Saturday, February 20, 2010

Eggs-actly


I was single and living in New York when I bought my first cookbook. Unlike Nora Ephron, I didn’t get mine from my mother. When I left home in Texas, the only things I could actually cook – i.e., using heat – were hard-boiled eggs and canned soup. Among cold dishes, I could also make tuna salad. I approached kitchen life with all the enthusiasm of a Christian in the Coliseum.

But I was newly employed and living in Manhattan, and hard-boiled eggs and canned soup doth not a life make. And I really missed scrambled eggs. I couldn’t bear to call my mother for advice: she thought the stories of my incompetence in the kitchen were the stuff of stand-up comedy and worthy fodder for the neighborhood coffee klatch. My dad also cooked a lot of eggs, but my brother and I had always referred to the result as “flat eggs.” Not too appetizing, and certainly not anything I was eager to replicate. So I called my aunt, trusting that she’d be discreet and that the resulting scrambled eggs would be fluffy. She explained the process carefully, even as to how much was “a little” milk. (Though these days, I use water, to better effect.) I followed her instructions to the letter, and, lo and behold: scrambled eggs. I was joyous, triumphant, even – dare I say it? – egg-static.       

I’m a lot more comfortable with eggs these days, but whenever I make a dish that’s heavily egg-oriented, I remember those days and the joy of my own scrambled eggs.

So last night was one of those nights when I needed to pull dinner together quickly, and for speed, economy, and nutrition, there’s nothing like a frittata. They’re delicious, too, and the variations are endless. You can follow the gist of the instructions below, substituting your own selection of veggies, including mushrooms, and use whatever cheese strikes your fancy.              

Thursday Frittata (serves 2, with leftovers)

2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 eggs
1 Tbl dried oregano
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat the broiler. Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 mins, then add the garlic and sauté 1 min more. (Kitchen Goddess tip: Don't burn the garlic; burnt garlic tastes bitter.) Add the other vegetables, stirring to combine well with the onion and garlic and olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5-7 mins.

While the veggies cook, whisk together the eggs, oregano, cayenne, and salt/pepper in a separate bowl. When the veggies are ready, spread them evenly around the skillet, and pour the egg mix over them. Cover and continue to cook over medium-low heat for 8 mins, or until the eggs are set around the edges and almost set in the center. Remove the lid, sprinkle the cheese over all, and place the skillet under the broiler. Cook until the cheese is bubbling and the eggs are completely set, about 2 mins. Cut into wedges and serve with fruit or a salad and a crusty bread.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hearts and Flowers...Maybe

Some years ago, my husband bolted into the kitchen with a furrowed brow of concern on his face.

“Was today Valentine’s Day?” he asked, the constricted throat muscles rendering a hint of panic in his voice.

“No,” I said. “That’s tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the 14th.”

“But isn’t it always on a Sunday?”

As the only woman in a house full of men, there was never anyone who’d give me an honest opinion on a new pair of shoes or a new hair style. Sometimes I’d wait all day to see if one of my men would notice that my hair was blonder or curlier or 3 inches shorter. And I spent years trying to figure out how to raise their awareness as to the importance of certain “special” days. Not that I wanted a big deal made of it or to be inundated with flowers or candy or jewelry. (Frankly, I think going to Jared’s is way over the top.) But the results for Valentine’s Day were definitely mixed.

From my husband, some years, I’d get a card; some years, flowers; some years, even a gift. And some years, I’d get nothing at all. And in those years when he’d forgotten, in the spirit of “the best defense is a good offense,” my mate would treat me to a lecture about the conspiracy among the card and flower and candy companies to make Valentine’s Day a bigger deal than it should be. I’d get a similar lecture on Mother’s Day, but his standard escape clause on Mother’s Day is that I’m not his mother. That excuse won’t work on Valentine’s Day: if I’m not his Valentine, we’re both in trouble.

This year, for my children, I made – what else? – Valentine cookies. Of course, I forgot to mail them until Friday, so the package will be a bit late. But they’ll forgive me. Once they got to college, I used to announce ahead of time that I’d be sending Valentine cookies, in an effort to see if this subtlety would benefit me or any other hopeful female, but I figured it was my best shot. I needn’t have bothered.

On the other hand, now that we’re retired, there must be less stuff cluttering my hubby’s mind. By the time I got up, he’d fed the cat, emptied the dishwasher, and left a funny card right where I’d see it. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homage to Cintra

Please excuse me, dear readers, for today’s truly random thoughts, having nothing to do with food or cooking, but my alternate passion, writing.

