Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Margie's Kitchen in Boston: Lymon

Photos by Lena

My title uses the Middle English name for lemon in deference to the first English reference to this berry fruit at the beginning of the 15th century. The lemon goes back much further, back to the beginning of civilization. Its earliest identification is associated with the Indus (Ancient Indian/Pakistani) Civilization around 5,000 B.C. (see Food in History by Reay Tannahill for more interesting insights on the importance of food and cookery in history). As for modern cuisine, the lemon is an important source of the “sour” flavor, and along with the other four flavor groups: bitter, hot/pungent, sweet, and salty, are considered essential balancing agents in the human body.

The lemon is an ingredient seen in every kind of food to sharpen flavor alone or in combination with other seasonings. When combined with sweetness, the true essence of a lemon is revealed. What I recall with fondness about the ethnic cuisine of my mother and grandmothers are many things, but in particular those dishes that used lemon as a key ingredient: lemon meringue pie, homemade lemonade, hot lemon pudding served over home-made ginger bread; and then there were my Italian grandmother’s fried artichoke hearts sprinkled with lemon juice. They say that touching and smelling lemons makes one happy. I think this may be true because I’ve gotten the greatest satisfaction from cooking with lemons, and my favorite liqueur is limoncello, a homemade variety introduced to me ten years ago in my cousin’s flat in Arezzo. A close imitation to hers is the Pallini brand (remember to place the liquor bottle in the freezer for several days to get the true affect).

So, before I tell you all about my favorite “lymon” recipes,
let me first pour a little glass of limoncello—now I can begin:

Over the years I’ve collected many cookbooks, particularly of the ethnic variety, and embedded as an ingredient in many of the recipes is lemon: The Flavor Principle by Elisabeth Rozin, Memories from Brownie’s Kitchen by Brownie Schrumpf, The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two by Anna Thomas Nationality Rooms Recipe Book of the University of Pittsburgh, Ciao Italia by Mary Ann Esposito, and Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen, just to name a few.

The Flavor Principle (1973) is a wonderful cookbook. I bought my copy (now out-of-print) at CMU’s (Carnegie-Mellon University’s) bookstore many ions ago as a graduate student trying to escape operations research and other quantitative coursework [I should have trusted my instincts more.] The recipes all center on one or more ethnic flavor principles, e.g. lemon-oregano or cultured milk (sour cream or yogurt)-herb or spice. I have many favorites that use lemon, including “Baked Eggplant and Zucchini (Lemon-Oregano)” (201).

1 medium eggplant, peeled, sliced, and quartered
2 or 3 zucchini, sliced

1 large yellow onion, sliced
½ cup olive oil

½ cup lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoon salt

Dash fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon crushed dried oregano

1 clove garlic

Place eggplant, zucchini, and onions in fairly deep casserole. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables. Cover and bake in a preheated 375˚F oven 40-50 minutes. Serves 6. Fresh herbs can be substituted for dried.
Memories from Brownie’s Kitchen (1989) is full of hardy Mainer recipes. My favorite is called “Common Sense Coleslaw” (28).

½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups shredded green cabbage

Wash and dry completely shredded cabbage. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, except cabbage. Add cabbage; toss to coat well. Cover; chill at least 2 hrs. [Note: I first soak cabbage in water for about ½ hr. with the ½ tsp salt]. Makes 8 servings.
The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two (1978) is another out-of- print cookbook acquired during my time at CMU. I have many favorites but I would like to share one recipe that I’ve never made, because of my fear of layering cooked meringue shells. I may get the courage to make this scrumptious recipe “Lemon Torte” (326-327) but I would love to have a beta taster go first.

1 ¼ cups egg whites
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 ⅔ cups ground almonds (unblanched)
Lemon filling (see below)
Garnish: blanched almond halves

Beat the egg whites with sugar until they hold soft peaks. “Sift together the second cup of sugar and the cornstarch and then add it to the egg whites along with the almond extract, and continuing beating until egg whites are stiff. Fold in ground almonds.” Butter and flour 2 10 inch cake pans and divide egg whites between the two, “spreading it as flat and smooth as possible”. Bake layers for 1 ½ hours in preheated 275˚F oven. They should be pale and gold in color and shrinking away from sides. Let them cool slightly in pan then remove and let them cool completely on racks.

Lemon Filling

“4 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup cold water
⅓ Fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons butter

Combine all ingredients up to eggs yolks in heavy-bottom saucepan. Stir over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Stir with whisk if needed. When thick, remove from heat and beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Return to low heat for 3 minutes only and then remove from heat, stir in butter and let cool, stirring occasionally.

Spread half filling over one meringue layer, place the second layer on top, spreading the remaining filling on the top with some filling spread only on the sides of the top layer. Chill torte for at least an hour. Serves 10.

Nationality Rooms Recipe Book (1975) was originally designed as a fundraising project for the upkeep of the nationality rooms at the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt (University of Pittsburgh). The cookbook may still be available at the gift shop or you can check the link. The recipes in this book are truly ethnic. I just bought this cookbook recently and have tried one recipe (“Iranian Spinach and Lamb Meatballs”). Here are two recipes using lemon that I would like to try very soon: “Leeks-Turkish Style” (155) and “Filled Pastry (Hamantaschen)” (177).

