Friday, March 11, 2011

Really? Yeah.

Nachos are not meant to be eaten alone. I know this hardly seems worth its own post, especially since I've been criminally neglectful of this poor blog in the last six months. But I didn't know this until tonight. Until I ate them. Alone.

Nachos are best in huge platters, among friends and conversation and laughter and alcohol and way too much salsa and guacamole and sour cream than should be humanly allowed. There should be fighting about who gets the chips with the most cheese and scrambling to get the last of the crispy bits baked on the pan. And lots of groaning about how much you overate. (Well, that happens whether you're alone or not.)

Anyway, I thought I'd be kind and try to spare you this realization on your own.

Friday, December 10, 2010


A little confession. Sometimes I may be a bit of a perfectionist. Maybe even the teeniest idealistic. Okay, fine, maybe I can be accused of sometimes holding situations, food, people, et al to expectations not even the gods could attain. I'm thinking back to dishes, artwork, maybe even people I've nearly snuffed the life out in attempt for perfection. My latest Day of the Dead party, an event in its fourth consecutive year, was recently a good reminder that sometimes simple, unefforted things are really the best. The original party was conceived four year ago because I wanted to make mole. It started with five friends around the dinner table. Every year it grows. Every year I feel compelled to outdo the spread of the previous year. This year we crammed 19 people around several tables in our kitchen. I decided to serve courses this year, because with 19 people in attendance, there was no way once they were seated for anyone to get up and move around. So I, along with my wonderful sister, played waitstaff. The amount of food was enormous. I cooked for two and half days straight. I went to Portland and Boston to hunt ingredients. It was a big deal. But you want to know the kicker. That even with the pre-dinner table filled with salsas, guacamoles, chopped veggies, and the courses consisting of grilled marinated shrimp with pickled onions, empanadas, pozole made with weird cuts of pork I had to specially seek out, tostadas, the doubled layered chocolate flan (!!!) ...things I labored over for hours, days. Even with all know what stole the show? The Fresh Corn Cake I whipped up in 10 minutes as a dessert for my friend who can't have flour. It seriously took 10 minutes to make...fresh corn, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, cornmeal, cinnamon, and salt thrown into a blender and dumped in a cake pan. It was heaven! I knew just from the smell when I took it out of the oven it was something special. Even more so when topped with ice cream and a sauce of blueberries infused with lime and tequila. My friends and husband raved about that cake for days. It was a nice lesson in that what is good, the best, isn't necessarily the thing that's most efforted. Sometimes the simple things are what shine.
Fresh Corn Cake, Veracruz Style
from Rick Bayless

4 ears fresh sweet corn, husk and silk removed
6 ounces unsalted butter cut into 6 pieces and softened to room temperature
3 large eggs
1 14-ounce can sweetened condense milk
1/4 cup white corn meal (preferably coarse-ground, polenta style)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Prepare the batter. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the middle. Cut the corn kernels from the cob, measure 3 cups and scoop into a blender or food processor. Add the butter and the eggs. Process until smooth, then scrape into a bowl. Measure in 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk, along with the corn meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Whisk to combine.

2. Butter (or spray with oil) with bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan. Cut a circle of parchment to fit the bottom and press it firmly in place. Pour the batter into the pan (it will be full to the top) and slide into the oven. Bake until richly golden and set (no longer jiggly) in the middle, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes then turn out on a rack. Immediately flip the cake over (the top is the prettiest side) and let cool completely.

I topped mine with vanilla ice cream and a blueberry-tequila syrup

Blueberry Tequila Syrup

2 cups of blueberries (I used the quick-frozen kind)
1/3 cup of sugar
grated zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons of blanco (silver) tequila

In a small saucepan combine the blueberries and sugar. Stir over medium heat until the berries have released their juices, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and combine warm blueberries, lime zest, lime juice and tequila in a blender. Blend until smooth.

I have to confess that this cake was gone so quickly, and I was in the thick of serving 18 people dessert, that I failed to grab a photograph. Here's a photo of the sugar skulls I made (again with the help of my sister.) Can we say, over-achiever? ;)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ichigo, Ichi-e

While making dinner a few nights ago, I thought of an opening of a chapter in Anthony Bourdain's latest book.

