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Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Easy-to-Make Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving or Anytime

Prepping for Thanksgiving reminded me of my mother's kitchen. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday when my sister and I would join her in the kitchen and friends and family gathered around the table to share a meal.
She grew up in a household with her mom, dad, brother and four step-brothers from her dad's first marriage. Hers was a blended home in New York city with a lot of advantages and many disagreements. I think that's why she enjoyed Thanksgiving in her own home. No sibling rivalries, no mother looking over her shoulder to tell her how to make the turkey.

Brussels sprouts were always on the table for Thanksgiving. She was of the boiling-vegetables-school. She did that with beets, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts. My wife and I are of the roasting-is-better method of cooking vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts.

Shopping for Brussels sprouts this week at the farmers market, I noticed that they were difficult to locate and they were priced at $4.50-5.50 a pound, higher than usual.

If you find small sized ones, they are good to cook whole or cut in half (top to root/bottom). The larger ones are best shredded, cutting from the top to the bottom-stem part so that most of the slices hold their shape.

In either case, the seasoning can be as simple as a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt. As a side note, do not use iodized salt. If you like kosher salt, only use Diamond Crystal brand without additives.

I wish my mom were with us Thursday. I'm certain she would like the roasted sprouts.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - Whole

Yield: 4 servings

Time: depending on size 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed of any brown spots

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasonings.

Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes for even roasting.

Serve hot.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - Shredded

Yield: 4 servings

Time: depending on size 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed of any brown spots

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil.
To shred, place a Brussels sprout on the cutting board, stem side down. Slice from top to stem so the slices keep their shape. In effect you have created a cross-section of the vegetable.

In a mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasonings to coat well.

Spread the shredded sprouts on a lined baking sheet. For crispy edges, avoid layering the sprouts on top of one another.

Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes for even roasting. Because they are cut, there should be browning on the edges. Be careful not to burn them.
Serve hot.

Variations

Before serving, sprinkle with bits of crisp bacon.

Before serving  add 2 tablespoons charred onion slices.

Before serving sprinkle on 2 tablespoons crushed roasted hazelnuts.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles for Thanksgiving, the Holidays and Anytime



No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!
In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.
I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.

Moroccan pickled veggies

Moroccan pickled vegetables
In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
For Thanksgiving I always make kosher dill pickles. This Thanksgiving I’m making both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into thick sticks (carrots, daikon, parsnips, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli), some cut thin (fennel, beets, parsnips) and others left whole but with the ends trimmed (green beans, asparagus).
You may prefer the vegetables cut into rounds rather than sticks. The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into pieces 4-5 inches long, ¼-inch thick
1 medium sized fennel bulb, washed, fronds removed, outer leaves and root end trimmed and discarded, cut into thin pieces 3-4 inches long, ⅛-inch thick
12 green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into pieces 4-5 inches long
4 parsnips, washed, ends and skins removed, cut into pieces 3-4 inches long, ¼-inch thick
1 medium yellow or red onion, washed, ends removed, thin sliced either into circles or slivers
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers. Carefully place the vegetables vertically in the containers. Divide the garlic, salt and dry spices and pour into the two containers.
2. Combine the water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor.
3. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables.
4. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix up the spices.
Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving's Best Appetizer: Turkey Liver Pâté

Turkey Pâté Appetizer

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. With the guest list finalized and all your favorite recipes organized, there is only one unanswered question: what to do with the turkey liver?
Even people who love chicken livers view turkey liver as too much of a good thing.
Whoever has the job of prepping the turkey on Thanksgiving Day frequently looks with bewilderment at the large double-lobed liver in the bag tucked ever so neatly inside the turkey.
Following my mother’s lead, my solution is to turn lemons into lemonade or, in this case, turkey liver into pâté.
My mother prepared chopped liver using a shallow wooden bowl and a beat-up, double-handled, single-bladed mezzaluna knife that her mother had given her.
She would cut up and sauté the turkey liver with a chopped up onion. Two eggs would go into boiling water. Once hard-boiled, they would join the sautéed liver and onion in the wooden bowl, which she would hand to me along with the mezzaluna.
While she prepared the turkey, she put me to work.
As a 9-year-old, I would sit on a stool with the wooden bowl on my lap, rocking the mezzaluna back and forth, chopping up the livers and hard-boiled eggs.
Periodically my mother would check on my progress and, when everything was reduced to a fine chop, she would retrieve the bowl, add melted chicken fat and mix everything together.
Just before our guests arrived for Thanksgiving dinner, she transferred the chopped liver to a serving bowl and put it on the dining room table with a plate of saltines and the other appetizers, a platter of black pitted olives, whole radishes and vegetable crudités.

