Sunday, September 16, 2018

Summer Reading: Words for Nerds


What’s cooking? Pan-Roasted Summer Squash with Tomatoes and Ricotta




The Season of Summer Reading is coming to an end, and I’m still struggling to get through the list I assigned myself when we left for New Jersey early this summer.

I’ve always been a reader. From the early days of Nancy Drew and the Little House series to
my current, battling obsessions with memoir, non-fiction, and The New Yorker magazine, I can disappear into those pages for hours at a time. Coming up for air brings the same disoriented sensation as if emerging from a deep dive into a swimming pool.

And yet, here I am with a box of books in which I’ve made hardly a dent. Ah, well.

The dent I did make is mostly in two categories: wordsmithing and (surprise, surprise) food-related subjects. So in the spirit of sharing...

If you love language and the nuances thereof, I found two fun books. Ok, maybe “fun” is overstating it, but I had fun reading them.


Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper, tells the story of how dictionaries get put together, and the people who do it. Perfectly described by Publishers Weekly as “A witty, sly, occasionally profane behind-the-scenes tour.” I enjoyed learning about the methodology and the quirky personalities that come into play; mostly, I marveled at the writing, which is eloquent without sounding stiff or pretentious. Ms. Stamper is herself a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster, so it’s not a surprise that words like “defenestrate” (to throw something or someone out of a window) flow naturally through her writing. But I grinned to see her use “highfalutin,” (pretentious or fancy), one of my Louisiana grandmother’s favorite words. Stamper also introduced me to “cromulent,” which means acceptable or fine and was coined by Lisa on The Simpsons.



Less than 30 pages into Between You & Me:
 Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, I found the author taking a trip to the offices of Merriam-Webster where Ms. Stamper works. I blinked in disbelief, feeling as if I’d come across books written by sisters with different takes on the same family life. Norris is a copy editor at my all-time favorite magazine, The New Yorker, so I was naturally drawn to a story of the inner life thereof. Another writer whose facility with the language has me in awe, Ms. Norris has a wicked and irreverent sense of humor, attested to in blurbs by a handful of New Yorker writers. Am I jealous? Well, yes. Amid the fun – like a chapter on the history of profanity in print and a romp called “Ballad of a Pencil Junkie” – are a few I recommend that you gloss over, like her digression on nominative cases of pronouns (zzzzz ...see what I mean?). But these are small issues within a fun book on language.

Taking a break from the hilarity of grammar and spelling, I’ve been dipping into a much more widely appealing collection of short essays – more like oral histories – from characters on the New York food scene. In Food and the City, compiled/written by Ina Yalof, we hear moving stories from chefs, line cooks, street vendors, bakers, butchers, and a film crew caterer, on how they got where they are and how they feel about what they do. The stories are mostly very short – 3-5 pages – and I have the most fun just jumping around the book. Great for reading before bedtime, as there’s never a sense of “OMG, what’ll happen next?!” But a unique and fascinating broad brush across the food landscape of New York.






Finally, in a tribute to the late Anthony Bourdain, I picked up Kitchen Confidential, the tell-all romp that started his career as a chef/entertainer. And a romp it truly is. Not a literary masterpiece, but who cares? It’s a fun and shocking window into the culinary world, and I’m enjoying it.












* * *

The Kitchen Goddess hasn’t stopped cooking, but much of it has been about revisiting summer favorites. One downside of being always on the lookout for what’s new is that what’s old-but-wonderful gets lost in the wash. So I’ll apologize for not bringing more new dishes your way, dear readers, and vow to be more productive as we move into the fall.

What have I been serving? Here’s a random sample:

Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams




Golden Beet Soup




Eton (Strawberry) Mess



Roasted Tomato-Bacon-Goat-Cheese Galette





My prince and I have also spent a ridiculous number of nights in the local restaurant scene this summer. The accidental theme to our activities this year was about getting together with friends we haven’t seen in a great while. Which usually entails long dinners where someone professional does the cooking. Another consequence is that I have not lost any of the weight I’d planned to lose. Sad.

What to do? The Kitchen Goddess weighed in – literally – and decided we should have some veggie-centric meals while the veggies are still fresh. For this post, that would mean tomatoes and a sampling of the rainbow array of summer squash. Also a new technique: pan roasting. You will be amazed at the sweetness that emerges from extended cooking of veggies at high heat.

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that this dish bears a remarkable similarity to one of the carrot dishes in my last post. Apparently, this business of practically burning one’s veggies in a mix of spices and other flavorings and serving them atop ricotta is another new thing in the food world. Once again, the Kitchen Goddess has your back.



Pan-Roasted Summer Squash with Tomatoes and Ricotta

Adapted from Molly Baz in Bon Appétit, June 2018

Kitchen Goddess note on ricotta: Fresh ricotta is so amazing in this dish. If you can’t find a store where the ricotta is truly fresh (2-3 days old), you either (1) make some yourself – the recipe is here, or (2) buy the freshest you can find and stir a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into it. Cream is a major ingredient in ricotta, and a little fresh cream will improve the texture and flavor of a standard grocery store ricotta.

