Saturday, August 30, 2008

You screme, I screme for ice creme

Technically this is probably ice milk. It is creamy, though, and extremely easy to make. The New York Times "Dining In" section 10 days ago had an article and recipe for "Ice cream in a bag." The way you freeze it, according to their method, is to put the mix in a freezer bag and bury it in an ice and salt combination. I didn't want to go to the trouble and tried, as an experiment, putting the bag between those frozen bags you get when something is shipped to you.

It didn't work. So I just put my ice cream mix into the freezer and squooshed it every 15 minutes until it was hard. That took a couple of hours. The resulting product was delicious.

I've been contemplating for some time a retro idea of making ice cream that tastes like the creamsicles and fudgesicles I loved so much as a kid. Last night I made my version of ice cream in a bag and got the flavor pretty much right. What surprised me was the amount of frozen orange juice concentrate to get the proper flavor. At breakfast in a diner yesterday I copped a little container of orange marmalade to add to the mix. I'm not sure it did anything.

As for the fudgesicle part, I haven't tried my own recipe below yet. I think it should work. If it don't, I'll correct it tomorrow.

Creamsicle ice cream in a bag
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 portion stolen orange marmalade from Breakfast King
6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
1 tbsp Splenda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk everything together in a bowl and then pour it into a one-gallon freezer bag. Lay the bag flat in the freezer. Every 15-20 minutes take it out and squeeze everything so that it freezes evenly.

Fudgesicle sauce
2 fudgesicles
1/4 cup heavy cream

Melt the fudgesicles in a saucepan and reduce the liquid by half over medium low heat, just a very slow simmer. Add the cream and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

I am making mini, one bite, creamsicle/fudgesicles. Pour just enough sauce to coat the bottoms of the cups of an ice tray. Place the tray in the freezer and freeze the sauce solid.

Fill the cups with ice cream to just below the top. The point is to leave enough room for another chocolate sauce layer. Using a measuring cup with a pouring lip, top off the ice cream with sauce.

Insert a popsicle stick into the ice cream of each cup. Freeze everything again. To unmold the pops, place the ice tray in some warm water just until they pop free. Store the pops in individual sandwich bags in the freezer. That is if you don't immediately eat them all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vietnamese beef salad

Last night’s dinner was spectacular. The sounds we make when such pleasurable food passes between our lips would cause a hooker blush.

As I’ve said before, it is not my intention to simply parrot recipes. I want to share with you things that I have contributed to substantially enough to justify your going to the time and trouble to try something new.

Over the years one of our favorite summer delectations has been a Vietnamese-style beef salad. The recipe comes right out of an issue of “Eating Well” from May/June 1998. Peter has seen to it that we’ve saved every “Eating Well,” “Bon Appetit,” “Gourmet,” and “Cook’s Illustrated” over the years. He even remembers more or less where our favorite things are within these excellent publications.

In the past it has always been my task to prepare the beef while he puts together the dressing. I think last night was the first time I did the whole thing myself. The serendipity came when I made a mistake by taking steps before reading the recipe completely.

One of the ingredients called for is lemongrass. Our neighborhood Safeway, which upgraded itself to a “life style” store over recent months, now carries nearly anything we want. Lemongrass is one exception. The produce guy told Peter that it dries out so quickly that they’ve decided not to carry it. He showed him a tube of lemongrass paste that he claims is a very good, long lasting product. So that’s what we used. It wasn’t as good as the real thing, but it did the trick.

The battle plan includes reducing some stock with the lemongrass and some shallot before adding the rest of the ingredients. That’s the part I didn’t read. I put everything in the sauce pan at once. The result, I think, was actually a more intensely flavored dressing. The original recipe calls for you to discard the solids. I saw no reason to do that.

Our other variation was in not using flank steak, as is called for, but flatiron steak instead. Flatiron is a cut that hasn’t always been available. Wikipedia describes it best:

"The flat iron steak is a cut of steak from the shoulder of a steer, also known as the Teres Major. Whole, this muscle is known as Infraspinatus, and one may see this displayed in some butcher shops and meat markets as a "top blade" roast. Steaks that are cross cut from this muscle are called top blade steaks or patio steaks. As a whole cut of meat it usually weighs around 2 to 3 lbs, is located adjacent to the heart of the shoulder clod, under the seven bone. The entire top blade usually yields 4 steaks, between 8 to 12oz. each. Restaurants, particularly upscale, have recently begun serving flat iron steaks on their menus. Especially popular are flat irons from Wagyu beef, as a way for chefs to offer more affordable and profitable dishes featuring Wagyu or Kobe beef. In the normal grades, marinade is required to achieve tenderness on par with more expensive cuts, such as ribeye or strip steak."

The truth is, our flatiron last night was about 23 oz., more than the recipe called for. I cut the steak down, saving the extra ounces for some cheesesteak sandwiches in a day or so. Also, the marinade for the meat seemed very skimpy. I doubled it.

I find flatiron steak to be more tender than other striated cuts such as flank and hangar steaks. Also, I found the steak in the sale bin at King Soopers for half price, namely just over $4.00.

Vietnamese beef salad

2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp hot chile oil
1 12 oz. flatiron steak, trimmed of sinew and fat
4 cups baby spinach
4 cups watercress, stems trimmed off
½ cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced thin
1 carrot, julienned or grated
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
Lemongrass vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Combine lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and chile oil. Marinate the steak in this mixture for 4-8 hours, turning it occasionally. This can be done most easily by using a 1 gallon zip-lock freezer bag, but a flat glass baking dish would serve as well.

Prepare your grill (or in my case, the stovetop grill). Grill the steak over medium high heat for 4 minutes on side one and 3 minutes on side two. This yields rare meat, so adjust your cooking time accordingly if you want it more well done. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest 5-10 minutes (I found 5 to be enough). Slice thinly on the diagonal, across the grain.

In a large bowl, combine watercress, spinach, carrot, cucumber, mint and cilantro. Toss with ½ of the dressing. Arrange the steak on top of the greens and spoon the remainder of the dressing over it.

Lemongrass vinaigrette

¾ cup beef or chicken broth (low sodium)
2 tbsp lemongrass, chopped finely if fresh
4 tbsp chopped shallot
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 tsp hot chile oil
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

Place all ingredients, except the cilantro and mint, in a saucepan, bring it to a simmer and let it go 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely. Stir in the cilantro and lime.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Behold the sandwich!

