Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Great Cupboard Clean Out Extravaganza... continues!

As I mentioned on Sunday, I'm moving. Well, that's one week from today. I may be rather light with the posts this week, but I've taken some blurry photos I'd like to share with you. I had half a box of pasta. SO I made tomato sauce. I made that legendary Marcella Hazan tomato sauce.

Earlier this month I was talking about butter with someone... it escapes me who. I said something along the lines of "Nothing in the kitchen won't be improved by the addition of butter, bacon, or chocolate. " In the case of tomato sauce, mmmmmm butter. The above is one can of diced tomatoes, one onion (cut in half, simmered with the sauce and removed before serving) and about four tablespoons of butter. Just simmer in a pot, low, about 45 minutes. So freaking good. I'm taking the end of it for lunch tomorrow.

Last night Christy and Duncan and Adam and I feasted on barbecue chicken and grilled corn and also, Kathy Frontino's unbelievably good potato salad. There are those who would argue that lack of mayonnaise renders this a non-salad potato dish. I wanted to tease you with this picture, but this is delicious and deserves its own post.

Tonight I tackled the phyllo dough in the freezer. Actually, I thought of it yesterday and put it in the fridge to thaw overnight. I also had an eggplant and some feta cheese. This is what I made. I am calling them eggplant feta triangles. Because it is late, my room is a mess, and all my creative energy is thoroughly sapped. Moving is no fun.

This recipe is for the small triangles you see at the top of this photo. The big ones were too floppy.

Eggplant Feta Triangles
more leftover recipe fun!

One medium eggplant
1/2 cup feta cheese
phyllo dough (half package, thawed according to package directions)
black pepper
melted butter, a couple of tablespoons

Roast the eggplant: prick it with a fork a few times, roast it in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes until it deflates. Allow to cool enough to handle, then peel the skin off and spoon the pulp into a bowl. Add the feta and pepper to taste, salt if you think it needs it. Make sure this tastes good, it's the filling of these weird little snacky things.

Unroll the phyllo, cover with a damp towel. On a work surface, lay out one sheet and brush lightly with butter. Cover with a second sheet of phyllo, butter the second sheet, and add a third. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the phyllo the long way into 2 inch strips (depends on the size of the sheets how much you'll get out of one sheet. I cut mine into thirds.) Put a dollop of the eggplant mixture on one end, wrap it up like a table football - see photo above. Repeat until you run out of something. I ran out of filling first. Brush the tops of the triangles with the end of the butter and pop into a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Wait before you take the first bite! They're hot!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Political Food Fight in Colorado

This is not a blog about politics, but I read a story yesterday that ruffled my feathers a little bit, and it has a political slant.

At the end of August, the Democratic Party will hold its Convention in Denver, where Barack Obama will be confirmed as the Democratic Presidential Nominee and many other (I'm sure) related and important things will be discussed. Among other activities, the conventioneers will have to eat. The host committee sent out a Request for Proposal to area caterers, and one Denver Councilman (amusingly named Charlie Brown) is less than amused by the provisions requested by the host committee. What provisions, you ask?

  • Half of the meal or (50%) of the plate is made up of fruits and/or vegetables.
  • No items are to be fried.
  • A colorful meal – include at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white. (Garnishes not included)
  • 70% or more of ingredients be precooked weight are certified organic and/or grown/raised in Colorado.
  • 70% or more of ingredients by pre-cooked weight are fresh and not pre-processed.

Many of my meals (not all, but most) meet the above "requirements." They seem for the most part reasonable, especially for a group of the country's leaders or wannabe leaders. Ok, banning fried food entirely is a little extreme, but shouldn't they be leading by example here for the sake of national health? In a country facing an epidemic of obesity and rampant diabetes, why aren't we making an effort on every level to eat more fresh food, including more vegetables and fruit?

Councilman Brown's reaction was, "You can't turn red states blue, especially Southern states, without fried chicken."

I know he's just one guy, but it's interesting how seriously he has responded to this little bit of news. And I HIGHLY doubt that every Southern voter a) is definitely voting Republican and b) eats fried food every day or c) will be affected by this news. My guess is this to-be-determined menu will have little-to-no impact on the Southern vote, but I don't know how you would keep track of that. With this tidbit coming on the heels of the Wall Street Journal article about the candidates' favorite home town restaurants and what that says about them, I am totally intrigued by the way foodie-ism is becoming more mainstream.

