Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
You could always count on mom to be readily equipped with the antidote to your hunger—hard candy. “Do you want a butterscotch?” she’d ask, as she desperately tried to stave off Ethiopian flies from your soon-to-be distended belly. Us kids—and later as adults—found this form of nagging to be intrusive and annoying, but if that was the extent of her yenta-ing, we’d just have to suck it up, along with the butterscotch.
Mom was not a heavy woman. She just ate like one. But mostly, she liked talking about eating. About you eating. Or you not eating enough, rather. And she had a penchant for taking home leftovers like it was nobody’s business. She carried baggies in her purse because a restaurant could not be entrusted with providing something as precious as a foil-lined paper bag. She started her ritual in the days before the ubiquitous styrofoam container became a mainstay of the dining scene. Back then, it was up to proactive women with too much plastic and twist ties on their hands.
Yes, my mother was the reigning doggie-bag queen. There was no leftover too small to leave on her plate. I remember the time in a restaurant when she had two bites of meat loaf left and asked the waiter to wrap it up. Beet-red with embarrassment, I wondered why she had to take home two measly bites. Was it from living through the Depression? Was it because an animal should not go to waste? Did she merely want to be reminded the next day of how much she enjoyed the previous night’s meal? Or did she do it to piss us off? Who knew. But that night, those two bites got lost in the restaurant's kitchen (probably mistaken for blowback), and when she found out they were never to return, the look on her face conjured up the horror in the song, MacArthur Park: “Someone left the meat loaf on the plate, and she’ll never have those last two bites again. Oh no…” Needless to say, that was the last time mom left her leftovers to fate. From that moment on, it was paws off, except for hers.
Sadly, my mom died two weeks ago, unexpectedly. When I started going through the clothes in her closet, I noticed that she had about 40 shirts, all with two pockets. The left pocket of every shirt contained three items: a folded Kleenex, a folded baggie, and a piece of hard candy. She lived in a retirement home and didn’t get out much, so chances are, she was only going downstairs to the dining room for her three meals a day. But apparently, it was far enough that she thought she might need sustenance on her journey down the elevator.
Now, with all that's happened in the past two weeks, I'm feeling kind of weak. And even though I ate a big meal just two hours ago, I could really use a butterscotch. I would give anything just to hear her ask.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 - 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 TBSP fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 TBSP fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
3 - 4 TBSP AP flour, GF flour or garbanzo flour (this works really well)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp olive oil
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
We’re not just talking Tofurky. We’re talking a tricked-out Tofurky on rbST-free steroids that ate two other Tofurkys. Here's how it works: First you stuff an imitation turkey with a pretend duck. Then you stuff the pretend duck with a mock chicken. Then you make a stuffing out of wild rice and Fakin’ Bacon. And voila—it’s an original genuine fake.
Wait till faux agribusiness gets wind of my tagline, which by the way, is available for purchase:
Three times less cluckin’
Friday, December 4, 2009
You say potato, I say po-tah-to and fennel.
I’ve been making this enchanting soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook for years, and it just keeps getting better with age (that makes one of us). Browned onions, potatoes, minced fennel, and caraway seeds are a truly inspired combination.
I’ve made a few tiny tweaks, but nothing major. Since caraway seeds play a large part in the soup’s complex character, I double what the original Mollie Katzen recipe calls for. I also like to maximize the delicious, aromatic fennel flavor as a counterpoint to the caraway, so I up the ante there too, with 1 to 2 cups. (One can never have too much boiled fennel. Am I wrong?) I usually just get the largest bulb I can find and don’t fuss with the measuring. I'm telling you—this soup has so much flavor from so few ingredients, you’ll be peasantly surprised.
1 TBSP butter or olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced onions
2 tsp salt
4 medium potatoes (average fist-size), not necessarily peeled, and sliced into thin pieces 1 to 2 inches long
1 - 2 cups freshly minced fennel bulb (the largest bulb you can find)
1 tsp caraway seeds
4 cups water
white or black pepper, to taste
Makes 4 - 5 servings
Heat the butter or oil in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add the onions and 1 tsp salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and lightly browned.
Add the potatoes, the rest of the salt, the minced fennel bulb, and the caraway seeds. Sauté over medium heat for another 5 minutes, then add the water. Bring to a boil, then partially cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes (the potatoes should be tender and almost falling out of their skins).
Taste to adjust salt; add pepper. Serve hot, topped with a decorative swirl of thinned sour cream and/or minced feathery fennel tops.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
“That’s so gross!” an indignant guest exclaimed. “I would never ever eat any of those things! But I wouldn’t have a problem eating a person," she added. "You know, like in that movie Alive, about the plane crash in the Andes. That wouldn’t bother me at all. You gotta do what you gotta do.”