Everyone eats sandwiches. We throw them together at home, buy them in a thousand varieties daily, munch them while driving or sitting on a bench during lunch hour or at a sports event. What we do not do, generally, is be creative in the ones we make for ourselves.

As a believer, like Food Network’s Alton Brown, in eschewing “mono-tasking” appliances in the kitchen, we do not own a panini press. Yet we make panini quite often. We grill sandwiches, we toast bread for sandwiches, and we even eat them with the bread fresh and un-fooled-around-with. A snooty aside: "panino" is one sandwich, "panini", 2 or more.

Peter and I eat lunch at home every day (with rare exceptions) since he left the employ of Opera Colorado earlier this year. Lunch, the majority of the time, consists of a sandwich and some fruit salad. Almost never do we repeat the same sandwich the same way. There are just too many opportunities for variations. The first variable is the bread itself. Our Safeway will sell us slices of panini bread or focaccia. They have loaves of sourdough, cheese or onion rolls, and a plethora of other breads.

Our newest favorite is made locally (Denver) by Udi’s. It’s not a soft kind of bread. It’s moderately dense and well suited to grilling or pressing. There are few rules. If the filling is to be something eaten cold (egg salad, chicken salad, etc.), we leave the bread alone. If we have some cold cuts and cheese, or sliced beef and cheese (read Philly cheesesteak) we’ll often make panini. How, without a press?

The answer is so simple that it rates a 10 on the “duh-factor” scale. Using a steel skillet, or our non-stick skillet or frying pan, we coat the bread with butter or olive oil, top it with a sheet of foil, and weight it down with the tea kettle. By the way, for panini we use olive oil, for grilled sandwiches we use butter.

The cooking time is fairly rigid: 4 minutes on the first side and then 3-4 on the second side. This is the same for pressed and grilled alike and the time is merely a function of crisping and coloring the bread.

Now, let’s get down to the heart of the matter: what will the sandwich be today or yesterday or tomorrow? For us, this is determined by something in the fridge, generally speaking – leftovers. A few days ago we had grilled chicken and pork cutlets on successive nights. There was some of each left. I chopped up the meat and mixed it with a couple of spicy little red peppers, a stalk of celery, some corn and tomato relish we had made from fresh ingredients as a variation to corn on the cob, some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. We ate it with some romaine lettuce on untoasted Udi’s sourdough. It was stunning.

In conversation with an acquaintance yesterday at a tennis match, I pointed out that if you find three things in your fridge that, individually you really like, you can find a way to make a meal or sandwich, combining them in an inventive way. This chicken/pork salad followed that axiom precisely. I guess it tasted pretty much like chicken salad as that was the larger quantity of the two meats. You don’t have to have corn relish, you probably have something else you could use. You don’t actually need anything other than the meats and some mayo. Add a little Dijon or other mustard for a bit of a zing.

I was inspired to write about the sandwich by a miraculous creation that came about completely serendipitously 2 days ago. I may have mentioned picking up a package of brats from the sale bin? There were 6 of them. I kept 2 in the fridge and froze the other 4 in 2 packages of 2.

Using the stovetop grill, I cooked them through, turning them often. The ridges on the grill helped keep them upright when they curled a little. They would have curled more if I hadn’t pierced them 3 or 4 times with the tip of a paring knife. When they were nearly done (and I could easily have done this sooner and speeded up the cooking time), I sliced them lengthwise just enough so that they would open up flat on the cooking surface. When they were all cooked through, we assembled our ‘wiches, using the last of a previous Udi’s loaf, a garlic and something bread. First went down a slice of cheese, the type doesn’t matter – whatever ya' got. Next came the brats, open and flat on their backs. Next some of the corn and tomato relish (pickle relish sounds good, too), and then another slice of cheese.

Putting cheese on both the top and bottom translates into the sandwich holding together better when you flip it over.

We brushed olive oil on both outside surfaces of the bread (before assembly) and grilled them for the requisite time as noted above. We took our first bite … and we both groaned with an almost carnal pleasure. Peter immediately said to me, “get two more of those suckers out of the freezer for tomorrow!” I concurred absolutely. We didn’t eat the other brats the next day, we decided to use up that chicken and pork. However, today will be a tiny violation of our general rule on repeating things – we will recreate those brat panini precisely. Oops, that's not quite true. Our cheese is different today.

My mouth is watering and I note that the current time is 10:56 MDT. Exactly 1 hour and 4 minutes to go before I close my teeth around that sandwich. Eat your heart out.

Do you like cheesesteaks? Who doesn't? If you have some leftover steak or roast beef, slice it thin, cook some onion just until softened, warm up the meat and put it all together with cheese in a roll of some kind or, as we do when we have them, in a flour tortilla you've warmed on the stove or even in the microwave.

That's enough for today. Go press yourself a sandwich!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The kindest cutlet of all

Here’s a basic recipe for a stunning dish. It does involve frying (what good stuff doesn’t?). Alright, that’s a rhetorical question – don’t get your knickers in a knot.

I’ve seen chicken cutlets made in pretty much every way possible on Food Network and some of the other channels where I find cooking shows. What I did was to mix and match the elements of this dish that pleased me most.

It seems rare to see a TV cook brine anything. In our house we have gotten to the point of brining every piece of poultry or pork we prepare. In the end it just makes for moister/more forgiving meat. If you need a primer on the process, look at my post of August 11, 2008.

I made this two nights ago and plan to repeat it tonight, using pork chops I found in the sale bin yesterday morning at King Soopers. I don’t think there is any variation between the chick version and the pork, but if there is it’ll come to mind as I relate the battle plan.

I have one confession to make. Several weeks ago Peter put parmesan on my shopping list. Regrettably, Safeway didn’t have the reggiano kind, so I bought another brand. Turned out the one I bought was on the Cook’s Illustrated list of “not recommended.” The brand is Bel Gioso. It doesn’t taste bad, it just doesn’t taste like the expensive stuff. So I’ve been using it in dishes where it is more or less a background element.

I didn’t tell Peter which kind of cheese I used for the chicken and yet he loved it.

