Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Appetizing Start – and the Beet Goes On...

What’s cooking? Golden Beet Soup and Cucumbers in Pesto




Let’s get a bit on nomenclature out of the way first. Who here knows the difference between an appetizer and an hors d’oeuvre? It’s a trick question, because there is no difference. Sort of. You’ll notice on a restaurant menu that they never call the first course “Hors D’Oeuvres”; those are listed as “Appetizers.” So you’d think that means that appetizers are bigger, more substantial items, and hors d’oeuvres are little noshy things you pass around at a party. But the phrase “hors d’oeuvre” just means “off the work,” where “the work” is taken to mean the featured item (think work of art). A side dish, so to speak. And that says nothing really about the nature or timing of a dish. So an appetizer is a more specific pre-dinner item, but conventionally speaking, an hors d’oeuvre would be the same thing.

Whenever I’m getting ready to entertain guests, I always have to remind myself that the purpose of appetizers is to stimulate the appetite, to get your taste buds producing those gastric juices so that the digestive process will be really primed for the main meal. The idea is not to fill the guests up so that they don’t need the meal.

Now for reasons known only to herself, the Kitchen Goddess likes to have at least three items on the appetizer tray. As the pressure builds and the time grows short, she almost always has an appetizer that gets 86̓d in that last hour before the ball drops. But it’s important to remember that a bowl of salted nuts or olives is a perfectly acceptable appetizer. (Salty foods being great stimulants for the taste buds.) So if you can keep in the habit of stocking salted nuts or chips or pretzels or olives, you’ll always have something that can substitute for a more elaborate item that you no longer have time to produce. Also, if you are like the Kitchen Goddess and occasionally are not completely ready when the guests appear at the door, it’s good to have something to soak up the alcohol during that possibly lengthy time while you’re finishing the main work. Which also means that hors d’oeuvres should not be the kind that need the cook’s attention.

Which brings us to today’s recipes. The first is a cold soup – you folks remember how fond I am of cold soups? Light, mellow-tasting, and a wonderful color, this soup is easy to make a day or two before you serve it. The tang of buttermilk gently balances the natural sweetness of the beets, and the soup is beautifully garnished with olive oil, pickled shallots, and fresh herbs.

Not everyone likes beets, and I get that. Grumpy is in that category. He tasted this soup and said it wasn’t bad, but “In the end, it’s beets.” So if that’s the way you feel about them, that’s okay. But if you’re on the fence about beets, you might give this one a try, because the flavor of golden beets is sweeter, less earthy, and mellower than red beets. And if you actually like beets, well then, you are in for a treat.


Golden beets are easy to find this time of year. And they are great for you. As with most deeply colored veggies, they’re high in many vitamins and minerals. Heart healthy and high in antioxidants, they’re good for kidney function, eyes and skin, blood pressure and cholesterol. They’re also useful in treating anemia and fatigue.

I found this recipe in a New York Times article about The Lost Kitchen, a relatively new restaurant in the wilds of Maine that operates only eight months of the year. Under chef-owner Erin French’s guidance, it has become so popular that she is completely booked from May through New Year’s Eve in a single day. So whether or not you can become one of the lucky customers, you can experience Chef French’s expertise right here, today.




Golden Beet and Buttermilk Soup

Adapted from Erin French, chef-owner of  The Lost Kitchen, as seen in The New York Times.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings as a first course, 10+ as an appetizer

Ingredients 
2½ pounds golden beets (4-5 large)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 cups buttermilk
juice of ½ lemon, (a little more than 1 tablespoon)

Garnish:
Small handful of basil leaves
Small handful of dill fronds
⅓ to ½ cup sour cream (optional)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400°.

Trim the leaves off the beets down to 1-2 inches from the bulb. No need to wash them, and do not cut off the tail of the root. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil or put them into a casserole and cover it tightly with foil. Bake large beets 50-60 minutes. Let them cool in the foil or covered dish. Once they’ve cooled, the skins will rub off easily with your fingers.







In the meantime, make the garnish: In a small bowl, combine chopped shallots and vinegar and let macerate for 20 minutes. Whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with a few grinds of black pepper.

When the beets are cooked, cut 1 beet into a small, even dice (about ¼ inch), and add it to the shallot mixture. Season to taste with salt and set aside. This will be the garnish.

Cut the remaining beets into large chunks and purée in a blender with the buttermilk and lemon juice for 2 minutes or until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the soup until completely cool.


If you’re serving the soup as a first course at the table, drizzle each bowl with a teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the diced beets/shallots on top, with herbs and sour cream on the side, so guests can garnish their bowls as they like. Or serve it as an hors d’oeuvre in small glasses, with a few drops of oil, a little of the beet-shallot mix, and a few of the herbs. Add sour cream, if you like. (I did not.)


This soup can be made a day or two ahead. Just let the beet-shallot garnish come to room temperature before you serve, so the oil isn’t congealed.

And now for an even easier appetizer.


Cucumbers in Pesto

You probably already keep at least one variation on a  pesto recipe – if not, here are two absolutely swell versions:

Basil pesto
Arugula pesto

The only other thing you’ll need is a package of Persian cucumbers – or at least that’s what I think they used to be called. Now, they’re so popular they come from Canada and are called mini-cukes. Whatever. They’re small versions of the seedless English cucumbers – milder than regular cukes, with thin skins and almost no seeds. Very nice taste and texture..


Slice the baby cukes at an angle, in pieces about ½ inch thick. Mix them in a bowl with some pesto, and give the mix about a half-hour to combine flavors. Serve with toothpicks. You’ll need about ¼ cup of pesto for 3 mini-cukes.



Note: You can also serve this combination on a bed of lettuce or in small bowls as a salad.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Survivor Soup

What’s cooking? Chick Pea Soup with Tomato and Rosemary




The Kitchen Goddess was working on a post about hors d’oeuvres, but the topic began to seem frivolous in light of the difficulties so many friends and family are experiencing in the aftermath – and we hope it can now be considered aftermath – of Hurricane Harvey. So today’s post will be more focused on cooking during difficult times. Call it a Harvey Hangover remedy. And later this week, we’ll have a nice post about hors d’oeuvres.

In the South, where I grew up, there is no occasion that cannot be celebrated with food. Even tragedy – or maybe I should say especially tragedy – sends Southern cooks running to their kitchens in an all-out assault on pain, grief, and other forms of suffering. Succotash as succor.

Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of Katrina, I cooked gumbo for 160 people as a fund-raiser at our church in New Jersey. With rice made by the minister and his wife, garlic bread baked by the Committee on World Fellowship, and divine desserts brought by another member of the congregation, it became an astonishingly heartwarming effort that had everyone digging deep into their wallets. We sent the proceeds – $8,000 – to a small church we’d connected with in New Orleans.



These days, I don’t have the kind of kitchen such heroic efforts demand. Instead, I’ll give you a recipe for a terrific and terrifically easy soup that even those whose pantries may have been ravaged by the storm might be able to put together. Light but filling, it’s a good soup for any weather, with amazingly vibrant flavors. The secret is in the short cooking time. And sometime during the cooking or the eating or the clean-up phase, I hope you will take time to count your blessings –  however large or small – and send a contribution to the Central Texas Food Bank, which is a major player in the relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

* * *

The author of this recipe is the creative and clever Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of a wildly successful vegetarian restaurant called Dirt Candy, in New York City. She is the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America. Her cookbook, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, is the first graphic novel cookbook to be published in North America.

Chef Cohen says this soup should take less than 30 minutes to make. I will confess that the first time I made it, I took about three hours. But that’s because I obsessed over the size of the cans – had to do an extra trip to the store to check the available sizes – then got completely sidetracked watching the team trials for this year’s world championships in bridge. Finally, I decided, Okay, fine, I’ll just do the math, then at least I’ll know how much to adjust the other ingredients.


The second time I made it, I used cup measurements, and was much happier. And now that’s done for you, so you should be able to breeze through the process.

Kitchen Goddess note: Flexibility is the key concept for this soup. The proportions aren’t strict, and neither is the rest of the recipe. You can try the dish with cannelloni beans or black beans or any other beans you like. You can substitute basil or thyme or tarragon or oregano for the rosemary – each will contribute its own distinct flavor. If you don’t have fresh, use dried. And if you want a slightly richer soup, try chicken broth instead of the water. This is a dish that’s meant to be quick and easy, so use what’s at hand in your kitchen. And for those of you in Houston and on the Texas Coast, I’ve put in parentheses various alternatives to the ingredients.



Chick Pea Soup with Tomato and Rosemary

Adapted from Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of Dirt Candy, in NYC.

Serves 4 (or 2, with seconds, as at my house).

Ingredients
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onions (Alt: yellow onions, or 3 tablespoons dried onion flakes)
¼ cup carrots cut in ¼-inch dice (Alt: parsnips or skip them entirely)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (Alt: a small pinch of chili flakes or a dash of Tabasco)
2 tablespoons minced garlic plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 9 cloves, or Alt: 4½ teaspoons of dried garlic flakes)
One 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained (about 2 cups) (Alt: cannellini beans, navy beans, black beans)
One 19-ounce can diced tomatoes (about 2 cups)
3 cups water (enough to cover)
1 large sprig of rosemary (6-7 inches long)
juice and zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley (Alt: 2 tablespoons dried parsley)
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Alt: Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Directions
In a small soup pot or large saucepan set over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil, onions, carrots, Aleppo pepper or chile flakes, and cook, stirring for 4 minutes or until the onions become translucent. Add 2 tablespoons of the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute. Adjust the heat to make sure neither the onions nor the garlic burn.

Stir in the drained chick peas and the tomatoes, and add the water. Drop in the rosemary.



Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes, then add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and simmer another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat; remove the rosemary from the soup and discard. Add the lemon zest and juice and the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.


If you prefer a thick soup, purée 2 cups of the soup in a blender, and add it back to the pot.



Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top. And invite a friend over to share.


Whoops! Looks like I forgot the Parmesan cheese...


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Something New for When They Ask You to Bring an Appetizer

What’s cooking? Marinated Zucchini

A layout of noshes for a luncheon with friends. The zucchini is the far right dish. The center dish is a fava bean pesto, but that recipe is for another time.
For the longest time, I’ve had a little tidbit of fun to share. But I never could figure out a way to incorporate it thematically into a post. Until now.

