Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas Carnage in Gingerbread

Every year, ToastSister assembles a gingerbread house for Christmas display. This year, she felt compelled to construct (deconstruct?) an homage to Hurricane Katrina. In gingerbread. Yes, what you see above is a nutcracker in a chalk outline felled by a piece of besprinkled roof. Yes, I fear for her sanity.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New York Times Brussels Sprouts

Taking a page from The Wednesday Chef, I decided to make a recipe clipped right from the New York Times. It was a Thanksgiving suggestion, designed to "Take The Meal Beyond Tan." Obviously, the ToastFamily wouldn't put up with something as wildly unorthodox as brussels sprouts on Turkey Day (or as some would have it: The Most Adored Food Holiday in the Land)--or any non-tan, non-traditional foodstuffs at all. Later, though, the austerity of these lemony sprouts seemed just the thing to counteract all the carbolicious extravagance.

I was right to take a chance on this recipe. The result is not at all brussels sprouty, but instead more like a lemony version of those sharp-tasting salad you can get at Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I followed the recipe very nearly to the letter, only dividing the quantities in half, so I've just cut and pasted from the NYT below, though I also own the magnificent cookbook whence it came.

Hashed Brussels Sprouts With Lemon Zest
Adapted from ''The Union Square Cafe Cookbook,''
by Michael Romano and Danny Meyer (HarperCollins, 1994)
Time: 25 minutes

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
2 pounds brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds or poppy seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place lemon juice in a large bowl. Cut bottoms off sprouts, and discard. Halve sprouts lengthwise, and thinly slice them crosswise. The slices toward the stem end should be thinner, to help pieces cook evenly. As you work, transfer slices into bowl with lemon juice. When all sprouts are sliced toss them in juice and separate leaves. (Recipe can be prepared to this point and refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 hours.)
2. When ready to serve, heat oil and butter over high heat in a skillet large enough to hold all sprouts. When very hot add sprouts, garlic and seeds, and cook, stirring often, until sprouts are wilted and lightly cooked, but still bright green and crisp, about 4 minutes. Some leaves might brown slightly.
3. Add wine, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Turn off heat, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lemon zest, reserving a little for top of dish. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with remaining zest and serve.
Yield: 10 servings.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pillsbury Pain au Chocolat

Genius comes along ever-so-rarely in this fallen world of ours. I don't think it's immodest to say that this is one of those times.

Anyone who has every consumed a Pillsbury crescent roll knows the joys of this flaky, buttery, just shy of greasy consumer miracle. And many people know the crescent rolls make brilliant pigs in a blanket when wrapped around kosher cocktail weenies. But it wasn't until a recent Sunday morning that I realized the ultimate possibility for an instant breakfast--Pillsbury pain au chocolat.

The recipe, if once can even call it that, is simple: Follow the directions on one package Pillsbury crescent rolls, but before rolling each crescent, place one small (1 cm x 2 cm) piece of semi- or bittersweet chocolate in the middle of the wide side of the triangle. Wrap the pastry around the chocolate and cook as directed. When you pull them out of the oven, eat the rolls right away and discover a delicious, melting chocolate heart within each one.

The Human Vacuum and I ate an entire package of these for breakfast recently. And we are not ashamed of ourselves in the slightest--so don't look at us like that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ratatouille with No Peppers, and a Rat

I hate bell peppers. They're so pretty, so colorful. And, to me, they taste like hell. So naturally, my ratatouille is devoid of them. And--if I do say so myself--it's the better for it. The peppers are often a disruption in the velvety texture of the perfect ratatouille, which should be full of luscious eggplant, falling-apart squash, and rich tomato. If your ratatouille is destined to be a pasta sauce, as the Human Vacuum insists it should always be, this recipe is particularly excellent.

A note: I don't mess around with low-fat versions of this recipe. My mother-out-law does a very solid, very easy, version of ratatouille where she roasts all the veggies then tosses them together. But when you're in the mood for a rich version, with enough olive oil to keep the Mafia in business, this is the recipe to turn to. In the recipe below, I've specified the order of veggies. After each round, you can just dump them in one big bowl to keep them ready for the final phase--no need to dirty up the kitchen with a bunch of separate containers.


