Foodie Tuesday: Salmon Champagne Evening

photo

Shake it up a little even when you’re hungry for a favorite: this time I made my staple smoked salmon pasta in lemon cream sauce with a half-and-half combination of hot-smoked and cold cured salmon. It was a hit, and we demolished the dish in double time.

Salmon is calling me once again. Steamed, poached, roasted, smoked; cold, room temp or hot. I love it as a broiled filet and I love it as freshly made sushi. It is the perfect fat and tender foil for lemon cream sauce with pasta, the ideal topping for a chewy cream cheese-schmeared bagel, and the cedar planked heart of a gorgeous summer supper.

photo

Salmon, simply cooked in a covered stove-top pan with ginger juice and lime juice, makes a quick and tasty main dish for a simple meal. And can you tell I love dill with salmon? Must be my Norsk roots showing. Of course, I could also make a Champagne beurre blanc or a Champagne version of Hollandaise, and wouldn’t that be nice, too?

So I thought it was time to make some nice salmon cakes to cheer my salmon-loving heart and fill my seafood-hungry innards. What else is a landlocked mermaid to do?photo

Sweet Salmon Cakes

2 hand-sized boneless, skinless wild salmon filets

1 small tin of tiny, briny sweet shrimp (drained) [when minced, these combine with the potato flour and egg as great binders for the cakes]

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

1 teaspoon of Tamari

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 Tablespoon of sushi gari (pickled ginger)

1 Tablespoon of potato flour

1/4-1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 egg

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor and pulse them together until they’re as coarse or fine as you like for fish cakes. [In lieu of a food processor, you can of course hand mince the fish and shrimp and mix together lightly with the other ingredients.] Don’t overwork the blend. Form the mix quickly into 4 cakes and coat them generously with no-additive dehydrated ‘mashed’ potato flakes. Fry the cakes over medium-high heat in butter (use a nonstick pan) until golden brown. Turn off the burner before the cakes are fully cooked, and just let them finish cooking as they set up while the heat’s dissipating from the burner. These, too, would of course be swell with Hollandaise or beurre blanc, but worked nicely on this occasion with lemony avocado puree, and were happy companions with a cup of Southern style tomatoes, okra, corn and green beans, plus  butter-steamed carrots bathed in maple syrup.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Gallimaufries and Slumgullions

photo

Easy Chocolate-Raspberry Mousse, made with 1 avocado or the equivalent in pre-made avocado mash, 2 ripe bananas, 1 cup frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons clarified butter, 1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla paste, 1/2-1 teaspoon real almond flavoring, and a pinch of salt, all pureed together until smooth and chilled thoroughly.

I’ve soliloquized on leftovers here many a time, because few of us don’t have, and use, them with a certain amount of frequency. It can be, as I’ve mentioned, something that lives on only as the humorously known YMCA (Yesterday’s Muck Cooked Again), or with a little thought and effort, it can be a whole new being. It can be a watery mishmash of tasteless goo, a slumgullion, or with some inventiveness and luck, a tasty new experience in and of itself. My recent post on rethinking the remains of broth-making is one example of happily finding the latter.

In addition to making use of the extant collection of remains on display in the museum of the refrigerator and cupboards, one can always prepare those foundational foods that become ingredients for a gallimaufry of further dishes and meals. It’s a sort of slower or longer-term version of mise en place. One that has proven particularly useful to me is the simple fix of mashing a few ripe avocados with lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt and keeping them in the fridge in a zipper bag. In a two-person family that lives in a warm climate, it’s hard to keep whole avocados fresh for any length of time, so since this particular family is also a one-car family and I don’t wish to finagle grocery shopping almost daily, this simple avocado mash stores, unchanged, in the icebox for a fair length of time while I take out daily bits, squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it, and chill it again until the next use.photoThat easy fix for my avocado problem (you can decide whether that means spoilage or addiction in this case) has presented a whole world of possibilities not previously quite so accessible. Straight out of the bag, the mash can go directly into any number of dishes, both savory and sweet: add a little cumin and chipotle and cilantro, and it’s guacamole; mash in a ripe banana and some cocoa powder and vanilla and honey, and it’s chocolate pudding. Or the avocado can just go directly into my mouth, because lemony avocado mash is a delicious accompaniment to all sorts of good meals.

