Wednesday, October 20, 2010


So I just discovered Amanda Hesser’s food blog. A food blog for food bloggers (or the food obsessed); I am addicted. It's full of useful information, arranged in a usable and fun way. Every week they have a contest. Last week’s was for Halloween treats. They haven’t announced the winner yet but I’m routing for the cook that made severed finger cookies, with fake blood and almonds for finger nails. (!)

This week’s contest is for paella. I’m not a big rice fan so I submitted fideos. I’m also not a culinary anthropologist either but my understanding is fideos are more commonly used in Southern Spain, feel free to correct me. My friend George introduced me to them while we were in Spain. To me they really have a better flavor as well. So, no big story here, check out the website and check out my recipe.

Smoky Seafood Fideos - Serves 4

1 - 7 ounce bag fideos (or broken angel hair pasta)

2.5 cups seafood stock

1 cup white wine

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth

1 medium Spanish onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1 pinch cayenne

1 nutmeg seed - 5 shavings across a mircoplane

1 - 14 ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes

200 mg ground saffron (or medium sized pinch of threads)

1 bay leaf

salt + pepper

12 clams

12 mussels

12 shrimp

3 squid tubes cut in to rings

1/2 cup frozen peas

3 tablespoons parsley

1 lemon

Olive oil

salt and pepper

Coat a pan in olive oil, over medium/low heat add fideos and sautee until they become a warm brown color, about 6-7 minutes, using a slotted spoon remove them from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat add more olive oil to the pan, if needed, add onion and sautee for 5 minutes until almost translucent, add garlic and sautee for another 3 minutes. Add in smoked paprika, oregano, cayenne and sautee for another minute. Increase the heat to medium add tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 3 minutes, shave in nutmeg, return the fideos to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring stock, wine, water and bay leaf to a boil in another pot, reduce to simmering, adding the seafood one species at a time and removing from the pan and reserving. In the stock cook shrimp 2-3 minutes until just pink, squid 1-2 minutes until just prior to opaque, clams a maximum of 6 minutes, discard unopened ones, mussels up to 4 minutes, discard unopened ones. Allow broth to return to a slow boil in between batches. Remove seafood and set aside. Add the saffron to broth and let ‘bloom’ for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off of the broth. Slowly add stock, in 3-4 batches (like risotto) to the fideos , let simmer with broth about 20 minutes, when the pasta has reached desired consistency add in peas and seafood, reheat seafood, let steam for 2 minutes covered. Prior to serving squeeze the lemon over the ‘paella” and sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When life hands you apples and oranges

Fall is my favorite season however, I’m lamenting the fact that I did not eat enough watermelon, cherries or nectarines to sustain me through the winter. I usually notice the impending fall around my birthday, which signifies summer is 2/3rds of the way complete. Then, I vow, as I do every year, to eat more summer fruits before it’s all over and I’m faced with apples and oranges for the next six months straight. I typically fail to do this and by September there is a produce section pity party.

Summer certainly slipped away again this year and as soon as I noticed I went to the store to hopefully shake out one last bag of cherries. I was too late. As if they had been abducted by aliens, all of them gone, without a trace. Replaced by strawberries. As if we wouldn’t notice.

I like apples, oranges and pears just fine, but like a bad party guest, they always seem to linger around too long, in fact, they never leave. Perhaps I take their steadfastness for granted, they patiently wait in the same display day after day, but so do bananas. But bananas are fun, you can ‘go bananas’ or ‘get bananas’, but you never ‘get’ or ‘go’ appley or orangey (or peartastic for that matter).

Dinner parties call for desserts. This one is as easy as it gets, it’s not a full blown pie and not overly sweet. I’d dare to call it ‘adult’ but Jim’s kids love it as well.

Apple Galette - Serves 6

Pate Brisee (From the Bouchon Cookbook)

2 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces (2 sticks or 16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/4 cup ice water


4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin (on a mandoline if you have one)

3 lemons


1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

Make the dough at least a day ahead. this recipe makes enough for two tarts so you can divide and freeze the rest for another time. Place 1 cup flour in salt in standing mixer, turn on low and add the butter in a handful at a time, in about 4 batches, increase to medium speed and when butter is incorporated, stop machine, scrape down sides, turn on to low again and slowly add in remaining flour, followed by the water, mix until just incorporated. remove and divide in to two disks, wrap in plastic wrap.