"There are songs I'll never listen to again. Not the ones that remind me of the bad times. It's certain songs, from long ago when everything, whether I knew it or not at the time, was golden. Those I can't abide. Those hurt. And what's the point of doing that to oneself? I can't go back and enjoy them any more than I did at the time - and there's no fixing things."

I think I understand what he means, both in relation to music, and now, I've discovered, with food. There are certain dishes, associated with certain times that, no matter if they're identically recreated, will only conjure a pale ghost of the former event. And who wants that? Who wants an evening that will never burn as bright as the original? Not to say that good times can't be had, because they can, but it'll never be like the original. Maybe the mistake comes in trying to recreate the event under different circumstances. The Japanese have a saying, ichigo, ichi-e, which means "one time, one place" and suggests that the best time is the present. That the moment you're in right now will never repeat itself, so live in it. Cherish it. Maybe the dish should, like the event, be left in history. I don't know. It's how I feel today after replicating a dish that has been on the table at two wonderful, unrepeatable evenings. Two evenings that, at this point, I can't even pretend to recreate. And shouldn't. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try this dish. Because it's truly magic. And it's the perfect time of year for something magical. It takes 4 ingredients and about 10 minutes to prepare, then sits in the oven for an hour and half. What you pull out will be mind-blowing, in that comfort food you didn't even know you were craving kind of way. So make it. And enjoy it with good friends, and cement golden times in your own history. Ichigo, Ichi-e.

Chicken with 40 Cloves
via Alton Brown


1 Whole chicken cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp olive oil
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
40 peeled cloves of garlic
salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and brown on both sides in a wide frying pan or skillet over high heat. Remove from heat, add oil, thyme, and garlic cloves. Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken and let rest for 5-10 minutes and serve.

chicken with 40 cloves before it goes in the oven

Friday, October 1, 2010

Knocking Over Little Old Ladies

Looking back through this blog, it's apparent the recipes are sort of all over the place. There's not necessarily one style or ethnicity I cook more than another. But. If I were forced to pinpoint my off-the-cuff food strength, it would have to probably be Mexican. Though I really enjoy cooking and eating Mexican food, it's Les' favorite. A while ago we were talking food, and in response to me gushing about sushi, he was like, "Eh. It's okay, but I wouldn't knock over a little old lady to get some." Which OF COURSE begged the question, "What kind of food WOULD you knock over little old ladies for?" Mexican was his quick answer, followed by Italian, and good bar food (burgers, wings, etc.) Matter of fact, when I asked him the other day what his ultimate meal would be his answer was a banquet table loaded with fillings and toppings for tortillas. So, well, I end up cooking a lot of Mexican dishes, because, I love food. Any kind. And let's face it, there are not many types of food I WOULDN'T knock over a little old lady to get to.

This August I helped a friend throw a dinner party for her husband's birthday. A Mexican feast for 15ish (though we made enough food to feed double that.) Les had just given me Rick Bayless' latest cookbook for our anniversary, and this was the first recipe I chose to make. The dish didn't last 5 minutes. Seriously. I only got two bites, and I'm pretty sure they were only saved for me out of obligation. If there had been little old ladies at the party, I'm sure they would have been knocked over.
Today is the third consecutive day of rain. It's gray and damp and has felt like perpetual morning for days. I've been trying to get through what felt like the loneliest of afternoons by holing up in the brightest room the house, the kitchen. I've skinned and frozen the last of the season's tomatoes. I've cleaned. And I've treated myself to entire plate of this dip. Out of wifely obligation, I've saved Les a few bites.

Goat Cheese in Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

8 ounces (about 4 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
hot green chile to taste (roughly 1 serrano or 1 small jalapeno), stemmed and roughly hopped
8 ounces of goat cheese
1/4 cup of finely chopped white onion
about 1/4 cup loosely packed, chopped cilantro

1. Make the sauce. In a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, roast the tomatillos (start them cut side down) and garlic until soft and browned, 3-4 minutes per side. (If a nonstick skillet is unavailable, line a regular skillet with aluminum foil.) Scoop the tomatillos and garlic into a blender or food processor, add the chile and 1/2 water and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous teaspoon.