This recipe is not just good for you – it’s also very good, period. And easy. The tomatoes and zucchini are a classic flavor combo; add the crunch of the hazelnuts or pignoli and the light tartness of the ricotta – which pairs well with the sweetness of the roasted veggies – and you have a low-cal winner. That touch of richness from the ricotta helps it work as a complete meal.

Makes 4 servings.

I used a mix of pattypan, zephyr, and zucchini squash.
Ingredients 
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus some for drizzling the finished dish
1½ pounds medium-sized summer squash
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus some for flavoring/finishing the dsh
¼ cup toasted pignoli (pine nuts), or hazelnuts
Freshly ground black pepper
zest and juice of ½ lemon
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (if not overly fresh, mix in 2 tablespoons cream)
Flaky sea salt
Toasted country-style bread (for serving)

For the dressing:
1 handful of mint sprigs, divided
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Directions
Make the dressing: Take 3 sprigs of mint in one hand and gently smack them with the other hand. (This is a bartender’s trick to warm the mint slightly and release the oils that give it that quintessential aroma.) Mix the smacked mint in a large bowl with the garlic, vinegar, sugar, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Set the dressing aside.

Kitchen Goddess note on the dressing: The first time I made this dish, I discovered too late that the mint I had was long dead. Ex the mint, the ingredients were strangely reminiscent of Wish-Bone Italian Salad Dressing, so I bagged this part of the recipe and used my friend Wish-Bone instead. The second time I made it, I had good, fresh mint, and made the dressing as originally planned. I can’t say that I noticed a huge difference, though you may be a bigger food snob than the KG. But the fresh mint is a nice touch in both the dressing and the garnish. Just saying...



Preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently toss the tomatoes in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Pour them onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with baker’s parchment, add the thyme, and roast 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes have begun to split and release juice.



While the tomatoes are roasting, cut the squash in half lengthwise, and sprinkle the cut sides with the 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt. (This process will get the squash to give up some of its water, which will intensify the squash flavor.) Set the squash in a colander to drain over a bowl for 15-30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut the squash into pieces about 2 inches long.



While the tomatoes roast and the squash drains, toast the pignoli nuts (or hazelnuts) in a small skillet over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes. If you use hazelnuts, chop them into large pieces; no need to chop pignolis.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet – preferably cast iron – at medium-high until it shimmers. Arrange the squash cut side down in a single layer in the skillet, and cook for about 5 minutes, moving the pieces around (don’t turn them over!) in the pan to ensure even browning, until golden brown on the cut side. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet (if you don’t have a lid, use a baking sheet), and continue to cook until very tender, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the squash to a plate, cut side up, and let it cool slightly.



Sprinkle the squash with the reserved dressing (or Wish-Bone); season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Discard the mint sprigs.

While the squash is soaking up the dressing, mix the ricotta with the lemon zest and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small bowl; season to taste with kosher salt.

Spread the ricotta in the bottom of an oven-safe dish. Top with the squash pieces and their juices. If you want, run the dish in the oven for another 5-6 minutes, to warm the ricotta. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the lemon juice over the top. Scatter the pignoli (or hazelnuts) and leaves from the remaining mint sprigs over the squash. Drizzle on a little extra olive oil and sprinkle with finishing salt.

Serve with toast.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Trending Now ... Carrots!

What’s cooking? Cumin- and Honey-Roasted Carrots, Burnt Carrots with Brie, and Carrot-Onion-Ricotta Tart





Live longer! Stay healthier!! Look younger!!! It’s all about the carrots, folks.

When you read enough about the benefits of eating carrots, at some point you start to wonder what kind of Kool-Aid these people are drinking. Turns out, it’s not Kool-Aid. Carrots are truly one of the most beneficial foods you can eat.

But that’s not why we’re featuring carrots in today’s blog post. As you know, the Kitchen Goddess is all about keeping her readers at the forefront of food trends. Well, my recent sitings of carrots in food journals, culinary newsletters, and restaurant menus tell me that carrots are riding a wave that is just now building. You heard it here.

And just to remind you of what a swell friend I am, today’s post contains THREE fabulous dishes starring carrots. So you could say this is...[drum roll] a 24-carrot post.

I’ve cooked with carrots for years, mostly diced as part of the flavor base for literally hundreds of soups. Known as mirepoix – pronounced meer-PWAH – it consists of onions, carrots, and celery, in a ratio of 2:1:1. I’ve also sliced them long for crudite platters and short into coins for salads. I’ve cut them in jewel shapes and sautéed them for Thanksgiving, and puréed cooked carrots for twice-baked potatoes. But for all those dishes, I’ve used the kind that come in 1- or 2-pound bags at the grocery store.

Then last summer, I started buying carrots at the farmers’ market. The small carrots in bunches with huge handfuls of greenery. I don’t know why I hadn’t paid them much attention before – they always looked pretty with their feathery green crowns and the delicate orange taproots – but I hadn’t really discovered a way to use them in that small form. They’re more expensive than the bagged kind, so it’s a shame to buy them if, in the cooking process, they’re just going to end up looking like their overgrown brothers.


