Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slice of Orange

Vegetarians, love them or hate them, they are people too and they want a decent meal. As a former vegetarian I am going to speak for the group when I say we don’t want some lame sandwich with sprouts and lettuce, we don’t want a vegetable plate or a frozen veggie burger and we don’t want what you’re eating minus the meat. We want a creative, tasty, well balanced meal and we want to leave the table full too. I know, I know those damn fussy vegetarians, they won’t eat meat and then they come with a list of rules for what they are willing to eat???

Most vegetarians are foodies because they have to be. Being vegetarian certainly forces you to think about your food and what makes food structures and layers of flavors. I mean, really, you can put bacon in anything and it tastes good. For many years the vegetarian cook books were left to Anna Thomas and Molly Katzen. Anna was too earthy for me and I need pretty pictures in cookbooks. I had a Moosewood cookbook in college as well and, it had things in it like tofu Shepherd’s pie. Dishes like that that give vegetarianism a bad name. Then I found Rose Elliot. Rose produces beautiful, healthy, delicious vegetarian food.

Many dishes from Rose’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook are standards in my repertoire. My copy is over 15 years old and I know she just released a new version of it, so I can’t speak to the new one but I have purchased two different versions of older ones and I can say I thought it was worth it to buy it two times.

I usually make this dish on Easter, in fact it’s a solid tradition. But the other day we had a ton of carrots in the house, not much else and if you are following the weather in the Southeast then you know it’s too hot for clothes or food. So I took my version of Rose’s carrot soup and I made a cold version.

Cold Carrot Ginger Soup with Basil – Serves 6

1-1.25 Lbs. carrots (about 5-6 medium) – peeled and sliced
1 medium Spanish onion – chopped
1 medium Russet potato – peeled and chopped
1-1 ½” piece of ginger peeled and grated
2 tablespoons butter
3 ½ cups vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt or sour cream
½ teaspoon honey
1-2 tablespoons basil – chopped

Sweat the onions in butter for 5-7 minutes until they are starting to become translucent, add in carrots and potatoes, sauté for about 10 minutes until the potatoes get slightly soft, add in ginger, salt and pepper, add in ½ of the stock, bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes. Using a blender or immersion blender puree the soup, add in additional stock or water for desired consistency, add in honey. Chill the soup, add in yogurt and basil prior to serving.

Notes: This can easily be made vegan by using olive oil instead of butter, just be careful that the vegetables do not brown while sautéing them and omit the yogurt. I use a combination of stock and water to better control the sodium content.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

C is for clafoutis

There are sweet people and savory people. I’m savory, maybe even a little salty. If given the option of a Swiss chocolate bar or a bowl of Spanish olives - I’ll take the olives please, oh and do you have any boquerones to go with them? I do have weak spot for ice cream and around here 80% of the time, if you don’t get your dessert in a stemmed goblet, it will be ice cream, hot fudge sundae, if you’re lucky.

But somehow I have developed the ability to make desserts starting with the letter C. Cupcakes, custards and anything with coconut. (Honestly, I do a blackberry trifle too but it bungles the alliteration.) I’m not half bad with cookies and cakes but all that measuring and rigidity and science is too much for me. I like the custards. I’m still trying to perfect a pudding recipe, specifically banana, so if you have one, please send it my way.

Like every year, in anticipation of Bastille Day I put together a French themed meal. Last night we had escargot, baguette, vichyssoise, salad nicoise and clafoutis. My goal was to blog about the snails, because they are really easy and inexpensive to make and everyone should do it, but they don’t photograph very well. I don’t usually make desserts and almost never eat them but I will make them for other people. My friend Jayme was coming over and she is my biggest clafoutis fan and it just fit with the theme. Normally, I make a pear one, courtesy of Ina Garten, since it’s not pear season I went with the traditional cherry. It was, if I do say so myself, my best one yet.

