My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.
With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”. I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific. Continue reading
A few months ago I got an email from a gentleman at Oh! Nuts asking if I’d like to sample some product, and maybe I could write a recipe about it. I was thinking of all kinds of treats to make- ice creams, tarts, etc. But when the package came, I was too busy to do anything with it so I made like a drag queen and tucked the nuts away. Then recently I checked out A16: Food + Wine from the library (yes I know, I’m behind the curve on this book that was much-hyped around Christmas 2008) and saw a recipe for halibut with a pistachio, parsley, and preserved lemon pesto (try saying that three times fast!). It sounded like a perfect summer dish and a great excuse to use some of those pistachios.
Incidentally, can I just dork out for a moment and say how exciting it was to get my first shipment of free swag?? I’ve been offered a couple other things here and there but nothing I would actually use. Free nuts was a major score, as A) I love nuts of all kinds, and B) nuts are freaking expensive! The company sent me pistachios, hazelnuts, and steamed, peeled chestnuts, which I think I’ll save for an autumnal dish. [Can I also say to all the bloggers who are always griping on Twitter about how many PR emails/offers they get, it's a little hard to have pity. Gee, you poor thing, your blog is well-known enough for you to get PR pitches and free stuff all the time. Boo hoo!]
I was really happy about how this recipe turned out, and although I made it with fish, I could easily imagine this pesto-like sauce as an accompaniment to roast chicken or on pasta for a vegan dish. As a side dish, I just drizzled some artichokes with olive oil and lemon and tossed a few olives in for good measure. I picked up a nice bottle of Auratus Alvarinho selected by Jeffrey at Holiday Market that was moderately priced and a great compliment to the food; A16 suggests a Sicilian Carricante if you can find that. As far as a “review” of the nuts, they were perfectly fine, fresh, etc. Of course I always advocate buying local first, but if you can’t find something you need, the Oh!Nuts website is a good alternative.
A note on fish: To find out whether a certain fish is on the endangered/ unsustainable list, check here. Re: substituting fish, Mark Bittman’s book Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking is an excellent resource; for each type of fish, he lists several other species which can be interchanged in recipes.
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
2 cups parsley leaves, loosely packed
1 Tbs capers (salt-packed if possible)
½ a preserved lemon, peel only
½ tsp dried chili flakes
½ cup olive oil
sea salt if needed
fresh lemon wedges and additional olive oil for serving
Note: This pesto is best served the day it is made.
Soak the capers and preserved lemon peel in cold water to remove some of the salt. Roughly chop the parsley. Put it in the bowl of a food processor (if you have a smaller-sized bowl, this works best) along with the pistachios, chili flakes and capers (drained and rinsed). Pulse while adding the olive oil in a thin stream, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the pistachios are well-chopped. Alternately, you can make the pesto in a mortar and pestle; you’ll want to chop the parsley more finely for this version. For fish or chicken, I prefer a looser pesto where the nuts are left slightly chunky, but for pasta you could process it a bit more if desired. Finely dice the preserved lemon peel and stir into the pesto; taste for salt (mine did not need any; the capers and preserved lemons were salty enough to season the mixture).
To serve with pasta, simply toss the pesto with 1 lb pasta that has been cooked in well-salted water. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil if desired, and serve with fresh lemon wedges.
Note: The A16 recipe calls for halibut, but at $19 a pound it was a bit out of reach for me so I substituted cod. The cod was thinner but I folded under the thinnest ends to ensure a more even cooking, and adjusted my cooking time downward.
Season the halibut fillets with sea salt at least one hour and up to four hours prior to cooking. Remove from refrigerator ½ hour before cooking to allow to come to room temperature (less time will be needed for thinner fish). Preheat oven to 400°. Drain off any liquid that has accumulated and place the fish in a glass baking dish. Divide the pesto evenly among the fillets, pressing down so it adheres. Place a small amount of water in the bottom of the dish, enough to come about a third of the way up the fish.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through; this will depend on type and thickness of fish, so keep a close eye on it. (Fish is done when it is just firm to the touch; it will continue to cook for another couple minutes after removed from the oven, so it’s best to err on the side of ever-so-slightly underdone.) Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Taste the braising liquid and drizzle some of this on top if desired. Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges.