Leeks-Turkish Style

2 pounds leeks
2 onions
⅓ cup olive oil
1 carrot (pared and cut into ¼˝ slices)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dill weed
2 tablespoons rice
¼ teaspoon sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 lemon for garnish
Salt to taste
1 cup of water

Cut leeks into 2˝ long pieces. Wash and drain. Saute finely chopped onions in oil for five minutes. Add leeks, carrots, tomato paste and dill weed. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, shaking pan and stirring frequently. Add rice, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and water. Cover and cook another 30 minutes or until leeks are tender. Remove from heat and cool. Serve with lemon at room temperature. Serves 6.

Filled Pastry (Hamantaschen)

1 cup pitted prunes
¼ cup golden raisins
½ orange, sliced
½ lemon, sliced
½ cup orange-chocolate liqueur
¼ chopped blanched almonds or walnuts
1 recipe homemade biscuit dough
(or 8 oz. crescent roll dough)
Churned honey
Grated rind of half and orange

Pour liqueur over dried and fresh fruits in saucepan and simmer lightly, covered for 10 minutes, until prunes are slightly plumped and some of the liqueur is absorbed. Remove from heat and cool. Place cooked fruit (reserve half of raisins) and liquid into a blender. Blend. Remove. Stir together with ½ chopped nuts and other half of raisins. Prepare biscuit dough and roll out into a 6x16 inch rectangle. Cut into 2
˝ squares and then cut each square into 2 triangles. Spread half of triangles with honey(not quite to edge) and then sprinkle with grated orange rind. Cover with plain triangles, seal edges, and flatten with rolling pin. Put 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in center of each triangle, bring up corners, and press firmly together. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle with reserved nuts. Bake at 375˚F for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Ciao Italia: Traditional Italian Recipes from Family Kitchens (1991) is the first cookbook drawn from the New Hampshire PBS Ciao Italia cooking show hosted by Mary Ann Esposito. Mary Ann has published several other cookbooks, including Ciao Italia in Tuscany. My favorite still is her first cookbook, and there are several lemon-based recipes but my favorite is “Pane di Signora Belurgi”(121), a lemon-egg, Tuscan bread. Making bread had always been intimidating for me, and bread making machines seemed to take away the purpose of making bread at all. It was until I tried this recipe, which yields double the 2 round loaves as suggested, that I got over my fear of making bread. This is a Tuscan-style hard exterior bread. I’ve given it as a gift to many individuals¸ and they have all told me how much they like the bread. As with other breads containing no preservatives, the shelf life is about 3 days, but much longer in the refrigerator for toasting, and all loaves can be wrapped in foil and sealed in a container or bag in the freezer for several months.

2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast

1 cup warm (not hot) water
3 Tablespoons plus 1 cup sugar

6 large eggs
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, melted

½ cup warm milk

2 tablespoons vanilla

Juice of 1 large lemon (I add juice of two)

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
9-10 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water and 1 tablespoon sugar for egg wash

In bowl or large glass measuring cup, dissolve yeast in warm water. Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons sugar over and stir to dissolve. (I would warm bowl or glass cup before placing warm water and yeast into them, as well as utensil used to dissolve yeast and sugar). Let bowl sit in warm place until foamy, about 10 minutes (I warm up microwave first then put in yeast bowl). Meanwhile, in large bowl that has capacity to hold 10 cups flour, beat 6 eggs with whisk to pale yellow, add 1 cup sugar, melted butter, milk, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat for 5 minutes with whisk. Stir in yeast mixture and mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing with a spatula until it becomes very thick and holds together (may not need all of the 10 cups). Turn dough onto floured surface (you will need to keep surface well floured) and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place bowl in lightly butter deep bowl (not metal), turn to coat, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap (or clean towel), and let rise for 2 hour, or until double size (warm microwave for about 1 minute and then place dough into it).

Turn dough out into well-floured surface. Divide into 2 (there really is enough for 4 loaves or you could cut recipe in half to make two loaves). Shape into 2 free form loaves and place on greased baking sheet, cover with towel, and let rise in warm place for 30 minutes (I place onto of oven while it is warming up). Preheat oven to 375˚F. After 30 minutes brush top of loaves with egg wash. Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned and hollow-sounding (bread should be done in less than 45 minutes (check at 35 minutes for Esposito’s definition of doneness). Let cool on racks (although you will be tempted to slice into this bread immediately).

Finally, let me end with Irish Traditional Cooking (2005), a gift from my son for the holidays. I haven’t had much time to browse the cookbook, but I’ve found several appealing recipes using lemon. In honor of my mother, who made home-made lemonade and would be happy that I’m writing about food, let me present Darina Allen’s version titled “Protestant Lemonade” (269).

Basic Syrup (Makes 3 ½ cups):

2 ½ cups sugar

2 ½ cups water

Dissolve sugar and water into saucepan and bring to boil. Boil for 2 minutes, the allow to cool. Store in refrigerator until needed.


4 lemons

1 ¼ cups syrup

3 ¼ cup water

Springs of fresh mint or lemon balm (lemon-scented member of mint)

Squeeze juice from lemon and add syrup and water. Taste and add more water or syrup if necessary. Add ice and springs of mint.

