor. Annonniemoose and anonniemice-- I appreciate all of you for braving the brutal world of blogging to drop a line every now and then. In return I promise not to bite. And to the casual visitors and commentators, thanks y'all, for dropping by.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Still too darn hot---

Any time it's over 100 degrees I melt. Lighting the stove on a day like this seems criminal.
Here's something that I find really refreshing. Normally served as an antojito, or a snack before dinner, I think it makes a terrific breakfast too.

Slice a watermelon into manageable chunks. Sprinkle with salt. Squeeze a bit of Mexican (or Key) lime juice, add a very light sprinkle of cayenne. It's an eye and a taste-bud opener!


add peeled and sliced segments of orange. Delightful contrast.

Or skip the watermelon and do this with oranges and peeled, cubed or julienned jicama. If your
jicama is dry and starchy, it's too old. You want something succulent and fresh.

Looking for a sweet and salty drink for your Friday happy hour? Remember La Paloma.

Music pick? Cole Porter and Kiss Me Kate here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More frugal and sustainable---

Monterey Bay Aquarium also recommends farm-raised rainbow trout as sustainable. Super King stocks bright-eyed specimens at low cost. (There must be a downside here, but it's hard to meet all demands.) What to do with a couple of glossy fish, complete with heads and tails?

Rinse your fish and pat dry. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out. I love aromatics, like thyme and rosemary, I add those, inside and out. Or you could use tarragon, and/or marjoram. Whatever mood you're in.

You could also score the skin, and press herbs into the exterior as well

Light your grill to medium. Place fish on grill. When the trout interior is getting a cooked-through look, turn your fish.

Guests (or you) can't bear the head, tails, et cetera? You can filet it at the grill. If it's too tough to filet, it's not cooked through yet. I think fish is best when still the tiniest bit opaque.
Sides for this hot hot day: My vote is grilled red peppers steeped in anchovies and garlic, a sliced tomato salad, and a delectable potato salad. Or pilaf, aioli, and tzatziki. Whatever you decide, I'll be enjoying it with a glass of chilled, crisp rose.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to School

Start dates for this fall's academic calendar have ranged from mid-August to mid-September.
This poem always makes me think of the beginning of the school year:

Taste of Purple

Grapes hang purple
In their bunches,
Ready for
September lunches.
Gather them, no
Minutes wasting.
Purple is
Delicious tasting.

-- Leland B. Jacobs

This poem evokes school cafeteria dining:

A thousand hairy savages
Sitting down to lunch.
Gobble gobble glup glup
Munch munch munch.

--Spike Milligan

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy New Year

Rosh Hoshanah begins tonight. Sporadically we've celebrated with my mother-in-law, who served apples and honey, to start the year off sweet, not because that's how they did when she was a girl, or when she had children, but because that's the way she heard it's done in this country. Traditions are an interesting thing. Sometimes they're more about who we think we're supposed to be.

I asked my daughter what food did she want to celebrate the new year with? Her response: apples and honey, and matzoh ball soup. The forecast is for 100 degrees today.

Besides chilly weather, for a great soup there are two secrets: home made stock and chicken fat in place of vegetable oil in your matzoh balls. Other than that, the standard recipe on the box should do.

Mix one teaspoon of salt into one half cup matzoh meal. Crack two eggs, blend slightly add two tablespoons of melted chicken fat; mix. Add two tablespoons stock. Mix into the matzoh meal and let sit for fifteen minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Shape the meal into balls. They will expand, shape them into the size you prefer. I like golf balls, some people seem to enjoy basket balls. Place formed balls into the simmering water, cook on low for 50 minutes.

Transfer gently to hot stock. Serve.

Like egg creams and chopped liver, unless you've been raised on it, this is an acquired taste.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Simple, Sustainable and Frugal

Canned wild salmon is approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium as safe and sustainable. Where I buy it, it's usually under $3 a large can, too. What to do with it? You can sprinkle it in place of tuna in your salads. Or, for a hot meal, you can add a few ingredients and make salmon croquettes. (Doesn't that sound infinitely more appetizing than fish cakes?)

Drain a large can of salmon. Remove skin and bones, (unless you're like me and enjoy getting another dose of calcium by gnawing those edible spines). Place in a mixing bowl, flaking the fish.

Mince 2 to 3 tablespoons of onion, saute in a little butter or oil. Cool. To the fish add half a cup of matzoh meal or bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cooled onion, crack open an egg, mix gently and thoroughly.

Shape into six patties. Grease a large skillet with butter and oil. Fry patties on medium heat, turning gently, until cooked through, 4-8 minutes.

We devour it with a side of macaroni and cheese. But that's a post for another day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cold snap

Yippee! It looks like it going to be cool for one, maybe two days! A great reason to pop something in the oven, forget about it for awhile, then retrieve it. This Jamie Oliver recipe fits the bill perfectly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Salt and pepper the desired amount of drumsticks and thighs. Place them in a baking dish which fits them snugly. Scatter a chiffonade of basil (a bunch, chopped fine), he recommends colorful cherry tomatoes, I find quartered regular tomatoes work just fine; add a head's worth of unpeeled garlic cloves, drizzle olive oil over the entire mixture and use your hands to spread things around. Bake for an hour to 90 minutes, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falling off the bone tender. You can also add baby potatoes, and a finely minced chile pepper.

