Sunday, April 30, 2006

Open-Faced FBS

The BLT [Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato if you dare not know], might just be the most underrated sandwich there is. It shares its lowly status with the sardine sandwich, liver sandwich, and tongue. There might even be an equation—or possibly just a graphable body of data-- that while young, it is the holy grail of grilled cheese that rates as favorite. As we age we teeter off for the more classic sliced meats, and as old age creeps in, we can return to the classics: sardine, liver and tongue.

But where is the BLT in the equation. And more importantly, am I old too young because I appreciate a good sardine sandwich on rye? A schmear of liver? A slab of tongue? Actually, scratch the tongue—I could never get over the bumpy texture.

Who orders a BLT? It is a perfect meat-to-vegetable-to-crisp-lettuce ratio in every bite and yet, it is too often overlooked for something “more hearty”. I am known to pass by it on a menu, even when that sweet-salty bacon is all I crave, unable to spend $5 for what I consider a $3 sandwich. To spruce the classic up, I have seen restaurants create the BALT (adding avocado), a BBLT (with brie), and even [gasp] TBLT (turkey bacon)! But nobody seems to understand it is no longer its simple and perfect self when this happens.

I awoke Sunday morning craving breakfast, but also a BLT. How to make a breakfast version without destroying the BLT's simplicity? I headed over to the butcher while I considered my options. I had him slice up fresh bacon, ¼ inch thick (thick bacon being the key to a BLT). As I passed the bakery to grab my bread I saw the solution: Sureki. Sureki is the Greek’s Challah-- a sweet braided egg bread. I picked up the loaf envisioning my goal: The FBS.

Still at a loss?

FBS, or French Toast-Bacon-Strawberry, is the perfect Sunday morning breakfast sandwich. Offering the best parts of the BLT: crisp bacon and fluffy bread, with a sweeter breakfast flare. Instead of your daily vegetable you receive your daily fruit. For an extra zing, lime and orange zest are used, fresh orange juice and basil as your greens (instead of lettuce).

Makes 2 servings. Active Time= 15 minutes.
* 4 thick-slices egg-based bread (challah works well)
* 4 eggs
* ½ orange, zested and juiced
* 1 tsp lime zest (about ½ a lime)
* 2 Tbl milk (preferred percentage)
* 4-¼ inch thick slices of bacon (ask your butcher to slice it thick)
* 10 strawberries
* 4-5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
* 1 Tbl butter
* cinnamon/ sugar

1) Place one skillet (for bacon) on medium-high heat. Place one skillet on medium heat (for the French toast) with butter.
2) In a wide-brimmed bowl, crack eggs, add milk, juice from ¼ of the orange and orange zest. Beat until well mixed. Drench bread slices in egg mixture until well-drenched. Once egg mixture is done, the two skillets should be warmed.
3) Place bacon on skillet to cook. Place bread on second skillet. Cook 3-4 minutes one side, flip, 3-4 minutes opposite side. Cook until golden brown. Depending on preferred doneness, bacon should receive 4-5 minutes each side. If bacon finishes before bread, place bread in oven to stay warm, set at 250F.
4) Keeping an eye on the bread, make the strawberry topping: Combine strawberries, lime zest, juice from ¼ orange and basil in a small bowl. Using a fork, mash the strawberries into a thick pulp. Serve at room temperature, set aside until ready to serve.
5) Once bread is done, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (*do not put this on while on the skillet as it will just burn. Putting this on after it is done cooking will allow the mixture to melt right into the bread).
6) Remove bacon when ready.
7) Sandwich can be open-faced or closed. Layer the sandwich: French Toast, Bacon, Strawberry mixture.

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF roundup!

Head on over to Kalyn's Kitchen for the WHB roundup!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chipotle-Mustard Glazed Chilean Sea Bass w/ Green Beans

*Just Braise has moved. Please visit me at!*

I first encountered the chipotle pepper a few years back. It was my birthday and a friend brought me an orange can of La Morena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. He had passed a Mexican bodega on the way to the party, stopped in, and bought the cheapest bizarre food item he could find—the 50 cent-7 ounce can was perfect. It was not the only strange food-related gift I would receive that year: a small jar of mint chutney, a bag of stale cotton candy, a can of tuna fish and gunpowder tea were some others. All, much to my own surprise, were put to use—except the chipotle peppers—I just did not know what to do with them.

I cannot say I was afraid of the little shriveled smoked pepper. I just did not make much Mexican food at home (a friend of mine worked at a fabulous Mexican restaurant that offered me a good deal on my meals). I did not know what to do with it. As I said, this was a few years ago. My adventures in mixing world cuisines were not so daring, that can of peppers sat in my cupboard for at least 1 year.

After years of eating chicken mole at said establishment, I finally craved that bittersweet chocolate sauce one night at home. I called my friend for the recipe, attempted my own measurements (since they make it in large vats) and low and behold, I had all the ingredients-- chipotle chili peppers being one of them. I whipped up a batch and I might say, mine was just as delicious as the one I had been eating for years.

I no longer shy away from buying that little orange can of peppers. Their deep smoky flavor is unique and their subtle spice is superb. So when I was sent a bottle of Chipotle-Mustard, I knew it would be delicious. That mustard started popping up in my tuna fish sandwiches, replacing regular deli mustard. I used it on kielbasas, in dips, for dressings on salads.

Inspiration hit the other day as D and I purchased some Chilean Sea Bass from the fishmonger. The problem I often have with D: I want to experiment and he will say something in the realm of: “We purchased the most expensive fish in there, nothing should be added, it’s like drenching a filet mignon in sauce! Fish should be simple: butter, lemon juice, done.” I assured him that even though I had no idea what I was doing, I knew what I was doing. The more you cook, the more you understand flavors and how they might coexist. I was finally able to convince D that replacing plain mustard with chipotle mustard would taste good.

The result? The fish just melted in the mouth. It was a superb combination of smoky chili to sweet mustard to buttery fish. Served alongside green beans this meal will have to be made again—possibly with more chipotle oomph.

