Squash Blossoms

June 11th, 2010

I’ve been doing very well at getting to the farmer’s market recently–it requires good time management on Sunday mornings–much better than I’m doing getting out running today :)  Last Sunday one of my favorite vendors was selling squash blossoms, and I gave in to the temptation.  I’ve never tried stuffing squash blossoms before, but I’ve eaten and loved other people’s versions of the dish.I prepared a mixture of herbed goat cheese and ricotta, adding a bit of low-fat peppercorn ranch at the end because I had it around, and it helped smooth the texture.  Proportions can be chosen according to your taste, and what makes an easier texture to deal with.  Stuffing the blossoms is not easy: I want to have an icing bag type of thing next time, it will be easier to get it inside the flowers without tearing them.I found a recipe on Epicurious which had a great batter recipe: 1/2 cup + 1 T flour, 1/3 cup grated parmesan, and 3/4 cup chilled club soda.  I mostly followed it, and it made a fabulous light and crispy batter for the blossoms.  Since I didn’t use a fryer (or deep enough oil) the blossoms got stuck a little, and certainly weren’t as pretty as they could have been, but they were delicious!  Dipped in marinara (I used an artichoke marinara) I loved them!

Adventures with Tilapia

June 1st, 2010

I’m new at working with fish.  I’m comfortable with salmon now, but have not done well with other types of fish I’ve attempted to cook (the swordfish was an exceptional fail).  The problem being that I don’t really like fish, but I’ve been trying to slowly change my palate over the last couple of years.  I love food in general enough to be disappointed in myself for not being able to say, order a chef’s menu without restrictions, so I’m trying to change.I was very brave my last night of vacation in Germany, and ordered a fish dish–the fish was Zander (which might have helped my decision 😉  and it was served over a tomato sauce with asparagus and morel mushrooms.  It was exquisite.  Two weeks in Europe, eating in England, Amsterdam, Paris, and Germany: and the restaurant Florian in the small German town of Radolfzel produced my best meal by far this trip.  I attempted it tonight, sort of–I used tilapia, since that’s what looked good and was reasonably priced at the market, and the results were delicious.  It was very simple, and though it creates a decent pile of dishes, could be completed in less than 30 minutes.  Even better!The tomato sauce was made with approximately one part tomato paste, 2 parts chicken broth, and 1 part white wine (I used the Sancerre I was serving with the meal).  Simmer for around 15 minutes, until it’s got a bit of thickness to it.  Add salt and pepper if you wish, but only at the end: reducing intensifies flavor!  **Important edit: I added a heaping teaspoon of sour cream to the tomato sauce at the very end, which added an important creamy kick to it!**I served this with israeli couscous, a tiny round pasta.  To wash one less dish, I sauteed the morels in olive oil in the saucepan destined for the couscous, then removed them when they were done and added the couscous, sauteed until browned, then added the water to cook (per box’s directions).  You can use as many morels as you want: I had 5-6 small morels per person, cut in half and well rinsed before sauteeing.  They’re bloody expensive, but I had enough for three people for $4, when they were $30 per pound.I love a flash saute on asparagus, with a large garlic clove per person diced and done with it.  Olive oil, garlic, asparagus, and fresh basil sliced and added in at the last minute (or asparagus with 1-2 T of pre-made pesto), sauteed for 4-5 minutes is delicious.  I did the tilapia at the same time, frying in a cast iron skillet in olive oil for 2-3 minutes per side, until opaque and maybe starting to brown.  I squeezed half a lemon (total) onto each side of the fish, and did 3 filets.It was delicious, and was a beautiful pair with the Sancerre we drank.  I’m finishing the last glass of the Sancerre now, and it’s still too lovely.

Chile and Honey glazed Salmon

May 28th, 2010

It’s been a long time since I followed a recipe so closely, and it’s nice that it’s payed off.  Salmon glazed with a honey-chile sauce, served on top of a roasted tomatillo salsa and with a chipotle black bean sauce.  The spices of the sauces contrasted and balanced with the sour cream, the various layers of spice melding beautifully.  Much more picante than I expected (the sour cream helped balance that), but in a very manageable fashion.  The recipe, courtesy of Food and Wine and Chef Bobby Flay:http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chile-honey-glazed-salmon-with-two-saucesI’ll make it again, but I’ll probably do it with chicken: the salmon had almost too much flavor for the sauces.  The recommended pairing of Pinot Noir was wonderful.  I went with a Swiss version I brought back from my recent trip, an AOC Vetroz Grand Cru, light but with great spice, it interacted beautifully with the food.

