For the last 4 years, I’ve been in a book club with about 5 friends. The members have shifted slightly, with a couple people leaving and returning because of school or other commitments, but the core group has been meeting every few months since spring of 2008. We’ve focused on classic literature for the most part, but have also sprinkled in some sci-fi, current fiction, children’s literature, and will soon add a graphic novel to our list.
I always look forward to our meetings, which combine spirited and sharp but unpretentious discussion of the books with wine, friendly company, and typically some good snacks! Sometimes we meet at a restaurant or café, but more often we meet at someone’s house. The last meeting was at Ian & Michelle’s, and Ian had made profiteroles with caramel sauce; the one before that was at Sarah’s and we had smoky, marinated grilled shrimp and other goodies. See what I mean?
Last weekend it was my turn to host. I wasn’t sure what to make because the meeting was at an odd time of day (1pm); I didn’t know if people would have just eaten lunch, or if I should plan to serve a light lunch. A serendipitous combination of eggs on sale plus a small piece of smoked salmon led me to this combination, a variation on some tuna-stuffed deviled eggs I did last year (those were good, but I have to say these were way better). The eggs were on sale because they were a little older- i.e., perfect for hard-boiling (less fresh eggs are much easier to peel). The salmon was too small a piece to serve on its own, but a perfect size to lend its flavor to the egg filling. Add some crème fraîche, capers and shallot or red onion and you’re in business.
I also put out a salad of equal parts roasted squash and beets dressed with lemon juice, shallots, feta and parsley. Super simple but beautiful to look at, and a great flavor combination, the sharpness of the shallot and lemon balancing the sugar-sweet beets and squash. With a couple other contributions from my guests, it ended up being a nice little spread. Food was noshed, wine and tea were sipped, and art history books were consulted as we tried to find images that corresponded to the culture the book was about (we had read Things Fall Apart, about the Igbo people in Nigeria at the start of colonialism). Continue reading
It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.
I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.
The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.
As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.
In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
Frisée aux Lardons
serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more
2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives
Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.
Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls. (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.
Hey there. Just a friendly warning, if you’re here for the recipe you may want to scroll down; the following may not be of interest to many of you, and that’s fine, but it’s something I felt I needed to write.
I had a post all written and ready about how my friend had this great sherry-tasting party last month, with all of this amazing Spanish food, lively conversation, etc. but I had this nagging feeling and it just didn’t feel right to post it. Although the party was beyond lovely and I had a great time, the evening was marred by the fact that I completely and totally flaked out on a good friend. I was supposed to text her the address of the party, and even after having said out loud to my brother as we were walking in the building that I needed to do just that, a few seconds later I was distracted by a conversation and the thought left my mind. I then proceeded to leave my phone in my coat pocket in the bedroom all night, so I didn’t hear any of my friend’s calls or texts. To make matters worse, she had already driven over 20 miles and was in a bar nearby awaiting contact from me.
Of course, as soon as we walked out of the building to leave the party, it triggered the memory that I was supposed to have contacted her, but by then it was too late. I called and offered frantic apologies, but the damage was done. Of course she felt, as I would have, that it was simply unimportant to me and that my other friends had taken precedence. I was so frustrated- how to explain that that was not the case; that I just hadn’t “pictured” her at the party (she decided to go at the last minute) so it didn’t seem “off” that she wasn’t there? Although it was the truth, it sounded like a lame excuse even to me.
I’ve been doing some research lately to try to understand why my mind works the way it does and why I’m often frustrated by my forgetfulness, inability to be organized or to accomplish certain tasks. I came across the following and it was like reading a summary of my life story: frequently losing things, trouble completing routine or mundane tasks, academic underachiever, short temper, low stress threshold and several other characteristics that were uncomfortably familiar.
These are some of the manifestations of a certain type of ADD. Now, I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but based on a laundry list of symptoms which I won’t bore you with here, it’s exceedingly probable that this is the explanation to years and years of figuratively banging my head against a wall wondering why I couldn’t seem to be motivated to accomplish as much as my peers of similar intelligence and education, why my house is frequently a mess, and why I feel disproportionately stressed out by life’s day-to-day tasks. Apparently it’s common for the condition to go undiagnosed in high-functioning girls/women, because they often don’t exhibit the hyperactivity and disruptive behavior that boys do. Because the hyperactive form of ADHD is so much more prevalent in the general discourse, I never knew that there were different types and it never occurred to me that it could be an explanation.
