Archive for November 2009

Real Men Do Eat Quiche

November 30th, 2009 — 12:00pm


I really began cooking in earnest after I graduated from business school, spent my requisite two years in New York City, and eventually landed on the coast of New Hampshire.  Unlike New York, when there was down time in New Hampshire there were not a lot of distractions to keep you busy.  It was about that time that I began to study cooking.

One of the first things that I learned is that time spent in the kitchen did not necessarily translate into more flavor on the plate.  The more complicated recipes were more likely to turn into a food disaster than a standing ovation by your guests.  This meant that the long hours you spent in the kitchen cooking something from a French cookbook were no more likely to impress your friends than something whipped up in about 30 minutes from the Pillsbury recipe pamphlets offered then in the grocery store. *

Trying to be tres chic, and yet not wanting to spend my weekends in the kitchen, I latched on to the humble quiche.  A miracle of flavor wrapped up in a lack of ambition.  The irony being that people thought you had spent hours making such a flavorful pie because they were also under the impression that something that tasted so good must have taken hours to make.  What else could a lazy chef ask for?

We recently ran across a version of the quiche in Barcelona, without a crust, called a pastis or pie.  The two we ate,  pastis d’espinacs (spinach pie) and pastis de ceba (onion pie), were the Catalan version of the quiche without the crust and were served as a first course with a red tomato sauce.  They were a bit thicker than the usual quiche and were made in large trays and served like lasagna.  The eggs, milk, cheese, and savory ingredients were largely the same as a quiche.  Oh those Catalans, making the quiche even easier; after all no crust to make.

Until I can figure out these Catalan treats I will leave you with my more traditional version of quiche here.

* (The Pillsbury recipe pamphlets were sold in the checkout line for $1 during the 1980’s.  I collected all of them and proceeded to lose the collection when I moved to Dallas.  If anyone knows where to get a set let me know.  They were a great guide to basic cooking.)

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Wander Lust

November 27th, 2009 — 10:48am
Store Window Genoa

Store Window Genoa

It is amazing to me how two very similar people can approach a vacation from two very different perspectives.  This was no more evident than when our cruise ship deviated from its course and landed us with an unexpected port of call in Genoa, Italy.  This meant that there were no preplanned shore excursions to go on.  We were left to essentially wander the city of Genoa without any planning at all.

Without plans of course we all revert to character.  As we wandered the old walled city of Genoa I was focused on where we could eat lunch, looking at every menu and chalkboard display of food on the way.  I tried to figure out which little cafe (or cava as they are called there) would offer us the most authentic meal.

Will, of course, had his map.  He focused on which churches to visit, whether you could still climb on the old wall of the city and most importantly whether there was time to take his picture in front of the, now crumbling, birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

Fortunately there was time to do all of it.  And by deviating our path from the tourist map we were able to negotiate the narrow warrens of the old city in areas where the locals felt assured  no tourists would find them. In the middle of a very narrow street we had the most satisfying lunch of the trip;  penne arrabbiata for me, lasagna al pesto for Will, a bottle of mineral water (frizzate, with gas) and two glasses of house red wine.  In a place I could probably never find again, for a moment, we felt like we were a couple of Genovese.

The people at Il Cava Turaccioli were kind enough to share the outlines of their recipes with me.  The very spicy Penne Arrabbiata that they make was worth the whole trip to Genoa.  My take on the recipe can be found here.

You can also find my post about Genoa as a travel destination here.

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Save The Squash!

November 25th, 2009 — 10:11am
Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

With Thanksgiving right around the corner it is time for many people to make plans to torture their root vegetables and squash.  It is not enough that these vegetables have enough sugar to ice a cake. People seek out new ways to make them sweeter.  You know who you are.  You went out and bought maple syrup, brown sugar and mini-marshmallows to overwhelm the inherent goodness of all these great vegetables. Can anyone really tell me the purpose of a candied yam?

This Thanksgiving I have decided to save the squash from this sugary flood.  I realize that most of you were brought up to boil your root vegetables and squashes.  They indeed cook faster that way and it is handier to mash the bejeezus out of them making it easier to apply your maple syrup, brown sugar, and mini-marshmallows.  This year I ask your forbearance and try something novel.  Why not roast all those sweet vegetables?

