Omnivore’s Hundred

So, I know I’m like so five years ago but I finally got around to completing my Omnivore’s Hundred list and it was sort of shocking to me – there’s so much food that I still need to try!! I mean, seriously, I’ve never had nettle tea, or borscht, or (gasp!) clotted cream?!?  Outrageous!

Take a look at my list and feel free to shame me for not trying your favorites – and let me know what you have (or haven’t) eaten lately!

Continue reading “Omnivore’s Hundred”

Grape pie.

Why don’t I bake more pies?  I’m not really sure.  I used to buy pies often… but they weren’t particularly great pies, and I stopped doing that.  I thought, why buy a pie when I know I could bake a tastier one?  But I never started baking them—the pie recipes kept getting pushed to the back of the recipe box.

I don’t know why, I mean, I love pie.  Like, love love pie. I guess I just forget about it with all the chocolate chip cookies that I do bake and all the great chocolates that I buy from the local shops.  And all the stewing hens and heirloom pork for that matter.

So why was it that, on a very rare occasion of pie-making, I decided to make grape pie?  To tell you the truth, I have no idea.  I like a thrill?  I’m a sucker for oddities?  Or maybe I just figured: if I mess it up, at least I’ll get points for originality.

The end project was just what I was looking for:  a buttery, flaky crust, jam-like filling, and an overall effect of “weird-tasty.”  It takes you a bite or two to get used to grape pie—the immediate thought is that you are eating jelly-pie, but once you get used to it, the grape really works with the golden brown crust.  It’s also not overly sweet, something I really desire in a pie, and I’m sure it would work wonders with a good ice cream.

The recipe, from Bon Appetit magazine, uses red seedless grapes, since concords aren’t widely available.  Next time though I may try the concords.  Also, since red seedless are less mushable that concords, I would chop up the grapes in the food-processor to a near puree instead of leaving them in pieces—creating an even more pronounced jelly taste.

My favorite part of this recipe was the crust—it had no sugar besides what you sprinkle on top and the taste of butter was, mmmm…. drool.

I think I may start baking more pies after all.

Grape Pie

from Bon Appetit Magazine//Sept. 08

For the crust

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 8 cups stemmed seedless red grapes (about 2 1/2 pounds; preferably organic), rinsed well, patted dry
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons frozen grape juice concentrate (made with Concord grapes), thawed
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
  • Raw sugar

For the crust
Blend flour and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, blend until most of butter is cut into 1/4-inch pieces (mixture will resemble coarse meal). Add 2 1/2 tablespoons ice water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball. Divide in half; shape each half into disk. Wrap; chill at least 1 hour.

For the filling
Place half of grapes in processor; using on/off turns, chop into 1/3- to 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to large sieve set over large bowl. Repeat with remaining grapes. Drain off and discard 1 1/2 cups grape liquid.
Whisk 1 cup sugar and cornstarch in another large bowl to blend. Mix in drained grapes and grape juice concentrate.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 13-inch round; transfer to dish. Brush dough edge with egg glaze. Fill with grape mixture. Roll out second dough disk to 12-inch round. Top pie with dough; trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Roll edge under; crimp. Brush top of pie with glaze; sprinkle with raw sugar. Cut several slits in top crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake pie until golden and juices bubble thickly, 60 to 70 minutes. Cool at least 30 minutes.

Keepin’ it real.

Jim and I finished up the last bits of our coq au vin at 6 a.m. Friday morning.  The breakfast—coq au vin, a small scoop of mashed potatoes, and a fried egg on top—has been had all week; it’s a pick-me-up before I go off to work and fuel for Jim’s creativity (he’s working on some fabulous short stories).  I’m really going to miss it now that it’s gone—just possibly enough to make it all over again this weekend.

for the marinade

Thankfully, now that I’ve made “real” coq au vin, it’s no longer in my pile of “scary culinary dishes” that I’m afraid to try.  I don’t even understand, now that it’s done, why I ever thought coq au vin was scary.  It’s almost fibbing to say that it takes a few days to make since most of those days require no work whatsoever besides dipping into your marinade and moving things around a bit.  And the real work (on the day you cook the bird) is hardly hard work.  It’s definitely not brain surgery (or pastry making for that matter) and as long as you have a big pot and another pan handy, you’re up for the task.

chicken browned in bacon fat
chicken browned in bacon fat

It’s a bit time consuming—the chicken cooks for about 2 hours in the oven and you’ll spend a portion of that time prepping the bacon, onion, and mushroom “garnishes,” but it’s well worth it for that brown-food taste (any one out there Anne Burrell fans? Brrrooooown food!).

white buttons

If you can get your hands on a stewing hen, do so—for tradition’s sake.  But if you don’t have a local meat producer (you should search around if you aren’t sure) just use a good, organic bird (preferably one that’s a little older, with strong bones, if you are able to get it from a butcher or farmer).  The longer you marinate the bird in wine and vegetables, the more delicious it will taste—you could start marinating on Thursday for a Sunday feast—and what wine you use really matters.

pearl onions
pearl onions
pig n pearls
pig n' pearls

Wine matters in a coq au vin (you’re using a full bottle of it!)  I urge you to try a Burgundy or something with a big body from France but you could also do a Cabernet Sauvignon from California for a slightly different taste.  Try and buy in the $10-$20 range, and don’t go under $10 (ok, $8 if your budget is strapped).  It was somewhat sacrilegious to me to use a whole $20 bottle in a recipe, so I sneaked a glass.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t damage the coq au vin one lick.

coq au vin
coq au vin

I can’t really describe the coq au vin’s tastes to you, it’s too deliciously dreamy.  I’ll just say this: chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, slow-cooked buttery wine.

Put that together with olive oil mashed potatoes and you head just might explode.

le vrai coq au vin
le vrai coq au vin

Real Coq au Vin

serves 2 over the course of a few days (or 4-6)

from County Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Marinade

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Chicken

  • One 5- to 6- pound stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 oz piece of lean smoked bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large bouquet garni

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons butter, more if needed
  • 16-18 baby pearl onions, about 8 oz, peeled
  • 8 oz mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley

For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Let the marinade cool completely.

Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them.  Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist.  Cover and leave pieces to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavor.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels.  Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat the oven to 325ºF.

To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat.  Add the lardons and saute until browned and the fat runs, about 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a bowl using a draining spoon and set aside.  Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes.  Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni.  Replace the chicken, pushing pieces down under the sauce.  Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a roasting chicken and at least 30 minutes longer for a stewing hen.  If some pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.  Lift them out with the draining spoon and add to the reserved lardons.  Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add them to the lardons and onions.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside.  Wipe out the saute pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding vegetables and seasonings.  Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat.  If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Add the chicken pieces, pushing them will down into the sauce, and heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend.  Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days so the flavors mellow.

To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on the stove top if necessary.  Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon the garnish with a little sauce over them.  Sprinkle the chicken with the parsley and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Olive oil mashed potatoes.

I know it’s just beginning to be fall (and it still feels like the dog days of summer) but I’ve been cooking for winter…  but it’s not my fault!  I visited my favorite farm on Saturday and, when asking what they were up to, found out that they had just slaughtered their 3-year-old laying hens!  (Okay, I know it may seem funny to have happy exclamation marks and the word slaughtered in the same sentence, but when it comes to ethical meat eating, eating the meat from a hen who’s lived a long three years romping around an idyllic farm is the ultimate experience.)

At the sound of the word stewing hen, my face lit up, and the words coq au vin spewed out of my smile.  To seal the deal, the hens were sold to me for $5.00—I just can not pass up a bargain.  I picked up a bottle of Burgundy on the way home, and had my birds marinating within the hour. 36 hours later, heaven was chewed up and swallowed.

But you’ll have to wait for that (sorry!) because tonight all I have to offer you is olive oil mashed potatoes.  These potatoes, however, deserve much more respect than I am giving them by setting you up for coq au vin first and while they aren’t as delicious as the coq au vin (nothing could be), they are delicious.  These potatoes stood up for themselves on the plate—they didn’t let the chicken cast too big of a shadow over them, and their presence was much appreciated.

I’ve had coq au vin with mashed potatoes before—and had those potatoes get lost in the shadow.  For some reason, butter mashed potatoes, as good as they are, become, I dunno, passe when served with a wowzer like coq au vin.  Everyone’s had butter mashed potatoes, most people can recall their goodness instantly.  So when you are serving them with a doozey, it’s easy to eat (and enjoy) but to not really notice them.

Olive oil mashed potatoes are a different story.  They’ve got a little somethin’-somethin’.  Diners can’t take more than two bites without pausing to hmmm and wonder what makes these mashed potatoes special.  It’s worth every penny to use a great-tasting, salad-dressing quality olive oil here, as the flavor of it will shine.  If you really like the olive oil flavor, try making this potatoes without the whipping cream; I couldn’t give up the creamy mashed potato taste and added it in.  They go wonderfully with chicken but would also pair well with bluefish or salmon.

Now go get your hands on some stewing hens and check back with me in a few days for the coq au vin recipe.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

serves 4-6

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt, pepper

Place potatoes in a pot and add water enough to cover by half an inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are tender when poked with a fork.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the potato water.

Place potatoes, olive oil, cream, and 1/2 cup of the potato water in a bowl and mash with a masher.  You can whip the potatoes with a hand mixer or in a kitchenaid to make them creamier.  Add more olive oil and cream to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

A Dud?

I can’t, in good conscience, call this recipe a dud.  I can’t call it a success either.  I almost bagged the post, throwing it in the trash along with the leftover salad.  But, after thinking it over, I realized that the dudliness of this Thai-inspired cantaloupe salad was based on a lot of variables.

First of all, when I was planning dinner for Tuesday night, I (silly me) forgot to decide upon (or shop for) the main dish part of the meal to which this would be a side.  I don’t know, maybe I was figuring that a cantaloupe salad would be enough to satisfy Jim’s and my anxious and hungry stomachs after a long day of work.  Maybe I thought that we had miraculously turned into starving waifs, though I can’t make out anything “Mary-Kate Olsen” about me when I look in the mirror, and once I got home and began to prepare dinner, Jim knocked me (metaphorically) upside the head and decided to go out for some sandwiches to compliment my pretty, but not so satisfying salad.  I forgot to explain the salad’s flavors to him—sweet, spicy, umami, and he came home with steak and provolone on brioche; sandwiches that were undeniably tasty, but did not at all go with my creation.

Secondly, jalapeno is one of the ingredients.  If you work with jalapeno often, you know that every one differs from the next.  Kind of like a snowflake, but it burns your tongue instead of cooling it.

The jalapeno that I used was searing.  It completely overwhelmed the subtle basil flavor and heightened the sweetness to cloying.  I had to add some heavy cream to cut the heat but after a few very tasty, nuanced bites, the spicy-factor overwhelmed the cream and it became too hot again.

And finally, since I had burned my fingers dicing the jalapeno (I will remember to by gloves, I will) and then burned my eyes when I rubbed my fingers in them (yes, I am that stupid) I wasn’t in the mood for any more spiciness.  I stopped eating after a bite or two and declared the recipe a dud.

But it would be silly to think that.  Just because I wasn’t feeling it, doesn’t mean you won’t.  Maybe my spicy-tolerance is way lower than I thought and I really am a weeny.  Maybe you’ll get your hands on a mellower jalapeno.  I did have a few wonderfully complex bites and if the spiciness factor was decreased I’m sure that complexity would shine.  An ya’know, it comes from The Splendid Table, and Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s never let me down before.

So I urge you to go ahead and try this recipe while cantaloupes are still ripe and good.  If I try it again, it’ll be with a char-grilled steak or burger or with some crispy-skinned salmon.  Just don’t rub your eyes after dicing the jalapeno!!

Thai Cantaloupe Salad with Chile

from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper

serves 8

  • 1 medium to large ripe, fragrant cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 tablespoon fine-diced seeded green jalapeno
  • 1/2 cup stacked and thin-sliced fresh Thai, Cinnamon, Spicy Globe, or regular basil leaves*
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 drops Asian fish sauce
  • Generous pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper

In a mixing bowl, gently combine the melon, jalapeno, and basil.  One at a time, add the remaining ingredients, tasting as you add each one.  Set out in a bowl with long bamboo skewers so diners can spear chuncks of melon to eat.

*I used regular, but imagine Thai would make things even more complex.

You can also satisfy your fruitiness with:

Watercress & Mango Salad

Peach Puff Pastry Pizza

Indian summers and spicy shrimp.

I meant to show you this recipe before Labor Day but life, as it so frequently does, got in the way.  I went out with friends over the long weekend and got a little lot too hungover to write the post on Monday.

Then, since I work in public education, my summer was over and I went back to school on September 3rd.  The first couple of days were a whirlwind of getting things in order and seeing how much the kids have grown over the summer (some of them seem to be freakishly taller than they were last June) and I never got to post about the spicy, Creole shrimp boil that we had to honor my last weekend of Summer.

But this week, here in New Jersey, has been hotter than the entire month of August and making this summery dinner is still totally appropriate.  It’s the perfect dinner to eat outside with tons of napkins and a cold beer—a great way to languidly soak in every last bit of this hot Indian summer.

If you’ve never made spiced shrimp before, you may be surprised by how much spice goes into the pot—it’s a lot.  But don’t worry, not everything gets absorbed into the shrimp, most is left on the shells once you peel it.  The potatoes however, will be bursting with spiciness (or, to be frank, flaming hot).  If you don’t want them so spiced, you could cook the potatoes first and then add them to the pot later, but I thought they were pretty amazing, especially once they were slathered in the sweet-sour, creamy horseradish sauce.

Enjoy the last few days of this hot weather—and I hope you can stay dry if you’re on the east coast!

Shrimp Boil with Spicy Horseradish Sauce

makes one big pot//from Gourmet, August 2008

  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 5 tablespoons Creole or Cajun seasoning
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cayenne, divided
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 8 small boiling potatoes (about 2 inches)
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and halved
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp in shell
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bottled horseradish

Squeeze lemon juice into 4 qt water in a 6- to 8-quart pot, then stir in lemon quarters, Creole seasoning, 2 teaspoon cayenne, bay leaves, garlic, potatoes, and 2 tablespoons salt (omit salt if it is the first ingredient in seasoning).

Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are almost tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Increase heat to high, then add corn and simmer, partially covered, 4 minutes. Stir in shrimp and cook until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cayenne.

Drain shrimp, potatoes, and corn and serve with sauce.