But I discovered this burrata salad recipe, and couldn’t resist trying it. I served it to friends visiting from Texas, and the dish not only looked gorgeous, it tasted the same way. Also, the accompanying pesto made use of the fronds. Just the sort of miracle that gets the Kitchen Goddess jazzed up. For that post, click here.

photo by Stephen Ausmus
So this year, with those carrot sitings tickling my food antennae, I’ve become obsessed with other ways to serve these orange beauties. And their purple cousins. In fact, carrots apparently come in lots of colors, though I’ve only seen orange and purple.

A couple of other nerdy carrot facts:

1. Long after purple, red, yellow, and white carrots became popular, the orange carrot was developed by the Dutch (my people!).

2. Orange carrots taste the sweetest, but the darker colors have more antioxidants.

3. A few carrot sticks a day can help strengthen and clean children’s teeth and may also help encourage lower-jaw development.

4. The vitamin A in carrots helps prevent vision loss; the vitamin C helps boost the immune system; and beta-carotene and carotinoids are linked to lower risk of lung cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia. OMG – hand me a carrot, please.

5. Carrots store well in water! KG did not know this, but she will continue to store hers in resealable plastic bags.

Kitchen Goddess note on buying and storing carrots: Look for carrot roots that are firm, smooth, relatively straight, with bright color. Color is directly related to the amount of beta-carotene in the carrot, so more color equals more nutrition. Avoid carrots that are limp or have big cracks or forks in the root. If the tops have been removed, look at the stem end and go for the ones lightest in color (darker stem end is a sign of age). If the green tops are attached, they should be brightly colored, feathery, and not wilted. Since the sugars are concentrated in the carrots’ core, you’ll find that those with larger diameters will be sweeter.

Store carrots in the fridge for up to a month. If you buy carrots with attached green tops, cut the tops off before storing, as the tops will draw moisture from the roots. Best is to cut the greens off 1-2 inches above the crown, wrap the greens and carrots separately in paper towels (dampen the paper for the greens) and keep in separate resealable plastic bags. Tops will last a week this way. Store carrots with other veggies, as the ethylene gas from fruits will speed the aging process.

Carrots can also be peeled, cut up, blanched, and kept in the freezer for a year.

Three Ways to Love Your Carrots



1.  Cumin- and Honey-Roasted Carrots

The KG found this first dish posted at a delightful blog called The Bojon Gourmet, with photos that will knock your socks off. At least, they knocked mine off, and so, dazed and barefoot, I wandered into the kitchen and started cooking.


This dish was a celebration of all I had found at the farmers’ market that day: the carrots, the fresh herbs, and the fresh ricotta (its first appearance at the market, plus it saved me from making my own – which if you want, you can do HERE).

Also, the Kitchen Goddess is a sucker for cumin and honey, so... The flavors in this dish are so clean that I recommend searching out the freshest ingredients – you won’t be sorry. And with the extra carrot tops – you won’t use it all in the gremolata – you can make carrot top pesto, from this LINK.

Ms. Taylor-Tobin recommends preparing the gremolata (a chopped herb condiment, used as a garnish here) right before you serve the dish, as she claims the mint will blacken. The KG made hers while the carrots were in their initial roast and didn’t have that problem with the mint. But I squeezed a bit of the lemon juice on them, so that may be a factor. Also, I knew that if I waited one minute longer to serve Grumpy, he’d have a hissy fit.

Important Kitchen Goddess note: The lemon zest goes in the gremolata, and the juice goes on the finished dish. Be sure to zest your lemon half before juicing it, or you’ll be really sorry. Zesting a juiced lemon is an activity fraught with slips and the occasional bit of human flesh. And cursing.


Cumin- and Honey-Roasted Carrots with Ricotta and Gremolata

Adapted from Alanna Taylor-Tobin at The Bojon Gourmet (bojongourmet.com)*
*Check out the website for links to Ms. Taylor-Tobin’s new cookbook on gluten-free baking.

Serves 4-6 as a first course, 2-3 as a main course

Ingredients
For the carrots:
1 pound carrots (maximum 6 inches long for best results; cut larger ones in half lengthwise)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or substitute ¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
12 ounces good quality, whole milk ricotta
½ lemon
finishing salt, such as Maldon flake (If you don’t have finishing salt, use kosher salt.)
freshly ground black pepper

For the gremolata:
¼ cup mint leaves (no stems), chopped
¼ cup carrot greens (thin stems only), chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
zest of half a lemon, finely grated

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375º. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with baker’s parchment.

Trim and scrub the carrots (no peeling, please!), reserving the greens. If any of your carrots are fat, slice them in half lengthwise; if any are longer than about 6 inches, cut them in half crosswise.

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, Aleppo (or chile flakes), and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and honey, then sprinkle the spice mix on them and toss again. Spread the carrots on the prepared baking sheet (use a spatula to make sure you capture all the spices from the bowl) and roast in the center of the oven for 20-30 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice to get them evenly roasted. (Don’t turn off the oven.) The carrots are done when they’re golden and lightly shriveled. If you’re unsure, test with a fork for tenderness.

