February 2010

Rusa 790 xxx

2.28.10 Spanish Steps

Have you been to Txikito yet? As its name indicates (a Basque version of  the Spanish "chiquito," which means tiny), this Chelsea restaurant has only a few tables, and you'd be lucky to grab one on any night (or at lunch). Chefs and owners Eder Montero and Alexandra Raij turn out some wonderful regional Spanish food that takes me back to the years I spent in that beautiful country. My father was a professor of Spanish literature and, every seven years, would take his sabbatical there. I attended the 4th and 10th grades in Madrid, and went back for two semesters off when I was in college. I fell in love with the place, the people, the food, the language. Some of the dishes at Txikito work upon my memory in the way that Proust's madeleine did his: the fat, silky white asparagus of Navarra; the crisp croquetas with their centers oozing creamed cod or chicken; the boquerones, subtly saline white anchovies; but, most of all, the ensaladilla rusa. (Little Russian salad, supposedly invented by a Russian in the late 19th century.)

I used to eat this delightful version of potato salad, a classic Spanish tapa, almost every Sunday morning when I lived in Madrid in my twenties. They served it at a little café right on the edge of el rastro, the big flea market. The most outrageous punks would go there, flaunting their sky-high mohawks, tight leathers and scary piercings. I remember feeling super cool, kicking the sawdust on the floor, smoking my Marlboro reds and taking leisurely bites of this rich, creamy salad. Txiquito's version—potatoes, peas, carrots and bits of green olive bound together with homemade mayonnaise and mounded atop a salty layer of oil-cured tuna—takes me right back there.
Cocolime 790 xxx

2.27.10 Lime in the Coconut

Ever since that dinner at Il Buco a couple of weeks ago, I've been thinking about the wonderful coconut-lime sorbet I tasted there. So creamy and rich, yet so tart and refreshing. Once I started experimenting in the kitchen, I went off on my own tangent. What I came up with is different, a bit more exotic, but I think just as delicious. It's SO easy—did you get your ice cream maker yet? This recipe does call for a couple of unusual ingredients: deeply flavorful jaggery, which I showcased here, and those beautifully perfumed wild (kaffir) lime leaves, which I also recommended for this curry. If you have trouble finding the lime leaves, you can substitute some lime zest, though the flavor will be quite different. I have seen them on occasion at Whole Foods, definitely at Kalustyan's, and at any Thai market. I've also come across them dried, but have never tried those. (Someone once asked me to do a post about how to stock your pantry, and I will attempt that soon, but what I consider to be basic essentials may seem rather arcane.) Just because this is called sorbet, by the way, doesn't mean it's especially low in fat. Coconut milk is actually rather high in fat—how else could it be so unctuous? But supposedly this vegetable fat is more easily metabolized by the body. It contains lauric acid, which is also found in mother's milk and has been shown to promote brain development and bone health. Coconut milk is considered very healthy in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is used to heal ulcers.

2.26.10 Miso Hungry

Miso 790 xxx
photo by george billard
Not sure how many of you read New York magazine, but I wanted to point out that we scooped them this week! (Did I say "we"? I guess I mean me, and of course, you, gentle reader.) They featured a round-up of salts that followed on the heels of mine, and I was pleased to note that food critic Adam Platt's favorite is the same: Maldon sea salt. This whole round-up idea seems to be a hit around here, so I will plan to offer more. Next up, sometime in the near future: vinegars.Of late I have been obsessed with the notion of creating a miso-butterscotch pudding. You can imagine just by looking at that photo of miso, above, how these two luscious flavors might go well together, right? I need an afternoon to putter around in the kitchen and develop this recipe; hopefully some time will free up soon. I'm betting most of you don't eat much miso, but I think you'd really like it. It's produced by fermenting soy beans (or rice, barley, buckwheat and even hemp) with salt and a fungus (koji), and the resulting flavor is variously described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity and savory. (Hello, umami?) There are different types of miso—red, white, yellow, mixed—and they are all subtly different. Generally, yellow miso is slightly sweete; red miso is stronger and saltier; and white, commonly used for miso soup, is the most delicate. Apparently some of the nutrition in miso—including zinc, phosphorus, manganese, protein and copper—is destroyed through cooking, so it's often stirred into dishes late in the game. I'm sure you've had miso soup, right? A dashi broth with the paste stirred in at the end. Recently on Food52, someone submitted a recipe for oatmeal with miso stirred in after cooking. There are quite a few ways to incorporate this versatile seasoning—spread it on a sandwich, mix it into salad dressing, into rice, even into mashed potatoes. I recently posted a recipe for short ribs with miso. It's actually quite versatile, and can lend its earthy, salty goodness to many foods beyond Asian cuisine. Stay tuned for the miso-butterscotch pudding, but meanwhile here are a couple of easy ways for you to try it.