Soooo... I was listening to a Serious Eats podcast, in which the host interviewed Chef Missy Robbins. After running the kitchens at some of the country’s better Italian restaurants (Spiaggia in Chicago, A Voce in NYC), Ms. Robbins has opened her own eatery, in a renovated garage in Brooklyn of all places. It’s called Lilia. And right off the bat, she earned herself THREE stars from New York Times critic Pete Wells.

I’m a big fan of Wells’s writing, so I read the review, and amazingly enough, it opened with a reference to one of my new faves in internet lingo:

“My one-sentence review of Lilia for the too-long-didn’t-read crowd: Missy Robbins is cooking pasta again.”

In the world of web slang and acronyms, you likely already know LOL and IMHO and WTF and OMG. But how about tl;dr? Always written in lower case – and the only one I’m aware of that uses specific punctuation – it refers to a post/article/rant/review that’s a little too chock full for its own good, and it means “too long; didn’t read.” It apparently began as a form of protest – an editorial notation to indicate that a passage exceeded the reader’s attention span. Most recently, it can also be used by a writer to point out a précis of a longer piece, as Pete Wells did with his review of Lilia. As a writer who often finds herself penning more than is really necessary, I just think it’s fun, and hope none of you see my posts as tl;dr.

And now, in the way that internet denizens inevitably stretch any good idea into hyperbole, there’s even a Facebook page for tl;dr wikipedia, and a Twitter page for the same thing, where writers use humor to present Wiki-like entries stripped to the bare essentials. As in these examples:

Exclamation point (!): An exclamation point is a punctuation mark used to indicate that the writer of a sentence is a 12-year-old girl.

Nintendo: According to your mother, a Nintendo is anything with buttons on it.

Cracker Barrel: Cracker Barrel is a chain of restaurants catering to travelers with the insanely specific need for both pancakes and a wooden sign that says “Never Enough Thyme.”

Reply all: Reply all is an email function that streamlines the process of getting fired.

At the end of this journey into another way to waste time online, the Kitchen Goddess was naturally intrigued with the thought of a visit to Lilia. It took a month to secure a reservation before 9:45pm, but that only reinforced my desire.

I was not disappointed. Amazing pasta, inspired desserts, delightfully funky if noisy environment, and the trip to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood was an adventure in itself. Then the very first dish we tried – raw, lightly crunchy zucchini marinating in olive oil with capers and herbs – piqued my tastebuds with the excitement you get from a successful movie trailer. I bogarted the last few pieces in the bowl, then begged our server to tell me what was in it. When the list of ingredients contained fennel pollen, I knew I had to try it on my own.
 
Kitchen Goddess note on fennel pollen: The KG has mentioned fennel pollen before on this blog, and yet I sense that many of you still haven’t tried it. What are you waiting for?

Fennel pollen has been gaining popularity in the U.S. since Mario Batali began to cook with it in the 1990s. In Italian cuisine, it’s often added – in lieu of saffron – to pastas, pestos, and risotto. Although the primary flavor of the fennel bulb is licorice, the pollen carries a much more nuanced mix of flavors, conveying a sweet mustiness that reminds me of curry. In an article for Saveur magazine, the award-winning food writer Peggy Knickerbocker wrote, “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.”

The aroma alone will transport you to the stalls of some Middle Eastern spice bazaar. I had it on a crusted pork roast and practically keeled over. I toss some in chicken soup, in lentil soup, and sprinkle it on roast chicken.  A whiff will give you ideas of what to do. It’s the ultimate secret ingredient, and it’s now available in specialty spice stores, some high-end groceries, or online.

The KG orders hers online, from My Spice Sage for $19.75/ounce (less if you order more) with free shipping, or through amazon.com for slightly more. Try some – for the timid, try sharing an order with a friend. You won’t be sorry, and then you can make this dish...



Marinated Zucchini 

Inspired by Missy Robbins at Lilia, in Brooklyn, New York.

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients
16-20 ounces (1-1¼ pounds) zucchini or any summer squash, including pattypan
½-inch wide strips of zest from one lemon (use a vegetable peeler)
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon brine from caper jar
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
½ teaspoon dried dill or 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Choose squash that are small and firm, as the skin will be thinner and the seeds smaller and tenderer.
Directions
Slice the zucchini (and any other long squash) on an angle into pieces about ½ inch thick. If you have pattypan squash, slice it into wedges about ½ inch thick at the outside. Put the squash into a medium mixing bowl or a 6-7-cup plastic container with a lid.

In a jar or separate small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil. Shake or stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil and pour the mixture over the squash. Cover the bowl tightly with cellophane wrap or plastic lid and refrigerate 4-5 hours before serving. Serve in a decorative bowl with toothpicks or cocktail forks.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner... or Overnight or for the Weekend?
What’s cooking? Roasted Carrot Salad with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata


Nothing focuses the mind quite like the prospect of guests. You’re having friends over for cocktails or dinner, or maybe you’re having a party. Those people will be wandering around your living room, your kitchen, your porch. They’ll be using your bathroom, maybe accidentally poking their heads into the laundry room. In winter, they’ll be hanging their coats in your closet, or piling them on your bed. The more you invite, the more likely someone will wander off the reservation and notice your husband’s exercise equipment that he keeps handy in the corner of your bedroom, or that picture you’ve been meaning to hang that’s been stashed behind a chair for... oh, months. (I will not discuss the piles of books and papers in my office – I won’t live long enough to get that room straightened, so anyone who goes there gets the real me with no apologies.)

