Friday, September 30, 2005
Panini and tramezzini galore!
There's a little something I feel obliged to clear up: The Italian word "panini" is NOT singular. It means "little breads." It is NOT, as I have heard from those who should know better, necessarily a grilled sandwich. It is the plural of the word "panino" which is a small roll baked so the whole roll is the right size for a single sandwich. It is often filled with prosciutto, salami, cheese and/or veggies. In bar-caffés in Italy, there is often a hot ridged grill used if one wants his panino warmed.
Sandwiches on what we might call "sandwich bread," or sliced white bread, are more properly known as "tramezzini' (also a plural word). They can also be found in the bar-caffés in Italy and often have herbs or other greenery included and are rarely grilled. The crusts are usually cut off and they are usually cut into triangles.
The picture above, from a bar-caffé in Bologna, shows both sorts of sandwiches. The ones on the rolls are the more likely ones to be grilled. The ones with the lovely arugula draping out from it are more likely to be eaten cool.
Just wanted to get that off my chest. I feel better now.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Simple Seafood Croquettes
I admit to being an incurable cookbook addict. I have been for years. I have hundreds of them. I still can't possibly go to a bookstore and walk past the bargain book table without perusing the available cookbooks. Some are hopeless, but I figure that if I can find a book with a good recipe or two for a couple of bucks, it's money well spent.
Recently I happened across one of these on my bookshelf, titled "Two Dollar Dinners," by Paul Gayler, (Artus Books, London, 1996). It had a bargain book sticker on it that indicates that I had paid a mere $2.98 for it. I hadn't picked it up for quite a while, and rifled through it to see what I might want to try. There were a number of recipes that I just don't think we're going to talk about: Hot Dog Fusilli, Tian of Sardines, French Onion Soup with Herring Crostini, or Cabbage, Turnip and Blood Sausage Soup.
However, the book fell open to a sure sign of a recipe I had liked: dirty, splashed pages. This one was for "Shanghai fishburgers with cumin and ginger ketchup." A great meal, I thought, for a casual weekend supper. I made a few changes to accommodate my taste, including changing the fishburger title to one more appealing. And voila!
Seafood Croquettes with Cumin-Ginger Aioli
1 lb boneless filet of white fish: cod, tilapia, or catfish
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
3 green onions, minced, using 1" of the green part
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp cornstarch
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Lettuce leaves, for garnish
For the aioli:
1/2 cup real mayonnaise
1 tbsp catsup
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
In a food processor, pulse the fish several times, or until just finely minced, not pureed. (Or you can do this by hand.) Transfer to a bowl and add the ginger, onion, cilantro, pepper flakes, soy sauce, eggs and cornstarch. Season lightly with salt and pepper and refrigerate at least an hour, and up to 8 hours.
Mix together all the ingredients for the aioli and refrigerate.
Shape the fish mixture into 8 small croquettes. Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté over medium heat until golden, 3-4 minutes per side. Drain briefly on paper towels. Serve atop a leaf of lettuce with a dollop of aioli on each one. Serves four.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
A Quesadilla Bar is a Great Way to Entertain!
Holy guacamole, did we have a good time or what? Recently, a few friends wanted to get together, but none of us had the time to do much in the way of cooking. I had just read in trade magazines about the popularity of quesadillas in fast-casual restaurants, and thought "What about a quesadilla buffet?"
So here's what we did: I picked up some nifty crunchy snacks at one of the Hispanic markets. Our host made a pitcher of margaritas.
Then we gathered together some interesting sounding bottled salsas: raspberry, apple, and a couple of tomato-based ones. We had red pepper jelly, Major Grey chutney, roasted red bell peppers and an interesting new pepper called Peppadew (available in jars from specialty markets). We had canned, rinsed and drained black beans, avocado, black olives, minced cilantro, sliced jalapeno peppers and marinated artichokes.
Of course you've got to have something to hold it all together, so we had several cheeses: grated Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, Brie, mascarpone and a soft goat cheese.
