Thursday, October 27, 2011

The O.C.F.

I spend a lot of time in domestic airports, a lot of time. The food situation is always distressing. As hard as I try to avoid it I am forced to eat at the airport due to timing, constant weather hiccups or whatever equipment happened to go awry (Delta fix your doors on the 757s). My criteria for airport food is something not too unhealthy and not too smelly. I worry about the smelly so I don't offend my fellow passengers. Note I didn't say tasty or enjoyable, because those items are rarely an option at the airport. Why? I don't know. I don't think people want bad food. I suspect there is a national airport food vendor mafia. There are a few exceptions. My top three, in order, starting with the best: SFO, SNA, IND. The worst, in order from crappiest to slightly less crappy: LGA, LAX, MIA. And there's a lot of in between. I didn't include my own airport, ATL, which given the landscape of airport dining, may actually be the best.

One day Jim and I found ourselves at BWI at lunchtime. There wasn't much to choose from, or rather, nothing except we found something called 'Chesapeake Landing' 'Maryland Landing' 'Maryland Crossing' or something like that. It was non-descript as airport restaurants are supposed to be. Of course there were crab cakes on the menu, that didn't surprise me but there staring at me was something I had not seen in 25 years and while I liked it fine as a kid suddenly seeing it on the menu made me very nostalgic. 'Jim, they have clam strips! Clam strips! I can't believe they have clam strips, I don't know the last time I saw one. We had clam strips every Friday in school. Clam strips and french fries. I'm having the clam strips.' We did, Maryland being a Catholic state we had clam strips every Friday. We'd sit in our Bertoia chairs with the royal blue seat pads eating clam strips and french fries and maybe some cole slaw swinging our feet. Clam strips the original chicken finger. Then I think all I said for the next 5 minutes while our food was prepared was 'Clam strips? Clam strips! Can you believe they have clam strips?' That restaurant in the airport did not let me down. I'm sure those clam strips came straight out of a plastic bag from the freezer but they were good, creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside and they came with fries and cole slaw. They were better than I remembered them. I was swinging my feet at my bar stool with food happiness. Jim leaned it 'May I try one?' 'Of course, have as many as you like.' 'That's good, remind me next time I want the clam strips.'

Well next time came a few months later. It was lunchtime again. I said to Jim 'Let's find that place with the clam strips.' 'I think that's the only place.' I didn't even need a menu. 'I'll take the clam strips.' I think Jim ordered something extra lame, like a salad or soup. 'You don't want the clam strips?' Jim's memory isn't the best. 'I don't want clam strips. Who eats clam strips? We didn't have clam strips growing up in Ohio.' Well, the clams came and Jim had food envy. 'Remind me to have the clam strips next time.' You should too. Terminal C, the place with the seabird, the bay and some indigenous plants for a logo.

As often happens on this blog I tell a story about a certain food but don't have an exact recipe for it. Really, I'm not going to tell you how to bread something and chuck it in the deep fryer. I think, this week anyhow. A little research shows you can get a giant bag of clam strips at Costco for $5; my money says those are the ones near and dear to our hearts. also has a recipe for clam strips if you feel the need to shuck and fry a bushel of clams. I do have a recipe for clam chowder using items that are always in our larder. Surely we all have a positive memory associated with clam chowder. This is tasty, quick, inexpensive and totally satisfying on a cold night.

Clam Chowder - Serves 4

1 8 oz. jar of clam juice
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 cup water
1 10 oz. can clams
1/4 cup flour
1 carrot, chopped
5 mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 small Yukon potatoes cubed
10 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
1.5-2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons butter

Combine clam juice, juice from clams and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Add in the potatoes and half of the thyme and cook for 3 minutes. Add in the mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes. Add in the carrot and cook for another 3 minutes. Then remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile heat the butter in a pan and add the onions and saute until almost translucent, then add in the celery and remaining thyme and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the clams and saute for a minute.

Slowly add the flour to the pot with the clam juice, whisking to combine until thickened. Add in cream and milk, heat and add in all of the vegetables and clams. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, add brandy and cook for 3 more minutes. Serve.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holiday Traditions

I lament the loss of summer, I really do, I get frustrated about the homogeneity of the produce section. However winter brings a whole different cooking approach; my feeling about winter is you can't cook with enough booze. Come wintertime I am warming up all sorts of vegetables and meats with sherry, Madeira, Grand Marnier, Pernod, Brandy and regular old wine. Cooking straight out of the liquor cabinet.