Then there are the overnight guests. For however much time, they have full rein over the entire casa, and God knows what they’ll find when they open closets, take a wrong turn on their way to the porch, or decide to make themselves a cup of coffee.

At least these are the tortured thoughts that jog around my brain when the prospect of guests arises. Not that I don’t love entertaining – I’ll invite friends for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or dinner at the drop of a toque, and I always want friends and family who don’t live near me to come visit. But as the time for those events or visits draws near, I start looking at my environment with fresh eyes – seeing it the way someone who doesn’t live with me might. And I’m almost always horrified at what I find. That towel bar that’s coming loose, the dripping faucet, the rugs that need cleaning, bags of clothing I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, ... the list seems endless.

What am I thinking? They’re not trying to buy the place. And most people don’t actually get out the proverbial fine-toothed comb just because you invited them over. I certainly don’t when/if the roles are reversed. But that’s how my mind works.

Inevitably, a few items on my to-do list just don’t get done. Because at some point, what I really want to do is cook for these folks. So the food distracts me and it turns out the guests don’t notice or maybe they do but aren’t telling me. Ah, well...

Our most recent guests were a darling couple from Austin. And the itinerary I put together was as ridiculously crammed as my to-do list. But we had time for a nice lunch on the day they arrived, and I found this truly wonderful salad, a heavenly marriage of roasted carrots and burrata cheese.

Part of what I like best of this dish – other than the excellent mélange of tastes – is that there’s so little wastage. The carrots are small and tender, so you don’t have to scrape them, and most of the feathery tops get used either in the pesto topping or as a green salad accompanying the roasted carrots. If you want to get really compulsive – and I almost always do – save the fronds you don’t use in this dish in a baggie in your freezer for the next time you make vegetable broth.

The other thing I like about this dish is that it affords me a chance to splurge on burrata cheese, that rich and creamy, lightly salty delicacy that first came to us from the Puglia region of Italy. Burrata looks like a small bag, tied at the top. The bag is made from mozzarella, and inside the bag is a soft filling of cream and stracciatella, the shards of cheese left over from making mozzarella. Buy it as fresh as you can find it – most likely from a grocer or cheese shop that gets daily shipments of mozzarella. Central Market in Austin actually makes burrata on site daily.

The recipe is a creation of the very excellent Manhattan Chef April Bloomfield (Spotted Pig, Breslin Bar & Dining Room, and her newest, White Gold Butchers) with JJ Goode, and appears in the book they co-authored, A Girl and Her Greens. And please do not be put off by the length of this recipe. It takes a bit of time because of the separate steps, but there’s nothing hard or complicated about it. Trust the Kitchen Goddess!


Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata

Adapted from April Bloomfield and JJ Goode.

Yield: Serves 4-6 as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish

Ingredients
For the carrots:
1 bunch (about 20) of small carrots (large-finger size), scrubbed well but not peeled, and all but 1-2 inches of the tops removed and reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
4 cups (lightly packed) of tender carrot tops (thick stems discarded)
15-20 fresh basil leaves
½ cup walnut pieces
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 medium garlic clove, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the presentation:
1 large (about 8 ounces) burrata, drained and brought to room temperature
3-4 tablespoons Carrot Top Pesto
1½ cups (lightly packed) carrot tops (the most delicate, feathery ones you can find)
10-12 medium-sized basil leaves (if what you have are large leaves, tear them in half right before mixing with carrot tops)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Maldon or another flaky sea salt

Directions

For the carrots:
Preheat the oven to 500º.

In a heavy, oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer (or at least close to a single layer), heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add the carrots, sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of salt, and use tongs to turn the carrots so that they get well coated with the oil.

Sear the carrots for 7-8 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they're browned in spots. The carrots will get softer and more maleable as they cook, so you should be able to reposition them into a single layer.

Move the skillet to the oven and roast the carrots until tender, 10-11 minutes, pausing halfway through the cooking time to turn them.

Let the carrots cool while you make the pesto.( Or you can make the pesto the night before; if so, bring it to room temperature before serving.)

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the carrot tops, basil, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt. Pulse several times – enough for the mixture  to reach a rough, mealy texture. Then with the machine running non-stop, slowly pour in the oil. Continue to process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until the mixture is well combined. You can make the purée smooth or rough – whichever suits your taste.

If you make the pesto the day before serving, be sure to cover it well and refrigerate it overnight.

For the presentation:

Place the buratta in the center of a large serving plate. Arrange the carrots around the cheese in a haphazard pattern.

Spoon dollops of the pesto here and there on top of the carrots. The Kitchen Goddess likes to serve the remaining pesto in a bowl so that guests can serve themselves more on the carrots or on crostini.