Lemon on Foodista


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Thai Coconut Beef Udon

I ate quite a bit of ramen noodles during my days as a college student at Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia.  Ramen is one of the staples of a college student and in those days only required a plug-in “hot pot.” Other college “cooking” experiments in those days included peanut butter and jelly, microwave cocktails, quite a bit of amateur bartending and of course jello. I did do a little cooking the summer I spent in the apartments at Haverford after sophomore year, and had plans to help my roommate cook a pot roast that she had brought from home, except that someone entered our apartment when we were gone to steal the pot roast from the freezer and a half-used tub of Crisco (seriously, some 10 years later we have no other explanation for this, as nothing else was disturbed).  Consider below a Thai take on the college classic for a quick grownup meal.

Udon noodles, in my opinion, are the grown up version of ramen noodles. This may not be what they are intended to resemble, but they always remind me of those college instant ramen days. Udon is actually Japanese wheat-flour noodle that can be served hot or cold. It can be combined with tofu for a vegetarian soup or with beef or chicken.

Tonight I attempted to create a udon noodle dish using my extensive collection of thai spices (some of which my mom brought back from her trip to Thailand) and a coconut broth. For some reason I couldn’t find a udon recipe using a coconut broth, which I thought would be the perfect combination with udon, so I created my own.

Here are the ingredients I used. Note that I feel I used too much ginger in my broth that I made tonight (it was fine, but a little heavy on the ginger) so I am making the adjustment accordingly in the recipe I am sharing here.

1 lb flank steak (you can substitute grilled tofu if you prefer to make a vegetarian dish)
4 cloves minced garlic
½ tsp powdered ginger
8 oz udon noodles
2 cups lowfat chicken stock
1 tsp dried lemongrass
¼ tsp saffron
3 small pieces dried galanga
1 can lowfat coconut milk
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Season and grill the tofu or steak as you wish. In a pot with 1 tsp salt, bring the noodles to boil to cook for about 10 minutes, as per the package instructions. In a sauté pan, add the garlic, ginger, galanga, lemongrass and saffron to the chicken stock and lowfat coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for a bit until the right consistency. Add the noodles and the steak and/or tofu. Garnish with the scallions, mint and a bit of pepper and serve hot as a soup.

I am very excited to report that my purse and shoe cookie cutters and professional grade food colorings arrived today. I plan to bake some lovely and trendy purse and shoe cookies, as well as some upcoming cake projects exploring the use of fondant as a decorative meeting.  In addition, we are planning quite the New Years Eve dinner to bring in a better 2010, so stay tuned for that too.  My menu for NYE, which will be the subject future posts, will include my take on a tiramisu truffle and how to prepare a perfect rack of lamb.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Torch It! - Making Creme Brulee at Home

I have always enjoyed eating crème brulee in restaurants, but never really thought about making my own. As a kid I loved ordering it when my family went out for dinner and always considered it a special treat since it was something that we never made at home.

Recently, I discovered that it is quite inexpensive to purchase a small crème brulee torch that can be used in preparing crème brulee in your own kitchen. It is actually very easy, and, if you follow the instructions carefully, safe. The end result was a professional looking (and tasting) crème brulee.
I purchased a crème brulee set, manufactured by Bonjour, containing a small brulee torch and four crème brulee dishes from the online cooking website, Sur La Table, which is an excellent site for purchasing any kind of cooking or baking equipment and accessories. The set cost about $40 dollars.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at the time of purchase that the torch did not come with fuel, and had to locate a butane source at the last minute.

After a bit of research and some suggestions from my Facebook friends, I learned that this can be found at either a hardware or a good cooking store. Unfortunately, the first hardware store I went to was closed today, so I went to Tarzian West, an excellent neighborhood cooking store here in Park Slope and purchased an aerosol can of butane for about $3.99 that I used to fill my brulee torch. My neighbor kindly offered to let me use his brulee torch (which turned out to be a much larger propane torch, nearly the size of a fire extinguisher). However, my husband and I were more comfortable using the smaller torch that we had purchased.

I am sure there are many recipes for different flavors of crème brulee, but tonight, since it was my first time making it, I followed the traditional recipe for crème brulee that came with the Bonjour packaging materials.

1 cup heavy cream
3 T plus 1/3 cup of sugar
2 extra large or jumbo egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla

This is enough to make 4 crème brulee desserts, although you could certainly double or triple the recipe if you were having a crème brulee party.  First, preheat the oven to 300 F and prepare a large pot of boiling water. While the water is heating up, combine the 3 T of sugar with the cream over medium heat and stir until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, about 5-6 minutes.
Next, beat the egg yolks (after separating out and discarding the white portion) with the vanilla until smooth and slowly add the hot cream mixture, beating until blended. Strain in a sieve and divide among the four 4 oz dishes.

Arrange the crème brulee dishes in a broiling pan and add the boiling water to the pan so that it is leveled about halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake at 300 F for about 25 minutes, until the custard is just set. The chill in the refrigerator for about 2-3 hours.