2. Form the goat cheese into a 1 inch disc. Place in an ovenproof dish and top with salsa. Warm the whole thing in the oven. When warmed through, sprinkle with onions and cilantro. Serve alongside warm tortillas or toasted baguette. (I ate mine with white corn chips, which was great too.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Anyone who knows me well knows I go through food obsessions. I'm thinking back to a few summers ago when I ate nothing but vegan hot dogs at every lunch for over a month. Months? Uh, maybe. I've gone through phases encompassing arepas, tahini, fruit salsas, chicken ranch wraps, black bean burritos (officially the longest lasting of my phases, as I'll still hit weeks where I'll eat nothing but black beans) and more.

Lately I can't get enough eggplant. Almost every Thursday since the beginning of August, I've trotted down to the Exeter farmer's market to visit Heron Pond Farm's stand and bring a few nice varieties home to incorporate in the week's meals. I've grilled them, fried them, baked them, used them for tostadas, in pastas, everything. If an evil fairy appeared and said I had to either give up eggplant or my phone for the week, well, it would be a tough choice.

This week's variation of eggplant is fried on a little labneh slathered syrian bread. Breakfast. Lunch. Snacks. Doesn't matter. This meal might very well be the only consistent thing about my days lately. But that's okay. Regathering your equilibrium has to start somewhere, right?

I'd feel a bit like a poser sharing a recipe for making labneh, as I'm not middle eastern and don't have a family recipe or method or anything. But I'll just say that it's pretty much straining yogurt in cheesecloth on the counter overnight. Easy as that. Look it up. It's tangy and creamy and delicious and an excellent accompaniment to fried eggplant.

The following recipe is one of my favorite ways to prepare eggplant. Fast and simple, and as I actually planted marjoram in my garden this year, a way to use an oft overlooked herb (in my kitchen, anyway.)

Grilled (or Broiled) Eggplant with Marjoram Sauce

2 eggplants, cut crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick
salt to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
freshly ground pepper to taste

Layer the eggplant slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Top with a plate and a heavy weight such as a pot. Let stand for 1 hour to drain off the bitter juices. Rinse off the salt and pat the slices dry with a paper towel. (This step is debatable. I've met people who swear you don't have to drain off the bitter juices. I almost always do. I think it makes a difference.)

Prepare fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a broiler

To prepare the marjoram sauce, in a small bowl, stir together the 1/4 cup oil, marjoram, garlic, zest, and pepper. Set aside.

Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil. Place on the grill rack or broiler pan and grill or broil, turning once, until browned and tender, about 5 minutes on each side.

Arrange the slices, slightly overlapping, on a serving plate. Spoon on the marjoram sauce and let stand until serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This is an actual photo of the dish, it's just not MY photo of the dish. Well, I suppose it's my photo in that I used my iPhone to take a photo of the photo in the cookbook. Uh. The epitome of laziness. Maybe today I will make the one small required phone call to the person who can help me with my Photoshop problem, so I can start posting pretty pictures again. The photoshop problem I've been avoiding for about a month. But first, my breakfast, and my eggplant equilibrium.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cream sauces and their accompanying guilt

Have I ever talked about how I swear cream sauces release mass amounts of endorphins in my brain? No? Hmm. That's mostly because I feel like, for someone who's "into food," admitting you like cream sauces is a little like claiming you're "into film" while secretly stacking your DVD queue with Jennifer Anniston flicks. Nonetheless, I love them. And I eat them. Probably more than I should. There. I said it.