In a small bowl, combine the carrot top sprigs with the basil leaves. In a separate small bowl or a jar, whisk together the olive oil and the lemon juice with a pinch of salt until the dressing looks creamy. (The Kitchen Goddess prefers to use a jar, so she can just put the lid on and shake it until it looks creamy.) Toss the carrot top sprigs and basil with a couple of teaspoons of the dressing, and arrange the “salad” on top of the carrots.

Take a sharp knife and gently cut the burrata into quarters. (This will feel a little like cutting open a water balloon, but fear not.) Drizzle the rest of the dressing over all, and serve.

It will make you want to have guests every day!



Friday, July 7, 2017

Clamming It Up
What’s cooking? Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams



The Kitchen Goddess is back in heaven – that is to say, I’m once again hitting my favorite farmers’ market on a regular basis. The fridge is filling up with lettuce – washed and layered with paper towels – and the hubby is filling up with fresh berries on his cereal. I wander the stalls like Goldilocks shopping for chairs, trying to decide which of the vendors has the fattest blueberries or the best looking zucchini, and noting the appearance of new items like the fava beans I’ve never cooked before. [Check back next week for a report on those.]

In the fall and winter, my menus are largely centered on chicken or pork or beef as a protein source. Once spring arrives, and the season for Gulf shrimp shifts into high gear, I start cooking more seafood, but I don’t really focus on it until summer, when I can get such fresh fish and shellfish at the market that I truly feel like binging.

So when one of my sons called to say that he’d be stopping by for dinner, I had a moment of panic until I realized I had a big bag of clams in the fridge. It’s easy to keep clams for several days, as long as they’re really fresh when you buy them. Just put them in a bowl in the fridge and cover it with a damp cloth. The main thing – aside from keeping them cold – is to keep them from drying out. But no plastic bags, please, or they’ll suffocate.


One of the things I love most about this recipe is that the pasta cooks in the broth from the clams. No separate giant pot of salted water – just move the cooked clams to a bowl and cover them with foil to keep the heat in. So that wonderful mix of flavors from the wine and the butter and the tomatoes and the clams and the herbs gets thoroughly cooked right into the noodles.

And while I’m talking about the wine, let me just say this: Do not obsess about which wine to use. Any decent white will do. The KG used the remains of 3 different bottles: a South African Chenin Blanc, a French Sauvignon Blanc, and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This probably means the KG and her hubby are not finishing enough wine, but the mix had no deleterious effect on the dish. What did come through – in spite of the onion, the garlic, the tomato, and the herbs – were the overall nuances of the wines. Lightly grassy and zesty fruit. And while they weren’t a strong factor, the flavors did make their way into the pasta, and the nose knew.

Kitchen Goddess do-ahead note: If you are one of those people who can plan 24 hours ahead of time, you can make the broth the day before serving, and refrigerate it, covered, until time to cook the clams. When you’re ready for the clams, bring the broth back to a boil before adding them. The raw clams should be added to broth that is actually boiling.



Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams


Adapted from Sara Foster in Bon Appétit, June 2008

Serves 4.

Ingredients
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 1½ cups)
2 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped in ½-inch dice, or about 1½ cups canned diced tomatoes
3 cups dry white wine (see note above)
1 cup (or more) water
3 pounds Manila clams or small littleneck clams, scrubbed
⅓ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano (If you don’t have oregano, add more parsley and basil)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
8 ounces linguine pasta

Directions
Mince the garlic and set aside. Put the clams to soak in a bowl of fresh water to cover, for about 20 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note: Remember just over a month ago, when I told you about the garlic secret I had learned? Hmmm. Fine. Here it is again: Garlic’s considerable health benefits are only released when it is sliced or mashed, and it takes about 10 minutes for the relevant enzyme to develop. So, keeping that in mind, for at least the time being, and until we get used to chopping the garlic in advance, the KG will be listing garlic at the very beginning of the recipe, even though, logically, it should go farther down. I’ll get back to standard garlic listing soon, I promise. 

In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onions and stir occasionally for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir constantly for another minute, so as not to burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes and stir often for 2 minutes, or until they begin to get soft.

Stir in the white wine plus a cup of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the mixture at a simmer, then cover the pot and simmer 20 minutes. [This is where you stop if you’re making the broth ahead. Let it cool, then refrigerate it in a well-sealed container. On the day of the meal, when it’s time to cook the clams, first bring the broth to a boil.]

While the broth simmers, scrub the clams to remove any sand or grit on the shells. Discard any clams with broken shells.

Bring the broth to a boil, and add the clams. Cover the pot, and cook until clams open, 4-5 minutes (discard any clams that do not open). With a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a large bowl, and cover it with foil to keep the clams warm.


Add the herbs – basil, parsley, oregano (if using), and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper) to the broth  and bring it to a boil. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water if the broth seems thick. Add the linguine and cover again. Boil the pasta until it’s very al dente – i.e., almost tender but still firm to bite – while stirring the mixture often.