The guy sitting next to me turned and asked if I would eat a human to stay alive. “Only someone with an 'A' rating," I said. "Preferably a germaphobe. But I’d have to look at the menu.”
Since that dinner, the prospect of polishing off a person has been gnawing at me. If I were in a dire circumstance like the plane crash of that soccer team in Chile, could I bite the bullet and chow down on a chum? Would I go that far to stay alive? Wouldn't that person just be going to waste? Granted, I would more likely be on a plane with the People Who Blog in their Undergarments team. But hey, if they’re foodies, they might be pretty tasty.
Note: I took this photo at a market in Istanbul.
Friday, November 27, 2009
With this dense, lattice-crusted crostata, I was thinking fig.
For pastry dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus additional for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cold water
For fig filling:
12 ounces soft dried figs (preferably Calmyrna), stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups walnuts (6 ounces), coarsely chopped
Equipment: a 9-inch springform pan
Make pastry dough: Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Add yolks, vanilla, and water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together (using a pastry scraper if you have one), then divide dough in half and form each half into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
Make fig filling while dough chills: Simmer figs, water, orange juice, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally, until figs are soft and mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped (mixture should not be smooth). Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly. Stir in butter, eggs, vanilla, zest, and walnuts.
Make tart shell: Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter springform pan. Roll out 1 portion of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12-inch round (dough will be soft; chill or freeze briefly if it becomes difficult to work with). Peel off top sheet of parchment and carefully invert dough into pan. (Dough will tear easily but can be patched together with your fingers.) Press dough onto bottom and 1 inch up side of pan, then trim excess. Chill tart shell until ready to assemble crostata.
Roll out remaining dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12-inch round. Peel off top sheet of parchment, then cut dough into 10 (1-inch-wide) strips and slide (still on parchment) onto a tray. Chill until firm, about 10 minutes.
Assemble crostata: Spread fig filling in shell. Arrange 5 strips of dough 1 inch apart on filling. Arrange remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart across first strips to form a lattice. Trim edges of strips flush with edge of shell. Sprinkle crostata with sugar.
Bake until filling is slightly puffed and pastry is pale golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then remove side of pan. Serve crostata with mascarpone.
•Dough can be chilled up to 3 days. •Crostata can be made 1 day ahead and kept at room temperature.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The zesty flavors of the vinaigrette, capers, shallots, peppers and dill work wonderfully together, but if dill is not your deal, you can use basil or flat-leaf parsley instead. A combination of all three herbs is delicious too. Roasting the peppers in olive oil gives them a rich, robust flavor, and I happened to have some on hand already, but if you don’t feel like going to the trouble, raw ones work well in a more traditional potato-salad way.
In a recipe-naming quandary, I struggled with using the stodgy term "potato salad." But when you serve the potatoes on a bed of greens and let the vinaigrette fall where it may, it is literally a potato salad. A Tri-colored Potato Salad Provencal, that is.
1 ½ - 2 pounds of combined red, white and purple potatoes
½ cup of combined red, yellow and orange bell peppers, chopped either raw or roasted
1 TBSP capers
Large handful of fresh dill, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp red wine vinegar
½ heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 medium shallot, minced
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Makes about 4 servings
Cut the potatoes into quarters (leaving skins on) and boil in salted water until fork-tender. Drain and let cool. While potatoes are boiling, prepare the vinaigrette, cut the peppers and chop the dill.
When potatoes are cool, put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, add vinaigrette and toss. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate for several hours' minimum, but preferably overnight. Before serving, let it sit out at room temperature for a few minutes before plating on a bed of greens.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
I have some original ideas for vegetarian dolma fillings that I plan to experiment with, but I wanted to share this authentic Turkish recipe from Eveline Zoutendijk.
These stuffed vine leaves are often spiked with some hot pepper and tomato in parts of central and southeast Anatolia, but in Istanbul they are served like this, with yogurt on the side. Unlike the zeytinyagli dolma, which are rolled into long elegant fingers and served cold, these are short and stubby, more like a thumb, and served hot in some of the cooking liquid.
25–30 preserved vine leaves, soaked in a few washes of water for a few hours, or if you use fresh ones, blanched for a few minutes to soften.
