Sunday, August 28, 2016

Green Onion Pancakes

These are one of my favorite things to make, because they can be appetizers or a main course, they take very few ingredients, and they're very easy to make. It can be a little tedious to roll them out, but even that doesn't take very long. And as a bonus, people are usually very impressed both with the execution and the result.

The first time I made green onion pancakes was with a different recipe than the one I'm giving here. It didn't specify that the water for the dough should be boiling, and it didn't have the multiple roll-outs of the dough. These things make a huuuge difference! As did an old gas range and a powerful, newer one, but that was just a benefit of moving.

Now, this recipe is from Serious Eats by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Pancakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
Up to 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil (I actually like regular sesame oil better)
2 cups thinly sliced scallion greens

Dipping sauce:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinkiang or rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp finely sliced scallion greens
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp sugar

To cook:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Kosher salt

Combine all the sauce ingredients and set aside at room temperature. (The original recipe has this step much later, but I feel it's important to do this early on or the sugar won't have time to dissolve)

Place flour in bowl of food processor. With processor running, slowly drizzle in about 3/4 of boiling water. Process for 15 seconds. If dough does not come together and ride around the blade, drizzle in more water a tablespoon at a time until it just comes together. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to overnight in the fridge.

Divide dough into four even pieces and roll each into a smooth ball. Working one ball at a time, roll out into a disk roughly 8-inches in diameter on a lightly floured surface. Using a pastry brush, paint a very thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk. Roll disk up like a jelly roll, then twist roll into a tight spiral, tucking the end underneath. Flatten gently with your hand, then re-roll into an 8-inch disk.

Paint with another layer of sesame oil, sprinkle 1/2 cup scallions, and roll up like a jelly roll again. Twist into a spiral, flatten gently, and re-roll into a 7-inch disk. Repeat steps two and three with remaining pancakes.

Heat oil in an 8-inch nonstick or cast-iron (I use a wok) over medium-high heat until shimmering and carefully slip pancake into the hot oil. cook, shaking the pan gently until first side is an even golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula or tongs, and continue to cook, shaking pan gently, until second side is even golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season with salt, cut into 6 wedges. Serve immediately with sauce for dipping. Repeat with remaining 3 pancakes.

NOTE: If you don't have a food processor, just stir the flour with a wooden spoon or chopsticks in a large bowl as you add the boiling water. After it comes together, turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead for five minutes until satiny and smooth. Proceed as instructed

This chef has great insights into why these techniques are the best ones and how they improve the recipe. If you like this recipe, I would check out his other stuff. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Crab Mac and Cheese

One of the most consistently good cookbooks I've ever gotten was from Julie when I got married. It's Nigel Slater's Eat. All of the recipes are simple, not too many ingredients, and written in paragraph form, which I found off-putting at first but quickly learned to love. So here is one of the first things I ever made out of it: crab mac and cheese.

Crab Mac and Cheese

8 oz medium-sized pasta (penne, serpentelli, macaroni)
10 oz lump crab meat
1+2/3 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Boil pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water for about 9 minutes, til tender. Drain and return to the saucepan, then add milk, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, and whole-grain mustard and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, stir in crab meat, and simmer gently, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

Check the seasoning, then transfer to a deep baking dish. Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmesan, scatter on top, and bake for 20 minutes, til bubbling around edges.

And I recommend everyone get Eat, because it really is great for fast, easy meals!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Best Mapo Tofu

Hi!

I'm Hannah, Julie's daughter, who now has access to this blog to post all my favorite recipes!

So to start off, here is a recipe for Mapo tofu from "Serve the People: A Stir-fried Journey Through China" by Jen Lin-Liu. Now, I will say that one ingredient we used is probably not what the recipe actually intends. The recipe calls for broadbean paste (doubanjiang), which exists in plain and spicy versions. The way the author calls for chili sauce in equal part to broadbean paste in other recipes in the book makes me think it's meant to be the plain version. I couldn't find a kind that didn't have chili in it at the Vietnamese or Thai grocery stores I go to, so I just used Lee Kum Kee's chili bean sauce, which has broadbean paste in it but also a hefty dose of chili. So my husband was a big fan, partly because he takes very spicy food as a challenge, but I like it with a little bit less chili bean sauce. I could have tried a Chinese market, but I'm not made of trips to the store. And I like this version anyway.

