Monday, September 16, 2013

Liberty's Kitchen and Cowboy Caviar

If you don't know about Liberty's Kitchen, you should. It's an unassuming little cafe near Tulane and Broad with a great mission and delicious food. They're only open for breakfast and lunch, which means I don't get there very often but I consider it a real treat when I do.
I've never had anything there that wasn't good; black bean burger, hot sausage po-boy, the salad with green onion-tarragon vinaigrette, the SCONES and their specialty, shrimp and grits, is to die for. They are also very reasonably priced and their sandwiches come with cowboy caviar, chips or coleslaw. You will want the cowboy caviar! But I'll get to that in a minute. I want to reiterate that their prices are lower than a lot of just ok sandwich shops AND include a side (I'm looking at you, ManhattanJack!) I've also dealt with them on numerous occasions for catering and find that they are not only delicious and a good value, they are among the few outfits in this city that can properly estimate how much food will be needed for different sized groups. I'm shocked at how many catering places don't seem to understand that.

Anyway, all that aside, their cowboy caviar is an incredible black-eyed pea salad that I've tried to re-create. I'm sure it's not as good as theirs but it's pretty tasty. The husband went back for seconds and THIRDS! I eat it as a salad/side dish, husband eats it more like a dip, with corn chips. This is just an outline, you can certainly vary the amounts.

Cowboy Caviar

1 lb. black-eyed peas
2 ears of corn, husks removed, charred on the stovetop and cut from the cob.
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
2-3 ribs of celery, diced

1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions, greens and whites
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
a little squirt of Dijon mustard
a little squirt of Steen's cane syrup
a few dashes (or several) of hot sauce

Combine all the legumes in a bowl. For the dressing, whiz this up in a blender, then pour over the legumes. I didn't have any tomato or avocado but I think both would make nice additions here. You want to let this sit for at least a few hours so the flavors can meld together and it's just keeps getting better!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ratatouille Baked Ziti

Again inspired by our time in Provence. I wanted to make ratatouille but also wanted baked ziti. So I combined the two and topped it with béchamel and mozzarella.

Since I made this meatless and I knew my husband would want meat, I made meatballs on the side. I've posted one version of my meatballs before but it's basically for every pound of meat, use 1 egg, a large handful of breadcrumbs, a few cloves of garlic, 1 small onion, about 1/4 c. grated romano and seasonings. Sometimes I do all beef, sometimes 1:1 beef and pork. I add red pepper flakes, basil or whatever else I've got. A glug of red or white wine, it's always different but the structure remains the same. This time, I ground up about a teaspoon of fennel seeds and I loved this addition.

I would have liked more sauce but I'm writing the recipe as I made it. So perhaps next time I would reduce the amount of pasta used (1 lb.) or increase the ratatouille recipe. Or maybe just add another can of whole tomatoes. I think this recipe is fairly forgiving.

1 medium eggplant
1 bulb fennel
1 large onion
2 medium zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 head garlic
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
salt and pepper

Cut all vegetables (not including tomatoes) in large chunks, coat with olive oil and roast. Also, the garlic doesn't need to be cut, just roast the whole head. Temperature can vary but I did it for about 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Once roasted, add to a pot with the canned tomatoes, bring to a soft boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add herbs and seasoning. Cook until it tastes good to you. I think this step took me about 20 minutes.

Bechamel (from Mario Batali, Food Network):
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.

Toss the ratatouille with 1 pound of boiled ziti or penne or any other shape you like. Pour the béchamel over the top. Sprinkle about 1 cup of grated cheese over the whole thing and bake for 30 minutes at 375. If the top isn't browned, put it in the broiler for a few minutes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


So sad when you make something that just doesn't turn out the way you want it to:( So we just got back from a delightful trip to France and of course I tried to recreate a bit of the magic here at home by having people over for dinner and crepes last night. Not having made crepes since I was but a teen, I consulted Alton Brown and smitten I was surprised at the differences between them, not major really but I expected to see a the same standard proportions. See? They both call for two eggs but with significantly different amounts of flour. I went with Alton because I figured SK's more egg to flour ratio might be more omelette-y than crepe-y. Plus, I added 2 T. of sugar and a splash of vanilla. I have to say that they really didn't taste of sugar or vanilla, nor did I like the texture. It was thick, or maybe dense? And kind of chewy? Anyway, I guess I'll just have to keep practicing, which I'm fine with.

Alton Brown:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter


2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Two pinches of salt
Few gratings fresh nutmeg
2 tablespoons honey

I was also yearning for some hearty bread, seeded and rich with different textures. I found a recipe from the Harvard School of Public Health and I can't really fault them because I deviated from the recipe. But they say "There is no right and wrong when making this bread!" And I believed them. Anyway, here's what I did. First, I cut it because I just didn't need three loaves. Plus, I subbed some flours for others that I did not have. Finally, I made a sponge with the flour before adding the seeds and whatnot, unlike the recipe, which says to add flours last and no sponge. The sponge was going a-ok, growing rapidly and smelling deliciously yeasty. Then I added the seeds and it all went to shit. When I started kneading, I can't even explain it. I've never felt dough like that before. There was absolutely no stretch or pull to it, if that makes any sense. I did what I could on the kneading front and then let it rise into a pathetic little ball. I let it go for an hour, during which time it rose almost imperceptibly. Let it go a while longer and then put it in the refrigerator overnight. I didn't even have the heart to turn on the oven for that sad mess. There's only so much kitchen disappointment I can take in one day. I finally baked it, the cruel, hard-hearted knot that it was, but haven't yet tasted it. I'm hoping that, once toasted and gilded with butter, it will be somewhat edible but we'll see. What did I do wrong???

