Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Phase 2, and Vacation!

I'm leaving tomorrow, for a long-awaited vacation to Portland and Seattle. In the flurry of packing and planning and making verrrry long lists of restaurants and sites to see, I haven't really been cooking much.

But I did plant some plants! Memorial Day found Adam and I the roof deck getting splotchy sunburns (ahem) and initiating phase 2 of the garden. (Phase one was planting some hardy greens and tomato and hot pepper seeds, seen here).

So we got some seedlings at Russell's for things I didn't start on my own, and some "tumbling tom" tomatoes that are apparently quite good for containers - the trail down the side of the pot instead of climbing up a cage. I also got a couple of traditional upright tomatoes.

It's possible I went a little overboard on the herbs. Above are silver-edged thyme, lemon-thyme and lime-thyme, which was Adam's pick. In front of them are carrots and radishes, direct-sowed in the container.

Here are chives and garlic chives, and then my half-barrel of greens. NOTICE the hole in the middle, she says with indignation. It seems a CRITTER of some sort has eaten the baby chard! At least it left the bok choy and spinach... [Update: This morning I went up and they had eaten half the bok choy and half the spinach. Squirrels, if you had told me you like greens, I would have planted you your own! Sigh. -ACB, May 28]

Friends, I am sorry to be leaving you with just photos of potential food, but I am very, VERY excited about this trip. I hope to come back with plenty of food porn photos and stories, and maybe if I'm lucky, some new recipes!

By the way, if you're in the Pacific Northwest and you want to play or have suggestions, shoot me an email! Maybe we can figure something out :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spring Pasta, and a Small Request

Well, friends, it's here! Memorial Day weekend! The start of SUMMER! Here in Boston it's supposed to be gorgeous: mid seventies, sunny, maybe a few showers on Sunday morning, but really a lovely long weekend. I am especially excited to have Monday off because it means the workweek will only be two and a half days long for me next week! That's right, friends, v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n starts on Thursday. Adam and I are taking off to the Pacific Northwest.

So while you look at pictures of the "living lettuce" and asparagus and the tasty pasta they went into, can I ask you a small favor? Can you help a girl out with travel planning? We'll be spending four days in Portland, OR and five in Seattle, WA, and I want to know: what should we not miss? According to Jeanette I have to try the Hedge House Pub's signature salad in Portland, and my mom says I should check out the library in Seattle. I want to drink the local IPAs, and order the pickle plate at Boat Street Cafe. Other plans include drinking boatloads of coffee, and Adam (excellent activities coordinator that he is) snagged us tickets to see Anthony Bourdain's lecture/talk/book promotion event at the Keller Auditorium. Please (please?) leave your suggestions in the comments. I would really love to hear them.

And while we're on the topic of suggestions, might I suggest you give this spring-on-a-plate pasta dish a try? Really, I mean, asparagus, pea shoots, LETTUCE? It's crunchy and delicious and good warm or cold. You could even take it with you to a barbecue this weekend!

Spring Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
handful of spring onions or green onions (dark green parts discarded); white parts cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 small minced shallot
Coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 pound asparagus, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces
a couple of handfuls of pea shoots, (or 2 cups fresh peas, cooked briefly with the asparagus)3/4 pound campanelle (trumpet-shaped pasta) or medium (about 1-inch) shell-shaped pasta
most of a head of butter lettuce or Boston lettuce, cored, leaves cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for sprinkling
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, you'll need it in a minute.

Melt butter with 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and shallot. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Sauté until tender (but not brown), about 8 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; set aside.

Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus, I usually put the stalks in first and the quicker-cooking tips a minute or two later. Using skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to large bowl of ice water and return the water to a boil.

Cook pasta until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Meanwhile, reheat onion mixture. Add lettuce and stir just until wilted, about 1 minute. Add drained asparagus and peas; stir until heated through. Add pasta, Parmesan cheese, and parsley to skillet with vegetables; toss, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer pasta to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle prosciutto over; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait, or, Homemade Vanilla Extract

Inspired by Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini and Katie at Salt and Chocolate, I started my own batch of vanilla extract on Sunday! I took the simplest possible route: 3 vanilla beans, split open and halved, tucked in a carefully cleaned jar and covered with about a cup and a quarter of vodka. Shake once a week or so, and store in a dark cupboard. Alas, it'll be about two months before I can use it, but I'm excited for July!