"The Best" Mapo Tofu

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons minced leek or scallion
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/4 cup broadbean paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup water
1 package firm tofu, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine

Add the oil to a wok and place over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beef, breaking it into small pieces and stirring until it begins to brown. Add the following ingredients, stirring for a minute between each addition: leek and ginger, broadbean paste, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, and sugar. Add the water, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tofu, raise the heat to high, and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the ground Sichuan peppercorns and remove from the heat. Serve immediately.

It's easy, fast, and delicious!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Chorizo-Rice Casserole

This is from Texas Home Cooking by Cheryl and Bill Jamison. They say: this casserole is something of a cross between a Tex-Mex picadillo and a Cajun Jambalaya.

Our family says, "This is like Grandma's Texas Hash."

Anyone who didn't grow up in Texas is going to think of something like Corned Beef Hash and say, "What? Hash has chopped potatoes." But in Texas, it has rice instead. And ground beef. And a Mexican flair, if you are lucky.

After being introduced to the Davis family Texas Hash, I tried the recipe below and then began adapting it for our family's preferences. I like the raisins but the rest of the family — not so much. (Lines are through items I just don't include.)

Delicious!

Chorizo-Rice Casserole
I double the recipe and simmer it for 20-30 minutes on the stovetop. For one thing our chorizo comes in 1 pound frozen packages from a local butcher. For another, we like leftovers!)

1/2 pound good store bought Chorizo
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small tomatoes, preferably Roma, chopped (or canned, diced tomatoes)
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium red skinned potato, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped

3/4 cup uncooked rice
1/2 c. currants or raisins
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground (I just use ground and move on)
1-3/4 cups unsalted beef or chicken stock (I use 2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large oven-proof skillet, preferably cast iron, brown chorizo over medium heat, breaking it into small pieces. Pour off the accumulated fat as necessary to leave no more than about 1 tablespoon.

Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, celery, potato and bell pepper to the chorizo and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are limp and somewhat tender.

Add the rice, currants, chili powder, and cumin, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the stock, cover the dish, and bake casserole for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the peanuts and cilantro. Serve the casserole immediately.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Favorite Meat Loaf

I've never been a meat loaf fan but for some obscure reason I tried recipe after recipe looking for one I could love. When I came across this in James Beard's American Cookery, I knew I'd found my meat loaf at last. For one thing, it is covered in bacon. For another, it has strong seasoning anchored by sausage. For the third thing ... did I mention the bacon?

Another advantage is that you shape the loaf without putting it in a loaf pan. That means it isn't soggy because the fat has somewhere else to go than soaking into the loaf. That makes the texture nice and firm.

It is the meat loaf I cooked for my family winter after winter and I really love it.


Favorite Meat Loaf

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork (sausage meat will do)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fairly large onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon summer savory (I never have this on hand and it works fine without it)
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Bacon or salt pork cut in strips

Thoroughly blend the meats, garlic, onion, seasonings, and crumbs.

Add the eggs and blend again.

Arrange the bacon or salt pork slices on the bottom of a shallow baking pan or dish 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep. (I use a jelly roll pan.)

Form the meat into a loaf of rather even proportions and lay it upon the strips. Lay a few additional strips of bacon or pork across the top of the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Test with a meat thermometer, and when its center has reached 150 degrees it is done.

The recipe says to baste, but that's what the bacon on top is for. Am I right? Of course I am!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Supremes

This recipe is from Maida Heatter's Cookies. She says: These are rich walnut-oatmeal bars with a baked-in sweet chocolate filling. The recipe gives a large yield and the cookies are generally best stored in the refrigerator and served cold.

They're all that and more. Everyone just loves these, they make a ton, and they freeze well. What's kind of funny is that I've never cared for them that much. But I'm the only one, believe me.