Once the pasta is almost ready, add back the cooked clams, along with any broth that has accumulated in the bowl. Cover the pot again, and bring the clams/pasta mixture to a simmer. Continue to cook 3-4 minutes, until the clams are heated through and the pasta is al dente.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the clams and pasta with broth immediately, in large shallow bowls. I like to add garlic bread and a green salad.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Car, Two Drivers, Three Days on the Road
What’s cooking? Strawberry Mess



Well, we made it. Once again, my hubby and I ventured out onto the interstate highways to cover 1,738 miles with only each other for company. And survived.

Just the packing process should be sufficient to cause a rift in our marriage. To wit:

Grumpy’s one small suitcase is packed and ready to go a full two days before our departure date, which turns out to be one day later than we originally planned, though everyone knows that first target was just for aiming at, not for actually hitting. He takes nothing more than what he’ll wear on the trip, plus a suit and its accoutrements for our nephew’s wedding the week after we arrive. That would be because his wardrobe for the summer consists almost entirely of golf shirts, slacks and shorts, of which he has a full supply in New Jersey.

My packing is more complicated, as the wardrobe overlap for spring in Texas and summer in NJ means I have shoes, blouses, and pants that require schlepping back and forth. So even with rigorously restricting myself, I need two suitcases and at least a dozen shirts on hangers.

In the non-clothing category, what he needs are a set of golf clubs and a couple of issues of Bridge World magazine. And his computer. I need the stack of recipes and articles I’ve collected over the past several months for managing my weekly haul from the farmers’ market, books/magazines I’ve bought but not read, and a small file cabinet of papers I’d be able to tell you about if I could remember what’s on them. I just know I need them. And my computer. And a cooler full of the food that won’t fare well in the freezer and might be nice to have once we reach our destination.

Reading all this, you might think I would start days – maybe weeks – in advance. You would be wrong. It turns out that almost any sort of deadline sends the squirrel in the KG’s brain running faster and faster on that little wheel, remembering the long list of projects she must complete before she can possibly leave, like...

■ bake and decorate 6 dozen cookies to thank the medical staff in my son’s residency program for their friendship and guidance as he graduates;
■ invite friends for dinner, but they can’t come until the night before the first target date;
■ interview a guy for a magazine article (I volunteered for this, can you imagine?);
■ clean out the fridge.

You may now be thinking that my darling husband has the patience of Job. You would be right. And yet, the only item we managed to leave behind was...[drum roll] ... his suit. Define irony.


The best part of all this activity is that, while working on the menu for those friends who came to dinner, I noticed two large pints of strawberries in the fridge. Inspiration struck, as I remembered a delightful summer dessert I read about recently in The New York Times. Of course, that also meant staging and shooting photos, which was another delaying activity, but such a reward at the end. The Kitchen Goddess will have her way.



In the throes of the strawberry season – and we are there, folks – any cook worth his/her salt should be shot for not doing something with them, given how vastly superior the fresh fruit is over what shows up in stores over the rest of the year. Here’s what you can do: make an Eton Mess.

Eton mess is a traditional English dessert, a mixture of strawberries, broken meringue, and whipped heavy cream. According to Wikipedia, the first mention of it in print was in 1893. Legend has it that the folks at Eton College started by serving it at the annual cricket match against Harrow School.

The early versions were made with either strawberries or bananas mixed with ice cream or cream. Some genius added the meringue later. And while you can obviously make it with any type of summer fruit – or a combination, as you’ll find below, strawberries are the most traditional. The Kitchen Goddess used these red raspberry apriums, one of the new fruits to emerge from crossing an apricot and a plum, because she fell in love with them in her grocery store.




Kitchen Goddess note about Eton Mess: Do not stand on ceremony – it’s a small and wobbly perch, and will limit you from many wonderful experiences, especially in the world of food.

The essential elements of an Eton Mess are:
1. Pieces of broken meringue;
2. Fruit sauce;
3. Fruit cut up and sweetened;
4. Heavy cream.

The original version used shards of leftover meringue from previous nights’ dessert; you can buy pre-made meringues from any bake shop, or make your own, as the Kitchen Goddess did. But of course. Be aware that if you make your own, they work best when made the day before serving so they can dry out over night.

For the fruit sauce, the classic took more strawberries and mashed and macerated them in ginger liqueur. David Tanis in The NY Times cooked diced rhubarb with cinnamon and clove. The KG used red raspberry apriums, but other berries would work well, as would other fruits that go well with whipped cream. So think flexibly.


Kitchen Goddess’s Strawberry Mess


Inspired by David Tanis in The New York Times.

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients

FOR THE MERINGUES:
4 egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Or... 6-8 store-bought meringue shells

FOR THE MESS:
½ pound red raspberry apricots (or other summer fruit), seeded and cut in ½-inch dice
¼ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the strawberries and 1 tablespoon for the cream
2 pints strawberries, hulled then halved or quartered
10-12 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon rose water, optional (but well worth looking for it – try Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or middle eastern groceries) (or try 1 tablespoon ginger liqueur)
3 tablespoons chopped pistachios, for garnish


Directions

FOR THE MERINGUES:

Kitchen Goddess note: If you are making your meringues, don’t forget to start the day before you’ll serve the dessert.


Preheat the oven to 200º. Line a large (half sheet) rimmed pan with baker’s parchment.

