Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quickle Pickle

I’m ambivalent about papaya. I’m not ambivalent about pickles. Whereas many folks have resigned to eating an army green or fluorescent cucumber forced upon their plate or in a jar at the grocery store I am not. In my opinion the BEST pickle is the half sour that populates the streets of New York City. Why this pickle has not broken out of the Northeast and taken over delis nationwide is a mystery.

Jim and I shop in about 6 different grocery stores and farmer’s markets to get all of our various food stuffs. I get pickles at one of two places; the deli counter at Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market or the eastern European section of the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. Recently we had a party that featured a burger bar. That morning we went to the regular grocery store to gather the last of our ingredients. They have the day-glo slices on the condiment aisle; Jim not so secretly likes these. They also have the ruffled potato chip style ones on the refrigerated aisle that taste like cinnamon and cloves, not pickles. I could not settle to serve these pickles. We looked for 20 minutes. I even overheard a woman say ‘They’re still looking for pickles?’ Finally, a friendly Publix employee overheard us and suggested we go to the deli to get deli pickles. Lightbulb! Thanks! They were not the NYC half sours I adore, but it was better than driving 20 minutes, navigating an overcrowded parking lot and fighting my way through the throngs of people with vastly different cultural customs and ideas about personal space just for a pickle. Even I realized that was a little unreasonable.

To avoid the pickle pickle in the future I make my own. This recipe was originally developed for part of a banchan but these pickles can go anywhere those limp, neon things go. The kids assisted me with the photos for this blog and as a result the contents of the jar of pickles decreased with every shot taken.

Quick Pickle - Makes 1 cup

1/2 Kirby cucumber

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds

Slice the cucumber thinly on a mandoline, about 1/16” thick. Combine the salt, sugar and vinegar, add the cucumber and nigella seeds, let stand for 20-30 minutes, serve.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer of Eggplant, the Sequel

When I started this blog last summer I thought for sure all my missives were being sent into the ether until I got an email from my neighbor Tova. She asked, ‘What to do with two large eggplants that would be kid friendly?’ Well, I knew the answer to that one, quite simply, eggplant meatballs.

For two weeks during the month of February of my senior year in college I squirreled away in the residence of my boyfriend’s parents’ Long Island home to focus on my thesis. I really wanted the bulk of it done before returning for my second semester and taking 2 weeks to focus on it seemed logical although lonely. While everyone else was at work I sat in my boyfriend’s childhood room, staring at the computer, for 8 hours, writing about and translating Spanish Absurdist theatre. To break up the day I would sneak behind the garage to smoke cigarettes, read a few Tales from the Crypt comics and wait for the humans to return.

Andrew’s Dad was from Greece and his mom Italian American, so dinner was an event. Every Sunday Andrew’s parents would go to Astoria and get the supplies they needed for the week; feta, olive oil, olives, etc. Then Lu, Andrew’s mom, would spend all day Sunday cooking. She would make all sorts of things to carry us through the week; hummus, lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves. These were just the snacks, she would make a full meal every night on top of everything she had prepared on Sunday. I had hit the lottery. Santa Claus is real only he’s not a fat dude from the North Pole, she’s a 5’1” travel agent from Brooklyn and she’s downstairs making baba ghanouj. I gained 7lbs. in 2 weeks.

Lu taught me how to make stuffed grape leaves. Her five ingredient fettucine alfredo is legendary. She also taught me how to make, one of my favorite dishes that she made, eggplant meatballs. She came to the meatless meatball out of necessity, two of her three children were and still are vegetarian and being the negotiator she had to come up with something to bridge the gap. Her recipe was adapted from Dom DeLuise. I lost Lu’s recipe but I have come up with my own version and it has worked quite well for many, many years. Now Lu used to fry these and they are much better fried but for the sake of my heart and my waist line I bake mine. You can use them in anything, on top of spaghetti, in a hoagie, in a pie a la Stanley Tucci or as an appetizer. Our son recently requested their presence on our dining table, so here they are.

Eggplant Meatballs - Makes 1 dozen

1 large eggplant

1/4 cup prepared Italian breadcrumbs

1 large egg

3 garlic cloves - roasted or blanched, minced

Olive oil

kosher or sea salt

1 tablespoon basil - chopped

1 tablespoon parsley - chopped

Slice the eggplant in to 1” slices, place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt and rest for about 20 minutes. Rinse or wipe off the salt and leave to dry on paper towels for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375. Pat the eggplant dry again. Oil a baking sheet and brush the eggplant slices with olive oil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the slices are golden brown and the the interior is soft. Let eggplant cool. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. The batter should be gooey. At this point you could put the batter in the refrigerator for 20 minutes so the it is less runny and easier to work with. Re-oil the baking sheet. Scoop the batter and form into 1” ‘meat’ balls by tossing from hand to hand. The batter is really sticky and I find I must wash my hands a couple times during the ball forming process. Bake for 20 minutes at 375.