Supremes

Makes 32 to 48 large or 64 small bars

2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
3 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oatmeal
7 ounces (2 cups) walnuts, cut or broken into medium pieces

Chocolate Filling:

1 15-oz can sweetened condensed milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla


Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat to 350°. Butter a 15-1/2 x 10-1/2 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter. Add the coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Beat well. Add the eggs and beat well. On low speed gradually beat in the sifted dry ingredients and then the oatmeal, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Finally mix in 1 cup of the walnuts (reserve the remainder for the topping).

Remove and reserve 2 cups of the dough. Place the remainder by large spoonfuls over the bottom of the buttered pan. With well-floured finger-tips press all over to make a smooth, even layer. Set aside and prepare the following filling.

Chocolate Filling:

Place the condensed milk, chocolate, butter, and salt in the top of a large double-boiler over hot water on moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. (I live on the wild side by just using a regular pan and stirring continually over low heat.)

Remove the top of the double-boiler from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the warm chocolate mixture over the bottom oatmeal layer and spread evenly. Place the reserved oatmeal mixture by small spoonfuls over the chocolate, letting the chocolate show through between the spoonfuls. Do not spread smooth. Sprinkle the reserved cup of walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Reverse the pan front to back once toward the end of baking to insure even browning. (I also don't reverse the pan. A daredevil, that's me.) The top mounds will flatten slightly but they will not run together to cover the chocolate.

Cool completely in pan at room temperature (not in the refrigerator) for several hours. Cut into bars. If cookies are too soft to cut, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes before cutting.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Second Verse, Same as the First: Thanksgiving Cooking

Thanksgiving means much loved favorites that only get trotted out once a year. And I'm ok with that. So no weird variations to try to make these much loved favorites "new" or "fresh." Just good, honest Thanksgiving cooking.

These dishes, for us, represent the perfect versions of their oeuvre.

Our day-after-Thanksgiving meal also is mandated by tradition. Chef salad featuring turkey (of course), blue cheese dressing and crumbled bacon (the real thing please!) on top. Mmmmmm, crumbled bacon ... except that since we do meatless Fridays, this feast actually comes on a Saturday.

Here are a few links to recipes I've posted before.

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing
This is the best stuffing ever and cooks in a slow cooker. I have made this five times now and never been disappointed. It really frees up the oven for other things and, if you happen to have a problem with sticking your hand up a turkey (no problemo here) then you're set free from that as well.

Skillet Cornbread
If you happen to like cornbread stuffing (which I do not), you may want to make this for your base. I've never found a better recipe.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble
The funny bone in the menu is the sweet potato selection which in the past I have always played around with. Here is my current favorite.

Cranberry Ginger Relish
I also used to change up the cranberry recipe from year to year. No longer. This relish is practically perfect in every way!

Perfect Piecrust
This is not a misnomer. Very easy and very delicious. It is long but that is because of the detailed directions. You can't go wrong with this.

Pecan Pie
This is non-negotiable. Gotta have it.

Pumpkin Pie

Are you allowed to have Thanksgiving without this? Or watch the Cowboys play without having some? Nope.

AND Afterward ...
What do you do with the turkey carcass? I used to toss it, until being given a fantastic recipe for Turkey Bone Gumbo.

It is fantastically simple, especially if you fear not the roux which has been given a bad rap as far as I can tell. It does take some time but I do it in steps here and there so that on Sunday we have a delicious bowl of gumbo that hasn't been much trouble at all.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

From The Cake Mix Doctor which has some really terrific frosting recipes. Never, ever use frosting from a can.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoons salt

Beat the butter and cocoa powder until well combined. Add remaining ingredients and beat until frosting lightens and is fluffy. Add additional milk or sugar if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese
(a.k.a. Basil, Garlic and Cheese Sauce)
via Wikipedia

The Time-Life Foods of the World books gave my family many favorites that were exotic in the 1960s but are standard now. So when Rose asked for our pesto recipe I knew The Cooking of Italy was the place to turn. You'll see many variations in different cookbooks but none are better than this.

It freezes well and that's a good thing because the July Texas sun turns my basil plants into monsters that have me making pesto once a week.

This recipe gives techniques for the blender (this was before food processors which is what I use) and the old fashioned mortar and pestle. I'll just leave that technique out because if someone is using those then they've already got a recipe. And they're more dedicated to authenticity than I'll ever be.