In a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven, heat:
4 Tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, roughly chopped (sweet ones, if possible)

Cook until translucent, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Turn the heat to high and add additional oil if needed, plus:
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes (some people do elaborate things to remove the water from the eggplant before cooking. I just cook the damn things over high heat and it seems evaporate enough water to prevent soupiness in the final product)

Cook until browned and soft, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Turn heat back to medium-high and add additional oil if needed, plus:
3 medium yellow squash, cubed
3 medium zucchini, cubed

Cook until soft, turn the heat to low, then return all vegetables to the pan and add:
1 can tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons savory, or thyme
generous pinches of salt and pepper

At this point, you could stir vigorously and it would be delicious to eat right off the bat. But if you make the ratatouille in advance and leave it over the burner on low until you're ready to eat it will improve with every additional minute on the stove. Other cookbooks say that it's even better if you make the ratatouille way in advance and leave it in the fridge overnight. I've never managed to plan that far in advance, so I pass that pearl of culinary wisdom along on the strength of hearsay alone.

In other news, there's a movie out this summer from Pixar about a French rat who happens to be an incurable gourmand. And what else could it possibly be called, but...Ratatouille. Watch the preview here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Indian Okra with Yogurt

My first encounter with okra was at Gatsby's Tavern when I was 8. I'd been dragged there for a bit of school-sponsored historical tourism, and a soup plate was slapped down in front of me--by a costumed serving wench, of course--of some mysterious brown goo with a single okra perched on top, whole and glistening with slime in the candlelight. It looked, to my eight year old eyes, like the severed limb of some tiny space alien. Needless to say, the whole experience took some getting over. But Sam and Omie's, on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, sped along the healing process a couple of years later when the ToastFamily discovered their fingerburningly crisp, delicious little nubbins of fried okra tossed into the veggie basket.

This dish is nothing like either of those okra moments--but marvelous in its own way. I make this pretty often, as a default when I impulse-buy okra. (Editor's note: What kind of a sick person uses the words "impulse buy" and "okra" in the same sentence?)

Neither crispy nor soggy/scary/E.T., this is okra at its most vegetable-like. The soft, strongly flavored onions twine around the slightly sticky bits of lightly browned okra. Each bite has a nice pop/crunch and a slight yogurt sourness to it. If you're a fan of particularly spicy Indian food, go whole hog with the peppers here--you will be rewarded.

Okra with Yogurt

In a huge skillet over medium heat, warm:
2-3 Tablespoons oil

Add, and fry until soft and just barely beginning to brown:
2 large onions, thinly sliced

Add, and fry 2-3 minutes, until fragrant:
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or mircroplaned
2 medium chiles (I like Thai peppers), minced
1/2 teaspoon onion seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Add, and fry 3-4 minutes on higher heat until beginning to caramelize:
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 Tablespoons coconut milk (2 teaspoons dried coconut can be substituted)

Keep the heat on high, and add:
1 lb fresh okra, washed, topped, tailed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (I've never made this with frozen, but I suspect that it might not be worth it.)

Stir fry for a few minutes until the edges of the okra begin to brown. The goal is to move fast to get the okra from becoming gluey.

3 Tablespoons plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring. Serve very hot, with rice for a meal for two, or as a veggie side for a curry banquet.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

DMBLGiT: Winners!

I won't do any scripted Oscar-style lead-in here. The photo submissions were of extremely high quality, and the winners speak for themselves.

The most original submission was an easy pick:

Sam from Becks & Posh effortlessly destroyed the competition with her freaky "Alien Tomato, Pregnant with Strawberry". She must have known it was a winner for originality, since it's now featured in her blog header.

The photo we wanted to lick off the screen was clear:

Peabody from Culinary Concoctions submitted a Lemon Meringue Pie that won the judges' hearts and stomachs in the edibility category.

The most aesthetically pleasing photo:

Natalia of From Our Kitchen used her submission email to try to bribe the judges with chocolate. Let this be a lesson to you all. Kidding! Her financiers won it on the merits for aesthetics.

We have a tie for Overall Winner between:

Bea of La Tartine Gourmande with her Slow Roasted Tomato Tart with Arugula, Caramelized Onions and Shaved Parmesan.

And Anita of Dessert First with her Matcha Opera Cake.

Thanks to Ian, Elaine, and Patty of the Harvard Business School Wine and Cuisine Society for judging, and thanks to everyone who entered.

A couple of honorable mentions:

Johanna at The Passionate Cook submitted raspberry & apple jam on brioche. Though it didn't quite break into the winner's circle, the judges found the photo simple and endearing.

Mellie of Tummy Rumbles sent a whimsically titled "Blood Orange which is just about to be turned into a Blood Orange Rosemary Marmalade." The crisp, sharp shot was reminiscent of the taste of citrus "which is about to be turned into marmalade." An all-around excellent photo.

Anyone curious to know their scores and/or comments can drop me a line anytime.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Honeydew Ice Cream: The September Backlog Project Continues

If I may say so: I am a genius.