Makes 2 servings. Active Time= 8 minutes. Cook Time= 20 minutes.
* 1 pound Chilean Sea Bass
* 1 Tbl Silver Springs Chipotle-Mustard
* 2 tsp granulated sugar
* 1 Tbl butter
* about 20 green beans, washed and ends plucked clean

1) Preheat oven to 250F. Melt butter over stovetop on medium-high in an oven-safe pan. While the pan is warming, mix the chipotle-mustard and sugar in a small bowl. Wash and pat dry the Sea Bass.
2) When pan is hot, sear the Sea Bass, skin side up for 2-3 minutes. Flip and sear skin side down for 2-3 minutes. (The thickest part of the fish should still be raw).
3) Brush the chipotle mix over the Sea Bass, place the green beans around the fish and put in center shelf of oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

For non-food related activities we have WCB over at Eat Stuff. Below we have one very inactive post-op Whiskey drugged up and sleepy.

As well as one comatose self-drugged (cat nip) Kitty BoJangles (note the fluffy toy that is stuffed full of nip).

Miss Me?

That's right, I've been a little lazy in the home front lately... But if you miss my words you can still see some recent postings:

Here at Food Bound
Here at Paper Palate.

Both are part of the WellFed Network.

More to come shortly.... Thanks for holding out. In the meantime, sooth your soul thinking about all the summer camping soon to be had...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mediterranean Pasta (or Red Pepper-Broccoli Rabe-White Bean & Procuitto Pasta)

There are some people that live and die by pasta. It is their favorite food, it is served at every meal-- it is utterly perfect. For myself, I (still) cannot really understand the effect pasta has on people. I have the same non-chalance with white rice. Sure, I can add butter and salt and it has a great flavor, but… it’s just... there. Does that make any sense? I mean, sure, it tastes good, but in a head-to-head with another starch: warm crisp bread or a baked potato; I’ll take the bread or potato.

Now, I know pasta is not just pasta, and it can be dolled up to create something beautiful on its own. Just like adding olive to bread, tomato paste, spinach or octopus ink added to pasta, all of a sudden creates an attractive taste sensation on the tongue. It is no longer mere pasta. This I accept.

But because of my initial blasé attitude towards pasta in general, I tend to walk past the pasta shelves with hardly a glance; even when they may have “enhanced” pastas. So when D complained that I “don’t let him eat pasta” I was slightly appalled (and quite content) that my own stance had taken hold: D finds his way to the grocery store just as much as I do and I have never not allowed him to buy anything he may want.

So when I was making a run for some flour my eyes were averted by my grocery’s newly expanding organic section. I noticed organic wheat pasta and figured I would give it a try. When I returned with pasta in tow and shared the news with D he could barely fathom his good fortune: “really, pasta?!” You would think we had been living on rations for months and had finally found the black market.

I must admit, there is so much flavor in this dish, the pasta is hardly noticed. If pasta was served like this all the time, I might eat it more often. Because there is no sauce beyond a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh herbs, this dish is a pure breeze in terms of cleanup—it also tastes great warm or cold. The broccoli rabe offers a sweet bitterness that can hold its own against the salty procuitto. The white beans are little bundles of surprise as they dance in and out of the pasta “cups”. Most importantly of all, this dish was a rainbow of colors on the plate and palate.

Makes: 4 servings. Active Time= 15 minutes. Cook Time= about 10 minutes. (Depends on pasta variety.)
* 2 cups pasta
* 6-8 stalks Broccoli Rabe, washed (left whole or chopped into large 2-3 inch pieces)
* ½ Red Bell Pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
* 1 16-oz can White Beans, washed and drained
* 8 slices Procuitto
* 3-4 Tbl olive oil
* Parmesan to taste, freshly grated
* 2 tsp fresh thyme
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Prepare pasta according to package instructions. While pasta cooks, prepare the vegetables. (If using fresh pasta, prepare after vegetables are combined, just before serving.)
2) In a large-sized skillet on medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbl olive oil. When hot, Add broccoli rabe and red peppers. Cover and allow to cook until broccoli rabe darkens and begins to wilt; about 4 minutes.
3) Add white beans to the vegetables. Stir, cover and cook another 3-4 minutes; until beans are warmed through. Turn heat low and keep covered until pasta is ready.
4) Drain pasta once ready and wash with cold water (this stops the pasta from cooking without cooling it down too much). Throw warm vegetables over, add a about 2 Tbl Parmesan (allow people to add most of their own quantity), olive oil, salt/ pepper and thyme. Toss to mix.
5) Serve up, adding Procuitto at last moment over the pasta (since Procuitto is already smoked, you want it to retain this flavor. Add it at the last moment to avoid cooking it.)

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF roundup!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The City Gardener #4

Could it be? Sprouting up without a care in the world? Everything is turning up roses, or maybe... green with envy. Even last year's tomato seeds decided to (finally) make the long journey towards the sun (unfortunately last year's peppers did not fare so well). Coming up so quickly I'm hardly ready for the transplant-- I need more buckets for all these blooming babies!

What is so fascinating about gardening is seeing these vegetables in their youthful form. We hear it more and more now that people have become so detached from the Earth. Our farms and reliance on them are shrinking and people are propelled towards the fast eats without taking a moment to consider "do I even know what is in this?" Our vegetables are split to create super products and our meats are injected with hormones. Many have stopped caring. Instead we have grown disgusted with bones meats, fish and poultry, and too many cannot even get a Chia Pet to grow. It is too often we go to the supermarket unaware of produce, how we get it and what it even looks like. Have you ever yanked corn from the stalk? Harvested tomatoes from a bush? Popped a peach from its stem? My own mother grew up on a farm and I became so distanced from that life the only farm I was on growing up was a petting zoo.

My friend and his Spanish fiance were over for dinner the other week. Discussion turned to organic products, who buys them, what to buy (because theyare so expensive) and what it all means anyway. J, the Spaniard, suddenly interjected: "I just don't understand all this organic stuff. This word is so clinical. In my country it is just called food."