1 1/4 cups of warm water (110–115°F)
1 packets of dry active yeast (1/4 ounce each)
3/4 cup whole grain rye flour
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
2 grams of salt
Canola oil or canola oil spray, as needed
Seeds and Grains

1/3 cup of ground flax seeds (grind them in a coffee grinder, or buy milled flax seeds)
1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup whole rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat bran

Friday, July 19, 2013


This is mostly for me so I don't keep creating lists in my iPhone of random things I want to keep track of. But follow me on my journey if you like!

I saw this in the National Portrait Museum in DC. Love Mickalene Thomas!

Real live mermaids! Never thought I'd be planning a trip to Tampa!

Reading "Americanah" by Nigerian author Adichie. Curious about a Nigerian snack she mentions called chin-chin.

Since I don't live in Paris, Dave Leibovitz makes me want to try making these.

Be still my heart. Fresh fig cake with buttermilk glaze!!!!!!!!!

More on figs.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fig Preserves

I love figs and I love living in a region where they grow abundantly. My husband gave me a fig tree when we bought our house and while it's growing rapidly, it's still a baby. There are however, several mature trees around the city. Now, lest you think I am a common thief, I make sure I case the trees for some time to ensure that no one is paying attention to these beauties. It is just rude to let good fruit rot on the tree, no? Anyway, we raided a few trees on the 4th of July and I had about three pounds of figs to contend with. There's a fig cake I love and there's always fig ice cream but yesterday I decided just to make some preserves. I looked at several recipes online and here's an approximation of what I did.

Fig preserves:

6 cups figs, washed, stemmed and halved
2 cups sugar
1 lemon, sliced thinly
juice of one more lemon
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. clove
1/2 t. cardamom
1 t. ground ginger

In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring all ingredients to a boil and then turn down and let simmer for an hour. Stir frequently. Process in a water bath.

My thoughts:

Every recipe I looked at called for far more sugar. For example, one recipe called for half as many figs (3 cups) but the same amount of sugar (2 cups) that I used. One recipe called for 1 cup of sugar per pound of figs. since I had about 3 pounds of fruit, that would mean 3 cups of sugar. Well, I used only 2 cups and I thought it was on the sweet side. Delicious, for sure, but next time I'd dial down to 1.5
cups. Also, I added the juice of one additional lemon since I thought the one sliced thinly did not give enough acidity to the batch. I added only juice because I had already zested it for something else but I'm sure you could just do 2 thinly sliced lemons. I have a tendency to go overboard with spices so I restrained myself and perhaps too much. Definitely will dial up the spices, at least the ginger, in my future batches. But still, it's wonderful and I had it on my oatmeal for breakfast with some pepitas. Fantastic! Finally, lots of recipes I saw called for booze of some sort. I'm sure this would be good but I don't think it's necessary.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chocolate-Beet Cake with Raspberry Curd and Mascarpone Frosting

Yes, that is correct, I made a beet cake and it was delicious! Apparently the original red velvet cakes utilized beet puree to lend moisture and tint back in the dye before being unceremoniously replaced with red food coloring.

I don't even remember how I found this recipe but once I hit on the idea, I perused several variations. That got me all confused because some called for as few as 2 eggs and other s as many as five with all other proportions being relatively the same. I only had three eggs so I decided to go with it. Nigel Slater's recipe, which I came upon first, was adorned with creme fraiche and poppy seeds but I decided to up the ante and fill it with something, plus sub creme fraiche for mascarpone because, well, I love it.

I also found Slater's directions a bit fussy so if you'r the type that likes super-detailed instructions, see his version. If you find the overwhelming like I do, see my simplified version below. Note: I didn't measure my beets in ounces. I boiled three beets, peeled them and pureed them and used a scant cup for the cake, which left me with a scanter cup for another use. Honestly, next time I'd probably use canned beets, which I never would normally eat but in this preparation, I don't think anyone would notice. Plus, you save yourself some time and pink hands.

8 ounces fresh beets
7 ounces fine dark chocolate (70%)
1/4 cup hot espresso
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
3 eggs

1. Lightly butter an 8-inch springform cake pan and line the base with a round of baking parchment. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling unsalted water. Depending on their size, they will be tender within 30 to 40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice off their stem and root, and process in a blender or food processor until a coarse purée.

3. Melt the chocolate and espresso (or strong leftover coffee!) broken into small pieces, in a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Cut the butter into small pieces -- the smaller the better -- and add to the melted chocolate. Let melt over very low heat.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.

5. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir in the egg yolks.

6. Fold in the beets.

7. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar. Fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture.

8. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa. Transfer to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, decreasing the heat immediately to 325 degrees F. Bake for 40 minutes. Do NOT OVERBAKE! The rim of the cake will feel spongy, the inner part should still wobble a little when gently shaken. Test with a cake tester or toothpick too -- if it is still gooey in the center, continue baking just until moist crumbs cling to the tester. Set the cake aside to cool (it will sink a tad in the center), loosening it around the edges with a thin icing spatula after half an hour or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its pan until it is completely cold.

This is where Nigel's recipe ends and mine takes over. I let the cake cool overnight and when I tried to remove it from the pan (which I neglected to line with parchment), it stuck to the bottom. Luckily, my amazing husband taught me a trick to heat the underside of the cake pan with a creme brulee torch and then, voila, it popped out beautifully! Using a long, serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally into to equally-sized rounds. I used a small 4 ounce jar of raspberry curd I made some months back (and kick myself for not noting how I made it!) and spread that on the bottom layer and then topped it with the other layer. I wouldn't skip this, it was a very thin layer but it seeped into the whole cake and permeated it with tart, fruity, elegant moistness. Then I iced the whole thing with mascarpone frosting, see recipe below.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces mascarpone
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch salt
1 t. vanilla