Pesto alla Genovese

Makes about 1-1/2 to 2 cups

2 cups fresh basil leaves, stripped from their stems, coarsely chopped and tightly packed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped pine nuts or walnuts
1 to 1-1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated imported sardo, romano, or Parmesan cheese

Combine the coarsely chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper, garlic, nuts, and 1 cup of olive oil in the blender jar. Blend them at high speed until the ingredients are smooth, stopping the blender every 5 or 6 seconds to push the herbs down with a rubber spatula.

The sauce should be thin enough to run off the spatula easily. If it seems too thick, blend in as much as 1/2 cup more olive oil. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Religion & Food: Paschal Triduum

The Paschal Triduum consists of the three days before Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
HOLY THURSDAY
The German name for Holy Thursday, Gr√ľndonnerstag means "Green Thursday." Green soup made with spinach, parsley, bean sprouts, dill, and cucumber in a chicken or veal stock base; eggs with green sauce; cucumbers and sour cream; and dandelion greens salad are traditional fare in Germany, Austria, and among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

GOOD FRIDAY
... today's the day to indulge in these sweet rolls [hot cross buns] that are either carved with a cross or inscribed with one in icing. Or perhaps you'd prefer the fifteenth-century German custom of eating big fluffy pretzels with (peeled) hard boiled eggs ...

HOLY SATURDAY
The Lenten fast is officially over today although many people continue it until Easter Sunday.
The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fissler Magic Edge Can Opener


This can opener was the top rated in Cook's Illustrated recent look at manual can openers.

I have long disliked the trend of can openers in leaving the lid attached so that you have to wrestle it off the can. I realized finally this was to keep it from falling in the food but the risk of slicing fingers seemed an unacceptable trade off to me.

Rushing to Amazon I saw that it was quite reasonable and ordered one right away.

Then I just had to wait for a can to need opening. We really don't open a lot of cans. Just enough to make using that old fashioned can opener annoying.

At last the long awaited opportunity came up with a can of refried beans. This opener really earned the "magic" moniker. It attached effortlessly, turned easily, opened the lid from under the edge, left no sharp edges, magnetically held the lid and then, with a little backwards turn of the lever, dropped it in the trash.

It's the little things in life that are rewarding. This is one of those little things. Go get one.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Religion & Food: Lenten Food

Simple vegetarian soups are traditional throughout Lent, and each nationality has developed its own Lenten specialty. Consider slurping any -- or all -- of the following for the next forty days:
  • Eastern Europe: Vegetable-based split soups.
  • France: Onion soup, of course! Call it Zuppa Magna di Cipolle and you can claim its Italian.
  • Greece: Tomato soup.
  • Italy: Brodo Magro di Digiuno is made with leeks, onions, carrots, cabbage, and lentils; flavored with sage and bay left. Strained, it's a rich broth for other soups or to use with rice or pasta. Pureed, it's a hearty soup.
  • Russia: Borscht (beet soup) with mushrooms or barley. Sauerkraut and mushroom soup. Cabbage, potato, carrot, and barley soup.
Eastern Orthodox Church adherents still observe strict fasting -- relative to what most Roman Rite Catholics do -- during Lent. In fact, they are required to fast twice a week most of the year anyway. Check out this site to see what rigorous fasting looks like. If you decide to go the complete vegetarian route for the next forty days, check out Mollie Katzen's The Moosewood Cookbook. Published over two decades ago, it's still one of the best resources for vegetarian recipes and especially wonderful soups.

Strange but true: The pretzel is the oldest, traditional, authentically Christian Lenten bread. Some food historians trace its origin back to Roman Christians of the fifth century. Others insist that monks in southern France, or maybe it was northern Italy, cooked this egg- and butter-free snack up in A.D. 610. The former called them bracellae, Latin for "little arms"; the latter called them pretiola, latin for "little reward.

In either account, the dough configuration represents arms folded in prayer and the three holes represent the Trinity. thus you may eat these with impunity, but not gluttony, throughout Lent ...

