Monday, July 28, 2008

Operation "Feed Pops" Is Well Underway

My papa hasn't been feeling too well lately and he's not eating much but canned broth on a bad day and prepackaged food on a good day. My father has always been an excellent cook and besides that, I just cannot have him eating solely for sustenance and not for enjoyment. I saw a recipe for fusili with zuchinni, corn, bacon and pesto in this month's Gourmet and I thought that this would be a good recipe to both feed my dad and put a dent in the zucchini that is just starting to overwhelm the garden. The recipe calls for a container of pesto, of course I made it instead so that recipe follows my notes on the pasta recipe. Oh, and at dinner, my dad ate seconds and took a container home!

Zucchini, Corn and Basil Fusili with Bacon:

6 bacon slices
1 pound fusilli
3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
1 (5- to 7-ounce) container basil pesto

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain on paper towels; discard drippings from skillet.

Meanwhile, cook fusilli in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quart water) until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then add vegetables to pasta in pot and cook, partially covered, 2 minutes (water will stop boiling). Drain.

Add pasta with vegetables to skillet along with pesto and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and toss. Season with salt and moisten with additional cooking water if necessary.

Top with crumbled bacon and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.

Notes: How can you crisp bacon and blanch zucchini, thereby wasting bacon drippings? That's wasteful. I drained almost all the fat but kept a bit to saute the zucchini for about 7-8 minutes, to get it golden but not make it mushy. I DID, however, blanch the corn on the cob to make it easier to cut off the kernels. Toss the corn in the skillet with the zucchini just for a minute. Then I put the vegetables in a huge pasta bowl with all the other ingredients and tossed with tongs to coat the pasta evenly. Yuo could, of course, make this without bacon but that was the best part. Actually, I rarely eat bacon and when I do, I want more than one slice per serving. Next time I'll up the bacon ante.


2 cups basil (the younger and more tender, the better!)
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
1/2 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. romano
salt and pepper

Process in the food processor. Easy. You may want to play with the amounts, everyone likes a different consistency. If you're planning on freezing any of this, leave out the cheese and remember to add it next time you use it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mmmm, que refrescante!

This sounds so good! This is a South Beach recipe so it calls for sugar substitute, I give that a wholehearted "hell no" but other than that, this sounds like a perfect summer drink and would surely make a great mixer for cocktails.

Mint-Ginger Spritzers

Serves 8

Prep time: 5 minutes
Start to finish: 10 minutes

3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons granular sugar substitute
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 (2-liter) bottle seltzer water, chilled
Ice cubes
8 small fresh mint sprigs

Place ginger in a small saucepan with water and sugar substitute. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and let steep in saucepan at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

After ginger syrup has steeped, add mint leaves and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain.

To serve, pour 1/2 cup of seltzer into a glass, add 1 tablespoon mint-ginger syrup, and stir. Add ice and stir again. Top drink with a mint sprig. Repeat for remaining drinks.

Buttermilk Cake with Mascarpone and Berries

I've mentioned a million times that I'm not really a cake person but I saw this particular beauty in the most recent issues of Gourmet and I HAD to try it. It is simple and elegant and downright delicious. I made a few changes-namely, I had no sherry so I just macerated the berried with sugar. Also, since I was using blueberries and I ADORE the flavor combination of blueberry and lemon, I zested a lemon into the cake batter and it was really phenomenal. One mistake I made though was when I added the buttermilk, the batter looked like it was curdling a bit. This freaked me out so I kept beating until smooth. I tasted my mistake in the ever-so-slightly tough texture of the cake. Moral of the story; don't be afraid of the buttermilk and only mix to combine ingredients completely and no more.

For cake:
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For berries:
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large

For cream:
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

Garnish: confectioners sugar

PreparationMake cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate berries:
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them, gently tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes. make cream and assemble cake: Beat mascarpone and cream with sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of cream and replace top half. Serve with berries.

Cooks notes:
•Cake, without cream, can be baked 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic wrap once cool and keep at room temperature. •Berries can macerate at room temperature up to 2 hours.