We did do a little cooking: we sauteed thinly sliced onion in olive oil until very soft, then added a splash of balsamic vinegar and let it all cook down and caramelize. We did shrimp in a margarita sauce. We sauteed some sliced mushrooms (did you know you can buy them already cleaned and sliced in the grocery?). We grilled a couple of chicken breasts and sliced them very thinly. We also grilled some Mexican chorizo sausage from the Hispanic market. We made a pineapple-mango salsa and an interesting "drizzle" with chipotle peppers, honey and cilantro that I thought was really yummy.
Then we put out flour tortillas. We used the big ones, in white, spinach and sundried tomato flavors. Each person loaded his tortilla with whatever his fancy dictated, putting the ingredients on one half, then folding the other half over to toast on griddles. We had two cast iron griddles, one ridged and the other flat. I thought the best results came from starting them on the ridged one for the attractive grill marks, then flipping them over onto the flat one to finish. Since everything is already cooked, it only requires the time to heat it all together and melt the cheese all through it.
I would love to be able to tell you what combination was the best, but we all had such a great time that I forgot to write down some of the more interesting ones. And then there was the fellow who had absolutely everything in his! But the consensus was that we should have used the smaller tortillas so folks could experiment with more than one. The big ones made a pretty filling meal!
So head it to the market and wander through the salsa section, pick up a couple of cheeses, and check your pantry and fridge for unusual additions. Invite your friends and let them fix their own quesadilla dinner. Oh, and don't forget the margaritas!
1 small onion, slivered
3 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup bottled margarita mix
1/4 cup tequila
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and stir constantly for about a minute. Reduce the heat a bit, add the shrimp and cook, tossing occasionally for a couple of minutes. Add the margarita mix and continue to cook until just barely pink through. Add the tequila, and hold a long handled match above the surface to flambee. Shake until the flames go out. (You can skip this step if you like). Remove from the heat and place in a serving bowl. Makes enough for 8 quesadillas.
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
2 tbsp honey
About 1/2 cup water
Put the cilantro, peppers and honey in a blender or food processor and puree. Add water gradually to make a thickish drizzle. Place in a serving bowl. This is pretty zingy, but the honey mellows it out nicely. Makes about ? cup. I would like this brushed on pork, chicken or fish on the grill, too.
1 already peeled pineapple (available in the produce section), diced
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
Zest and juice of 1 large lime
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss. If you like a very hot salsa, use the flesh and seeds of the jalapeno. For a milder one, discard the seeds and interior veins, and use only half the flesh.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Spaghetti Squash Delight!
I have a friend who needs to reduce her carbohydrate intake due to a pre-diabetic condition, but who loves her pasta. Meanwhile, I was itching to try some of the new pasta sauce we just brought in from Lucini. And I was glad I did. This is the first bottled pasta sauce that I would be proud to serve to friends. Made with fresh tomatoes and that marvy Lucini olive oil, it tastes almost as good as I could make myself.
I picked up a spaghetti squash at the market. There are various schools of cooking them: I have a friend who sticks a few holes in them and cooks them in the microwave. Others bake them whole. I like to cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and bake the halves, cut side down, on an olive-oiled baking sheet. Then I let them cool and pull out the spaghetti-like strands of squash flesh with a fork.
For the sauce, I quickly sauteed about 4 ounces of Parma prosciutto crudo and then added the Lucini artichoke-tomato sauce, and just barely heated it through. I tossed some of it with the squash, and used the rest as a topping. With a little freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, I thought it was delicious!
Saturday, September 10, 2005
During the week I don't have a lot of time to play with my food or to try new things. I tend to stick with the familiar. On weekends, I like to experiment. Sometimes it might be inspired by a recipe I've seen and want to customize to my taste. Sometimes it might be a dish I've enjoyed in a restaurant and want to try to duplicate. A dish I read about in a restaurant review a while back inspired this recipe.