Cut lemons in half, peel, core and slice the apples on a mandoline. As you slice the apples squeeze lemon juice on them to keep them from turning brown, Add slices and lemons with more juice to a bowl of cold water. Continue slicing apples and squeezing lemons until all are peeled. When ready to bake the tart, remove apple slices from the lemon water and dry on paper towels.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 10’-12” in diameter, place on parchment on a baking sheet, arrange the apples on top leaving an inch-inch and a half edge, fold the edge over roughly crimping, brush apples and crust with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes. Remove from oven let cool on the baking sheet on wire rack. Take care when transferring it to a plate or cutting board, the pastry is very flaky. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Notes: The butter and the water in the pastry really want to be cold. I throw the butter in the freezer for about 10 minutes prior to using. The ice water as well, I find using the water from the fridge is quite cold or I make a glass of ice water and strain the cubes just prior to using. Many recipes say the pastry is fine to use an hour after making once returned to the fridge. I have not had as much luck with that method and more luck letting the pastry sit overnight in the fridge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baby Cabbage

Jim’s kids will eat almost anything. I am so thankful we are not entrenched in the world of chicken fingers or one void of vegetables. These children are food enthusiasts at ages 8 and 4. They will chant for Korean BBQ from the back seat of the car. When asked which popsicle flavor they want I have heard this world weary response; “I don’t know, I’m kind of over chocolate sea salt.” One night Jim was working late and the three of us were going out for a date; I gave them their dining options: BBQ, Mexican or sushi. I thought for sure this would lead to an argument. I was wrong, it was unanimous, sushi. They pigged out on eel and ikura. But they are kids, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese, pizza and fluorescent frozen oddities from the ice cream man are also big hits. We can all enjoy such things occasionally.

One day this summer Jim’s son hollered up to our bedroom; ‘Hey Morgan will you make us those green things.’ ‘Green things?’ ‘Yeah, green, you know, they are green and round, like a little green cake.’ ‘Green and round?’ ‘Yeah.’ Still struggling. ‘Is it something I make, like actually make in to a dish or a vegetable I cook?’ ‘Vegetable. A green flower.’ Pause. ‘Brussels sprouts?’ ‘Yeah, will you make us some brussels sprouts?’

I like brussels sprouts. I’ve always liked brussels sprouts. I cut my teeth on boil a bag brussels sprouts swimming in butter sauce. If you eat cole slaw you will like brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts get a bad reputation because so often they are boiled to death. Not dissimilar from those crayon flavored gray things I was served in the cafeteria, you know them, canned green beans. Quite different than a fresh green bean. Over cooked brussels sprouts to a kid is slimy baby cabbage brain. The texture is off and overcooked so is the flavor.

I make these brussels sprouts all the time. And I get many compliments on them, from brussels sprouts lovers and the skeptics. Jim was a skeptic, he is a convert now. I’ve served them without asking people if they like them, because really I cannot imagine not liking them, and I’ve gotten surprised comments like ‘Wow I didn’t know brussels sprouts tasted good!’

Maybe if you call them baby cabbage you can slide them past the unknowing and the uninitiated.

Brussels Sprouts with Truffle Oil - Serves 4-6 as a side dish

1 pound brussels sprouts, end trimmed and cut in half

Olive oil

1 teaspoon truffle oil

Sea salt (preferably something fancy like Maldon)

Preheat oven to 375. Clean and dry the brussels sprouts, get off as much of the water as possible. Oil a baking sheet, place the brussels sprout halves face down on the baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops with a scant amount of olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, toss with the truffle and sea salt.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Oh we’ve all been dumped, if you haven’t, well then ask your mom about that. My college tour took me through Colorado and Vermont. Promptly after I took the requisite traipse though Europe. I took an unexpected detour to London to recover from all the cathedrals, museums, stinky cheese, excessive walking and dirty youth hostels at my friend Alex’s flat. There I got the call that my job request at a theatre in Houston had come through and I did indeed have a future. After 4 years of freezing my booty off in Colorado and Vermont they offered a pittance of salary, slave labor hours, heath insurance and warm weather! The move was on after I returned from doing my laundry in London.

Soon after the move I met that man, you know, the crappy boyfriend we all somehow have to make our way through to find the real deal. That guy, you’ve dated him, your friends dated him or maybe you have been him or are in the process of being him, ahem. He is the guy all your friends raise an eyebrow to, some dare to express their distaste, but usually keep their mouths shut and you just absorb their animosity through osmosis all the while pretending it’s not there. Some of us never find our way away from that guy but fortunately I only had the one, OK, OK one and a half, maybe two. Anyhow, this particular one was - well - to be euphemistic, just awful and the break up a complete disaster. Moving on, I consoled myself with books. Some people buy clothes or eat I bought books. I didn’t go to the library, oh no, full price for me, let’s pay for it. I bought many books the one prized book was, in my opinion at the time, expensive, hard cover too; an expensive cookbook, a whole $30. This book was going to keep me occupied, it would pay for itself.

At this point I was truly teaching myself to cook. Once a show at the theatre was up and running I had a generous amount of time on my hands to clean my house (with a toothbrush, mouldings included) and cook. This cookbook appealed to me because it was basic, clean food, straight forward. I’m not sure I made much else out of it besides the cookies. Let me add, I don’t bake, much. Baking is a science, and scientist I am not and I don’t really like sweets. Cookies make other people happy, especially a theatre full of actors and technicians hanging around work for 14 hour stretches. Somehow I came to disdain the cookbook, I’m unclear if that’s a reflection on the boyfriend or my cooking snobbery. However, I still have it and have toted it around move after move. Jim pulled it out the other day, and I was sort of shocked by its appearance in the kitchen (who let you in the front door?) and the dish he made was elegant and extremely tasty.