Next, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of a cup of sugar on each brulee on the surface (the sugar will be caramelized with the torch). I used about 1 T for each brulee, distributed evenly on the surface of the ramekin dish.  Using the brulee torch, move the flame continuously across the surface of the ramekin using a circular motion until all of the sugar is caramelized and golden brown (but not burnt).   You should carefully read the instructions on how to properly use your torch before doing this, though.  Once we had located the fuel, the Bonjour torch worked well and was easy to use.  The photo below shows the creme brulee about halfway through the torching process.

This dish is so easy to make, yet impressive and spectacular looking (and fun to make) that this makes an excellent dish for a party (as a friend of mine in California suggested) where each guest can use the torch to prepare their own crème brulee. I plan on having a crème brulee party at some point in the very near future!
The end result looked and tasted delicious – I highly recommend investing in a crème brulee kit and trying this out at home. I’m certainly glad I did! You could serve it on its own, or with a side of fresh berries or other seasonal fruits.


Brad's Kitchen In Brooklyn: Greek Cuisine - Spanakopita

When my wife and I began cooking frequently, one of the first recipes I wanted to learn how to make was spanakopita. Spanakopita is a classic Greek dish, consisting of filo dough pastries filled with spinach and feta cheese. My ancestry is part Greek-Jewish (my grandfather’s family came here from Greece), hence my interest in preparing the dish. I enjoyed eating them when I visited Greece on a family vacation in 1999.

My wife and I have prepared this dish several different ways. Usually, we use pre-made filo dough, which can be purchased at any supermarket. This dough has a nice texture and is light and airy when filled and baked. The downside is that it is difficult to form with your hands because of its flaky texture and the pastries are never professional looking. It rips apart easily.

Tonight, we prepared spanakopita using filo dough that we made in our artisan mixer. We were initially planning on using store bought filo dough that had been frozen. However, the filo was no longer in good shape and broke apart when I touched it. Hence, my wife filled in by quickly preparing her own filo dough.

This homemade dough was also tasty and easier to shape into a nice triangular pastry, because it is malleable. However, it is decidedly less crisp and flaky than the store bought filo dough. After doing a little bit of research, I learned that this homemade filo is actually closer to the more genuine Greek filo dough, as most Greeks preparing the dish will make the dough themselves using a similar recipe as we did. Although this is the authentic way, I personally prefer the thin and crispy store bought filo dough for a lighter pastry that highlights the spinach & feta filling. However, my wife, Sasha preferred the homemade version.

Spanakopita Filling

16 oz Spinach (we used two packages of frozen spinach, defrosted)
16 oz Feta Cheese (two packages; you can also use lowfat Feta if you prefer)
1 T melted butter
1 beaten egg
¼ cup of canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Greek Filo Dough

5 cups flour
5 T oil
2 ½ cups of hot water
2 T vinegar
Pinch of salt

- or use store bought filo dough roll

After you prepare the filling, make the dough in your artisan stand mixer. You can add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky. When you have the dough at the right consistency, roll it out on a flat surface using a rolling pin.

Cut large circles on the dough and fill with the filling. Then fold the dough over and pinch into a triangle, much the same way as you would prepare a hamentaschen.

When the pastries are done, glaze with an egg wash, consisting of one beaten egg and 1 T of melted butter, using a pastry brush.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the spanakopita are lightly browned.

Note: This recipe makes about 12 good-sized spanakopitas. If you want to make less, you can easily cut the recipe in half without a problem. You could also make them smaller, as an appetizer, rather than as a main course.

This article was written with a bit of assistance from my wife, Sasha.

Greek Spanakopita on Foodista

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Buttermilk Shortcakes With Quince (or Strawberry)

Just wanted to give a quick recipe for making buttermilk scones. Yes, scones do contain a deceptively large amount of butter. But once and awhile, it's okay to indulge and share the extras with others. This recipe made about 16 and I shared them while visiting my family earlier today. I adapted my buttermilk scones recipe from reading Martha Stewart's recipe for baking powder biscuits and writing my own buttermilk based recipe. (Note: Martha's baking book is a great baking resource that taught me how to bake in the beginning).

4 cups all purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 cups buttermilk

Mix the dry ingredients and put in the basin of your artisan mixer. Then cut in the butter and mix. Mix into the heavy cream and fold into the dough.

Mold into scones – the recipe made about 15 for me. I separated them about an inch or two apart on the baking sheets and molded into scone like shapes. Before baking, glaze each with an egg wash (from a beaten egg) and sprinkle some sugar on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

I love to eat scones with fruit. In the summer, I turned this recipe into strawberry shortcake with fresh strawberries. Cut up two pints of strawberries. Mix with 2 T of lemon juice and 3 T of sugar and put on top of the scones. It’s instant strawberry shortcake. Today, I did the same thing, but cut up a quince. I think the recipe would also taste great using kiwi.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Flourless Chocolate Cake (and how not to make a sticky mess)

I was not attempting to make a flourless chocolate cake. However, I made a very good one, even though I was able to eat only a very small amount of it. This is my first post since starting this website that I made something that, quite frankly, did not work out.

What I learned tonight is that there is a very short list of things I should never again try to make (unless I can get a tutorial from someone who knows how to make it) and should let other people make for me. This list only includes two foods (everything else I either can make if I try to, or have no interest in making, or haven't yet tried), which are:  1) saltwater taffy; and 2) baked alaska / meringue. Also, tonight's lesson is sometimes you don't have to make the most complicated thing in the world - i.e. a baked alaska. A chocolate cake or something less exotic is usually just fine as long as it looks and tastes good. (Having said that, I will be making creme brulee tomorrow).