More (less rambling) info from ABC News here and Epicurious commentary (with a rather incendiary title) here.

Also, I'd love to see a side by side comparison of the DNC and RNC convention menus... What do YOU think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Zucchini tart, and cleaning out the cupboards

So. I'm moving in ten days. I'm pretty psyched about it, because it'll cut my commute by about two thirds. There's just the thing about packing up everything I own and putting it on a truck, hoping it doesn't get broken in the half hour between here and there and then figuring out where it all goes in a new space... anyway.

What this impending shift in location means is that I need to lessen the volume of stuff I'm putting on the truck. So it's time to clean out the cupboards, figure out what to bring with me and what to scrap together into a meal of some sort. Today, I took a peek at the freezer and I discovered a box of phyllo dough, two bags of frozen peas, about 10 shrimp, and a box of puff pastry.

I also had a zucchini and some ricotta cheese left from a pizza I made late last week and I basically made the same thing on a different crust. I believe using puff pastry means I should call it a tart, so voila! Behold my zucchini tart. (And prepare yourselves for more recipes using things like frozen ravioli, a half a pint of cherry tomatoes, a tube of prepared polenta and a snack sized bag of pretzels... or something.)

Zucchini Tart
I'm sure this would also be delicious with summer squash or small eggplant, sliced very thinly, or some kind of soft, herby cheese like boursin, if you wanted something punchier.

one sheet frozen puff pastry (I had Trader Joe's in my freezer)
1/2-3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano, or another hard cheese, finely grated
one medium zucchini, thinly sliced
about a tablespoon of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
zest of 1/3 - 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper

Follow the package directions for defrosting your puff pastry - I put mine in the fridge for a few hours and then on the counter for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until it's about 1/8 inch thick. Or, if you can't find your rolling pin because your house is slightly in shambles, press out the dough with your fingers as best you can. Place the dough on a parchment lined sheet pan.

Spread the ricotta over the pastry, but don't go all the way to the edges. Season the tart with salt and pepper, then scatter the mint and half the grated cheese. Layer on the zucchini, then zest the lemon over the whole thing and scatter the other half of the grated cheese.

Fold the edges of the tart over and place in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes, rotating the pan half way through, or until the edges are golden brown. Wait five minutes for the tart to set a bit before slicing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Figs and summer evenings

We have been having truly glorious weather here in Boston lately. It's supposed to be ridiculously hot and humid this weekend, but for now the nights are cool and the days are warm and breezy. Perfect weather for an outdoor concert, but I'll get to that in a minute. First, Figs!

I'm not sure who took a bit out of that sign... I guess they were hungry? Anyway. This is the second of Todd English's Boston area restaurants I went to over the course of two days (I had a lunch meeting at Kingfish Hall on Tuesday.) It was an interesting experience. The food was good, but the space is sort of weird. It's very narrow, and I was sitting with my back up against a tray of silverware so there were constantly servers hovering around, setting up other tables.

We started with the "Asparagus Frites" which I was not expecting to be breaded, but it was fairly light. The salad underneath was over-dressed but the arugula was tasty. I probably would have eaten all the greens had the over-zealous server not taken the plate away as soon as the asparagus were gone.

They let you split the pizzas down the middle so we had two, which was good because the name of the restuarant had given me a hankering for the combo you see above: figs, prosciutto and gorgonzola. There was a fig/onion/balsamic jam underneath it all. Frankly, there were too many figs. I am a huge proponent of the sweet/salty combo but this was so much fig it almost felt like desert. Adam thought the prosciutto was too salty, but I was pretty glad it was there as a foil for the figs. Also, those strange green things on top? Yeah, I still dont' quite know what they are. Green onions, maybe? Very odd and they kept falling off the pizza.

The other half was their special of the day, artichoke and spinach. Also delicious, this was more traditional. Yep. Hm. That's about all I have to say about this one. One more note on the pizza: the crust. It was crispy but suuuuper flour-y. My face felt gritty at the end of the meal. In conclusion, this was an ok meal, reasonably priced (pizzas are $13-$18 and feed two people), and I'd probably go back again. It was conveniently located (42 Charles Street) for the next activity on the evening's agenda:

The Landmark concert series at the Hatch Shell is not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening.
Just make sure you bring a blanket.

Or some camp chairs.

Or you could improvise.

OR you could just sit there and curl your toes. Next week's concert schedule is for Gershwin and Gospel. If I can convince Adam that George and Ira can be fun, maybe we'll picnic. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oh, hi, um, did you...?

This morning I noticed that the older couple across the street (well, across the dead-end street behind my house) were outside, so I went down in my bare feet and wet hair and inquired, every so innocently about my plants.

Me: Hi, I'm Adrienne, I live in that house over there. I think, um, that someone took some potted plants out of our yard yesterday, they usually live on the deck, but they're, um, refinishing it and they moved everything, and, um, did you happen to see anything? [Gosh I'm eloquent.]
Kindly neighbor: Oh, these plants?
Me: Hey! Yes! Those are mine!
Kindly neighbor: Oh I thought they were Fran's and I didn't know when they were coming back so I didn't want the weather to destroy them.
Me, sheepishly: Oh, um, yeah, it was, uh, supposed to rain today...

OKAY, so I didn't water my plants yesterday. It was SUPPOSED to rain! The mint came right back to life when I gave it a little drink. Anyway, the babies are home. See:

BTW, yes, I know the plants in that brown pot are yellowing from crappy drainage. I'm workin' on it. In conclusion, I wrote you a haiku:

Plants were MIA
I overreacted some

They're back on the porch

Monday, July 14, 2008

On OUTRAGE! and soup.

Dear reader, do you notice anything missing from this photo? Say, three bare spots where potted plants used to live? Three botanical babies, lovingly cared for by moi? *sigh* Someone stole two of my plants today. They had been moved down to the yard with all the other stuff you see by the guys refinishing the deck. I got home from work and headed around the back to water (the promised thundershowers did not show up today) and two of my three pots were missing. Including the beautiful raku pot I bought on clearance at the end of last summer. And someone has absconded with it! Not to mention the parsley, thyme, basil and tarragon living in it! And the rosemary in the green pot next to it. My mint in its mustard yellow pot was left. I watered it and brought it up on the porch, then I raged a little bit and yelled. And then I made soup.

A couple of weeks ago in Maine, just before getting on the train back to Boston, we had lunch at Walter's, where I had not been before. They had a special of Coconut Split Pea Soup, and although my fish taco's were delicious (grilled fish, not fried, yum!) the soup was really a standout.

I knew I had half a bag of green split peas in the cupboard, so I picked up a can of coconut milk and two carrots, oooh about ten days ago. Those poor little carrots were languishing in the crisper drawer getting a little floppy, but after a crappy day and the herb heist, I decided it was time for a project.

In the end I sauteed some shrimp, chopped it and served it on top of the soup, but it was absolutely delicious (and vegan) on its own. AND I didn't even have to blend it. Split peas get creamy on their own. Who knew? You know what would have looked nice on top of this? Parsley. Or maybe basil. Harumph. I hope you like this soup, too.

Coconut Split Pea Soup

inspired by a soup special at Walter's in Portland, ME

1 1/2 cups green split peas, rinsed and picked (I bet this would be pretty with yellow peas, too!)
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1-2 tbsp red curry paste
1/2 - 1 tsp ground cumin
1 14 oz can coconut milk
2 tbsp olive oil
4-6 cups water

Shrimp, peeled & deveined - I used five jumbos (size 24-28/lb) per bowl of soup - sauteed with a clove of minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

In a large pot, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions, and garlic and sweat a couple of minutes. Don't let them brown, just warm them up. Add a tablespoon or two of red chili paste. I used one, but I think next time I'll use two - there wasn't quite enough heat for me. Add the cumin.

Add the split peas and four cups of water. You could use vegetable or chicken stock here if you want; I started with 4 cups because I knew I would be adding more liquid at the end, but I had to add a cup of water when I turned the heat down. Bring to a boil for 2o-25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (I used about a teaspoon and a half of salt and about 10 grinds of pepper), then turn the heat to low and simmer for another 20, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Fifteen minutes before the soup is done, stir in the can of coconut milk and taste the soup. Mine needed another hefty pinch of salt and more pepper.

If using, chop the shrimp and add it to the soup in each bowl. Slurp happily.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Edamame for Your Sunday Night Blues

This is what I had for dinner tonight. You know those days when you just don't do anything? Well. This was one of those days. I took a little walk this afternoon, but mostly I alternated between reading on the porch and West Wing dvds when I got too hot to sit outside. I had a bag of Cascadian Farms Organic Edamame in the freezer - just boil some water, toss the pods in there for 3 minutes, drain and add sea salt. I know they look fuzzy but you split them open and eat the beans inside and it makes a happy little bowl of tasty nutritious dinner. Just the thing to prepare you for the week ahead.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Western Spaghetti by PES

I'm pretty sure these guys are geniuses.

Simple, Spicy, Scrumptious Shrimp

Adam and I took a little stroll through the park yesterday. We sat on a bench and watched a guy boxing with himself while a terrified child looked on. We were approached by some very, very bold squirrels looking for food. We watched a guy with two yellow labs get pulled in two directions. The humidity has finally broken here in beantown and the shady bench was cool, but our bellies were starting to grumble so we made our way over to the T, thinking about what to make for dinner. Suddenly, a voice from above!

"You should make Pioneer Woman's spicy barbecue shrimp for dinner," the voice intoned. "Stop at the store and pick up a loaf of crusty bread. And some shrimp." How could we do anything but comply with such divine gustatorial guidance? We made a quick stop on the way to my house and also picked up one avocado and several limes. Here is what we had for dinner on my back porch:

Mojitos by Adam (you'll have to ask him what's in there - all I know is it took longer to make the drinks than the meal), spicy "barbecue" shrimp, half an avocado each and most of a loaf of bread. I rubbed the avocado halves with one of the squeezed limes so they wouldn't discolor too much, and that bowl is for shrimp shells. What's that? You want to see the shrimp? Ooooh, ok. I dare you not to drool.
These little puppies were totally scrumptious, and my lips were still tingling half an hour later. Over on The Pioneer Woman Cooks there are step by step photos, but here's the rundown of what I did:

Preheat your broiler. Dump some shell-on shrimp in a pan - I used just under a pound for the two of us and it was plenty. Drizzle with olive oil. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the shrimp. Shake on the Worcestershire sauce and the Tabasco (I used Frank's Red Hot because that's what I had). Sprinkle Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I used about a teaspoon of salt but probably closer to a tablespoon or two of pepper. Luckily I had cracked pepper in my spice cabinet and didn't have to use the grinder for this. As for butter I used half a stick, cutting it into pats and scattering them over the surface of the shrimp. Broil for 10-15 minutes. Prepare to get messy. Bring the whole thing outside with a loaf of bread, and a bowl for the shells, peel the buggers and enjoy the juicy, flavorful goodness. Sop up the sauce with the bread, and slurp your mojito. Be happy it's summer, and thank the statues in the park for their guidance.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Orzo salad by way of tabouli

Have I mentioned that I have an abundance of mint in my little herb garden? (And by garden, I mean three pots, and by abundance I mean more mint than I can possibly think of using.) I mentioned this in passing over the weekend and my mom suggested tabouli. Traditionally, tabouli is a lebanese parsley salad made with fine bulgur wheat and mint, diced tomatoes, onion and a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.

I didn't have any bulgur, but when I went to the store this afternoon I came across the orzo first and thought it might make for an interesting pasta salad. I grabbed some cherry tomatoes (because I can't sort out the whole salmonella mess I'm sticking with the tiny ones), parsley and a bunch of green onions. When I took the above picture, the salad was frankly a little boring. About a third through my dinner bowl I added a few crumbles of feta cheese and I think it provided that 'something missing.' I also think I'll use less pasta next time (maybe half a cup?), but here is the oh-so-basic recipe for my orzo riff on tabouli.

Orzo salad, tabouli style
inspired by the overzealous mint plant on my porch

1 cup orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2-3/4 cup fresh parsley, stems discarded
1/2 pint cherry (or grape) tomatoes
1 green onion or 2 scallions
juice of one lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
feta cheese (optional)

Cook and drain the orzo; rinse with cold water to cool it down to room temp.

Meanwhile, chop the mint and parsley together, slice the green onion (ditch the root end and very top of the dark green), and halve the tomatoes.

In a bowl mix the orzo, chopped mint and parsley, sliced green onion and halved tomatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper, juice the lemon over the top and give it a few glugs (maybe 3-4 tablespoons) of good olive oil. Stir to mix thoroughly and taste. If you think it needs feta, add the cheese, and enjoy.