The cookie recipe was for chocolate chip cookies and they were way too sweet for me so I kept exploring and changing and reworking them and eventually came up with this recipe. It’s still sweet and it’s not a chocolate chip cookie but it comes from fond memories of tinkering around in that sunny apartment, in my twenties, in Houston on my days off from toiling at the theatre. You can easily make them as chocolate chip if you prefer. It’s nice to revisit them.

Butterscotch Pecan Cookies - Makes 2-3 dozen

2 cups flour

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 sticks of butter (8 oz.) (room temperature)

2 extra large eggs (room temperature)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 1/4 cups butterscotch chips

1 cup pecans halves lightly broken

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, salt and baking powder. Cream together butter and sugars with a hand mixer on slow, add in eggs (one at a time) and vanilla. Once combined add in dry ingredients, slowly, (I do this in four batches) mix until incorporated then add more. Using a spatula stir in candy and nuts. Bake on an un-greased cookie sheet for 15 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges. Let baked cookies sit for a minute or two before removing them with a spatula from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack, this keeps them from collapsing in the middle. Scrape off left behind cookie bits and slightly cool cookie sheet before preparing another batch for the oven.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Soft Boiled Egg. Lime Jello. Chicken Broth.

That’s what I was served as a kid when I was sick. Those foods are probably as close to American comfort food as it got for me. To this day I have never had a piece of meatloaf, chicken fried steak or homemade chicken noodle soup. Last summer I had homemade chicken pot pie for the first time; I also had my first pork chop. I can count how many times I’ve had fried chicken on both hands, maybe even one. I was rarely exposed to potato chips or french fries. Hot dogs and hamburgers were alien to our grill. I’ve got $20 that says a grilled cheese never darkened my childhood stove top.

I also wasn’t toting a mother of pearl spoon and caviar in my Happy Days lunch box either. I teetered in a schizophrenic gastronomy of late 1970s Continental cuisine and the worldly culinary landscape of the Stouffer’s frozen meal. Nightly I enjoyed Noodles Romanoff, Chili Con Carne, Turkey Tetrazini, Swedish Meatballs, Chicken a la King, Creamed Chipped Beef , Chicken Chow Mein. Touring the world one boil a bag at a time. Really these meals were essentially the same formula; a high fat sauce whose sole intent was to utterly drench a starch, maybe with a sprinkling of frozen veggies. My favorite was the most caloric (and exotic sounding): Noodles Romanoff. A giant pink ice cube clad in aluminum foil; it went in to the oven for a torturous 45 minutes! Oh and it emerged a steaming gelatinous runny ooze.

When dining with adults I enjoyed savory crepes, spumoni, steamed crabs, proscuitto e melone, scampi, Rumaki, French onion soup, escargot, steamed artichokes, shad roe, shrimp anything and on. The chicken nugget was not yet invented, nor did my Dad frequent restaurants with ‘Kids’ Menus’ (if they even existed then; I have no idea). I would put on a Laura Ashley dress and we’d head out to a French Bistro or an Italian Restaurant. I guess that makes brie en croute the mac and cheese of my youth.

At age 10 we got a microwave, never to boil a bag again. At 11, I started to teach myself to cook. My first dish, co-authored with my neighbor John, was aptly called ‘cheese melt’. I’m sure this was conceived in some latch key child moment of self expression paired with a need to eat. John and I would take a piece of spongy white bread, smear it with some butter imitating spread, place a square of cheddar cheese in the center, put it on a paper towel and pop it in to the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Out would come a soggy cheesewich seeping not-butter. We would fold it in half and consume it in 3 bites, then make another. This led to many other self authored dishes, (including the less popular strawberry Kwik with Sunkist orange soda) only to evolve slowly and lately here.

This childhood has lead to an adulthood where cooking is done with very few short cuts. If the kids want a brownie we get out the cocoa powder and the mixer. Dinner time is the focus of our evenings, we forego television for the stove and the grill.

The other day Jim did not feel well. Sick Jim is rare and I wanted to make something that fit the feeling. Somehow at the crossroads of my Asian culinary tutelage from Stouffer’s and my adult desire to make up for it egg drop soup popped in to my head. It was comforting and from the ground up it takes 10, maybe 15 minutes. Make it, you’ll feel better for it. Jim did.

Egg Drop Soup - Serves 2-4

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons corn starch + 2 tablespoons water, mixed together

2 tablespoons soy sauce

5/8 teaspoon of white pepper

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon rice wine

2 green onions, sliced green and light green parts

Combine the broth, soy sauce, pepper, ginger and rice wine, bring to a boil, add in cornstarch and water slurry, reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir soup in a clockwise motion, when soup is moving in a gentle clockwise current, slowly stream in the eggs while still stirring. Eggs will cook immediately. Remove from heat and stir in onions. Serve immediately.