Monday, May 18, 2015

Salty Sweet is the New Black
What’s cooking? Bacon-Onion Jam

Today, I bring you a wordsmithing tidbit about snowclones. If you want to skip the hors d’oeuvre and move straight to the entrée, feel free. It’s down there just after the three ***s.

Several years ago, I was having lunch at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. I have a habit in restaurants – good or bad, I’m not sure, but shared by my hubby, so... – of checking out the people at nearby tables. I found my attention particularly drawn to a group of about 8 women. The atmosphere around that table fairly vibrated with cool sophistication, and I couldn’t figure  out why until I noticed that they were all dressed either solidly in black or in a combination of black, white, and gray.

In the lexicon of style, black is the color of strength, mystery, and sophistication. So when writers (or more likely, marketers) talk about something being “the new black,” they’re suggesting the ascendancy of that thing to the new power position. The new lead dog.

I have only recently learned that this use of cliché is called a snowclone – a 21st-century word that Wikipedia defines as “a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different variants.” Completely clear to me, now – how about you?

What they’re trying to say is that a snowclone is a fill-in-the-blank template like something you’d get from a game of MadLibs. Like “I have a [blank] and I’m not afraid to use it.” Or “Have [blank], will travel.” Or “The [Xs] called: they want their [Y] back.” Interestingly, both the original cliché and the altered version are considered snowclones. The name emerged from the cliché about Eskimos having so many words for snow.

Now, I don’t know the first use of the phrase, “[blank] is the new black.” It probably came from the cover of some fashion magazine. And I probably should have titled today’s post “Salty Sweet Is the New Umami,” to give the fully parallel structure its due. But then I wouldn’t have had an excuse to tell you about that group I saw at a Manhattan restaurant.

* * *

In any case, fads in the food world are nothing new. Remember when sliders might have been kids on a playground? When the only filling you’d find in a taco was ground beef? When the idea of a $5 cupcake was laughable?

The Kitchen Goddess subscribes to a handful of online food world newsletters – not a great idea, by the way, if you have any illusions of getting something done when you sit down at your desk. At least once every few months, one of these publications will announce a new trend in foodism.

Well, folks, apparently salty sweet is the latest craze. It’s not totally new – witness salted caramels, Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt, and these Goat Cheese and Nutella Truffles, which are sprinkled with finishing salt. Then, of course, there’s the whole chocolate-covered bacon thing.

And in that vein, I have discovered a most wonderful spread – a condiment you will want to eat straight out of the jar, if you can even bring yourself to put it into a jar in the first place. Bacon-Onion Jam. Phew. This stuff is so lustful, just saying the words gives me the vapors. Sweet, caramelized onions mixed with crispy bacon. Add a peppery kick and savory notes from beer, coffee, and 2-3 vinegars, then stew it all down to a jammy texture and run the whole thing through your food processor to remove the largest chunks. I read about it first in Sam Sifton’s column in The New York Times, but there are a zillion (okay, quite a few) variations. Today, you get mine.

How to use Bacon-Onion Jam?

■ Add a dollop atop chicken-liver pâté on toast (per Sifton’s recommendation)
■ Spread like a condiment on meat- or chicken-based sandwiches or burgers
■ Combine with cheddar cheese as part of a grilled cheese sandwich
■ Smear some on crackers and add crumbled blue cheese for an hors d’oeuvre
■ Dilute with maple syrup to pour over waffles.

You can thank me later.

Bacon-Onion Jam

Makes 3 cups.

1½ pounds bacon, cut in pieces 2-3 inches long
8 ounces shallots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped (2½ cups)
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons Aleppo pepper (can substitute chili powder)
½ teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked paprika)
¼ cup maple syrup (the real stuff, please)
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ - ¾ cup strong coffee
½ cup malt beverage (like beer) or bourbon
½ cup vinegar mix (I used 2 ounces balsamic, 1 ounce fig-infused, 1 ounce sherry vinegar)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, or a small stockpot (I used an 8-quart stockpot, which kept the bacon fat from spritzing all over my kitchen), cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pot.

Add the onions to the fat and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, then turn the heat to low and add the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and paprika. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the syrup and brown sugar and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves.

Add the coffee, alcohol, and vinegars. Raise the heat to medium high until the mixture reaches a boil, then cover the pot and let it cook (low boil) 15 minutes. Remove the cover, fold in the bacon, and adjust the heat to let the mixture simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, until most of the water has boiled off and the mixture reaches a jammy consistency. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

At this point, you must decide how much texture you want in your jam. Go with it as is, which will have sizeable chunks of bacon. Or scrape the jam into a food processor and process until it reaches a consistency you like. [The Kitchen Goddess prefers hers to be just slightly chunky, so she pulses it in the food processor for about 1 minute.]

Spoon the jam into jars and refrigerate. Well covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. (Hah -- a week? If it survives even a few days, I’ll be impressed.)  Allow the jam to come to room temperature before serving.