Monday, July 21, 2008

No, No, Wait, This Time the Genius Crown Belongs to My Mamma

Really quick: My mother told me she made some calamari salad the other day and that I should stop by the house and pick up the leftovers. Oh my, kudos mamma! This is a woman who knows NOT TO OVERCOOK SEAFOOD! She just cooked the calamari for 40 seconds and then mixed it with olives, red onions, tomatoes and I think there were snippets of chives, basil and parsley in there. I don't know what else she put in it, perhaps some olive oil and vinegar, but it was fantastic!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I Think That This Time, I Might Be the Genius

My dearest, loveliest Suki had a birthday last week and I just can't resist the temptation to have a throwdown for anyone, but especially my girl who is moving away from us in three scant weeks! Sigh, sniffle.....Since she is headed to Baltimore, which isn't really the South but has a lovely tradition of boiled crab, I got to thinking about my beloved crawfish boil and since I'm not trying to mess with crabs or crawfish being airshuttled in, I decided to do a Louisiana-style seafood boil. This includes corn on the cob, baby potatoes, andouille sausage and a whole mess of shrimp, which is how I coerced Suki into letting me throw her a party. That girl is a sucker for shrimp, I bet she'd do your yardwork or change your oil for a couple measly crustaceans. All the ingredients are simmered in a spicy and highly seasoned concoction, then dumped on a table lined with newspapers and everyone just stands around the table, throws etiquette to the wind and mows down, it's pretty wonderful.

Well, the week leading up to the boil, I had procured most of my ingredients but the day of the party rolled around and I had no crab boil mix. For people not familiar with such a potion, boils usually start with a liquid or powdered, premade mixture of seasonings. It's very powerful stuff, somtimes it is hard to be around when things are cooking in it because it can burn your eyes and the inside of your nose. I went to three different stores but none was to be had. Kind of frantic, I started doing an online search for a recipe but every crab boil, crawfish boil or seafood boil recipe started with that damn, premade stuff. Finally, I found a recipe and while I didn't follow it exactly (just cannot bring myself to do that), I made my own boil and it was darn tasty. Next time though, more heat!

Seafood Boil
4 quarts of water
1 bottle of beer
olive oil-a few tablespoons?
a whole mess of hot sauce- half a bottle or so?
fennel seeds
ground mustard
bay leaves
mustard seeds
Old Bay seasoning
salt and pepper
several garlic cloves, smashed
3 lemons, cut into halves
1 lb large shrimp, keep the shell and tail on
1 lb andouille, I subbed turkey kielbasa
1 lb new potatoes
3 ears of corn, shucked and split in half pieces

Get the boil together by putting liquid and spices in a large pot. If you can do this outside, all the better but if not, then at least eat outside. As far as the spices are concerned, just dump it all in, I'd guesstimate about 2 tablespoons of everything and if you leave one or two out, no worries, it will still be delicious. A couple bay leaves, seven or eight cloves of garlic, toss in the lemons and bring this mess up to a boil. Of course, you'll want to add the potatoes and corn first as they need a longer cooking time. Once they're just about done, 15 or 20 minutes, add the sausage and shrimp. Let it go about two minutes, then quickly drain and dump on the table. YOU WILL RUIN YOUR SEAFOOD BOIL IF YOU LET THE SHRIMP COOK MORE THAN COUPLE OF MINUTES! REMEMBER THAT IT WILL CONTINUE TO COOK AFTER IT IS REMOVED FROM THE BOIL! OVERDONE SHRIMP ARE THE BANE OF EXISTENCE! DON'T EVEN BOTHER COOKING THEM IF YOU'RE JUST GOING TO RUIN THEM! OK, I'm sorry, I just really needed to make that point.