Breaded chicken cutlets w/parmesan cheese

2 chicken breast halves, skinless and boneless
black pepper
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
¾ cup parmesan, grated
1 egg lightly beaten
1 tbsp milk
vegetable oil
1 tbsp dried parsley

After brining the chicken dry it with paper towels but do not rinse it. Place each breast half between sheets of plastic wrap and pound it flat – at least 1/3” if not ¼”. Sprinkle both sides with black pepper, but don’t add any more salt. ‘Cause if you do, you risk over saltiness. It’s according to your taste, in other words.

Set up three bowls and a plate on the countertop. In one bowl lightly beat the egg with the milk. In a second bowl place ½ cup flour. In the third go the breadcrumbs, parsley, and parmesan, all of which should be thoroughly tossed together.

Dredge each piece in flour, shaking off excess, then in egg, and finally in crumb and cheese. Press the stuff firmly into the meat and carefully place the chicken on the plate (without any toweling). Repeat with the second piece of chicken. Place the plate uncovered in the fridge for an hour if you have the time. If not, 15-30 minutes will probably be fine. You want the coating to dry some so that it adheres well to the meat.

When it’s time to cook, heat 1/8” oil in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the pieces of chicken without them overlapping. When the oil is very hot, add the chicken. Cook on the first side until the top edges of the pieces turn opaque and it's golden on the bottom. Turn the chicken over and cook for exactly two minutes. Nick one corner of the thickest portion. If you see any pink, let it go exactly ONE more minute. Set aside on paper towels for 2-3 minutes.

One final thing: if you cut your own chicken off the bone, you probably have the “tenders” attached as was the case for me. Carefully separate them and trim out the bit of tendon you’ll see on the underside. After that, simply prepare them the same way with the exception that they don’t require pounding.

Oh, one more final thing: for the pork chops, if they are on the bone, remove it. Do pound them as with the bird.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Soup's the thing

Consider this posting a guide to the concept of soup making. Off the top of my head I can’t think what cannot go into a soup. In 1966 I went to L. A. to rehearse for my first professional recordings and concert tour. I stayed for several days with a guy named Jay Reilly. His real name was Jay Kapfer and I don’t know how I remember that. After every lunch and dinner Jay put any leftovers into a pot in the fridge. On the weekend he would turn all of that into a soup. I only had one of his concoctions and remember that it was quite good.

Jay's healthy attitude toward nutrition and thrift didn't provide him with a long healthy life. A few years after I knew him, he was murdered in an alley behind a bar.

Another of my finds in the supermarket sale bin was something labeled “beef soup bone.” It’s just over a pound and has quite a bit of meat on it. Beef and barley soup sounded like a good idea yesterday. The weather was cold and quite rainy, although for Denver that is such a rare occurrence that we rejoiced in it.

As is often my wont, I wanted to make up a soup. I started by foraging in the fridge for whatever I could use. There were more than enough odds and ends.

Obviously, you can’t replicate this at home. You can, however, use what you have and have a luscious soup for a cold and rainy day. When I cut the meat up, I was astounded to find that the bone was tiny. It probably weighed 1/10 lb. So we had plenty of beef.

This doesn’t have to be a beef soup. It could just as easily be chicken noodle or ham and bean depending on what ingredients you find. If I had had it, I would have added celery. Since you don’t have the sauce, which is the prime flavoring and seasoning, you should use canned broth – low salt, of course.

The addition of ramen noodles was Peter’s idea. As a result, we should probably have borrowed Rachel Ray’s word and called it a “stoup,” not exactly a stew, not exactly a soup. But I’m not going there.

Beef and barley soup

1 soup bone, just over 1 lb.
3 bay leaves
fresh or dried tarragon
½ onion, left intact
olive oil, for browning
salt and pepper
4 cups water
1 carrot, thinly sliced
“barbeque” sauce, leftover
pearl barley
1 package ramen noodles

Preheat the oven to 275°.

Liberally salt and pepper the beef on all sides and brown in 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a heavy pot. Add the bay, tarragon, onion, and the water and bring to a boil.

Put the pot in the oven for 3 hours, turning the piece of beef every 1 hour.

Remove the beef and allow to cool completely. Shred or dice the meat in 1/2” pieces or so. Sprinkle it with a tsp of salt and a tsp of pepper. Toss to coat. Remove the bay leaves from the liquid and discard.

Add more water if necessary and bring back to a boil. Add the carrot and ¾ cup barley and cook until tender over low heat. It will probably take close to 45 min.

Boil the ramen noodles in 2 cups of water for 2 ½ minutes. Drain, toss with a splash of olive oil and a couple of pinches of the flavor packet.

Stir in the sauce and the meat. Add the ramen noodles. Bring the heat up until everything is hot. Enjoy. Oh, you can garnish this with parsley. We didn’t have any.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chinese braised beef back ribs

Jeez Louise, I’ve got to try to write down what I did today before I forget. I had a package (just under 2 pounds) of beef back ribs which I bought for a song from the clearance bin at Safeway. These are not baby back ribs by any stretch of the imagination. The bones are large, they are fatty and have some gristly material too.

I’ve been having so much fun with Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook,” that I thought and thought about how I could make up a Chinese inspired way to braise the ribs. It took some doing and involved improvising from beginning to end. There were 4 ribs in the package. Therefore they are nearly ½ pound each, though most of the weight is bone.

The one new ingredient I opened a can of today is sweet bean paste. Fuchsia says it’s reminiscent of Hoisin sauce. It is in a way, but it is sweeter and less salty I think. Ideally I would have used beef broth, but what I had on hand was about 2 ½ cups of fresh chicken stock from pressure cooking a chicken for the dogs day before yesterday.

Bear in mind that, as usual, I didn’t measure anything. As you doctor the liquid and turn it into a quasi barbeque sauce, taste it. It should have the earthy saltiness of the fermented beans, the right (according to your palate) hint of sweet bean paste, and just a little sweetness from the sugar.

I had no idea how long to cook the ribs for, or at what temperature. So yours truly just made it up. I wish I had some Sichuan pepper but didn’t have time to make a special trip for it. Hence the black pepper corns. Here’s how it went.

Chinese braised beef back ribs

4 large back ribs
2 tbsp peanut oil
chicken stock
8 salted red chiles
10 whole black peppercorns
1 ½ tbsp fermented black beans
2 tsp sweet bean paste
1 tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 275°.