Thanksgiving preparation usually marks the watershed trip to the liquor store to purchase all sorts of booze we don't drink, well, most of it. The one exception is the Grand Ma. I used to make the cranberry sauce with it and the ritual went, a shot Grand Ma for the relish and a shot of Grand Ma for the cook, and any other cooks (Jim), to sip to make the chores a little easier. When the bottle of Grand Ma is all gone (and it usually lasts through January and sometimes February) that marks the official end to the holiday season. We now use Jim's cranberry recipe, which uses a bottle of wine, but we still keep the Grand Ma tradition. Grand Ma also helps with the hanging of the lights on the house, tree decorating, cold weather in a town that doesn't believe in insulation and generally making merry; feel free to use in place of egg nog.

I've never met a mushroom that didn't want to be paired with a fortified wine. This 'bread pudding' has replaced our stuffing or dressing or whatever you may call it. I originally found this recipe in Food&Wine, but it was not playing by the winter cooking rules, so I ‘corrected’ it. In spite of what F&W says Jim has found letting the mixture soak overnight creates a creamier texture, but not longer than just one night. And please excuse the mess of brown that is the photo, it tastes better than it photographs.

Mushroom Bread Pudding (Adapted from Food & Wine) Serves 8

4 cups bread cubes from a Challah loaf

1.5 lbs. mixed mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup chopped shallot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 cups half and half

4 large eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Madeira

salt + pepper

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Bake bread cubes on baking sheet about 12 minutes until golden brown.

Heat the butter in a pan, cook the shallot until just tender, about 3 minutes, add the mushrooms, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and continue to saute until mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 10-12 minutes. Add the Madeira and simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add in parsley, stir and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, half and half, cheese, more salt and pepper together. Add in bread crumbs and mushroom mixture. Toss to coat. Store in fridge 6-24 hours. Toss the mixture every few hours.

Pre-heat oven to 375. Pour mixture in to a large casserole or individual ramekins. I use two large 7" ramekins. Bake for 30-40 minutes until top is crusty and interior has set.

Monday, October 17, 2011

CSA Dilemma

Our friends are vacationing for 10 days in London; we are watching their Chihuahua, Roadie. Roadie is not your typical Chihuahua; he's a lover not a fighter. He's friendly, he's ridiculously cute, missing his tail and he does this funny little shake with his left paw when he's walking fast. Roadie is something of, shall we say, a Don Juan. He has no problems sleeping with strangers. I know because he spent the night curled up on Jim's sister's pillow after having met her 2 hours before. The next morning he casually trotted out of the bedroom at 10 AM. If his parents take him to a party my money says by the end of the night Roadie will be situated in a pretty girl's lap and she will be feeding him pinch after pinch of barbecue. The dog's social mores aside, our reward for hanging out with Roadie is that we get our friends' CSA baskets while they are away.

I have been bugging Jim about participating in a CSA for years and he's been hesitant. I suspect based on up front cost, stringent rules and in spite of his title of Mr. Spontaneous, the unknown factor of the basket contents. The first CSA basket arrived chock full of everything, enormous amounts of organic fruits, veggies and popcorn? I could barely carry it. Jim was so excited when he saw this windfall of food he washed everything one at a time and displayed them on our counter Cezanne-like only with 30x more food than Cezanne would have used. He took a picture and posted it to his Facebook. Feel free to check out his still life. He then jumped in and made us dinner making a small dent in the mountain of food.

The next day Jim went to California and I went to New York. When I returned 2 days later the food mountain was still there staring at me. I didn't know where to start, which I suspect, participants in CSAs across the country go through weekly. It was like a Chopped basket except without the cotton candy or the bison sausage, still equally baffling. It had items I cook with often, like butternut squash and sweet potatoes, it also had slightly eccentric cousins to other loved vegetables, like white radishes, but it also had an over abundance of items I rarely use, such as green peppers.

I'm not the biggest green pepper fan; while I don't dislike them and I'll gladly eat them, I don't seek them out either. I find green peppers misappropriated quite often. A giant chunk thoughtlessly plopped on a salad. Or constantly paired with onions, the perpetual wingman. Unlike peanut butter and jelly, who seem to do fine without one another, green peppers don't seem to have much of a social life without onions. I really like other types of bell pepper. Isn't there more for this vegetable? So I thought, well, what about green pepper Harissa? And you know what? It works.

The green peppers also came with Anaheim peppers and jalapeƱos. Surely you could use any type of pepper that appeals to you.