My son, the gourmand, pops the garlic out of its skin casing and spreads it on his baguette.
This is a meal that four out of four people in my household actually enjoy. Like the cool weather, a small miracle.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More book pairings

Why is an international best seller the mental equivalent of Ambien? Snoozeville? I'm plodding through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I suspected it would be mediocre, but it's just terrible. Riven with cliches, paragraph after paragraph of clunky exposition, with barely enough characterization to fill an espresso cup. Yikes!

And why all the accolades? Because it's set in Sweden? Harumph. This calls for reinforcements. Since the characters seem to enjoy clinking shot glasses and knocking back the Aquavit, well, then an Aquavit pairing menu might help us to get through the book.

You will need:

Shot glasses
Your favorite brand of freezer cold Aquavit

Spread cream cheese on
Dark whole grain bread
Top with chunks of
Smoked trout or slices of smoked salmon.

Need green?
Peel and slice cucumbers, sprinkle with red wine vinegar, salt, and a dash of oil.

Looking to host a party? Clear out a space in your freezer. Take an empty gallon milk container. Slice off the top third. Fill with water. Drop in greenery: rosemary, lavendar, green herbs, etc. Place in freezer. As the ice gets firmer, add your bottle of booze. Set overnight.

Run warm water over the plastic container. You will have a block of ice holder for your water of life. And it will stay frozen for the next round of shots. There. That was my Martha Stewart moment for you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What am I?

Chopped liver? Okay, so the name isn't as classy as pate or foie gras. Since Trader Joe's is no longer reliable, here are two versions, one rustic, one a bit more sophisticated.


Saute half a minced onion in chicken fat. What? You don't keep any on hand? Substitute vegetable oil. Cook onions until nicely browned, remove from saucepan, set aside.

Take half a pound of chicken livers. Remove any green bits (bleh) and gristly connective tissue.

Add more chicken fat or vegetable oil to skillet. Saute the chicken livers two to three minutes per side, on medium heat. When done livers should be pink, not raw or gray inside. Remove.

Using your mezzaluna or sharp knife chop the livers into small bits. Using a fork add the onions, a bit more chicken fat, salt. Now it should be a lumpy, not smooth, consisitency. Salt to taste, adding a diced hard boiled egg.

I like it on water crackers, with perfect dill pickles and a beer. Or even a wonderful Coca Cola. Now that's fusion cuisine.


Shred two slices of bacon. Saute slowly in a saucepan with a bit of olive oil. Add a quarter cup diced onion. Brown.

Again, with half a pound of chicken livers, remove gristle, and this time slice the livers into fourths.

When the bacon is cooked through, add the livers, salt, pepper, and a big pinch of crumbled sage. (don't be shy, it's great!). Cook for two to three minutes total, turning the pieces.
If it seems too raw or too little moisture to cook them through, add a tablespoon of water.

As the water evaporates add a tablespoon or two of brandy. Cook the alcohol down, remove from heat, cool.

Pour the cooled mixture into your blender. Add a tablespoon of butter, and puree.

This stuff is delicious on crackers. To make yourself work even harder, spread on baguette slices, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and run it under the broiler.

Any guesses on which version's kosher? Any wine recommendations?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Return to the Joy

It's Labor Day, and in its honor let's think of cooking as a delightful form of entertainment and entertaining, rather than a tedious drama. I've been cooking from the 1975 version for years. In fact, in this jubilant spirit I've decided to cook each and every one of its 1,437 recipes throughout the course of the year. Who knows where something like this might lead? A book deal? A movie?

I know, the stuff of dreams.

Like this teriyaki marinade (from the Joy) for your Santa Maria style tri tip. Quick! Get shopping and it'll be ready for today's grill.

You will need:

A wonderful chunk of tri-tip. Place it in a large zip lock bag.

1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tbls brown sugar
3 mashed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tbls sherry

Pour into the ziploc, marinate the meat for as long as you like, but six hours should do it.

Grill to your taste.

Accompany with a pot of beans, pico de gallo, and garlic bread.

Tune in Wednesday. I think I'll tackle Joy's sea turtle soup. May need a couple of tanks of gas to find just the right ingredients. Maybe Meryl Streep can play my agent?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Down for the count

The Restless Chef is out today-- smoked by the fire, grilled by the heat, down on the floor gasping for breath, soon-to-be pickled by self-medication. I hope to have something tasty and entertaining up by Monday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Times They are A Changin'

This place can evoke vivid just out of high school memories for me, where a friend and I inhaled the intoxicating aroma of coffee being ground, bought bags full of stuff, then feasted on nuts and exotic cheeses. A decade later, this is where my beau and I stocked up on Spanish champagne, and lots and lots of pâté. I once unpacked all this stuff in front of my roommate, who looked at me as if I had raided a pantry on Mars.

Prepping for a party recently I stopped by to stock up on our favorite pâtés, but couldn't find them. I asked the clean cut type if I wasn't looking in the right spot, or if they were out.

Clean cut type: "What's pâté?"
Me: Pause. "I'll ask someone else, thanks."
I asked the young woman working at the cheese section who responded as if I had assaulted her.
"It's seasonal," she said.
What season? Really, what season is pâté?
As I turned I heard the clean cut type ask her "What is it?"
Huffy female: "Really gross stuff."

Foolishly, I had thought Americans had become more sophisticated in their tastes, but I think it really means we have simply become more neurotic. I thought to myself that I knew Trader Joe's when people were actually excited by their products. Gasp! With that thought I realized that I had just identified the good ol' days when things were better back then.

I'm old! Help me to my walker please, and put me down gently when the time comes...