It's the cocktail hour somewhere and these bites take no time to construct. Round crackers are brie with bacon jam; hexagonal crackers serve the jam with Maytag blue. Both hit the spot.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fun, Fast, and Foolproof Mother’s Day Breakfast
What’s Cooking? Paris Breakfast

Today’s recipe is for all you dads and hubbies trying to figure out how to either make her a great breakfast yourself, or to help the kids make one in a way that doesn’t turn the kitchen into a war zone.

I remember having a few of those made for me, and frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you serve because she will eat it all and exclaim about its deliciousness. Won’t we, ladies? Because it’s the giving, not the gift, that counts.

The Mother’s Day that stands out most clearly in my mind is the year when my first-born was about 2½. I was home on maternity leave after the birth of number 2, so you know already I was totally hormonal. It was the Friday before Mother’s Day, and our sitter had gone to pick up number 1 from nursery school, which he had been attending for only a few months. She parked her car on a side street across from our house, and I watched from an upstairs window as she held his hand to cross the street and climb the steep driveway to our home. Then I noticed he had something in his other hand. A piece of paper – some sort of artwork. I caught my breath as, in a flash, it came to me that he’d made me a Mother’s Day card. He had no idea what it meant for there to be something called Mother’s Day, but if they were making something for their moms, well, by golly, he could do that.

Innocence and pure unadulterated love are the remarkable gifts we get from our children, and that I was now the guardian of that innocence and the recipient of that love had not struck me with any great force until that moment. So I was a complete mess by the time they entered the house, but I welcomed the card with as much joy and graciousness as I could muster through the tears that wouldn’t stop flowing down my cheeks.

* * *

This breakfast dish is one you’ll love any day, Mother’s Day or not. I don’t know why it’s called Paris Breakfast – it’s from an ancient cookbook issue of my hometown local newspaper, and the friend of my mother’s who contributed it has long ago passed on to that great Kitchen in the sky. I posted it several years ago, as a Happy New Year’s Day breakfast, but without a photo. (New Year’s Day being the wrong time entirely to ask me to get out my camera.) This time, you can see for yourself that it looks delicious, and I promise you, it delivers on the look. I don’t think anyone has ever made it for me, but one of my sons claims it’s his favorite breakfast treat when I make it for him. And am I happy to make it for him? You bet.

Amazingly, the dish takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Also, because you concoct the whole thing in the blender – that’s right, in your blender! – it’s actually fun to make. The key is in the timing: you want to have the pie pan hot from the oven and the blender mixture well blended, simultaneously. So on the last blending cycle, you should actually be removing the pie pan from the oven while the blending is going on. The beautiful puff that develops in the oven will disappear almost immediately when you remove the pan, but that’s just the way it goes.

Paris Breakfast

Serves 2.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole, skim or part-skim – your choice), at room temperature (I microwaved mine for 15 seconds to get it there)
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or Cointreau or any other orange-flavored liqueur)
2 tablespoons sugar
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Special equipment: a 10-inch glass pie plate.

Preheat oven to 400º. [Kitchen Goddess note: This is one of those recipes in which mise en place is critical. So stop reading now and go get all your ingredients measured out and ready. Then come back.]

Put the butter in a 10-inch glass pie plate and put
the pie plate into the hot oven. Once the butter has melted (about 4 minutes), brush it around the sides and bottom of the pie plate, and return it to the oven.

Ready to pour.
Put the eggs, milk, orange liqueur, sugar, lemon juice, and salt into a blender and blend briefly (about 5 seconds). Add the flour and blend again until frothy (another 25-30 seconds).

Scrape down the sides of the blender and run the blender again while you – carefully! – remove the hot pie plate from the oven. The butter will have begun to brown at this point. Working quickly (but still carefully), pour the mixture into the plate and bake 15 minutes.

On the way into the oven.
Remove the finished product from the oven and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with crisp bacon or fruit (or both) and your favorite jam or syrup.

And the Kitchen Goddess's wishes for a happy Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

¡Olé! It’s Cinco de Mayo, Time to Celebrate
What’s cooking? Simply Savory Guacamole and Crazy Margaritas

I don’t know why EVERY holiday catches me by surprise, but there it is. I’ve just realized that Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow – ack! now it’s today, because it took me so long to put together this post. And let’s not even discuss the fact that this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. Ever since our sons graduated from the school system, I no longer have markers like Columbus Day and Spring Break to remind me of time passing. When you’re retired, every day is Saturday.

But back to Cinco de Mayo. Now you may or may not know that the Kitchen Goddess grew up on Tex-Mex food. In San Antonio, where I was born and raised, Tex-Mex is the cuisine du jour not just on the Cinco de Mayo (and how many times do you get to use French and Spanish in the same sentence?), but every day of the year. In the public schools I attended from elementary through high school, Wednesday was Tex-Mex day for all 12 years. Probably still is. In high school, even when it wasn’t Wednesday, we’d haul ass most days over to a tiny Tex-Mex place where we could eat our fill for less than a dollar. And as likely as not, my family would order the stuff to pick up from a nearby restaurant any time my mom didn’t feel like cooking, which was at least once a week.

In San Antonio, tortilla chips with bean dip and chile con queso are de rigueur as party fare. (OMG, English and Spanish food terms with French – it’s a linguistic free-for-all! Can you tell I’m having fun?) In fact, I’ve just returned from a three-day high school reunion there where we had Tex-Mex for dinner on Friday and for brunch on Sunday, and everyone loved it. Salsa is mother’s milk to this group.

Our brunch at La Fonda on Main in San Antonio. Photo by Cindi Bless Bullen.

Historical note: Cinco de Mayo is a celebration – not of Mexico’s Independence Day, which is September 16 – but of an unlikely victory by the Mexican army over the French in the town of Puebla in 1862. In a classic David-vs-Goliath fight, the Mexicans decisively defeated the French, despite having an army about half the size. It took another four years for the Mexicans to finally evict Napoleon III’s army, who were trying to establish an empire that would favor French interests, but the Battle of Pueblo provided an important boost in morale for the Mexicans. Today, Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place all over the U.S., and even in parts of Canada.

The Kitchen Goddess loves to celebrate almost anything, especially if there are some authentic and tasty foods involved. Two of the essentials to any legitimate Cinco de Mayo festivities are guacamole and margaritas. Now I want to say right here that there are a thousand recipes for guac, and probably two thousand for ’ritas. This guac is mine, and it’s so easy I have taught it to my husband, who now thinks he’s a guac expert. I think that’s cute, so I haven’t disabused him of the notion. It’s fairly simple, and you may wish to start with mine and add things like raw onion or cumin or cilantro or jalapeño. The KG doesn’t like raw onion or really hot spiciness, so onions and jalapeños are never a part of our concoction. But we get a lot of compliments on this one, and sometimes simple is best.

The KG has boldly stolen this margarita recipe from friends who grew up in New Jersey, and who said they got it from friends in the South, who got it from other friends. Which only goes to tell you that it’s good enough to pass around. I’d heard about this particular mix, and was, frankly, horrified. But the New Jersey friends made a batch for a recent party and offered the KG one without letting on to the ingredients. Well, friends, let me just say that you must try this before you dismiss it out of hand. Purists will gag at the list and consider burning the KG on a rotisserie grill, but they would be foolish to do so without testing it out. And that’s all I’ll say.

Kitchen Goddess note on buying avocados: If you’re eating them today or tomorrow, buy avocados that yield slightly to gentle pressure in the palm of your hand. Don’t poke them, which causes bruising. Unripe avocados are hard to the touch but will ripen at room temperature in 3-4 days. Avoid ones with indentations, as those are signs of soft spots/bruises. The skin of California avocados (sold both as Hass and as Haas) turns very dark green – almost black – and is covered in small bumps when ripe.

Simply Savory Guacamole

Makes 2 cups.


2 Hass avocados, ripe but not soft
juice of one lemon (or lime juice, if you prefer), about 3 tablespoons
¼ cup Rotel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (from a 10-ounce can), plus 1 tablespoon liquid (see directions below)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
freshly ground pepper to taste (3-4 good grinds)

Cut the avocados in half, then peel and seed them. Add them to a small but deep bowl and, using either a fork or a potato masher or (Kitchen Goddess’s preference) a pastry blender, mash the avocado to a rough texture. Add the lemon juice and continue to mash until the mixture reaches a consistency you like. (The Kitchen Goddess likes it with small bits of avocado still intact.)

Measure out the tomatoes from the can, using a fork or slotted spoon to avoid the juice, and add the tomatoes to the bowl. Then measure out 1 tablespoon of the liquid from the can and add that as well. Add the garlic salt, and stir well. Taste to correct seasoning, and add pepper.

Cover the finished guacamole with cellophane wrap, tucking the cellophane down into the bowl so that it forms a film on top of the guacamole. This will keep the guacamole from turning brown as it chills. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips or (low-cal version) red bell pepper and cucumber pieces.

Margaritas Locas (Crazy Margaritas)

Makes 8 6-ounce drinks.


1 12-ounce can frozen limeade
1 12-ounce can or bottle of beer (I use Corona)
12 ounces tequila
12 ounces 7-Up
limes, cut in wedges
kosher salt, about ¼-inch deep, in a saucer or shallow bowl

Pour the first four ingredients into a pitcher, stir, and chill. When ready to serve, use a wedge of lime to moisten the rims of the glasses, then dip the rims into the salt. Serve the margarita mixture over ice in the salt-rimmed glasses. Add a wedge of lime to each glass.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Flights of Fancy Food
What’s cooking? Artichoke Pesto and Salad Shirazi

The Kitchen Goddess is chagrined to note that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. A shameful situation, to be sure, but we – my hubby and I – have done an obscene amount of travel this year (at least one trip per month), and it’s difficult if not impossible to collect my already scattered thoughts while on the road. But I will attempt to catch up today with not one but two easy recipes that celebrate spring.