Mushroom and Garlic Turkey Liver Pâté

My mother liked her chopped liver rustic style. It is a matter of taste, but I prefer turkey liver when it is made with a food processor, creating a smooth pâté.
To balance the richness of the liver, the pâté needs sweetness (caramelized onions), saltiness (sea salt), heat (black pepper) and earthiness (hard-boiled egg and mushrooms).
Serves 8
Ingredients
1 turkey liver, approximately ½ cup

2 fresh, large eggs

2 medium yellow onions, ends and peel removed, washed, roughly chopped

2 cups mushrooms, brown, shiitake or portabella, washed, roughly chopped

¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, skins removed, washed, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sweet butter

¼ cup olive oil

sea salt and black pepper
Directions
  1. Wash the uncooked liver and pat dry. Using a sharp paring knife, remove and discard all fat and membranes. Cut liver into half-dollar-sized pieces.
  2. Place the eggs into a pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes, remove from water, let soak in cold water to cool, remove and discard shells.
  3. In a large sauté pan over a medium flame, melt the butter and lightly brown the onions, mushrooms, parsley and garlic. Add the pieces of turkey liver and sauté until lightly brown, being careful not to overcook the liver, which should be pink inside. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sautéed liver and vegetables into a large food processor, add the hard-boiled eggs and pulse. Slowly add olive oil, a little at a time. Use the rubber spatula to push any accumulation off the sides of the mixing bowl.
  5. Continue pulsing and adding small amounts of olive oil until the pate is creamy. Depending on the size of the turkey liver, you might use more or less of the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.
  6. Use the spatula to transfer the pâté from the food processor to a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The pâté can be kept in the refrigerator 1-2 days.
  7. Before serving, take the pâté out of the refrigerator, place on the counter out of the sun and allow to come to room temperature. Serve with crackers, toast points, fresh sourdough or French bread.
Variations
  • Instead of Italian parsley, use 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves.
  • For a denser pâté, use 1 hard-boiled egg instead of 2.
  • Add ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder to the sauté for heat.
  • Add 1 slice bacon, finely chopped to the sauté and brown until crisp.
  • Add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar to the sauté.
  • Sprinkle 2 tablespoons red onion or scallions, finely chopped, over the pâté just before serving.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day, Time to Set the Table and Make a Wonderful Meal

As my mother used to say, "Where has the time gone?" It feels as if we were celebrating New Year's Eve a few weeks ago and now it's the middle of May with summer just around the corner. Yesterday I bought the first corn of the season from Gloria at the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market. Big fat ears that grilled up sweet and delicious.

My mother loved Thanksgiving because the family was gathered together. She loved my sister and I working beside her in the kitchen, wrapping sweet potatoes in aluminum foil, shelling walnuts and making turkey chopped liver.

I loved Mother's Day because that was a day to make my mom the recipes she liked. Egg salad with bacon, a dish based on her own modification of her mother's recipe, roasted beet salad, potato salad with grilled vegetables, carrot salad with lemon-black pepper soaked golden raisins, rosemary fried chicken and banana cake with chocolate chips and walnuts.

My mom passed away two weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. She had a good life, filled with ups and downs like any life. My last memory of her was our reading the newspaper together, enjoying a good laugh at the expense of then-President George W. Bush--this was 2006--and she was enjoying a Vietnamese bbq pork banh mi sandwich loaded with lots of pickled carrots and daikon. She was happy. Life was good.

So for everyone who wants some good food on Mother's Day--or any day, for that matter--here are some of my mom's favorite dishes.


Egg Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Crisp Bacon

Starting with my mom's basic recipe, I've added grilled vegetables and freshly chopped parsley for color and flavor. Crisp bacon gives a salty crunch.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 farmers' market fresh large or extra large eggs
1 large carrot, washed, ends trimmed, peeled
1 ear of corn, tassels and husk removed, washed
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, finely chopped
2 strips of bacon, finely chopped, sauteed until crisp, drained
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or scallion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

To make easy-to-peel hardboiled eggs, I happily borrow Katie Goodman's directions which are to place the eggs into a quart-sized pot with salted (1 teaspoon kosher salt) cold water to cover 2" above the eggs. Raise the heat to high and allow the water to rapidly boil for two minutes. Remove from the burner, cover and let stand fifteen minutes.