Oh my poor little neglected blog! I haven’t really been any busier than usual; maybe I’m just going through a little slump. I’ve still been cooking, but it’s been pretty utilitarian- soup and chili to get me through the week; a roasted chicken with some veg and risotto over the weekend. I did make one “superfluous” thing, though- this really quick kumquat and coconut sorbet. In my effort to try to take advantage of seasonal items while they’re around, I picked up a pint of kumquats at Trader Joe’s, without any clear idea what I was going to do with them. I decided to candy them, which I’d done before and knew was a breeze… but then what? Ice cream was an obvious answer; ever since I got my ice cream maker I’ve been using it whenever I have fruit I’m not sure what else to do with (see my posts on blood orange sorbet and Meyer lemon sherbet…). I just wanted something quick and easy, so instead of making a custard as you would for ice cream, I just used coconut cream and the sugar syrup from candying the kumquats to make a sorbet. The bonus is that it was vegan so I could serve it to a couple vegan friends who came by.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe. Grab a pint of kumquats while they’re still in season and whip up a batch this weekend!
Candied Kumquat & Coconut Sorbet
1 pint kumquats (about 12 oz)
1 can coconut cream (14.5-oz size)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbs coconut rum (you can sub a plain or orange-flavored rum or vodka)
optional: 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Note: for non-vegans, you can add a teaspoon of gelatin for a smoother, less icy texture; just dissolve it in 2 Tbs water in a small saucepan over low heat; when fully dissolved (no visible graininess), add it to the sorbet base before putting it in the refrigerator.
Wash the kumquats and slice into 1/8″ slices, removing the seeds. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat. When the sugar has dissolved, add the kumquats and bring to a very gentle simmer for about 10 minutes or until kumquats are tender.
Put the coconut cream and rum in a bowl. Strain the kumquats over the bowl, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Stir the coconut cream and syrup to combine and place in the fridge until cool. Chop the kumquats and set aside. If you wish, you can reserve some of the kumquat rings for garnish.
Remove the coconut cream/ syrup mixture from the fridge, giving it a whisk to combine and stir out any solidified bits of coconut cream. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions. When the base is frozen but still semisoft, stir in the kumquats and coconut, if using, and transfer to a container. Place in the freezer until firm. Makes about 1 quart.
When it comes to indulgences, I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course). In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above. But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert. Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.
The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake, enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary. This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal. (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)
This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”. It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home. I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted. Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.
I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance. Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.
(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy. It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)
5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375. Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle. Beat the yolks and sugar until pale. Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.
In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined. Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling. DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake. If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured. My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
I’m not a huge cheesecake fan- it’s not that I dislike it; it just wouldn’t be my first choice for empty calories (just give me the cheese plate instead!)- but I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and use it as my contribution to Easter dinner at Marvin’s mom’s house. Turns out, his family all LOVES cheesecake- so much so that there were at two other cheesecakes at the get-together. At least mine was the only one with lemons!
I had gotten the idea for candied lemons because a few weeks ago there were Meyer lemons all over the grocery stores and I wanted to take advantage of the season (go here and here to see all the citrus goodies I made). Just after the idea had come to mind, coincidentally a fellow blogger whose blog I’ve started reading regularly posted a ricotta cheesecake with candied lemons. I was glad not to have to hunt for a candied lemon recipe, but a tiny bit disappointed that someone had just posted on the same concept. Ahh well, I suppose with the amount of food blogs out there these days, it’s hard to be totally original, unless you’re the Colloquial Cook!
The recipe itself was pretty darn easy, mainly just combining ingredients in a bowl and dumping them in the pan. And fortunately I didn’t have any issues with waterlogged crust or a crack in the top. I thought this was a good albeit very rich recipe. There was no flour (is there usually flour in cheesecake? I have no idea. I thought maybe there was a little), so the consistency was very soft and not at all “cake-y”, and it got kind of melty at room temperature, but was much better chilled. The consistency may have changed a little due to my adaptation as well. To flavor the cheesecake, I substituted 1/4 cup marmalade for 1/4 cup of the sugar, added the Microplaned zest of one lemon, and substituted lemon juice for the liqueur (too bad I didn’t have any Limoncello on hand!). You’d think it would have turned out ultra-lemony, but it was actually pretty subtle. The candied lemons on top were what really gave it some kick; I liked how their slightly bitter bite offset the sweetness and richness.
Incidentally, we had a great time at the family get-together, where we played a spirited game of Cranium with his cousins, and ate WAY too much food. I’m still working through some of the leftovers! In addition to ham AND turkey, there was a delicious pork and bean dish with three kinds of pork, the ubiquitous arroz con gandules (this is the Puerto Rican side of the family), homemade grape leaves (a remnant of his mom’s marriage to his Chaldean father), several other side dishes, and about 15 different desserts including flan (which I polished off for breakfast with some banana and strawberries). One of these days I am going to get together with his mom and learn some of the traditional recipes. Meanwhile, I’m happy to bring my contributions, and was relieved at not having a whole cheesecake sitting around my house. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to Easter, so I only have the few photos I took before we left. The photo of the cheesecake without the pan and the pics below of me photographing the cheesecake are courtesy of Marvin.