The broth-offspring remix turns out to be pretty versatile, too. The second time around, instead of making separate dishes of carrot pudding and beef pate, I combined the two ingredients into a different sort of pate that gave me nearly two weeks of very flavorful protein that I could eat in a wide variety of ways. The first time, I ate it simply as a room temperature mousse, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and it was very satisfying not only because I liked the taste and the creamy texture but because I knew it was a reasonably good source of protein and a great way not to waste–you guessed it–leftovers. Unfamiliar to my palate and yet instant comfort food. Easy to fix even the first time around, too; the broth itself, while it takes a little forethought to stock up the slow cooker with the mix of veg and bones and spices that I like, just tends itself for the long cooking, other than the occasional stir to keep all of the ingredients dunked in the liquid. Straining the finished broth and picking out the parts takes some time, yes, but the process of recombining those parts into the new mousse iteration is really pretty easy and fast work, and getting a couple of weeks’ eating (or one big party’s hors-d’oeuvre spread) out of it is a rather fine payoff.photoBeef Ginger Mousse

This, given the leftover-centric nature of the concoction, was a truly approximate recipe. I used about 1 cup each of leftover beef bits/marrow and carrots from beef broth making, 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3-4 eggs, a sprinkle of salt, 2 tablespoons of ginger juice and 1/2 cup of the beef broth. I pureed it all thoroughly until it was the consistency of a creamy pudding, spooned it into buttered small casserole, set that casserole on top of a clean dish cloth in a larger casserole, set the rig on the middle rack of the oven, filled the larger pan with an inch of water, and baked it like a standard custard. Given my oven’s unconventional concept of temperature, I recommend to anyone attempting replication of this ‘recipe’ that you use your own time-and-temp standards for custard making and just watch the progress until the mousse responds properly when the pan’s given a slight jiggle. Lightly set, neither wet nor dry. Serve room temperature, or chill for future use.

photo

And soon, my friends, I will show you how you can use this mousse further in such repasts (the only term truly appropriate for feasts of leftovers, don’t you think?) as Ploughman’s Lunch and Cavegirl Quiche. I’m nice that way.

Foodie Tuesday: Autumnal Comforts

You know that I love the Fall season, even though it’s very late and short here in Texas. Perhaps it benefits from my love of seasonal change in general, but I think the romantic leanings that come in autumn, that sense of impending death softened by the comforts with which we pad ourselves and by the death-defying renewal of the beginning of school and art seasons, have their own peculiar attractions. And of course, there is the bounty of foods that are best appreciated as we slide from the fall equinox to the winter.photoThe World in Autumn

Thin branches caging up the sun

In willow-wavy lacelike hands,

All skeletons and ampersands,

Hold clouds together in the one

Unreadable yet literate

Equation of the interstices

Whose elated season this is,

Crisp and quite deliberate

In tracing every moment in it,

Hour, year, and state of mind

Among the bones of humankind,

As though these things were infinite.

photoOne of the delights I most admire in this season is earthy flavors. An abundance of root vegetables and mushrooms signals time for soups, stews and sauces whose savory riches warm body and soul and recall me to the embrace of home and childhood in many ways. A simple creamy soup loaded with mushrooms is hard to beat for succor on a grey and blustery day. A bouquet of cauliflower roasted with nothing more than a quantity of butter and salt and pepper until just-right is heavenly; adding sage leaves to the butter and a handful of shredded Reggiano to the top of the cauliflower just when they’ll have time to crisp and brown lightly moves the easy dish to a higher floor in the heavenly skyscraper.photoRoasted vegetables of any kind are especially welcome in the cooler seasons, and so easy to toss together with a little olive oil or butter in the oven while everything else is being prepared for the table that it’s almost a crime not to put them in the oven. Throw a chopped lemon in to roast with them and they are sauced in their own juices. Put the remains (if any) the next day into a bowl with a cup of hot homemade broth and a poached or soft-cooked egg or two, add cooked rice or noodles if you like, and, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, (or bi-bim-bap!), you have a bowl full of nutritious, delicious, and not at all ambitious goodness right in your own little corner of this magical autumn season.

Foodie Tuesday: Something Completely Different

It’s not just a trademark Monty Python phrase; sometimes in cookery it’s worthwhile and enjoyable to veer off and say it’s time for Something Completely Different. I’m not talking about molecular gastronomy, because I have neither the knowledge nor the patience to imagine and execute anything quite so transformative, but it can certainly be useful and even tasty to rethink the what-I’ve-always-done approach from time to time.photoMaking broth as often as I do, I’m regularly faced with the aftermath of it in the form of tiny meat scraps, softened bones and mush-cooked vegetables and think it a pity to waste anything that might be salvageable. So a little while ago I got intrigued by seeing what I might do better with this stuff than merely throwing it out.