In a cast iron or other heavy pot, heat the oil until a flick of water into it pops. Brown the ribs on all sides until well colored, about 2-3 minutes per side. Slice the chiles open on one side. Add 1 cup chicken stock, the chiles, peppercorns and 1 tbsp fermented beans to the pot. Bring to a boil.

Transfer the pot to the oven and braise for 3 hours, turning the ribs every 45 minutes or so. If the stock disappears too quickly, add more.

Put the pot back on a burner. Add another cup of stock and bring to a boil. Remove the ribs to a baking dish and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 350°.

Strain the braising liquid and discard the solids. Put the liquid into a saucepan. Mash ½ tbsp fermented beans and add them along with the bean paste and the sugar. Dissolve 2 tbsp cornstarch in enough cold water to make a slurry. Stir in ½ of it and wait to see how much it thickens. You want this sauce to be thick enough to stick to the ribs. Add more cornstarch as needed.

Brush the ribs all over with the sauce. Put them in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes, turning and rebasting them after 15 minutes. Let the ribs stand until cool enough to pick up with your fingers.

Save the remaining sauce for another special treat coming soon to a blog near you.

The meat was ready to fall off the bones and the flavor was distinct and delicious and about as far from an American style barbecue as you can get. But then that was the idea after all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Challenge You

I think I promised early on to post only when I have something special to share. Today I don’t. So I lied.

Instead, I’m going to share some thoughts. You can have your own epiphany in the kitchen. You don’t need to be a skilled cook to do so, either. Anyone reading this certainly has a cookbook or two on hand. Take a break from whatever you expect to be doing when you finish reading this. Go get one of those cookbooks…any one, it doesn’t matter which or what cuisine. Start reading the index in the back.

As soon as you see a recipe that sounds good to you (that is, you’d like to eat some of whatever it is right now), go to it. Make a list of any ingredients it calls for that you don’t have on hand. Before you go to the store to get them, think for a moment. Does the recipe call for lemon zest? Consider trying orange or lime instead. Does it call for bread crumbs and what you have is those Italian flavored ones? Throw them out and put Panko bread crumbs on your list. The “herbed” bread crumbs will hijack your recipe from the gitgo.

Maybe the recipe suggests fresh basil or thyme or oregano, your choice. Consider using two of them, or even all three in modest amounts. Are you supposed to use eggs? Consider using what I call “fake” eggs, the ones that come in the milk-sized cartons. They work perfectly well for most applications and spare you the angst of eating something with CHOLESTEROL in it. Besides, a few eggs a week is again considered part of a healthy diet.

Remember another thing: are you cooking for yourself or just two? Most recipes in cookbooks are for four or more. Do a little simple math and make what will get eaten, especially if you are one of those people who stick your leftovers in the fridge and ignore them for weeks at a time. You know who you are.

Do you get the drill here? You will make your life much more interesting by doing this exercise.

Here’s another way you could go about it. Think about your protein for today. There are a lot of possibilities: steak, lamb, myriad kinds of fish, shrimp, pork chops, chicken. You notice I’m not including the meats that require long cooking such as roasts. If you’re going to do this more or less on the spur of the moment, don’t scare yourself off before you even get started.

Was steak your choice? Does your supermarket have a sale bin for items that are about to pass there “best if used by” date? Check it out. I got a nice piece of sirloin this morning for 30% off. Even it had been a day or two past the date (which it wasn’t), that’s not a problem with a steak. For gosh sakes, fancy steak houses age the stuff for days or weeks.

Do not, I repeat, do not buy ground meat. The possibility of contamination is far greater than it is with an intact hunk of meat. You want a burger? Buy a piece of chuck steak and cut it into 1” cubes. Stick it in the food processor and pulse it until it breaks up into burger texture. If you’re really concerned about safety, drop that steak into a pot of boiling water for just 30 seconds before you cut it into cubes. E coli can only exist on the outside of a hunk of meat. Now you can make a burger as rare as you want at no risk.

You can make your coming repast easy by being expedient. Buy a head of your favorite kind of lettuce and one additional item, a carrot, a stalk of celery, a bunch of radishes, some or all of the above. Lettuce and one or two additions will make a perfectly satisfying salad. Dressing? Go ahead, buy a bottle. Make this dinner fun.

Add a starch to your list, or don’t. It’s fun and easy to cook some orzo pasta and dress it with butter (ok, or margarine), some salt and pepper and maybe a little parmesan or romano cheese. DO NOT, I repeat (in a more gentle tone of voice), do not buy one of those green cylinders of parmesan cheese. That stuff really sucks. Far better is to get a tub of pre-shredded cheese if you don’t feel like going for a wedge of the real stuff.

Don’t want a starch? Maybe for you the salad and steak or burger are enough. So be it. However, if you want to add a vegetable to the menu, do not (I kept my voice down this time) buy canned veggies, with a couple of exceptions. A side of white or black beans with just some lemon juice and olive oil and salt and pepper can be fun. Buy a can. Do not buy: canned corn, peas, asparagus, or green beans. Canned beets are more than ok. I even like canned potatoes. They have a flavor all their own, but one I enjoy.

Instead of the canned foods section, you’ll do much better with any vegetable in the freezer section (although not as good as fresh veggies). Do not buy frozen green beans, carrots, asparagus, or corn. Peas are just fine, as is frozen corn, black-eyed peas, artichokes, and a few others I’m just not remembering at the moment.

So are you saying now that I promised to make this easy and I’m going on and on and complicating everything. Bullshit. I’m just giving you a method, a plan of attack, a raison d’etre culinarily speaking. Not for tomorrow (although that would be fine if you need more planning time or your main squeeze is taking you out tonight), but for today – right now.

Make a list. Need I say it again? Make a list! I guarantee that if you don’t you will forget something.

Get your ass out the door to your favorite market and buy those things you decided you want and need.

When you get home, slavishly follow that recipe you found. If you have “Joy of Cooking” you’ll find that the steps are very clearly laid out. Just follow them.

I hope you get to share this meal with someone. It’s good for your health to be with friends or loved ones (or friends who are loved ones) across the dinner table. Enjoy yourself.

Oh yeah, on the way home from the supermarket stop at a reputable liquor store. Tell the people there what you’re going to cook and whether you want red or white wine (either one can be drunk with anything). If what you want is beer, get your favorite kind.

Ok, that’s it. My work is done here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stir-fried pork

Friday’s bell pepper and celery stir-fry was so successful, I made a variant of it including pork and preserved mustard tuber for Sunday dinner.