The best day of the week for me is Thursday, when the New York Times publishes its Home and Style sections. Ok, I like Wednesday, too, when the Dining section appears; but for the best wordsmithing, you shouldn't miss Cintra Wilson. Her column, “Critical Shopper,” which is in the Style section, overflows with sly humor and inspired metaphors, as well as a healthy taste of sarcasm. It’s just fun reading regardless of whether you have any interest in the store she’s reviewing. And while I’m pretty sure she and I don’t shop in the same stores – the irony of my hips being a major barrier to really hip clothing never escapes me – I would read her any day of the week.

One truly memorable column, from last May 7, reviews a meatpacking district boutique called Zadig & Voltaire, whose style she calls “Haute Liberal Arts Dormitory.” Here’s a sample clip: “The staff was blissfully relaxed, in a pleasant and civilized manner, and took no notice of my eccentricities as I stood around obsessively scrutinizing and jotting down notes on the highly specific, high-maintenance wash-instruction tags on their premangled jeans. These jeans had very fussy suggestions for upkeep and seemed to prefer that I never wash them again, lest I fade their artistically prefaded denim to a more amateurish color level.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Go, Team! (Whoever you are)
What’s cooking? Cheddar Corn Chowder and Jalapeño-Parsley Purée

Thank goodness football season is over. I’m really not much of a fan. While it’s true that I grew up in Texas, where the sport has been elevated to a status only a few notches below Santa Claus or pimento cheese, I just never bought into it that heavily. So ever since my sons got old enough to enjoy watching with their dad, I’ve used the opportunity to catch up on my reading or maybe try out a fun soup recipe. I used to feign interest – tip-toeing my way through the fog of testosterone, I’d wait for a quiet moment, and ask, “So, what color is our team?” You know, I think they’re really happy when I find something else to do.

At my house, in the middle of winter, “something else” is often soup. And why not? It’s filling, tummy-warming, reasonably cheap to make, and labor-saving – being often even better as leftovers the next day. Here in Texas, I’ve had more opportunities for cold soups, but really, any time the thermometer gets down into the 40s (and as I write this, it’s 32º – brrrr!), my mind heads toward a large pot of something simmering.

I’ve served this soup to family and friends for years. It’s adapted from a recipe in the January 2000 issue of Gourmet, and it’s really easy to make. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out the reviews for it on epicurious.com. One of the great ways to entertain yourself (if you’re a fanatic chef) is to go to that site and browse the reviews. You have to look hard, but sometimes you can find these hilarious sniping wars between reviewers. My litmus test for a really great recipe is a high number of reviews, combined with a strong user rating; this one has 142 reviews (whew!), and a user rating of 3½ forks out of 4. So there. And while a number of those reviewers reduced the amount of cumin – what, are they crazy?! – I say you can never have too much cumin, so my teaspoons are rounded.

Now, about the purée. I discovered it one day in a search on epicurious for this very same soup recipe, when I happened upon a different corn chowder recipe from July 1992 that turned out to be awful (bland with too much potato and no creaminess). But it had this amazing purée that is bright and sharp and adds just the right touch of tang to the soup – looks great, too – so now I serve it with the good corn chowder, and am very happy.

Cheddar Corn Chowder
(The original recipe says it serves 4, but I've added sausage, so I’d say it now serves 6.)

1 pound sweet Italian sausage
4 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken broth (or 3 cups water plus 1 tablespoon Knorr Chicken Flavored Bouillon powder)
1 large boiling potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup half-and-half
10-ounce package frozen corn kernels
1 small can creamed corn
8 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated [K.G. Tip: Get really good quality Cheddar.]

Crumble the sausage in a medium-sized (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset) Dutch oven and cook until no pink is left. Pour off the grease and set the cooked sausage aside. Cook the bacon in the same pan over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Add the onion and butter to the bacon fat and cook, stirring, until onion is softened. Add cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Add potato and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 8 minutes. Stir in half-and-half and both types of corn, as well as the reserved sausage, and return to a simmer. Add Cheddar, stirring just until cheese is melted (do not let boil), and season generously with pepper. Swirl a dollop of the Jalapeño-Parsley Purée on top.

Jalapeño-Parsley Purée

 5 fresh jalapeño chilies
 ¼ cup olive oil
 1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
 1 tablespoon water
 1 garlic clove, minced
 1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves

If you’re really feeling energetic: Broil the jalapeños on the rack of a broiler pan under a preheated broiler about 2 inches from the heat, turning them every 5 minutes, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the skins are blistered and charred. Transfer the jalapeños to a bowl and let them stand, covered tightly, until they are cool enough to handle. Wearing rubber gloves, peel the jalapeños, cut off the tops, and discard all but 1 teaspoon of the seeds. If you’re a lazy slob like me: Buy canned jalapeños – they’ve already been roasted and peeled. Remove the seeds, saving 1 teaspoon of them. If you find that this mixture is still too hot, next time leave out the seeds altogether.

In a blender, puree the jalapeños with the seeds, the oil, the lime juice, the water, the garlic, the parsley, and salt to taste. The puree may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled.