April 19, 2008

Blueberry Crisp (a little riff off apple crisp)

Blueberry crisp, hot from the oven.

Ya, so I had some leftover crisp topping from the apple crisp I made bookclub night, and a bag of frozen wild blueberries in the freezer. So I thawed the blueberries a bit, then treated the whole thing pretty much exactly as I did the apple crisp. I warmed the berries a bit in some butter and cinnamon. I did add two or three TBLS of arrowroot powder to the berries toward the end of that warming, as they'd made a lot of juice and I didn't want the final dish to be too runny. How was it? Perfect. I served it warm, in bowls of cool, slightly thickened (through a breif hand whipping) organic cream. My God. I don't think it gets more blissful than this.

Warm blueberry crisp sitting in a bowl of slightly whipped cream.

Cream is so pretty, isn't it? Even all alone. Like snow with fresh butter.

April 18, 2008

How It Went -- Seafood for Book CLubs

1. I am giving up on Alton Brown's bean method. I love him, but this thing just never turns out the way I want it to. Who has a recipe they like?

2. The clam chowder went over really well. I wasn't that thrilled with it myself, but the crowd seemed rather wild for it. Again, I used frozen clams in the shell, and left out the pork.

3. The slaw was just fine. I followed the recipe, but had to drain it through a colander there was so much excess dressing.

4. No matter what anyone tells you when you're out shopping at the lovely little organic store for ingredients to make something wheat free for a guest and they don't have barley flour, do not substitute arrowroot powder for the barely flour! It does not work. Your cornbread will turn out like a brick. (Also, masa flour does not work for cornbread -- but that was my own fault. )I scrapped the cornbread altogether it turned out so badly (which is weird beyond measure, because I am an ace cornbread maker). I love Local Harvest, but sometimes they are missing the oddest items. Luckily Rebecca had some decent bread in the house!

5. OK, this apple crisp is to die for. My own recipe:

2 cups Trader Joe's Maple Pecan Granola
1 cup pecan meal (ground pecans)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup turbino sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter + 4 Tablespoons, melted separately
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
2 Tablespoons arrowroot powder
a pinch of salt
8-10 apples (I used Granny Smiths and some little red ones from Local Harvest)

1. Cut the apples into slices.
2. Saute the apples in the 4 Tablespoons of butter and 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon until they're just turning soft; set aside.
3. Lightly toss together all the remaining ingredients, minus the butter.
4. Pour the butter over the granola mixture.
5. Slide the cooked apples into a large flat crock or pie pan.
6. Press the granola mixture on top of the apples, then sprinkle with a Tablesppon or so of turbino sugar.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for half and hour to forty minutes, until the apples bubble and the topping is brown.

I served it warm from the oven with heavy organic cream. It really was wonderful.

April 15, 2008

Report on making The Cake I Want to Marry.


In my first attempt at making this cake love me back, the following faux pas were encountered:

1. 9-inch cake pan? I don’t think so. The batter totally filled it. I went ahead anyway, and of course a giant muffin was created that spilled over the top of the pan and needed to be baked an extra half an hour.

Natalia says, “With a brush wet the cake” with the coconut milk/condensed milk/rum mixture. That's it! No more detail than that! Natalia! Are you trying to drive me insane? Keep me away from my beloved Bienmasabe? Ai! What she doesn’t say is how long that brushing is going to take. You’ve got about two cups of liquid. I say it will take all day, at least. Maybe two. Unless you can stand there for several hours and do nothing else. Like that French rum cake that you have to brush the rum on day after day; let it soak in slowly. Cause if you do what I did -- just pour the liquid over the cake and then stick in the refrigerator – you’ll end up with a cake sitting in a puddle of very, very sweet liquid. The whole cake ends up to be quite cloyingly sweet this way, and too wet.

I was able to (more or less) solve this the next day, but too late for the party, by baking it again! I put it back in the oven for at least another half an hour. The liquid went into the cake (or the air) and the lovely, complex flavors of the Bienmasabe emerged.

Here’s what I’m going to do next time:

1. Use two 9-inch cake pans.
2. Leave time to slowly brush the cake with the liquid.
3. Beg Natalia to allow me watch her make this cake!

I’ll let you know.