12 oz minced lamb or beef or a mixture of both
2 onions, finely chopped
4 oz long-grain rice, washed, soaked and drained
Bunch of dill, parsley and mint, finely chopped
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP bell pepper paste (optional)
1 TBSP olive oil
1–2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped (keep the seeds and chop)
½ carrot, ½ onion to line the pan
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ pint water
Juice of ½ lemon (optional)
2 TBSP olive oil
Mix all ingredients for the filling in a bowl, except for the rice. Add (part of) the tomato seeds to the mixture for extra moisture (you want the moisture to be moist but not too wet). Fold in the rice carefully. Lay the leaves on a flat surface (always with the shiny side on the outside), and place a little of the meat mixture on the top of each leaf. Shape the mixture into your desired dolma shape to ease the rolling process. Fold the sides over (no need to close them—this is when you decide the length of your dolma and you want them to all be the same length), and roll the leaf up into a tight package (start pressing gently but surely from the very beginning).
In a wide saucepan, prepare a bed of sliced carrot, onion and garlic, the stems of all the herbs used in the stuffing, the stems of the leaves, some peppercorns, and if you have any, some meat bones. This serves both for aromatic purposes and so that the dolmas won’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover with a layer of (broken or small) vine leaves and place the ready dolmas on top with their opening, facing downwards. They need to be tightly packed together so that they won’t open while cooking. Pour some olive oil, and if needed, some salt over them and pour the tomato cubes over them, then cover with another sheet of leaves and lots of plates or other weights, to hold everything down. Now pour the water (and lemon if wanted) over the vine leaves (if you do this before the plates are on top, you risk the dolma floating to the surface and opening). Cover with a lid, and cook gently for 40-45 minutes. Serve hot in a bit of their cooking liquid. Decorate with the tomato cubes. Serve some yogurt on the side.
Monday, November 9, 2009
My training started in warm-up mode. There were stomach stretches. Double-chin-ups. Forklifts. Middle-body workouts. I honed my discipline at repeated trips to the breakfast buffets full of cheeses, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, yogurt, eggs, breads, jams and cakes. In the first 24 hours alone, I had eggplant three times. What a country! Eggplant stuffed with lentils. Eggplant stuffed with chicken and mashed potatoes. Eggplant stuffed with lamb. My inner carnivore didn’t know what hit her. And all those skewered meats? Sheesh. I kebapped till I dropped. But I got right back up. A triathleater goes the distance. There is no finished line.
Then there was that ubiquitous Turkish Delight candy made out of sugar, water, corn starch and any number of nuts, figs or flavorings. Who was I to deprive the Turks their delight? They made it to be eaten—am I wrong? And the baklava in all shapes and sizes? Who cares that some of it was odd tasting, unlike the honey-dripped Greek kind. Maybe the next one would be different. After all, they all looked so good. Joyner didn’t stop for a pebble in her shoe. Phelps didn’t waver from some water in his mouth. A triathleater goes the distance. There is no finished line.
There was canoe-shaped pide (Turkish pizza), all flavors of sweet helva (sesame seed halva), stuffed grape leaves, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and mushrooms, borek (savory-filled pastries), su boregi (cheese-filled Turkish kugel), Turkish ravioli with tomatoes and yogurt, pilafs, kuru (white beans in tomato sauce), lentil soups, amazing mezes, roasted chestnuts and fresh pomegranate juice on every corner, as well as all things pistik (pistachio). And like a triathleater, the list goes on.
Oddly enough, what I began to crave was hunger itself. That gnawing, aching permission to say to my inner glutton, “Hey Tubby, it’s ok to come out now. You’re on!” This eating-for-sport, baklavian bacchanal was becoming too...normal. Shouldn’t I actually feel hungry between meals? Shouldn’t some of this over-sustenance be going to the Ethiopian children with flies?
Now that I’m back and have reacquainted myself with hunger pangs, I panic, as if I should receive famine relief. But then I quickly replenish myself with a piece of pistachio Turkish Delight that I brought back and then another made with fig, walnut and coconut. I remind myself that once you've tasted gold, you'll always want to go back for another. For a triathleater, there is no finished line.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I’ve stuffed cabbages.
I’ve stuffed peppers.
I’ve stuffed zucchinis.
I’ve stuffed eggplants.
I’ve stuffed chilis.
I’ve stuffed dates.
On some dates, I stuffed my bra.
But I have never stuffed a grape leaf.
So I'm off to Turkey to learn how.
When I'm done stuffing my face,
I'll be back with photos and other stuff!
See you soon!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
One day, he told me he was going to make me these fabulous cream puffs and that he was thinking about going into the cream puff-making business. He also mentioned that he had been 100 pounds heavier in a previous life.