Roasting, unlike boiling, will actually preserve and concentrate all those sugars built up inside the vegetables.    To bring out the flavor of the natural sugars you should actually add savory toppings.  It confuses the palate and makes the vegetables taste sweeter.  So a roasted vegetable with a little salt and black pepper will contrast nicely with all those caramelized sugars, you know the brown bits you get when roasting.  Or take a giant leap of faith and maybe add some oregano or fennel seed!

I know it is a lot to ask.  So go candy your yams, add maple syrup to your sweet potatoes, and add brown sugar to your carrots.  I only ask one thing.  This year can we just save the squash?  My suggestion on how to do so is here.

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Survival Of The Fittest

November 24th, 2009 — 9:00am


We are back from the fastest paced trip to Europe I have ever been on since I did a one day, Manchester to London pub crawl with my boss back in 1989.  My ability to bounce back has been diminished by age.  But I am back and much the better person for having taken the trip.  I was able to see lots of great sights and settle some festering culinary doubts about our interpretation of how food and wine in Europe is prepared and consumed.  The details will flow out in future blogs.  Especially after I try all my new information about what Italians really think goes into their recipes.  The simplicity will probably astound you.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the improvement in cruise ship offerings.  We took our tour aboard the Celebrity Century, the smallest ship in the Celebrity fleet at only 1,829 occupants.  The state rooms were spacious (for a ship) and clean.  There were enough restaurants, bars, and on-board activities to keep you busy even if you did not want to leave the ship.  And the food was actually quite good.  With one memorable evening when the food was better than many upper end restaurants in New York and other cities.  More about that later as well.

I have decided to add a travel section to the blog to give you some insights into the cities and food I come across.  I travel for a living.  But I will begin with Europe, slowly, and I will begin to add some more from the US and Caribbean later on.

I am taking another day off.  So no recipes today.  But with Thanksgiving just around the corner I will give you my one and only recipe for that day.  Every other recipe has been done to death.  We will follow up with some recipes and observations from the trip.  So ciao for now.  New recipes begin tomorrow.

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Time for Lime!

November 19th, 2009 — 8:00am

ttar_keylimes_vMexican Limes.  Citrus aurantifolia. They are the same as Key Limes and West Indian limes, and they are native to Malaysia.  Regular limes – or Persian limes – are originally believed to be a hybrid of citrus latifolia and citron, and are native to Malaysia, as well.  While both varieties come from Southeast Asia, they have a very different flavor and, when considering West Indian and Caribbean recipes, I have begun to use the Mexican limes to give what I assume is a more authentic flavor.  But I digress…

Some of the difficulties in dealing with Mexican limes are: the seeds, the size, the juice.  They are jam-packed with seeds – more in one tiny lime (about 1.25″ diameter) than there are in several lemons put together.  Their tiny size makes zesting a little harder, just because it is hard to hold onto the little guys.  And, again, because of their size and the fact that they have so many seeds displacing room for juice, you don’t get a lot of juice from each lime.  Here are a couple of tools I find really valuable for zesting and juicing citrus, especially Mexican limes.

Microplane zester

Microplane zester

Citrus juicer

Citrus juicer

While I have tried many graters, this microplane variety (which comes in different degrees of fineness) is the easiest for me and gives you much better zest for the purpose.  As for juicers, I have tried the elecric ones and they just don’t work well with key limes.  Again, it’s the size.  The old-fashioned variety Mom had works, but then you need to strain the seeds.  This variety is quick, easy and has a self-straining filter built in.  As a historical note, my mother had an original version of this style of juicer made of wood with a hinge.  It was her mother’s and possible her grandmother’s.  We assume it goes back to the late 19th or early 20th century.

If you haven’t tried these little gems, I recommend doing so.  Their flavor is unique, adds more pucker and cannot be replicated using fresh limes.  The closest I have gotten when they weren’t available is using 2 parts Persian lime juice to 1 part lemon juice.  But, really, it isn’t the same.  Until I moved here and had access to fresh Mexican limes, I would use bottled key lime juice and had convinced myself there was really no difference.  But there was – you can definitely taste the difference.  Back to the basic rule – use fresh ingredients when in season.

Today’s recipe is one I made recently to add closure to a Mexican meal of guacamole with mango and pomegranate seeds, posole (really, faux-sole, as I cut a few too many corners to make it authentic…), skillet white cornbread with rosemary and honey and Caesar salad (eggless dressing).  This mousse is very easy to make, and it is light and refreshing even though its butter and cream content is pretty darn high.  I might add that when making the recipe, you start by making Mexican lime curd – and this, by itself, would make a great toast topper or filling for a coconut cake.