Yields 4 side-dish servings or one dinner + one take-to-work lunch.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Feast on the Fourth

So, this weekend, America turned... 232 years old. Happy Birthday, girl. Also happening this weekend: a trip to Maine (the second in two weeks), an introduction and SO MUCH EATING.

On the menu:
Lobster, 1 1/4 pounders, soft shelled and super duper sweet...

Expertly grilled steak (thanks Dad!) to complete the surf and turf celebration...

Crispy grilled potatoes with onions and rosemary from the garden...

And the best bean salad ever (thanks, Mom!), with bacon and parsley, made with Rancho Gordo yellow eyes. Adapted from Emeril's recipe here - I'm definitely going to make this one soon.

Spike was envious. Sorry, buddy. No lobster for you.

How could it have been anything less than delightful in such a setting? No, that's not a weed in the brick pathway, that's escaped oregano. Apparently it really wants to make it to the lawn.

No frogs legs on the menu, but they did hang out with us a little bit. As a last bit of housekeeping, you should know I opened up the comments to non-registered users so feel free to say hi, and thank my mom for pointing out that tidbit. I hope you all had a delicious Independence Day!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's a cookie, not a dance.

Well, I made ice cream again. Don't get too excited, because I was too full of sushi last night to eat any, so I didn't take any pictures, which means if you want to see pretty pictures of ice cream, you'll have to go look at this one here and drool over that instead of my plain-jane but delicious vanilla. Phew! Holy run-on sentence, batman. Anyway, I couldn't have given you the recipe anyway, because I used (exactly) David Lebovitz's recipe from Perfect Scoop, which I suggest you go out and get immediately, if you're into home made ice cream. So what's the point of this post, exactly?

Ta-da! Not bad as far as leftover transformation, I think. I had egg whites leftover from the custard base for the ice cream, so I put them in a baggie in the fridge for a couple of days until I had a chance to make meringues. So I'm not blown away by the "cookies" themselves, but I had a lot of fun making them. Who knew beating egg whites could be so satisfying? Maybe since it's something I've never done before... also I have three more egg whites in a baggie in the freezer (the ice cream recipe calls for SIX! egg yolks!) so there may be an angel food cake or something in my future. (BTW, where did this sweet tooth come from? I've always been a savor-favorer.) I don't even think they were so bad in the humidity, though I do wonder about that little pebble effect on the surface. They taste like marshmallows, sort of. They're chewy. Your dentist will be mad at you for eating too many of these.

Moving on. What are you going to do with all those silly little cookies, Bruno? I'll be bringing them to Maine with me this weekend, where they will, I'm sure, pale in comparison with the feast Mama Bruno has prepared. I'll be back in a few days to share the details of the spread with you. If you need some interesting reading in the meantime, Mark Bittman put together quite a list of simple picnic food ideas. I like it because it's so vague... heh heh. Happy Fourth of July, people.

Meringue "cookies"
more or less adapted from the internet and its many, many meringue variations

egg whites (I used three)
sugar (1/4 cup per egg white used)
cream of tartar (just a bit, to stabilize the whites - I used 1/8 tsp)
AP flour for dusting the pans

Preheat oven to 200 F

1. Line a cookie sheet or two with parchment paper, dust with flour and shake off the excess.
2. Start with extremely clean beaters and bowl - a trace of fat will deflate your whites, defeating you before you even get anywhere.
3. Start on low speed, beat the egg whites until frothy and then soft peaks will start to form.
4. Up the speed to medium, slowly add sugar a little bit it a a time, beating until the whites are shiny/glossy and stiff peaks hold. (This means when you pull the beaters up out of the whites, the resulting peaks don't bend over at all).
5. Using two spoons, plop little piles of the whites on prepared cookie sheets. (Apparently you can pipe these using a pastry bag, but I like the ramshackle look of free-form meringues.)
6. Stick the pans in your pre-heated oven for an hour. After an hour, turn off the oven and LEAVE THEM IN THERE for at least another hour or up to overnight.

YES, overnight. I opened up my oven after a couple of hours and tasted the little buggers, but still left them there overnight because I'm lazy. And it was late. I took the photos above the next morning.

P.S. What's with that title? Ever time I read the word MERINGUE I also think MERENGUE, which is one letter off, but vastly different. Although, now that I think of it, you could probably come up with some sort of metaphor about dancing proteins. I'll leave that to Alton Brown.