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Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

asparagus-hollandaise

As I’ve said, I’m working on Chapter 2 of my book Domestic Intelligence, a book about changing recipes to fit your life.  Chapter 2 is How To Make a Recipe Bigger or Smaller.  I picture most chapters as having about a dozen recipes treated in detail.  Sometimes I have to search and search for a recipe to illustrate a strategy, but sometimes, blessedly, a recipe finds me.  When we chose our cookbook of the month for May, Sonja Lee’s Sauce, I didn’t realize that one of its recipes would be perfect for chapter 2.  Imagine my delight.

The recipe is for hollandaise, a classic French sauce, lemon-flavored butter custard, perhaps best known as the sauce on Eggs Benedict.  I need to find out what the connection is to the Netherlands; most of the things we call Dutch in English are insults, dating from the great trade rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it would also be nice to know why those eggs are called Benedict.

But all that is by the by.  What’s important about the recipe for chapter 2 is that it illustrates the strategy “Make it bigger to make it easier.”

Here are the ingredients for Sonja’s hollandaise:

2/3 cup butter
2 eggyolks
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

And here’s what she wants you to do (in my words, not hers):

Take two saucepans, A and B.  Melt the butter in saucepan A, warm the eggyolks in saucepan B.  With a whisk, beat the yolks in saucepan B, all the while keeping the eggs from overcooking by moving saucepan B over the burner and then away, over and then away.  Keep an eye on saucepan A to be sure the butter doesn’t burn.

When the yolks have absorbed enough air to change color from eggy yellow to a pale lemon color, remove both saucepan B and saucepan A from the stove.  Quickly, before they have a chance to cool off, pour the melted butter from saucepan A in a steady, thin stream into the yolks in saucepan B, whisking like crazy all the while.

When you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Voila, hollandaise.

If that way of making hollandaise sounds hard to you, believe me, it is hard.  I used to make hollandaise that way a zillion years ago, before I owned a blender.  As soon as I had a little mechanical friend to help me, I started making hollandaise like this:

Put the yolks in the blender, turn it on high, and beat air into the yolks.  Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove.  When it has just melted, take the little inner cap off the blender.  With the blender running, either pour in the hot butter in a thin, steady stream or spoon it in a spoonful at a time.

Again, when you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Again, hollandaise.  Hollandaise that’s just as good, just as authentic, and dead easy.

There’s only one problem about making the hollandaise the easy way with Sonja’s ingredient list:  It won’t work.  Or rather, it won’t work in my kitchen (it might in yours).  It won’t work because my blender won’t beat only two yolks.  They’ll just lie there under the reach of the blades, and when I pour the butter in it will make scrambled eggs.  Delicious scrambled eggs, but not what I’m looking for.

What do I need to do?  Make it bigger to make it easier.

I happen to know that my blender will blend three yolks just fine.  (To check yours, sacrifice a few yolks; then you’ll know for all time how many you need.)  Two yolks plus half of two yolks (one yolk) equals three yolks.  Now do the same thing to the butter.  Two-thirds of a cup plus half of two-thirds of a cup (one third of a cup) equals one cup.

Or, to put it more succinctly, but at the risk of scaring away the mathphobic, multiply each of the main ingredients by 1.5:

2/3 cup butter x 1.5 = 1 cup of butter
2 eggyolks      x 1.5 = 3 eggyolks

The minor ingredients, the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, I’m going to be adding to taste anyway, so I don’t bother to multiply them by anything.

Your blender may be different.  Two yolks might work fine, or you might need four yolks, in which case you’ll need a cup and a third of butter.  (Two times two-thirds of a cup of butter is four-thirds of a cup, or a cup and a third.  A third of a cup of butter is an awkward measurement; call it five Tablespoons.)

Great.  Now I have a very easy recipe and more hollandaise than I really wanted.  I guess properly the second half of the story goes in chapter 5, how to make a recipe cheaper, where we talk about never wasting anything, but I don’t expect to be working on that chapter till 2012, so I’ll bring you hollandaise part 2 as soon as I figure it out.

Stay tuned.

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raspberry-vinegar

June is a good time to make raspberry vinegar, June or July, when raspberries are at their berriest.  We get raspberries year round these days, and that makes me happy, but I still like to eat as many of them as I can in June and July.

So you take a clean bottle with a stopper and you push raspberries in till the bottle is almost full.  You want a combination of whole berries, berries pulled in half, and crushed berries — sort of a time-release raspberry spansule.