This brings me to my next point. F*ck Anthony Bourdain. Okay okay. Not really. I like him. I do. I thought Kitchen Confidential was very inspired. I've watched (and cried over) WAY too many No Reservations episodes, and I'm now nearly done with Medium Raw. But this latest book, and its sometimes wistful focus on haute restaurant cuisine has me riddled with anxiety. And it's not singular in doing so. Sometimes this whole "Gourmet, Local, Organic, Authentic, Seeking-Out-The-Best-Most-Obscure-Purveyor/Restaurant-Of-A-Certain-Item/Dish " movement makes me really frustrated. I'm in support of it. I think it's REALLY necessary. Quality matters. Sustainable practices, important. Small mom and pop shops are vital. Creativity counts. I wonder, though, with all this focus on ingredients, if we sometimes miss the point: about dining being an event that encompasses more than the food. An event that's ultimately focused around having a great time, whether you're dining solo or with a group of friends. I don't want to lose the ability to sit down over a $5 dollar pizza with a group of friends and have a fantastic evening. (Not that I'm suggesting Anthony Bourdain and the like would be against this, because, well, just read his book or watch his show for 5 seconds and you'll see.) I don't want to stop being proud of the dishes I make just because I'm unable to afford the very best and authentic ingredients. Or quit believing that, yes, high dining in fancy restaurants is wonderful, but so is a simple meal at home on a quiet evening.

Do what you can, the best you can, when you can. Maybe that's all I'm asking. And maybe that really is something like sitting dockside in France with a platter of freshly shucked Belon oysters. But maybe it's not. It's not something I can do. (Not yet, anyway. ;) ) I say be proud of what you can do. Maybe what you can do is whip up a pan of fresh macaroni and cheese, because deep down, in some primal way, dairy products make you happy. Dairy products that aren't necessarily made by European monks in caves who only hum Beethoven and flog themselves while making their cheese.

This macaroni and cheese recipe can get as fancy, gourmet, artisinal, blah blah blah as you want. Or, like the original recipe, you can just use cheddar and monterey jack. It still turns out amazing. My version falls somewhere in the middle. What I love about this recipe is that it's impossible to mess up. It comes from Cooks Illustrated's test kitchen and it never ever separates, never gets oily or dry, even when reheated the next day. It's thick and creamy, and coats every noodle in liquid velvet. I'll print the original version. Then I'll give you the version I make.

WARNING: Just looking at a pan of this stuff will make you gain 5 pounds. I suggest you do not step on a scale for at least a week after consumption. Better yet, if you plan on adding this into your cooking repertoire, get rid of your scale altogether.

Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 6 to 8 as a main course

"It is crucial to cook the pasta until tender - just past the "al dente" stage. In fact, overcooking is better than under cooking the pasta. Whole, low-fat, and skim milk would all work well in this recipe. The recipe can be halved and baked in an 8 inch square, broiler safe baking dish."

Bread Crumb Topping

6 slices of large white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter, but into 6 pieces

Pasta and Cheese

1 pound of elbow macaroni
table salt
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
6 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoons cayenne (optional)
5 cups of milk
8 ounces of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
8 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1. For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and butter in the food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside

2. For the Pasta and Cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and hear broiler. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.

3. In now-empty Dutch oven , heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken.) Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally until the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses until fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 13x9 inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3-5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even brownness. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.

Here are the adjustments I make to mine. I use just over 5 ounces each of sharp cheddar, monterey jack, and smoked Gruyere. I also saute several shallots and pancetta to include when I add the cheese. I almost always use 2% milk. According to the footnote in the recipe, it's the monterey jack cheeses' high moisture content that gives the sauce a nice smooth texture, so I would eliminate all of it, should you choose to change things up. The flavor is subtle, though, so it's best when paired with a stronger flavored cheese.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rainbow Salsa Fresca

Just a quick little post on an impromptu salsa I made last night. In an attempt to make black bean tacos a bit more inspired, I thought I'd whip up a quick salsa fresca using some tomatoes from my garden instead of my usual go-to fire roasted canned tomatoes. It was...well..the BEST thing I've done in a while! And maybe even my best salsa yet, and yes, I realize the gravity of those words. ;) The yellow tomatoes added a wonderful contrasting sweetness to the poblano and lime, and the whole thing was incredibly fresh-tasting. My only mistake was not making enough. Les and I devoured the whole batch that evening. I will be making this again. Probably today.

Rainbow Salsa Fresca

Mix together the following ingredients:

1/4 red onion finely diced
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 of a poblano pepper, finely diced
Several heaping tablespoons of chopped cilantro
8 yellow pear tomatoes, diced
2 roma tomates, diced
juice from one lime wedge
1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste