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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

When You Just Have to Have It Now
What’s cooking? Twice-Baked Potatoes with Carrots, Onion, and Goat Cheese

A Note from the Kitchen Goddess: The KG has been away on a Caribbean island for a week, and now is working on a nice post about some island flavors. But it’s taking a while. So in the meantime,...

You know how sometimes you just get a craving for a particular food, and nothing will do until you satisfy that craving? Most of the time, for me, it’s a chocolate thing. This time, though, it was twice-baked potatoes.

I’ve mentioned my delightful book group before, and the format of potluck dinners. At our last meeting, my friend Ellen prepared twice-baked potatoes made with carrots mixed into the potato filling. Oh my, they were fluffy and carroty, and I’m pretty sure they had some cheese in them. Ellen said they were really easy – low cal, too! – and she promised to give me the recipe.

Then a couple of days later, as I noted above, my hubby and I left for a vacation in the Dominican Republic. After a week of chowing down on the most wonderful seafood and lots of drinks with little umbrellas in them, I was in desperate need of food that would put me back on track with my eternal diet. I couldn’t really picture myself switching from broiled lobster and rum punch to chicken broth and celery sticks, so I thought about those twice-baked potatoes, and the more I thought about them, the more obsessed I became. I had to have them. Now.

I called Ellen, and she wasn’t home. I left a desperate, pleading message, but as the minutes ticked on (I’m really not the most patient person when it comes to culinary needs), I decided I’d just make up my own damn recipe. Truly not patient.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have the drive. You picture a dish, you think about the flavors and textures involved, and you look in the fridge and your pantry for a little inspiration. And you prepare yourself for pizza if it doesn’t work out. More often than not, you can come up with something that’s at least edible, and maybe you’ll make some notes as to what was missing, or what you had too much of, and the next time you make it, you’ll get closer to that ideal.

This particular dish wasn’t that much of a challenge – after all, there are lots of recipes out there for twice-baked potatoes, and what you’re adding is mostly carrots. In the end, I included a few items – like the onion and the garlic and the cream – that I’m pretty sure weren’t in Ellen’s dish, but this version turned out so well that I had to practically slap my husband’s hands to hang onto enough of the filled spuds for a decent photograph the next day. And now I can share the recipe with you.

Kitchen Goddess note: I’m pretty sure Ellen used cheddar cheese in her recipe. I’ll bet that would be good, too. But herbed chèvre is what I had in my fridge, so herbed chèvre is what I used. You can try both and let me know what you liked. I did think the herbs added nice flavor.

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Carrots, Onion, and Goat Cheese

Makes 8 servings.

4 medium-sized (6-8 ounces each) russet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut in ½-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 cups carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken broth
2 ounces goat cheese (herbed or plain)
¼ cup cream (heavy or light)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Garnish: chopped chives

Special equipment: potato masher or ricer or food mill, for mashing the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 425º (400º if using a convection setting). Scrub the potatoes under cold running water and pat dry. With a fork, poke holes in 3-4 places around the potatoes, to let moisture escape during baking. Place potatoes directly on a rack in center of the oven, and bake 50-60 minutes or until a fork or a metal skewer easily goes into the potato. (The Kitchen goddess prefers a skewer because she can poke it the length of the spud, making sure it’s soft all the way through.)

While the potatoes are baking, heat the butter in a medium skillet and add the onion. Cook the onion over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until it’s soft, then add the carrots and garlic. Continue to sauté the vegetables for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth, bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook the vegetables, covered, for 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Check occasionally to make sure the liquid stays at a simmer.

Transfer the skillet mixture – including any broth – to the bowl of a food processor. Add the goat cheese and process until smooth. Set aside until the potatoes are done.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool enough to handle, then cut them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to gently scoop out the potato flesh, leaving enough potato in the shell that it stays intact. Put the potato flesh into a large bowl and, using your tool of choice, mash until the texture is as lumpy or smooth as you prefer. Food processors are not recommended for this part, as they turn potatoes gummy.

Add the processed carrot mixture to the mashed potatoes, along with the cream, the salt, and 10-12 grinds of black pepper. Stir well. Fill the potato shells with the mixture and arrange the filled shells on a baking sheet.