If you're interested in trying DIY vanilla extract, and you're in the Boston area, might I suggest Christina's spice shop in Inman Square, Cambridge? I got five beans for $10. I'm sure they're not the the finest beans money can buy, but they're plump enough for me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cabbage and Crispy Five Spice Tofu

Have you ever had one of those bites that just makes you stop thinking? And then your brain comes back online and you think yum. yum. yum. over and over again. And, if you're into cooking, the next thought is how did they do that? How can I do that? Three years ago in Florida, in the EPCOT China pavilion at the restaurant Nine Dragons, I had one of those bites.

This recipe is not what I ate that fateful night, which was a beautiful piece of monkfish, dredged in Chinese Five Spice powder and served over a bed of... I have no idea what. Probably not poorly-lit cabbage, but my memory is much to focused on the fish itself. I bought a jar of Five Spice a while back, and forgot about it (I keep doing that!) until I found myself with a hungry belly, a block of tofu and a small Napa cabbage.

So I went ahead and dredged the tofu in cornstarch and five spice powder before lightly pan frying it - pressing the tofu first and dredging in cornstarch makes it deliciously crispy! Next time I might adjust the ratio for more five spice in the dredging step, but this will provide a hint that is complemented by the five spice in the cabbage, which is sliced and sauteed with vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and more five spice powder. So, yeah, five spice ATTACK. I happen to think it's delicious, but if you don't think you'll like a combination of pepper, star anise, ginger, cloves and fennel... make something else. Oh, like anything on this handy new index of recipes! Wee!

Crispy Five-Spice Tofu with Five-Spice Cabbage
Feeds two, generously. I don't see why it can't be doubled but you'll probably have to fry the tofu in two batches. You can skip the pressing step on the tofu, but I recommend it - less moisture means crispier crust. If you're not into cabbage, the tofu would be tasty dipped in sweet and sour sauce, just skip the five-spice in the dredging... but then you'd be missing the point.

1/2 block extra firm tofu
1/2-3/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons five spice powder

1 small or 1/2 large head napa cabbage
vegetable oil
five spice powder
hot sauce (optional)

Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or a double layer of paper towels. Place it on a cutting board. If you want, prop the cutting board slightly so it drains into the sink. Stack a heavy pot filled with canned goods on top to squeeze the excess moisture out of the tofu. Let it sit for an hour or two if you have time, half an hour if you don't.

Meanwhile or when the tofu has had 45 minutes of draining time, slice the cabbage as thin as you like - not as thin as coleslaw, but nothing that's going to fall off the fork while you try to eat. Toss the core and any really tough white parts. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the sliced cabbage and toss to coat. Add generous salt and pepper, and start with about a teaspoon of five-spice powder. Cover the pot for a just a couple of minutes to get the cabbage started.

Slice the tofu into half inch thick slices, either squares or triangles. In a wide shallow bowl or pie pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 1/2 tablespoons of five spice powder. Use a fork to mix it together. Dredge the tofu, shaking off any excess. If you're the sort of person who likes things "extra crispy," set the tofu aside for a few minutes to let the cornstarch absorb into the tofu and then dredge it again right before frying. In a wide shallow pan over medium flame, heat enough vegetable oil to coat the pan to almost 1/8th of an inch. In one layer, fry the tofu until it is golden brown on one side, 2-4 minutes. Use tongs to turn the pieces over and fry the other side.

Give the cabbage a stir and taste a piece. Is it tender yet? It probably needs more salt and possibly more five spice powder. Now would also be a good time to add a few shakes of hot sauce and stir the cabbage.

Drain the tofu on a paper towel lined plate.

The cabbage is done when it is tender but still has a little bit of crunch to it. Pile some on a plate, add a little more hot sauce to taste, and prop some crispy tofu on top. Dig in!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brown Butter Raspberry Tart

Do you have a dessert good enough for strangers in your repertoire? Um, now you do. Holy crap, dudes. That was my reaction after bite one: when is the next time I'm going to be cooking for people, because I want to make THIS for dessert.

Start with a pretty straightforward crust of butter, flour and sugar. I had to add a little extra butter and flour to stretch the recipe - my tart pan is 10 inches, not the 9 inch called for by the recipe.

Stand up the raspberries shoulder to shoulder.

Twelve ounces of berries filled my tart pan fine, but next time I may go with a mix of raspberries and black berries.