Wow 790 xxx

2.25.10 Drifting

Just managed to push the door open and pop outside to document this incredible snowfall. As you can see, huge branches have come down from the weight of the snow which has been accumulating since early this morning. It's already past my knees! I have never stepped into such deep snow. What a feeling of sinking—sort of scary but thrilling!
Barn 790 xxx
I think I have to go outside and properly clear the doorway so I don't get snowed in. I've already brought in a load of firewood in case the power goes out again. What a week for G to be away! I am butch-pilgrim-chick! Frontier woman! Too bad cooking for one is such a lonely enterprise because this is chicken-&-dumplings weather! Maybe I'll treat myself to some pasta...
Rock 790 xxx

Tagged — snow, nature
Persimmons 790 xxx
photo by george billard

2.25.10 Strange Fruit

Despite what they may look like (withered breasts? moldy mushrooms?) these are actually dried persimmons—hachiyas, I think, because of their pointy ends.  I picked them up at Mitsuwa, the Japanese market in New Jersey. Having recently snacked on some delicious dried persimmons from the farmer's market in Santa Monica, I was inspired to experiment with these. Right now, they're gently simmering on the stove with some dried tart cherries in a broth of orange juice and honey. (Spiked with a little cardamom, of course.) I'll let you know how they turn out. In the meantime, I'm having my breakfast of creamy sheep's milk yoghurt with some poached prunes and a few of those candied kumquats that first made their appearance alongside the burnt-orange ice cream. I am in heaven. I have loved prunes since childhood and fail to understand why they have been relegated to the geriatric set. The California Prune Counsel even started this big campaign to call them "dried plums." Which is, of course, what they are, but still. What's not to like? Prunes are essentially raisins, only bigger, meatier and more deeply flavorful. But even if you don't care for prunes, this is the season for delicious compotes made from dried fruits. Rather than buying flavorless, out-of-season fruits from Chile or wherever, consider turning to the more local dried bounty: apples, nectarines, apricots, cherries, prunes, raisins, dates, figs, etc. Any combination of these, poached in water to cover, reconstitutes into a soft, luscious tangle of sweet flavors.
Milks 790 xxx
from left: hemp, soy, rice and almond milks                                   photo by george billard

2.22.10 Got Milk?

If you do, you may also have gas, bloating, sour stomach or frequent breakouts, especially around your chin. This is another of my "alternative round-ups." I already raved about goat's milk to you here, but I'd like to tell you about some  other options in case you've got the dairy blues. All four milks you see above—hemp, soy, rice and almond—are available in organic boxed versions that are conveniently shelf-stable and thus easy to keep on hand. (They are vegan, too, but don't let that put you off if it's something you equate with Birkenstock-wearing, hairy-armpitted hippies. I grew up in Santa Cruz, so I don't share your hang-ups, man.) I usually have one or all of these milks open at a time, and I rotate them and use them in different ways. Have I mentioned the important of consuming a rich diversity of foods? That habit of eating the same thing, day in and out, even if it's "healthy," is not smart. Variety in all things (except your sex partners, maybe) is optimal.
Cans 790 xxx
photo by george billard