Then one night, out of thin air, he said, “I’m thinking about getting fat again.” Wow. I knew he could be unpredictable, but imagine my surprise when I heard that paunch line. As the air thickened with his bloated bluster, I wondered what I was supposed to do with that little tidbit? Should I say, “That’s flab-ulous!” or “Enjoy your new heft?” Should I try to talk him out of it? “Aw, you don’t really want to be a rotunda. You’re just down in the dumps and feeling dumpy.” The fact that someone could choose obesity as if he were deciding to grow a beard was, well, a sign that this guy wasn’t dealing with a fully stocked pantry.
Shortly after that, C.P. came to work acting all David Koresh-Waco-possessed. He started going from desk to desk, dishing out five-course diatribes on each person’s flaws. He had told me once that he’d attended EST seminars, and now I could see the fruits of his higher-consciousness labors. EST taught you to speak the truth (but if you wanted tact, that was a different group).
As he voraciously chewed people out in his creepy, my-word-is-the-gospel way, I got under my desk, seeking refuge. I thought this guy was about to go postal, and if those were just his co-workers, what was in store for me? When he wouldn’t leave, the boss finally pushed him out the door and locked it behind him. That’s when everyone gathered around my desk and said I could come out now. It was safe to come out!
That was the last time I saw C.P. and to this day, he is what I think of when I hear the words “Cream Puff.” But a profiterole? That delicate, cream-filled pastry with chocolate sauce that I so lovingly devoured in Paris? Ooh la la. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
Friday, October 9, 2009
1 bunch chard, stalks and leaves cut up
½ large onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 ½ TBSP olive oil
Makes about 2 servings
Sauté onion until golden. Add cut-up chard stalks and garlic. Cook several minutes until partially cooked. Add cut-up chard leaves and stir, coating greens well with oil. Simmer until cooked throughout. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
As I watched her pour a packet of Splenda into her coffee, I practically had a conniption. “What are you doing?” I said. “That stuff is poison! I read that it actually makes you gain weight by screwing with your metabolism and ruining your body’s ability to count calories. Why do you use that s**t when you know it causes cancer?”
My friend gave me a cockeyed look and said, “I don’t live in your world.” As her words hung in the unsweetened air, I said, “Look, it’s no picnic for me either. You think I like being mayor of Doomville?”
She was afraid she had offended me, but she had fueled an epiphany. Was it possible for me to not live in my world too? Could I leave Doomville and move to Mayberry? Could I bust out of these cerebral walls and live a carefree, oblivious existence, devoid of all common sense, empirical evidence, scientific data and the ability to recognize advertising hype?
“My grandmother lived to be 97,” Ms. Splenda said, all cocky. “She ate bad stuff and never exercised. It’s all about the genes.” Ah, the genes. That’s where it went so wrong. Mine were high-strung and skin-tight on both sides. If only I could get new ones. Stonewashed, relaxed-fit genes that wouldn’t fall apart or fray when rubbed the wrong way. They’re making new scientific discoveries every day. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
And to think that if Ms. Splenda had put evaporated cane juice, honey, stevia or refined sugar into her beverage, I wouldn’t be sitting here planning my getaway. But now I want out.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I love fresh green beans, and when paired with yellow wax beans and bright, roasted peppers cut to match the beans, your dinner is ready for framing. Lately I’ve been roasting a few pans of various colored bell peppers along with some garlic cloves to keep on hand. They’ll last a couple of weeks in a jar in the fridge, and they just get sweeter, richer and juicier with age. You can put them on anything from green or grain-based salads, quiches, frittatas, omelettes, pizzas, pastas, quesadillas, sandwiches—you name it. And the juice at the bottom of the jar is to die for.
Like most of my recipes, this one is not set in stone. Except for baking, I'm not really the measuring type, so you can add more olive oil or change the ingredient ratios to your own taste.
½ pound green beans
½ pound yellow wax beans
1 each red, orange and yellow bell pepper (save half for later use)
6 cloves whole, unpeeled garlic (save 4 for later use)
2 TBSP olive oil
Two large cookie sheets
Preheat oven to 425˚. Cut peppers into long strips. Mix them together with the garlic cloves, half of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Coat well. Place peppers and garlic on a cookie sheet and make sure the pieces are not overlapping (use another pan if you need to). Mix the rest of the oil with the beans, salt and pepper to taste, and lay them out on another cookie sheet.
Roast for 20 to 25 minutes. Turn once when they are brown and caramelized. When cool enough to touch, slide two garlic cloves out of their skins, then mince and toss with the beans and peppers. Store the leftover peppers and garlic cloves in a jar in fridge.
As a finishing touch, you can add a splash of balsamic vinegar or some lemon zest or garnish with toasted nuts, fresh herbs or whatever strikes your fancy. I usually keep it pretty plain so I can really taste the veggies.