In light of all this travel, it’s a vast understatement to say that I’ve had my fill of airport food lately. Of course, there’s no such thing as airline food anymore, unless you’re flying first class, where, believe me, the food they’re serving isn’t even up to what they used to serve in coach. So my habit of packing a few snacks has become something of an obsession. Part of it is driven by my desire not to throw away perfectly good food, yet it’s tough to imagine showing up at my neighbor’s doorstep with, “Hi, would you like some leftover risotto? Or this half of an apple? How about a cup of cucumber salad?”

The packing almost always takes place in the last few minutes before we leave. My prince checks his watch and paces while I stuff the food into baggies and wedge it carefully into my carry-on, adding one of those little cellophane packages of fork/spoon/salt/pepper and a couple of paper towels, because you can’t rely on airplane napkins to keep your hands clean. For our latest trip, I took a hard-boiled egg, an apple (which I sliced), and a pear (also sliced). I thought about adding some cheese, then decided against it to save my marriage.

The flight was just to Houston, only 35 minutes long, and he reminded me more than once that we’d have time to grab lunch in the Houston airport, so the food was really superfluous. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Houston. There was lots of turbulence, and as the plane neared the landing strip, the pilot made an abrupt adjustment and took us back up into the clouds. Whoa, what was that about?

“Sorry, folks,” said the pilot. He added something that sounded like, “Blah blah wind shear blah blah.” After which we spent an extra 20 minutes or so flying around for a new approach. A little unsettling, but we finally made it to the gate. Can you see where this is going?

“I hope we don’t miss our connection,” said my husband. “Looks like we won’t have time for lunch.”

I said nothing, but smiled triumphantly to myself as I thought about my stash. We made the connection (just barely), and as I unearthed my “lunch,” the look on his face reminded me of a golden retriever we once had who would follow me around the kitchen hoping for anything edible to fall on the floor. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We can share this.” But next time, I’m also packing that cheese.

* * *

All this travel has played havoc with my diet, so I’ve been concentrating lately on salads and other veggie-centric dishes. Today, I have two great finds for you: an hors d’oeuvre and a salad. Both would be great, by the way, as airplane lunches.

The hors d’oeuvre is Artichoke Pesto, another on my list of great pestos and a winner for anyone who likes artichokes. The Kitchen Goddess loves them. It was a find of my friend, Ellen, who says it began life as a Weight Watchers recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, increasing the garlic and adding lemon juice, but the master stroke was to use those marinated artichokes you find in the relish bars offered by most large grocers these days. You can trim back the calories by using canned artichoke hearts, but I think the oil- and herb-marinated hearts offer a huge improvement with very few added calories. If your grocer doesn’t have a relish bar, or it doesn’t stock artichoke hearts, go for the jars in the relish aisle. Just find a brand that incorporates some seasoning. And the marinated hearts don’t turn brown like the ones packed in brine.

This pesto is best if it’s the tiniest bit chunky, so I wouldn’t just turn on the food processor and walk away. Pulse it until the mixture reaches a consistency that’s spreadable, but not a purée. The Kitchen Goddess is so fond of this stuff that she’ll eat a large scoop of it over lettuce for lunch with crackers. Or over scrambled eggs with blue corn tortilla chips, like this, for breakfast.

Artichoke Pesto

Adapted from Weight Watchers, Inc.

Makes about 2 cups.

1¼ cups marinated artichoke hearts, drained with 1 tablespoon of the flavored oil reserved
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1¼ cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
¼ cup pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a small Teflon skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they turn a golden brown (about 5 minutes). Add the nuts and the rest of the ingredients (including the reserved oil) to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl, cover and refrigerate about an hour before serving, to allow the flavors to come together. Serve as a spread with crackers or chips or vegetable crudité.

* * *

My grocery store has this year been stocking bags of what I thought to be some variety of hothouse cucumbers. But in researching about this recipe, I discovered that they’re actually Persian cucumbers, a variety that’s been around for more than 3000 years! I wonder what took my grocer so long...

These cukes – also sold as Gourmet Baby Cucumbers – look more like the large English cucumbers than the darker, thicker-skinned ones we’re used to seeing. Persian cucumbers are about 6 inches long, with thin, textured skin that there’s no need to peel. They’re sweeter and crisper than common garden cucumbers, and have no developed seeds. They retain their water, so they stay cool tasting – one source I found said the interior can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the skin. So they’re great in salads, and a terrific accompaniment to rich meats like lamb.

This particular salad is a traditional dish from Shiraz, a 4000-year old city and the sixth most populous in Iran. It’s light, fresh, crisp, and low-cal, and it takes almost no time to make.

Salad Shirazi

Adapted from Ellie on

Serves 4

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
5 Persian cucumbers
1 pint (11-12 ounces) sweet cherry tomatoes
2 scallions, white and light green parts only
½ cup mint, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced (or 1-2 tablespoons diced jalapeños from a jar. Yes, the KG is not too proud to get her jalapeños from a jar.)