In a large mixing bowl (glass, metal, or ceramic), whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar at medium speed until they get foamy. Begin gradually adding the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time as you increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until soft peaks form. When all the sugar has been added, increase the mixer speed to high and continue beating until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks when you lift the beater out.

Spoon eight large blobs (about 3 inches across) of the whites, evenly spaced, onto the parchment-lined pan. Using a knife or metal spatula, flatten the meringues a bit to help them cook evenly. Bake them for an hour in a 200º oven, then rotate the pan and reduce the heat to 150º or as low as you can (some ovens have a lower limit of 170º). Continue baking for another 1½ hours, until they are dry and crisp. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in it with the door closed for as long as possible (overnight, if you can). Store the cooled meringues in an airtight container.

FOR THE SAUCE:


Put the fruit for the sauce into a non-reactive pan with the ¼ cup of sugar, over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved. When the sugar is dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until the fruit reaches a boil. Reduce the heat and let the fruit simmer 10 minutes. You want it to be syrupy but not mushy. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

FOR THE FRUIT:



Put the cut fruit into a medium bowl. Stack the mint leaves and slice thinly. (This is called a chiffonade.) Toss the chiffonade with the tablespoon of sugar and add to the cut fruit. Let it sit, covered, at least 10 minutes.

FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM:


Chill the cream, the bowl, and the whisk well before beginning. Stir 1 tablespoon sugar and the teaspoon of rose water into the cream, and whip on medium-high speed until gentle peaks form. The whipped cream should still be soft and pillowy. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

TO ASSEMBLE:


Into a large bowl, break or cut the meringues into 1-inch pieces. Combine the cut fruit and the fruit sauce and pour over the meringue pieces. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the mix and combine all elements.

Spoon the mess into individual serving dishes and sprinkle chopped pistachios over the top. Garnish with a mint leaf, if you want.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Bright Ideas
What’s cooking? Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil and Mint



As much as I honor the brave men and women who’ve given their lives for our country, Memorial Day inevitably reminds me of the end of the school year. At least, that’s when it ended when I was in school. We had no spring break, so no need to extend the year to recoup those days.

By the time I got through college, I figured I was done with school. (I wasn’t, but I thought I was.) Then I started work. On Wall Street. In research. I knew nothing, about corporate America or the securities business. Which worried me. Then I realized that, in research, what you do is learn. And in the process of learning about the stock market and the economy and financial instruments, I also learned how much I enjoy learning.

This awareness would come as a surprise to most of my college professors. But I was young when they knew me, and my frontal cortex – that place where judgment and higher level thinking take place – was still in the framing stage.

I still enjoy learning, and in that regard, I’ve recently become addicted to podcasts, downloadable audio files that you can play on your phone or tablet or computer. They don’t provide in-depth knowledge on any topic, but I’m not looking for any advanced degrees, so the “interesting tidbits” approach works fine for me. I subscribe to the ones I like best, so the updates come to me wirelessly and automatically, and I listen to them on my car stereo system through a Bluetooth connection with my phone. Twenty-first century magic. How cool is that?

Here’s my list:

This American Life – Journalistic non-fiction stories, ranging from thought-provoking to humorous
Freakonomics Radio – Discussion of socioeconomic issues for a general audience
Serious Eats – Conversations on food and life with food world professionals
The Sporkful – Passionate discussions about ridiculous food minutiae
Radiolab – Broad-based documentaries weaving stories and science and philosophy
Science Friday – News and stories about science
TED Radio Hour – New ways to think, based on talks from the world-renowned TED stage
The Splendid Table – James Beard Award- winning program on culinary culture and lifestyle
From Scratch – Interviews about the entrepreneurial life with pioneers in business and the arts
Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me! – Humorous panel game show based on current events

So, foodwise, what have I learned? Now, if your eyes are glazing over and you’re wondering if I’m ever going to get to a recipe, the answer is yes. So you can skip down to it now, or maybe you’d like to learn something, too, today...

1. Would you even guess that canned tomatoes are better for us than fresh, locally harvested heirloom varieties? (Amazing, yes? The Kitchen Goddess is having a bit of trouble with this one. She believes the science, but still plans to marinate herself in fresh NJ tomatoes this summer.) Lycopene, the heart-healthy, cancer-fighting nutrient that gives tomatoes (and watermelon and bell peppers) their red color – needs to be heated for best absorption by our bodies. With that in mind, investigative journalist/health writer Jo Robinson says the best product in the grocery store – for lycopene – is tomato paste.

2. Also from Robinson, some vegetables lose their nutrients faster than others. She calls them the “Eat Me First” foods – on the assumption that you shop only once a week and purchase your supply of veggies in one shopping trip. (Ha! The KG has been trying – without success – to do that for ... a lot of years.) So here they are: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, kale, leeks, lettuce, and spinach. For the most nutrients, you want to eat those foods in the first two days after purchase. For broccoli and kale, in particular, less cooking is best. Robinson says the optimum way to cook vegetables for nutrition is microwave steaming, as short a time as possible. Cooked carrots on the other hand, give you twice as much beta-carotene as raw ones.