Cherry Clafoutis - Adapted from Ina Garten - Serves 6

  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons Lillet (I just happened to have some in the fridge)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 pound of cherries, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Butter a 12” pie plate then dust it with the tablespoon of sugar, set aside. Using an electric mixer combine the eggs and the sugar and beat on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low add in the flour, cream, zest, vanilla and Lillet, beat until combined, let batter rest for 10 minutes. Add the cherries to the pie plate, pour in batter and bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until the custard is set. Dust with powdered sugar, cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer of Eggplant

We are beginning eggplant season so it’s time for an eggplant recipe. As a former vegetarian I am armed with an arsenal of eggplant recipes. I attempted to write the eggplant blog a few weeks ago using an old favorite but I stopped. The first eggplant recipe has to be one capable of changing people’s minds about this maligned fruit.

Like mayonnaise, people have very strong opinions about eggplant. I have many friends (and I can name you all) that profess to HATE (and I mean hatehatehate) eggplant; Jim’s brother-in-law claims he’s allergic to it. I’m not sure if it’s an allergy or a phobia. Even Jim, who will eat anything, including bugs, when I asked him a what foods he didn’t like said, ‘I don’t care for eggplant or brussels sprouts.‘ He eats both now and is enjoying them. So I know I can change someone’s mind. So while I was typing out my original eggplant recipe I said ‘Nope, the first one has got to be Kevin Rathbun’s Ya Ya Eggplant Fries’. Simply because they don’t taste or have the texture of eggplant. These things are, well, indescribable in a way that sounds appetizing, but I’m going to do my best. They are kind of like sublime eggplant doughnuts in french toast stick form with hot sauce and powdered sugar. Yes, they are good.

I Googled it and Rathbun’s has the recipe on their website. Lucky me. However I was skeptical, it seemed too easy. Really, I envisioned Kevin and Kirk performing some sort of eggplant voodoo in the kitchen to make it so fluffy and light on the inside. And what was the sauce, the hot sauce? Rathbun’s does not list it on their website. Someone on the internet speculated that it was simply Tabasco. I needed a trip up the street to taste test them from the source before committing to making them or blogging about them.

My custom at Rathbun’s to sit in the bar area and share a few appetizers rather than eat a full meal in the main dining room. We sat down and ordered drinks and discussed our options beyond the imminent eggplant fries. A few moments later a friend who works there came by to chat, she asked about my blog and I said the blog was the reason for our visit. (And Jim and I really deserved a date night.) I explained the eggplant situation and we talked about it and then she said ‘Oh wait, let me just go ask the guys in the kitchen.’ As Jim’s son would say ‘sweet victory.’ She returned and reiterated the recipe on the website, the fry temperature vacillated by 10 degrees, and, yes, it is Tabasco and no, they do not salt the eggplant before frying.

A couple changes or things we did not have and other bumps in the road. We didn’t have canola oil, we used corn; we didn’t have a fry-o-lator, we used a pan; I accidentally bought reduced fat buttermilk. The rest is basically the same. But it also produced an interesting litmus test. The kids usually eat eggplant in meatball form and love it. The point is they aren’t prejudiced against it yet. The powdered sugar certainly was an incentive to eat it. Jim’s daughter really enjoyed and expressed this by singing to it and asking for more, his son ate it, kind of, but not a home run. When we did the dishes and our geriatric dogs came begging I looked at the options and fed each of them a fry, they enjoyed it. One of those dogs recently turned her nose up to offerings of pepperoni pizza bones.

The result: ours weren’t as light and fluffy as Kevin’s, but they were close. Our favorites were the ones I double dipped in egg wash and bread crumbs. Let them sit for 10-15 minutes before serving, they remain lava hot for an extended period of time. So if you are willing to give eggplant another chance, try the fries.

Eggplant Fries - adapted from Kevin Rathbun - Serves 4-6

1 1lb. eggplant

2 cups bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Oil for frying

Cut the eggplant in to 1 1/2” fries, leaving the skin (I trimmed the seeds off of several to make them uniform and rectangular). Combine the eggs and the buttermilk and make an egg wash. Combine the breadcrumbs and the cheese. Heat an inch of oil in a cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Dip the fries into the egg wash and then the breadcrumbs, repeat, fry in batches for roughly 3 minutes until they are golden brown. I found 1 eggplant was equal to about 16 fries and I fried 5 at a time so as to not overcrowd the pan.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Flip, flip, flip

Well the wedding shower is complete and Jim and I are recovering. It’s a regular national holiday of overindulgent sloth around here. We are certainly recovering from the making merry, and recovering from a three week binge on Spanish and Latin American food. Ceviche, chicken mole and croquettas are indefinitely off the menu. Another item off the menu is tortilla española. Somehow, and I’m really unclear on this, the children escaped all three test runs of this. Jim’s son helped me with many items for the party but as he was sprinkling smoked paprika on the tortilla he exclaimed (and I mean exclaimed) ‘Wow, that looks and smells really good!’ I said, ‘It is and I’ll make it for you. In like, three months.