If you’ll be serving the potatoes soon, put the filled shells into the oven at 400º for 20 minutes. If you prefer to make them ahead of time, the filled shells can rest in the refrigerator, covered tightly with cellophane wrap, overnight, then reheated at 400º for 30-40 minutes, until warm. The filled shells can also be frozen on a cookie sheet, to maintain their shape, then stored in the freezer in zip-lock bags. Reheat as noted above.

When ready to serve, garnish with chopped chives, if desired.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Just Because It’s Lent...
What’s cooking? No-Fuss Crabby Cakes with Tartar Sauce

It’s Lent. And despite the solemn nature of the season, the Kitchen Goddess confesses that she is better at denial than self-denial.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Catholic. But I was buoyed recently by learning that Pope Francis has sort of redefined the self-denial bit for anyone who wants to participate in Lent. He says we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others, then he quotes Saint John Chrysostom, who said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Now let me say here that the Kitchen Goddess has no intention of sleeping on the floor or eating ashes. (The sighing part is familiar.) But I like the idea of putting in a little extra spiritual time during Lent by doing good for others in ways that connect to food. That Father Frank is my kind of guy.

If you are similarly inclined in this season before Easter, and want to think of Lent more in terms of sharing than despairing, here are some ideas that might inspire you. A quick Google search under “food bank” or “food pantry” followed by the name of your state or city will lead you to a wealth of more specific opportunities.

❶ Volunteer:
– to deliver for Meals On Wheels
– to help serve or cook at a soup kitchen
– to work checking in food/repackaging at a local food bank
– to pick up food donations from restaurants or grocery stores going to homeless shelters or food            banks.
❷ If you’re in the Newark/New York City area, make bag lunches for any of the several programs that feed the homeless.
❸ Donate food to animal rescue programs (checking first to see what they accept/need).
❹ Participate with organizations like Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey or DriveASenior ( in Austin, operations that help seniors or otherwise homebound folks with grocery shopping.
❺ Make dinner for a sick or housebound friend.

* * *

Even if you’re into self-denial, you have to eat sometime. And many people like at least to observe meat-free Fridays during the Lenten season. The Kitchen Goddess likes to do her part with a handful of recipes for non-meat dishes.

Today’s dish is so easy you’ll wish you could afford to eat crab every week. I adapted this version from one on the very excellent blog, SPOON FORK BACON. I particularly like it because the cakes are light and crabby, without that dense, bready/mayonnaise-y texture you often find. One reason is that the recipe calls for lump crabmeat, which, yes, is more expensive than backfin crabmeat, which consists of broken lumps and flakes of white body meat. It’s a question of texture. And use of the measuring cup to form the cakes means more uniformity but less mess on the hands – both factors high on the Kitchen Goddess’s list. The tartar sauce I’ve listed here is from a previous Spoon & Ink post and is courtesy of my friend Joy.

No-Fuss Crabby Cakes

Adapted from the food blog, SPOON FORK BACON.

Makes 11-12 cakes. Serves 4 as a main course, or 11-12 as an appetizer along with a salad of mâche or microgreens.

1 pound lump crabmeat
1 ear sweet corn
1 medium red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or 3 teaspoons sweet paprika plus ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (or 1 rounded teaspoon dried tarragon)
2 teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
½ lemon, zested and juiced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (start with ½ teaspoon salt and 8-10 grinds pepper, then taste and adjust)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cob and discard the cob. Cut the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice. In a large mixing bowl, combine all crab cake ingredients except the butter and gently stir together until evenly mixed. Take care not to overmix, so that the crab lumps maintain their structure as much as possible.

Preheat the broiler.

In a large, ovenproof skillet (like cast iron or Le Creuset), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Using a ⅓-cup measuring cup as a mold, make a (gently packed) mound of crab mixture and unmold it into the hot butter. Repeat five more times to get six of the mounds into the skillet, at least an inch apart.

Let the crab cakes cook in the skillet without disturbing them for 4-5 minutes, or until you can see a brown crust forming on the bottoms of the cakes. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes or until the tops of the cakes get lightly browned.

Yes, I know there's one less in the skillet. We liked them so much I made them twice and added the bell pepper.

Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels and place an aluminum foil tent over the first batch while the second batch cooks.

Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the rest of the crab mixture.

Serve the crab cakes accompanied by lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Kitchen Goddess notes on the tartar sauce: (1) Make the tartar sauce at least an hour before you serve it, so that the flavors can bloom. (2) For the herbs, I don’t think there’s any comparison between the flavor of fresh parsley and dried, so treat yourself to a bunch of parsley. Rinse it off, spin it dry, roll it in paper towels, and stuff it into a zip-lock bag, and it’ll last at least a week. FYI, the Kitchen Goddess always has fresh parsley in the crisper. Tarragon is another thing altogether, so if you have some growing in your garden or you bought some for another reason, by all means use fresh. But I wouldn’t buy any just to get a single tablespoon of the stuff, in which case dried tarragon is fine. (3) The sauce will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so you may want to double it to have available for next Friday’s fish.

Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups.

1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped (or a rounded teaspoon of dried tarragon)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon capers, drained, plus ½ teaspoon of the juice
2-3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Soup Swap
What’s cooking? Provençal Soupe au Pistou

The Kitchen Goddess is well aware that all the world is focusing on Valentine's Day. And she has already sent off her cookie tins filled with love and sprinkles. This post is about sharing a different sort of love.

When a friend and neighbor was recently diagnosed with cancer, several friends in the area wanted to help. As usual, our first thought was of food – that unintrusive but universal offering that says, “We care.” Soup is a particularly good choice, being both a comforting food and one that requires very little in the way of accompanying dishes to complete the meal.

I figured that if I was going to cook enough for the couple in question, I might as well cook enough for my husband and me. One thought led to another, and – you can see where this is going, can’t you? – eventually, the words “Soup Swap” popped into my mind. Okay, maybe “Soup Swap” isn’t the most logical conclusion, but that’s how the Kitchen Goddess’s mind works.

About a year ago, I participated in a Food Swap that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was much more elaborate than the Soup Swap idea – involving lots of people bartering a wide variety of foodstuffs – but the basic concept remained: a trade of my cooking for your cooking. In the Soup Swap, each person contributes a container of one soup to each of the other cooks, and emerges with containers of as many different soups as there are participants in the swap. For this particular swap, we would tack on an additional container for the sick friend and his wife.

It turns out that not all of my friends are enthusiastic about cooking large amounts of soup, regardless of the bounty they’d receive in return. But I did get three other friends in on the act. Frankly, that was probably just the right number – once you’ve made a quart of soup for four friends plus yourself (16 cups – yikes!), you can start feeling sort of souped out.

The soup I chose to make is a vegetable soup from Provence with a totally marvelous pistou, the Provençal cousin to pesto, but made without pine nuts.

I think what I like most about this soup is that it covers almost the full spectrum of vegetables:

• legumes/podded vegetables (green beans, lima beans, cannellini beans)
• bulb and stem vegetables (onion, garlic, fennel)
• leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach)
• fruits (squash, zucchini)
• root and tuberous vegetables (carrot, potato, turnip).

Yes, all that and more. You feel healthier with the first bite. The limas and cannellini beans give this soup a thickness that makes it feel more substantial than most vegetable soups – more like a stew, less brothy. It’s got great color, and really works for any season.

Kitchen Goddess note: There are two absolute musts for this soup to succeed. (1) Do NOT decide to forego the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The Kitchen Goddess, who wouldn’t be caught dead without Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge, saves the rinds of leftover parm in a plastic bag in her freezer. But these days, quite a few grocery stores sell parm rind in little plastic containers, so even if you threw your rind away (and shame on you if you did), you can easily get more. Or just buy a wedge of the cheese and cut the rind off. Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (the real thing) works a kind of magic in soups, especially vegetable soups, where it adds flavor and body. So you WILL SAVE IT from now on. (2) Even with the rind, nothing you can do will take the place of the pistou. It completely changes the dish, from good vegetable soup to, “Ahhhhh....”

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I should also note that this is one of my darling husband’s favorite soups.

Provençal Soupe au Pistou

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2001.

Makes about 16 cups.