First thought was that bones are bulky yet biodegradable objects that, in a landfill, will take up a hunk of space there a lot longer than, say, those of a decaying creature left to the elements would do. And that, coincidentally, a soil amendment and critter-control element often required for good gardens is bone meal. So I dried out the bones thoroughly and set them out in a safely remote corner of the yard where the compost heap lives. Waste not, and all that.

More to the culinary point, I thought it silly to toss out all of the vegetable leftovers of the process when, though they will certainly have given up some of their nutrients to the broth, will probably also have gained some back from their fellow ingredients along the way, so they oughtn’t to have lost all of their nutritional worth in the cooking. The carrots are the only members of the party that haven’t mostly melted to nothingness in my usual broth process and can be individually retrieved, so I picked them out of the strained ingredients, along with a few small pieces of celery and onion, and pureed them with just a touch of added broth and a pinch of salt, and had a nice, faintly savory pudding.photoAdding some juice-packed mandarin orange segments (reserving the juice for later use elsewhere) made it into a really tasty little side dish of comfort food with very little effort. Warming some black raspberry jam and drizzling it on top of the pudding or swirling it in made it into an even jazzier little light dessert. The contrast of the punchy colors was matched by the contrasts in savory and sweet, in the soft pudding and bursting orange sections and the tiny crunches from the berry seeds.photo montageAll that was left for reinvention from the broth straining was the marrow and meat that, while not enough to make a meal alone, still filled a bowl with beefy goodness. It was clearly too soft to be especially attractive as a pot roast sort of thing, let alone a plated slice of anything recognizable as meat. Paté came to mind. Heck, I’d already had the stick blender busy to make my carrot pudding, so why not put it to further use on the day? The beef bits, along with a couple of hefty tablespoonfuls of butter, a half teaspoon or so of salt, and a little broth to make it workable, got pureed into a smooth, buttery spread that waits in the freezer for the time when it will be thawed, chilled in a ramekin, and served with crackers or toast, cornichons and cocktails, just as though I were an ideal 1960s magazine housewife. Well, I grew up in the ’60s and I’m a homemaker; close enough.

photo

It may not look like much, but as a poor-man’s fois gras it’s dreamier than you might think. I like to think of myself in a similar fashion, ’60s housewife or not. Wink-wink.

Foodie Tuesday: Keep Us Company

photo

Rice and wheat crackers with cheddar dip and salsa; carrots, jicama, olives, watermelon and lime wedges, to zip up any of it that’s in need.

Shared companions at their best help to strengthen individual relationships.

This is true of people, any great net of friends and acquaintances woven, knit and spun together making the two people at their center-most intersection better through their support. It’s true, too, of meals, where the cast of side dishes and sauces, condiments and accompaniments all work together to make the main dish better and more interesting than it would be on its own, and make a standard entrée a standout, distinctive and more memorable for the occasion.

Now, when these two instances of the supporting cast making the show coincide, things can be tons of fun. As on our latest anniversary, for example. We enjoy our twosome time immensely, and are glad to celebrate at any excuse, but we’re not sticklers for specific dates or rigorous traditions. So when our anniversary lined up with a rare opportunity to gather with a houseful of students, we merged our various celebratory plots into one plan.

Dinner for any more than four people is inevitably served buffet style when I’m in charge; besides my preference for informality, I like people to be able to sit at tables for ease of dining, and while I can make that happen for up to a couple dozen in our contiguous living, dining and kitchen spaces, it doesn’t leave much spare room for elbows, let alone heaps of serving dishes, on said tables. So it’s easier to concoct big-batch comestibles in big-batch pots and pans and let the guests scoop up platefuls of their own design at will.

This time, the centerpiece of the meal was my lazy version of carnitas, one of my pet make-ahead foods for carnivores, surrounded by a range of things that could keep the vegetarians, the allergic and the whatever-averse all reasonably well filled.

photo

The center of attention. Get those edges crispy!

