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
I may be accused of chutzpah for labeling this post “Charcutepalooza”, but so be it. Last month’s posting deadline (April 15) breezed past without fanfare like I wish this cold, rainy spring weather would, and although I had the hot-smoking challenge in the back of my mind all month, I had no specific plan as to how or when to execute it. So when my friend Todd invited a few of us over and said he was firing up his smoker, right after Molly and I had just bought a whole fresh lake trout (scored at Eastern Market for $1.99 a pound!), it seemed like kismet.
Because the trout was going to be in the fridge for a few days before the get-together, I salted and sugared it (no measuring, I just threw on what I thought was an appropriate amount). I had already used my share of the steaks, which I braised in a Thai red curry coconut milk concoction, so I had my half of the fillet left to smoke. Molly went the opposite route, saving her steaks for the smoker. Despite my lackadaisical approach, I did attempt to create a pellicle by placing the uncovered fish on a rack in the fridge the morning of the party. (I mention this as a pathetic bit of evidence that I actually sort of “did” the challenge…) Continue reading
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”).
A few weeks ago I posted a challenge to come up with a $2-per-serving menu to challenge the notion that healthy food is “too expensive” or that you need to resort to convenience foods to have time to sit down with your family for dinner. Ironically, what with trying to run holiday-related errands after work most days, and having a plethora of parties, shows, rehearsals and other stuff, I haven’t been cooking much! (I did make a big batch of lamb & bulghur stew last weekend and have been pretty much subsisting on those leftovers all last week, but it wasn’t particularly blog-worthy.)
The other night I was staring at the fridge with the glazed-over and rather desperate look of a person who hasn’t been to the grocery store in recent memory, when inspiration struck. I had a bag of frozen shrimp in the fridge, a package of pasta, and enough pantry items to make said shrimp and pasta into a quick and very flavorful dinner. Crisis averted.
Let me detour here to say that I do regret that my $2 meal was not more local– apparently there is a shrimp farm in Okemos but my shrimp were from Trader Joe’s. I don’t eat a ton of shrimp because of the overfishing issues, but as a person who lives alone, there is a great advantage to a food which you can keep in the freezer and remove a few at a time for a single serving. This recipe may also not fall under some people’s definition of “healthy”, but it does use all natural ingredients and that’s my usual guideline. As I had not been to the store I didn’t have any fresh vegetables in the house, but I would certainly encourage adding a green veg to make this a more balanced meal.
Here’s my cost breakdown: Shrimp: ½ bag @ $8.99/1-lb bag= $4.50; butter: 2 oz @ $2.89/lb= 36¢; 1 lb spaghetti= 99¢; 1 lemon= 50¢ (mine actually cost less since I had bought a bag of them, but I think that’s how much they are if you buy a single one); 4 cloves garlic= approx. 25¢; 1 tsp red pepper: negligible, but let’s say 15¢ (or get it free next time you order pizza!). Total= $6.75 and serves 4, so $1.69 per serving. That leaves $1.25 to spend on 4 servings of the veg of your choice- a plain green salad, some sautéed zucchini, or some steamed broccoli, perhaps?- and still keep it under $2.
Garlic Shrimp Pasta
1 lb. dried spaghetti or linguini
½ lb. shrimp (should yield 4-6 shrimp per serving depending on shrimp size)
4 Tbs butter
4 large cloves garlic
1 lemon, halved lengthwise
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 handful chopped flat leaf parsley, optional
kosher or sea salt
Notes: Feel free to embellish and throw in other random items you may have in your pantry or refrigerator… a spoonful of capers, perhaps, or some grated Parmigiano. I happened to have some parsley in the fridge so in it went. This recipe is also very easily divisible/ multipliable- I originally made 2 servings, not 4- so it’s a good recipe if you’re just feeding 1 or 2 people. The dish can be prepared in about 30 minutes, and 10 of that is just waiting for the water to boil. You’ll want to work very quickly to get the sauce on the pasta before anything gets cold.
Directions: Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Rinse and pat dry the shrimp, salt lightly on all sides and set aside. Mince the garlic. Juice half the lemon; cut the remaining half into four wedges. Chop the parsley, if using.
When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions, probably 8 minutes or so. You’ll want to try to time it so the pasta and shrimp are just getting done at the same time.
Select a saucepan in which the shrimp will just fit in one layer. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic, keeping the heat as low as possible. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and making sure the garlic does not brown. (If the butter is foaming too much, add a splash of olive oil.) Add the pepper flakes and stir.
Add the shrimp to the pan in one layer. Cook gently until they appear opaque halfway up the sides, then flip and continue cooking until fully opaque. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a covered dish on the stovetop (so they remain warm).
Meanwhile, drain the pasta when done, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Add the juice of half the lemon and a little of the pasta water to the butter/garlic mixture and increase the heat slightly, stirring. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring to emulsify. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta. Add any other ingredients at this time such as the parsley, capers, etc. Taste the pasta for salt, adding as needed. If it seems too dry, add a bit more of the pasta cooking water, and/or a little olive oil.
Plate the pasta in warmed shallow bowls or plates, garnishing with the shrimp and a wedge of lemon.
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.