2.21.10 Curry in a Hurry

These are the cans of Maesri Thai curry paste that I have written about before. They save you so much time and you'll sacrifice scarcely anything in terms of flavor or quality. They are free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, and their 15 varieties very faithfully replicate both traditional and more unusual curries, from green to red. (The masaman curry paste, for instance, contains garlic, sugar, soybean oil, dried red chiles, tamarind juice, shallots, salt, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, galangal, cloves, kaffir lime and citric acid.) My friend Andrée recently appealed to me for some advice on the menu for a dinner party she was hostessing for 10 friends, and a delicious masaman curry was my first thought. With sticky rice and a sweet-tart cucumber salad, this dish makes a simple but slightly exotic meal that few can resist. For dessert, I suggested an easy and supremely refreshing combination of fresh pineapple with grated ginger, chopped mint and lime juice.
Shrimp 790 xxx
photo by george billard

2.20.10 My 100th Post

That's right, 100 notches on my blogging bedpost. Although gluttonforlife launched on Christmas Eve, I had been accruing posts for quite a while before that while we worked on the design. If you look back in the archives, you may run across my recipe for Spicy Shorties, another of my concoctions singled out on Food52's editors' picks this week. It's always an honor to be included among the many talented chefs and interesting recipes in that diverse coking community. I hope you've been enjoying the blog thus far, and always welcome your comments and requests. As Sandra Bernhard so eloquently put it, without you, I'm nothing.But, in the grand scheme of things—and I'm in this for the long haul—100 posts is just a drop in the bucket. So there will be no recipe for a torchon of foie gras here today. I'm saving the lemon soufflé for a truly special occasion. I seem to be on a bit of a seafood roll (watch your mercury intake!), so I'll stay in that vein with this easy dish of shrimp, onions and saffron. I was first served this in the home of a friend in Spain, and I remember being impressed with its simplicity, its intensity of flavor and its beautiful yellow color. It's also reminiscent of my mother's shrimp scampi, a dish requested by my sister Sarita on her birthday every year. It goes well with crusty bread (a whole wheat baguette?), or try serving it with some brown basmati rice to soak up the juices. And a glass of icy Sancerre, of course.
Saag paneer 790 xxx
photo by george billard

2.20.10 The Saag-a Continues

If you've come across fresh paneer at the market, or been bold and tried making your own, a dish of saag is a wonderful way to use those pillowy cubes of creamy cheese. Although we frequently see it made with spinach, saag is actually any dish of spiced, stewed greens with a bit of yoghurt and cream or buttermilk stirred in. As in India, you can use any combination of greens you want, including mustard greens, chard, kale and collards. I like to leave the greens on the toothier side, so the dish is a bit less like baby food, but make it however you like. You can enrich it with cream, although I like the tangy taste you get from buttermilk and yoghurt (and they have fewer calories). I imagine you could play around with soy or hemp milk. This recipe calls for garam masala, which is a classic blend of ground spices. Almost all Indian cooks have their own version, and it can vary greatly from one region to another. True to the spirit of any curry, you can tweak the ingredients and proportions to suit yourself. If you don't have paneer, you can try using cubes of firm tofu, chunks of fried potato, or even cooked chickpeas for this dish. It won't be the same, but it will get you in the ballpark.
Cockles11 790 xxx
photo by george billard

2.18.10 Cockles (& Mussels)

I've been in Minneapolis for work the past couple of days. Staying at a rather nice boutique hotel, The Chambers, that was recently acquired by Starwood. It's known as "the art hotel," because it's actually full of paintings and installations by "real" artists. The work in my room, however, is nothing to write home about. Had some lovely mussels here today. I once threw up out the door of a cab while driving up West Broadway, after having eaten a bad mussel at Caroline's comedy club in the seaport. This was sometime in the late 80s, but I still have a deep mistrust of these bivalves. They can be strangely murky and unpleasantly chewy. But ignoring the siren's call of the thin-crust pizza, I ordered a large bowl of the creatures. They arrived, plump and velvety soft, swimming in a creamy broth, scented with wine and garlic. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT? Not a thing. With these and a crisp green salad, I was happy. The meal put me in mind of another business trip, this one to Seattle, where I dined on a delicious bowl of Manila clams in a green coconut curry. And that reminded me that I've been meaning to share with you this wonderful recipe from Casa Mono, a Mario Batali side project where they serve delicious Spanish-influenced small plates.