While the carrots are baking, make the gremolata. Toss together the herbs in a small bowl along with the finely grated garlic and the finely grated zest. Squeeze a few drops of the lemon juice to keep the colors fresh.


Spread the ricotta in the bottom of a medium-sized casserole dish. Top with the roasted carrots and any of the fond that’s stuck to the baking parchment. Bake another 8-10 minutes, until the ricotta is warmed through.

When the ricotta and carrots are done, squeeze the lemon half over the dish and sprinkle the gremolata (you may not need all of it) on top. Season with a couple of pinches of finishing salt and a few fresh grinds of black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

2. Burnt Carrots with Brie
 

The Kitchen Goddess experimented a couple of years ago with a trend that chefs all over the world were embracing: burning vegetables in order to achieve the ultimate in rustic, earthy flavors. And I know that technique is still in vogue, because I came across this dish in another of my regular readings, an email newsletter called Tasting Table. The recipe is the brainchild of Chef Tim Love, a Fort Worth-area restaurateur best known for urban western cuisine. And my prince, whose list of faves in the veggie world is rather limited, pronounced it “Very good.”

Kitchen Goddess note: Astute readers may have noticed by now that the KG likes to leave a couple of inches of the tops on her carrots. This is a pure indulgence on her part, as she thinks they look more “natural” that way, and make a nice presentation. If you are not similarly obsessed, do what you want with those tops.

On the other hand, the use of red carrots is less superficial. The red carrots have a little less sugar in them, so the use of both red and orange carrots in this dish and the next gives both dishes a little more nuance in flavor. When pressed, the KG will confess that it’s also a presentation thing...

The Kitchen Goddess served hers with sauteed scallops and a salad.

Burnt Carrots with Brie


Adapted from Chef Tim Love and Tasting Table (tastingtable.com)

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Ingredients
15-20 small-to-medium sized carrots, greens cut 2-3 inches from the root
2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces triple-cream Brie (rind mostly removed), cut in ½-inch dice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Preheat your broiler to 500º.

Lay the carrots out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Using a basting brush, cover the carrots with a thin layer of oil. Sprinkle on the Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), as well as the salt and pepper.


Cook at 500º for 10-12 minutes, until the exposed side of the carrots is beginning to char. (Because you’re not turning the carrots, the underside won’t char, so they won’t taste burnt.)

While the carrots are cooking, mix the honey and lemon juice well in a large bowl, and toss the Brie with it. When the carrots have finished cooking, immediately add them to the bowl, and let them sit for 1½-2 minutes – to let the Brie melt – then toss the whole mixture well. Serve immediately.

3. Carrot-Onion-Ricotta Tart



The Kitchen Goddess has never been what you’d call adept at pie dough. Cookies, sure – even the kind that need rolling out. But pie dough, not so much. Then I spent a day in a dessert class at the Culinary Institute in San Antonio, where I learned about rustic tarts, which don’t require a beautiful, crimped crust and whose beauty is in the “natural” look, which is to say a bit haphazard, maybe even sloppy. And the dough can be made in a food processor, so I didn’t have to get my hands dirty. Eureka! It was a seminal moment in my evolution as a cook. So much so that now I look for every opportunity to make more rustic tarts. And here’s another one.

The original recipe called for puff pastry. Not a chance, said I. Then I realized the ingredients lent themselves perfectly to another rustic tart, and off I went. Now, you can make this with puff pastry – even the frozen, store-bought stuff. But I didn’t have that. If you want the puff pastry version, know that the original called for baking the crust 10-15 minutes before piling in the filling and baking another 30-35 minutes. My method takes less time.


Carrot-Onion-Ricotta Tart

Inspired by Alison Roman in Bon Appétit, April 2015


Ingredients
For the pie dough:
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons shortening (Crisco)
3 tablespoons ice water, more as needed
1 tablespoon vodka

For the tart:
12 ounces ricotta (Get the freshest you can buy, or make your own)
¼ cup heavy cream
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, thinly sliced
9-10 ounces medium-sized carrots, scrubbed and sliced into coins ⅛-inch thick
2-3 tablespoons milk (whole, 2%, or skim)

For the garnish:
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped carrot tops
zest of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions
For the pie dough:
Start by dicing the shortening and the butter into teaspoon sized bits, and put it into the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Once the fats are chilled, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and pulse 4-5 times to blend. Add the cold butter and shortening to the flour and pulse 12-15 times, or enough to get the butter down to the size of small peas. Drizzle the water and vodka over the mixture and pulse just until the mixture holds together when you squeeze a handful of it. (This should be plenty of water; if not, add water no more than a teaspoon at a time.) Gather and press the dough into a disk, wrap well in cellophane wrap, and chill at least 20 minutes.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and dust it with flour. Roll the dough on it to a thickness of ⅛ inch and trim the dough (if necessary) to about a 10-inch round. Move the parchment (with the circle of dough) to a baking sheet and refrigerate it again for 10-15 minutes.

While the rolled dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350º. In a small bowl, whisk the ricotta with the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the tart: 
To a large skillet over medium/medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes – long enough that it begins to brown. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


Spoon the ricotta mix into the center of the dough, leaving free a 2-inch border around the edge of the dough. Spoon the carrots and onion on top of the ricotta.

Carefully fold the edges of the dough toward the center, pinching and folding to create a pleated border. Brush the border with the milk to encourage the crust to brown. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Cool the tart in the pan set on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before slicing.

For the garnish:
While the tart is baking, toss the herbs with the lemon juice, the zest, and the remaining oil in a small bowl. Just before serving, sprinkle the garnish mix over the tart.

You can bake this tart up to several hours ahead. Once it cools, store it tightly wrapped in cellophane at room temperature. Add the herb garnish right before serving.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy some carrots!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Love with the Perfect Stranger

What’s cooking? Rhubarb Compote




Among the strange-looking products that pop up here and there in a farmers’ market, rhubarb is more likely than most to cause people scratch their heads and say, “But what do you do with it?” Which is an interesting thing to say about a plant that’s been in use for some 3000 years.

As with many off-beat foods, rhubarb was first used in China, as a medicinal plant. The roots were considered effective as a laxative. (Keep in mind that we’re going to cook with the stems.) In the 14th century, it was imported to Europe via the Silk Road and the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna. But in European soil, they had no luck getting roots with the medicinal effect, and as sugar became more available, rhubarb migrated into culinary uses. The earliest record of it in the Americas comes from botanist John Bartram, who grew both medicinal and culinary rhubarbs in Philadelphia in the 1730s.

I first came across rhubarb in my early married days, when a friend in Massachusetts cut some out of her backyard garden to go in a pie with her homegrown raspberries. Smitten as I was with the pie, it was many years before I found the rhubarb again – in my New Jersey farmers’ market. It starts showing up in early spring and is intermittently available throughout the summer.


Then on a reunion of college friends in California early last month, I was in charge of dinner. But of course. I needed something easy for dessert, and I’d settled on Eton Mess, that strawberry/meringue/ fruit sauce/whipped cream concoction I wrote about a year ago. The only challenge was finding a fruit – preferably red – with which to make the sauce. And there on a table at a farmstand near San Luis Obispo, I saw... rhubarb, which I knew would be just the thing. Rhubarb sauce could not be simpler to make: a little water, some sugar, and lemon juice will turn the stems into a yummy compote in less than 15 minutes. But the most fun was when, at dinner that night, one of the women said, “Wow – where did you find rhubarb sauce?” I smiled and tried to look angelic as I said, “I didn’t buy it. I made it.This afternoon.” The Kitchen Goddess strikes again.

So on my first trip back to the New Jersey market this summer, I was heading to the car with my bounty when I saw... a bunch of rhubarb. I already had more fruits and veggies than I knew what to cook with, but the rhubarb looked lonely there at the side of a table. I snapped it up.

I had no particular plan, but knew I had to make that sauce again. This time, with my full larder available, I tweaked it a bit, adding ginger liqueur, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt to cut the sweetness. Even more yummy than before.

Only days later, the women of my old New Jersey writing group decided to reunite for lunch this week. “I don’t have time to make anything,” I said. “But I can stop at a bakery on my way.”

“Don’t buy anything,” said one of the hostesses. “You always have something you’ve made. What’s in your fridge?”

“Hmmm,” said the Kitchen Goddess. “I do have this tasty rhubarb compote. And a couple of ripe New Jersey peaches. If we put it all on some good Greek yogurt, it’ll be great for dessert.” And so it was.



Kitchen Goddess note on buying and storing rhubarb: Rhubarb is a vegetable, so no surprise that in its plain, raw state, it’s very tart. But you through it into a pot with sugar,  that generally gets treated like a fruit. Because of its high water content, it cooks down quickly, so it’s often used in pies, ice cream/sorbets, and sweet sauces. Though the stalks look like smooth celery, the plants aren’t related; but you should look for the same qualities – firm, crisp stalks – to determine freshness. The cut ends of the stalks should not look withered. The fresher stalks will also have a bit of sheen. They range in color from green to deep red, and while the red ones are younger, thinner, more tender, and slightly sweeter, it doesn’t make much difference if you’re cooking them in a pot with sugar – which, by the way, is how most rhubarb is treated, because plain, raw rhubarb is very tart. The leaves, which are toxic, are often cut off before the stalks are sold. Do not eat any leaves that remain on your stalks.

According to the clever Cook’s Illustrated people, the best way to store fresh rhubarb (and apparently celery as well – who knew?) is to wrap the stalks tightly in aluminum foil, leaving the ends of the package open, thus allowing the ripening hormone, ethylene, to escape. Wrapped thusly – or so they say – stalks will keep almost two weeks. If you need to keep it longer, cut the stalks into pieces ½-1 inch long, and freeze them in an airtight container. They’ll keep that way for a year.

By the way, it’s often easy to find rhubarb – chopped and frozen – in the frozen foods area of your supermarket.


Rhubarb Compote

Adapted from Mary Cech in Bon Appétit, April 2006.