Pork and Kimchi Dumplings

May 25th, 2010

Apologies for the excessive delay on posting–the inspiration comes and goes.  I’m just back from two weeks of vacation, where I barely had to cook at all, and it left me inspired to cook some new and interesting things.  I’ve started subscribing to Food and Wine, and after a few months have decided I should actually use their recipes.  So I clipped a few, and started last night with pork and kimchi dumplings, a recipe from their May issue.I wasn’t too sure about the kimchi, but decided to give it a go, and am glad I did.  It was balanced very nicely by the ground pork, with ginger and garlic added.  My all-purpose dipping sauce for dumplings (which can also be used as a salad dressing) is a mix of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, water (equal parts of the first four) and freshly ground black pepper to taste.The dumplings were delicious!  But while the preparation wasn’t complicated, it was very time consuming and labor-intensive, putting all the dumplings together.  It would have been even more so had I made my own dough.  I also made avocado and pickled ginger sushi rolls, and sauteed cabbage and carrots on the side.  A very tasty dinner, and I’m happy to have two bags of dumplings leftover in the freezer to eat later!I served this with Sauvignon Blanc, which worked, but I think a dry Riesling or a fuller-bodied Pinot Grigio would work even better.  Let me know if you want the full recipe!

Mousse au Chocolat

February 18th, 2010

It’s been a while since I made chocolate mousse.  And the last time I did, my sister-in-law (who is an amazing pastry chef) did most of the work.  So I carefully studied the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and prayed that my substitutions would work.

Since I had gotten myself snowed in without any granulated sugar, I had to substitute.  The maple sugar I did have seemed the best bet–a closer texture to superfine sugar than the brown sugar that was my other option.  I had just enough sugar cubes left to pound them fine to add to the egg whites while beating.  This is not a house that uses much sugar.  The other big challenge the house brought me was the lack of an electric mixer–beating both egg yolks and egg whites by hand is not something I would want to do every day.  But it was worth it.

I had amazing (but old) bittersweet spiced chocolate balls that I had bought at the Valrhona Chocolate shop in Tain l’Hermitage almost two years ago.  A bit chalky on the outside, chocolate mousse is the best way to use up old chocolate.  I didn’t understand why the egg yolks, sugar, and orange liqueur (I used a mixture of Campari, Cointreau, and Rose Syrup) needed to be whipped in so many stages–at room temperature, then on top of an almost-simmering pan of hot water, then on top of cold water–but it all came together.

The texture worked–that lightness along with the richness–and the spiciness from the chocolate was a delicious kick.   It was a perfect finish to a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner!

Malay Rose

February 10th, 2010

I grew up in Gamboa, a small town in the Republic of Panama, situated where the Chagres River meets the Canal.  There were various fruiting trees in the town, but my favorite was one whose fruit we called Rose Apple.  This wasn’t its correct name–the tree is Syzygium malaccense, and the proper common name is Malay Apple–but it persisted in Panama, and always seemed more accurate to me, given the glorious dark pink color of the fruit’s skin.  The flesh itself was white, light-textured and a bit spongy when properly ripe, and deliciously tart with rosy overtones.  There was always a beautiful time of anticipation as the tree prepared to fruit–after the flowers were polinated, the bright fuschia petals would fall and carpet the ground under the tree, a lovely sight.  It’s been too many years since I was home during their fruiting season, and I need to change that.  

My cocktail games have produced a drink that reminds me of this fruit, and I’ve called it the Malay Rose.  The color of the drink is a color some varieties of the fruit attain in nature, and balances floral and tart in a way I really enjoy.

The Malay Rose

2 oz Gin
0.25 oz Campari
0.25 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz lemon juice
0.25 oz rose syrup

Shake ingredients over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.  A variety of gins can work in this drink–Damrak is a favorite for this mix, as is Bombay (NOT Sapphire!).  Using a lighter, more floral gin like Hendrick’s or G’vine Fleuraison changes the nature of the cocktail, but can still be nice for the milder version that it is.  Rose Syrup can be found at Shemali’s, a fabulous Lebanese grocery in Foxhall Square down the hall from my place of employment, and at other Middle Eastern shops.   I hope you like it!

Gruner Veltliner!

February 8th, 2010

You can never be sure what to expect when you open an older bottle of wine–especially white wine.  So many modern wines just aren’t meant to age in the first place, and so many things can happen to the bottle to kill a wine that might have survived otherwise, temperature fluctuation being at the top of the list.  So when I open a bottle of older white wine and find something charming, I’m especially pleased.