Green Pepper Harissa

4 small or 2 large green bell peppers

3 Anaheim peppers

3 jalapeƱos or 1 large

1.5 teaspoons caraway seeds, toasted

1.5 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted

6 +1 tablespoons olive oil

Large pinch of salt

Tiny pinch of cinnamon

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pre-heat broiler. Place peppers and garlic on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast the peppers in the broiler. Time will depend upon your broiler. My broiler is in the top of the oven I placed the peppers about 7" from the flames, my broiler is not particularly potent and it took me 5 minutes rotating the peppers every minute. Keep your eye on anything in the broiler at all times. The garlic may finish sooner.

Place the peppers in a paper bag for about 5 minutes. Making sure they are cool enough to handles peel the skins off of the peppers. Slice them in half and discard the seeds and stem. This should make about 2 cups of roasted peppers.

Put the peppers, spices, cilantro and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the food processor, process and stream in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil until desired consistency. Finish with lemon juice.

Notes: Use as you would regular Harissa. I'm showing it as a dip but we also marinated and baked chicken in it. It's also great on eggs.

Fall Cloud

Last summer we took the kids to a Braves game. We took our seats in the outfield; Jim and I were happily situated with gigundo $8 water flavored beers and the kids had just finished off nutritious Turner Field pizza and nachos when the cotton candy man barked by. I asked ‘Kids do you want cotton candy?’ Our son said ‘YES! YES! YES! Cotton candy!‘ Singing now ‘Cotton, cotton candy! Oh, I love cotton candy.’ But our daughter looked at me quizzically and concerned. I’d never seen consternation from this 4 year old. ‘What is it?’ she asked. ‘Well, it’s cotton candy. It’s, it’s it’s...Jim - what is it?’ Confused look. ‘It’s, well it’s basically fluffy sugar and... it’s pink!‘ What an odd question; were we bad parents? She looked at us, blinking, unconvinced. There is nothing that that little girl loves more than sugar and the color pink, except maybe pork products. ‘Your brother is having some. Would your brother eat anything bad?’ ‘No.’ ‘OK, we’ll get one and you two can share.’ Trepidatiously ‘Okaaaay’. Jim flagged the man down and big bag of puffy pink and blue was delivered. She was still very concerned about the contents of that bag. She eyed it and cautiously watched her brother open the bag, dig in and eat it. She continued to blink at the bag. At least Jim is always a man with a plan. He peeled off a piece and held directly in front of her, she leaned in and grabbed it with her mouth. Now, I am going to do my best to describe what happened next. As she grabbed and it started to melt (as cotton candy does) the sensation took her by surprise, she literally shook from head to toe, an all over body spasm, then, she squealed with delight, her eyes lit up, she smiled ear to ear and then she opened her mouth wide for Jim to feed her more. Jim handed her the bag, she ate until her tongue and lips were quite blue from artificial food coloring and she had sufficiently sugared herself out. After the game we all headed home with our little girl still clutching the plastic bag containing the leftover puff of cotton candy. I have never seen such delight over a food stuff.

The other day I was making macaroni and cheese with butternut squash, which is really, really awesome, but not the point of this blog. One of the directions for the mac-n-cheese is to combine the cream and the squash using a food processor or blender but the recipe warns not to over whip the cream or, well, you’ll end up with whipped cream. Well I understood why not, but thought ‘Why not?’. So another day I whipped them together. A few moments with the hand mixer and I had a bowl full of a pouffy orange fluff. I dipped my finger in, cautiously. It was delicious. I didn’t squeal but I did utter an expletive. Maybe it’s not as mind blowing as the cotton candy but it’s really good.

What to do with it? I’ll tell you what I did with it but I’d love to hear what you would do with it.

Fall Flavored Whipped Cream with Fried Herbs - Makes 20-24

1 3-4 pound butternut squash, cut in half

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 baguette

2 garlic cloves cut in half lengthwise


sage leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

vegetable oil

salt + pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Salt + pepper the squash and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for an hour. Remove from oven and let cool. Scrape the squash from the rind and combine with the cream. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Using a hand mixer whip until fluffy and light.

Pre-heat the broiler. Slice the baguette in to 1/4” rounds, rub the garlic on the bread slices, lightly brush the bread with a very little olive oil. Toast in the oven for 30 seconds, leave the door slightly ajar so you can keep an eye on the bread, do not take your eyes off of the bread until it has been removed from the oven.

Fill a shallow pan with 1/4” of vegetable oil, heat, add in sage and thyme, alternating. The sage will take about a quick count to 10 and the thyme a quick count to 5. Be careful when frying the sage, throw it in and stand back, it will sound like fireworks going off. Apparently thyme contains a lot of water.

Top the crostini with the whipped cream and the fried herbs.