Put all ingredients for the dressing into a jar and shake it well.

Slice the cucumbers lengthwise into quarters, then slice across in ⅜-inch cuts. [KG note: If this sounds too precious, just know that I thought ¼-inch cuts were too thin and ½-inch cuts too thick. So there.] Put them into a medium-sized salad bowl.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters, and add them to the bowl.

Slice the scallions thinly on a diagonal, and add them to the bowl. Add the mint and jalapeño, and pour the dressing over all. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Now, wasn't that easy?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Dependable Dozen: 12 Dinnerworthy Staples for Avoiding a Trip to the Store
What’s cooking? Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

You arrive home after a long absence. You let yourself in the front door, kick off your shoes, and decide to unpack later, because the vibes coming from your body are calling “Feed me... feed me....”

It’s early in the evening, and, airplane food being, well... airplane food, you’ve had essentially nothing to eat since early afternoon when you turned a blind eye to your diet and ate the best you could find at the airport. But you really really don’t have the energy for a run to the grocery store, and as easy as it would be to order in pizza, that just seems like more fast food. You want something not too heavy, but with vegetables in it. Something you don’t have to work hard at creating, but something that’ll satisfy your need for real food.

You grab a glass of wine (you do have a chilled bottle available, don’t you?), sigh and stand in the door to your pantry, looking for inspiration. And maybe it’s the wine, but as you scan the shelves, some of those items start to look like the basis for... dinner.

That was the scene I faced recently on a trip to New Jersey. I hadn’t been in our condo since Christmas, so the fridge was pretty bare (jams, ketchup, pickles, and that bottle of wine). Thankfully, the Kitchen Goddess stocks the pantry – and the freezer – with any number of items that can be put to work for just the dinner I envisioned.

You, too, might find yourself yearning for real food and looking to your pantry for inspiration. You don’t even have to go on a long trip – it might just be a day when you haven’t the time or energy for a trip to the store. So here are a dozen of my tried and true fallback ingredients, followed by the lovely dish of pasta with tuna, artichoke hearts, spinach and capers that I concocted in my hour of need.

The Dependable Dozen – Staples You Can Count On to Become Dinner

This list assumes you have stuff like olive oil and a reasonable assortment of spices.

1. Tuna and/or Salmon – either the foil-packaged kind, which has less water, or oil-packed in cans, which has more flavor. Of course it’s not as good as fresh, but for fresh, you’d have to go to the store.

2. Cannellini beans – for making the classic pasta e fagioli soup or a nice, garlicky dip.

3. Diced tomatoes – for juicing up and flavoring a pasta dish.

4. Artichoke hearts – in a jar, please, where they are usually marinating in oil and spices. The canned ones taste tinny and soggy. Go for the best quality you can find. Artichokes dress up a multitude of dishes. Among other uses, they make a great dip with frozen spinach, a bit of mayo, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano, or add them to risotto.

5. Capers – those tiny things that look like soft seeds. They’re flower buds, salted and pickled, and they are great in seasoning or garnishing a dish, especially one with a Mediterranean flavor. An opened jar should be kept in the fridge.

6. Pasta – I try always to have on hand the long-cut kind (e.g., spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine) and the short-cut kind (farfalle or fusilli).

7. Marinara sauce – in a jar. My favorite is Rao’s, but Newman’s has a nice line, too.

8. Oil-cured olives – in the fridge. Oil-cured olives will keep several months, especially if steeped in oil.

9. Frozen spinach and/or frozen peas – great in soup, pasta, risotto, frittata, ... you name it.

10. Roasted garlic – you do make this stuff, don’t you? Next time, make some extra and freeze it.

11. Dried mushrooms – which will keep for years, as long as they’re kept dry and out of the light. Rehydrating is a snap, and you can rehydrate with water or broth or wine or sherry, just to keep things interesting.

12. Shallots and raw garlic – that’s right. The little buggers will stay reasonably fresh for a couple of months, as long as you keep them in a dark, cool, dry place that’s well-ventilated – but not in the fridge, where they’ll only last a couple of weeks.

So here’s the dish I put together from my pantry. Not only easy, but fast and delicious. All that I had hoped for in my travel-weary state.

Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

Serves 2 with leftovers.

8 ounces farfalle pasta (or other short-cut pasta like fusilli)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup shallots, minced
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
7-ounce foil pack albacore tuna
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
8 ounces frozen spinach, barely thawed
1 heaping tablespoon capers (no juice)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water. When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is done to al dente state, drain and return to the pot. Cover and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking:
In a separate large skillet, set over medium-low heat, add the oil and allow it to warm. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add the tuna, the artichoke hearts, the spinach, and the capers, and stir to combine.

Pour in the reserved pasta water, cover and let cook long enough to heat all ingredients, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the reserved pasta, and continue to cook until pasta is also well warmed. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Time to Celebrate!
What’s cooking? Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks with Saffron Rice

Ok, here’s your trivia for the week. In most Latin- and Greek-based languages, the word for the holiday English speakers call Easter is some version of Pasch or Pesach, both Hebrew words for Passover. The Latin “Pascha” and the Greek “Paskha” evolved into Pascuas in Spanish, Pâques in French, Pasqua in Italian, and Páscoa in Portuguese.

But English-speakers take our cue from the Germans, who call it Ostern. The English and German words stem from Ēostre, an ancient goddess of spring, for whom a feast was celebrated at the spring equinox. (Don’t you just love this linguistic arcana? You can always rely on the Kitchen Goddess for tidbits of stuff you never really wanted to know. I can picture my sons rolling their eyes right now.) I’m not going to try to figure out why we use a non-religious root for “Easter,” but I do think it’s curious.

Regardless of what you call it and why, this is a great time of year for celebrating. Jews celebrate the Israelites’ escape from slavery in ancient Egypt, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and everyone else can celebrate the arrival of Spring. Hallelujah!

Whatever your reason for celebrating, the focus of the meal is traditionally lamb. It’s a symbol of spring, when lamb is most available; it’s symbolic to Christians of Christ as the Lamb of God; and it’s symbolic to Jews as the Passover sacrifice.

For me, it’s about the taste. Lamb is simultaneously bolder in flavor and more delicate than beef, and the meat responds well to seasonings.

One of the Kitchen Goddess’s new year’s resolutions for 2015 was to try new things – new foods, new spices, new processes. “Hah!” you are saying, “The Kitchen Goddess is always trying new things.” Not true. She’s as likely as the next person to keep churning out the same dishes over and over.

But my hubby and I are part of a gourmet group, and it was recently our turn to host. Which meant I had to come up with a theme and a dish. With all the current attention on the Middle East, that seemed like a good place to start. In fact, I hope one day to wander the spice bazaars of that region without worrying about getting blown up.

For the dinner, I considered lamb chops (too simple), shish kebab (too 70s), and leg of lamb (too traditional). Then I saw it. A recipe for Persian-spiced lamb shanks, from David Tanis in The New York Times. I’d never tried the cut before. Turns out, they’re easy to find at most grocery stores that have a butcher. Lamb shanks are not generally on display, but all you have to do is ask.

You will not be sorry. They require braising to really bring out their flavor – a long, slow, simmer in a broth so fragrant you will be tempted to climb into the oven with them. Oh, my – the meat literally falls off the bone. Talk about under-appreciated – lamb shanks (which are also a relative bargain) are easily the richest, most succulent cut of meat I’ve found, and this preparation produces such a delightful mix of flavors – both fruity and spicy – that it’ll cause the top of your head to lift off just slightly and twirl around as you dive in. And the sprinkling of herbs on top nicely balances the richness of the meat and broth. Be sure to cook the meat a day or two in advance – the flavors only get better with that overnight nap.

Kitchen Goddess note: Persian cuisine makes generous use of spices, but rarely includes hot pepper. So you can relax about that. The list of ingredients looks a bit daunting at first, but take heart. Tanis recommends “Middle Eastern grocery shops,” which makes me think, “Yes, well, maybe in Manhattan.” But in Austin, I found everything I needed at a local organic/natural food store. So look around.

The dish is best served over Basmati rice, either plain with butter, or colored bright yellow and lightly flavored from a few strands of saffron dissolved in hot water. Because it’s very rich, the Kitchen Goddess added a cucumber and tomato salad dressed with olive oil and lime juice on the side.

Persian-Spiced Lamb Shanks with Saffron Rice

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

4 meaty lamb shanks (4½ -5 pounds total)
kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground dried rosebuds (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
vegetable oil or canola oil
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron, plus a few strands for the rice
juice of 2 limes (approximately 4 tablespoons)
3 teaspoons rosewater
1 large onion, cut in ½-inch dice
zest from 1 lime
zest from 1½ oranges (1 tablespoon of which to be saved for garnish)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves or 4 dried bay leaves
6 cups hot chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped mint or dill, for garnish
Basmati rice

Trim excess fat from the lamb shanks, pat them dry with paper towels, and season them generously with kosher salt. Don't skimp on the salt, as it’s critical to the flavor of the meat.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, rosebuds (if using), black pepper and turmeric. (If, like me, you found dried rose petals – not yet ground – you’ll need to pulverize them with a mortar and pestle – or some similar weapon – before mixing with the other spices.) Rub the spice mixture evenly all over the shanks. Set the meat aside to rest at room temperature for at least an hour. (You may prefer to wrap and refrigerate the meat overnight. If you do that, be sure to let it come to room temperature before proceeding.)

In a Dutch oven or deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat, pour in oil to a depth of ½ inch. Once the oil is hot (i.e., a drop of water in it will sizzle), sear the lamb shanks two at a time for 2-3 minutes per side, until browned all over. For best results, do not disturb the meat except to turn it over once.