In all fairness, I am sure with a little practice, I could figure out gnocchi. It just didn't work out the one time I tried. But the other two were colossal disasters. Candy making is very precise (more so than even baking) and you must use a candy thermometer to get the temperature exactly right. I tried making saltwater taffy using a recipe from a science museum (I think in Chicago). I used the candy thermometer I had - a thermometer a friend of my mom's gave me years ago in case I ever wanted to make candy. Little did she know 20 years later I would actually try . . . I think part of the reason it didn't work was because the candy thermometer may no longer be calibrated correctly after all these years, something that never occurred to me until after the fact. The first time I made a hard candy (not terrible, just not saltwater taffy); the second time I made a gelatinous gooey mess. I bet I could get it right with a new thermometer, but honestly, I don't need to waste anymore time making taffy than I already have when I can make rainbow cookies and fondant cakes and pasta dishes instead. I will eventually invest in a new candy thermometer though.

If you are reading this post to find out how to make a good flourless chocolate cake, here's the recipe:

5 T sugar
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted (you can buy baking squares)
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites (separate the eggs)
1 tsp vanilla

First, beat the sugar and egg yolks in your artisan mixer (if I haven't yet convinced you that this machine is the coolest thing since the invention of the wheel, I don't know what else I can say to encourage you to buy one). You should beat at medium speed until pale and yellow, for about 10 minutes. Then add the melted chocolate and vanilla and mix to combine.

Next take the chocolate mixture out of the artisan mixer and put in a bowl. If you have a handheld mixer, like I do, you can leave it in the artisan mixer and do the next step using your handheld.

Either using a handheld mixer or artisan mixer, beat the 3 egg whites until stiff and fluffy, with a inch of salt and 2 T of sugar, and then fold this mixture gently into the chocolate mixture, using a spatula.  Be gentle.

Spray a pan with pam and put into a circular 8 inch cake pan. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes at 350. The end result should be a light and fluffy but decadadently chocolate cake.

If you are smart, you will stop here and enjoy eating the cake. If you're like me, you might experiment further. I decided to top with ice cream, make meringue on top and put in the oven, to make a Baked Alaska. It did not work, and in fact resulted in a sticky mess. Basically my delicious cake was covered with a pint of melted ice cream and gooey marshmallow fluff. Note: the oven is still clean but when we tried to cut the baked alaska it was melted and gooey. The cake underneath was still great though.

I am great at making stiff peaks with eggs - I can make awesome souffles for this reason, and pretty much anything else requiring puffy egg whites. But I cannot make meringue, no matter what I do. I guess even in doing our passions we have our shortcomings. I made a gooey marshmallow mess that was about 50% meringue like. If you ever bought a jar of marshmallow fluff (I used to live next door to Peanut Butter & Company on Sullivan Street, which by the way, has the best cinnamon raison peanut butter ever), you know what I actually made. It did not create a proper seal for the ice cream, and let's leave it at that. My husband was less than thrilled about the cleanup but at least it didn't get all over the oven.

My mom told me later that she once made meringue and her Baked Alaska and it worked out fine. She said we should make it together. So perhaps Baked Alaska will have it's chance to succeed with me cooking with my mom - in her kitchen, using her oven!!

If you have tips on how I can make a better meringue and Baked Alaska please comment here and let me know. I feel like I should at least figure out the meringue part someday without wasting anymore eggs and sugar since I hate knowing that there's something I can't cook/bake. Hope you enjoy the flourless chocolate cake in the meantime. My husband has requested that I make it again soon so he can actually eat it!


Sasha's Kitchen: Crab Cakes With Spiced Corn and Pistachio Aioli

Today, for our Jewish Christmas, my husband and I decided to try out another recipe from the Marcus Samuelsson book, New American Table. We enjoy making crabcakes, and in the past we have made and enjoyed Goan Spice Crabcakes. Tonight’s recipe, which I made for lunch (we will be having leftovers again for dinner) is on pages 40-41 of Marcus Samuelsson's cookbook, and involves making three dishes: the crabcakes, a side of spiced corn, and a pistachio aioli.

To make the crabcakes, Samuelsson supplies the following recipe:

1 lb of baby yukon gold potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 tsp mild chile powder
2 tsps dijon mustard
2 T mayonnaise
2 tsps chopped cilantro
2 tsps chopped mint
2 T cornstarch (note, I used 2 T)
1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs (note, I used 1/2 cup of panko)
olive oil

Coat in the mixture of panko and cornstarch. I had actually never made my other crabcake recipes with panko breadcrumbs in the past. I should have known better as the recipes always called for panko and not ordinary breadcrumbs. They always tasted great so I didn't pay attention to this. However, I used panko for the first time tonight and I can't believe I didn't realize this before. Panko breadcrumbs are much lighter and taste and look completely different from regular breadcrumbs. The end result is a lighter, crisper crabcake thanks to the panko. Lesson learned.

The next stage is to heat the oil (olive or canola) in a saute pan over medium heat and to fry the crabcakes. This recipe made about 17 small-ish crabcakes, and we each ate about three of them for lunch. Thus, expect to have lots of leftovers or invite some dinner guests.