Carnitas de Señora Loca

Take one big, fat-marbled haunch of a pork roast, cut it if/as needed to fit in the slow cooker, and tuck it in for a nice long soak, at least overnight and longer if possible. Its bath should be comfortably Tex-Mex in character: cumin, powdered garlic, chipotle powder or a canned chipotle en adobo, and, if you’re in the mood, some stick cinnamon, all to your taste; equal parts of Mexican [cane sugar] Coke–in my slow cooker, the measure is one individual bottle, orange juice, beer [I generally use either a Mexican beer like Modelo or Corona, or a Texan one like Shiner or Lone Star. I probably should give Armadillo Ale a try, since it’s a new brew produced right here in town. If I want to go wheat-free, I’ll use hard apple cider]. And one more ingredient in equal quantity: lard. Don’t be squeamish; if you’re eating pork, bathe it in the fat with which it was originally designed to be flavored and enriched, preferably great quality leaf lard, expertly prepared. There are plenty of good cooks around who are willing to go to the fuss of rendering their own batches of top-quality lard, but since I have access to grass-fed goodness of that sort I can’t imagine why I should.
A while before serving time, strain the falling-apart pork out of the liquid into a large baking dish, shred it, and put it in a hot enough oven to crisp the top layer, removing it for a toss and redistribution a couple of times so that there are plenty of nice crispy bits throughout but keeping watch to keep the meat generally very moist. Skim most of the fat from the reserved liquids and cook them down to reduce for a sauce while the meat is crisping.
Then pile a bunch of carnitas on your plate and surround it with loads of other food. Eat.

photo

Carnitas and all the fixings.

Don’t forget some coleslaw when there’s shredded meat, whether BBQ style or otherwise; the two are simply good friends for a good reason. The version of the day had sliced almonds, black and white sesame seeds, and a light lemon vinaigrette with a dash of honey. See, addicted as we are, I can sometimes vary slightly from my standard sushi ginger flavored creamy coleslaw. The creamy dressing, whether made with mayonnaise or yogurt or sour cream in its dressing, would’ve added elements not all vegetarians like, so I wanted to keep an option or two open. Cheese dip for the vegetable crudites was not going to allow such a thing, including not only the grated sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheeses but also an equal mix of mayo and sour cream, along with a pinch of cayenne and a dash of bacon-flavored salt), and I had asked ahead and was pretty sure I didn’t have any true vegetarians, let alone vegans, coming that day, only lighter meat eaters.

photo

Slaw, of course. Always a good choice, but wait–how to choose its style remains…

Since the non-meatatarians in the crowd might otherwise have been stuck with just salad and fruit, vegetable, cracker sorts of foods, I did make up a big batch of rice without my typical inclusion of homemade bone broth, substituting homemade vegetable broth for the occasion. I credit myself with making a pretty dandy broth, no matter what the kind, so no one was shortchanged in the equation, I hope.

photo

Corn salad. What, you need more?

The last side dish leaned back toward the savory and did include a little mayonnaise: corn salad made with fresh kernels of sweet corn, diced tomatoes and avocados, and for those who wished, crisp bacon pieces to sprinkle on top. You know me: if a passel of pork is a good thing as the main dish, why not more pork alongside it?

Besides, it seemed in keeping with the whole theme of the event, that of the constellation surrounding the centerpiece enhancing the latter’s goodness, that our friends enhanced our day, and therefore our happiness, by sharing the time and the meal with us.

Foodie Tuesday: Another Birthday, Another Pie in the Face

Ours is one of those households where pie is held in greater reverence than cake. Don’t get me wrong; I can drool over a fabulous cake just as well as the next person. But given that my husband’s grandmother was the sought-after pie maker in town, both at home and at a restaurant, and his mom carried the pie art into his childhood home, and my own mom’s famed pies were also justifiably the stuff of local legend…well, when it comes time to pick the perfect favorite dessert, either of us clearly has good reason to request pie. And since neither of us is particularly fond of clowns, per se, the pie had better be more impressive than a plateful of whipped cream and the delivery system had better be more sedate than the slinging of it in one’s face.photoFor my guy, as I’ve mentioned before, apple is the number one choice of filling, though he’s fond of nearly any sort of good fruit pie in a fine crust, and other staples like chocolate or pecan or Key Lime never really go amiss either. I’m a bit more likely to wiggle and waver about what is my favorite-du-jour, but still as inclined as he to think pie is eminently birthday- and other- celebration worthy. Since His Eminence was the one with a birthday last week, of course the first part of the birthday meal that came to my mind was apple pie. Dessert first, and all that.photoWe had only three apples in the fridge, and I’m trying not to eat wheat [so far, it seems that avoiding wheat decreases my old-lady hot flashes a bit, and that makes it quite worthy of the effort, in my book], so standard apple pie would be a little bit of a problem. When it comes to food, however, my policy has always been to find as many options as possible and choose the best one for the occasion or to, in short, Improvise. So I added the gorgeous pear from our stash to the apples, and worked on an experimental pastry solution. Here’s what I made:

