May 30, 2003

Prunus dulcis

Otherwise known as almonds... have been cultivated for thousands of years before they had an official name...It is thought to have evolved from the same primitive stock as the peach, but took a different genetic route millions of years ago when the land rose up to form the mountains that separate Central Asia from China and Mongolia. To read more on the history of this ingredient, go here.

Until just recently, I hadn't tried cooking with almonds, but they very much added to my Yogurtlu Basti and the Almond and Herb Chicken. I have some left, so I'm sure I'll be using them again.

Posted by Jennifer at 5:07 PM | Comments (0)
May 29, 2003

Curried Lamb Chops

No cooking tonight. Instead, I was off to the Iron Horse to see the Cowboy Junkies!

However, last night I tried out a recipe that I picked up ages ago from the San Francisco Chronicle - Curried Lamb Chops. Assessment? They were fine - but aren't going to make my top ten list. Now, of course, the recipe calls for chops off the rack and I only had shoulder chops. And I didn't have white wine, so I used cooking vermouth. Plus, there was no peanut oil in the house, so I just went with regular vegetable oil. Perhaps those ingredients would make a significant enough difference to really set this one apart. In any case, here's the recipe:


8 Lamb chops, preferably from the rack, about 2 lbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 TBSP Curry powder
1 TBSP Peanut oil
1 TBSP Butter
2 TBSP Finely chopped shallots
1/3 cup Dry white wine
1/2 cup Fresh or canned chicken broth
1 tsp Tomato paste
1 TBSP Finely chopped parsley

Sprinkle the chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Rub them on both sides with curry powder to coat evenly.

Heat oil in a skillet large enough to hold the chops in one layer. Add the chops and cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn and brown on second side, about 2 minutes. Turn onto the fatty rims and continue cooking until the rims are rendered of fat, about 2 minutes.

Turn the chops flat side down and cook, turning them occasionally. The total cooking time should be about 15 minutes. Transfer the chops to a dish and pour off all the fat from the skillet.

Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the skillet and heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, about 15 seconds. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook for about 1 minute and then add the chicken broth and tomato paste. Cook over moderately high heat until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Swirl in the remaining butter and pour the sauce over the chops. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Serves 4.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:53 PM | Comments (2)
May 28, 2003

Almonds and Herbs

Just recently, the Good Cook (a cookbook club which should by now like me very much) had a 50% off sale, and there were a few books I just couldn't resist, among them The Herbfarm Cookbook.

Last night I tried out Almond-and-Herb-Breaded Chicken (p. 202) and was quite pleased by the results. Described as: "Skinless chicken soaked in buttermilk to tenderize it and baked with a savory coating of almonds, rosemary, thyme, and parsley..." It goes something like this:

Marinade:
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 TBSP dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 4-pound chicken, cut and skinned

Crust:
3/4 cup almonds, blanched and sliced
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 TBSP coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
2 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
1 cup fresh parsley sprigs
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt

About 1 cup all-purpose flour

1. Marinate the chicken: Whisk together buttermilk, mustard, garlic and 1/2 tsp salt. Toss chicken pieces in mixture and refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Crust: Whirl crust ingredients in food processor until finely chopped. Dredge buttermilk-soaked chicken pieces in flour, and then once more in buttermilk mixture, and then in crust mixture.

3. Baking: Bake 45-55 minutes at 400 degrees.

Serves 4.

Since boneless chicken breasts were available already in the freezer, they were used instead. Baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. It was juicy and tender and the crust was crunchy and evocative. Best of all, fresh thyme and rosemary were used from the herb garden.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)
May 27, 2003

Steak Lovin'

Last night, after a long afternoon of painting, I was glad I'd planned on another recipe that's proven quite popular around here. It's from Steak Lover's Cookbook - "Strip Steak with Spanish Cheese Sauce" (p. 64 in the hardcover edition).

As seems to be par for the course these days, I can't exactly seem to leave a recipe alone, so my version isn't for strip steak -- it's for blade steaks; I don't use spanish cheese -- I use gorgonzola; and I leave out the brandy entirely (tried it once, didn't like the consistency).

The big experiment this time was instead of broiling the steaks, I used my brand new, just cured, cast iron grill pan. It came out absolutely wonderful, with a lovely seared sort of taste that accentuated the meal and gave the dish more depth and complexity than it had previously. Now I will fear winter (and putting away the monster gas grill) no more! Thanks to Michael for the unexpected and wonderful gift.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:03 PM | Comments (1)
May 26, 2003

Brillat-Savarin?

The first of possibly many entries concerning the history of cooks and cooking...

As it turns out, I've become quite a fan of Iron Chef. Not so much as a cooking show (though I get an inspiration here and there), but as cooking entertainment. Last night, I was hunting the exact wording of the quote that is shown at the beginning:

"Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." --Brillat-Savarin

Or, more colloquially, these days: "You are what you eat." Though I was tempted to go off on some deep cooking philosophical riff (you are what you cook?), instead I got distracted wondering about Brillat-Savarin, and discovered the following, courtesy of The Kitchen Project:

This article appeared in The Washington Times on July 11, 1999.

The Gastronomic Servings of Brillat-Savarin

By Amanda Watson Schnetzer

On April 1,1755 the little town of Belley (bay-yeah) northeast of Lyon saw the birth of the greatest gastronome the world has ever known: Brillat-Savarin

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's "The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy" is a treatise on good eating. It is about the relation between man's joy, survival and dominion on earth and his ability to know and experience the pleasures of taste. Brillat-Savarin's reflections on the matter have nourished food lovers for nearly two centuries. And his most glorious lines, such as "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are," have proved as perennial as the grass.

First published in 1825, the book took Parisian society by storm and has not been out of print since. Brillat-Savarin still is revered in France as one of the founding fathers of gastronomy. But the fact that his only book on the subject remains a staple in so many kitchens and libraries across America is due in great part to M.F.K. Fisher's celebrated 1949 translation, now available again in hard cover from Counterpoint Press [$35, 443 pages.)

Brillat-Savarin, for whom the scrumptious savarin yeast cake with rum syrup, whipped cream and fresh fruit is named, was a lawyer from Belley, France. He supported the Revolution in 1789 and was named the mayor of Belley in 1792. But when he shed his allegiance to the Jacobins, they forced him to leave France or face trial, and he spent two years in United States exile.

In 1796 Brillat-Savarin returned to France and joined the general gtaff of the French army. Later he served as a judge in Bourg and then in Paris. He died only four months after the publication of "The Physiology of Taste."

Brillat-Savarin wrote his masterpiece in secrecy, paid for its publication and withheld the truth of his authorship. Soon after its release, Paris - where the art and science of eating were in fashion - was abuzz with speculation. When it was revealed who was the author, writes his biographer Giles MacDonogh, Parisians were "mystified by this extraordianry study and by the puckish wit of the tall, portly judge who had put it together." But while stylish society was dazzled by Brillat-Savarin's gastronomic erudition, his fellow judges were overcome with hauteur. They, no doubt, dismissed him as a dilettante.

All human actions, writes Brillat-Savarin, are for two purposes: the preservation of the individual and the continuation of the species. To these ends, man has been endowed with "the actual and direct sensation" of satisfying his need to eat. He also has been blessed with "an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste."

Gastronomy, he then concludes, "rules over our whole life." Its subject matter is "whatever can be eaten." Its end is the "conservation of individuals." And its means of execution are "the culture which produces, the commerce which exchanges, the industry which prepares, and the experience which invents means to dispose of everything to the best advantage."

Brillat-Savarin spends only a handful of pages setting forth this physiology (or philosophy) of taste. The rest he devotes to its explication in essays and anecdotes that touch on "everything connected with society," including: an introduction to French cooking; theories on the "erotic properties" of truffles; meditations on commerce and trade; prescriptions for obesity an thinness; a plan for the ultimate dinner party; and a collection of recipes and "other such literary tidbits." These are the timeless morsels (much more than his philosophy) that have kept gourmands returning to consult the master.

M.F.K. Fisher's translation of Brillat-Savarin has been described as "perfection," and she herself has been lauded as "a rarity in American gastronomy." A prolific food writer, she wrote 26 original books including the World War II "How to Cook a Wolf," "Consider the Oyster" and "Serve it Forth." Her work is collected in "The Art of Eating." For Mrs. Fisher, who died in 1992, there were "two kinds of books about eating: those that try to imitate Brillat-Savarin's, and those that try not to." But neither kind, she contended, could ever measure up to "The Physiology of Taste."

It is, Mrs. Fisher wrote, a "well-balanced expression of one thinking man's attitude toward life. There are few of them, in any language . . . In a Western world filled with too many books, too many human beings angry or bored enough to be voluble, it is a good thing that there are a few such distillations as this one." Her translation is accompanied by a collection of respectful, informative and sometimes corrective notes, making up 20 percent of the book's text. In early editions, her glosses appeared as endnotes. In its 1994 oversized edition, Counterpoint raised them "greater prominence" by placing them at the bottom of each page where a reference appears. The 1994 edition also included a collection of charming drawings by Wayne Thiebaud.

Editors of the new edition, in a seeming effort to offer a more affordable book of standard size, have returned the translator's glosses to their original place. This decision is lamentable. Once you have elevated M.F.K. Fisher to Brillat-Savarin's level, it is unthinkable that she should be demoted for reasons of parsimony. Mr. Thiebaud's drawings have been removed from the new edition entirely.

With the notes are relegated to the end of each section, they are much less likely to be read, but for an American readership they are indispensable. Mrs. Fisher fleshes out the recipes that Brillat-Savarin - in keeping with French culinary tradition to sketch rather than give detailed directions - only outlines. Her notes also perform the critical jobs of telling us more about the history, people and social mores to which Brillat-Savarin introduces us, and of correcting his mistakes.

Such aesthetic and organizational changes aside, Fisher's translation of "The Physiology of Taste" remains a gastronomic classic and Counterpoint is to be commended for keeping it with us. Every self-respecting devotee of good food, wine and company should have a copy, and this smaller, more compact version does make for a handy reference. If you don't already have yours, now is the time to get it.

Posted by Jennifer at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)
May 23, 2003

Shrimp Creole

Getting to cook again...Ah, the relief. I'm back in the kitchen and loving it. With the convention and business trip behind me (and not another one for a short while), I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with my cookbook collection.

Last night I indulged myself in a batch of Shrimp Creole, which I prepare via crockpot. It lets the flavors mingle so nicely... My original recipe calls for canned stewed tomatoes, but lately I've had a difficult time finding plain ones on the grocery store shelves. Everything seems to already have herbs and other things added. Perhaps some people find that helpful, but, for me, it throws off the recipe. In any case, the last time I attempted to substitute canned diced tomatoes; an experiment which failed miserably. The sauce was too watery and the attempt to thicken it up with a corn starch and water mixture simply destroyed the consistency. On Michael's advice, last night I tried canned plum tomatoes (brand: Rienzi) and pureed them in the blender for about 10 seconds before adding them to the mix. By far, my best Shrimp Creole yet! The sauce was just the right thickness, and I also achieved the right level of spice (at least according to my tasters).

Posted by Jennifer at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

Guest Chef

More accurately, a guest at the chef's. While in New York City this week, I had the opportunity to stay with Lucienne Diver and Pete Wheeler -- and Ty too! In any case, due to the lack of being able to eat in as much as I would've liked the previous week, I wrote ahead and asked Pete - who enjoys cooking - to come up with something. Of course, he did not disappoint, and his Chicken a la Orange was a tasty treat accompanied nicely by a bottle of St. Francis Chardonnay. Thanks Pete!

Posted by Jennifer at 9:52 AM | Comments (0)
May 16, 2003

Quick and Tasty Steak

Once again, there wasn't time to get overly creative or experimental last night. With the convention prep and a New York City trip on its heels, I'm guessing I won't get to really mess around in the kitchen again until sometime late next week. Since I really find that quite therapeutic, I'm very much looking forward to the end of this overly busy period.

Last night I opted for another meal that's quick to prepare. Sauteed some portabello mushrooms (I actually would have preferred crimini AKA baby 'bellas) in some balsamic vinegar with some basil, and served it over a broiled steak. I really MUST buy that grill pan soon. But at least this doesn't take too much time to prepare and it's quite delicious.

Posted by Jennifer at 7:39 AM | Comments (0)
May 15, 2003

Lacking in H2O

A number of elements conspired to keep me largely out of the kitchen at the start of the week. The main difficulty was my crash-course in plumbing: the kitchen faucet leaked, and then broke. And I discovered very quickly that it's difficult to operate effectively in a kitchen without a water source. That pretty much took care of Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday night, experimentation unfortunately needed to be kept to a minimum due to working on pre-convention preparations for TBR2003. So, I fell back on an old stand-by, which has been labeled "Jenn's Special Fried Chicken." The recipe is actually a happy accident from a couple years back where I mistakenly combined the preparation for my baked chicken with the cooking methods for my fried chicken. It's proven quite popular around here.

Posted by Jennifer at 8:47 AM | Comments (1)
May 12, 2003

Flamenquines

Sunday night dinner.... After eating out at Coyote Blue on Thursday, having dinner made for me on Friday night, and having pizza on Saturday, I finally got back to cooking!

The Menu:
Andalusian Pork Rolls
Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Steamed Green Beans

Andalusian Pork Rolls
(inspired by a recipe from Bon App├ętit)

Described as "a delicious tapa that is called flamenquines in Spanish...related to the term flamenco, which refers to any colorful dish from Andalusia."

2 TBSP minced fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 boneless pork loin chops (about 18 oz. total)
6 thin slices prosciutto (about 2 oz.)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tsp milk
1 cup plain dried bread crumbs

Mix parsley and garlic in small bowl. Flatten pork to 1/4-inch thickness. Top each piece of pork with a slice of prosciutto and sprinkle with parsley/garlic mixture. Roll and secure with toothpicks. Dip into egg mixture, then coat with bread crumbs. In skillet, heat approximately one inch of olive oil to 375 degrees and then fry pork rolls until cooked through (about 13 minutes), turning every few minutes.


Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes
(from One Potato, Two Potato)

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
coarse salt
4 TBSP butter, softened
4 oz. goat cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup heavy cream (I prefer sour cream)
3 TBSP freshly chopped chives
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes in water seasoned by a pinch of coarse salt until potatoes are tender. Mash the potatoes. Cut the butter into pieces and beat in. Cut the goat cheese into bits and beat in. Pour in cream 1/4 cup at a time and stir until absorbed. Season with chives, salt, and pepper, and serve.

Posted by Jennifer at 6:49 PM | Comments (1)
May 8, 2003

Yogurtlu Basti

With the leftover ribs taken care of, yesterday I decided that now it was time to take care of the leftover yogurt. My friend Michael was coming by for dinner, and he's pretty open to culinary experiments and my first attempt at a new recipe, so I pulled out my copy of The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, figuring they'd have something that would use up more of the yogurt (something just not commonly used in my house.....yet). They had quite a few recipes actually, but I settled on Yogurtlu Basti AKA Chicken with Spiced Yogurt. Of course there were a couple of unexpected adjustments....

Yogurtlu Basti Recipe (according to the book)

A Turkish dish... Serves 4

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tsp ground cardamom (or crushed seeds)
1 1/2 inches fresh gingerroot, grated
1 large onion, chopped
2 TBSP olive oil
a 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into quarters
salt and pepper
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

My first attempt at buying almonds (at the local IGA) didn't work out, so I went off to the Highland Market (a more upscale place). I'd looked up various methods for blanching almonds and discovered that the reason was mostly to get the skins off. I remembered seeing slivered almonds in the baking aisles, and, sure enough, they were pre-blanched. That was a time saver. During the cooking, I quickly discovered that toasting them in a non-stick frying pan works much better than the oven. I had one other slight upset. I keep minced ginger in a jar in the 'fridge, much like minced garlic. I guess it must have been a while since I used it because there was an entire space-faring civilization of not-ginger growing in the jar. To put it succinctly: "ew." So, I decided to use ground ginger instead. Also, since I was only cooking for two, I didn't want to fuss with a whole chicken, so I used boneless chicken breasts. Here's how I cooked it. And I quite liked it too!

Adjusted Recipe

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 small onion, chopped
2 TBSP olive oil
1 boneless chicken breast (split)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

In a bowl, mix the yogurt with the cardamom and ginger and let them infuse while you cook the chicken.

In a large skillet, fry the onion in the oil until soft. Add the chicken pieces and saute until the onions are golden and the chicken pieces lightly browned. Add salt and pepper and 3/4 cup water (the original recipe actually calls for a cup but with the smaller amount of meat, it took too long to cook down) and cook over low heat -- 12 minutes for breast meat, 20 minutes for dark -- until the chicken is very tender and the sauce reduced, turning the chicken pieces over and adding a little water if it becomes too dry.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Serve sprinkled with almonds.

Posted by Jennifer at 9:54 AM | Comments (1)
May 6, 2003

Mediterranean tacos?

So, I had these very tasty leftover ribs, and was inspired to try out the following (which came out pretty nice, if I do say so myself)....

Ingredients:
Feta-Yogurt Sauce (recipe below)
Leftover Ribs (or possibly marinated lamb, beef, or chicken)
Diced Tomatoes
Diced Cucumbers
Pita Bread

Assembly:
Similar to tacos -- insert ingredients in pita bread. And eat. Yum!

Feta-Yogurt Sauce
from Bon Appetite, December 2001
via epicurious.com

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 1/2 TBSP chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dried oregano

Using fork, mash feta cheese in small bowl. Mix in remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. (Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Makes about 1 cup.

Posted by Jennifer at 9:50 PM | Comments (0)
May 5, 2003

James Beard Awards

The 13th Annual James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony takes place today at the New York Marriott Marquis. The gala to follow celebrates the 100th anniversary of James Beards' birth. Nominees for this year are available here.

A special hurrah for Alton Brown nominated in the Reference category for I'm Just Here for the Food.

Addendum: Yay - Alton won!

Posted by Jennifer at 1:44 PM | Comments (0)

BBQ Sauce

Last night, we had some really tasty country style pork ribs. To begin, I let the ribs sit in the BBQ sauce (ingredients listed below) for 4-5 hours in the 'fridge. Since warm weather is finally more consistent, we decided to pull out the gas grill. Turning on two out of three burners as low as we could get them, and propping the lid about half an inch open kept it at the temperature we wanted, around 250-300 degrees. We left the ribs on the grill approximately two hours. Every half hour we turned them, basted them, and rotated their position with respect to the burners, so they'd cook as evenly as possible. They were juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked.

The recipe is still in development. Here's the current version:

BBQ Rib Sauce (for about 4 lbs meat)
1/2 cup favored BBQ sauce (I use KC Masterpiece Original)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP single malt scotch
2 tsp hot chili oil
2 tsp hot sauce (e.g. Tabasco)
1 TBSP brown sugar
minced garlic (to taste)
ground ginger (to taste)
cayenne pepper (to taste)
cilantro (to taste)
onion powder (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
salt (to taste)

Last night was the first time the brown sugar and the Scotch were included; welcome additions to the complex flavor.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:03 AM | Comments (2)
May 4, 2003

The Best Little BBQ Around

With plans for dinner to include ribs that are going to marinate all day in the BBQ sauce I've been working on developing, I was thinking this morning about Little Mark's Big BBQ. Unfortunately, they don't have a web page. But if you're ever in the neighborhood of Vernon, CT and you'd like an amazing BBQ experience, stop off at this restaurant, well-known and well-favored by locals.

Posted by Jennifer at 8:40 AM | Comments (2)
May 3, 2003

Rolling Herb Mincer

Last week I had occasion to use two recipes that called for fresh cilantro, and decided I needed something handier if I was going to continue to experiment with fresh herbs more often. So, last night, while en route to the Flook concert, there was a quick stop at Kitchen Etc to buy a rolling herb mincer. This wasn't exactly the one I was looking for. I had in mind something that was all stainless steel and rounded to fit one's palm, but I think this will do the job.

Posted by Jennifer at 8:17 PM | Comments (0)

Warming Up

It's rather like the first time in a new kitchen. One doesn't know quite where things are. Ingredients don't come readily to hand. But I'm sure that soon I'll be cooking in style.

Posted by Jennifer at 4:15 PM | Comments (6)