The preserved mustard tuber is a pickle made from the knobby stem of a type of mustard green. The literal meaning of its name, zha cai or “pressed vegetable, is derived from the fact that the stems are pressed to remove some of the water.

Before I get on with the recipe, I must tell you about a two-part epiphany. Part one has to do with essentially creating this recipe, with ideas gleaned and combined from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, “Revolutionary Chinese Cooking.” It was necessary for me to decide on my own the proportions of ingredients and the cooking sequence.

I hadn’t used our wok in ages. I washed it, heated it on the stove, and rubbed peanut oil onto it with a wad of paper towels. When it began to smoke, I just turned it off and let it cool. Now that it was seasoned, I turned my attention to the rest of the mise en place.

It is required when stir-frying to have everything completely prepared and at hand before you start cooking. Stir-frying happens very quickly. A delay to rummage through the fridge for something you forgot could cause a disaster in the wok. Better to leave out whatever it is you remembered.

Some Chinese recipes call for marinating meat ahead of time. My preference was to brine it for several hours. After rinsing and drying the pork, no salt was added to the recipe other than what derived from the various ingredients.

The mustard tuber comes in a smallish packet from the refrigerators at the market. At first taste it seemed reminiscent of kim chee, though much milder. I divided it in half and used the whole package in the dish. I guessed at the amount of salted chiles to use. 2 tablespoons ended up being just about correct.

Back to the epiphany. The use of the mustard and the chiles exposed us to a flavor combination unique to our experience. The result was deeply satisfying (a huge understatement). There was a lingering joy and comfort when I woke up this morning, which gave me a new insight into the complex relationship between flavors, kitchen labor, and creativity. That’s the best I can do to say it at the moment. Then came part two of the epiphany.

It hit me while reading further in Fuchsia’s book this morning while waiting for Peter to finish his workout. (My workout takes about 30 min. less than his).

I cannot say what I want to communicate in my own words. I quote Fuchsia.

“It’s the tiao wei, the mixing of flavours, that is the fundamental skill of the Sichuanese chef and the most fun to learn. What really distinguishes Sichuanese cookery is its mastery of the arts of flavour. Sichuanese chefs delight in combining a variety of basic tastes to create dazzling fu he wei (complex flavours). A well-orchestrated…banquet will titillate your palate in every conceivable way: it will awaken your tastebuds through the judicious use of chili oil, stimulate your tongue and lips with tingly Sichuan pepper, caress your palate with a spicy sweetness, electrify you with a tonic soup. It’s a thrilling rollercoaster ride. So many and varied are the fu he wei of the Sichuanese kitchen that one might twist the words of Samuel Johnson and say ‘If a man is tired of Sichuanese food, he is tired of life.’”

Reading those words today brought together my instinctive feelings about what I was able to do with food last night, with a culinary philosophy that resonates in my heart, mind and stomach in a whole new way.

Come along for the ride.

Stir-fried pork with bell peppers

12 oz. pork loin, brined and cut into ¼” slivers
½ medium onion, sliced into 1” pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, in bite size pieces
2 tbsp salted chiles, chopped (with seeds)
1 medium stalk celery, in bite size pieces
Pinch red pepper flakes
preserved mustard tuber
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp peanut oil
1 package ramen noodles
sesame oil
scallions or Chinese chives
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in:
2 tbsp hot water flavored with a pinch of ramen flavoring

Just before starting to stir-fry, bring a pot of water to a boil for the ramen. When boiling, add the noodles and cook for 2 ½ minutes. Drain and toss with a drizzle of sesame oil and a couple of pinches from the ramen flavoring packet.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or a wok. When it begins to smoke, add the ginger and toss for 30 seconds. Add the pork, ½ of the mustard tuber, ½ of the salted chiles and ½ of the garlic and cook, tossing constantly, until all the pink color is gone. Remove and set aside.

Add a little more oil if necessary and stir-fry the bell pepper and celery until they begin to soften. Add red pepper flakes, mustard tuber, salted chiles, and the remaining garlic. Toss for 1 minute. Add pork, ramen noodles and cornstarch. Toss for 1 minute and remove wok from heat.

Serve in heated bowls.

Pork Cutlets with Peach Sauce

There were 4 boneless pork loin chops in the freezer which I thawed and brined. I used two today and will use the other 2 tomorrow.

A word about brining: it does wonders for chicken and pork. It does a bit of tenderizing and infuses the meat with flavor. For best results don’t rinse the meat or chicken after brining, just dry it well with paper towels. The one exception I made is with the 2 extra pork chops I saved for tomorrow. They will be part of a stir-fry with some other salty ingredients. So I did rinse them.

Last week I confessed to having slightly overcooked some pork chops I was preparing on the stovetop grill. This time I got it just right. I mention the possible use of some grill seasoning in the recipe below. We just happen to have a jar of no-salt seasoning. While the chops rested in the fridge after being pounded flat, they rejoiced in a coating (both sides) of this stuff. It doesn't bring a lot of flavor to the party, but does give a complex background component. Whatever you do, don't add any more salt as you prepare pork that's been brined for more than 4 hours.

How to brine

There are lots of variations to brining. This is pretty much the most basic method.

Dissolve 2 tbsp kosher salt and 2 tbsp sugar in 2 cups of water. Put the pork or chicken in a freezer bag, squeeze carefully to get out as much air as you can. Seal the bag and place it in the fridge, putting the bag in a large bowl so if it leaks you’re protected. Leave the bag alone for up to 6 hours.

Remove meat from the liquid. Discard the liquid, but save the freezer bag. Just rinse it out with water and set it aside. Dry the meat well on paper towels. If you have the time, line a plate with paper towels and refrigerate the meat uncovered for an hour or two. You can skip this step if you want.

Pork cutlets with peach sauce

2 boneless pork loin chops, brined and pounded flat
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 peaches
¼ cup water
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Splenda
Red pepper flakes
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water

Start with the peach sauce. Peel the peaches and remove the pits. Chop one peach into a fine dice. Slice the other into 12 slices. Put the peaches and water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the vinegar, Splenda, and red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add the cornstarch 1 tsp at a time until you achieve a good, gravy-like texture. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove from the heat and set aside.