For the soup:
1 small fennel bulb
¼ pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ small cabbage, cored and chopped (2 cups)
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (not California)
1½  teaspoons salt
9 cups water
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
½ pound haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces (about 5 cups) baby spinach

For the pistou:
3 large garlic cloves
½  teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (⅓ cup)

Mis en place, friends. This soup is infinitely easier if you do all the chopping first.

Make the soup:
Cut the fennel stalks flush with the bulb, and discard them (or stick them into a plastic bag with the other veggie scraps you’re saving to make veggie broth one day). Trim off any tough outer layers from the fennel bulb, and cut it in half lengthwise. Chop each half into ½-inch dice.

In a 5-6-quart heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset 5.5-quart French oven), heat the olive oil and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until the meaty edges start to curl/brown.

Add the fennel, onion, turnip, carrots, and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the cheese rind, squash, potato, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, salt, and water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low (whatever heat allows you to maintain a simmer), and cook uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the lima beans, green beans, and cannellini, and return the soup to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the cheese rind, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper.

While the soup is simmering, make the pistou:

Chop the garlic fine, then using a fork, mash it to a paste with the salt. Combine the basil and garlic paste in a food processor until the basil is finely chopped. It will have a vaguely mealy look. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Add the cheese and process the mix to a purée.

Serve each bowl of soup with a healthy dollop of the pistou. The pistou should be stirred into the soup before eating.

And a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Any Day Is a Party Day
What’s cooking? Corn and Black Bean Relish

Ok, so I missed giving you a recipe for SuperBowl snacks. But that won’t be the last time you gather a group of friends together, will it? Even just in February, there’s President’s Day (February 16), Mardi Gras (February 17), Chinese New Year (February 19), and Oscar Night (February 22).

Then we have the lesser lights, the geeks of the holiday list, that you and your friends might just use as an excuse to lighten the mood on one of these grim, wintry days. Like Hoodie-Hoo Day. Seriously, folks. It’s February 20, and the idea is that everyone goes outside at noon, waves their hands in the air and shouts “Hoodie-hoo!” to chase away the winter and encourage spring to show up. It makes as much sense as Groundhog Day, and sounds more fun. Or celebrate Umbrella Day (February 10) or Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17) or World Thinking Day (February 22), started by the Girl Scouts, of all people.

At least for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on February 24, which is... [drum roll, please]... Tortilla Chip Day. Now, how cool is that? Gather some friends to watch one of the old Oscar winners (Annie Hall, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting,...), line up a bunch of dips, and pass the chips around. As a party format, nothing could be easier.

So if you decide to celebrate Tortilla Chip Day – or any of the others, or maybe just TGIF, the Kitchen Goddess has been saving just the recipe for you. She got it from a friend in San Antonio, so it naturally has a bit of a Tex-Mex or Southwest flavor. This “dip” isn’t really a dip – more like a relish – but it goes really well with chips of any kind. And it looks healthy. In fact, it actually is healthy, having no sugar or other sweetener and being very low in fat. And it’s gluten-free for those of you who care. Regardless, it’s delicious. Sweet and crunchy from the corn, tart from the lime juice, and then there’s that smoky flavor you get from black beans.

This is one of those great recipes where you just pile everything into a bowl and stir. It takes almost no time to assemble. The Kitchen Goddess has one friend who often makes a batch of this stuff up and just eats some with a salad for lunch.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) The Kitchen Goddess is a big fan of cilantro, so she often doubles the amount she puts into this relish. Cilantro is a critical ingredient in this dish, so if you don’t like cilantro, you should find something else to make. (2) On the other hand, the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t like raw onion, and the amounts in this recipe can easily be reduced to accommodate that preference without damaging the flavor profile. Soaking the chopped raw onion in water for 5 minutes, then draining it before adding it to the relish, will go a long way toward removing its pungency. (3) This recipe is a fabulous way to use field-ripened tomatoes in the summer. In winter, the Kitchen Goddess prefers to use grape tomatoes or the bite-sized sweet tomatoes that many stores now carry.