Then you pour in some decent white wine vinegar.  Don’t you hate it when recipes say things like that?  “Decent white wine vinegar.”  How can you tell whether it’s decent?  Open the bottle, put your thumb over the top, turn the bottle upside down, right the bottle again, and lick your thumb.  Sourness and maybe even a tiny bit of fruitiness?  Decent.  Metal or mildew or dust or rot?  Use it to wash windows.  I can buy decent white wine vinegar at my regular old supermarket; I hope you can too.

At any rate, you then pour in your (decent) white wine vinegar, put the stopper in, and turn the bottle this way and that till there are no air bubbles left in the raspberries.  Treat the bottle as you do an open pickle jar; if you keep opened pickle jars in the refrigerator, keep the raspberry vinegar there too.

At first the mixture will be ridiculously incarnadine, like berry blood on fire.  Then in a while the berries will fade to a very Goth purplish-grey.  Don’t be sad, that means the vinegar is ready to use.

Use for what? 

To revive pale-tasting fruit. 

You can find thousands of recipes that use raspberry vinegar in salad dressings and sauces and stews, but I don’t make any of them.  I save my raspberry vinegar for fruit that needs a boost — for plums that aren’t plummy enough, peaches too far removed from their home in the Central Valley, strawberries that taste more white than red, tomatoes (remember, tomatoes are fruit too) a day too many off the vine.  Lemon juice is tremendous, of course, but raspberry vinegar is subtler.  You never need more than a quarter of a teaspoonful, more often several drops.  (Pure cane sugar also helps.  So does salt, even less salt than raspberry vinegar, just a few grains.)

When the year comes round to June again, I drain the last of my raspberry vinegar into a glass, crushing the faded grey raspberries to extract the last goodness from them, add as much simple syrup as I have vinegar (simple syrup is one part sugar dissolved in one part water), and top the mixture with sparkling water.  This drink is called raspberry shrub, and Mark doesn’t like it, so I have it all to myself.  And then I start in with another year’s worth of raspberry vinegar.

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chx-soup

All winter long I made this soup once a week.  Considering exactly how much that makes, my whole family was eating chicken soup for up to three meals a week.  No wonder we didn’t get all that sick this winter.

Place a whole chicken into a large pot and cover with water.  Put the pot over medium-low heat and let the pot simmer (not boil) for about an hour and a half, until the chicken is cooked through and the water has taken on all of its delicious essence.  Remove the chicken from the pot into a bowl for right now.

To the pot add:

  • two carrots cut into big chunks
  • 2 celery stems cut into big chunks
  • a large onion, cut in half, with its skin still on
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 stems fresh thyme

Let the pot continue simmering until everything in it is totally cooked through, has become completely saturated with the chicken broth, and the amount of liquid has decreased by about one-third.  Pour the stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl and then leave it in the bowl for right now.  Everything that’s in the sieve has served its purpose and can now be thrown in the trash.

Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Then add:

  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stems, diced
  • 1 onion, diced

Let the carrots and celery and onion fry up, making sure to let them stick a little bit.  The browning and sticking means they’re caramelizing and burning just a little bit, which will give the soup a much richer and deeper flavor.  When they’re beginning to stick to the point where it’s hard to scrape them off the bottom, add the stock back into the pot and turn the temperature down to low.  Now scraping the bottom of the pot should be pretty easy.  (Deglazing … it’s a wonderful thing.)  Put the top on the pot and let everything cook through.

By now the chicken in the bowl should be cooled enough that it’ll be easy to handle.  Remove as much of the meat as you want to add to the soup and then discard the rest of the chicken.  Add the meat to the soup pot and give everything a good stir.

15 minutes before serving sprinkle your tiny pasta of choice into the pot (about 1/2-1 cup) and give everything a stir.  Put the top back on and let it all simmer together until you’re about to serve.  Then salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

This is by far my son’s favorite food.  Even when he says he’s not hungry he’ll eat two bowls of it.  When he’s very hungry he’ll eat four.  It’s kid-friendly, budget friendly, healthy, and delicious.  Even though spring’s officially here, in my house we’re still going to be eating this once a week.

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Springtime Pasta

artichokes

“Pasta primavera” is Italian for springtime pasta, but the dish is American, not Italian.  Some recipes call for a white sauce of one kind of another.  Regardless, every single one I’ve seen is out of touch with the seasons. 

The recipe from Sunset magazine, for instance, sounds delicious, but it’s summertime pasta, not springtime.  Garlic, green beans, onion, pine nuts, red bell pepper, and tomatoes (both dried and fresh romas).  Great combination for the 4th of July.