Seafood for Book Clubs

Serendipity. This month the Lafayette Literary Society (my neighborhood book club) is reading Ann Patchett’s Run, set in Boston (seafood!); Rebecca is hosting at her house, and I’m cooking. Sometimes the host will make an effort to coordinate the food with the book, sometimes not. I of course wildly prefer the coordinated version of book club dinners. I just love how it deepens the experience of the book, the connection to place, my feeling of connection to the characters. While the only food Patchett lets us see Run’s characters eating is peanut butter toast (though cereal, coffee, and tea are mentioned) it seems to me that there’s no harm in making a stab at the Boston thing, especially since there are a couple of defining, simple dishes: clam chowder and baked beans. (Ya, there’s Boston Cream Pie, too, but I’ve got a guest with wheat allergy and no real time to pull it off, so I’m going with apple crisp instead.)

Book club is tomorrow night, so I’m prepping. I’m going to so the Oyster House Clam Chowder, substituting arrowroot for wheat flour, and clams in the shell for clam juice and canned clams. Around Christmas I bought some frozen homogenized clams in the shell from a little vendor at the Soulard Market, did the trick I read about in Heat of tossing them into the fettuccini and cream and butter and wine at the last minute, and I’ll tell you something, it was divine. The idea is that when the clams open up they let go their juices, and those juices are the whole point, nearly, they’re so good. It seemed to work! So, I figure, why not do it for chowder?

For the beans I’m modifying Alton Brown’s Once and Future Beans, which I’ve made before. You let them cook all night long (or all day) in a slow oven. I’m going to switch it up a bit, though, leaving out the jalepenos, and using ketsup instead of tomato paste, olive oil instead of pork fat (weeping: vegetarians will be present).

For accompaniment, corn bread using arrowroot flour instead of wheat, and slaw. I'm worried about the arrowroot. The guy at Local Harvest suggested it, but I've only ever heard of it being used as a thickener. Come to think of it, I amy make a small pan of that and a larger one with regular flour, just in case. Again, the apple crisp for dessert. I’m pretty good at a crisp. I have a couple of tricks. I’ll let you know how the whole thing goes.

April 9, 2008

Nancy Thompson’s Grilled Salmon

No story with this one. I got it out the hard copy "The Smith Family Cookbook." If anyone talks to Nancy can you please tell her that we'd love to have a little story to go with this one? All I can say is that it's hard to beat grilled salmon!

“An original recipe.”

Fresh salmon filets, cut into single serving-sized portions
Olive oil
Balsamic or white wine vinegar
White Worcestershire sauce
Seasoned salt lemon pepper

Wash the salmon fillets, leaving the outer skin on. Place them on a platter, and sprinkle with all the marinade ingredients. Let sit, in the refrigerator, for at least an hour.

While the salmon is marinating get the grill going. Set a serving platter to warming.

Grill over high heat, starting with the fish (non-skin) side down for 4 to 5 minutes, then carefully flipping the fillets to the skin side and grilling for another 6 minutes (this method retains the juices and makes the fish moister). Remove from the fill, remove the skin, and place the salmon on a warmed platter.
This salmon may be served with a variety of sauces, Fischer and Weiser’s roasted raspberry chipotle sauce being a good one.

April 8, 2008

Spicy Tilapia with Pineapple-Pepper Relish

Our darling cousin Lisa sends this recipe from Cooking Light, saying:

The first time I had a sweet/spicy relish with talapia I adored every bite and thought about it for months until I had the opportunity to order it again. I have to admit that I have not attempted to make it from scratch at home- have to hone my fish-cooking skills, but I will definitely learn to cook this one, eventually, so that I can have it when I get a craving. This combination of sweet pineapple and hot pepper flakes is also scrumptious with coconut fried shrimp.

Fresh pineapple chunks, now widely available in supermarkets, speed the prep for this relish. Serve with coconut rice (substitute light coconut milk for some of the water to cook it). Round out menu with a romaine lettuce salad tossed with lime dressing.

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh pineapple chunks
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped plum tomato
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
4 lime wedges

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle fish evenly with spice mixture. Add fish to pan, and cook for 2 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

Combine pineapple and next 5 ingredients (through jalapeño) in a large bowl, stirring gently. Serve pineapple mixture with fish. Garnish with lime wedges.

