Monday, January 29, 2007

The Sheer Savor of Roasting

February 2
It is the deep, salty stickiness of food that intrigues me more than any other quality. The sheer savor of it. The Marmite-like goo that adheres to the skin of anything roasted; the crust where something -- usually a potato or a parsnip -- has stuck to the roasting pan; the underside of a piece of meat that has been left long enough in the pan to form a gooey crust. This is partly why I cook rather than buying my supper ready-made. This you will probably know, unless of course this is your first Nigel Slater book.
I feel exactly the same way. Which makes me think, for the very first time, that I might have a slight chance of liking Marmite.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Date Crumb Bars: the Lazy Man's Homemade Fig Newtons

I served these to the book club last week. When I said, "Have a Date Crumb Bar," everyone looked rather nervously at the plate of cookies.

"What are they?" said someone.

I thought fast. These are really an old-fashioned style of cookie and clearly I had to find common ground.

"Like a homemade Fig Newton."

Everyone's faces relaxed and smiles came up all around. "Oh, homemade Fig Newtons? Wow!"

The cookies were a big hit.

Obviously, they are not quite a "homemade Fig Newton." For one thing these contain dates not figs. For another, I've seen actual recipes for homemade Fig Newton style cookies. I am just too darned lazy to even contemplate making a dough, rolling it out, and all that jazz.

These are so very simple and I bet they're just as good as anything in those other recipes, if not better. Long ago Gourmet ferreted out the recipe for a bakery's Date Crumb bars in response to a reader's request. No wonder they wanted to be able to make these at home.

You'll never buy another Fig Newton after you make these.

Step 1: the filling
1 pound pitted dates
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in saucepan. Bring to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 1 minute. Puree mixture in processor. Cool until lukewarm.

Step 2: the crust
1-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chilled butter, in small pieces

Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350°. Butter 9x13" baking pan. Mix dry ingredients. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Firmly press half into bottom of prepared pan. Carefully spread filling over crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over filling.

Bake until topping is golden brown, 35-38 minutes. Cool in pan. Cut into squares.

Be sure to let these sit at least one day before eating. The flavor matures and melds.

Monday, January 22, 2007

World Nutella Day?

Does it get any better than this? I think not!

At Home in Rome has the scoop about this day of deliciousness, a.k.a. February 6.


Something New: One-Skillet Shrimp Paella

This got universal thumbs up and that is a rarity, especially when Hannah is home.

Tom is not a paprika fan so I halved the amounts. Also, I didn't have any clam juice so simmered the shrimp shells for a while in a couple of cups of water to make a light shrimp stock.

This was incredibly delicious, savory ... and, yes, easy. From The Quick Recipe.

If you want a little heat, add a pinch of cayenne pepper with the paprika or mix sweet and hot paprika....

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp (21-25 count per pound), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons paprika
1 medium onion, diced fine
6 medium cloves garlic, slivered thin
6 sprigs fresh thyme (I didn't have fresh thyme and used a pinch of dried)
1 (14-1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained well
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
2 (8 ounce) bottles clam juice
Ground black pepper
3 medium scallions, sliced thin on the bias
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Step 1:
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Meanwhile, toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer and cook until speckled brown, 30 to 45 seconds. Using tongs, flip the shrimp and cook until speckled brown on the second side, about 30 seconds longer. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl. Repeat the process with the remaining shrimp. Cover the bowl with foil to keep the shrimp warm.

Step 2:
Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion, garlic, thyme sprigs, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the empty skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons paprika and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, rice, clam juice, and 2 cups water. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, without covering or stirring, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Spread the shrimp over the rice and cover until the shrimp are heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle the scallions over the top, and serve immediately, bringing the skillet to the table along with the lemon wedges.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Quick, Easy and Delicious

From Ron Rolling ... mmmm, eggnog and chocolate ...

About five years ago, when I was working for the wholesale magazine distributor, we had a pot-luck lunch shortly before Christmas. The company provided the main course; the employees were to bring salads and desserts. I opted to make a chocolate pie (pre-made graham cracker shell and instant pudding; I am a bachelor, after all).

Here's the twist: Instead of milk, I used eggnog in the same proportion as directed.

A wire whisk or small blender works well to get the consistency.

Someone commented to me upon sampling that it had a taste of cappachinno (I would guess the nutmeg in the eggnog).

And, yes, you will have to go to confession after eating it. It is sinful.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Let There Be ... Sushi!

Make My Sushi looks like a fantastic site with everything I ever needed to know about making sushi. I have a source for absolutely fresh seafood but the sushi technique is rather intimidating. This site has very clear instructions and even animations ... that should take care of those little insecurities.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Coffee and the Pope

God bless Pope Clement VIII for knowing when to bless the beans!
A coffee craze first gripped the world about six hundred years ago in the Middle East. Some of the earliest coffee fanatics were Muslim mystics, trying to stay awake for nighttime worship. As coffee became popular, it also became controversial. Early coffeehouses were such brewing grounds for radical ideas that authorities in Mecca and Cairo tried to outlaw the drink. The prohibitions proved ineffective.

When coffee hit Europe in the late 1500s, priests at the Vatican argued that it was a satanic concoction of Islamic infidels. Accordingly, they thought it should be banned. That's when Pope Clement VIII stepped in. After giving coffee a taste, he gave his blessing to the bean.

"This Satan's drink is so delicious," he supposedly said, "it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it.

With this papal blessing, coffee soon began to conquer Europe, and become the morning necessity for many people today.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Understanding Boiled Peanuts

Reading this made me see why such things as boiled peanuts even exist, which I never understood at all until now. I had forgotten a basic fact. Peanuts are legumes.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are not nuts. They are legumes, from the family Leguminosae, which includes lima beans, fava beans, soybeans, and most any bean you've ever eaten. A peanut freshly dug from the ground is as damp as a potato and has the aroma of freshly mown hay. Shell it and eat the seed kernels and you'll find a starchy, slightly sweet, grassy flavor like that of a raw lima bean or sweet pea. It's a taste of high summer, when the peanuts are harvested, and to us it seems logical -- and not unusual -- that you might want to boil them or steam them, the way most beans are boiled or steamed before they are eaten.