One hour before cooking, take the chops out of the fridge. One by one, place them in the reserved freezer bag and pound them to about ¼” thickness. Now you can discard the bag.

Cut a sliver of pork and microwave it for 30 seconds or so. Now taste it. This will help you determine if you are going to add salt to the meat when you cook. It is entirely a personal taste preference. After doing this, I rinsed the chops because I detected the potention for over-saltiness. Make your own decision.

Heat a large skillet (big enough to hold both chops) or stovetop grill over medium high heat until very hot. Sprinkle the chops with black pepper, salt - if using, and/or other grill seasonings you may like.

Put the peaches over low heat to warm.

Grill the chops until the edges are opaque. Flip them over and turn off the heat. After 2 minutes, no more, make a slit in the thickest part of a chop. If it is pink it’s done. It it’s too pink for you, let it sit for 1 more minute only. Remove to heated plates and top with the peach mixture. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Mixed Bag

In my book (unpublished and likely to remain so), “A Year of Food,” I chronicled my intake, philosophized, cajoled, and was generally quite witty (well, I’m writing this review!). In this blog I include only the new and inventive things I manage to do. Ergo, I will mention lunch today.

My homemade corned beef has been ready for a couple of days. We have a loaf of Udi’s rosemary sourdough bread and some Swiss cheese. It’s time for Reuben sandwiches.

Reuben’s usually have sauerkraut in them. We don’t have any. Instead, I concocted a slaw with stuff I scavenged from the fridge. This is an example of my philosophy about cooking. Find what you like, find what you have; put them together. Eat.

Stevie’s slaw

The remains of a head of napa cabbage, sliced thin
2 stalks Chinese celery, finely chopped
½ yellow jalapeno-style chili, seeded and finely chopped
white wine vinegar
olive oil
1 tbsp mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Toss everything together an hour or two before time to eat. This will allow the cabbage and celery to wilt a bit. As often happens, I can’t give you precise measurements for the dressing. It depends entirely on how much cabbage and celery you are using. Start with small amounts and add more as your taste dictates.

Reuben sandwiches

4 slices bread
corned beef
2 slices Swiss cheese
2-3 tbsp slaw
schmear of mustard
1 tbsp butter

Slather a bit of your favorite mustard on one or both pieces of bread. Assemble the sandwiches in this order: ½ slice cheese, as much corned beef as you want, slaw, ½ slice cheese.

Heat a griddle or large sauté pan on medium high heat. Rub a stick of butter on the pan and add the sandwiches. Cover loosely with a piece of foil. Grill for 4 minutes. Remove the sandwiches long enough to rub in more butter, turn the sandwiches, put them back in the pan, cover with the foil again and grill for 3-4 minutes until well colored on the bottom.

The reason you want cheese on the top and bottom is so that the sandwiches hold together when you need to turn them while grilling.

I paid a visit to Pacific Ocean Market yesterday for a Chinese food fix. I had a short list of items I culled from a very interesting cookbook called “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” by Fuchsia Dunlop. I’m not sure why, but the revolutionary part seems to include countless pictures of Mao.

I intend to make a stir fry for dinner for which the protein will be thousand-year-old preserved duck eggs. I had these in Hong Kong, more specifically on the island of Kowloon, when on liberty from the U. S. S. America during the Viet Nam war.

There were 8 or 10 of us who took the ferry from Hong Kong and then rode rickshaws to a restaurant someone had recommended to us. My memories are somewhat vague, but it was 1968 after all.

We were the only westerners in the place, a cause for much staring from around the dining room. I managed to communicate to the owner that we wanted a real feast – 10 courses, and asked him to suggest a menu constructed just for us. In a few minutes he returned to our table with a napkin on which he had written, in Chinese characters of course, a list of items. He was able to use just enough English words to tell us what everything was. It sounded swell.

I remember only two specific things we ate that night: grouper which was snared right out of a fish tank lining one wall of the room, and what I always called century eggs. Here is the description of them from Dunlop’s book:

“Preserved duck eggs, otherwise known as ‘century eggs’ or ‘thousand-year-old eggs,’ are caked in a paste made from soda, quicklime, salt, and ash, often with the addition of tea leaves or rice husks, and then left to mature for a rather prosaic three months. When the paste is scraped off and the shells broken, the eggs have creamy grey yolks, and dark brown, translucent albumens that are threaded with beautiful flowerlike patters which seem to be etched beneath the surface. These eggs can be eaten straight from the shell or used in cooking.”

I do not remember the taste. I do remember that we all ate them and cleaned the plate. I have some trepidation about them after all these years, but with the tea leaf curing part they are at least seemingly reminiscent of some tea soaked eggs Peter made a while back. They were quite lovely.

Another memorable thing about that evening is that the rickshaw ride cost $1 Hong Kong and the dinner about $10 Hong Kong. Each Hong Kong dollar was worth about 18 cents American. You do the math.

I have had fermented black beans in many a restaurant dish, but have never used them myself. I am fond of using ramen noodles to serve a stir fry. For one thing, they are extremely inexpensive; for another I love their texture. They also take only 3 minutes to cook. After draining them, I like to toss in just a couple of pinches of the powdered flavoring that comes with them. Don’t use too much or it will hijack your dish.

Bean curd skins are made from the protein-rich skin that forms on cooling soymilk during the preparation of bean curd. They are hung to dry.
Here’s my plan:

Red bell peppers and Chinese celery with century eggs

2 large red bell peppers cut into bite size pieces
Chinese celery, an amount about equal in volume to the peppers
Bean curd skin
1 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and lightly mashed
1 large clove garlic, minced
sesame oil
soy sauce
salted chiles, chopped
2 tbsp peanut oil for frying
2 preserved duck eggs, sliced into 6 pieces each

Rehydrate the bean curd skins in hot water. After 1/2 hour, drain and add more hot water for another 30 minutes. Cut the skins into bite size pieces.

You can, or course, use regular celery. The Chinese variety has thin stalks, quite bitter leaves, and a taste that is a bit more interesting than our everyday variety. Trim off all the leaves and cut the stalks into lengths approximating the size of the pepper pieces.