The first time I had tortilla española I was 17. I remember it well. It was made in the kitchen of my childhood home in Bolton Hill, in July, the summer after I graduated from high school. We were hosting a teacher named Anna with a Spanish exchange student program from Madrid. We traded national delicacies; she made me my first tortilla española and we took her out for her first serving of steamed crabs. The tortilla made an impression on me. It remained steadfastly on my culinary radar for 20 years. 20 years.

What was keeping me from it? Well, there was the fear that I could screw up something so simple as eggs, potatoes and onions. Those Spaniards aren’t messing around. It’s perfection. Then there was the serious problem of the flip. I have researched numerous tortilla recipes over those 20 years and essentially there aren’t many variations, it’s a classic, and they all feature a flip. Although there are various approaches to the flipping method. I dug deeper. I asked my friend George, who happens to be Spanish and a chef, to help me out. He sent me a YouTube link - flip. We spent Christmas in Spain with George and his wife Jessica, here was my opportunity. Whenever I spend time with George in the kitchen I always learn some invaluable piece of information. I hovered over him as he made it, I was going to figure it out - flip. And not only was it a flip, a big flip, but it was a big flip with panache. I desperately needed a version without the freaking flip.

I promise you the flip that is required for tortilla española is not in my skill set. I am not trying to be a Nancy-naysayer but really, I walk in to walls and trip while standing in one place everyday. Flipping (or even sliding, inverting and re-depositing) a 12” omelet out of cast iron skillet equals giant mess + personal injury.

So here’s what I have developed for the flip impaired.

Tortilla Española - Serves 6 as a main course or 20 as an appetizer

1 dozen large eggs

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 1/2 medium sized Spanish or yellow onions sliced

4 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

2-3 oz. hot Spanish chorizo sliced (optional)

Loosely whisk together the eggs with the salt and pepper. Peel and slice the potatoes about 1/8 inch thick, I use a mandoline for uniformity and speed. Slice onions to about 1/4” thick half moons. Heat 3 tablespoons oil until almost smoking in a 12” cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat saute the onions and potatoes 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft but not breaking apart and the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat to low, add in the eggs, making sure they get underneath the potatoes and onions. Cook for about 1-2 minutes until eggs on the bottom are set. Add the chorizo at this point, if desired, by simply placing the slices on top like pepperoni on pizza and pushing them in to the soft eggs. Using a pastry brush, brush down the sides of the cast iron skillet with the remaining olive oil, this is the key to getting that sucker to slide out of the pan hassle free. Place the skillet in 350 degree oven. Remove from oven when eggs are set about 20 minutes. Let stand for about 5 minutes in pan, loosen from sides of skillet with a knife if needed. Turn out on to a platter, dust with smoked paprika and parsley, cut in to wedges and serve with a salad. Tortilla is typically served at room temperature and gets better with a little time. It can be made ahead and left covered at room temperature. But I’m not the FDA.

Note: The pin cushion I have pictured above is prepared for party appetizers, slice and skewer with a toothpick, grab and go. I also learned this from George.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spoiler Alert

I have not been blogging lately because I have been busy practicing. Practicing recipes for my friends’ Kasia and Danny’s wedding shower. They have been dating for, long enough. I have planned Kasia’s shower over and over again for all of that enough. I have nighttime menus, brunch menus, girls only menus, couples shower menus, I’ve even planned menus at restaurants and seating arrangements too. If you need a shower menu just ask me, I can help. When asked by the other hosting couples to come up with a menu for the actual shower, a couples stock the wine cellar themed shower, I chucked all my menus and came up with a new one. So Jim and I have been furiously practicing, cooking and eating a lot things over and over again trying to get everything the best we can. The fridge is engorged with leftovers. The dogs are quite sated. When we finally get to this party we are going to be seriously burned out our food. But it does give us the opportunity to take cooking very seriously.