Wouldn't it be nice to not worry about whether a food is organic or choke full of who knows what? Wouldn't it be nice if all food were merely food.

I am happy with the recent push for organic products and green markets, even with government trends of weakening regulations to appease big business. I wonder how far reaching this desire is, especially when I am seeing fast food joints packed at every roadside rest stop and every block of the city. Is awareness really reaching enough people? If it is, do people care enough about their bodies and what goes into them? Are we just preaching to the choir?

At least I can rest assured with my own salads this summer knowing exactly where everything came from, how it was grown and all the conditions that went into growing my beautiful greens.

The City Gardener #3
The City Gardener #2
The City Gardener

Scallop Salad

More beets and another salad… Can a girl get tired of such sweet treats?

While the sun decides to let me linger on the streets a little longer, it becomes more difficult after a day at work to take refuge to the kitchen. However, I have beets (the last of them) that need some quick vanishing (as well as a light purse to care for).

Light, sweet and buttery, I decided scallops were an unusual yet natural pairing with the beets. Accompanied with some classic, subtle salad ingredients, this meal is a winner for a quick and painless feast on a warm day.

Asian Pear is given space on this plate. A cross between a crisp, juicy apple and an almost ripe pear, this fruit provides a splash of exotica to the salad. There is a woman I work with who can go on at length about the perfect fruit. She is from the Philippines and wins the fruit battles that ensue when we talk, mentioning it always taste better at home, in the Philippines. I believe this is true for anyone, wherever they may be from: an American will swear their apples are the best only back home, an Egyptian proclaims their dates to be the sweetest only when seated by the Red Sea, and a Haitian will only eat mangoes when on their own shores.

So when I brought an Asian Pear into the office I was sure she would brush me off with another one of her, “oh, back home ours are much tastier. You have not lived…” Sure enough, she saw my pear: “Oh those pears, they grow all over in my country…” Finishing with “it is the only fruit I do not like.” I paused, unable to comprehend how someone could not love a combination of the two greatest fruits: “I prefer your American pears much better. So much sweeter.” And with that, she shrugged her shoulders and walked away. For those who agree, or do not have Asian Pear handy, a regular pear or crisp apple may be substituted in this meal.

I have discussed previously how to pick scallops, here offering an alternate cooking method. They may be chilled before being placed on the salad, or served warm scattered over top. Nuts may also be added to this salad for another crunch.

Makes: 2 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Cook Time= 45 minutes (if beets are not already prepared).
* 1 medium beet
* ½ pound Bay Scallops
* 1 Asian Pear (apple or pear is suitable too), sliced thin
* 1 endive head, sliced this
* 2 Tbl blue cheese
* 1 Tbl butter
* 1 Tbl spicy mustard
* 1 Tbl vinegar (tarragon or wine)
* 1 Tbl fresh lemon juice

1) Braise or boil beets according to directions from previous two posts. Slice and place on plate.
2) Warm a pan over medium heat with the butter. Wash the scallops under water. Once pan is warm and butter melted, sauté the scallops about 8 minutes until lightly golden. While cooking, prepare the remaining salad.
3) Arrange sliced Asian Pear and endive on plate. Toss scallops on top, add crumbled blue cheese over whole.
4) In a small bowl mix mustard, vinegar and lemon juice. Pour over salad just before serving.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Beet & Bean Salad

It seems there are those who are not as gastronomically in-tune with beets as myself. How did this blushing beauty get such a bad rap? Full of color, sweet, delicious and combining well with almost anything-- where did the sweet beet go wrong in history? Is it that slightly off-putting exterior? I know many other vegetables that look much worse off (dinosaur kale, parsnips, dare I say celery root and sunchokes?!). Is it too economical? Eating both leaves and root of a single vegetable is too smart for the purse strings? Is it my Eastern European heritage that has me craving the rubies of the Earth?

Here’s to beets, the sweetest of all vegetables (while remaining low in calories) and all their nutritional goodness.

Notes on this salad: I used beets leftover from myBraised Beets, hence the minimal cook time noted below. If making fresh beets, you can braise them or boil them for 45 minutes; until soft. Because these beets were braised in orange juice, they had an extra citrus sweet tang that allowed this salad to pair nicely with an orange juice-lemon vinaigrette. I think this salad would have been delicious (and beautiful) with some sliced oranges added on top.

Makes: 2 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Cook Time= 45 minutes.
* 2 medium-sized beets
* 10-15 green beans
* Parmesan cheese to taste
* 1 Tbl orange juice
* 1 Tbl lemon juice
* 1 Tbl vinegar (tarragon or wine)

1) Bring a pot with about 4 cups of water (enough to cover the beets) to a boil on the stovetop. Cut stems off beets leaving about 1 inch of stem in tact. Wash thoroughly and place in boiling water for 45 minutes; until soft.
2) Remove beets from water and place in ice bath (you can retain and freeze beet juice from the boiling pot and use it for soup another time). Remove skins, they should fall off with slight nudge. Slice beets in ¼ inch cubes or discs.
3) Wash and blanch green beans (with a little water in a hot saucepan heat beans 2-3 minutes until they turn dark). Add on top of beets.
4) Sprinkle with Parmesan
5) Combine orange juice, lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl. Drizzle over top when ready to serve.
Note: Sliced oranges would go nicely on this salad.

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF roundup!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Braised Beets

I have provided a previous gross out story on beets already. I will not submit it to you again.

The Medusa of the vegetable world, all the beet touches turns to ruby. Demanding center stage on any plate they grace, it is a well-deserved placement. Artistically, beets are a most majestic vegetable. The crimson hue they radiate is astounding. Pulsing with vibrancy, they seem to have a heartbeat you can almost feel.

In culinary terms, they are near to perfection: pairing perfectly with meats, bringing color to any salad, flavorful enough to form a soup and bold enough to stand on their own. You would be hard pressed to find another master of the food world with such flavor and seemingly exotic pizzazz as the beet; yet so humble it is often overlooked.