While the meat is browning, dissolve the saffron in a small bowl with the lime juice, 2 teaspoons of the rosewater and ½ cup warm water. Let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the pot. Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until softened and pale yellow. Sprinkle the onion with salt, and add the lime zest, orange zest, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Add the saffron liquid, and stir well to combine. Lay the lamb shanks on top of the onion/spice mixture and pour the warm broth over all. Raise the temperature to medium high until the broth reaches a boil, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven.

Bake 1½ hours, covered, until meat is fork-tender and beginning to pull away from the bone.

If you are serving immediately, remove the shanks to a covered serving dish and keep them warm. If you’ll be serving in a day or two, move them to a covered container large enough to hold the shanks and the strained braising liquid.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid into a bowl, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Skim as much fat as you can from the surface, using a spoon or a gravy separator, if you have one. Taste the liquid, add the final teaspoon of rosewater, and salt if necessary. Bring the strained broth to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Pour the broth over the lamb shanks.

If you’re cooking the meat ahead of time, refrigerate the shanks covered in the broth. To reheat, place the shanks and broth, covered, in a 350º oven for 30 minutes, or over low- to medium-low heat on the stovetop for the same amount of time.

Prepare the rice according to your package instructions, adding the remaining saffron to the water.

When you are ready to serve, toss together the parsley, mint, and reserved orange zest. [Kitchen Goddess note: This parsley/mint/zest combo is called gremolata, and it is way more than a foo-foo garnish. Particularly for a rich meat preparation, it can wake up your senses and take the dish from good to great. Trust the Kitchen Goddess.] Serve lamb shanks with a small amount of broth in wide, shallow soup plates, either on top of the rice or next to it. If you prefer, you can use a spoon to break the meat off the bone and serve it in large chunks. Sprinkle the gremolata on top of the meat.

A final Kitchen Goddess note: As a special touch to the meal, try adding a couple of drops (only a couple!) of rosewater to your guests’ water glasses. The difference in taste is small, but the scent will give your guests the sensation that they’re dining in an exotic garden.

For the winos among you, we served a 2009 Domaine Thunevin-Calvet "Les Dentelles" Cotes
du Roussillon Villages, a full-bodied red blend from southern France, made from carignan, grenache, and perhaps a bit of syrah grapes. The Kitchen Goddess’s professional assessment is that it was mmmm-good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Traveling with Mr. Rogers
What’s cooking? Dominican Rice with Plantains and Bacon, and Grilled Fish Dominicano

I had my doubts from the beginning. You’d think the idea of a trip to the Dominican Republic – escaping an onslaught of wintry weather (even in Austin!) – would be one anyone would embrace. But it was billed as a golf trip, and I do not play. And while I’m happy to have those nice stretches of time on my own, it’s all the associated activity that drives me crazy. At least in my experience, the Golf Playing is invariably preceded by the Golf Talking (what they’ve heard about the course, who designed it, how the teams will form, carts vs caddies, blah blah...), and followed by the Golf Analysis (who played well/poorly, that crazy thing that happened on the 15th hole, the birdies, the bogies, blah blah...), and, at least in our house, there’s also the Golf Watching and the Golf Napping. So the idea of a week spent – regardless of venue – enveloped in Golf made my eyes roll back in my head.

Adding to my discomfort, did I mention that I barely knew any of the other 12 people on the trip?

We breezed through customs at the airport in Punta Cana, and headed for the car rental counter. Just as we got there, the lights in the airport dimmed, then went out. After a couple of minutes, they came back on, but that brief interruption was enough to fry the computer systems of our rental car company, and it was a full 2 hours before we could finalize a contract and make our way to the only van available on the island, which we needed for carrying... the Golf clubs.

The a/c in the van didn’t work really well, the odometer was closing in on 100,000 miles, and the hatch door wouldn’t stay open on its own, so that one of us literally had to hoist it up in order to get our suitcases in or out. This trip is doomed, I said to myself.

As we headed out of the airport, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. It was a vacation, after all, to an island I’d never visited before, staying at a house that – if the photos were to be believed – was fabulous, and as for the people,... Well, at times like these, it’s helpful to remember Mr. Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), who I’m told always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker he once met: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you’ve heard their story.”

It turned out that the rental car was a complete aberration on the trip – the lone 0 in a field of 9s and 10s. Yes, there was lots of Golf, but the house was even better than the photos, the people were mostly lovable, and the island is beautiful. Best of all, though, the house staff included the delightful Guillermo, our chef. Guillermo spoke almost no English, and I was one of only two Spanish-speakers in our group, so the Kitchen Goddess was consulted on the menu for almost every meal, and Guillermo and I spent some part of every day discussing the local cuisine and the many wonderful ways to prepare it. What fun!

Our charming and gracious kitchen staff. Guillermo is the big guy on the right.

* * *

One of the Dominican foods Guillermo introduced me to was plantains, plátanos in Spanish.