Yield: Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients
1½ pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
zest of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ fresh lemon)
2 tablespoons ginger liqueur, or a 1-inch piece of ginger, or use Cointreau

Directions
Combine the first six ingredients – all but the ginger or liqueur – in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mix constantly until the sugar is well dissolved. Once the mixture begins to bubble, reduce the heat to let the rhubarb simmer. Cover the saucepan and let the simmer continue for 8-10 minutes, then check the consistency of the compote. (Some people like it chunkier than others.) If you want the consistency to be more like applesauce, continue cooking for a couple more minutes.

Remove the compote from the heat and stir in the ginger liqueur. If you are using raw ginger instead, grate the ginger into a small bowl, then transfer the grated ginger to a fine seive and press down on the ginger to release the juice. OR... Use a garlic press to squeeze the grated ginger into the compote. Stir well.

Let the compote cool, then store it in the refrigerator.

What to do with it now that you have rhubarb compote:



– Stirred into plain yogurt, for breakfast or dessert;
– Over vanilla ice cream;
– On pancakes or waffles, in lieu of syrup;
– Wrapped in crepes;
– With ice cream or whipped cream, in a parfait;
– If it’s still chunky, in Rhubarb Shortcake (instead of the strawberry variety);
– As the fruit sauce in Eton Mess (click here for recipe).

Love that rhubarb!


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Home Alone

What’s cooking? Dave’s Baby Back Ribs and Cherry-Jalapeño Relish



My prince was at a college reunion a few weeks ago, so I spent 5 days luxuriating in the solitude – slothing around in jammies much of the day, working on the piles in my office, trying in vain to get my taxes completed, ... and an assortment of what my hubby calls “random strikes.”

But I wasn’t nearly as productive as I thought I’d be. That’s because I also seized the opportunity to indulge in the sorts of television shows that would elicit endless scorn were he here.

This time, even I would classify my entertainment as really bad TV: three Thin Man movies, several episodes of “Murder She Wrote,” and FIVE Perry Mason movies made back in the ’30s, before anyone thought of putting Raymond Burr into the role.

These starred a guy named Warren William, who wikipedia tells me was a big name on Broadway in the ‘20s, and a second-tier silent actor until sound came along and they discovered he had an amazingly resonant, velvety voice, at which point he became a star of the early talkies. And here he was as Perry Mason, my favorite champion of justice for all.

Genevieve Tobin as Della Street, Warren William as Perry Mason, Patricia Ellis as Margie Clune in The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935).

My love affair Perry probably goes back to the early days of the television series, which ran an astonishing nine years, beginning in 1957. And when I discovered the hardcover collection of Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories in my local public library, I tossed aside Nancy Drew and entered the world of grown-up mysteries. I absorbed every aspect of Perry Mason’s character; Raymond Burr’s surly, thoughtful demeanor as the lawyer was, to my pre-teen mind, perfect. (Apparently Mr. Gardner agreed with me: While watching Burr’s screen test, Gardner reportedly stood up, pointed at the screen and said, “That’s Perry Mason.”)

 Raymond Burr, William Hopper, Perry Mason, "The Case of the Restless Redhead

The Warren William character was totally different from the Perry I knew and loved. As played by William, Mason is suave, cheeky, very much a ladies man, and – drum roll, please... – an amateur gourmet cook. Hahahahaha... So I watched.

The “cooking” scenes were painfully bad. Early in the story, Perry celebrates winning a big case by taking over the kitchen at his favorite restaurant, where he sets out to make some crab dish with white wine and parmesan cheese. The head chef and other kitchen staff gather around to watch the great man cook, but then a woman shows up – an old girlfriend who says she needs to talk to him – so in the middle of cooking, he whips off his apron and dashes out to a table in the restaurant. And we never return to the kitchen. Ah, right – just the way you’d expect it to happen. The rest of it was fun in the way you’d enjoy hearing stories about an old boyfriend who’d been a scoundrel in his youth but now you know him as a responsible grown-up.

In the midst of all this bad TV, I was invited to a barbecue, featuring my friend Dave at the helm of his big green egg. Which, as you can see, is actually red. But Dave is a master at this piece of equipment – regardless of its color – producing sausages and ribs that have the Kitchen Goddess in awe. This particular performance featured only baby back ribs, but oh, man. So I have convinced him to share his m.o. with you lucky readers.

And because the KG can’t stand to be totally upstaged, she found a delightful relish starring cherries, which fortunately will be in season through August. It turned out to be a great accompaniment to Dave’s ribs, so the recipe is here, following Dave’s star turn.






Dave’s Ribs


Dave claims that his ribs are pretty simple. KG says he’s just being modest. But Dave is an engineer, and he has clearly experimented enough to get the process down to perfection.



Special Equipment

Aura Rib and Roast V-Rack, $19.95 at amazon.com.
■ Ceramic smoker like a Big Green Egg or a knock-off.

■ V-rack or rib rack, for positioning the ribs inside the smoker.














Akorn Kamado Smoking Stone, $39.78 at Home Depot.
■ Ceramic plate (also called a smoking stone) for keeping direct heat off the ribs.