From time to time, I buy a melon. Not cantaloupe, which I'm convinced tastes of paint fumes. Honeydew. Delicious, cool, pale green honeydew. When I get home from the grocery store, I perform an intergenerational rite of the ToastWomen. I halve, quarter, slice, peel, and cube the melon and then put it in a Tupperware in the fridge so that I can pluck out chilly cubes for the next few days whenever I fancy a bite of something sweet. I remember being a tiny child and watching my grandmother perform this ritual with each new melon that arrived in her Florida house, to which ToastSister and I were dispatched each summer for a couple of weeks.

This particular September honeydew sat in the fridge a little too long and lost its bite. Instead of tossing it, I thought I'd use the mushy melon to lose my frozen dessert virginity. I don't have an ice cream maker, and the whole process of making ice creams and sorbets has long intimidated me. But quick, before I could psych myself out of it, I dumped the melon and its juices, some confectioners sugar, and a bit of Rose's lime into the blender. The result was a divine honeydew smoothie. After a few hours in the freezer, it was a decent sorbet. But it needed something. Namely, cream. I tossed the sorbet back in the blender, added a glug of cream, and that's when the magic happened. I fed it to the Human Vacuum, who moaned his appreciation. I snuck bites at all hours of the day and night. And each bite came with the same happy little though: I made ice cream! And not just ice cream, but gen-u-ine snooty, unusually flavored, trendy ice cream.

I am a genius. (And so modest!)

Honeydew Ice Cream

In the blender, add:
1/2 very ripe honeydew melon, cut into chunks
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 Tablespoon Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice (or 1 teaspoon lime juice and a little extra sugar)

Whirr for a long time, until very well blended. Slowly add:
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, tasting periodically to assess creaminess.

Pour into a Tupperware and freeze, stirring occasionally.

I found that the texture ice cream was improved by one or two re-blendings--I just dumped the frozen honeydew ice cream block back into the blender and reprocessed it. But it's pretty decent as-is, too.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Plum Pastry: The September Backlog

In September, I had occasion to go out into the wilds of Boston's surprisingly rural suburbs. Once there, I was shunted off on a worthwhile trip to the Idylwilde market. I grabbed a pint of unsexily named prune plums (and some gorgeous tomatoes and peppers). I ate one of the purple-black plums when I got home, and was pretty underwhelmed.

As usual, my impulse buy was threatening to rot a few days later. I googled and discovered that you're supposed to bake the damn things. Who knew? They're not very juicy so they go well in pies and tarts, and when you cook them they become sweet and tender. Thus, the dessert below.

Plum Pastry

Wash, pit, and quarter:
20 prune plums, also known as Italian plums, or black plums

Bring a few cups of fruity red wine to a simmer (whatever's left in last night's bottle, for example) and dump in the plums. Simmer the plums until they're soft and dyed purple-red from the wine. Drain, and set the plums aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Open up a package of:
Thawed puff pastry
Lay the pastry out on an ungreased cookie sheet and cut it into eight rectangles. Spoon the wine-soaked plums onto the centers of pastry squares.

Mix together, then sprinkle over the plums:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Beat together:
1 egg
1 Tablespoon milk
Brush the egg mixture onto the exposed edges of the pastry.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until pastry puffs, turns golden, and cooks through.

Serve hot.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

DMBLGiT: Round-up, The Revenge

The third and final part of the DMBLGiT September round-up. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Jenjen of Milk and Cookies submits Iced Cinnamon Snails captured by her Canon EOS 300D.

Anne of Anne's Food sends over a bowl of Pink Peppercorn Biscotti snapped on her Nikon d70s.

Reb of CucinaRebecca offers Frangelico creme caramel with hazlenut praline from a Casio Exlim.

Jeff of C for Cooking serves up cupcakes snapped on his Canon 30D, "shot in RAW, processed in Canon Photo Editor."

JBD of Kiss the Hem of her Apron sends Diet Coke Cake shot with a Canon PowerShot S2 IS and with "a little lighting-tweaking in Picasa."

Nemisbeka of Domestic Goddess zips over Ladies' Kisses, "it's a cookie
originating from Piedmont, Italy," seized on her Fuji Finepix S7700.

Helen at Tartelette submits Chocolate-Filled Raspberries and Cream from her Canon PowerShot A610.

Andrea at Andrea's Recipe Box delivers Pizza Caprese hot from her Canon Powershot S70.

Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once offers Spanish Cinnamon Doughnuts captured on her Nikon D50.

Jennifer from Bake or Break serves Alton Brown's Pizza zapped from her Nikon D50.