Pour off the hot water, rinse with cold water, let the eggs cool to the touch and peel the shells. Dry the eggs and refrigerate until ready to use.

Slice the carrot into flat slabs about 1/4" thick and 3" long.  Toss in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.  Season the ear of corn similarly.  Grill the carrots and corn until lightly browned all over or oven roast in a 400 F oven for 15 minutes. Turn frequently to avoid burning. Let cool.  Finely chop the carrots. Cut the kernels off the cob.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped eggs, carrots, corn kernels, parsley, shallots, and crisp bacon bits. Toss. Season with sea salt and black pepper.  Add the mayonnaise and mix well.

Serve on bread, crackers, or lettuce leaves.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped

Omit the bacon

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped, pitted olives

Roast 2 garlic cloves, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper until lightly browned, peel off the skins, finely chop the soft garlic and add to the egg salad

Add a dash of tabasco or a dusting of cayenne pepper for heat.

Roasted Beet Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 1 hour or more depending on the size of the beets

The beets my mom served when I was a kid were either boiled or canned. For some reason she never roasted beets until I made them. After that they were her favorite. Not soggy, the beets cook inside their skins, retaining all their sweetness.  They taste great and they're easy to make.

Ingredients

1 bunch of large beets
Olive oil

Method

Cut off the leaves and stems, reserving them to use later. A quick side note: after you wash them, if you chop up the leaves and stems, sauté them with olive oil, garlic and shallots; they'll caramelize and you can serve them as a side dish or tossed with pasta; they're delicious. 

Thoroughly wash the beets to get rid of any grit. Do not remove the skins or cut off the root. 

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Place the beets in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Turn the beets every 20 minutes so they cook evenly. Use a wooden skewer to test if they're done. Roast until the skewer goes into the beets easily but don't let them get too soft. Al dente is good.

Let cool, then peel off the skins, cut off the root and the top part and discard. 

Serve them up the way you like--julienne, rounds, or roughly cut--put them in a bowl and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

Use a vinagrette dressing, add feta, sliced scallions, and chopped Italian parsley.

Top with roasted walnuts.

Add roasted carrots.

Add green grapes sliced in half.

Potato Salad with Vegetables

Yield:  4-6 servings

Time: 45 minutes

As a side dish, potato salad goes with any grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold or King Edward), washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1 tablespoon corn kernels
1 scallion, end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Best Foods/Hellman's)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the potatoes in a pot, fill with water to cover, add the kosher salt, cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil, and boil on high heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. 

Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the hot water, refill the pot with cold water and let the potatoes cool.

Sauté the corn with a little olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly browned.  Let cool. In a large bowl, mix together the corn, carrots, scallion, and parsley. 

Peel the skin off the potatoes--save the skin for a breakfast sauté with eggs--chop the potatoes into dime-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well. 

Taste and adjust the flavors with more mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add celery or capers.

Add crispy bacon.

Add grilled shrimp.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Yield 6-8 (makes 1 quart)

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

8 large carrots (preferably farmers market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Method

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions.

Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Add chopped capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds


Rosemary Fried Chicken

Yield4 servings

Time45 minutes to prepare, marinate the chicken overnight in buttermilk

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, washed, cut apart, skin removed if desired, wing tips, bones, and skin reserved to make chicken stock
1 quart buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts safflower or canola oil

Method

When you cut up the chicken, separate the two parts of the wing and cut the breast meat off the bone. Keep or discard the skin as you wish. The breasts can be left whole but will cook more evenly when cut into strips or tenders. The legs and thighs can be cut in half if you have a heavy chef's knife.

Toss the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a container, add the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of the rosemary, stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil to 325 - 350 degrees or until a piece of parsley browns immediately when dropped in the oil. Before you begin cooking, prepare your counter. Have a slotted spoon or an Asian style strainer ready. Lay two paper towels on top of a piece of brown grocery bag paper on a large plate.

Reserve 1 teaspoon of the rosemary to use just before serving.

In a brown paper bag mix together the flour, sea salt, pepper, rosemary, cayenne (optional), sugar (optional), and onions (optional). Remove one piece of chicken at a time. 

Shake off the excess buttermilk, drop the piece into the paper bag with the seasoned flour, close the top of the bag, and shake. Repeat with all the pieces, assembling them on a plate or cutting board.

Cook the chicken in batches. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil, making sure it doesn't touch the other pieces so each one cooks evenly.