■ Whole lump charcoal.

■ Wood chips – If you look around the web, you’ll see praise for a wide variety of wood chips used in smoking. The Kitchen Goddess found recommendations for oak, hickory, maple, mesquite, pecan, apple, alder, and cherry. Whew. Dave doesn’t think the type of wood makes much difference with ribs. He likes mesquite or hickory, but leans toward hickory because he finds that it works best for a range of meats. He says mesquite is a bit strong for poultry, so to keep life simple, he sticks to hickory for smoking everything.

■ Meat thermometer (or two, depending on whether you are an engineer).

Kitchen Goddess note on meat thermometers: Dave uses “a small cheap Taylor thermometer that has maintained accuracy and has survived a fair amount of abuse.” And like any good engineer, he keeps a spare as backup. The Kitchen Goddess likes to spend more for her equipment, on the theory that, well..., more is better. So she has a fancy-schmancy digital version: the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm ($59). It’s the favorite of America’s Test Kitchen folks, and you know how they torture a product before they commit. This gizmo is easy to operate, with clear and straightforward labeling of the various functions, but as far as I can tell, only available through the ThermoWorks company. And no, they did not give the KG a free one – or even a coupon for a few bucks off – though they certainly should now that I think about it... So no backup, but then I'm not an engineer.

Ingredients

■ 3 racks of loin back or baby back ribs will feed 10 people with 3-4 ribs each. According to Dave, if you followed his recipe and have ribs left over, you invited the wrong people.
■ Barbecue sauce: Unlike the Kitchen Goddess, Dave says most BBQ sauces should work – homemade or commercial. Use your favorite. Dave uses Head Country BBQ sauce from Ponca City, OK. The Kitchen Goddess prefers to make her own, which is her dad’s recipe, HERE.

Directions

Start by soaking your wood chips in water for 30 minutes.

Set up the smoker with the ceramic plate (for indirect heat) and the v-rack or rib rack (to ensure that the ribs are standing and not lying flat). Once the coals are hot, drain the chips and add them directly to the fire. Let the chips heat up for 10 minutes – to develop the smoke – before you add the food to the grill.

Low heat keeps the ribs moist. Shoot for 225º F.

At 225º, the 3 racks should take 6-7 hours to reach an internal temperature of 170º. [Kitchen Goddess note: Don’t mess around here – use that meat thermometer!]

Mop your ribs with BBQ sauce to start and then again every hour to two.  Dave says some purists like a dry rub; he has used one but finds the end product fine without.

Replenish the wood chips midway through smoking. (Again, soak the chips for 30 minutes before adding them to the fire.)

Some recipes suggest wrapping the meat in foil for the last hour or so, to retain moisture. Dave says the ribs should not dry out if you keep the heat low and monitor the meat temperature.

While the meat is slowly absorbing all that wonderful heat and smoke, make the Cherry-Jalapeño Relish.


Cherry-Jalapeño Relish

Adapted from Amy Scattergood and Donna Deane in the Los Angeles Times (June 25, 2008)

It’s high season for California cherries, which is why I wasn’t surprised when one of my foodie newsletters showed up with a link to an article about the fruit from the LA Times. I’m a big fan of cherries, so I followed the link. Wow – what a nice accompaniment it would be to Dave’s smoked ribs. It seemed a little mild, so I added a bit of jalapeño. Next time, I might also try chopping some cilantro with the cherries. If you try the cilantro and like it, let me know. The California authors of the original recipe say it’s a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, pork, sausages, lamb or beef.

Yield: 3 cups relish.

KG uses this tiny melon baller -- so cute -- to extract the cherry pits, but you
can also use... a cherry pitter!
Ingredients

1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus zest from ½ lemon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound cherries (large Bing cherries are easiest, but any sweet cherries will do), stemmed and pitted
2 teaspoons finely diced jalapeño pepper (seeds and ribs removed)
½ teaspoon minced tarragon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 mounded tablespoons of yellow bell pepper, in ¼-inch dice


Directions

1. Combine the lemon juice, zest, and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and add the red onion. Let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes. This pickling process will take the pungency out of the onion.


2. Pulse the cherries in a food processor until coarsely chopped, then place the chopped cherries in a medium bowl. Stir in the onion, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and tarragon. Add the salt, and 4-5 grinds of pepper.


3. Gently fold in the yellow pepper. Cover and let stand at least 15 minutes for the flavors to meld. Adjust salt/pepper to taste.


And a happy July 4th celebration to you all!




Friday, June 1, 2018

A Spring Celebration, Still Good in Summer

What’s cooking? Whitefish en Papillote with Tomatoes, Snap Peas, and Herb Butter


 


In the runup to my husband’s birthday, I often focus on the foods he likes. We’ve been married just long enough that we’ve given each other just about every variation on a present – from wildly extravagant, like the year I took him to Pebble Beach to play golf, to the thoughtful-but-truly-unexciting, like a new book by one of his favorite authors.

And he’s not nearly as thrilled as I am to look for a hot new restaurant for the celebration, so that part often comes down to something from the Kitchen Goddess.