Heat the oil in a wok or large sauté pan until smoke begins to appear. Toss in the peppers and celery and bean curd skin and fry for several minutes, just until the peppers begin to soften. Add the garlic, fermented beans, red pepper flakes and salted chiles and continue frying for about a minute. Take the pan off the heat and drizzle very lightly with sesame oil and soy sauce. Use no more than 1 tbsp of each. Give the whole mixture a final toss and serve over ramen noodles. Arrange the eggs around the outside.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Make a silk purse from a sow's ear

I’ve been struggling with two things in the kitchen. My pickled herring is too salty. I soaked it in water for a while yesterday, then covered it with a combination of white wine and sherry vinegar. After tasting it again today, while it is some improved, I have put it in plain water again. I’ll leave it until tomorrow morning and hope for the best.

The second problem is also saltiness – my corned beef. I put it in a bath of chicken broth and water and brought it to a boil. I’m letting it sit on the stove while we go out to lunch. I’m crossing my fingers that enough salt will leach out to make it edible.

I had the same problem with my dill pickles. I found that putting them one by one in a water bath for 24 hours did the trick.

It’s Thursday now and I can report that the technique I tried with the corned beef did the job perfectly.

I have another trick for you: how to take a cheap steak and turn it into something good. I mentioned ribeye yesterday. I was referring to two boneless cuts I snared from the sale bin a few weeks ago and put in our geezer freezer in the basement.

I grilled them on the stovetop last weekend. They had fine flavor but were rather chewy – obviously not a great cut of beef. We ate some of the leftovers as tacos for supper last night and the meat was superb. Why? Marinade! Hence the following game plan:

Make a silk purse from a sow’s ear (101)

Any supermarket steak of lesser quality than filet mignon or sirloin
Olive oil
Worcestershire sauce
Chinese black vinegar
Sherry wine or red wine vinegar

Here’s the unusual thing, right up front: do this a few days before you are actually going to eat the meat. Grill the steak, stovetop is fine. Rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and any other seasoning that inspires you (I used some no-salt rub someone gave us).

This is important: cook the meat only to a rare state, no matter how you want it when you actually get to eat it. The goal here is to get a sear on the outside. Set the steak aside and let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes. Now, slice it thinly, say ¼” at most. If it’s a bone-in steak, cut the meat off and discard the bones, or give them to your dog or your mail man.

In a bowl, mix up the marinade of 1 part each “chester” sauce and Chinese black vinegar*, and ½ part sherry vinegar. The amount you need is entirely dependant on how much you think you need to coat the meat slices lightly all over. I’ll make a stab at this: perhaps 1/2 cup of marinade per 8 oz. of meat. I can’t guarantee that’s precise, but you’ll do fine.

Put the meat and the marinade in a freezer bag and squish it around. Lay the bag flat on a shelf in your fridge and leave it alone for 2 or 3 or even 4 days, except for turning and re-squishing it once or twice a day.

When you are ready to enjoy the meats of your labor, reheat it in a skillet or on your grill or stovetop, cooking it at this point to your preferred doneness.

This may be the first time anyone told you to cook a steak and not eat it for a few days. But we’re talking supermarket steak here. We were stunned at how good the meat was last night compared to last weekend when we first sampled it. I will try this again with various cuts of meat I can get on sale. If you’re interested, I’ll report back.

*Black vinegar is really worthwhile to have. It is more sweet than tart. It makes an excellent addition to various salad vinaigrettes and can be used to substitute for balsamic when you want a milder, sweeter result. Also, it's cheap.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Stewed fresh corn and tomatoes

I didn’t expect to have anything to share today. However, we decided to do something a little different with our Colorado corn and tomatoes. On Monday I bought 5 ears of Olathe corn (the good stuff) at King Soopers for just $1.

I made a fun stewed corn and tomato mixture. We ate it at room temperature. There’s leftovers which I think I prefer to eat slightly warmed, perhaps tonight.

When I made rib eye steak the other day, we ended up with quite a quantity of leftovers. It’s been marinating since Sunday (3 days ago) in a mixture of black vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and sherry vinegar (roughly equal parts black vinegar and W. sauce and about ½ part sherry vinegar). The hope is that the steak will tenderize. It was pretty tough on Sunday, although very flavorful. We’re going to make tacos for dinner. I’m not going to write down a recipe. It will just include flour tortillas (heated on the stovetop grill), steak and cheese and some chopped cabbage.

Let’s face it, you can stick anything into a warm tortilla and eat it.

Today our foodie group, the FEDUPs (Foodies Eating Diverse, Unusual Platings), meets for lunch at Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange. This restaurant is known for its game, such as rattlesnake, Rocky Mountain oysters (if you don’t know what they are, don’t ask), buffalo burgers, ribs, moose, elk, etc. Would it amuse you to know that we have declared that anyone who withdraws from FEDUPs will be known as a FEDEX? We haven’t lost anyone yet.

When I began preparing the tomatoes for this dish I briefly debated boiling water to blanch and skin them. I decided not to and cored the stem ends. Then I changed my mind. Guess what – it’s not difficult to peel tomatoes without blanching them. It takes a little longer, but nowhere near the time consumed by waiting for a large pot of water to boil.

Stewed fresh corn and tomatoes

3 ears corn
2 medium tomatoes
basil leaves
1 large clove garlic, minced
lemon juice
parmesan cheese
red pepper flakes
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chicken broth

Cut the kernels off the corn. Peel and chop the tomatoes. Chop the basil. Grate the cheese, using an amount to your taste. We used about 1/3 cup.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. When the foam subsides add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the corn, tomatoes, broth, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and heat to a simmer. Cook just until the corn is tender but still a little crunchy, 5-7 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in basil, cheese and lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Homemade corned beef - an encore performance

A person might wonder why go to the trouble of making corned beef when you can just go out and buy it. The first two reasons that come to (my) mind are that it’s cheaper and it tastes better. It takes very little effort, although it does take some patience. The first time I made it I left it to “cook” in the flavored brine for 5 days. Remembering that our nearby market, Rocky Mountain Meats and Poultry, soaked theirs for 3 weeks when they made a big batch of it in anticipation of St. Patrick’s day, I let my latest hunk of brisket go for 7 days.

As I write this, it is now simmering on the stove, and will continue to do so for a total of at least 2 hours – maybe 3.

In an earlier posting I gave a URL for an excellent recipe for corned beef. I’ll repeat it here in case you’re ready to give it a try.

I probably mentioned I am also making pickled herring. I sampled it yesterday and found it to be way too salty. It is currently in a water bath. This afternoon I will drain it and replace the water with some sherry wine vinegar and some white wine.