Throwing Gruner Veltliner into this equation improves the odds–it’s a very age-able white grape, and naturally quite delightful.  I had a funny bottle around, and so decided to open it to go with my chicken pot pie for dinner (winter comfort food is dominating the menu right now, and with another foot of accumulation forecast for tomorrow, I may keep that up).  The 2005 Wimmer Czerny Weelfel Gruner Veltliner Alte Gruben turned out to be sweeter than I expected, but still delicious: candied melon, with honey and lemon hints, with enough acidity to balance the sugar.  Immensely enjoyable!

Gruner is my favorite grape to pair with vegetarian food, and goes very well with a lot of seafood and chicken as well.  And I have a special fondness for grapes that are hard to pronounce.  Cheers!

Celery Bitters Tasting

February 7th, 2010

The Bitter Truth Bitters are now available in our fair city, which is a very exciting prospect.  Bitters are a wonderful component not only of cocktails, but of cooking, and the flavors in this new brand are intense and wonderful.  The most unusual flavor in this new batch is Celery Bitters.  I’ve used them more for cooking so far–savory cocktails are not my specialty–but did want to do a tasting with Martinis.

I love a good Martini–I prefer mine with two parts gin to one part Dolin Dry Vermouth.  Hendrick’s is a favorite of mine, though I know many gin purists who seriously disagree with that opinion.  While recommending options for using celery bitters in a Martini to customers, I was surprised by how many recommended using Hendrick’s.  Infused with cucumber and rose, I prefer to play up the floral elements, or contrast it with citrus.  I was more inclined to use a more classically styled gin, like Bombay or Plymouth.

As I had both Plymouth and Hendrick’s on my bar, I decided to give them both a try.  I made two Martinis, identical but for the gin: two parts gin, one part dry vermouth, and 2-3 dashes celery bitters.  While the one using Hendrick’s was still good, the flavors of the celery bitters overwhelmed the milder gin, and many of its subtle flavors were lost.  The strength of the Plymouth was perfectly matched by the bitters, and was kicked up when I added a garnish of sliced baby dill gherkins.

Sweet Potato and Pork Shepherd’s Pie

February 6th, 2010

Sadly, the Boeuf Bourgignon turned out to be a total loss, burning to a crisp.  I’ll have to try that again.  It certainly killed my cooking buzz, so I’m happy there’s leftover Sweet Potato and Pork Shepherd’s Pie from last night.

Based on a recipe from an Andrew Schloss cookbook, this sounded like a fun variation on a dish I love.  I find sweet potatoes a bit much on their own, so I mixed them half and half with rutabaga when I made the mash for the topping, smoothed by a mix of butter and plain yogurt, which gives it a nice tang.  I cut the pork loin into bite sized pieces and sauteed them in olive oil with sage, thyme, cumin, and a bit of salt and pepper.  When they were nicely browned I transferred them to the casserole dish, then added a diced onion to the saute pan.  When it was almost translucent I added about a cup of sherry, more thyme and sage, and lots of dashes of The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters.  When it reduced a bit, I stirred in about 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt, and immediately poured it over the pork.  I spooned the mash on top, sprinkled parmesan over the mash, then baked it at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the parmesan had browned.  Delicious!

So while my original dinner plans ended in devastation, I will be comforted by leftover Shepherd’s Pie, and by opening a great bottle of wine to go with it: Jerome Chezeaux Bourgogne Rouge 2005.

Snowpocalypse Activities

February 6th, 2010

I love cooking while I’m snowed in.  There’s close to two feet on the ground outside, and it’s still falling.  I have absolutely no interest in being out in that (Washington is betraying me this winter!), and love the extra free time to try new recipes.  Luckily my refrigerator is fully stocked with what I need for my first attempt at a classic: Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon.

I love Julia Child.  My first attempt at a roast leg of lamb was made with the help of one of her more recent cookbooks, The Way to Cook, that I checked out of the library.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking would be my choice if I had to choose only one cookbook to use.  I admire her for not only her talent as a chef, but for discovering it later in life, and for being a loud American who the French loved.

While braising is one of my favorite techniques for working with meat, I have never attempted this classic.  It’s currently simmering away in my oven, and I can’t wait for dinner.  I’m also mildly injured from the experience, with multiple burns from spitting fat while the bacon, and then the beef, were sauteing.  More to follow after dinner, once I’ve tasted it.