Lisa’s Corn Relish

1 16-ounce package frozen corn, thawed
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup (or more) chopped fresh cilantro (stems and leaves)
¼ cup (or less) thinly sliced spring onion
¼ cup (or less) chopped red onion
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin (or more if you like cumin, which I do)
salt/pepper to taste

1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (in winter, grape tomatoes work nicely here)

Stir together the first nine ingredients (all but the tomatoes) and refrigerate 2-3 hours, to allow the flavors to meld. Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes. Serve with chips.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Search of Comfort
What’s cooking? Semolina Budino with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

You know how, when you were growing up, some people’s moms were always making bread pudding, while others’ moms made gumbo all the time, but never a lick of bread pudding? Well, I was in the gumbo group.

At my friend Margie’s house, they always had what I called Zebra Cake, that dessert made from Famous Chocolate Wafers and whipped cream. I yearned for that to show up in my house, but can’t remember a single instance when it appeared. And at my friend Sydney’s house, there was a huge glass cookie jar in the kitchen, forever filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I won’t say my mom never made chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn’t high on her list. In fact, desserts in general weren’t high on her list. We ate lots of gumbo. And chili. And barbecued chicken. And really excellent stews. But no bread pudding.

When winter hit here in Austin last week – freezing cold, wet, and windy – I started thinking about the kinds of foods that make your insides feel like they’ve been wrapped in a soft, fuzzy blanket. My book group, which operates on a pot-luck format, was meeting, and for reasons I can only imagine, I decided I wanted to take a warm and mushy dessert. Bread pudding kept coming to mind, mostly because it sounds like a great comfort food. But I’ve never had bread pudding, so I didn’t know what a good one would look like or taste like or how to judge one recipe for it over another. I tried rice pudding once – another dessert in that same warm/mushy category – but (can you guess?) my childhood also suffered from a lack of rice pudding, and the one I made got a less than hearty review. I was really stuck for an idea.

Then I saw this recipe for budino. That’s Italian for pudding. Now pudding is something I understand, though, frankly, the pudding in my childhood was of the Jell-O brand. This particular pudding is made with semolina flour, which is “finely ground endosperm of durum wheat.” Huh? Anyway, it’s used in pasta and Italian-style breads. And, according to Wikipedia, semolina when boiled turns into porridge, like Cream of Wheat. So when you mix it with some whole milk and honey and boil it, then add eggs, you get a sweetish dish – not Swedish – with the same texture as that Southern classic: spoon bread. I didn’t have spoon bread either, until college, but that sounded like just what I wanted.

The recipe – which was misleading in the extreme, so you will find that the Kitchen Goddess has cleaned it up and straightened it out – said to serve with roasted pears and sweetened mascarpone. You’ll have to try the mascarpone on your own. It didn’t fit the feeling I wanted. But on my second try, I worked out a really nice way to handle the pears that I think you’ll like. I served it first to the book group, who said things like “This is soooo gooood.” Ah, the response I hoped for. I refined the pears and served it again this weekend and got lots of “yums” around the table.

The only thing you may object to is the 18-20 minutes of stirring, but the results are so worth it. Get a glass of wine and turn on some television re-runs. I watched NCIS – as usual – and the time flew by.

The recipe said it serves 12. I think more like 10. Serve it in custard cups or ¾-cup ramekins or a single, large 2-quart casserole dish. But it keeps well in the fridge and is easily reheated in the microwave. It tastes best warm; the pears need to be warm, but are also easy to reheat. You’ll be really glad for the leftovers.

Semolina Budino

Mise en place -- it's a big help on this recipe.
Adapted from pastry chef Lisa Donovan in Food & Wine magazine, January 2015

4 tablespoons unsalted butter,
    melted; plus more for greasing
5 cups whole milk
¾ cup (6 ounces) honey (the KG
    prefers the delicate flavor of
    acacia honey)
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semolina flour (the same
    stuff used to make pasta;
    semolina meal is more coarsely
    ground and might work to make
    budino but the result would not
    be as smooth)
3 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites

Garnish with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup (see below).

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter the sides and bottoms of 10-12 custard cups or ramekins, or a 2-quart gratin/casserole dish.

In a large (approx. 4-quart) saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, the honey, and the salt, stirring just until the honey dissolves. Raise the heat to medium/medium-high and add the semolina in a slow stream, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Continue whisking continuously for 18-20 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the 4 tablespoons of melted butter.

In a large, heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth, then slowly pour in about a cup of the hot semolina mixture, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs. Continue adding the semolina in 3-4 batches until it is all incorporated. Set aside.

Folding in the whipped egg whites.
In a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the egg/semolina mixture until completely incorporated. Pour into the prepared ramekins or casserole dish.

If you are using ramekins, do not fill them more than ¾ full, as the mixture will rise during the baking. Ramekins should be baked in a bain-marie (hot water bath): Place the cups, evenly spaced, into a large roasting pan and pour very hot water around the dishes, to a level about halfway up the sides. Take care in loading the pan into the oven, so that water doesn’t slosh into the puddings.

Bake the puddings at 350º until the tops are golden and set. Let cool slightly (5 minutes) on wire racks before serving topped with roasted pears. Serve warm.

And now for the pears in syrup...

Kitchen Goddess note about the Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup: Giada’s recipe called for apple juice and no alcohol. (Yawn.) The Kitchen Goddess wanted something a bit jazzier, so she substituted pomegranate juice, and added a glug of French ginger liqueur. You can try your own mix –  use another non-citrus juice, or try my other favorite liqueur, St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Or use apple juice and add dry sherry or Calvados. Go crazy!

Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis for

Serves 10-12.

3 large, firm Bosc pears (about 2 pounds)
⅓ cup pomegranate juice
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons French ginger liqueur (Domain de Canton)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
 Preheat the oven to 400º.

Before cutting up the pears, set out a large bowl about half full of water, and squeeze a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice into it. Then, as you peel and core the pears, keep them submerged in the lemon water to avoid having them turn brown. Dice the pears into ½-¾-inch cubes, and keep the cubes in the lemon water while you prepare the sauce.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, whisk together the pomegranate juice and the brown sugar, and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Add the ginger liqueur and stir to combine, then allow the mixture to simmer 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens just slightly. Whisk in the butter.

Drain the pears well and put them into an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over them and stir well. Bake 35-40 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the pears.

Allow the pears to cool (5 minutes) before spooning them over the budino. You can also spoon the pears onto a plate or shallow bowl, top them with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle the syrup on top.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Beginnings
What’s cooking? Vegetable Stock and Mushroom Barley Soup

Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of great beginnings, here are a few of my favorites:

“If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the crossroads.” (Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers)
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” (A River Runs through It, Norman McLean)
“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.” (Stiff, Mary Roach)

Here’s another of my favorite beginnings: broth.

Just so you know, the Kitchen Goddess does not consider herself a trendsetter. On the other hand, she loves gossip, and sees it as her responsibility to pass along whatever food world news and trends come to her attention. It turns out that one of the latest trends is... broth.

In the cooking world, great beginnings often have something to do with stock or broth. Whatever the cuisine, there’s a broth in there somewhere. Think about the simplest dishes: egg drop soup (Chinese), stracciatella (Italian), and avgolemono (Greek) – all basically the same dish tweaked with flavor variations and/or some type of added grain. So whatever you’re cooking, unless you’re throwing a piece of meat on the fire, the chances are good that you’ll make use of a broth.

Since late fall, I’ve seen broth-based articles about ramen shops, how-to pieces on making your own broths, and a story about a meat company in Northern California that sells cups of house-made “bone broth” at its butcher shops. Not to be outdone by the West Coast, a New York restaurateur, Marco Canora, has opened a walk-up window called Brodo, attached to his larger restaurant, Hearth, where customers can walk up and buy (in three sizes, from $4.50-$8.50), one of three different broths; various flavorings can be added in at just 75 cents apiece. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

What’s the difference between broth and stock? After extensive research, I can safely say: not much, and who cares. According to the Culinary Institute, stock is for soups and broth is for drinking. But they’ve got an entire book on soups, with no mention at all of stocks – only broths. So go figure.

Vegetable Stock, a.k.a. Vegetable Broth
Both start with cold water, bones, meat, mirepoix (sautéed onion, carrot, celery), and a small bundle of herbs. Bring them slowly to a simmer, frequently skimming off any scum, and continue simmering for up to 2 hours, depending on the type of stock/broth you’re making. Strain out the solids, and skim off any fat. Et voilà – stock. Add some seasoning and you have broth. For extra flavor, you can roast your ingredients before adding them to the water.

