Tuesday, December 14, 2010

cold day comfort

OK. It’s been cold. Not the 40 degree with a bit of moisture-feels-kind-of-raw cold we’re used to here in Atlanta, but Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago 16 degree and blustery-cuts-right-through-you-wind cold.

Clearly we needed something really warm to eat… something flavorful, with dimension, something with color. Something… interesting. And it’s the holidays, a time so loaded with rich food that I did not desire anything based on meat or dairy.

I’ve been reading a terrific book by Joan Nathan about Jewish food in Paris. I am sure the following recipe reflects influences from her descriptions of Moroccan food. This can be a stew or a soup, just adjust the liquid to your preferences. I served it on whole wheat couscous for dinner then by itself as a lunch.

2 onions: chopped
1 cauliflower: chopped, not too small
4 garlic cloves: chopped
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped in cubes
2 cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
1.5 quarts chicken broth, or vegetable broth

1/2 C whole green olives,
2-3 T chopped fresh ginger
1-2 lemons: juiced and zest grated
1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded according to your heat preference
2 T ground cumin
2 tsp. ground ancho chile
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. allspice
Bunch of fresh cilantro
cayenne to taste

Soften the onions in butter and olive oil. Remove from pot. Toss the cauliflower in some olive oil and add the cumin, chile and allspice and salt to taste. Cook over high and add the garlic when nearly done: you want it slightly softer than raw, but not really soft. Add the onions back in, and the butternut squash, the broth, the chick peas, ginger and the marjoram. Bring to boil, then cut heat back to simmer. Taste. Add salt as needed. Cook covered til squash is soft. With a fork, mash the squash against the side of the pot so that 3/4 are mashed and 1/4 remain in cubes. The mashed squash will provide body to the liquid.

Add green olives, lemon juice, grated zest and jalapeno. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Before serving, add chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Report Card

So here it is: the highlights and low points of our much maligned (by the cook) and yet much anticipated dinner.

Turkey: 24 pounds of bronzed beauty: C+. Nicely cooked, but lacking in flavor. This guy needed brining. Or something.

Gravy: A+. Arranging carrots, celery and onion under the bird’s metal rack and adding chicken broth to this as the bird cooked resulted in the darkest, most flavorful gravy I have ever made. I used the giblet broth made early in the day for the gravy liquid.

Cider glaze for roasted vegetables: D. Flavor was lost on the veg’s (carrots brussel sprouts, garden leeks), though it tasted good when I made it. Just did not stand up, I think more acid was needed. By the way, the Cook’s Illustrated carrot roasting method was superb: cut them so they are all even (or choose small carrots as I did ) painted with melted butter, cover with foil cooked at 425 for 15 minutes, remove foil continue roasting til done. The covered cooking helps develop the sugar. Really good.

And the star of this meal: the super wonderful horseradish gremolata Louise posted before Thanksgiving on this blog. Hot and lemony and fresh, it added EXACTLY the right zing to the dinner. Everyone loved it. And it was terrific in sandwiches.

This gremolata will be on my table at all future Thanksgivings.

Thanks sis, for this winner!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

another use for the under-appreciated quince

Ta-DA!!! Quince flavored vodka. Sublime. The quince imparts a slightly apple-y, floral but not sweet quality to the vodka. The vodka offsets the astringent quality of the quince. I gathered a few more today, as this test was a real success.
Tonight I made Quintinis :the dry vermouth smooths everything out perfectly.


Monday, November 15, 2010

getting past cranky

I’ve been more than a little cranky about Thanksgiving dinner these past few years. As much as I love to cook and eat, I’ve felt for some time that Thanksgiving is definitely not a dinner that I love: too mushy, too rich, no zip. And not colorful enough.

I know I could add southwestern flavors to shake things up: a bit of jalapeno in the cornbread dressing, some chilies here and there. But somehow this is not appealing to me. As a girl originally from Philadelphia, I like the concept of the traditional east coast Thanksgiving meal. I just haven’t been thrilled with the results of the considerable effort. I'd love to do a stuffed fish. But I'd have to make a turkey anyway, so that''s just adding work.

So, this year I am focusing on achieving some brighter flavors, and on color.

Sure, we’ll be having the succulent roasted bird and dressing made with cornbread, toasted pecans and sausage. There will be a velvety gravy and yeast rolls. But we’re also having an assortment of roasted vegetables including my garden leeks with a cider vinaigrette and maybe a pop of chopped jalapeno tossed in for fun.. And the mashed potatoes will have horseradish for pop, and the salad will be garden arugula, all peppery and fresh with a sharp mustard dressing.

I’ll ask my stepdaughter to make her fresh cranberry relish. And we’ll have a little bit of the jellied kind for the little kids and for anyone who wants it in sandwiches later. I might make Mark Bittman’s preserved lemons as a condiment along with my bourboned peaches.

I'm thinking about Martha Stewart’s awesome cranberry tart: it's pretty simple and lovely. I am definitely making chocolate pecan tart with vanilla gelato on the side for my family, they like a rich ending.

I’m considering a fresh fruit option: assorted grapes cut in half, sprinkled with lemon sugar in a stemmed glass? It could be pretty in the candlelight.

I’d love to hear how you brighten up your Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, November 5, 2010


We have a quince tree in the far corner of our front yard. For several years in the fall a sad looking young woman would come by with her boyfriend in an old truck and would shyly ask me if she might gather the ones that had fallen on the ground. I was happy to give them to her. I’ve missed her these past few years and hope all is well with her.

I’ve fooled with these quinces a few times: they are as hard as rocks and difficult to peel and cut. Nonetheless, they are free food on my property. And, as Deb Duchon said in her terrific blog (culinaryhistoriansofatlanta.blogspot.com): there is nothing more locavore then eating stuff found in your yard.

I decided to roast them in the oven. As they cooked they smelled heavenly, a combination of apple and hibiscus. I skinned them, used a spoon to dig away the flesh from the sizable pit, and mashed them up. It was very sour, but promising. I poured several additions of Vermont maple syrup our friend, Woody, had given us, into the mashed fruit. Then added about a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger and a pinch of salt and whizzed it around with the stick blender.

And now I have a wonderful brightly flavored fruit pureé. What shall I do? Make a soufflé? Take this fruit gift as a cosmic message to get busy with a piecrust and make a nice tart? Add it to some mashed turban squash for a more savory dish?

Stay tuned. I think I'm leaning toward a tart.

Next day update: Made a tart. It's wonderful. The filling is simply our eggs, some melted butter the quince purée and I added about a half cup of brown sugar to further sweeten and also round out the flavor. The taste of this is amazing: there are hints of vanilla, a floral leaning and the citrussy snap of the quince. I will be continue my experiments with this interesting fruit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

very simple very good

Sometimes it just works out.

Those unripe black plum tomatoes I picked from the garden a week or so ago have turned to mahogany in the laundry room. Handing a bag of them over to my neighbor today made me think of using some for our dinner tonight. I had a good looking head of cauliflower and decided to roast them together. I like to mess around with cauliflower, it takes nicely to many seasonings.

But tonight was simple: cauliflower cut into medium florets, ‘maters cut in half and all tossed in olive oil, roasted in oven on 375 til the cauliflower turned gold. By then the tomatoes had collapsed and released their juices, almost glazing the cauliflower pieces.

Interestingly, the flavor of the cauliflower, which sweetens as it roasts, contrasted with the tomatoes (usually experienced as very sweet when roasted). The tomatoes served as surprising acidic counterpoint to the cauliflower.

It was great.

You could easily use those cherry tomatoes that you still have in your garden before the birds eat them. Or you could buy a basket of grape tomatoes. You could add whatever seasoning you feel like, though it stands up nicely unadorned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Newburger

I was visiting with my friend Jennifer recently. She and I share a love of good food, cooking and talking about good food and cooking. She happened to mention some turkey burgers she’d made using a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. (Jen is a scientist, and she loves the precision and testing that CI brings to their recipes.)

This turkey burger thing stuck in my mind. I’ve never had an even close to memorable turkey burger, and decided it was time to step up and try to create one that had some real flavor. Ground turkey is the tofu of the meat world. Adding a little hot Italian sausage would be one way of adding flavor to this otherwise bland protein. I used chopped onion bits softened in melted butter, a handful of fresh parsley and some fresh breadcrumbs I had in the fridge. I also coated the burgers with panko, to give them a little crispness. They were delicious. So, here is my recipe:

Preheat oven to 400.
2 pounds ground turkey (leg meat or mixed breast and leg)
1 large hot Italian pork sausage , removed from
casing and broken into small pieces ( finger tip sized)
a handful of freshly chopped parsley
about 3/4 c fresh breadcrumbs ( just whiz some bread in your food processor to make some if you don’t have any around: this is a good use for bread loaf ends)
One small onion, chopped into small pieces ands softened in about 1 T. Butter
One clove or two fresh garlic, chopped fine
Some panko

In a wide flat bowl (or, the turkey container) spread out the ground turkey. Sprinkle the small pieces of sausage across the turkey. As the onions soften in the butter, add the garlic, until they are soft as well. Keep heat med. low so the onions don’t brown.
Spread the softened onions and garlic and all the melted pan butter across the turkey/sausage. Spread the parsley and the breadcrumbs over this. Blend in with fingers. You don’t want to compress the mixture: just mix it.. Add salt and pepper. (I would also, if I had one, add a chopped up jalapeno pepper. Or maybe some cayenne. Or it might be good to add a 1/4 c of finely chopped apple.)

Shape meat mixture into 4 patties. Coat these in panko. Bake in oven 20 minutes or so til interior T is 160-165. Outsides will be crunchy.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fabulous Freezer Finds

I was in the garage yesterday, expecting to pick up a pint of chicken stock from the big freezer to use in a sauce for the ravioli I’d bought at the Farmer’s Market earlier this week. I was imagining a creamy sauce, based on the good homemade chicken stock, seasoned with fresh marjoram, for a fall-ish flavor. It was Friday, a day when Rick and I enjoy dinner together. But once in the freezer, I beheld a pint of lobster stock I’d made last month. Oooooooh!

Please don’t think I always have lobster stock awaiting me in the freezer. I’d prepared a lovely arranged lobster salad in celebration of our anniversary, and, unwilling to discard the shells and small legs, had made a quart of simple stock and froze it in pint containers.

The serendipity of this find demanded a change in my sauce plan: a lobster sauce for my pasta, with a bit of fried sage for a garnish.

I made an easy velouté sauce using the stock, and added a tablespoon of tomato paste for color (again, from the freezer) and a few tablespoons of a local dairy’s very heavy cream (again: from the trusty freezer). The sage was from the pot on the deck.

The found aspect of the freezer's ingredients was quite fun and added a lot to my enjoyment of the dish. As for Rick, he didn’t much care how it happened. He was happy that it happened.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I came upon a recipe in the paper today that looked nearly perfect. I always love a lemon-y something, especially a lemon-y dessert and more especially a no fuss dessert! Don’t let the word pudding turn you away.
Because I did not have any milk I used vanilla soy milk and I decreased the sugar by about a quarter cup. I also increased the lemon zest and juice by about a half a lemon. This was also a perfect time to use the whip attachment to the great immersion blender Wesley gave me several years ago. It made easy work of those egg whites.
The best thing about this, aside from from the ease, the (mostly) have-in-the-pantry ingredients , and the lemon-yness is the cool sponge cakey and sauce thing that happens.

Lemon Pudding from CW Cameron for the AJC, 2010

1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs, separated
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish. Set baking dish inside a roasting pan and add 1 inch warm water.
In a medium bowl, combine sugar and flour; stir in milk, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and salt.
In a medium bowl, whip egg whites until stiff. Fold into sugar mixture and pour into buttered baking dish.
Set pans into oven and bake 35 minutes or until a knife blade inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Per serving: 287 calories (percent of calories from fat, 11), 6 grams protein, 59 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 111 milligrams cholesterol, 200 milligrams sodium.
Adapted from the 1950 edition of “Charleston Receipts” (Favorite Recipes Press, $19.95)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Solo Sunday Lunch

Today I found a nicely ripened haas avocado in my hanging basket: perfect for lunch.

I sliced two slim pieces of good bread and toasted them well. Then I halved and pitted the avocado, placed one half in my palm, and using a fork, mashed the velvety contents til it was nearly smooth and spread the whole business on my toasts. Finished with a sprinkling of coarse kosher salt.

So easy, so delicious.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Most Tasty Salad

We’ve been back from our beach vacation for over a week. The eggplants are still bearing beautifully. Tonight I cut a few globes in wedges, tossed in olive oil and roasted them on a parchment covered sheet pan. I served this with a couscous salad and a green salad.

I encountered this couscous salad several years ago at a family brunch. It is possibly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. And I think the flavors really work this time of year, that interim space between summer and fall.

I used leftover whole wheat couscous, added chickpeas and a bit of chopped jalapeno to tonight’s salad and also a handful or so of those packaged shredded carrots. I did not have any cashews, so I used toasted almonds. Feel free to modify the ingredients any way that suits you and your pantry: I think it’s the dressing and the fresh ginger that really set this apart:

Michelle’s Couscous Salad
(appears to be adapted from Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet)

1 1/2 couscous ( I like whole wheat from Trader Joe’s)
1 1/2 C water
a little salt
Bring water to boil and add couscous, remove from heat and cover. Let stand 5 minutes, fluff with fork and put in another bowl to cool.

Chop up:
1/2 C raisins (golden look best)
1 red bell pepper
1/3 c slivered red onion (or grated)
2 T fresh mint

Mix the above into cooled couscous.

Add dressing:
1/3 C lime juice
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t cumin
1t grated ginger
2 tsp curry
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

Mix well in to the couscous veggie mixture.


Before serving mix in 1/2 c toasted cashews, chopped and 1 1/2 c frozen peas (You can skip the peas. I added fresh chopped parsley instead). This recipe serves 4-6 but I’ve quadrupled it for a party.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bird Tomato Soup

The cardinals were very interested in our heirloom tomatoes this year and many of these lovelies were damaged or split. No matter. I cut out the bird pecked spots and enjoyed each one as it ripened in all its deep flavored gloriousity.

Tonight I use several previously cut Mortgage Lifters and a few split Black Plums as well as two really damaged Cherokee Purples to make a soup for the mezza luna ravioli we had.

I softened about 1/4 C of sliced onion and a few leek bits in some olive oil. Then I added my cut up tomato pieces, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and around a cup of filtered water and some kosher salt and let it cook on medium heat til the tomatoes were soft. When I tasted it, I added a T of honey, to temper the acidic tomatoes.

I cooled this stuff, then put it in the blender, then strained out the shards of skin and seeds. I reheated while the mezza luna cooked. Before I served it, I added a chiffonade of basil. At my house, freshly grated parmesan is essential, but I think it is fine without.

We had room temparature roasted eggplant slices in a mustard vinaigrette and some homemade bread with this.

Friday, August 13, 2010

peach pie

Behold a peach pie, hot from the oven in my hot little kitchen. This pie is rustic, not a lot of finesse .

Those ripe peaches needed to be used. And I had lard in the fridge. Used half lard, half butter in the crust. Did not use quite enough flour, so the crust was a bit tender, kind of patched together. No matter.

I did not peel the peaches. The skins lent a lovely rose color to the juice in the baked pie. Added a splash of good bourbon. It rounded out the sweetness of the peaches and sugars.

Pie making should be a common and natural thing. Not rare, not fussy, not anxious. As they say, easy as pie.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Fine Mess

I have a rather fine mess in a bowl on my old wooden chopping block right now. Our eggplants are coming in and our heirloom black plum tomatoes are at peak season I think. On several days this week I’ve roasted and puréed tomatoes for the freezer. They make a wonderful sauce base in the fall and winter. Many eggplants have been blanched and frozen in slices for lasagnas or roasting later on.

I picked the remaining small eggplants today and decided to skin, dice and cook them in olive oil til golden on several sides. I dumped the browned eggplant into a bowl and I added some skinned and roasted black plum tomatoes to them. Then I cooked a chopped yellow onion til gold in the pan and added to the other veg. The rich, sweet tomatoes complemented the lush eggplant, the onion added a little texture.

This mess has such potential as a sauce: reheat as is and serve on pasta, add some kalamata or other interesting olives or add some capers and/or some anchovies, or fresh basil or all of the above! Or puréed til smooth, on a pizza or pasta.

Or as a spread much like a caponata (minus the celery), chilled and chopped more finely with capers on rounds of good bread.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Neglect and a new start

I have been quite remiss in not posting many of the cooking adventures I've had since late last year. I had such strong opinions about holiday food! I'll gather these thoughts and share as we get closer to the holidays this year. Anyway, it is now summer and the garden is starting to do good things for us.

I tried a new zucchini in our garden this year: Tender Grey. The seed came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Va. Their heirloom varieties are well tested in our hot, humid South, and the catalog is great fun to read, as well being very informative. My zucchinis are coming in nicely. I had bought some good looking Brandywine tomatoes from our local Sat. farmer’s market.

It seemed right to put them together. In an oiled gratin pan, I layered them with a little chopped basil and some finely chopped garlic. I added a couple of finely sliced shallots as well. I topped with some panko dotted with very good butter and grated fresh parmigiano reggiano over the whole thing. Baked in oven at 350 until bubbly and brown.

I did not take a picture when it came out of oven, but here it is: left over from our dinner with friends. I wish you could smell it. Even cold it is redolent with garden goodness.