Apple Pear Pie in an Extremely Freaky Flaky Crust

Pastry: Combine 1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/4 cup tapioca flour and 1/8 cup each masa harina and potato flour in a large mixing bowl; add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and blend it all with a pastry blender or fork. I will confess to you right now that I always liked the wire-style pastry blender better than the blade-style one (Mom used the former, of course) until I realized that I was waaay too aggressive in assessing its capabilities and crushed the wires into useless sculpture one too many times to bend them back. I have since seen the error of my ways, and in this ‘recipe’ it really paid. Because the step of adding the fats (1/2 cup each of pure leaf lard and salted pasture butter) is best done with them cold, cold, cold. And if you’ve refrigerated them thoroughly or even frozen them, that’s going to make them hard, hard, hard. Which is great, assuming you use the right tools; using the sturdiest, studliest pastry blender you can find is far easier for making the old standard ‘pea-sized meal’ out of the mix than two knives, the alternative method I see proposed from time to time. Although I’d give good money to see a sword-juggler version of pie pastry making.

But I digress.

The last step in the dough prep [what a nice little jingle that makes] is the addition of some icy liquid, traditionally, water (6-8 tablespoons). I’ve heard many a recipe in recent times suggesting that vodka is a great substitute for the water, because it creates the proper steam for building flaky pockets in the baking pastry but evaporates more completely, leaving things nice and crispy in its wake. My tiny brain said several things in response to this: 1 – if alcohol is good in it, why not flavored alcohol that might add to the pastry’s taste? 2 – apples are spectacularly good friends with caramel; why not something with a hint of caramel to it? 3 – if I use some dark rum and the pastry experiment is a noble failure, will not a splash from the now-opened rum bottle be far better consolation to the birthday boy and me than a splash of ice water???

Well, that’s settled, then. Of course you with any scientific bent whatsoever know that this ‘recipe’ is/was bound for self-destruction, lacking sufficient glutenous binders, but since I am in no way opposed to a good crumb crust, I didn’t worry overmuch that it would be inedible, only knowing that it would clearly be no competition for any of my gifted predecessors’ work. I dutifully froze the pie crust shell when it was formed and docked, then glossed it with some heavily sugared whole-egg wash shellac before putting it in the oven at a moderate temperature [remember, out there, that my oven is a glass-blowers’ kiln wannabe and incinerates nearly all things at their prescribed temperatures, so you’ll have to do your own research for temperature ideas; after all, what I’m describing here is an unsuccessful attempt at GF pastry anyway. Enough dallying; I shall cut to the chase. The crust still melted into inglorious nothingness, and I took it out in its toasty yet depressively slumping state, thought to add another egg and some flavorings and steam that sucker into a semblance of a Hasty Pudding, a last-ditch attempt at forcibly altering its apparent ennui to an ‘Ah, oui!’, if you will. At least I could get some snacking out of the whole mess. Which, naturellement, I could not do in the least, as it was so powdery in its anti-piecrust form that with additives it was bound to simply become cement. Yes, this might have made a fine doorstop, but really, who needs the aggravation.

Though I’d shed any delusions that this pastry was going to be a starry delight, I went ahead and made a pretty fine pie filling and figured we could eat it in, out of, with or instead of a store-bought piecrust when the time came, and given the disaster I’m glad I did. I’m savvy that way.photoThe pie filling: three apples and one pear, pared and cored and chopped/sliced (I like to mix the textures for variety), tossed with a hearty splash of lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of minute tapioca, a hefty pinch of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, a big teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon, and small amounts of ground mace and cardamom and cloves. I glued it together with a quarter cup of ready-made all-apple applesauce. Adding, as is my fat-craving wont, a dollop of about 2 tablespoons of butter, I cooked the lot until just tender and left it sitting covered on the counter for later. And yes, because I am also the queen of laziness, I did the cooking in the microwave. It works great and takes the over-the-cooktop sweating out of making pie filling when I’m already busy clowning around with my three-ring circus of a pastry experiment. There’s only so much humiliation any one kitchen fool can take from one simple dish.photoPlus, if there’s no store to be shopped for ready-made pastry and all else fails, a freshly made fruit pie filling makes a really dandy ice cream sauce. And the next best thing on our list of favorite foods is ice cream.