Notes: I have also made these vegan using egg substitute. I typically roast or blanch garlic because the sharp flavor does not appeal to my palette.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pancake Supper

What makes a good American breakfast pancake? Fluffy and tall? Dense and moist? Thin and crunchy? Depends who you ask. I don’t have an opinion as me and pancakes we’re not good friends. They don’t like me and as a result I’ve developed an aversion to them too. But there’s a whole world of international pancakes out there, not involving neon syrup, like pa jun, latkes, arepas and crepes. Luckily these savory pancakes do not have a gastro-vendetta for me like their American cousins. I recently made my first okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Now, that’s my kind of pancake; shrimp, green onions with a sriracha mayo.

This recipe is for a savory summer pancake. Use it on your plate where your starch normally sits during the colder months. Its provenance comes from my own laziness; germinating sometime when all I had in the house were zucchini and leftover ricotta, which is how many recipes at our house come in to existence.

Zucchini Pancakes with Herbed Ricotta – Makes 6 pancakes

Zucchini Pancakes

2 zucchini shredded

¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ + 2 tablespoons shredded Romano cheese

2 extra large eggs

¼ cup milk

salt + pepper

vegetable oil

Slice off the ends of the zucchini and slice each zucchini into to 3 rounds, place in a colander and salt to remove some moisture, let sit for 20 minutes, rinse, blot dry and shred in a food processor. Combine the flour, cheese and baking powder together. Combine the eggs and the milk and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and combine, fold in the zucchini. Het enough oil to coat the pan, but not so it pools. Using a 1/3 cup measurement, scoop the batter in to the pan, cook pancakes over a medium heat for 2 minutes per side. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish the remaining pancakes, adding oil to the pan if needed.

Herbed Ricotta

¾ cup ricotta

¼ cup mixed herbs (I use whatever I have around, a combination of tarragon, dill, basil, parsley, chives – whatever you like)

1 garlic clove blanched or roasted in the oven, minced

2 teaspoons lemon juice

salt & pepper

Combine all the ingredients and serve on the side with the pancakes.

Note: I roast or blanch the garlic to mitigate some of the sharp garlic flavor. If you prefer yours strong then by all means omit that step.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Regional Delicacy

Funnel cake and corn dogs, most people can be assured these items will show up at their festivals. Not in my home town. Baltimore is a quirky burgh. I don’t ever remember seeing a corn dog at a festival as a child but I do remember, with extreme fondness, lemon sticks. The Greek festival, the Italian festival, the art festival, the church fundraiser festival, it does not matter, a festival is not complete without a lemon stick.

What is a lemon stick? It is a lemon with a peppermint stick in the middle. That’s it. The purpose it to suck lemon juice through the peppermint straw. Here’s how it goes:

  • At first you will be sucking, hard, with little results.
  • Next the lemon juice will start to flow through the peppermint straw, this is perfection.
  • Squeeze the lemon as needed for more juice.
  • There is a 50% chance tragedy will strike. Either the peppermint stick will break in half or just fall on the ground.
  • Get another peppermint straw (the second one was always gratis at festivals).
  • Continue sucking.
  • Lastly the peppermint will have melted in to the lemon. This too is perfection. Squeeze the center of the lemon and suck retrieve any remnants of the peppermint.
  • Wash hands.

You can be certain I will be serving these, not cake, on my birthday.

Lemon Sticks - Serves 4

4 large lemons

6 soft peppermint sticks

Cut 1/4 off of the stem side of the lemon. Using a chopstick make a hole in the center of the lemon. Put the peppermint stick in the hole in the center of the lemon. Serve.

Note: I could not find the peppermints locally; I purchased mine online, $3 for a 1 lb. bag.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Handle with Care

Just like a pack of cigarettes, or a bottle of wine this blog entry comes with a warning label. It is the highly volatile combination of children + high levels of sugar. It surely delights, but it can backfire, resulting in sugar highs followed by sugar lows, meltdowns, tears and grumpy parents. Let me backtrack by saying Jim and I are those parents, you know the ones, fruit is the snack, we make most everything from the ground up, very rarely anything processed (everyone has a home for Kraft mac-ncheese) and nothing that has been specifically marketed to children.

I don’t know what possessed Jim but one day he came home with a box of Cap’n Crunch. I opened the cabinet and it was like a snake lurking in there. Jim doesn’t buy sugar and he doesn’t buy premium cereal products. And he seemed pretty pleased with himself. Now, I must confess, as a child I was allowed to eat whatever cereal I wanted and the Cap’n was at the top of the list; Cap’n Crunch Berries, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Sugar Smacks, you name it, if it was sugar laden and sure rip a layer of skin off of the roof of your mouth I ate it.