4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet, about 1/2 cup relish, and 1 lime wedge)

Kate Washington , Cooking Light, APRIL 2007

April 7, 2008

Rhubarb & Rose Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean, Rose, and Rhubarb Coulis

For Abby's Monthly Mingle, Spring Friut Sensations!

There's not a lot of fruit ready around St. Louis in the spring. But there will be rhubarb, soon. So, here's something else non-seafoody for spring. I made this a couple of years ago for my Brunch of Flowers, which I threw the day of the Lafayette Square House and Garden Tour. It went over with my guests spectacularly, even the one notorious very narrow eater. The barely (consciously) discernible flavor and aroma of rose is a stunningly perfect match for the rhubarb. I have a rhubarb plant in my garden this year, planted at a couple of years maturity. If it bears enough stalks to do this recipe, I will, and then I'll put up photos.

This based on a recipe by the French Gardener.

1 pound rhubarb
4 cups brioche, crusts removed and torn into chunks
2 cups good (non-ulta-pasteurized) cream
2 fresh eggs
2 fresh egg yolks
1 Tablespoon rose water

vanilla bean
Reserved rhubarb liquid
1/2 cup cream
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon rose water
1 Tablespoon butter

The night before, chop the rhubarb into 1/4-inch chunks and toss with 1/2 cup sugar. Let this sit overnight. When you're ready to prepare the pudding, drain off the and reserve the liquid.

Chop the rhubarb further, into a medium-course texture.

Put the brioche chunks in a bowl and toss the rhubarb into it.

Combine the cream, eggs, egg yolks, remaining 3/4 cups of sugar, and 1 Tablespoon of the rose water. Pour the cream mixture over the bread and toss gently.

Pour into a buttered ceramic baking dish; set the first dish into a second, larger baking dish, pour hot water around into the larger dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool until just warm.

Prepare the Sauce

Warm the cream. As the cream is warming, add the internal scrapings of the vanilla bean, and the rose water, then gently whisk in the egg yolk (be careful not to let it turn into a cooked egg dish).

Add the pat of butter and let it melt in as you whisk. Take a deep inhalation – the steam is probably smelling pretty divine right now; you deserve a bit of aroma therapy.

Stir until the sauce is the thickness you desire.

Put a ribbon of sauce on each plate, and set a serving of pudding upon the ribbon. Serve.

Organic rose petals, or really any organic edible flower makes a very nice garnish.

April 3, 2008

The Unnamed Italian Dish

I can't remember what this is called! I've resorted to making it from memory.

This isn't seafood, but since Iron Stef requested the recipe I am happy to put it here -- it's the dish I took to the St. Louis Foodbloggers Potluck last Sunday (see Jonahtan's fantastic photos on this page). Thanks, Stef! Request away!

I used to have this darling, teensy little Italian cookbook. I don’t know where it went. But it had the most authentic recipes, and this is one of them. I don’t know for sure that I’ve remembered it all exactly, but it’s one of those dishes you can fudge on and adapt a bit without dire consequence. It’s pretty basic. I’d love to know what region of Italy it hails from, but I don’t remember that, either. I’ve been making to a good 20 years, though, and I never grow tired of it. I find it very comforting.

Essentially what you're doing here is making a filling of ricotta, spinach, parmesano-reggiono and cooked chicken livers; rolling it up in buckwheat pancakes; pouring a béchamel sauce over it; and baking it for an hour.

You’ll need a 3-quart baking dish, oiled or buttered.

For the Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese (use the best you can find)
1 pound organic chicken livers, cleaned of connective tissue
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 pounds fresh spinach, washed, steamed, and chopped (frozen is OK, too)
Two eggs
½ cup grated parmesano-reggiono
Olive oil
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg (I grate my own)

Sauté the onions in ¼ cup olive oil until the just begin to get transparent. Add the chicken livers and to cook medium well. Set aside to cool a bit. Once it’s cooled a bit, put the liver in a small, hard bowl and chop with a pastry cutter until they’re roughly chopped and slightly pulverized – but don’t turn them to mush. You want them to have some texture.

In a large bowl, toss together the ricotta, eggs, and parmesano; add the spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust the seasoning. Add the liver mixture, toss with your hands, and taste again for seasoning.

Let the bowl sit at room temp while you make the pancakes. Obviously if you have toddlers and it's going to take you two hours to make the pancakes between chasing them around making them dinner then refridgerate the mixture.