So where does "pretzel" come from? Germans, who called these breads bretzel ("little bread") ... Palatine Germans, who would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, imported pretzels to the United States in 1710.
The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday and Pancakes

Reposted for your Mardi Gras enjoyment.

Weeks of food antics peak on the last day of pre-Lent, Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Fasten's Eve, or Fastnacht). The name "Shrove" derives from the customary pre-Lenten "shrift" (confession), but it's mostly known for gluttony.

By now we're supposed to have had our last deluxe bacon-cheeseburger for the duration. In the old days, eggs, butter, fat, milk, and cheese were also considered verboten during Lent, so Shrove Tuesday was devoted to emptying the larder. For old times' sake, you might consider following this tradition, which also happens to be a healthier way of eating...

Flipping out over pancakes is so universal on Shrove Tuesday that the holiday is sometimes called "Pancake Tuesday" ... In England, Pancake Day is celebrated with races at which women over the age of sixteen, frying pans in hand, trot over 415 yards while tossing pancakes over at least three times...

In New Orleans, one of the less over-the-top Mardi Gras customs involves baking King's Cake, a yeasty, buttery confection flavored with lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg decorated with purple, yellow, and green icing -- and these aren't even it's most distinguishing characteristics.

A tiny doll of the baby Jesus is baked inside the cake, which, when done, is doled out in huge slices. Whoever gets the slice with the doll provides the King's Cake the following year ... For an authentic King's Cake recipe check out the one at www.theholidayspot.com/mardigras.

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) precedes Ash Wednesday and the period of Lenten fasting. Pancakes were eaten to use up proscribed foods, and it is claimed that their ingredients have special Lenten symbolism: flour is the staff of life; milk is innocence and purity; salt is incorruptibility; and eggs symbolize creation.
Here's my favorite recipe for pancakes. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Religion and Food: Carnival

 
Carnival foods could be regarded as a worldwide phenomenon, if the word "carnival" is taken in its wide sense, meaning any occasion of riotous revelry. However, in the narrower and more commonly used sense it refers to the day or week before Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), when Christians bid farewell to meat for 40 days.

Carnival (a term derived from two Latin words meaning "meat, goodbye") is celebrated most noticeably in Roman Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, France, where various cities hold traditional processions with dancing, mummers, masks, lights, special street foods, etc. The custom traveled to the New World and is conspicuous in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro for example. However, some would say that the calypso and carnival tradition in Trinidad (and Tobago) eclipses by its size and exuberance anything else in the world. DeWitt and Wilan (1993) provide a vivid description of carnival time in Trinidad and of the street foods consumed by the revellers...

Which of the carnival foods enjoyed in modern times can be traced back to pagan times is an interesting question. One obvious candidate is the pancake ... Another is the fritter. An 18th-century poem entitled, "The Oxford Sausage" neatly pairs these items:

Let glad Shrove Tuesday bring the pancake thin
Or fritter rich, with apples stored within.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Green Beans Dijon

This is from a yellowing scrap of paper I tore from the WSJ weekend section some time ago. I'd stuck it in How to Cook Without a Book since it looked as if it could be adapted to one for steam/sauteing vegetables. It turns out, however, that I simply boiled up the green beans and followed the recipe.

I was afraid that much Dijon would be overwhelming but the cream and cumin worked wonders in gentling it to very palatable levels. Simply delicious and very easy.

Note: the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of butter but the Dijon broke up when I followed that method. I threw it out and began again using cream instead of butter. So that's how I tell it below.

Green Beans Dijon

2 tablespoons cream
1/4 cup Dijon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound freshly cooked green beans

Gently heat cream, Dijon, and cumin in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk to combine. When mixture is hot, turn off heat and add green beans, stirring gently until all the beans are coated. Serve warm. 3-4 servings.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Spicy Sausage Ragu

I really love the cookbook Pasta by Eric Treuille. The recipes are simple yet deeply flavorful. Every time I've made anything from it there is always just a little twist that helps it stand out from any similar pasta dish.

This recipe is a case in point. It seems like a simple pasta sauce and yet it is smoothly spicy in a way that we quickly became addicted to.

The only change I made was to double the meat. This was simply because I wanted to use up the entire 16-ounce package of Italian sausage, which was the only size available at the particular store I was at. It wasn't an overpowering presence, possibly because the sausage itself was fairly mild. We liked it that way so I left that possibility in the recipe.