The recipe for the Mexican Lime Mousse can be found here.

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Chilly Days, Chili Nights!

November 17th, 2009 — 8:00am

ancho chile finalSo, here I was sitting in sunny Tucson one day last winter with a thawed beef brisket in the fridge and no ideas what to do with it.  I had been collecting many friends’ best brisket recipes and, after going over them, not one really appealed.  Several called for packets of onion soup mix, which elicited an immediate, “No way!” from me.  I am not against packaged foods, mind you, it is simply that I don’t/won’t use them.  I figure that somebody, somewhere put all the ingredients together to make that packet – so why not me?  And, if I make my own spice blends (sauces, dressings, etc.), I know what is in them and I include no preservatives.  Now, don’t get me started on the quest to find the best recipe for homemade Worcestershire sauce….

The day had turned really cold and cloudy.  Yes, we get cold weather in Tucson – it was the time of our winter monsoons.  So I began to wonder what to do with my brisket.  No matter what you do with it, hours of cooking are usually needed to make it tender and melt-in-your-mouth good.  Chili popped into my head.  I never liked chili growing up; it was nasty stuff made with – again – packets!  (Sorry, Mom!)  Then I moved here and started eating the red and green chilies made by the people of the Tohono O’odham.  Big chunks of beef or pork in highly flavored sauces.  To say that it changed my view of chili is an understatement.  And, like chicken soup, there are as many different chili recipes as there are cooks who make chili!  When it comes down to it, chili is easy and takes very little prep time, although the cooking time is long.  And it is nothing more than another way of saying, “braised meat with lots of good flavors included.”

The use and treatment of the ancho chiles is pretty important.  It gives the chili great flavor and also provides you, the cook, with a new staple for your kitchen larder.  I make tons of the chile paste at a time (soaked chiles puréed with their soaking liquid) and then keep in in a glass jar in the refrigerator.  As a condiment, it adds great flavor to sauces, salsas, soups and marinades.  I also like to slather chicken breasts in it and then bake them in parchment.  But that is a recipe for another day!

Oh, and the meat.  Here is a tip that many people don’t know.  If you live near a university or agriculture school that has a meat science program, this program will include grass-feeding the cattle and then, as part of the deal, butchering.  Of course they need to do something with all the steaks, roasts and briskets, so many schools sell it at significantly reduced rates to people in the community.  And, these programs benefit the student programs.  It is a win-win situation.  The quality is amazing and the result is much more flavorful and healthy for you!  N.B. – grass-fed beef cooks much quicker than its counterpart.  This would be especially important for cooking/grilling steaks and such, and less so for a braising cuts.

The Southwestern Red Chili recipe can be found here.  Enjoy!

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Not Your Usual Dry Rub

November 15th, 2009 — 8:00am

ibarraMy first trip to the Southwest as an adult happened more than 10 years prior to my thinking about Tucson as my home.  I came to Phoenix/Scottsdale to visit my father and his wife who had just moved out here, and then flew to Albuquerque to meet up with my best friend from grade school, and together we drove up to Santa Fe.  There, we stayed in a dumpy little motel which is still there and, according to several online reviews, still dumpy.  But it was cheap and close to the Plaza with easy access to some great food.

The first place we went was Café Pasqual’s.  There we sat at the communal table, chatted with strangers and I had my first ever Mexican hot chocolate, served in a jelly glass with a nice head of foam.  Unbeatable!  The café is still there and a favorite of many travelers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Later that evening we dined the Inn of the Anasazi just off the Plaza and I had an amazing pork tenderloin that was rubbed with chocolate, cinnamon and chile.  It was a revelation to my palate to have this aromatic mixture of flavors combined with pork.  I recreated what we had that night, added to it, changed it and have finally settled on the version I present here.  It goes nicely with many sides but works well with this quinoa with black beans.  Oh, and of course I had dessert that night, and I remember it well.  Buñuelos with chocolate cream.  Buñuelos are a deep-fired donut-like pastry and these were light and seductive.  I have never tried to recreate them, as I don’t deep fry things, but given the chance to have them again?  I wouldn’t hesitate!

The recipes for the pork and the quinoa can be found here.  Enjoy!