Foodie Tuesday: Quick Fixes & Peach Treats

I enjoy a good paella, when I can get my hands (and teeth) on it. But it’s not one of those things that in its truer forms can exactly be thrown together in a trice just because I happen to get an urge for it. But, being a fan of fried rice as well, I have been known to think to myself that there might be a hybrid incorporating a bit of both processes that gives me a plate full of paella-like food in a hurry and at least tide me over until the occasion for the real deal arises again. Having so often kept a batch of cooked rice at the ready in our refrigerator, not to mention the gifts of freezer, dried goods and canned foods, I had at least a reasonable chance of putting a faint facsimile of paella on the table at speed.photoPretend Paella

For this highly simplified variant, I made the batch of rice with a blend of broth and dry sherry and a pinch of saffron (should have used a bigger pinch, though). On top of it I put a very simple combination, which while it didn’t replicate paella closely, was reminiscent enough of that grand dish that it served as a reasonable place-holder until I can once more indulge in a beautiful slow-simmered paella. This time, I chose to saute a half cup of diced celeriac (celery root) and a cup of roughly chopped carrots in bacon fat, add a generous cup of sliced chorizo, heat that through, and add about a dozen or more large peeled, cleaned uncooked shrimp, adding water or broth or sherry as needed to keep everything plump and moist while cooking through and caramelizing a little. I didn’t season this further because the bacon fat and well-seasoned chorizo gave everything plenty of flavor. At the last moment, I stirred in a good three cups or so of the cooked rice and a cup of frozen peas, blending it all together just until the peas were heated through. One pot meal, with a touch of nostalgia, and as ever, infinite possible variations depending upon what’s in the kitchen waiting for me.

Having eaten this light and refreshing meal in warm weather, we didn’t need much except some cool drinks (icy water and a bit of cold sangria and chilled Sauvignon Blanc worked well for us three on the particular occasion), but we weren’t so over-filled that we weren’t of a mind to have dessert as well. A one-dish meal, after all, has a reasonable chance of not making diners feel coma-proximal. The afternoon trip to the grocery store, the one wherein I ascertained that there was no giant inspiration that steered me away from my thoughts of insta-paella, did inspire me with the produce section’s wafting scents of fresh fruit, and the image of underripe peaches made me salivate for the late-season ones not yet on hand.digital artworkSo I shamelessly fell back on preserved peaches for dessert shaping. The strawberries in the store had come into seasonal ripeness, but had clearly already been snapped up by earlier shoppers, so although the slightly over-aged ones remaining smelled sweet enough, the flies perched on them were a deterrent as well. Those, then, were substituted for by some freeze-dried strawberries. A ragtag pantry is not a problem in nearly the way that a lack of pantry would be, after all.

Coconut Soft Custard with Peach-Berry Coulis

While we sat eating our Pretend Paella, I had a cup of freeze-dried strawberry slices macerating in the liquid from a pint of canned-in-juice peach slices in the fridge. Also in the refrigerator waiting was a soft custard: one can of coconut milk, three eggs, two teaspoons of vanilla paste, and a half cup each of dark rum and dark maple syrup, and a pinch of salt, then whipped up and heated until slightly thickened, cooling and setting up in the fridge to thicken more fully. After supper, dessert finalizing was simply a matter of pureeing the strawberries in their liquid plus a cup of the peach slices into a smooth coulis, spooning the puree and custard in layers into dessert dishes, and topping them with a sprinkle of toasted sweetened coconut. In theory, this will serve five or six people, but we three are not theoretical exemplars by a long shot, so I’ll just say the dessert was as completely gone after our attacks as the rice dish had been earlier. Proper portions? You be the judge.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Pork Chops Go with Everything

There might not be any ‘universal donor‘ food anywhere, the sort of food that’s perfect with all other things and at all times, but if you’re a pork eater, it’s mighty close. Seasoned pork becomes, in turn, seasoning when it’s great bacon, pancetta, guanciale, and that sort of thing. Because it has a very mild flavor on its own, pork takes on flavors of all kinds readily. It’s a culinary chameleon, becoming subtle, spicy, bold, sweet or savory; takes readily to being ground, sliced, shredded; blends with other meats or fruits or vegetables, and once prepared, is delicious cold or hot. Large numbers and quantities of flavoring agents make pork delicious, but it’s pretty grand with very little added as well.