I couldn’t help but get emotional reading the list of symptoms and feeling this overwhelming sense of recognition, after literally decades of feeling that something was “wrong” with me but not knowing what (Am I just lazy? Why is it so hard for me to be organized? etc). Even my blog posts, which I enjoy, often take me two to three weeks after the fact before I am able to post them, and those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed that I often sound harried or overwhelmed even though I don’t have any kids and have a lifestyle with (relatively) few responsibilities.
Lest this post be a total drag, I did want to share with you this most excellent recipe for Spanish-style deviled eggs that I took to the sherry party. Just about everyone likes deviled eggs, and a couple people at the party said these were the best they’d ever had. They come from a colorful and well-put-together cookbook called The New Spanish Table, and although they’re no more difficult to make than any other deviled eggs, they pack a lot more flavor thanks to the inclusion of tuna and some other goodies.
2011 is going to be a huge year for me with the new house and the wedding, so I’m hoping that getting better informed about this condition will allow me to better manage these seemingly monumental events and enjoy them rather than feel freaked out and stressed. Wish me luck. As for you, I wish you all the best of holidays, and a healthy and happy New Year!
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise (I recommend making one or two extra in case you have a couple that don’t peel cleanly)
1 6-oz can tuna in olive oil, tuna drained and flaked
2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 small or half a large shallot, minced (about 1 heaping Tbs)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
piquillo or roasted pepper, cut into thin strips for garnish
handful of chopped parsley
Mash the yolks well in a bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot and capers until well incorporated. I like to mix the tuna in at the very end so it retains a bit more of its texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound as much of the filling as possible into the halved egg whites (you may have a bit left over). Garnish each egg with strips of pepper, and scatter the plate with the chopped parsley.
What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision? Combine them, of course!
I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party. I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?). I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down. I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect. I was torn- which one to make?
I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor). Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe. I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers. The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself. The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness. In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.
If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.
A couple of ice cream-making notes: Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine. You could even go with 6 if you wanted. The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent. As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs. For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken. Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER. As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK. Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.
*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year. Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades. Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy. They will be sorely missed. In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous. I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.
Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it. For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.
Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds. Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife, reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.
Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat. Let steep for one hour.
Remove the corncobs and discard. Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside. Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.
*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Mixed Berry Coulis
1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional
Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity. This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.
Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.
When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly). Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic. Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches). You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded. Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.
When my friend Youn from Toulouse called me on the eve of an out of town trip asking if he and a friend could come stay for a few days, I said yes even though it was inconvenient, because in my mind I want to be That Kind Of Person- the kind who has an open door policy for weary travelers, who can handle surprise visitors with aplomb, and (most importantly), someone who always has food and drink on hand to whip up an impromptu meal or refreshment for said visitors.
Mind you, this is what I strive for- the reality is somewhat different! Unlike Marvin, who grew up in a household where people were constantly dropping by, we rarely if ever had unannounced visitors. So although I wholeheartedly embrace the concept, I have to make a concerted effort to be prepared for this eventuality; it’s not something that comes naturally to me with my more Germanic upbringing.
As it happened, I had purposely NOT gone shopping that week in an effort to use things up before my trip, and the way things worked out, I had no opportunity to go to the store before picking up my guests. Luckily, Marvin came to the rescue in more ways than one- spending some time with them while I was at work, and taking them to the grocery store so that they could make dinner (Youn’s idea). We invited a couple more friends and Youn made traditional Breton buckwheat crêpes (although he has lived in Toulouse for over 20 years, Youn originally hails from Brittany). My apologies for the somewhat haphazard photos, we were enjoying ourselves and I didn’t feel like stopping to bust out a tripod! The two decent-looking pics are from breakfast the next day, when the light was much better.
Those of you who read this blog regularly may recall that, coincidentally, I just posted about buckwheat crêpes (galettes) a few weeks ago. Curiously, the recipe I was using called for apple cider vinegar in the batter, saying it was authentically Breton, but Youn had never heard of it. Just goes to show that “authentic” is a word that you should take with a grain of salt in the cooking world! He doesn’t even use a recipe, just does everything by feel, but he did give me some measurements so that I could share a recipe. Another interesting thing is that all the recipes I’ve seen call for half buckwheat and half white flour, but he uses all buckwheat which is a bit healthier. I actually preferred the texture and will be making them this way from now on. Last but not least, he uses beer in the crêpe batter instead of the usual milk, making the recipe friendly for the lactose-intolerant. For the vegetarians, there are infinite possibilities for veggie fillings (ratatouille comes to mind).
I like to use up leftovers for crêpe fillings, but obviously there were none, so we made the classic complète- ham, cheese and egg. The egg is fried right on top of the crêpe. Add a little grated cheese and some torn-up pieces of ham and you have a meal. Amanda, who up until this point had claimed a dislike of runny yolk, was converted by the oeuf miroir, so called because the yolk is shiny like a mirror. In addition to the buckwheat crêpes, Youn also made dessert crêpes with finely-diced apple in the batter, which we spread with confiture de cidre (cider jam) and sprinkled with powdered sugar (check out this post for a dessert crêpe recipe). We cooked up more crêpes the next morning for breakfast… miam miam! Next time I hope I’ll be able to spoil my guests instead of the other way around, but I was certainly grateful for the help and the opportunity to get crêpe lessons from a seasoned pro.
Crêpes Complètes à la Youn (Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Egg & Cheese)
1 lb buckwheat flour
1 cup beer (a lighter lager-style beer is best)
water- about 2 cups or as needed
1-2 Tbs neutral oil or melted butter
additional butter for spreading on crêpes (optional)
eggs- one for each crêpe you plan to make
thinly-sliced deli ham
Gruyère or Swiss-style cheese, grated
A couple notes: The directions for cooking up the crêpes may sound a bit fussy, but once you get the feel for it, crêpe-making is one of the easiest things in the world. You’ll learn by trial and error how to adjust things like the batter thickness and pan heat to get the results you want. Best of all, crêpe batter is a relatively inexpensive thing, so it’s not the end of the world to have a few failed attempts before hitting your stride. This recipe makes plenty of batter so you have room to screw up and still have enough for dinner! Also bear in mind that this “recipe” is very loose. Feel free to thin the batter with more beer instead of water, or only use 2 eggs, or whatever. Youn says that in Brittany the crêpe shops make their batter using only flour and water, so obviously it’s very flexible!
Place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and place the eggs and oil or butter in it. Gently whisk the eggs with a fork. Slowly pour the beer and 1 cup water into the well a little at a time as you stir, incorporating the flour, until the batter is fully mixed and has no lumps. (Alternately, whiz everything together in the blender.) Add more water a little at a time as needed until batter is the consistency of heavy cream. Let batter rest at least an hour.
Get your eggs, ham and cheese at the ready. Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium-high heat until very hot. Smear a bit of butter onto a paper towel and rub it on the pan. Test the heat with a few drops of batter; they should set immediately. Give the batter a couple stirs in case it has started to separate. Wipe the pan clean with the paper towel wad, and then rub it again with butter. Ladle batter onto the center of the hot pan (quantity will depend on your pan’s size) and quickly rotate the pan so it is thinly and completely covered. If there is excess batter (i.e. batter that does not instantly set), pour it back into the bowl. Cook until golden brown on the bottom- a minute or so. You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy (although Youn says a little crispiness is OK). At this point, flip it over.
As soon as you flip the crêpe, you can smear it with butter if desired, then crack an egg onto the center. With the back of a spoon or a spatula, gently spread the egg white around the crêpe so it can cook. When the egg white begins to turn opaque, add pieces of the torn-up ham and sprinkle with some shredded cheese. When the cheese has melted, fold in the sides of the crêpe towards the center so it forms a square, and serve. (With this kind of crêpe, there really isn’t a way to serve everyone at once, but from my experience making them to order creates a casual, convivial atmosphere that is fun in and of itself.)