The menu is Spanish-y, all hors d’oeuvres, passed and stationary. One item I really want to serve is croquettas. In the interest of time and labor it had been my plan to purchase them. After scouring at least 6 different stores and most of Buford Highway I could not find anything. I had luck on the internet, but 80 croquettas cost $50 plus another $40 for shipping. Seemed extravagant for some flour and milk. With only a week and a half to spare I told Jim, ‘We have no choice but to make these things ourselves’. I spent an hour or two researching croquetta recipes on the internet. They had to be pescatarian friendly to meet the guests of honor dietary restrictions. I did not like the vegetarian recipes I found and was not in the mood to mess around with salt cod; I was wary of using mushrooms and their water logged selves on my first trip out, so I decided to use a standard recipe for jamon croquettas I had found on both the Washington Post website and at latienda.com and I would substitute the meat for canned tuna. I left work early and found everything I needed in my pantry, 10 minutes later I had croquetta dough? paste? filling? resting in the fridge. I went for a run and a trip to the bank, came back rolled them into croquetta form and 15 minutes later plopped them in the freezer, went to the grocery store, picked up the kids from camp, came home. Jim’s son asked ‘What’s for dinner?’ I said ‘Remember the croquettas you had at Jessica and George’s restaurant in Baltimore? We’re having those, with chicken mole and salad’. Squeals of delight all around. Jim asked ‘When did you make croquettas?’ I replied ‘Really it wasn’t nearly as labor intensive as I expected.’

I rolled half in bread crumbs and half in panko and we all took the Pepsi challenge to see which was preferred. The children DEVOURED these things and asked for more until they were all gone. The testing and tweaking continued over several days; my hair might permanently smells like fry oil but I think it's ready.

Tuna Croquettas with Smoked Paprika Aioli - Makes 12 +/-


  • 1/2 of an onion chopped finely (about 1/2 cup)
  • 5 oz. can tuna in oil (drained)
  • 2 anchovies in oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 pinch smoked paprika
  • pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water


  • 2 egg yolks (room temperature)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons canned chopped fire roasted tomatoes (I find these at Whole Foods or the YDFM)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic minced, about 1/2 teaspoon

Saute the onion in olive oil, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Halfway through cooking the onions add the anchovies and let them dissolve by mashing them, making a paste and evenly distributing them throughout the onions. Add the flour 1 tablespoon at a time by whisking it in, making sure the prior tablespoon of flour is incorporated before adding the next. Next add the milk by whisking it in. Heating the milk so it is at room temperature will make it less likely to crack the roux, I microwaved mine for 20 seconds. Like the flour, I add this in 3-4 steps, making sure the prior dose is incorporated before adding the next. Once incorporated cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add in the tuna, paprika, parsley and pepper. Place in the fridge to cool for 2-3 hours. Once chilled, make an egg wash with the egg whites and water, whisk with a fork until combined. Using about a two teaspoon sized piece of dough roll into oblong dumplings, roll in bread crumbs, then egg wash, bread crumbs again, place on a plate covered with wax or parchment paper. When all are assembled place in freezer on plate with wax paper about another 2 hours, at this point they can be fried or stored in a freezer bag for another time. Heat vegetable oil in a pan about 1/2 an inch deep to about 300 degrees. Fry croquettas turning once, about 3 minutes total, drain on paper towels.

To make the sauce, add the egg yolks and tomatoes to a blender with a tablespoon of the oil, start on low, stream in the oil and spices, increase speed to medium, then add the lemon juice. Blend for about a minute or two until it becomes a mayonnaise.

Notes: The aioli will accommodate 2-3 orders of croquettas.

For the sake of uniformity and presentation I used an actual teaspoon (which held 2 a teaspoon measurement) for scooping the dough, then I boxed it by pressing on the sides and top and forming them to the width of my palm.

I don't like being accosted by raw garlic, it ruins my day. I usually roast mine in the oven with a little olive oil so it softens the garlic and the flavor and then use I it in any recipe calling for raw garlic.