Julie of A Mingling of Tastes snapped a Lucky Charms Frittata on her Canon SD600.

Kendle and his wife, the team producing My Husband Cooks sent over another frittata from their Canon PowerShot S500, which arrived in my inbox just a few minutes after Julie's.

Lisa of Homesick Texan serves up chicken fried steak, hot from her D200 with a manual 55mm macro lens. And she sent a haiku, because she rocks the house:
Second day of fall--
Photo contest entry due.
Does my blog look good?

Lara of Cookbook 411 sent in a spectacularly late entry, a Thai Inspired Fresh Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary. And her entry concludes the wrap up.

Stay tuned for the results of the contest soon.

DMBLGiT: The Round-Up Continues

DMBLGiT September round-up, Part 2. See Part 1 and Part 3.

Amy of Cooking with Amy sent over Pasta Puttanesca, from her Canon S2 IS.

Mellie of Tummy Rumbles enclosed a shot of "Blood Orange which is just about to be turned into a Blood Orange Rosemary Marmalade" captured on her Sony Digital A100 SLR.

Scott of Eat With Me offered up Pesto Risotto with Sauteed Chickin in a Shallot Butter Au Jus from his FujiFilm Finepoint digital camera.

Anita of Dessert First creates Matcha Opera Cake and snaps it on her Canon IXUS 55.

The Chocolate Lady of In Mol Araan sends along a plum smoothie, and a rose.

Bea of La tartine gourmande offers up Slow Roasted Tomato Tart with Arugula, Caramelized Onions and Shaved Parmesan captured on her Canon 30D.

Fahara of Souperior presents Mango & Douglas Fir Puree, bavarois of lychee & mango, blackcurrant sorbet, grabbed by her Casio QV-R51 Digital.

Natalia of From Our Kitchen used her submission email to try to bribe the judges with chocolate. (It almost worked.) She submitted financiers caught on a Canon Rebel all in a row.

Mae of Rice and Noodles serves up some tiger prawn springrolls grabbed on her Canon EOS 350D.

Mary of Alpineberry enters Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars captured on a Canon Powershot A95.

Stefanie of Couteau Bonswan offers variations on blackberry pie from a Nikon CoolPix 4300.

Emma of the Laughing Gastronome submits beetroot tabouli from a Canon Digital IXUS 40.

Rachael of Fresh Approach sends Kimchi Pasta Salad from her Kodak Easy Share.

Catherine of Albion Cooks offers up squash blossoms shot on her Canon PowerShot A95.

Riana at For The Love of Baking opted for steamed brownies snapped on her Canon PowerShot A95.

Y at Lemonpi sends Mince Pies from a Canon Digital IXUS 400.

Jenny of All Things Edible took the afternoon off to find this market basket of goodies, snapped on her Nikon Coolpix 4600.

Genie from Inadvertent Gardner sent over her "First, Best Tomato," gathered on her Canon PowerShot SD450.

DMBLGiT: The Round-Up Finally Begins

At long last, the appallingly late round-up for September's Does My Blog Look Good in This. Here's the first dozen or so. See Part 2 and Part 3 for more.

Johanna at The Passionate Cook submitted raspberry & apple jam on brioche.

Meena at Hooked on Heat beat the heat with Spicy Pepper Mushrooms.

Sam from Becks & Posh snapped "Alien Tomato, Pregnant with Strawberry".

Annie from Bon Appegeek captured snowy cubed fresh paneer, "with a Canon Powershot S2 IS digicam. Image cropped, resized, white balance adjusted slightly, and sharpened a bit to offset effects of resizing."

Peabody from Culinary Concoctions whipped up Lemon Meringue Pie, and caught it on her "Nikon Coolpix 4600--just my cheap-o camera."

Ninnie at Mitaine ecarlate framed Carres chocolates a la feves Tonka, au yogourt et pommes with her Canon PowerShot G1.

Luisa at Wednesday Chef offers homemade peach gelato "made during the August heatwave that practically crippled the entire Northeast." She "used a Panasonic Lumix DMC FX-7. I edited the photo with Picasa's 'I'm Feeling Lucky' feature."

Anu of Food-n-More snapped Coconut Ladoos with a touch of Saffron with her Sony DSC- P73.

Nicole at Pinch My Salt submitted cinnamon swirl bread photographed on a Canon 300D.

Andrew from Spitoon offers Ice Cream by the Thames, shot on his Canon EOS 350D, with exposure of 0.004 sec (1/250), aperture of f/5.6, focal Length of 200 mm, ISO Speed of 200, exposure Bias of 0/2 EV, and no flash.

More entries coming later today!