Whisk together a couple of eggs and some sugar, and brown a stick of butter. Browning the butter separates the milk solids from the fat, and then the solids hang out on the bottom of the pan getting all toasty and nutty brown. Whisk the whole thing together, then pour it evenly over the berries until they juuust peek out the top.

This is hard part #1: do your best not to lick the oven door while it bakes, because WHOA does it smell good. Look, the raspberries turned into jam! JAM!

While you're letting it cool to room temperature (TORTURE, or hard part #2), make dinner. It doesn't even matter what it is, because this tart will be distracting everyone from over there on the counter.

Brown Butter Raspberry Tart
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2009

I've adapted the crust to fill a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan. Click the link above if you want the 9-inch pan measurements.

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 with a rack in the center. Using a fork, mix together the melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour and salt and stir. As the butter cools, the mixture will get more and more crumbly. Using your fingertips, press small pieces of dough into the sides of the pan. Spread crumbles of dough in the center of the tart pan, then use your fingers to fuse the pieces together and press it into an even layer. Bake for 18 minutes, until the crust is slightly puffed and light golden brown. Set the crust aside to cool while you work on the filling. Maintain the oven temperature.

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries

Whisk the eggs, sugar, and pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth, then add the flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth again. Set aside.

Have a glass measuring cup ready. In a small sauce pan with a light colored bottom, melt the butter, stirring with a wooden spoon. It will foam, and then the foam will subside. You will be able to see the milk solids on the bottom of the pan, keep stirring so they don't stick. The solids will start to turn brown, but watch them carefully! They'll go from deep nutty brown, which you want, to burnt (no thank you) in a matter of moments. When the butter has browned, immediately transfer it to the glass measuring cup. Slowly whisk the browned butter into the egg mixture, do this a little at a time so the eggs don't scramble.

Stand the raspberries up in the cooled crust, pointy side up, in concentric circles. Carefully and evenly pour the egg and butter mixture over the berries. Bake the tart until the filling is puffed and golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Mine was ready at 43 minutes. Cool the tart completely in the pan on the rack. When the tart is cool, remove the sides of the pan, cut the tart into wedges and serve. Buttermilk ice cream makes an excellent accompaniment.

Serves 8-10, depending how generous your slices are.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Where on Earth Have I been?

Goodness gracious, friends. It's been a week since I last posted! My sincere apologies for staying away so long. Would you like to know what I've been up to?

Adam and I wandered into this desolate location a couple of Saturdays ago. That little food stand you see is Speed's Hot Dogs, home of the WSJ verified World's Best Hotdog. They aren't kidding, man. Observe:

The wiener itself weighs in at about two pounds. Add a toasted bun, chopped onions, mustard, ketchup and relish and HELLO GORGEOUS. But... next time we'll split one. We ate these at 3:30 pm, and for dinner, we had water. Oof. Let's talk about vegetables now, shall we? To work up an appetite for the giant snawsages, we did some container-garden prep work. That is, we cleaned out pots, mixed up dirt, spraypainted some stuff, and planted the hardiest veggies in a giant half-barrel planter.

Squeee! Chard sprouts! Aren't they precious?

And spinach, but it looks like grass to me. Good thing I labelled it.
I think the bok choy is the cutest. I thinned out the sprouts after taking this photo, but that's sort of all I know about gardening. I'll keep you posted at how things go with my hardy green plants and also how they go with these guys, who I have less confidence in -

Those are cherry tomato seedlings. Behind them are about 5 kinds of hot pepper seedlings... We'll see how this turns out. I'll be out of town from May 28 - June 6 (Portland + Seattle + Vacation = can't. wait.) and I plan to actually put these in pots as soon as I get back. If they don't take, I'll get seedlings. I'm trying to keep my expectations low for my first year of container gardening. What's that? You come here to talk about food? Ooooh, ok. The day after the hot dogs, we had Salades Nicoises - hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, baby taters, green beans and tuna on a bed of arugula with tarragon vinaigrette. Adapted from this recipe at Simply Recipes, and it was great.

Oh and we made pasta from scratch. I'll have to talk about that later because it was a great experience, but look! Shrimp scampi on home-made fettucine!

I am sorry not to have a recipe for you today, but there are things going on behind the scenes here and I have been quite distracted. Don't get too excited - it's just that I finally bought hungrybruno.com and am wading through the process of doing more than having it redirect automatically to blogger. Daunting, I tell you.