Back in our just-married days, when we lived in Manhattan, there was a darling little Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. (Frankly, there’s a darling little Italian restaurant in almost every neighborhood of NYC. It’s a New York thing.) We went there often, which is what you can do when you have two salaries and no kids, and his favorite dish was Striped Bass al Cartoccio.

These days, when he thinks about that dish, he always pronounces it “al car-TOE-chee-o” using his best Italian accent and arms open wide in his best Italian opera singer imitation. But for some reason, I’ve never tried to duplicate the preparation.

Then not long ago, among the daily onslaught of food-related emails I get – remember when it was actually fun and exciting to get email? – I came across one for “fish packets.” Ah, said the Kitchen Goddess, this will be just the thing. And so it was.

The concept is amazingly simple: fish baked in a tightly closed envelope of parchment (or sometimes foil), often with herbs, lemon slices, or other seasonings. The package holds in the moisture, to steam the fish. The envelope is generally opened at the table, so guests can smell the aroma when it opens. It’s called en papillote in French, al cartoccio in Italian – but whatever you call it, it’s a technique well worth learning.

This particular preparation fairly sings “spring,” with the light flavors of herbs and tomatoes and sugar snap peas. The fish stays moist and light because it cooks quickly, so the veggies stay a tiny bit crisp; the smear of butter on top and underneath the fish makes sure those flavors go all the way through it. The parchment holds enough of the heat in that the dish is actually warm when you open it on your plate. Just the smells that come out of that little package will have you swooning.

Another amazon find
This is a dish that looks fancy, but is in fact incredibly easy. You can make the herb butter the day before, but if you do, be sure to let it sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, so that it will spread easily.

A little kitchen wisdom: butter is fine at room temperature (covered) for at least a couple of days, unless your kitchen is really warm. The KG often leaves hers out overnight in a dish like the one at the right, for easier spreading on toast in the morning.




Kitchen Goddess note about parchment paper: The hardest part about parchment paper is that it generally comes in a roll, and getting those sheets to flatten out is a challenge. But the KG has a solution or two for that little wrinkle: (1) crumple the sheets, then smooth them out (This is an amazingly effective method, as long as you’re not put off by serving slightly wrinkled packets); (2) follow the Kitchen Goddess’s example and buy pre-cut sheets that come already flat. KG buys hers at amazon.com, but your local baking supply shop may carry them.



Whitefish en Papillote with Tomatoes, Snap Peas, and Herb Butter

Adapted from Katherine Sacks on Epicurious (September 2017)

For the herbs, the Kitchen Goddess used thyme and dill and parsley, because that’s what was in the garden; cilantro and chives would also be good candidates.

To serve 4.

Ingredients
For the herb butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature (Let it sit out while you get your mise-en-place.)
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped tender herbs
1½  teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning the fish

For the fish:
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 2½ cups), quartered
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
four ½-inch thick skinless fillets of white fish, like flounder or tilapia (about 6 ounces each)
Paprika (smoked or sweet)
¼ cup shredded fresh basil leaves (See my post on 50 Ways to Love Your Basil for step-by-step on chiffonade technique)

Special Equipment: four sheets of parchment paper (about 12 inches by 16 inches each)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400°F.

For the herb butter:
In a small bowl, combine the butter, herbs, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Let it sit out while you prepare the veggies.


Assembling the packets:
Lay a parchment sheet flat on a work surface. Smear 1 tablespoon of the herb butter in the center of the sheet, in a streak about the length of the fish and an inch or so wide. Arrange one-quarter of the snap peas, tomatoes, and garlic evenly over the butter.


Place a fish fillet on top of the vegetables, then smear another tablespoon of the herb butter on top of the fish. Season the fish with ⅛ teaspoon of salt, a pinch of pepper, and a sprinkling of paprika.

The KG couldn't get 6-ounce fillets -- only very thin 2-ounce fillets -- so she used 3 in each packet. You have to be flexible.

Fold the long sides of the parchment together over the fish (like you would with a sandwich that you’re wrapping for a picnic lunch). Gather the ends of the paper, then fold and tuck them under the fish to form a packet. [KG Note: There are lots of ways – most of them more complicated – to fold parchment around the fish, but as long as the ends of the parchment are well tucked under the fish, the butter and moisture won’t escape and you’ll be fine.]


Carefully move the packet to a baking sheet, and repeat the assembly process for each of the other fillets.

Depending on the size of the fish, you may be able to fit all four on a single, large, rimmed baking sheet. If not, use a second baking sheet. Just make sure all four packets are resting solidly on the sheet in a single layer.

Bake at 400º until just cooked through, about 12-13 minutes. If you want to test, insert a skewer through the parchment and into the fish. If it slides through the fillet easily, your fish is done. Carefully unfold the packets (steam will escape), and sprinkle the tops of the fish with ribboned basil.

A final note: You can make the butter 2-3 days ahead, and refrigerate it; just be sure to let it come to room temperature before you try working with it. Fish packets can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead and chilled. Let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before cooking.