Spicy Sausage Ragu

Step 1

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

Heat oil in a skillet. Cook onion and garlic over medium high heat, stirring frequently, unstil soft and pale gold, 5 minutes.

Step 2

8-16 ounces Italian sausages, casings removed and crumbled
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 14-ounce can chopped Italian plum tomatoes

Add sausage. Cook, stirring to break up, until browned, 10 minutes. Add all remaining. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 minutes.

Step 3

2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt, pepper

Add cream. Cook, stirring until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4

1 pound dried pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, until firm to the bite. Drain. Add pasta to the hot sauce. Toss well to coat. Serve immediately with Parmesan. Serves 4-6.

Notes
You can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead and refrigerate. Or freeze it up to a month. Defrost overnight in fridge.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Herbed Pita Crisps

Our daughter, Hannah, served these up to accompany cocktails when we were at her place for dinner one weekend recently. It is from Hors D'oeuvres by Eric Treuille and Victoria Blashford-Snell. She's a fan of that book, by the way, having given several appetizer and cocktail parties for her friends where they raved about the food, which was all from those recipes.

Hannah made these with naan bread and I liked them so well I made them the next weekend. The only caveat I have about using naan is that around the edges it is very thick. The resultant crisps, which must be baked much longer, can be hazardous to the teeth.

I had some Boyajian Garlic Oil in the cupboard which I substituted for the garlic and olive oil. It lent a faint garlic flavor quite nicely.

Herbed Pita Crisps

2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 pita breads
2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Stir garlic into oil. Cut each pita bread into 5 strips. Snip the end of each strip and separate to make 2 single layer strips. Place split side up on baking sheets.

Brush with oil and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper.

Bake at 350° until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve plain or with your choice of dips.
Serves 40.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cincinnati-Style Chili

Here comes Fall weather and the first thing that springs to my mind is chili. Talking to my mother about a planned October visit for a horror-movie fest (this is my mother's passion, not mine) she brought up making a pot of chili. "There's just something about cooler weather," she said. To be fair, her weather is not going to be very cool since she lives in Florida, but we will crank the air-conditioning and pretend it is a chilly Midwest fall day.

The only question I have is whether she's thinking of Texas-style chili or the sort I remember from school lunches, which I really loved also. Since she grew up in Cincinnati I have a feeling I know which she'll pick. It was when looking through the archives to send her the links for choosing that I found I never shared this delicious recipe.

It is from Gourmet magazine and the only gussying up that I can detect is using black beans instead of the traditional kidney beans. I'm good either way. Love beans in my chili, although that horrifies and mystifies my Texas-bred husband and children. Good thing I'm adaptable!

Cincinnati-Style Chili

Step 1:

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds ground beef

Cook until softened. Add beef and cook, until no longer pink.

Step 2:

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander, allspice, oregano
1/4 teaspoon each: cayenne, cinnamon, ground cloves, mace
1 bay leaf

Add all and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Step 3:

1-1/2 cups water
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed

Add all and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep beef barely covered, for 2 hours, or until thickened but soupy enough to be ladled. Discard bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Food Watch: Ratatouille

I discovered that I posted this elsewhere but never here, where food counts! So, a blast from our past which may be more worth watching than some of the new movies out now.


When "Fin" came up on the screen, I suppressed an impulse to applaud. No need. The audience around me, without my reservations, burst into applause anyway.