On the outside, plantains look almost exactly like bananas. And, in fact, they are members of the same family. So were my grandmother and my great Aunt Irva. But my grandmother was sweet and soft – like a banana – while my Aunt Irva was more of a plantain – thick-skinned, starchy, with less sugar, and not really edible raw. Hmmm...

Well, anyway, it turns out that with the right treatment, plantains are delicious. So maybe, with the right treatment, Irva might have been a little easier to take. Or maybe if she hadn’t been named Irva. We’ll never know.

In any case, the first thing to know is that, as plantains ripen, their flavor changes dramatically. Green plantains are firm and starchy, tasting much like potatoes. You have to cook them – bake, boil, or fry – first, then mash them and combine them with other foods. One such treatment is a mofongo, a dish that originated in Puerto Rico but is ubiquitous in Dominican restaurants: green plantains that have been cooked and mashed with garlic paste and formed into cups that are then fried and filled. The ones pictured here – from one of Guillermo’s dinners – are filled with chopped shrimp and topped with guacamole. Mmmm...

The riper plantains – which look like beat-up bananas, as in the photo here – are relatively sweet, and when cooked, taste like a cross between butternut squash and sweet potatoes. When you fry them, you get a slightly crispy outside that’s actually sweet.

Dominican cuisine is highly flavored without being spicy.  Guillermo made a perfectly delightful rice dish for us, to accompany a marinated whitefish that was so good, some of our folks were heating the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

The Kitchen Goddess was eager to reproduce this masterpiece fish. Turns out, Guillermo cheats a bit and uses a flavoring packet (see photo) that the KG cannot find – nowhere, nohow – despite her best efforts, which, as you know, are pretty damn good. But Guillermo sent her off with a sample, and she has used that one sample to reproduce the mix of flavors for all of our benefit.  Lots of garlic and lime, with hints of sweetness from the paprika and parsley. The Kitchen Goddess is not to be deterred.

The KG's marinade spices -- I think it would be good next time to add fresh parsley to the marinade.

Step 1: Remove the ends
Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Guillermo cooks his rice in chicken broth – “Es más rico,” (it’s richer) he says. And I agree. But if you don’t have any chicken broth handy, or just prefer a lighter flavor, use plain water instead. (2) I found plantains in one local grocery store. Correction – I found one plantain. But a store that caters to a more Latino population will likely have a larger supply. If you buy a green plantain, you may have to wait a week for it to achieve that beat-up look. Have patience. (3) Plantains -- even the ripe ones, are tough to peel. Best is to cut them into pieces a couple of inches long, and slice the skin lengthwise before attempting to remove it.

Step 2: Cut into chunks.
Step 3: Slice skin lengthwise, then remove peel.

Dominican Rice with Plantains and Bacon

Serves 6.

1 cup rice
Chicken broth in whatever quantity directed by your rice package
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for plantain bits
2-3 slices bacon
6 tablespoons grapeseed (or canola) oil
1 ripe (yellow and blackened) plantain
1 spring onion, white and green parts

In a large saucepan, cook the rice according to package instructions, substituting chicken broth for all or part of the water. Add the tablespoon of butter and the ½ teaspoon of salt to the liquid.

While the rice is cooking, peel and dice the plantain (see photo).

In a medium-sized frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp, and remove it to paper towels to drain. Discard the bacon fat and wipe the skillet clean.

Add the grapeseed oil to the skillet and heat at medium setting until the oil is hot. Add the plantain dice and cook, stirring and turning the pieces as they brown, for 6-7 minutes, until all pieces are golden. Remove them to paper towels to drain.

When ready to serve, crumble the bacon and stir most of it into the rice, along with most of the plantain dice. Reserve some of both the bacon and the plantain to use as garnish on top of the rice. Slice the spring onion very thinly on the diagonal, and sprinkle on top.

Grilled Fish a la Dominicano

1 pound whitefish fillet (I used cod, about 1 inch thick)
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, minced
Marinade seasoning:
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika (smoked is best)
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon parsley flakes
¼ teaspoon white pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground cumin

Using paper towels, pat the fish dry and place in a shallow baking dish. In a small bowl or jar, combine the olive oil, lime juice, and garlic. In a separate small bowl, combine the spices and parsley flakes, and use a mortar and pestle to grind the blend together until the parsley flakes have turned to powder. (Alternatively, pile the combination between two sheets of waxed paper or baker’s parchment and use a rolling pin or the side of a jar to crush the parsley flakes to a powder with the other ingredients. Then at some point, get yourself a small mortar and pestle –  it’s a useful kitchen tool.)

The only photo I have of the fish. Mysteriously, the cooked fillet disappeared before I could get the camera out.

Add the marinade seasoning to the oil/lime juice/garlic and mix well. Pour all over the fish and marinate 30 minutes. Grill the fish on medium-low for 9 minutes per side. Or bake at 450º for 20-30 minutes, turning once.