To make the Pistachio Aioli Sauce

3 yukon gold baby potatoes
1/4 red wine vinegar
juice of lemon
2 garlic cloves
2 T pistachios
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup olive oil (or canola oil)
1 tsp pistachio oil
1 T heavy cream
1 tsp tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

I was familiar with aioli before preparing this recipe. My mom used to make pecan chicken with basil aioli when I was growing up, so I knew that by definition, aioli is prepared with raw egg yolks, just like a good caesar salad dressing. If you can get past that, it is delicious, totally safe and does not taste eggy at all (having said that, do not make this sauce if you have a health condition that makes it unsafe for you to eat raw eggs).

Boil the three small potatoes (with the rest and separate) and skin them. combine the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic and simmer to reduce to 2 tablespoons. Note that this will not take long and you will have to do it twice if you get distracted by something else in the middle of the reduction, as it will stick to the pot and make a mess.

Add the reduction to the potatoes and pistachios in the blender and puree. Add the egg yolks, olive oil, pistachio oil, mustard, 2 T water and puree/emulsify until smooth. The pistachio oil is very strong and thus you only need a small amount. It is, however, a bit on the expensive side.

Mix in the heavy cream and tarragon and serve with the crabcakes. I also topped the crabcakes with a bit of plum chutney from the Bombay Emerald Chutney Company. I normally do not use store bought sauces and salad dressings, but this one is the exception to the rule. It always tastes amazing with crabcakes, no matter what recipe I use and what other condiments I make to accompany the crabcakes. During months other than the winter, we can buy this wonderful chutney (and other great produce and goodies) at the farmers market at Washington Park in Park Slope.

Finally, to prepare the side of the corn, here is Saumelsson's recipe:

Spiced Corn

1 T olive oil
1 can of corn
2 tomatoes (I only used one because that's all I had and it's Christmas, so I wasn't going grocery shopping)
juice of 2 limes
2 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp mild chile powder
2 scallions
1 T cilantro (I intentionaly omitted this)
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the corn, garlic and tomato until golden in the oil for about 4 minutes. Then add the lime juice, soy sauce, and chile powder and season accordingly. Once it is fully cooked, add the scallions. I like cilantro but was not feeling it with this dish, so I left it out entirely.

Crab Cakes on Foodista

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Lemon Pepper Chicken

This is a recipe I learned while working in the kitchen of The Daniel Packer Inne (or DPI to the locals), in Mystic, CT. It was after my first year of college, I quit an internship in NYC where I was basically a free delivery service for a video editing studio and I wasn't get paid. So I went home and all the jobs waiting tables were already taken so I went to DPI and they put in me in the kitchen since I had experience as a prep chef and dishwasher at another local restaurant. The experience was humbling but I learned a great deal that summer. Two of the things I learned were how to make some great mashed potatoes and how to make the breadcrumbs for one of the house favorites, lemon pepper chicken. The head chef would make it often for the kitchen workers as our meal for the night and it was by far my favorite part of working there. After that summer I perfected making the dish at home and it's been a stand-by for me ever since. It was even the first thing I cooked for my girlfriend Jenn on our second date. And she's still with me 4.5 years later so it must have been good!

Here's what you'll need for the chicken and taters:
1lb chicken
5 medium sized red potatoes
1/3 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/3 cup flour (I use whole wheat flour now)
1 lemon
minced garlic
olive oil
cracked pepper
2 egg whites
cajun seasoning
Parmesan cheese

The first thing I do is start boiling the potatoes. They take a while. Then I season the breadcrumbs with fresh cracked pepper and zest from the lemon. You can use a fork, peeler or cheese grater to get the zest from the lemon peel. Your end result should look something like this. I have some multi-colored pepper corns in my pepper mill if you're wondering why there is red stuff in my mix.

The next step is to dredge your chicken with some flour, then egg whites and then your breadcrumb mix. Get some olive oil hot in a frying pan and then let it get nice and browned.

On to the potatoes. Your potatoes should be soft enough that you can mash them with a fork. I am all about simplicity and so I leave the skin on (make sure you wash them) and just start mashing them with a fork and add milk, minced garlic, butter, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and a little cajun seasoning. The more milk you add the smoother the potatoes will be. If you end up making too much (I always do), add a little milk when you reheat them. I basically season it until it's declicious. This is what it looked like tonight before I started mashing.

So one last touch if this isn't already decadent & unhealthy enough for you. You can slice the chicken a bit and add a little warm milk and butter (heat them up together) on top like a gravy. This is how they served it up at DPI and it they always did it really well. See the picture at the top for reference. I plated it with some broccoli, steamed over chicken broth with some pepper, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Sushi Rolls (And The Story Of How I Got Engaged)

Sushi has long been one of my favorite foods, since I first had sushi in 1998 on a date junior year of college. As it would turn out, about four years ago, my husband actually proposed to me (with a personalized fortune cookie) the first time that we made our own sushi in our apartment in the Upper East Side. Since then, making sushi has always been a special tradition in our home.

The key to making good sushi maki (rolls) is the quality of the fish that you start with. If you are not using fresh, high quality sushi grade fish, don't bother because you will be disappointed in the result. Further, given that I was making this at home with raw fish, I needed to feel comfortable that the fish market I was using was top notch and that there wouldn't be unpleasant repercussions.

When we lived in Manhattan out fish source was Wild Edibles, in Murray Hill, which in my opinion is the best fish market in Manhattan, with the friendliest service. At the time that I shopped there, they had both sushi grade salmon and tuna for sale. I would still purchase all my fish there today, but for the fact that we moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn about a year and a half ago.

Fortunately, we found a fish market here in Park Slope that might be even better, Ocean Market. Ocean market carries sushi grade salmon, tuna and yellowtail, and all are excellent. Plus, the prices are extremely reasonable and a huge drop from typical Manhattan fish prices. Yet the quality and selection of fish is much better than at virtually any Manhattan fish market.

When you purchase fish for sushi, you do not need to buy a lot of fish. In the beginning, I always wound up with a lot of leftover fish. In total, about 8-10 oz of fish total is more than enough for two people, as you do not need to use a very large amount of sushi in the rolls (just a long strip) and the rice-component of the rolls is very filling. When you purchase the fish, you should have the fish market personnel thoroughly skin the fish for you and mention that you are making sushi, so they will direct you to the freshest (and most expensive, in all likelihood) sushi grade fish. Further, you may want to direct that they cut the fish in a certain part of the fish that has a fairly even thickness and texture (i.e. from the middle).

I have made four basic types of rolls that we have enjoyed - tuna, salmon, shrimp tempura (cooked) and yellowtail. I always enjoy making sushi rolls with my husband, as it is fun to do together and also great to do with friends, or to invite friends over to partake in homemade sushi.

The first step is to make the rice. You must use special sushi rice, which is different from regular rice. I usually make about 2 cups, which is plenty for four people. First, the rice mush be carefully rinsed in cold water. The rice needs to be rinsed over and over (for about 10 minutes or so) until the cold water that you are using to rinse it runs clear.

Put the rice in a saucepan (2 cups) and add 2 1/2 cups of cold water and heat until boiling. Cover and simmer like you would ordinarily cook rice, and do not lift the lid during the simmering process.

While the rice is cooking, I prepare a sauce in a saute pan of 3 T of sushi rice vinegar, 1 T of sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. This is then mixed with the prepared rice, once it has cooled. You can alter this recipe a bit to taste, but this is a pretty standard recipe. Once mixed, the rice is fairly sticky.

For the next step, you will need to purchase a sushi rolling mat (about $4)and of course some nori, which is the black seaweed paper used for rolling sushi. It is very tricky to explain in writing how to roll the sushi, but is is pretty easy to get the hang of it with a little bit of practice. Here are some instructions that may help a bit.

Basically, place the nori on the mat the long way. Spread the rice on the surface of the nori, fairly thin (but thick enough to evenly cover the nori) about 1/4 of an inch thick. Whne you are spreading the rice, you should make sure the shiny side of the nori is facing down. Only spread the rice about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the top of the nori, leaving the top portion without any rice spread on it.

Then cut a strip of your favorite fish and place horizontally across the roll. You may also want to add other ingredients - a mixture of wasabi and mayonnaise is perfect to make a spicy tuna or salmon roll and we usually add either avocado or cucumber.

If you want to make shrimp tempura rolls, you should shell and de-vein the shrimp and then coat in egg and panko breadcrumbs, before frying it. Then you can put pieces of the shrimp tempura inside your roll. I have also made delicious rolls using two kinds of fish.

The next step is to roll into one long roll using the sushi mat, by folding the mat over and tucking the nori's end. Use the mat to squeeze the sushi roll once you have rolled it into a log and you can modify the shape with your fingers.

Next, place on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut off the ends. Cut the roll in half and cut into about 6-8 sushi sized pieces.

I would suggest purchasing some nice sushi plates for serving the sushi (we have several sets), and making sure to have plenty of wasabi and soy sauce handy.

If you start with quality fish, this should be a lot of fun to make with your spouse, family and friends, and great to do with a group. I just wouldn't necessarily expect your first sushi experience to turn out quite as well as mine did and end in a marriage proposal :)

(I should note that I actually did not cook tonight, as we went out for dinner, so the sushi in the photos are pictures that were taken about two months ago.)

As always, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please comment and one of our writers will get back to you shortly.


Homemade Sushi on Foodista

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Slightly Spicy Tomato Arugula Angel Hair Pasta

For tonight's dinner, I explored another recipe from Marcus Samuelsson's new cookbook, New American Table. Unlike with my recent post on German Street Pretzels and Beer Braised Short Ribs, where I stuck closely to the recipes as laid out in the cookbook, with tonight's pasta dish, I couldn't resist making some considerable variations, despite the fact that I am attempting to test the recipes in the cookbook. However, the dish that I did come up with was a winner, was inexpensive, fast and easy to make, and will make for great leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Here's the recipe that I followed with a discussion below that sets forth how the recipe deviates for Samuelsson's "Spicy Tomato Arugula Angel Hair" on page 276 of his new cookbook.

Pasta Recipe

5 red tomatoes off the vine
1 T sea salt
1 box of angel hair pasta
2 T olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
3 shallots, chopped
one 24 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped baby arugula
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 anaheim Chile
1 polambo Chile
3 T freshly grated Parmesan cheese

First I cut the tomatoes and put in a bowl with the salt and allowed them to absorb the salt while I worked with the other ingredients. Samuelsson's recipe actually calls for a mixture of yellow and red tomatoes, but it is pretty hard to find yellow tomatoes in December in the Northeast, so I had to make due with red ones off the vine.

Next, I started boiling the water and when it reached a boil, added a box of angel hair pasta.

In the meantime, I prepared the sauce in a large saute pan. I first added the olive oil, garlic and shallots and sauteed for a few minutes. I used a bit of extra garlic, since I like the taste of garlic in my pasta. Then I added the crushed tomatoes, which I chose to add more of than Samuelsson, whose recipe only calls for a 14 ox can. I also added the peppers at this point, because I prefer to have them cooked into the sauce to mix the flavors, rather than crunchy and added at the end like the recipe called for.

The recipe in the cookbook calls for 2 Anaheim Chiles. It is a misnomer that all chile peppers are spicy, because anaheims are actually extremely mild. I decided to add only one anaheim and throw a polombo chile into the mix because I thought the mild taste and distinctive smokiness of the polombo would go well with the tomato and arugula. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as I loved the smoky hints in the sauce that were introduced by the polambo.

I added the oregano, pepper an thyme (my addition) and sauteed for about five minutes. Then, I tossed with the fresh tomatoes, arugula, Parmesan, red pepper flakes and angel hair. Red pepper will make your pasta spicy in a hurry and I wasn't in the mood for more than a tiny bit of heat, so I cut down on the red pepper flakes accordingly (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp). So if you prefer to have a spicy sauce, you can add more of the red pepper flakes. The arugula is key in this dish, as it adds just a touch of bitterness that goes nicely with the other flavors. I love arugula in my "italian" cooking (in pizza too), so I added extra.

When I was making this dish, my husband wasn't sure I needed to add the tomatoes at all, since he thought the sauce looked so delicious. But in the end, we were glad that we did. The fresh tomatoes, which were not cold at all by the time they were mixed with the hot sauce, added texture to the dish and brought out the flavors in the sauce nicely.


Pasta on Foodista

Monday, December 21, 2009

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Visit to Il Naso in Ketchum

Sorry for the lack of photos -- I didn't go to this restaurant anticipating writing a review!

Il Naso (no Web site) is an Italian-influenced fine-dining restaurant in Ketchum, the main city in the Sun Valley area. Recently, they started occasionally hosting live music by No Cheap Horses, a local country/folk/rock band, and that inspired the fiance and I to go last Friday. Although he went to school with the executive chef, Doug Jensen, we haven't made Il Naso part of our regular dining-out routine, but we were pleased to visit again.

The fiance ordered the filet mignon, which came with potatoes au gratin (which I ate for lunch the next day, as he hadn't recognized "au gratin" meant "with cheese", his least favorite ingredient) and brocollini (which was unfortunately too al dente). The meat, he said, was excellent, and he polished off every morsel.

I started with Celeriac Agnolotti (menu description: Celery Root and Roasted Hazelnut Stuffed "Half Moons," in a Chanterelle Cream Sauce with Pecorino Toscano), which was utterly delicious and extremely flavorful. The roasted hazelnuts were chopped fairly coarsely, which created a very nice diversity of texture. I think I would have licked the plate if we hadn't been in public.

I really like mushrooms, and chanterelles are among my favorites -- on the Washington State island I grew up on, they grow wild, and since childhood some of my favorite food-gathering memories are of tromping through the woods hunting for them and then wolfing them down later. As I attained adulthood, I created what I think is my favorite recipe using chanterelles: simply sauteed with butter, salt, pepper and vanilla-flavored vodka -- the vanilla pulls the delicious nuttiness out of the mushrooms.

Sticking with the beautifully wintery mushroom-and-pasta theme, I had as my entree Pappardelle Tartufo (menu description: Mushroom Ragout, Marsala, Fresh Thyme, Asiago Cheese and White Truffle Oil).
The asiago cheese was shaved into large strips that were just a bit wider than the pappardelle noodles, and laid over the top so it softened as I dug into the dish. I would have used slightly thinner strips to get a greater softening, and I might have used a slightly more flavorful cheese.
In large part, that is because the white truffle oil flavor was so dominant -- so much so that I could still taste it an hour and several glasses of pinot grigio later. Overall, the meal was fantastic, but that truffle-oil persistence literally left a bad taste in my mouth (well, not bad, because truffles are delicious, but overwhelming). I'm not sure if using less oil would have solved the issue, because no matter how much was used, it still would have coated my taste buds and held on.
Does anyone know what might cut the flavor of truffle oil? I'd like to play with it more myself, and don't want to get into this problem.

We considered dessert, and I nearly went for a bread pudding with a marsala hard sauce (somehow, despite a family tradition recipe we have EVERY Christmas, for a plum pudding that is served with a hard sauce and a lemon sauce, it had never occurred to me that a hard sauce could be flavored!) but decided I was too full.

With an inexpensive bottle of wine and a coupon from -- check out their regular 80% off sales for some amazing deals! -- our bill came out to less than $80, which was a good value for such an excellent meal.
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