We watched Ratatouille under unusual circumstances. It was a 4:00 movie but the theater was full. Perhaps the rest of the audience, like us, had tried in vain to get into an earlier showing only to find it sold out. More unusually, in a movie marketed to children, this audience was three-fourths adults, adults of all ages. In fact, we ourselves were part of that demographic. Hannah, 18, had rearranged a date in order to make the movie with us. We were at the 4:00 movie specifically because Rose, 17, would not be able to make it over the weekend due to work schedules. Such is the power Pixar can induce in those who have learned that they have that most special of talents, the ability to make a good general audience movie that pleases everyone on many levels. Obviously they did not fail to please this time. I thought that nothing could equal The Incredibles, Brad Bird's most recent offering, but he has matched that, if not surpassed it.
Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.
Julia Child
Remy, the rat, has a love and appreciation for good food that is not shared by the rest of his family who see nothing wrong with eating garbage in all stages of decomposition. Circumstances team him up with Lingune, a hapless plongeur (dishwasher and kitchen assistant), who is trying hard to hold onto his job. Together the two begin to amaze diners at the Parisian restaurant of the late chef, Auguste Gusteau. Conflict arises not only from Remy's need to be hidden and yet guide Linguine, but from the animosity of the head chef, Linguine's romantic interest in the the kitchen's one female chef, the need for the restaurant to regain their five star rating which depends upon the approbation of food critic Anton Ego, and Remy's desire to be understood by his family while being able to express his art.

This is a far from simple set of conflicts, especially for a children's movie, and yet my desire to avoid spoilers leaves the list incomplete. Suffice it to say that the story is told simply and well enough to be thoroughly enjoyed by children while carrying complex food for thought that adults may well ponder long after the movie is finished. As well, this movie is a complete delight for anyone who has an interest in the food world. I will say more about that below, but if you are a "foodie," don't miss this movie. There are many subtle jokes that will delight you.

This movie didn't have the fast paced jokes we have come to expect since Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. There was a lot of verbal, situational, and physical humor but much of this, while appreciated, didn't result in laughs. However, when the laughs came they were big. Interestingly, when I noticed this, I noticed that the audience was silent the rest of the time. Everyone, including the children, some of whom were quite small, was engrossed by the story and giving it their complete attention. As die-hard movie fans who have attended many movies with large audiences of children, we know how unusual that is. Other than during Finding Nemo and The Incredibles (during which one young boy was so caught up in the movie he was shouting advice to the heroes), the only other time I have seen that was during Two Brothers.

There was a deft blending of living by "real world" rules with fantasy. It is fantastic enough that Remy and Linguine will work together, however, it is made clear that Remy cannot talk except to other rats. This is made clear in several scenes where we hear Remy's expostulations and then are switched to a human's point of view to hear only a rat squeaking. Remy's father constantly reminds him that to become close to humans is to live in danger of being killed as vermin. Yet at the end of the movie when the question of running the kitchen in a moment of extreme crisis must be resolved, a scene evolves that forcibly called to mind the Disney classic, Cinderella.

As always, the technical elements are handled perfectly. Voice work is flawless and not dominated by the big name stars we have come to expect. I followed the advice I read in a review and avoided knowing who was doing which voice so that I would not be playing "spot the voice" through the movie and I pass that same advice to you. Upon finding out who did voice work we were surprised that much of the time we never would have guessed, especially for John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) who has done a voice for every Pixar feature to the extent that it was a joke used in the credit scenes for Cars.

As one would expect, the animation is amazing. Remy scuttles up pipes and underfoot in the kitchen looking very like a real small animal, frightened in an unfamiliar world. When the rat colony is on the move, one automatically feels a bit of natural revulsion at the prospect of that many rats in an enclosed area. Unlike the early Pixar days of Toy Story, human movement is now mimicked on such a good level that we watch an entire kitchen of chefs moving deftly and are never jolted out of the movie's "reality" by motions that don't seem right. The scenes of Paris are so evocative of the real "City of Lights" that, as some critics have mentioned, I wished for more outside scenes. All this was done with "100% real animation" we are reminded in the end credits with wicked humor, with "no motion capture or other shortcuts" used in making the film. (To learn more about the debate raging in the animation industry about what constitutes "real animation," go here.)

A Few Themes
Warning: SPOILERS, please read this after seeing the movie
"I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat," she mused. "Nobody likes you. People jump and run away and scream out, 'Oh, a horrid rat!' I shouldn't like people to scream and jump and say, 'Oh, a horrid Sara!' the moment they saw me. And set traps for me, and pretend they were dinner. It's so different to be a sparrow. But nobody asked this rat if he wanted to be a rat when he was made. Nobody said, 'Wouldn't you rather be a sparrow?'"
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
ART AND OUTCASTS
First and foremost, there is the concept of being naturally drawn outside of one's accepted environment in order to express one's art. Obviously, this is shown in the concept of a rat cooking, which is continually being offset by showing Remy's concern with cleanliness around any sort of food preparation. We also see it in Collette's description of the chefs' backgrounds. She tells Linguine that people think of haute cuisine as snobbish but that the cooks are more like "pirates" who have found a way to express their inner creativity through cooking. (Anthony Bourdain was thanked in the credits and we see his influence in this. As a side note, read his Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly for more about this.)