Jim offered the kids bowls of the Cap’n, no fools, they seized the opportunity. After that the Cap’n hung around in the cabinet for a bit and not because of lack of interest. One day Cap’n Crunch French toast popped in to my head . There is a restaurant in my motherland of Baltimore that makes such a dish; I’ve never been to this restaurant but I have seen this dish profiled on the FoodNetwork. I cobbled together my version by poking around the internet. Let me say the Cap’n Crunch French toast was beyond a hit with the kids, I mean it was like the freaking Superbowl of breakfast dishes. However, it did have the aforementioned side effects and after about 2 hours of the ups and downs everyone was sent to their rooms for a time out. Jim then threw out the remainder of the box. It was like handing a junkie their first hit. The kids continually ask for it and talk about it if it were the family pet, our response ‘NO! Maybe in like another 5 years.’

Well, with my god-kids here for the week I thought I might try it again. Every year they come and we manage to squeeze in some oozy, gooey, sugary something. I asked Jim ‘What do you think of the Cap’n Crunch French toast?’ His response ‘No. No and no! That’s on you. I’m going to work.’ Uh-huh. So consider the warning label, they’ll love you for it but they might make you pay. So I warned the kids, we can have it but any crazy sugar influenced behavior and the Cap’n will never grace our range top again. They heeded the warning seriously. As my own editorial comment I’ll add that I don’t care for sweets, I could live my whole life without a doughnut, but the Cap’n in French toast form, well, he’s alright.

Cap'n Crunch French Toast - Serves 6

1 cup cream

1/4 cup sugar

3 extra large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 slices of bread

4 cups Cap’n Crunch


Whipped Cream

1 cup cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl. Using a large zip lock bag smash the cereal, I use the backside of a metal measuring cup. Put the cereal in another large bowl or casserole. Preheat the oven to 200 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat a skillet to medium and add the butter. Dip the bread in to the batter for about 1 minute, let the excess drip off and coat both sides in the cereal. Place in skillet and cook on both sides until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and place on baking sheet in oven to keep warm. Repeat. Whip together the cream and vanilla to desired consistency. Serve the toast with the whipped cream and maple syrup.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Shalini's Post

Recently I found out there are people who actually read this blog. I would have never known but I have been hearing numerous complaints for not blogging. The first ‘lack of blog’ comments came from close friends. Like your parents must tell you you’re pretty or handsome these people are somewhat obligated to read my blog. Then, slowly, friends were passing on lack of blog commentary from their friends and then with more frequency comments from friends of friends and a few acquaintances. I explained my lack of blog was due to winter photography issues to which the response was usually a blank stare. I’m not saying I’m Orangette or Smitten Kitchen popular but I’m certainly flattered that you, whoever you are, are reading this and hope you are at least mildly entertained or informed by it.

The blog situation reached emergency status this Friday. Taking things in to their own hands, our son and my friend Jayme decided it was time to blog. They commandeered my phone and photographed every dinner item. They went so far as to plate and style the food and the food’s surroundings. And I think Jayme may have solved the winter photography issue. This was not a meal I had planned to blog about and, more importantly, I had not generated recipes for most of it. I can’t blog about it if it cannot be accurately recreated, which apparently is a good rule of thumb since people actually read this thing. So, because I was forced to blog, I don’t have a real back story for this recipe. In fact it’s not even my recipe, Jim is the one who actually cooks it and I didn't even take the picture of it.

This recipe came about as a result of a lot of travel. We have recently taken several week long trips. Prior to leaving we felt it necessary to empty out the fridge and make do with whatever scraps are floating around the vegetable drawer. In April we were headed to California for a week. The night before departing our fridge contained 2 carrots, 3 spring onions and a couple stalks of asparagus and surely some anemic limes and lemons that had already been stripped of their zest. When Jim asked ‘What’s for dinner?’ I said ‘Well based on what’s in the fridge I know we’re having a rice noodle salad and we have 2 chicken thighs. Can you find a way to Vietnamese the chicken?’ And he did and we’ve been making it almost every week we’ve been at home since.

Jim found the original recipe on; we’ve slightly changed it, not much though. It’s really delicious, almost addictive and very easy. You should make it too.

Vietnamese Chicken - Serves 2-4

2 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. oyster sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 large shallots chopped

3-4 large garlic cloves minced

1 Tbsp. natural sugar

2 Tsp. Chinese 5 spice powder

2 star anise pods ground in a spice mill (I use a coffee grinder)

4 chicken thighs

Combine the first 8 ingredients, then pour the marinade over the chicken thighs and marinate 1-5 hours. Be sure to rotate the chicken thighs during the marinading process. Prepare a grill for direct/indirect heat. Jim does this by making a semi-circle around the outer edge of the grill with the charcoal. When the grill is hot (a 3 count with your hand over the grill) add the wood chunks directly over the hot coals. Sear the chicken thighs skin side down over the high heat for about 4-5 minutes until they are browned and somewhat crispy. (Or as Jim says ‘Until they look right.’) Turn the thighs over and cook skin side up for another 2 minutes over the high heat, then move them to the cooler side of the grill, but still near the coals for indirect heat, put the grill lid on and cook for about 20 minutes. They are done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.