So for at least a couple of months, the Kitchen Goddess has been carefully saving veggie scraps – those bulky, dark green ends of leeks, the thick inedible stems from collards or kale, and the stems and fronds from fennel bulbs – with the goal of bravely venturing into the world of stocks. Throw them into zip-lock bags and stash them in your freezer. It’s easy, and once you have 2-3 pounds of scraps, you have the basis for what turns out to be a really great stock. And among the stocks, veggie stock is by far the easiest and fastest to make.

Friends, I would make this stuff again just for the smell wafting through the house from the vegetables roasting. Oh, my. I also am swayed by the extra richness and flavor I get from roasting the veggies, but you can get perfectly good stock without roasting, so I’ve given you the recipe below to allow both options. I can even imagine certain uses for the stock that would be better from unroasted veggies.

And then you can use the stock to try a wonderful Mushroom Barley Soup. Of course, you can also use a good store-bought stock to make the soup – it’s a great weapon against the cold and rainy weather we’ve been having. But in this new year, I say you should try something new. Branch out. Be brave. Make stock – you will not regret it.

Vegetable Broth

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Makes about 2 quarts.

2 tablespoons olive or corn oil, separated
3½-4 pounds vegetables, to include:
  1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced in 1-inch lengths
2 stalks celery, sliced in 1-inch lengths
1 parsnip, sliced in ½-inch lengths
1 leek, well rinsed, trimmed and sliced in 1-inch lengths (white, light green, and dark green parts)
Assorted other non-starchy vegetables or vegetable scraps (such as broccoli, fennel, or turnips),
     Kitchen Goddess note:
chopped into pieces 1-2 inches long – enough to reach 4 pounds total.
      Avoid beets and beet greens, as they’ll turn the whole thing red. 
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 quarts cool water
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
4-5 whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole juniper berries
1 large bay leaf
large sprig fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley

If you’ll be roasting your vegetables:
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place the sliced vegetables into a large bowl and toss well with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Spread the vegetables out onto a large sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they start to brown. (Don’t overcook them.)

These are the same veggies as below, after roasting. Notice that the collard/kale stems got quite dark in only a half hour.

2. In the meantime, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

3. Once the vegetables have begun to brown, remove them from the oven and add them to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients. Deglaze the roasting pan: pour about a cup of the water into the pan and stir it around to release any of the cooked bits of vegetable and juices (the “fond”) that have remained there. Add that flavored water to the soup pot. Go to Step 3 below.

If you are not roasting your vegetables:
1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

These are the same vegetables as above, before roasting.

2. Add the vegetables to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring the mixture slowly to a simmer, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth has a good flavor, about an hour.

4. Strain the broth through a sieve. Allow the broth to come to room temperature before storing in the fridge or the freezer. Be sure to label and date batches of broth in the freezer. Some cooks recommend freezing the broth in ice cube trays, then transferring the cubes of broth to plastic freezer bags for easy measurement.

* * *

And now you’re ready for the star of today’s show. I have specified crimini mushrooms here, because they’re firmer in texture and contribute an earthier flavor than white button mushrooms. Also I like the color. But you should feel free to use either. If you prepare this soup a day in advance, you’ll find that the flavor deepens and the soup itself gets thicker. Correct the thickness by adding a little broth or water as you reheat.

Kitchen Goddess note: The Kitchen Goddess does not always remember to heat her bowls before serving a nice warm dish like this soup. But you can do better. Especially in cold weather, when your dishes are likely to feel a bit frosty, let the bowls sit with a little hot water in them for a few minutes before serving.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Serves 6-8.

1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, in ¼-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 carrot, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
1 celery stalk, in ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 parsnip, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
3 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (about 10 ounces), or white button mushrooms if you prefer
2 quarts well-seasoned vegetable broth or chicken broth
¾ cup pearl barley
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

About 30 minutes in advance, put the dried wild mushrooms in a small bowl and add the sherry and the boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. (I use my Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch oven.) Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns golden, about 13 minutes.

Stir in the diced carrot, celery, and parsnip, and the sliced creminis, until they are all well combined with the onion. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the cover. Add the broth, the barley, and the wild mushrooms with their soaking liquid. Raise the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve. If you are making the soup to serve the next day, save the parsley and add it when you’re getting ready to serve.