The idea of being societal outcasts is carried on more subtly, in details about the rat colony. Remy's father's name is Django, evocative of famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Having just heard an admirer discuss him, I also strongly associated him with gypsies. It is quite easy to see the association between Django's warnings about outsiders to Remy, their nomadic lifestyle, the constant assertions about "not stealing" and gypsies.

HOW WE LIVE
There is a strong theme of criticism in how people approach food, which can be naturally extended to other areas of life and society (such as the movie industry, perhaps?). One group, represented by the rats, view food as fuel. They are uncritical about what they eat and pay only enough attention to make sure they are not poisoned before they unthinkingly stuff themselves with whatever is available. Tellingly, the dastardly head chef's evil scheme is hawking Auguste Gusteau's good name after his death on a line of frozen foods. The opposite group, represented by critic Anton Ego (The Grim Eater), loves food so much that they will not eat anything that is not perfect. This elevates food far beyond its proper place in the scheme of things. Clearly Remy shows us that savoring pure, fresh ingredients and thoughtfully combining them is more satisfying than either of the other approaches. On a side note, we wondered how many people watched this movie and then went home to frozen dinners. Certainly, as I was flavoring the hamburgers while Tom fired up the grill, I found my thoughts drawn back to the movements we saw the chefs' making in the restaurant kitchen.

This approach is further emphasized by the cookbook Gusteau wrote, "Anyone Can Cook." The theme is emphasized over and over again, with the point being made in the final analysis, that not everyone need be a great chef to do so. Seeing the line of everyday people in front of Anton Ego's bistro underscores that theme and it is comforting to me that this emphasis was probably reinforced repeatedly to the Pixar team by their chef consultant, Thomas Keller, who is one of our country's finest chefs himself.

SEE IT WITH A FOODIE YOU LOVE
The Pixar team's thoroughness in understanding their subject, as has been noted before, extends to investigating the food world. This local food critic was not the only one pleased by the attention to detail. I couldn't wait to call my mother and share some of the details that no one else in the family caught. Poor Rose. I was continually poking her and whispering information that she just didn't care about. fact that Thomas Keller of The French Laundry had a voice credit ... no one cared. The five star French restaurant that was credited? No one cared.

Most of all, the most evocative food moment was one that explained a question I began wondering halfway through the movie. Why call it Ratatouille? Other than a clever play on the "rat" connection there seemed no reason to name the movie after that peasant vegetable stew. Until the supreme moment of revelation, which was done so perfectly that it brought howls of laughter ... and more whispering in Rose's ear from me. Later on, I asked, "Did anyone get that reference to Proust and the madeleine?" They all looked at me blankly. I felt just as I did when I took Hannah to see Beauty and the Beast, her first movie in the theater, and was the only member of the audience laughing because Lumiere was channeling Maurice Chevalier.

That moment of revelation in the movie's title refocused and redefined the entire movie in a new way around food, identity, and self.
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ...

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Food Watch: Mostly Martha

Mostly Martha
Germany

Martha is a chef who has a great deal of discipline, an obsession with food although she never seems to eat, and little joy in her life. When her sister dies, Martha is forced into facing unknown situations after her orphaned niece comes to live with her. Then a new chef is added to the staff and Martha's loss of control seems complete. Suddenly Martha's life is no longer under control at all with the expected growth of character resulting.

This is a slow and deliberate movie but the acting and dialogue are great and a lot of the scenes are very funny. Naturally, as this is about a chef, it is a major "foodie" film. Mostly Martha is a German movie with subtitles but don't let that scare you. Actually we liked listening to the German and picking out words that were almost the same as in English ... but that's the kind of thing our family does for fun.