*Some notes: Obviously, if you're having a party, you're going to need to multiply this recipe. And if you're inviting Suki, you should buy several extra pounds of shrimp because she may be little but she can EAT SHRIMP! You can put out little bowls of melted butter if you like for dipping but you don't really need it. This is perfect party food, not much work for you and the guests think it's fun. Plus, for cleanup, all you really need to do is gather up the newspaper off the table with all the shrimp heads and corn cobs on it and throw it away. That's it. I made a slammin' cake too but I'll have to blog about that some other time because this post wore me out and now I'm hungry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

All Products Are Not Created Equal

I've mentioned my love for Cook's Illustrated (both magazine and cookbook received as thoughtful and wonderful gifts!)and how they attack recipes and products with impressive zeal to weed out inferiority and tweak endlessly for improvement. They often do staff tastings of products and recommend their top scorers. Every time I read one of these tidbits, I write it down on a scrap of paper, only to be consumed by one of the several black holes that seem to follow me around. Today as I scribbled down tidbit #83582374, I was struck with a brilliant plan; I could post them on the blog, thereby being eternally available to me and anyone else who cares!

-Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil is recommended as being particulary fruity.

-As a kid, my grandmother made the best salads. I found out later it was because she used red wine vinegar that my grandfather made and you just can't beat that homemade flavor. Cook's though, had to test supermarket brands and the winner was Spectrum Natural Organics, followed closely by Pompiean. Both are made with Concord grapes, either a blend (Spectrum) or undiluted (Pompiean). I'm guessing that could be a good sign; the grapes my grandfather used locally here in New York were probably Concord so I have high hopes!

-I am a Penzey's spice junkie. I assume that all of their spices are far superior to the sawdust sold in supermarkets but they never score all that well in these testings. Cook's rated Penzey's chili powder lowest out of the 10 or 12 tested products and Spice Island received unequivocal praise. I'm not sure I am ready to knock Penzey's off my spice pedestal and I'm also not going to buy 12 different kind of chili powders to prove Cook's wrong.

-As a nod to summer, they tested hot dogs and accoutrements. Nathan's dogs and Gulden's spicy brown mustard rated the highest out of all products tested. I like Gulden's spicy brown just as much as anyone else but these people OBVIOUSLY did not try WNY's homegrown Sahlen's hotdogs and Weber's horseradish mustard.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Little of This, Little of That #4

I'm working on a loooooooong post, promise, that's my excuse for my absence. No, I just started working on the long post last night as I experienced insomnia yet again, so it's really no excuse but it's summer, work is busy blase blase blah.

Anyway, let me give you a few nuggets to chew on while I craft a real meal.

-I made this slamming guacamole yesterday, the cilantro from the garden was so fresh and tender it almost had a sweet taste to it, amazing. I've made guac many times over the years-some recipes say only onions, others only garlic, some add sour cream. My tried and true ingredients though are avocado (clearly), red onion, garlic, lime, cilantro, ground chipotle, cumin and a little tomato if they're particularly lovely. I ate it with these tamari and seaweed rice crackers and perhaps that sounds odd but I assure you, it was perfection.

-Tempeh is disgusting. So, so bad. I know a lot of people don't like tofu (I am not one of those people) but there really isn't a ton of flavor, it just tastes like whatever it's cooked/marinated in. Tempeh though, ugh. From the beginning, it is removed from its package looking as highly processed as a kielbasa. Really, I don't want to eat anything that is the same shape as the package it came in. Plus, it has an awful, bitter, sharp chemical taste to it. I tried to choke it down on the first sitting but when I got to the leftovers on day two, I could pretend no longer.

-The Lexington Co-op has these lovely little inari stuffed with avocado and doused with sesame oil. The fried tofu exterior and rice interior soak up the sesame flavor and melt so lusciously with the ripe avocado. Damn, they are good. Sadly, I rarely get to the Co-op during the day and that seems to be the only time they're available.

-Suki/Buckley's 4th of July BBQ was awesome, especially that jerk chicken, ooh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! Dan and Danielle's BBQ was also great; Danielle made a pasta dish with tons of basil, tomato and brie and I think I just gained a few pounds thinking about it.

Enough for now, I could go on like that all day but I've got work to attend to!