For the Pancakes:
Whole Foods 360 Organic Buckwheat pancake mix

Olive oil

Have your pancake skillet or griddle heating to medium high while you mix the batter. Also, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Note: Big rolls will require 8-10 pancakes for the 3-quart dish. If you want smaller rolls adjust accordingly.

Make the pancakes according to the direction on the package, but double the eggs and double the water. It should be runny enough to spread easily around the pan. You can make larger or smaller pancakes, depending on how you prefer the finished dish to look and taste. I do it either way, depending on my mood. The ones I took to the potluck were very large, covering more than half of the bottom of a 12-inch non-stick skillet.

Stack the pancakes as you remove them from the pan in such a manner that each has a little channel to vent steam.

--> Now get your assembly line together. You’ll make the béchamel after you’ve assembled the rolls. From left to right, line up the pancakes, liver-cheese mixture, a board to roll on, and the baking pan. Unless you’re good at estimating volumes, you may want to use my method for uniformity of filling: lay the pancakes out in a line and distribute the filling evenly between them. Then roll them up and begin placing them gently in the pan, touching one another, but not squished together. It’s ok to leave a little room around the outside; it makes a nice repository for some béchamel. That done, do your sauce.

For the Béchamel Sauce:

4 tablespoons unsalted, cultured butter (you can use regular unsalted butter)
4 tablespoons unbleached white flour
2 cups half and half (organic or local -- just don’t use the ultra-pasteurized kind)
Quick grate of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat the half-and-half over medium heat. You’re going to bring it almost to a boil.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until foaming.

Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Keep stirring with the whisk for a minute or two, to cook the floury taste out of the flour.

When the half-and-half is almost at a boil, pour it in a stream into the flour mixture, whisking all the while. Simmer and whisk over medium-low heat until it’s thickened to a custard consistency, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes.

Stir in nutmeg and salt. Season with ground pepper. Cool sauce slightly.

Pour the sauce over the rolls in the pan. There should be enough sauce to cover the rolls to ¾ of their height, and fill the gaps at the edges of the pan. Make sure to put some sauce directly over the top of the rolls, too.

Sprinkle the top with ¼ parmesano.

Oil enough foil to cover the pan, and set it loosely on top of the dish. Put the dish in the center of the oven and bake for half an hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. The sauce should be bubbling vigorously.

Cool for 15-20 minutes or so, and serve. A very fresh salad with and warm crusty bread goes well. For wine, I'd do sparkling (when wouldn't I?) or maybe a nice white Burgandy if you want depth, or a half-dry Reisling if you want a crisper counterpart.

Note: Everything I used in the dish for the potluck was organic, except the ricotta, which was local and hormone/antibiotic free, but not organic. For all of this I went to whole foods. The difference in the quality of the dairy products is huge.

April 2, 2008

Secret Shrimp Throw-Down!

Once upon a time, my dad took me to a certain restaurant in a certain small town, Illinois, for my sixteenth birthday. This was a big deal. The restaurant had been “written up” in the New York Times, he was proud of saying, for the very dish we were going there to eat. They called it their House shrimp, and it was fantastic. Super-jumbo tiger shrimp or prawns -- in the shell -- lounging deep in a bowl of buttery, deeply tomato-and-spice sauce, with tons of crispy-soft bread for dipping. Ya gotta eat it all with your hands. It’s sublime. They bring you a big bib, a stack of cloth napkins, and a bowl of clear water to help clean yourself up as worked. I even remember what I wore that night. The only pink dress I ever owned. It was a very soft pink, crisp cotton, with eyelet lace on the shoulder straps and here and there. There’s no doubt that my dad managed to procure some wine for me (duh). This is one of my best memories of life with my dad. As everyone who has known me truly well knows, there was a lot of difficulty between my dad and I. And this makes every good memory precious, indeed. I think of him always when I make this dish. It was one of his all-time favorite, it’s a New Orleans-style dish, and he is the man, after all, who claims to have dated Ernest Hemmingway’s maid when he lived in the B.E.