I am quite content a few noble beets will have the honor to embellish my bucket garden this summer. And as long as I can keep the odd five finger discount on my garden to a minimum, there will be much rejoicing in the weeks to come, with many more beet recipes to follow.

This recipe is deliciously simple. Remember to take care when handling beets as they do stain (so throw on an apron). Orange juice is an ideal pairing with this vegetable for a little bit of tang, further bringing out the beet’s own sweetness.

Makes: 4 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Cook Time= 1 to 1-½ hours.
* 4-5 medium sized beets
* 1 medium onion
* 1-½ cups orange juice
* ½ cup water
* 1 Tbl fresh rosemary; chopped

1) Preheat oven to 400F. Slice both ends off beets and peel skin off. Chop into ¼-inch cubes.
2) Cut onions into ¼-inch cubes. Place onion and beets in an oven safe, non-reactive pan. Add orange juice, water and sprinkle fresh chopped rosemary over top.
3) Bake for 1 hour. Remove beets, stir and test doneness. If not yet soft, return to oven for another ½ hour. This dish can be served warm or cooled and served chilled.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Coq Au Vin

When I was a girl, chicken came in two forms: lightly breaded and grilled. Lightly breaded chicken appeared as chicken Parmesan, chicken Marsala or simply plain. Grilled chicken sometimes joined forces with teriyaki, bread to form a sandwich, or cold on a salad. How quickly chicken can turn boring.

Somehow, I never grew sick of it. But these days I have added to my mother’s repertoire. D loves his fried chicken and we often dish it up this way. Roasted is excellent with a little basil, garlic and pomegranate molasses rubbed on top. But please, somebody bless the French for thinking to add wine to everything!

I must have understood I would come into a love of food. I took my first French class by the second grade—after school sessions taught me numbers, color, hello and goodbye. By sixth grade I was accompanying my family to Paris. While my father attempted to ask for directions in his broken Spanish reasoning, “it’s close enough,” I ran in to intersect and placate a developing brawl. With my basic direction skills I was able to ask, receive and even understand the compliment: “Little girl! How well your French is! Such a fine accent! Never listen to your father!” Well, thank you, I still try not to.

My love continued until some evil teachers in high school set me back. It has not stopped my love of the culture, especially the food. I was beyond ecstatic when a (dare I say reasonable) French bistro opened in my area. And even when I was snubbed by the waiter for requesting ketchup with my fries (is it my fault a steak au poîvre comes with no sauce?!) I returned for more. Each time the food got better, I had tried everything on the menu, and pretty soon I was having drinks with one of the chefs. So it made a perfect setting for an intimate birthday party.

It was my birthday and I ate my mussels with pleasure. But as I spied a guest enjoying his Coq au Vin with much gusto, I took to staring until a morsel was offered; pure decadence. The chicken fell right off the bone. The sauce was thick and rich and just calling for crusty bread to act as a sponge. That one little taste was etched in stone.

So with an organic chicken accompanying me home my mind wandered past my youth of lightly breaded chicken, grilled chicken, paused briefly at fried and then rounded the corner to my birthday memory. A bottle of cheap ($3.99) wine was purchased and miscellaneous vegetables were pulled from the refrigerator. Suppose I claim my Coq au Vin surpassed that of my beloved restaurant? With the chicken melting off the bone (while it appears to hold together quite well in the photo) and the sauce begging to be sopped up with great zeal, this is a meal that is calling out to be made.

While at my family’s Seder the other night I mentioned this dish. “Oh no,” my step-mother cringed, “coq au vin just takes too long!” Actually, prepping this dish is simple. Like all braised meat it is the slow cooking that takes patience. And with all braised food, the wait is well worth it.

Coq Au Vin
Makes: 4 servings. Active Time= 25 minutes. Cook Time= 1-½ hours.
* 1 whole chicken, cut into sections (you can ask your butcher to cut it for you)
* 2 carrots, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
* 1 celery stalk, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
* 1 apple (I used a Golden Delicious, but any sweet baking apple would work)
* 1 onion, chopped in ¼ inch discs
* 2 cups red wine
* 2 bay leaves
* 1-2 tsp fresh rosemary
* 1-2 tsp fresh basil (or any other herbs you like)
* fresh pepper/ salt
* 2 Tbl unsalted butter or olive oil

1) In a Dutch oven (or other pot with tight fitting lid) over medium heat, warm the pan and melt the butter. Add carrots, celery, apple and onion. Sautée until onions are limp, about 8 minutes.
2) Add chicken and brown on both sides; 8-10 minutes. Add wine, bay leaves and other herbs.
3) Reduce heat to medium-low, secure lid and allow to simmer for 1-½ hours; or until meat falls off bone.
4) When done, carefully remove chicken and any loose bones from pot; set aside (or place on serving plates). Using a hand-held blender, or in batches with an upright blender, purée the contents of the pot until thick and smooth. Return chicken to pot (or add purée on top of chicken). Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with fresh crusty bread.

In non-food related activities WCB at Eat Stuff brings us the world of cats.
Some cats understand good window manners. Here is Kitty BoJangles at her perch eyeing a few squirrels:

And then there is Whisky, the Terrible Tot. Thinking he can claw his way out of house and home to chase the birds and squirrels:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mashed Potato Poach

The poached egg-- An ever elusive attempt at perfection. How often I have tried to make it right and failed miserably. Somehow the cards were stacked differently today: the albumen (egg white) stayed close, holding a soft transparent blanket to the precious yolk. Is perfection due to the excitement of hauling a hefty load of clay to the studio for a firing? The realization that the avocado to accompany this meal has ripened to perfection? Or, that I found a splendidly tasty use for my leftover mashed potatoes? Most probably it is that my newest trick is a success.

At most any restaurant that I attend breakfast or brunch, my order is poached eggs. Hollandaise on the side, I prefer to sop up the natural syrup of the yolk with a hearty slice of bread or English muffin. Funny that D never makes comment since come dinner when I so often want to order mussels upon mussels (when eating out), it is suggested I try something new; aren’t I tired of mussels? No, is it wrong to seek out an ideal?