photoSo there’s this dinner, then, where thick pork chops, though lean and not heavily flavored, become the centerpiece of the meal. They’re cooked simply, sous vide, with butter and salt and pepper, and seared at the last. When I cut open the sous vide packets to pat dry and sear the chops, I collected the juices in a pitcher, covered it and microwaved it to cook and thicken them, then blended them with a spoonful of [Kewpie brand] wasabi mayonnaise to make a warm sauce for serving with the pork. Some oven roasted wedges of Russet potatoes with a hint of coconut oil and salt sopped up the sauce that spilled over from the chops. Coleslaw being a consistent favorite in our house (as you’ve undoubtedly figured out long since if you visit here at all often), there was some in this dinner, garnished with black sesame seeds for a little visual pizzazz.

photoFor additional sides, there was a fruit compote of sliced and peeled apples, canned-in-juice peach slices, a little butter, honey and cinnamon and a pinch each of ground cardamom and cloves, and a tiny salad for each diner of avocado mash with lemon, cumin, lemon zested salt and a little bit of butter, each hearty-spoonful-sized helping topped with a small tomato and a dainty flower. Between these, there was a bit of piquancy and juice, color and textural variety so that all of them helped to keep the chops from seeming dull or predictable.

photoDessert couldn’t have been much simpler. Cream, whipped until Chantilly-soft with a touch of almond extract and then blended with an equal amount of lemon curd (I had some ready-made curd in the refrigerator) was served as a lemony mousse topped with a couple of small pieces of home-candied peel and a handful of toasted sweetened coconut. Really heady stuff. The end.

Foodie Tuesday: Fork It Over

photoThe stick-up artist and the greedy eater alike may demand that someone should ‘fork it over‘ or relinquish the object (monetary or comestible) of affection, and that, at speed. But besides cramming edibles into one’s mouth, the fork can serve a number of other useful purposes in the kitchen and at table. Not least of these commendable actions is the release of air. I shall leave it to your imaginations to determine whether some excessively greedy fressers mightn’t do well to have the fork impale them directly and thereby release some of the pent-up methane or other dangerous-to-diners gases, but there are some ways to use a fork for more benign and neighborly expulsions of atmospheric pressure.

photoThe first is to pierce pastry before baking, so that heated air inside or underneath a pastry layer can escape during the process without tearing or exploding the baked goods and their contents throughout the oven or, more excitingly yet, onto unwary bakers lifting said goodies out of the oven. My mother, famous for making what I still believe is arguably the best pie crust in the universe–always exquisitely flaky and golden and crisp and fragile, never soggy or tough–blind baked crusts without ever using pie weights, and only pierced them thoroughly with a fork before the baking. Crust made this way will indeed rise up like an egotist’s inflated chest, but only before those little vents disperse the steam and let the pie crust relax back into the pan just as it should. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the added benefit of this approach is that when a filling is added that will bake further in the crust, it leaks into the piercings a little and caramelizes there, both stabilizing the crust and adding a little candy crunch to the pie. In the same way, venting the closed top crust of the pie with a fork before baking it keeps the dough from ballooning explosively (oh, the joy of spurting jammy fruit juices around like candy lasers!), and again, from holding in unwanted moisture that can defeat attempts to have a splendidly juicy pie interior without compromising the extravagant crispness of its crust.

photoBut enough about pie for the moment, I’ll get back to that soon enough, as you’d guess. I always tend to come back to desserts, don’t I.

photoMeanwhile, piercing other foods for pressure-control purposes is pretty effective too. If you happen to like baked or roasted squashes, root vegetables and tubers, I hope you’ve been informed in good time that pricking the skin sides of them before exposing them to high heat is a helpful way to avoid reenacting the demise of the Hindenburg. One of these many dreamy dishes made with the help of the humble fork: Baba Ghannouj.

This venerable meal-starter dip or spread is not much beyond roasted eggplant, crushed or pureed and well seasoned. But, like many classic dishes from around the world, that is an egregious oversimplification of the subtlety, complexity and variability of the concoction. What remains true is that it’s mighty tasty. My personal combo for it would be less garlicky or oniony than some, mainly because of how my kitchen palette has changed since my life became linked with Mr Spouse’s, but also because my personal palate followed suit and, further, because I think heavier, more intense flavors like those, if overused, can mask more subtle and delicate ones. I submit to you a version of it.

photoBaby Baba Ghannouj

Eggplant (1 large), tahini (4 tablespoons), preserved lemon (1/2, diced), fresh lemon juice (2 tablespoons), lemon zest (grated peel of 1 whole lemon), cumin (1 teaspoon or more), olive oil (4 tablespoons) and roasted garlic (1 heaping teaspoon).