This recipe was held secret for many, many years. We used to try to replicate it at home with varying degrees of success. Then, a good friend of mine married a line cook from that restaurant! And bingo! he told me how to make it. Now, I have no way of confirming this is the recipe ver batum. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. As it stands right now it’s just something this one guy told me one time. But as y’all know it’s become a tradition at the Smith Family Reunions whenever it’s my brother Bill’s and my turn to cook. It’s fast, simple, and fabulous. You really can’t screw it up.

However, you can mess it up a bit. There are tricks. My brother and I make this recipe differently, too. He had an odd experience that I think has ruined his judgment in the matter. Last year, after our father’s death (as I remember it) Bill decided to go to this nameless restaurant and have the shrimp. He’d never had it! I had no idea. My dad never took him there? I thought I remembered Bill being there with us on my birthday, but who knows. Memory is as unreliable as a cheap aluminum soup pot.

Anyway, they must have been out of the huge shrimp that night, and they served it to my bro out of the shell, over rice. What!!!!???!!!! Nu-uh. And what did he say? “It was good!” No it wasn’t! No one in their right mind eats The Secret Shrimp out of the shell over rice! Fogettaboutit [said in Cajun mafia accent]!

Does anyone ever listen to Car Talk on NPR? And you know how there are two brothers, the mechanics, and one of them always says at the end of the show, “… and whatever you do, don’t drive like my brother!” and the other replies, “No, don’t drive like MY brother!” Yet of course it’s obvious that they do love and respect one another, ya? *Well, this is the spirit in which I make this comparison between my version of this dish and my brother’s.

So now he thinks it’s ok to serve it that way. Not me. Not in a million years. And so I am giving you the “real” version, my version, the one you get when the chef is motivated enough to get the real ingredients, for Heaven’s sake.

And Bill? I challenge you to send me your instructions. We’ll see if a throw-down can ensue.

Secret House Shrimp

12 Super Colossal Tiger Prawns (6-8 per pound), deveined and left in the shell, thawed if bought frozen
4 jars Heinz Chili Sauce
1 pound salted butter
1 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped dried oregano
1 cup sweet vermouth

Put everything in a large, heavy pot, like a Dutch oven. Turn the heat on low. Let the whole thing simmer relatively undisturbed until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce is quite hot, but not boiling. Serve in bowls with a good French bread for dipping.

TIPS: Warnings toward the avoidance mistakes (*made by my brother, though he doesn’t know it):

1. Do not boil the sauce! You don't want it to emulsify!
2. Let it all cool significantly before serving. This means, from piping hot (but not boiling) cool it 20-30 minutes. The shrimp will hold onto a lot of heat, especially if they're big. Of course you don’t want it to be cold, but the shrimp need to be almost room temp so they can be handled easily.

Making sure that you follow the above Tips 1 & 2 will have this magical effect: The butter will stay to more or less separate from the tomato sauce, almost, and it will be clear. This makes for a marvelously varied dipping adventure, and your bread swaths through the degrees and ratios and combinations of butter, chili, herbs, and combinations thereof.

There now. The challenge is set. Bill? :-)

April 1, 2008

St. Louis Food Bloggers Potluck

These wonderful professional photos from the Food Bloggers Potluck were taken by Jonathan Pollack, the spouse of Stef from Cupcake Project. Go check them both out. If you type the word "FOODBLOG" into the little field at the bottom of Jonathan's home page you can see lotso' photos from the potluck!

Check out the ooing and ahing expressions on these faces!

The cake I want to marry.

Kelly and I listening, perhaps.

Me, eating mine.

Close up of my dish. Chicken livers, white sauce. Nirvana.

What's a Food Blogger's Potluck? Well, maybe it's something like a Teddy Bears Picnic! A lotsa fun! I fell in love with a coconut cake by Natalia. She has a restaurant in downtown St. Louis, and I can see why because this cake is just, I don't know how to say it. I want to marry it. Those were the only words I could think of while I was eating it there. Natalia has a recipe on her web site! Go get it! It's like a drunken heaven in the tropics, only in wedding lace.

Kelly was there with her mac&cheese, which was of course super-yum. There are she and I, apparently listening intently to a nice young woman who's name I cannot recall, but my hands are certainly blurring around the wine, now aren't they? Action, anyone?

I took the Italian blini-like dish (as Alanna tells me), which is the thing I am slicing here, and of which you can see a close-up. There were rather more vegetarians than I expected at a foodie event, so next time I'll take something meatless.