Turn over when browned on one side. Remove when golden brown and drain on the paper towels. The pieces will cook quickly: chicken tenders (breast) 2-3 minutes; wings 7-8 minutes; thighs & legs 10-12 minutes.

Just before serving, lightly dust the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of rosemary, sea salt and pepper.

If you are making deep fried vegetables like onion rings or broccoli florets, they cook even more quickly: thick rings cook in 30 seconds, thin rings in 5-6 seconds; broccoli in 30 seconds. 

Soak the vegetables in the seasoned buttermilk for a few minutes, then process like the chicken pieces.


Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts 
Yield 8 to 10 servings
Time 90 minutes
Ingredients
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts 
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Method
  • 1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.
  • 2. In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.
  • 3. Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, rotating the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly. Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place it on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.
  • 4. Just before serving dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tip Toe Through the Tulips

It's spring time in Amsterdam and I'm on my way for a week long tour of the city for New York Daily News and Peter Greenberg.

My grandfather was born in Amsterdam so I have a natural curiosity about the city, but I've never been and would appreciate any suggestions about places to go, things to see, coffee shops to hang out in, which canals are the most picturesque and any restaurants to try out.

Thanks.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Vacations, Vietnamese Food & A Lobster Roll Lunch

How lucky we are that holidays allow us to take time off from our daily routines. Right now we are enjoying the in-between time that begins with the day after Christmas, extending until the day before New Year's Eve. In the retail world this is the make-or-break period when the year's profits will tip one way or the other. Besides the year-end sales, a few other price breaks are helping make the season merry.

Lower gas prices definitely help. Filling up for half the cost of a few months ago continues to be a treat. On the food front, while many commodities continue to cost more, a very few have come down in price. One in particular, lobster, surprises and delights. Mark Bittman recently wrote about lobster prices coming down on the East Coast. Even in LA, prices have fallen. At Gelson's, the upscale supermarket, lobster has been on sale for most of December.

For the holiday our family makes a yearly pilgrimage to a week's time share we bought when the boys were young. Less than two hours drive and we're in our home away from home.

Driving south from LA, we have an excuse to stop in Little Saigon, where we can have lunch at Ha Noi and shop at ABC Supermarket. At Ha Noi we had three of our favorite dishes: a shrimp spring roll, pho ga (noodle soup with chicken), and vermicelli noodles with bbq pork and shrimp.

In Vietnamese supermarkets like ABC, the cost of fresh produce, meat, poultry, and seafood tends to be 1/3 to 1/2 the price in mainstream markets. Which means we splurged and bought a lobster and lots of produce, shrimp, and a crab.

Our first lunch on vacation was a simple one: lobster salad and a Persian cucumber salad. The salads are easy to make, fresh tasting, and delicious courses to serve over the holiday or to help you welcome in the new year.

Lobster Salad

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pounds each
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, washed, finely chopped
1/4 cup capers, finely chopped
2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped, white and green parts
1/4 - 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

The lobsters can be steamed or grilled, either technique is fine. Use the one that's easiest. If steamed, boil 2" of water in a large pot. Hold the live lobsters, head down in the boiling water for 10 seconds. Cover, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Take the lobsters out of the pot, let cool so they can be handled, remove the meat, and clean away the liver.

If you want to make lobster fume for sauces or a soup, reserve the cooking water. Add any liquid inside the lobster and all the shells to the cooking water, simmer for 20 minutes, reducing the liquid by half, strain, and discard the shells and solids. Add the fume to a finely diced saute of olive oil, celery, potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic, simmer for 30 minutes, strain, use the fume as the base for a pasta sauce or lobster-vegetable soup.

Saute the corn in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper until lightly browned. Cut the lobster into bite sized pieces and mix with the other ingredients. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and (optional) a light dusting of cayenne.

The lobster salad can be served many ways: with romaine lettuce leaves, grilled rolls or a halved baguette with drizzled olive oil or a heated tortilla, either traditional or ones made from brown rice (found at Trader Joe's and favored by my wife, Michelle).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yukon Gold Latkes

For dinner on the first night of Hanukkah my mother always started with a romaine lettuce salad topped with scallions and Lawry's French Dressing. Then there was a brisket of beef with carrots and mushroom gravy. But the real stars of the meal were the latkes served with apple sauce and sour cream.

