June 23, 2003
iced tea and lemonade

Does anyone have a good recipe for iced tea or for lemonade? I tend to prefer both on the less-syrupy side, which means making my own, but I've not had much success.

When I tried this before, I used good quality tea, so I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Is it absolutely essential to cool the tea immediately? I almost never have enough ice on hand.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Tips?

Posted by naomi on June 23, 2003
June 21, 2003
leckman-borogove supper

Tonight the Leckmans joined us for supper - it's been a while, but they're still our favorite guests. The menus was designed around an idea for an asian-styled crab soup i've been dreaming up for Beca & i (to use up the crab bodies i've stored in the freezer, so romantic!).

We started with a Dai Tartare. I substituted mirabelle peppers for the thai bird chiles in the two-chile-salt dip (on recommendation from the pepper-guy at the market this morning), and small-diced roasted red pepper for the beef in Tad's dish. I served this with gingered lemon drop cocktails (and a gingered mint lemonade non-alcoholic version).

The main course was an asian-inspired soup, with crab for Beca & i. and fried tofu cubes for the boys. I served it alongside a salad of mesclun and carrots, coated lightly in a ginger-mustard dressing. I served a 1999 estate-bottle Navarro Gewurtz, and Navarro Gewurtz grape juice to match.

I'll post a follow-up recipe for the soup method - i think it was overall quite successful for an asian glass-noodle soup. It was enhanced only by the company. (I am reminded how good asian-inspired food is for the lactose-intolerant, tonight!)

Posted by shock on June 21, 2003
June 19, 2003
of turkish desserts and a quest

I have, it seems, a weakness for baklava and other sticky-sweet middle eastern desserts. Preferably shared with a friend, with strong hot tea to accompany.

Gyro King (25 Grove, at Larkin) is a good cheap middle eastern cafe by Civic Center. No points for decor, but the food is fresh and tasty and the entire menu is under 10$. The men (and one woman) behind the counter are laid back but very friendly in their service, and they have a great selection of little filo- and semolina-based desserts. The tea comes hot and perfectly brewed and is served in little glass cups. It's the sort of place where the tv is always playing in a language I don't speak, and older men come to chat and sit and drink tea and eat sweets.

So. The challenge. I've flirted with these desserts long enough -- it's really time I got to know them..

According to the friendly staff, tonight I had bulbul yuvasi (sparrow's nest baklava) and revani (semolina cake).

Bulbul yuvasi is a filo-and-pistachio confection rolled up on itself into a snail (or nest) shape, with chopped pistachios on top. The texture is crunchy, softened with ghee and syrup.

Revani is a soft semolina cake served as a square cut from a pan. The texture is crumbly-sticky, very moist. Almost like a light semolina pudding more than a cake.

So I'm on a quest to complete a survey of middle eastern desserts available in the Bay area and learn all their names...

Stay tuned!

Posted by naomi on June 19, 2003
June 18, 2003
Ricotta Spinach Pasta

Since signing up for a weekly delivery of fruit and veg, I am finding myself with more variety in the veg department. This is a good thing, as I generally panic and go for the same vegetables each week if I'm not sure what I'm making.

My delivery this week included fresh bunches of leaf spinach, which I adore. The spinach was a bit too mature for salad, so I got some ricotta to go with it. My fridge yielded a single leek (from the same delivery order). After surfing the web randomly for ideas, here's what I came up with for dinner.

"a goodly amount of spinach" (I'd guess about 6-8 loose cups cleaned and washed), 1 small leek, a clove of garlic.

also with:
3/4 lb. fettucine
(not ideal: a stubby shape like fusilli or penne rigate would have been better, but I had fettucine)
1 c. low-fat ricotta, 1 c. half and half cream, 1 tbsp. butter
a handful of grated parmesan-like cheese
(parmesan is ideal, but I only had a little bit of random sheep's-milk cheese)

also also with:
olive oil, freshly-ground black pepper, salt.

Wash and drain spinach, using only the leafy part (no tails). Place spinach on cutting board in manageable-sized handfuls and slice into 1/4-in. strips.
Wash leek thoroughly and chop fairly small. Mince garlic. (Or peel and set aside, if you're using a garlic press)
Mix ricotta and half-and-half cream together in a bowl until ricotta is evenly distributed.
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

Getting down to business
In a large saucepan, heat a tbsp. of olive oil until it shimmers.
Add leek and sauté until the leeks are beginning to soften.
Add garlic and stir about until you can smell the lovely garlic smell, which is hardly any time at all.
Adding salt and pepper, add spinach and stir into the pan. Don't worry about any water on the spinach leaves -- this will steam the spinach.
Cover spinach and leeks and steam about 5 min, lifting the lid occasionally to stir things about and cook the spinach evenly. The spinach should be wilted but still bright green.
Add about a tbsp. of butter to the spinach, then pour the ricotta/cream mix into the pan, stirring again to mix. Reduce heat to med.-low and simmer uncovered for 5 min (or until the pasta is done, whichever is longer...)

When the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly. Add pasta and sauce to a pan large enough to hold them, and toss thoroughly.

Finishing details
Bearing in mind that the cheese will thicken things up a bit...
If the sauce seems too thin, return it to the heat. If the sauce is a bit thick, add a little cream (or reserved water from the pasta, if you saved any).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese until it is melty and evenly distributed.
Add plenty of ground pepper and salt.


My thoughts about this recipe:
I am still struggling to reach a happy relationship with low-fat ricotta and half-and-half cream as substitutes for the full fat options in all of their glory. There's no getting around the fact that low-fat ricotta (I used the Precious one) is grainy and dry compared to the real thing. Nor is half-and-half as deliciously unctuous as real cream.

I'd certainly make this again for myself, but it's nowhere near extravagant enough for fancy dinner pasta. (The leftovers made an awesome fritatta.)

There is, however, something to be said for saving the calories for dessert...

Posted by naomi on June 18, 2003
June 15, 2003
steak and shitake's in pita

i was at a total loss for what to make this evening. i wanted meat, and it was getting too late for the bbq. what i ended up doing was just as good if not better.

i had some sliced frozen beef, i think it was chuck, frozen bellpeppers, fresh shitake mushrooms (the tender little ones), green onions, sage, garlic, rosemary, baby lettuce mix and pita's

i browned the garlic in olive oil, added the sage and rosemary, then the mushrooms, sliced in half, the peppers, green onions and meat. salt and pepper to taste. heat the pita's. when all was ready, open the pita, stuff in some of the baby greens and add a little salad dressing, i used a balsamic and blue cheese. then add a few spoons of the meat and veggies.

quick, easy and yum.

Posted by karine on June 15, 2003
June 12, 2003
meriko vs. MA, #2

A picnic!

Mackerel Brandade
Stuffed Mushrooms
Haricots Verts Salad
Other tasty bites.

Again, i'd serve this with a chilled rosé or sauvignon blanc. Perhaps a nice pinot grigio or a very dry riesling. Ingredients used: Potato, mushroom, green beans, mackerel, artichoke hearts. My additional pantry items are: blue cheese, bread or crackers, capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, milk, garlic, shallots, a lemon, and fresh herbs.

There's a fair amount of prepwork involved here, but everything can be served at room temperature, and thus be prepared earlier in the day. I'd recommend cooking the mushrooms within an hour or so of service, so they stay a bit warm.

Mackerel Brandade
This is a take on a traditional salt cod brandade. I haven't DONE this with mackerel, but i'm confident enough to try it out on a good friend.
Peel, dice, and mash 1 potato with a little milk. Set aside. Heat 3 tbsp of milk until it's warm. Do the same with 3 tbsp of olive oil. Pound 3 or 4 cloves of garlic to a paste with a little salt; beat a third of the potato with the garlic. Use more garlic if you like things extra-garlic-ey. Rinse and pound the mackerel in a wooden bowl or morter until it's reduced to a pulp. The more you work the cod, the fluffier your brandade will be. When you've thrashed the fish thoroughly, gently mix in the milk, olive oil, and potato-garlic mixture to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste; this should look like fluffy mashed potatoes. While you can serve this at room temp, you can also serve it warm; if you prefer, keep it warm in a double boiler or rewarm in a nonstick pan. Note: you can use heavy cream instead of milk if you happen to have it for a richer brandade.

Stuffed Mushrooms
Clean & dry your mushrooms (at least 12, 3 per person), and pull out the stems. Make a mixture of 2 parts bread or cracker crumbs to 1 part blue cheese and 1 part minced shallot. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Preheat your oven to 400F. Press the mix into the mushroom cap, mounding it high. Place on a cookie sheet (use a silpat if you have one) and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is bubbly and golden.

Haricots Verts Salad
This is the same as in menu #1. Repeat:
a) Make a sherry-shallot vinaigrette: whisk some good vinegar (sherry vinegar is what i would use), some good olive oil, a tablespoon or two of finely minced shallots, the chopped sage, and salt & pepper to taste. Your oil:vinegar ratio should be about 2:1. Set aside.
b) Put a pot of water on to boil. When it's boiling, blanch the green beans for 2 minutes, and shock them in cool water. Make sure you check them for tenderness before you shock them. Toss beans in sherry-shallot vinaigrette & set aside.

Other tasty prep
--Drain the artichoke hearts. Rinse well, and toss in a bit of vinegar, olive oil, and chopped fresh thyme. Squeeze a bit of lemon over the top just before serving.
--If you have some bread, slice it thinly and toast it.

To plate your picnic
Find a large platter. Fill a large ramekin or colorful bowl with the brandade, and place it in the center of the platter. Surround it with piles of crackers, toast, the haricot vert, the stuffed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, capers, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. Let your artistic eye reign and enjoy!

Posted by shock on June 12, 2003
meriko vs. MA, #1

A warm & cool salad plate for a warm summer eve:
Sautéed potatoes and artichokes with mackerel
Ridiculous mushrooms
Haricots verts salad

I'd serve this with a well-chilled rosé or a chilled, crisp, herby Marlborough-style Sauvignon Blanc.

(I'm making the assumption that anything that's in my kitchen for at least 3 weeks out of most months constitutes a staple. Ingredients used: potato, artichoke hearts, green beans, mackerel, mushrooms. My added ones for this menu are red wine, shallots, butter, lettuce, fresh herbs, oil & vinegar, and a bit of lemon.)

Mise en place:
--Top and tail the green beans.
--Finely mince a shallot or two.
--Decant the mackerel filets and rinse them very well. Place them in a shallow dish with a little fruity olive oil and some fresh chopped thyme, salt & pepper, and a squeeze of lemon to marinate.
--Look around in the fridge for some lettuces - watercresses, butter lettuces, red leaf - anything softer than an iceberg will do. If you have none, skip it.
--Wash the mushrooms & dry them. Wash and dry any lettuces you've found.
--Chop a handful of fresh thyme, and a handful of sage. If you don't have an herb garden, using dried herbs is ok.

To prepare the meal:
1) Start the ridiculous mushrooms: In a reasonably-sized pot, sautée the mushrooms whole. They'll make a very odd squeaky sound; don't fret. When they're sufficiently browned (~5 minutes), pour in enough red wine to cover the mushrooms with an inch to spare. (If you're the sort that keeps stock around, you can split the red wine in half with stock, but don't use a salted stock.) Bring this to a simmer, and let it reduce until you have intensely red mushrooms bathed in a few teaspons of viscous liquid. This will probably take a half an hour. (I often start this with my mise-en-place to give a little extra reduction time.)

2) Make a sherry-shallot vinaigrette: whisk some good vinegar (sherry vinegar is what i would use), some good olive oil, a tablespoon or two of finely minced shallots, the chopped sage, and salt & pepper to taste. Your oil:vinegar ratio should be about 2:1. Set aside.

3) Put a pot of water on to boil. When it's boiling, blanch the green beans for 2 minutes, and shock them in cool water. Make sure you check them for tenderness before you shock them. Toss beans in sherry-shallot vinaigrette & set aside. Keep the water boiling.

4) Drain the artichoke hearts. If they were in oil, rinse them well. Dice into approximately half-inch cubes and allow to dry on paper towels while you prep the potatoes. To prep the potatoes, peel 4 large russets (an extra if any are small), and cut into half-inch cubes. Cook the potato cubes for about 4 minutes in the boiling water, and remove. (If they start to crumble around the edges, take them out ASAP.)

5) Heat some butter (or olive oil or duck fat) in a heavy skillet. Throw in the potatoes, and let them sit for a minute or two, shaking the pan occasionally. Scatter some salt and pepper over the top, and the thyme. Fry the potatoes until they're golden on all sides. In the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the artichoke cubes. (They're already cooked; you just want to brown them up a bit.) Salt and pepper the final product to taste.

To assemble your supper:
Get a large plate. Place any lettuces you find in the middle, in a shallow but wide circle. Mound some warm (but not too hot) potato/artichoke mix in the middle. Lay a few filets in a row on top. (The heat from the potatoes will bring out the flavors in the mackerel.) Arrange the haricots verts & the ridiculous mushrooms to the sides - i might make the points of a square/diamond, alternating beans and mushrooms per corner. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the mushrooms.

Posted by shock on June 12, 2003
Naomi vs MA, #1

Quiche and Haricots Verts

A word on the order of doing things:
The night before, cook up the green beans and make the pastry dough. In the morning, bake the pie shell from the dough and make the quiche up. Ideally, you should time things so that the sautéed vegetables for the filling are ready just as the pie shell finishes baking.

A word on the source:
This borrows heavily from the Joy of Cooking, whence I learned my quiche-
making skills.

Haricots Verts
1 lb. green beans
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
Vinaigrette dressing
Extra vinegar or lemon juice (Tarragon vinegar is nice...)
Black pepper, salt to taste

Cut green beans into 1" lengths. Steam or boil the night before, and
Mix together artichoke hearts, beans. Toss lightly with dressing and a splash more vinegar (I like my beans vinegary). Top with ground pepper.

If you don't have a vinaigrette dressing handy: 1/3 white wine vinegar, 2/3 salad or olive oil, dash of sugar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of crumbled tarragon.

Flaky Pastry Dough

1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. icing sugar (or white sugar, if you don't have icing sugar)
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter

about 1/4 c. ice water

A word about substitutions: you can use all butter in this crust, but it's a bit trickier to work with. likewise cold tap water for the ice water. if you only have salted butter, use the salted butter and omit the salt from the flour mix. Finally, if all this is too much work, the crust recipe on the side of the Bisquick box is not quite the same, but still effective.

To make the dough for the crust:
Sift flour, sugar, salt together into a good steady mixing bowl. Cut shortening and butter into small chunks, and cut into flour with two knives or a pastry blender. Make sure that you bring the flour up from the bottom and distribute the contents of the bowl evenly -- you should end up with evenly pea-sized bits of stuck-together flour and butter: dry flour with little chunks, not cookie dough.

Sprinkle about half the water onto the flour mix. Using either your hands or a spatula, collect and press the dough together lightly. This is easier to do than explain, unfortunately. Add the rest of the water very slowly -- you want the dough *just* sticking together as you press it down into the bowl. Collect the dough together into a ball and knead it against the sides of the bowl 5 or 6 times. Don't worry if you have a bit of flour left that won't stick as long as you've managed a good-sized ball.

Wrap the ball of dough in cellowrap or wax paper, make it nice and round and press it down into a flat circle about 2 " thick. Refrigerate at least 30 min before trying to roll.

Pie Shell for a Quiche

Flaky Pastry Dough (above)
rice or dry beans for weighting
1 egg yolk, beaten with a pinch salt

Heat your oven to 400F
Starting at the center and moving outwards evenly, roll the pastry dough out into a circle wide enough for a 9 or 10" pie pan. If you don't have a rolling pin, a full wine bottle wrapped in wax paper does a passable job on the rolling. Better yet if the wine is chilled! Fit the dough into the pie pan and trim to fit the edges. Cover the pie dough with a sheet of aluminum foil. Fill the foil with rice or dry beans to weight the pan (you can cook the rice later) and bake the pie crust for 20 min.
Being careful not to get rice all over your kitchen, fold up the edges of the foil and remove the foil and rice from the pan. Prick the crust with a fork, then return it to the oven to bake until the crust is golden brown and puffy all over -- about 5-10 minutes more. Brush the yolk wash over the inside of the crust and bake the glaze until the egg sets, about 2 minutes. If you're going on to make quiche, drop the oven temp to 375F.


Baked pie shell, still piping hot (above)
about 1 tbsp. oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small cooking onion, chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped (or less, to taste!)
about 10 mushrooms (or again, to taste...)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 c. grated monterey jack, gruyere, or cheddar-like cheese

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk or half and half
salt, to taste

Heat oven to 375F

Heat oil in a heavy skillet until it shimmers. Add minced garlic, chopped onion, peppers, and mushrooms. Adding ground black pepper, sauté vegetables over medium heat until soft. Meanwhile (or even, beforehand) in a separate bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt.

Keeping a handful of cheese aside, layer cooked vegetables with cheese in the bottom of the baked pie shell. Pour the egg and milk mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle the last bit of cheese on the top -- it will look pretty when it cooks.

Bake quiche until the filling is browned and set in the middle, about 25-35 minutes.

Posted by naomi on June 12, 2003
Mary Anne's challenge

Mary Anne threw down a challenge in her journal entry today. A list of ingredients to start with, plus your own staples... design a lunch menu for four. I think we should all play! Post your menu by 10am tomorrow. (Those waiting on accounts, send me your menu and i'll get your account set up tonight and your menu posted.)

Mary Anne's challenge, for the record:

Choose at least three of the following seven ingredients selected from what I actually have in the fridge and pantry at the moment) and prepare a meal (or rather, the recipes for a meal, though you're encouraged to actually cook it as well and tell us how it comes out.) It should be enough food to feed four for lunch. Post the recipes in your journal by noon Chicago time tomorrow, Friday 6/13/03. Send me a note when you've posted them; I'll post an entry linking to all the journal recipes I get. (If you don't have a journal yourself, but want to play, please wait until I post the entry linking to all the journals, and then add your recipes to the comments for that entry. Thanks!)

You should feel free to use any typical staples you might normally possess, including milk, coconut milk, flour, eggs, rice, spices, oil, butter, onions, scallions, garlic, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, flavoring agents, nuts, raisins. (If you're not sure if something you use counts as a staple for the purposes of this game, drop me a note and ask.) I'm mostly interested in seeing how different the menus turn out -- I know that when I have certain ingredients in the house, my thoughts tend to go in particular ruts, and it'd be nice to see what others might do with the same ingredients, so that next time, I might try something different.

Detailed commentary on the dishes is encouraged. :-) Bonus points for using at least five ingredients. Bonus points for making at least four dishes using only three ingredients from the following list.

Ingredients (choose 3 or more out of 7):
1 lb. green beans
1 lb. mushrooms
3 poblano peppers
6 large baking potatoes
1 can artichoke hearts
1 can bamboo shoots
2 cans mackerel packed in oil

Posted by shock on June 12, 2003
June 07, 2003
hungry small army

Seems to be the season for visitors. I found out earlier this week that three additional people would be joining our usual Thursday night foursome, so I scrapped my plans for stuffed eggplants and chose the following menu from the June 2003 Cooking Light in an attempt to keep things easy, casual, and plentiful:

Breadcrumb-Baked Chicken
Artichoke and asparagus salad
Hot-cooked long-grain rice

The breadcrumb mixture on the chicken was absolutely scrumptious, and would probably also do well on lamb chops or fish. I threw together the salad while the chicken was baking, and Laura tended the rice cooker for me.

For the chicken, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Place 3 1/2 cups (1/2 inch) cubed Italian bread, toasted (about 6 ounces), in a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Combine breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, 3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 4 garlic cloves, minced, in a shallow dish. Place 1/2 cup all-purpose flour in a shallow dish. Combine 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten, and 1 large egg, lightly beaten, in a shallow dish.

Dredge 1 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast half in flour; shake off excess flour. Dip in egg mixture; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place in prepared dish. Repeat procedure with the remaining 7 chicken breast halves, flour, egg mixture, and breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over chicken. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes or until chicken is done. Yield: 8 servings.

For the salad, cut 2 pounds trimmed asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender, drain. Combine asparagus, 3 cups drained canned quartered artichoke hearts, 3 cups halved cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

Posted by astraea on June 07, 2003
June 03, 2003

Say, what are your favorite things to do with leftovers? I love repurposing leftovers into new dishes; it excercises frugality and creativity - and often, you can get a really quick dinner on the table after work.

notsochoppedsalad!The latest leftover creation i played around with involved salad & risotto cakes. We made dinner for Forrest (actually, the meal is mentioned in the not-quite-chopped-salad entry) I intentionally made extra risotto so we could me the cakes later, and we still had a bunch of cabbage and lettuce from the salad. Voila! Nice 'n' easy. (click on the avocado - you know you want to!)

What do you do with leftovers?

Other tricks:

  • An urban picnic with cheese, crackers, a little toast rubbed with garlic, maybe, anchovies, maybe a rogue sausage or some proscuitto if we have it, whatever fruit is around, and a salad. Any small leftovers that are eaten cool or cold or even a bowl of soup reheated, if there's only a little, is perfect for this.

  • Roasted chicken turns into a lovely avgolemono soup, if you pull the meat off the bone to throw in the soup.

  • A bit of soup can often turn into a nice pasta sauce, thinned or thickened as appropriate. Veggie purées, especially. In fact, i can turn just about ANYTHING into a reasonable pasta sauce or bruschetta topping as a leftover. Again, with a bit of salad, perfect!
  • Posted by shock on June 03, 2003