If you can, blacken and blister the eggplant’s skin over open flame and then roast it to softness in the oven. For this, preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. If you haven’t flame roasted the eggplant, cut it eggplant in half, lay it on a baking sheet or pan greased with olive oil or lined with a silicone sheet, and pierce its skin all over with a fork before roasting it. Roast until it’s well softened, about 20 to 30 minutes (check with gentle pressure occasionally; you can use the back of the fork for that), and finish by blackening the skin under the broiler.
When the eggplant’s soft, rub off its skin. Needn’t be perfect; bits of blackened skin will heighten the smoky flavor of the Baba Ghannouj. Put the flesh in a bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients, and mash it all up together with the famed fork. Serve garnished with a further drizzle of olive oil, toasted sesame seeds, and a sprinkling of thyme, or a toss of za’atar.

Foodie Tuesday: Come Away with Me

Travel eating can be a horror, of course, since the challenges of being in unfamiliar territory, changing time zones (and therefore, often, the times when we’re hungry or not), having to figure out the differences in price based on a travel budget and possibly foreign currencies and the simple odds of finding great food in a new or different place can all conspire to put us at risk of eating badly, if at all. I can think of a few classic examples in my own history, to be sure. A trip to a certain little (long gone, God willing) Inn that wanted ever so dearly to be thought quaint and Elizabethan and folkloric springs instantly to mind: a speedy glimpse into the dining room should have warned of danger ahead, had either my sister or I bothered to note that the decor included a plate rail circling the room and bearing an ominously vast collection of cartoonish miniature boxes of cold cereal. What followed, since we failed to notice this flagrant danger signal before we’d ordered and waited quite awhile, was remarkable in its weirdness and memorably awful tasting, a meal in which every single ingredient smacked noticeably of the tin from whence it sprang and the pièce de résistance was a salad thus composed: one wet leaf of iceberg lettuce cupping a hard, slightly greenish canned peach half that in turn cradled one whole pitted black olive. If ever a thing eyed me ominously, it was that thing.

But more often than not, lest you think me incapable of finding out the true culinary delights peculiar to any place I visit, I love travel in large (no pun intended) part because I do find and relish such specialties of places-not-my-home.

In Texas, besides the fine variety of regional treats influenced by the mix of whatever native and immigrant populations rule therein, there is almost always some great Mexican and/or Tex-Mex food to be had, not to mention the whole range of beefy, meaty and BBQ-smoky goodness that reigns in the hearts and stomachs of the locals. So you know full well that when my spousal-person and I get to do any wandering in our current state of dwelling, we tend to hunt for those joints where the area’s avid eaters congregate to eat such good and glorious things.photoA trip to the Boston Early Music Festival is reason to rejoice by virtue all of the fantastic playing and singing we hear there. High art and musical culture are always a thrill. But it’s also an outstanding excuse to indulge in Boston‘s superlative food culture. So, given the chance, you can bet I’ll dash to one of the nearest provisioners of provender to order up a beatific lobster roll as soon as I can manage it. If it is repeated numerous times and also happens to be followed by a number of equally fine regional treats, say, a dainty dish of Boston baked beans swimming in molasses-sticky sauce or some spectacular Italian food at the north end of town, why then, I’m all the happier.photoDriving through Oregon wine country is a sure way to enjoy some spectacular scenery, its vineyards interspersed with small organic farms and fruit and hazelnut orchards, but do you think there’s any chance I would settle for merely viewing such glories and not dining on them too? Think again! Would I go visiting in northern Italy and not fill up on ethereal handmade pasta with wild mushrooms? Never! Cross an inch of Hungarian soil without seeking out a good dose or ten of paprikás or gulyás? Perish the thought! This musing is motivated in part, of course, by the opportunity and intent to spend a bit of this summer engaged in this beloved sport of eating-while-traveling. (Or, admittedly, traveling-while-eating.) But if it also serves to move you to further such adventures, rest assured I will be cheering you on all the way. And if I can find you and join you at the table, I most assuredly will.photo