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Smoke Gets in Your… Salmon

November 13th, 2009 — 8:00am


Greetings from the Southwest – Tucson, Arizona to be specific!  I see that I have been properly introduced now, although prior to that I posted my first blog (Soup as a meal, the sequel), one that would not necessarily be considered Southwest.  For the next few blogs, though, I will concentrate on some great Southwest flavors and dishes which we enjoy here.  The first is Smoked Paprika Salmon that, while not an indigenous recipe, brings together many of the spices and ingredients we often use in Southwest cooking.

Growing up, my parents loved smoked flavor in just about anything.  They would use liquid smoke, smoked salt, smoked fish, smoked turkey, and eventually discovered mesquite chips for the grill.  Voilà, smoked everything!  But what if they had known about pimentón?  I can assure you I would have had it on my eggs in the morning!  (Hmmm… not a bad idea…) Pimentón is an amazing ingredient – smoked paprika from Spain – and comes in sweet and hot varieties.  It is difficult to find in many areas but is easily acquired through any number of online sites.  Trust me: it is worth the cost of shipping!

The friend who gave me this recipe made it with Hungarian paprika and said it was just perfect, asking why on earth would she need another paprika that she would use but once a year.  I challenged her to get some, make the recipe and tell me that there wasn’t a world of difference.  She did, and there was.  There are many ways to use pimentón to add depth and flavor to a meal.

This dish combines the smoked paprika, cinnamon and orange flavors to bring out the most of the sweetness of the salmon.  If using farm-raised salmon, adhere to the cooking times in the recipe.  If using any variety of wild salmon, reduce the cooking time significantly so as not to dry out the flesh.  With less fat than its farm-raiser counterpart, it is quite easy to overcook wild salmon.  The sautéed spinach and shallots, is a nice foil for this recipe, although certainly not the only one.  It is delightful served on mashed potatoes or rice.

The full recipe for the Smoked Paprika Salmon can be found here

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Soup as a Meal, the Sequel

November 11th, 2009 — 8:00am

PuebloRecipes 2009 11

When I was young and just becoming aware that my mother’s cooking was something out of the ordinary, I was also beginning to associate food with seasons. My parents never talked about it in such terms to make it obvious but there was definitely seasonal excitement in our house when the asparagus came fresh into the market – or English peas, butter lettuce, lima beans, Silver Queen corn, beefsteak tomatoes and the first MacIntosh apples.

Somehow, along the way, seasonality in food availability ended. Suddenly we were having asparagus for Thanksgiving and, because I love asparagus, I never minded. English peas were always in the supermarket. Tomatoes were the clue – and still are – that there IS a season for everything. Hydroponics and world trade have made it possible to get all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables at almost any time of year. In essence, it is always springs somewhere, right? (Just as it is always cocktail time somewhere…)

A soup that my mother made – sometimes as a starter and sometimes as a meal – in the fall, was her Harvest Bisque. Like much of her cooking, her ingredients to this soup changed on whim or availability. Or both, I imagine. Each bowlful was like a snapshot – a moment frozen in time. The same soup served the next day might be very different – more cream and stock added to stretch it, a new ingredient or garnish. But each bowlful was wonderful and, to this day, brings back fond memories of the autumn and seasonal cooking.

The full recipe, as seen in miniature above, can be found here.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

November 10th, 2009 — 8:00am
Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

There are a couple of things of importance to report today.  Will and I are off to a vacation in Europe which begins and ends in Barcelona and will include Cannes, in France, and Porto Fino, Livonia, Rome and Naples in Italy.  For me this is an eating trip.  But as with all relationships you have to compromise. I have agreed to see the sights up to and until it is time for lunch.  After that it will be all about food.  We are also cruising to these destinations on the Celebrity Century.  This means there will be no real time reporting.  I will keep a journal with pictures and report back when I return.

In order that you not get bored I have asked my college roommate and chef extraordinaire David Scott Allen to offer a few musing about food while I am away.  In an earlier post I referred to David as “Martha Stewart without the scrapbooking.”  He is much more than that.  And when you see his recipes and their beautiful representation you will probably not miss my sorry-looking photographs of mashed potatoes.  David lives in Tucson with his partner Mark.  I think he is going to give you a bit of a Southwestern take on food for a couple of weeks.  His first posting will begin tomorrow.  If all goes well we may be able to coax him to give us some regular postings to the blog.

Last, but not least, my sister Terry has acceded to editing my posts.  She keeps sending me e-mails about the difference between dear and deer or peel and peal.  To save her some time I gave her access to correct everything including my run-on sentences.  Perhaps she will muster up some courage and send us some recipes as well.

Ciao for now.  I will try not to gain too much weight while I am away.

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