My mother's latke recipe was handed down from her mother: grated potatoes, eggs, flour, a little salt and pepper. She'd fry them in vegetable oil and serve them as soon as they were browned. So simple and yet the result was so soul-comforting: crispy on the outside, soft inside, with just the right amount of oil and salt. There are few dishes that are as satisfying as food and so emotionally evocative.

Like most kids, my sister, Barbara, and I waited eagerly at the table. As soon as the plate full of latkes was passed around, we emptied it. I kept count, because I didn't want her to have more than I did. They were that good. When my grandmother was in town, she and my mother made Hanukkah dinner together. Their relationship was competitive to say the least, so there was always considerable discussion about the right way to make the latkes: flour vs. matzo meal; onions or no onions. My grandmother liked to point out that she had given my mother her latkes recipe but my mom insisted that she hadn't remembered it correctly.

These days we look forward to celebrating all the nights of Hanukkah but the first night is special. That's when both our sons are certain to be home. Now that they're off on their own, we're happy when we can be assured they'll share a meal with us.

Michelle likes to make the Hanukkah latkes and they're always delicious. Her recipe is similar to my mother's. This year I asked her to make a small adjustment. I wanted her to use Yukon Golds instead of Russet potatoes because they're sweeter and less starchy.

After the first night's candle was lit and placed in the menorah, presents were given and opened. Then Michelle made latkes as fast as she could and they disappeared as soon as they arrived at the table. In the end, there were only two left. Michael ate those for a late night snack. The family's opinion was unanimous. The Yukon Gold latkes were a keeper.

Yukon Gold Latkes

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed
2 eggs
1/4 cup white all purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (optional)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup parsley, washed, finely chopped (optional)
4 tablespoons safflower or canola oil

Method

Peel the potatoes and keep them covered in a bowl of lightly salted water so they won't discolor. Using the large holes, grate the potatoes by hand. Keep the grated potatoes submerged in the bowl of water.

Take a handful of grated potatoes. Gently squeeze out the water so they are "dry" but still light and fluffy. Put the grated potatoes into a second bowl and mix together with the eggs, flour, and olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the parsley and onions (optional). Mix well.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or griddle. Use a parsley leaf to test the oil. When it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Form the latkes and fry them in batches. With our griddle, that means we can make 4 or 6 at a time.

Each side will take 4-5 minutes. When they're golden brown on each side, remove them to a plate with several sheets of paper towels to drain off the excess oil. Finish with a light dusting of sea salt.

Serve with sour cream and apple sauce.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, Claire, This Cake's for You, a Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake

Years ago when I was living in Rhode Island, I was introduced to the idea of handmade gifts by friends Hank and Risa. Their gifts were never store-bought. For my birthday one year Risa made a knitted palm tree sculpture to remind me of the California I had left behind and Hank carved an elegantly simple kitchen spoon out of curly maple. Decades later I'm reminded of them and their generosity every time I see their gifts.

I don't knit, nor am I a wood-worker, I'm a cook, so my gifts are far less permanent, but I still think that a handmade gift is more personal and evocative, albeit in my case, fleeting. When Michelle's parents in New Jersey have a birthday or anniversary or I want to connect with my friend-in-food Valerie in New York, I'll make a dessert and send it Express Mail. Double-wrapped in Ziploc bags and cushioned to protect against the transit, the gifts always arrive as a happy surprise. (Only once did a food-gift not survive the vagaries of the Postal Service. When a package of homemade pickles reached Valerie's apartment, the doorman called her to say that a very drippy parcel was waiting for her downstairs.)

For our cousin Claire, we wish we were in San Francisco today to celebrate her birthday. I had wanted to send her a Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake, a dessert that my wife, Michelle, calls my "signature dish." Unfortunately I was laid low by a cold all week and didn't get the cake in the mail. Luckily her dad Ron is a chef-extraordinaire and hopefully he'll use the recipe to make Claire the cake so she and Marii, her mom, can enjoy our gift nonetheless.

Claire understands intuitively the power of a homemade gift. When we visited San Francisco in July, we stayed with them. I happily joined Ron and Michelle in cooking a dinner of farmers' market produce. In appreciation, Claire gave me 2 drawings, a whimsical rabbit and a colorful collage. Like her grandmother, Joanie, and Michelle's dad, Warren, she's a talented artist. I cherish those drawings because what she gave me was a gift of herself and that's a treasure.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

Yield 8 to 10 servings

Time 90 minutes

Ingredients
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Method
  • 1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.
  • 2. In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.
  • 3. Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, turning the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly. Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place it on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.
  • 4. Just before serving dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.