But in the egg it is that soft outer and ever-so-delicate center that I love. The tight rope walk to crack the shell without breaking and serve it forth with a perfect nucleus. It is after all, extremely difficult to cook eggs—any egg for that matter.

Don’t believe me? How often have you had good scrambled eggs? I mean good. Yes, of course some like theirs more or less dry than others, but the perfect scramble should be moist, fluffy and full-bodied. Over low heat, M.F.K. Fisher notes the process should take about thirty minutes, no less or the egg has lost flavor. With little time even for a hot breakfast, who can spend all that time waiting on eggs? Now, I think that this time can be cut back slightly, but low (heat) and slow (cooking) should be the motto for almost any egg cooking approach—with the poached an exception.

This meal provided a pleasant taste-texture combination. The potato pancake was crisp on the outside and smooth on the inside. Complementing that, the perfect poached egg was a delectable runny river of goodness. Add to that a vine-ripe tomato, an exceptional avocado, and a sprig of sage for zing, there is no better way to start the day.

Makes: 2 servings. Active Time= 15 minutes.
The Mashed Potato Pancake
* 2 heaping spoonfuls of leftover mashed potatoes (mine had mushrooms inside, they can also be plain)
* 1 egg
* 1 Tbl butter or vegetable oil

1) Combine egg with mashed potatoes and mix well. Warm a skillet on medium and melt the butter/ warm the oil.
2) When skillet is ready, create two patties with the potato mixture and set them on the skillet. To create a nice crust, the pancakes should cook 6-8 minutes each side. While cooking, poach the eggs (below).

The Perfectly Poached Egg
* 2 eggs
* 2 Tbl vinegar (I used tarragon vinegar, but any kind is fine as you will not taste it in the end) **

1) In a saucepot over the stovetop, bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil (water should come up on the sides at least 2 inches in the pot). Add vinegar.
2) Crack each egg separately in a small bowl or mug. When water is at a rapid boil, with the mug resting close to the water, slowly slip the eggs, one at a time, into the boiling water.
3) Turn heat down immediately to low. Cook 3 minutes.
4) Remove with a slotted spoon and place over finished mashed potato pancake

** The vinegar helps to bind the albumen of the egg

The City Gardener #3

I know, I know... more food is shortly on the way. In the meantime, sprouts! Just oogle and ogle and goggle and boggle at the wonder that is Mother Nature. Who would have thunk a little "green house" effect could be so healthy in wooing the wee ones from the ground? And yet, here they come, on a race with destiny (otherwise known as my belly).

Arugula is well ahead of the pack. Each arugula is coming up glorious.
Radish a far cry in the rear. Like taking second place in a two man race.
And then there is Lollo. That red-headed leafy beauty who boggled the minds of so many previously. With that laissez-faire attitude of "maybe I will join the party, and maybe I won't."
All others have refused to join the party as of yet. But soon....

In other happy news: I have heard no "nay" from the landlords regarding my rooftop tomatoes. With a no answer I can only assume plant forth and prosper, no? This means no gray-haired grandmother's stealing my (tomato) bounty.

The City Gardener #2
The City Gardener

Monday, April 10, 2006

Strawberry Tart

I never liked Strawberry Shortcake growing up. I’m not talking about the dessert, but the doll. She was terribly pink and I never was a fan of pink. All high and holy on her board game; Rainbow Bright was much better. She sported moon boots even when they went out of fashion, a mini skirt that looked like a flotation device, had a tattoo on her face (so risqué), and her best friend was an unicorn! Okay, so now Rainbow and her friends look like they have spent all night at a Rave doing copious amounts of acid, but back then, she was cool.

Strawberry Shortcake did allow me to remember one important bit of information: dessert has two “s” like Strawberry Shortcake, while desert, cannot be a cake—or doll.

While I have pretty much gotten over my loathsome tendencies toward Shortcake (the doll) I must say the dessert is pretty darn good. And really, there is nothing better to usher in the warmer months than strawberries—Just do a Google search for ”strawberry festival” and you can see over 3 million people agree.

Unfortunately, it is the one fruit (or vegetable) I do not particularly enjoy picking for myself. I picked blueberries, corn, nectarines and peaches in heat that topped 100 degrees last summer. The strawberry fields… I stayed away from. It is just too laborious of a task to bend so low and rummage for the ruby in the haystack. (Note to self: borrow young child who does not mind stooping over for 1 hour to pick self fresh strawberries.) But humans do crazy things for love and this is why strawberries hold the status they do.

This dessert is no shortcake. It is a little bit classier, looks spectacular, tastes sophisticated enough to hold its own at dinner party, and yet is festive enough to highlight a BBQ. Made only yesterday, it has almost vanished, smacking a smile on D’s face with each bite.

*This recipe is adapted from an April 2005 Gourmet magazine. In mine, the cream cheese filling has been altered, as well as the topping. I also made a quick crust found in The Joy of Cooking. The original used kiwis, a store-bought pre-made crust, and incorporated no herb.

Makes: 8-10 servings. Active Time= 30 minutes. Inactive Time=15 minutes
The Crust
*This is the recipe as it appears in the The Joy of Cooking.
For a double-crust 9-inch, or a single-crust pie with a generous lattice, use the following amounts. For a one-crust 9-inch pie, use half the recipe.
Sift Together:
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 tsp salt
Measure and combine:
* 2/3 cup chilled leaf lard or shortening
* 2 Tbl chilled butter
Cut half the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, or work it in lightly with the tips of your fingers until it has the grain of cornmeal. Cut the remaining half coarsely into the dough until it is pea size. Sprinkle the dough with:
* 4 Tbl water
Blend the water lightly into the dough. You may lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing moisture to spread. If needed to hold the ingredients together, add:
* 1 tsp to 1 Tbl water
When you can gather the dough up into a tidy ball, stop handling it.
1) Preheat oven to 450F. Roll out the dough and place it into your pie tin or tart mold. Bring the dough about ¼ inch over the edge of the tin; fold back to reinforce the edge.
2) Poke dough several times with fork. Cover bottom with tinfoil, add pie weights or dry beans or rice. Bake for 6 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weight. Bake for 7-10 minutes more; until crust is golden.
3) Place on rack to cool. While cooling, make the filling (below).

The Filling
*Adapted from Gourmet, April 2005. Use a pie tin with removable bottom for easy serving.
* 6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
* 2 Tbl sugar
* 2 Tbl milk
* 2 tsp finely grated fresh orange zest
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
* 10-12 ripe strawberries, tops removed, sliced in half
1) While crust (above) is cooling, in a bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, milk, zest, and vanilla with a mixer until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.
2) Add chopped mint; mix with spatula to incorporate.
3) Spread cream cheese filling evenly in cooled shell; top with strawberry slices.
NOTE: Can be made ahead and chilled. Tart should be brought to room temperature before serving.

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF round up!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The City Gardener #2

My bounty from rare seeds arrived. Very exciting. I did not realize how over zealous I was while ordering-- I have four different kinds of lettuce, arugula, beets and rainbow swiss chard… must retrieve more buckets. There will be a lot of salads this summer and anyone inviting me for a BBQ or potluck will receive a salad. (A warning not to tell me to bring anything else.) The company even threw in a packet of melon seeds. Now I just need to own a good size plot of land with enough sun to plant those suckers!

Today all the babies received a new home in peet pots and a little soil mixture I created: ¾ part planting soil, ¼ part coconut fiber. I cannot say that I did this because it produces the best starter soil, but because I had some coconut fiber lying around from orchids I replanted. Planted and marked with their contents, I spritzed them with water and waited for them to do something. They did nothing so I took a 30 minute walk over to Home Depot and bought a grow light. (I read somewhere that young ones should have 16 hours of sunlight. They will now receive plenty of beautiful artificial sun.)

So why no heirloom tomatoes or luscious bell peppers? Last year, my attempt at a tomato (bucket) garden was pathetic: 5 buckets, one took to disease; almost all fruit the survivors bore was stolen. Not just by squirrels, but women who very well might be my own grandmother (if she was not in California)?! I kid you not: one day as I cut back some house plants in my front room, I spied a curled-over-the-cane woman, topped with a poof of violet-gray. She stepped gingerly through my gated fence, snaged a barely ripe tomato, stuck it in her pocket and hobbled away!

I was so shocked I could only watch wide-eyed. It was not until she was well out of sight that I thought to run after her, throw her to the ground yelling, "how dare you steal my tomato!" break her cane over her head, take back my tomato and skip gingerly away with the knowledge that I had successfully assaulted somebody's grandmother while taking back what was rightfully mine. But no worries, my slate is clean, and a little less full of my own labor.

This year, after consultation I have gone with vegetables that are less eye appealing. After all, I don't really have the proper sun for tomatoes. I am thinking these seemingly less obvious vegetations will detract thieves; as will a large amount of chicken wire and possibly a nice padlock. I will however attempt my tomatoes in another fashion: I am taking to the roof. It is, after all, wasted on the cable man (which I don’t even utilize)-- he is the only one I have seen up there. I have asked the landlord and my request has gone through one affirmative with a tag of, “oh, but please don’t kill yourself.” Let us hope clearance is made and I will cultivate the roof into more than just shelter from the elements.

The City Gardener

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Cardamom Struesel Coffee Cake

My half-Lebanese friend, A, was making me Arabic coffee on the stovetop: boil, remove, boil, remove, boil, remove and serve. I watched as she deftly transferred the steaming contents into a mishmash of petite coffee cups, perfect for a 5 year old’s tea party. We returned to our seats, took the spiced contents, laughing and drinking over dessert. It became a tradition in A’s apartment that before fleeing for the night, we would slow down with some Arabic coffee. One round of coffee quickly became two, then three or four. We drank until we were too giddy with caffeine and sugar to move.

Each time she made it I ensured her it was fabulous—great until the last bits sloshed around the bottom of the cups and we read our fortunes in the grounds. I had had Greek coffee and Turkish coffee plenty of times, all appeared in the same baby mugs, but none had the aroma or flavor of A’s Arabic coffee. It filled the apartment, tinged the tips of our tongues and spread warmth throughout or bodies. A finally told me the secret to the coffee: the blackened beans are mixed with cardamom.

A few years later I would accompany A to Lebanon. Cardamom blew off the Mediterranean and seeped throughout Beirut: Families brought lawn chairs to the corniche, calling over coffee vendors who banged their brass pot to announce their arrival. On the city streets, coffee vendors pushed little wagons decorated brightly with Lebanese flags and red and white ribbons. Equipped with Bunsen burners, they brewed coffee for the businessmen who paused to take delight in the beverage. Young people sat in coffee shops that overflowed onto the street drinking the bitter coffee while smoking nargeela.

I always associated cardamom with A and her world.

We arrive in present day. D and I sit on the couch reading. I read a book on the history of food. He reads a book on the history of Vikings. D gets angry at the book, “it always just says spices, spices, spices, were brought back on their voyages to the Mid-East! Where is the human interest?! I want to know what kind!” I flipped the page in my history of food book making a casual comment about how the Vikings are pretty amazing to make it all the way to the Mid-East. Low and behold, my own book provides a short blurb on Vikings and cardamom.

D is amazed. He is giddy and grabs my laptop searching for cardamom in Scandinavian cuisine. He must taste what the Vikings tasted. It is not Arabic coffee he seeks, the Vikings did not bring Arabic coffee back to Scandinavia, they brought the cardamom pod. His search is complete when he finds a site recanting Scandinavian desserts, all chock full of roasted and ground cardamom pods. We learn that in their voyages, the Vikings grew a fond liking to cardamom. It became so popular in Scandinavia that the Vikings were soon bringing boatloads of it home.

We soon found the recipe below on Martha Stewart. “Genius!” D declared. And then, “I am so ahead of fashion!” Soon D is tasting cardamom in everything. We are eating Indian food and D proclaims hints of cardamom. I mumble something to the effect of, “duh, one of the main ingredients in most of it.” But soon the obsession takes him further, we must have an authentic Norwegian breakfast: herring, ryvita crackers, tomatoes and cucumbers-- a piercing shot of Aquavit is added to the occasion. “Cardamom! There is cardamom in the herring!” D announces. He runs to the refrigerator, removes the bottle and returns, “Aha! I told you! Spices! Spices are listed on the ingredients!” This of course actually proves nothing but D is confident in his discovery.

We make the cake and it is delicious. It better be-- with almost 4 sticks of butter how can it not be fantastic? It was so good that D went out and bought a new cake display to show off his work. This easy access only made the cake disappear faster. In the morning it is a good sweet breakfast. In the afternoon it is the perfect snack. Of course, it is best had with a cup of cardamom infused coffee.

This is the recipe as it appears on Marth Stewart.

Makes: 10-12 servings.
For the Struesel
* 18 whole cardamom pods
* 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
* 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
* ½ teaspoon salt
* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
For the Cake
* 2-½ cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* ½ teaspoon baking soda
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ¾ cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
* 1-¼ cups sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 1-¼ cups low-fat plain yogurt
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1) Preheat oven to 350°. Bake cardamom pods on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Finely grind cardamom in a spice grinder. Pass through a large-mesh sieve; set aside.
2) Prepare the streusel; Whisk flour, brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, and the salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.
3) Coat a 10-inch nonstick angel-food-cake pan with cooking spray; set aside.
4) Prepare the cake; Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, the cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the yogurt. Mix in vanilla.
5) Spoon half of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with 2 1/2 cups streusel. Top with remaining batter. Squeeze remaining streusel into large and small clumps; sprinkle on top of batter. Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan by slightly raising removable center piece; invert onto baking sheet, and then reinvert onto wire rack to cool completely.

Note: Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Roast Lamb w/ Mango-Mint Sauce, Moroccan Millet & Rum Pineapple w/ Baby Almonds

Spring is a fabulous time to slow down a little before the summer hustle. It is the time when we come out of doors with welcome arms. Everyone seems happier, more active and generally more excited to be alive. With this in mind, it is also a great time to celebrate. Be it any occasion: holiday, birthday, the weather itself, friends or engagements, now is the time to invite your loved ones into your home.

It was the combination of a traveling actor friend in town and two recent engagements of marriage that my friends would dine with me tonight. Their task was simple: a few bottles of wine. My task was to prepare an ideal spring feast. I believe we all accomplished our set duties.

While mulling over menu options I was torn between chicken, pork or lamb. Chicken seemed too average and easy, pork was, you know, the other white meat. Lamb seemed exotic. But while many people take great fear of lamb, I figured my friends were the adventurous types and I would forge ahead.

Sure enough when we sat to the table my friend DR voiced his concern: “You know Stacey, I’ve never eaten good lamb. I’m kind of afraid. It’s all been slightly… barnyardy?”

“That’s okay,” I reassured him, “I’ve never cooked lamb before, so we’re kind of even.” With that, he finished off his glass of wine. DR’s fiancé then voiced her concerns, “I’ve eaten lamb in kibe (Middle Eastern lamb balls with other spices) and on kebabs, but any roasted lamb I’ve ever had has been terrible.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re in for an adventure.” I returned.

No sooner was the lamb brought to the table that forks were rearing to stab at it. Across the board the meal was a success. DR and his fiancé were reassured the merits of good lamb, and I was reassured that I can cook lamb. The spices were a great compliment to the sauce, and with the millet side, everything was the colorful festive spring feast I sought.

DR mentioned his barnyardy objection to lamb. I would have to agree that lamb, like any meat is easily spoiled if a few rules are not met: freshness and cooking time. Freshness is key. If kept in the refrigerator (or meat department of your grocery store) too long the meat will begin to spoil (obviously). In the refrigerator, it will pick up the odors of food around it. Make sure to check dates and grade of meat to ensure freshness. Overcooked meat is depressing. This is easily done if a good meat thermometer is not utilized, or placed incorrectly. It is important to know what cut of meat you have, how it’s best to prepare that cut, and the ideal temperature for the outcome you desire.

With that, a fabulous spring meal, perfect for the upcoming holidays…

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 30 minutes. Inactive time= 5 hours to 2 days. Cook Time= depends on size of meat; about 40 minutes.
* 6 pound leg of lamb, ask your butcher to crack the bone and butterfly the cut**
* 3 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped
* 3 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
* 3 Tbl fresh sage, chopped
* 2 head of garlic, 1 crushed, 1 whole
* 20 pearl onions, 10 crushed, 10 whole
* 1 Tbl ground cumin
* 1 Tbl ground cardamom
* ½ Tbl ground cinnamon
* salt/ pepper
* 4 Tbl olive oil

1) Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. Mix the first 3 ingredients, 1 head of garlic and the ten crushed pearl onions with fresh ground pepper. Rub 2 Tbl olive oil over the lamb and rub the herb mixture over the leg of lamb; between the cuts, top and bottom. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 5 hours up to 2 days.
2) Preheat the oven to 300F. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator, brushing off about half the rub. Sprinkle with cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Amply salt and pepper both sides and between the cuts. Tie securely with twin to hold the meat together.
3) On the stovetop in a large skillet on high heat, warm 2 Tbl olive oil. Sear the leg on all sides. Apply a fresh sprig of mint and rosemary under the twine. Chop the top off the second head of garlic, just to expose the tips and place it on the skillet. Add the onions around the lamb.
4) Place on rack, fatty side up. Insert a meat thermometer deeply, almost to the bone.
5) The meat is done when the thermometer reads 125 for medium-rare.
6) Remove from oven and allow meat to rest on cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing.

** To butterfly meat is to slice it so the meat looks like a book with the bone as the book spine.

* 1 fresh mango, peeled and pit discarded
* 1 cup fresh mint
* 1 tsp Serrano pepper seeds
* 1 Tbl lemon juice
* pinch of salt

1) Use a hand-held or electric blender to purée all ingredients until evenly blended. Serve at room temperature to slightly chilled.

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Cook Time= 25 minutes
* 3 cups dried millet
* 6 cups water
* 1 bunch spinach, washed well
* ½ cup dried cranberries or apricots
* ½ cup roasted pine nuts
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Cook the millet according to package instructions. While it is cooking, sauté the spinach. Once done, leave on heat. Add spinach, cook about three minutes to reheat spinach; stirring to ensure the millet does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
2) Add dried fruit, nuts and salt/ pepper. Stir and place in serving bowl.

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Inactive Time= 1 hour.
* 1 fresh ripe pineapple
* 2 Tbl butter
* 1 cup dark rum
* 2 Tbl brown sugar
* ½ cup baby almonds **

1) Slice top and bottom off pineapple; slice off skin. Cut into quarters. Remove center rind. Cut each quarter into 4 pieces lengthwise. Place pineapple slices in shallow dish and cover with rum and brown sugar. Refrigerate 1 hour.
2) On a skillet on medium heat, warm the butter. Sauté pineapple slices until lightly browned.
3) While pineapple is browning, in a small skillet on medium heat pour the sugar-rum mixture. Let it warm while the pineapple cooks. Serve pineapple slices with ice cream, coated in rum-sugar syrup with baby almonds sprinkled on top.

** Baby almonds are found usually around late March. They are immature almonds, still in their fuzzy pods, plucked before the almond has the opportunity to harden into the nut we love to eat. To use, peel off the fuzzy outer shell. The inner snow-white nut is the non-ripe almond you want to use in this dish. They are crunchy and contain a clear jell inside (that eventually hardens to white with maturity)

*** Remember to save your bones for soup!!! ***

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF round up!

Over at Kalyn’s Kitchen, check out some WHB action. Today’s herb? Mint.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The City Gardener

We give up a lot living in the city: clean air and lungs, vast spans of land to mow, a little piece of nature... Of course, city living has its benefits and this is why we choose to live here. But whenever I leave the city I am quick to stop at all roadside produce carts, cheese farms, pick-your-own farms, or gaze longingly at gardens in their prime, be it on balconies or backyards, overflowing with freshness. I pout and realize, this is what I have given up!

It is a near oxymoron when a city dweller mentions putting care into a garden. But this is the year to prove that us city dwellers can grow green too! Hide no longer and be proud of that bucket of beans on your fire escape, the solitary tomato perched precariously on your windowsill, or your bucket of arugula hiding casually on your stoop. I am calling to arms The City Gardener.

I am forcing notice on my petite city garden and will post updates throughout the growing season. If any other city gardeners care to join in the occasion, by all means, keep track of your garden progress. You can send me your link, I'll throw it up with my updates, and we'll create a little city garden network.

With some advice from the Ms. Farm Girl, I have ordered my seeds from My radishes, arugula, lettuce assortment and beets should be arriving any day now. Until then, I have brought you my semi-happy windowsill herb garden.

Left to right: apple-mint, pineapple-sage, rosemary, basil and dill. Why Ms. Basil and Senior Dill have decided to be a no-show while all their friends happily thrive? I do not know (I even rotate them so they all receive equal light. Also, what’s the deal with my fruit herbs? I bought them thinking the names were oh so cute, but… they really do have hints of apple and pineapple?!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pomelo Salad (WHB/ WCB)

Oh sweet BBQ season. It means beaches, parks, potlucks and picnics. But what happens when you receive the dreaded request to, “just bring a side”? Your mind reels, palms sweat and hands twist into knots until…. Brilliance! Mother’s famous potato salad will be made! You arrive at your potluck/BBQ and realize it seems everybody had a similar mother with the same inclination towards potato salad. And now you must try everyone’s potatoes and tell them how subtly different they are:
“Oh, the hint of chipotle and mustard in this one is interesting.”
“Mmm, mint? That’s my favorite.”
“An interesting use of vinegar.” [Code for too much]
“Wow, another potato salad?”

Feel free to use any of the above. I remember my family always did something “different.” We brought a fruit salad. And since you can never go wrong with too much fruit at the above mentioned functions, this was an all too easy crowd pleaser.

With tradition in mind, I have altered the usual fruit salad into something colorful, slightly unusual and extremely refreshing. It is great for a small budget and can be remade in variations of one’s choosing. It can be tossed (for a large quantity) or set precisely (as above).

For this recipe I used a pomelo, happy relative of the grapefruit. They are the largest citrus available; mine was just larger than a cantaloupe. Sweeter than a grapefruit, mine contained miniscule seeds that were easy to bypass and eat, making them quite enjoyable. Sliced up they are easier to consume. The dressing for this recipe is fabulously refreshing. It couples nicely with the fruit and makes an overall perfect addition to almost any summer salad.

Makes: 2 servings. Active Time= 8 minutes.
* 1 pomelo (or red grapefruit)
* 1 orange
* 4 radish
* 1 stick celery
* 4-5 leaves fresh mint
* 1 Tbl Tarragon vinegar
* 1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
* 2 Tbl fresh orange juice
* sea salt

1) Slice the skins off the pomelo and orange. Leave whole and cut into ¼-inch thick discs. Slice the radish paper-thin. Arrange on plate or toss in bowl.
2) Slice celery into slivers; toss over citrus. Tear mint leaves and toss over citrus.
3) Sprinkle sea salt over salad.
4) In a small container mix the vinegar, lemon juice and orange juice. Pour this dressing over salad just before eating; mixing well before applying to salad.

Over at Kalyn’s Kitchen, check out some WHB action. Today’s herb? Mint.

And in non-food related news WCB at Eat Stuff brings us the world of cats. Here I seem to have encountered the end of a bitter fight. I think it might involve the new blanket basket I bought at the dollar store. Maybe it was something I said.

Head on over to Lindy Toast for the Something For Nothing wrap up!

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