[Here’s a tiny Kitchen Goddess recommendation: When you buy broccoli, cook only the flowering head. Use a peeler to remove the tough outer skin from the thick stems (which are almost sweet), and cut them into batons to use for dipping into your favorite crudité dressing. Like this...]





















3. Acidic foods – wine/beer, vinegar, and lemon juice, in particular – are a great way to balance the richness or saltiness of a dish. So if you have a soup or sauce that’s too rich, it’s not a surprise that adding a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of vinegar or wine will help. But what if a soup is too salty? Same advice: add some lemon or vinegar. Rebalancing the tastes will enhance all the flavors in the dish.

4. You like scrambled eggs for breakfast? You’ll have the lightest, fluffiest eggs if you add salt to the eggs, then let them sit 15 minutes before cooking them. The KG scoffed at this one until she tried it. Yessirree. Try it yourself.

















5. If you’re into making pasta, try making it with egg yolks only – no whites – for a more tender pasta. That’s a recommendation of pasta wizard Missy Roberts, the chef/owner of Lilia in Brooklyn. But even if you’re cooking the dried stuff, she says:
(a) Salt the water. About 2 teaspoons of salt per quart of water (it should taste like the ocean) is the most important factor in cooking the pasta. No oil in the water. If you’re concerned about the pasta sticking together, just stir it frequently.
(b) Be sure to add some of the pasta water to the sauce; pasta water contains starch that helps bind the sauce to the pasta.
(c) Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce – i.e., give the pasta dough an opportunity to absorb the sauce in its final minutes of cooking.
(d) Finally, in serving pasta, add only as much sauce to the bowl as can be handled by the pasta – it should never be swimming in sauce.

* * *

Sooooo.... speaking of pasta. Here’s a perfect dinner for one of those nights when you really aren’t up for much effort. Which describes – even for the Kitchen Goddess – a lot of nights.

I found this recipe last summer in the height of corn season, but I didn’t get around to it until just recently. I’d seen corn on the cob in my grocery store, but it was surely not from any place local. So you want to keep this dish in mind when the fresh stuff actually makes an appearance in July. But for now – when you really want to feel like summer – most of this corn is going to get pulverized, so who really cares if you use fresh or frozen?

Orecchiette on left, farfalle on right.
You’ll be amazed to find no milk or cream in the dish, but the heart of the sauce is nothing more than corn and scallions cooked to complete tenderness, then buzzed smooth in a blender. Layer on the toasty flavors of brown butter and caramelized corn, then tang it up with basil and mint and lemon. Toss in some salty,umami-filled Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you will not be able to stop eating it. The New York Times’s Melissa Clark, who originated the recipe, uses orecchiette (the little ear-shaped pasta), but the Kitchen Goddess prefers farfalle (bow-tie pasta). Use whatever you like, but choose a shape that’s got plenty of surface to hang onto that sauce.

And if you needed an added incentive, I should tell you that it cooks in 30 minutes. That doesn’t count the time it takes you to get your s*** together – assembling the ingredients and that little bit of chopping. But not a lot of time, really.


Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil and Mint

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times.

Serves 4.

Ingredients
I augmented my scallion greens with fresh chives.
Kosher salt
12 ounces dry pasta (orecchiette or farfalle or your choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (separate the white parts from the green)
2 cups corn kernels (frozen or from two large ears)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
⅓ cup combination basil and mint, torn or in a chiffonade*, plus extra for garnish
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
Juice and zest of one lemon

*[Kitchen Goddess note: Chiffonade is a slicing technique for fresh herbs: stack the leaves 8-10 at a time, then roll the stack up like a cigar, and slice them thinly. It produces a lovely, fluffy pile of thin ribbons. If you need photos, go here.]










Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and stir in salt (2 teaspoons per quart of water). Add the pasta and cook until it is 1-2 minutes away from being al dente. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water, and drain the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet and add the scallion whites with a pinch of salt. Saute the scallions for 3-4 minutes, stirring, until soft, then add ½ cup of the pasta water and all but ¼ cup of the corn. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook 5 minutes, until the corn is tender.

Transfer the mixture to a blender, along with another ½ cup of pasta water and purée 1-2 minutes on high, until the mixture is smooth. If it seems too thick to pour easily, add more pasta water. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and blend briefly to combine.



In the same skillet you used to simmer the corn, melt the butter over medium heat and add the reserved ¼ cup of corn. Cook, stirring, until the corn is tender, which will take about 2 minutes. You want the butter and the corn both to brown, but be aware that the corn will pop some as it caramelizes, so use a long wooden spoon to stir the corn, and stand back from the skillet.

When the corn and butter have browned slightly, reduce the heat and add in the puréed corn sauce. Stir to combine and cook on low heat until the mixture is evenly heated.

Add in the pasta and raise the heat to medium. Add more pasta water if the mixture seems too thick, and cook another minute. Add the scallion greens (about ¼ cup – and you can augment with fresh chives if your scallion greens aren’t up to par), the Parmesan, the basil/mint, the Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes), and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Stir to combine well and sprinkle over the lemon juice. Stir again – lightly – and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately, garnishing with extra herbs, scallions, and the lemon zest. If you have a good olive oil handy, you can drizzle a little over the top.