I won’t take any more of your time just now. (As if anyone is actually reading this shit.) We have everything we need for our meals today. Ergo – no cooking til at least tomorrow. Ciao.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gravlax and beet carpaccio

I have to credit Ina Garten of the Food Network for the basic recipe below for one of nature’s miracles, gravlax.

The following entry from wikipedia will fill you in about gravlax.

Gravlax or gravad lax (Swedish, Danish), gravlaks (Norwegian) , graavilohi (Finnish), graflax (Icelandic) is a Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is usually served as an appetizer, sliced thinly and accompanied by hovmästarsås (also known as gravlaxsås), a dill and mustard sauce, either on bread of some kind, or with boiled potatoes.

During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen, who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which means literally "grave" or "hole in the ground" (in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Estonian), and lax (or laks), which means "salmon", thus gravlax is "salmon dug into the ground".

Today fermentation is no longer used in the production process. Instead the salmon is "buried" in a dry marinade of salt, sugar, and dill, and cured for a few days. As the salmon cures, the moisture turns the dry cure into a highly concentrated brine, which can be used in Scandinavian cooking as part of a sauce. This same method of curing can be used for any fatty fish, but salmon is the most common. Modern variations on the marinade can include fennel and Pernod, black pepper and coriander seed, or horseradish.

Commercially prepared gravlax is sometimes smoked, and as such is incorrectly termed "gravlax". Salmon is often served in Scandinavia also raw and uncured, not unlike sashimi, but calling it "gravlax" is also incorrect.
Hope you found that illuminating. We ate our gravlax yesterday with a beet carpaccio inspired by chef Jamie Oliver from his program, “Jamie at Home.” Now I am using the word carpaccio loosely, not the only person to do so. It actually refers most often to thinly sliced beef or tuna served raw or very lightly seared. Jamie used grated raw baby beets and freshly grated horseradish. I had neither of these. Hence, the recipe is entirely my own creation.

At our favorite produce market last weekend I found the most beautiful pinkish, whitish beets. They cooked up and taste just like regular red beets, but are very pretty on a plate. I made up the sauce and will give the best guidance I can as I kept tinkering with the proportions until I liked the taste.

It’s also important that I point out that I am always cooking for 2, so double or triple these recipes as you wish.


1 pound fresh salmon, center cut
1 large bunch of dill, plus 1/4 cup chopped dill for serving
1/8 cup kosher salt 1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon white or black peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
splash of sake or other spirit

Cut the salmon in half crosswise and place half the fish skin side down in a deep dish. Wash and shake dry the dill and place it on the fish. Combine the salt, sugar, crushed peppercorns, and fennel seeds in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly over the piece of fish. Place the other half of salmon over the dill, skin side up. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

Place a smaller pan on top of the foil and weight it with some heavy cans. Refrigerate the salmon for at least 2 and up to 3 days, turning it every 12 hours and basting it with the liquid that collects.

Lay each piece of salmon flat on a cutting board, remove the bunch of dill, and sprinkle the top with chopped dill. With a long thin slicing knife, slice the salmon in long thin slices as you would for smoked salmon. Make sure your knife is very, very sharp.

Serve on pumpernickel bread or toast. You can also top it with a fried egg that has been allowed to come to room temperature. Or try the beet carpaccio below.

Beet carpaccio

1 large beet, steamed, cooled and peeled

Slice the beet very thin on a mandoline. Arrange the slices on 2 plates. Drizzle with the sauce below, top with gravlax slices and another drizzle of sauce. Garnish with some fresh dill if you have it.

Dressing for beets and gravlax

Olive oil
Chinese black vinegar
Sherry vinegar
White pepper
Lemon juice

If you do not have black vinegar add a bit more sherry vinegar. Be careful not to let vinegar totally highjack the sauce. Whisk the ingredients together and taste. It may take a few minutes of adding small amounts of whatever you think necessary. Remember the rule of thumb: you should be able to detect the presence of every ingredient, however, slightly.

I can’t express adequately the thrill will experienced with the first mouthful of this stuff. The addition of Colorado-grown sweet corn made this supper as memorable as can be for a man of my age.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Gazpacho, no surprise here, is a Spanish word with perhaps Moorish overtones. It may be related to the word caspicias, meaning "leftover bits." Indeed it is made with bits and pieces of whatever you have and/or prefer, served cold or room temperature in a fresh tomato base. As such, it is best made in the summer with luscious vine-ripened tomatoes.

I have made gazpacho many times. Every recipe for it is the same in one regard: tomatoes are at the heart of it; and different in another regard: add what you like despite whatever the recipe says.

The game plan below is derived from two recipes I found in our personal collection (375 pages built up over nearly 25 years and bound in 4 3-ring notebooks). It is modified to accomodate some things we had in the fridge, and some things I just chose to include.

According to my philosophy of food preparation, you should make this exactly as below - or not. I intended for it to be a one-dish meal - hence the addition of egg and beans as protein components. The use of canned tomato sauce gives the soup an undertone of richness. The commercial veggie juice brings its own interest, and the tomatoes, among the earliest of the 2008 summer season, make it seem overwhelmingly refreshing.

The amounts below are reasonably precise. What you must do at home is taste the final product and ask yourself if you can tell that every single ingredient is evident - nothing should overwhelm, but you should be able to say to yourself: the saltiness is to my taste, I feel the vinegar, I want more spice, etc.

3 tomatoes (about 1 1/2 to 3 cups after chopping)
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or mashed
1/2 jalapeno or other pepper, minced
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups Knudsen "Very Veggie" juice (or V-8, or tomato juice)
1 cup small white beans, or black beans
4-6 basil leaves, rolled up and cut in a julienne
salt, pepper, cayenne, to taste
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced or chopped
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (optional - we had some on hand)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cut a small "x" in the base of each tomato. Place them in the boiling water for exactly one minute. Then transfer them to a sink full of cold water to cover. As soon as you can handle them, cut out the stem spot and slip the skin off. Chop the tomatoes very fine.

Add all ingredients together in a large bowl (except the lime juice and egg, which you should add right as you serve the gazpacho). Mix well and taste. Add more of anything you wish.

The yield is 5-6 cups, enough to serve 4.

Blog Archive

Tuesday Tag-Along

Tuesday Tag-Along

Foodie BlogRoll