Likewise the recipe from Giada De Laurentiis sounds tasty but unseasonal.  Carrots, cherry tomatoes, dried Italian herbs, onion, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, yellow squash, zucchini.  (It’s odd to see an Italian call for dried Italian herbs, but I’m sure she knows her audience.)

MealsMatter.com calls for summer eggplant, tomato, and zucchini along with carrots and garlic, available year-round, and dried basil and dried oregano, wintertime ingredients.  Only the mushrooms in this recipe are springtime vegetables, and then only in some climates.

From here on out, the flavors get more and more cacophanous.

The Mayo Clinic recipe, one of the more restrained, calls for broccoli, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, peas, red or green peppers, and  zucchini or yellow squash.  No such veggies in the spring garden as broccoli, peppers, and summer squash, of course.  But the flavors — broccoli, mushrooms, peas, peppers, squash.  Who’s on first?  Who’s in charge?

Cooking Light piles one flavor on top of another.  Asparagus, basil, broccoli, crushed red pepper, garlic, grape tomatoes, green beans, onion, peas.  Asparagus, broccoli, green beans, and peas are all star flavors.  They fight one another for center stage.  Even mixing two of them takes a deft hand, and all four in one dish is likely to taste disgusting.

One of the many recipes on Cooks.com combines basil, broccoli, carrots, garlic, green beans, oregano, parsley, peas, thyme, and tomatoes.  That’s not a recipe, it’s a shopping list.

AllRecipes.com comes in with asparagus, balsamic vinegar, basil, carrot, garlic, grape tomatoes, green beans, Italian seasoning, lemon juice, lemon zest, onion, parsley, red bell pepper, yellow squash, zucchini,

OK, enough mocking and complaining.  What do I make when I make springtime pasta?  I choose one vegetable from this list to be my featured player and one other for my support role:

artichokes
asparagus
fava beans
peas (English peas or sugar snaps or snow peas)

So for instance I might have a big bunch of asparagus and a handful of fava beans.  Or I might have a mixture of different kinds of peas and half a dozen of the tiny artichokes available in most stores only in the springtime even though they grow that way year-round.

I cook each kind of vegetable alone and minimally in the microwave, except the artichokes, which must be blanched lest they be too bitter to enjoy.  I might finish the artichokes or the asparagus under the broiler with a lick of olive oil for an extra hit of flavor.

I put my pasta water on.  (My pasta of choice for springtime is the fresh kind from the deli case.)

I chop a shallot or some cloves of garlic or some scallions small and put them in a frying pan with a hunk of butter.  When I add the pasta to the pasta water, I turn the flame on under the frying pan.  As soon as the butter foams, I turn the heat off.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, I drain it but not thoroughly, so some of the cooking water will combine with the foamed butter to make a kind of thin sauce.  I add the pasta and the vegetables to the frying pan plus salt and some grindings of pepper.

That’s it.  Springtime pasta that actually tastes like spring.

Before I sign off, I have to recite for you the ingredient list in a pasta primavera recipe I found on RecipeZaar:

   8 ounces pasta
   1/4 cup butter
   1 1/2 cups milk
   1/2-1 1/2 tablespoon flour
   1 envelope vegetable soup mix
   parmesan cheese
   salt and pepper

I’m speechless.

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green-pepper

Quick, before I forget, I wanted to give y’all an update on Chinese Potatoes and Peppers, which I had been trying to figure out for three years, since the very first time I visited Tess in China.  Having conquered it, I was eager to try it out on her, and in so doing I learned two new things:

(1) Do not let the potatoes brown even one tiny bit.  If you do, the dish will taste like hash browns.  Nothing against hash browns, but this is not the place for them.

(2) Since you have to start in early on the potatoes anyway, as soon as you’ve set them on their hours-long soak, cut the peppers and spread them out on a towel to dry.  With less moisture, they’ll cook faster and have no chance of steaming.  (I would also try this trick in Mexican cooking.  Start way ahead and give the cut peppers a chance to dry out before you scorch them.)

Did Tess agree with me that I had indeed solved the mystery?  Yup, she said it was spot on.  She also said that there’s another potato and pepper dish, this time with vinegar, that I have to try next time I’m there.  I’m all agog.

MB:  My local incredibly delicious Chinese restaurant (shout out to Wang’s) makes shredded potatoes and peppers in vinegar sauce.  It is the most incredible thing in the whole world.  If you learn to make it please, please, please teach me too!

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Last Night at MB’s

04-13-09-006-21

Last night I followed in the great American tradition of the day-after-Easter-dinner … I made egg salad sandwiches.  Oh so easy, and OH SO delicious.

I peeled some of our beautifully dyed Easter eggs and broke them up with a fork.  I finely diced half an onion and put it into the bowl, then mixed in a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, about a tablespoon of mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.  I mixed it all up and then served it on whole wheat bread with turkey bacon.

M-C: Here’s a book that every egg-lover will enjoy: Marie Simmons’s The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Soup to Dessert (Houghton Mifflin, 2000).  Marie is one of those solid cookbook writers who for some reason never make it into the pantheon of Food Network or Bravo fame but who go on producing one dependable book after another for years, winning James Beard awards and loyal readers, among whom I count myself.

Her chapter on egg salad in The Good Egg is typical.  First a run-down on “normal” egg salad, the kind that comes on deli egg salad sandwiches, and all the ways to ring changes on it: slicing the eggs, mashing them, chopping them coarse or fine; home-made or store-bought mayo, and all kinds of flavorings for it; and more than a dozen ingredients to add, like grated onion, chopped dill pickle, and chervil.

But wait.  That’s just the beginning.  Then come 21 full recipes for egg salads unlike deli egg salad.  Potato, bacon, and egg salad with wilted spinach; rice, green bean, and egg salad; chicken and egg salad with curry mayo and toasted hazelnuts.  And that’s just one of fourteen chapters.

What’s the difference between her cookbooks and Ina Garten’s?

Ina would try for the one egg salad that everybody in the whole world will enjoy.  In fact, she gives us that very egg salad in Barefoot Contessa at Home, Clarkson Potter, 2006 pp. 40-41.  Eggs, mayo, grainy mustard, dill, salt, pepper.  And that’s it.  If she finds another egg salad that she likes — and that everyone else in the whole world will like — she’ll tell us about it in another book.  Ina’s like Zoloft for anxious cooks.  Stay calm.  Don’t worry.  Just do exactly as I say and everything will be fine.

Marie, on the other hand, is like caffeine for exuberant cooks.  Wow!  Look at this!  This is great!  Don’t like this?  Then how about that?  Her books are capacious and crowded with ideas and real writing.  Her food is the everyday food I like to cook for myself.  She has done several books for Williams-Sonoma, and those I tend not to like because her personality gets smoothed down beyond recognition.  But by all means check out her website, which is scrappy and funny and chock-full of generous, jolly advice and recipes.  I think you’ll like her.

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ceci-e-tria

Writing about my falling in love with dried beans on a trip to Italy made me want to go back and cook the dish that won me, ceci e tria, pronounced chay-chee-ay-TREE-ah.  Ceci e tria has four components: chickpeas, chickpea broth, boiled noodles, and fried boiled noodles, and I think you’ll love it.

Cook dried chickpeas by your favorite method of cooking dried beans.  Mine is to put them in a slow cooker, cover them with plenty of water, lightly salt the water, plug the cooker in, and go away for a couple of days.  When I’m ready to make the dish, I transfer the chickpeas and their broth to a stovetop pan.

Taste the chickpea broth.  Ceci e tria is a southern Italian dish.  Think the cooking of the poor.  Think austerity.  Think thin, small, precious treasures wrested from the unyielding earth.

That said (and in such purple prose), if the broth needs more flavor, here are some things I sometimes add: braised bitter greens, like broccoli raab or collards; canned tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes; fried shallots or onions; fried celery; bay leaves; meat broth; parsley.  You don’t want to get away from the thin, hard flavor of the original, but you also don’t want to punish yourself for not being poverty-stricken.

I bring the broth up to a simmer and hold it there while I’m working on the noodles.

Boil some noodles till they’re cooked al dente and drain them thoroughly (but don’t rinse them).  Plop half into the simmering broth and the other half into a wide frying pan (or a wok) with a good slick of olive oil.  Fry them over a medium flame till they are crackly and brown, as much as 10 minutes depending on how high you prefer to keep the flame.  As you take the pan off the fire, mix in some garlic that you have first crushed and then chopped, some dried red peppers, the kind you get to sprinkle on your pizza in pizza joints, and some salt.  Serve the noodle soup and the fried noodles separately; the fried noodles go on top.

Mangia.  Mangiate.  And know that leftovers are delicious as long as you keep the broth and the fried noodles away from each other till the last minute.

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