Everyone I know loves creme brulée. So when I read about a savory one, I knew I had to give it a try. The one I read about used a Muenster cheese from Alsace. This is a very full flavored, and, shall we say, aromatic cheese. A washed rind cheese, it is just too strong for many people's taste. I needed a soft cheese with enough flavor to make it interesting, so I chose a camembert from the Mouco Cheese company in Colorado. My second choice would have been a well-ripened brie-type cheese.
Not having access to the smoked Alsacien sausage mentioned in the review, I used smoked andouille. Any fully cooked sausage would do. I think any of the chicken sausages available in the freezer section of most specialty food stores would be excellent, especially the ones with basil or sundried tomato. Kielbasa or another smoked sausage from the grocery would also be tasty. I caramelized onions and finished them with a bit of honey and balsamic vinegar for the topping.
The restaurant served this in small ramekins as a first course. I think it would make an excellent beginning to a meal with a main course of almost any seafood brushed with lemon and olive oil and broiled or grilled. We, however, had it as the main course in a Sunday evening meal.
You can make the creme brulée mixture in advance. You can bake them a little ahead, top with the sausage and onion mixture and let them set at room temperature for up to an hour. Or you could bake them earlier in the day and refrigerate without the toppings; just make sure you take them out in time to get all the way back to room temperature before broiling the top, and set a bit further below the broiler so that it heats through.
This was a happy experiment; the friends who shared it with me pronounced it a great success. I am sure yours will too!
Savory Supper Creme Brulée
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 egg yolks
5-6 ounces Camembert, Brie or, for the brave, Alsacien Muenster
1 good pinch grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 oz fully cooked sausage, thinly sliced
3 tbsp chives, minced
Preheat the oven to 325o. In a blender or food processor, place the milk, cream, eggs and yolks, the cheese (leave the rind on), the nutmeg, a generous sprinkling of salt and a pinch of pepper. Process until well mixed and strain through a fine sieve. Press down on the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible, and discard remaining solids.
Pour into six individual baking dishes: gratin dishes, creme brulee dishes or ramekins. Place in a deep baking dish and add boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit trembly. Baking time will depend on the size of your dishes. Shallow ones will take a little less, deep ones a bit more.
Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onion in the butter until very soft but not at all browned. Stir in the honey. Add the vinegar and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook until the vinegar has evaporated.
When ready to serve, preheat the broiler. Place the dishes on a baking sheet and arrange the thinly sliced sausage on top. Cover with a thin layer of the onion mixture. Place about 6-inches under the broiler element and, watching carefully, broil until the topping is a bit bubbly and lightly browned. Sprinkle with the chives and serve at once. Serves 6.
Friday, September 09, 2005
I think we should all submit a recipe for the Lindsay Olives Pizza Recipe Contest. Heaven only knows that some of my friends can get pretty creative with pizzas and if you read the fine print, using olives well counts a lot more than taste...Go for it, and invite me for the final result!
Thursday, September 08, 2005
I read about this amazing sounding product in a French cooking magazine, Cuisine et Vins de France. Apparently your can pour corked wine into a decanter with a special filter that can complete remove that "corked" taste.
No US outlets are shown...maybe we wine drinkers should band together and bring in a case of 'em?
No US outlets are shown...maybe we wine drinkers should band together and bring in a case of 'em?
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
When I read Clotilde's (of Zucchini and Chocolate) challenge for Wine Blog Wednesday #13, to make a dense, almost sinful chocolate cake, pick a wine to go with it and talk about it, I was determined to make a contribution. However, I am not, I must admit, much of a baker. I have said more than once that if folks are still hungry at my house when it comes to dessert time, I sort of get my feelings hurt!
But I rose to the task. Clotilde included a recipe, which sounded just fine to me. The hardest part was picking the chocolate. I perused the chocolates in the shop, although I knew it had to be Valrhona, a wonderful chocolate from France. The one I used had 71% chocolate. But then I was drawn to the Lindt Excellence Intense Orange bar, dark chocolate with bits of orange and (I found later by reading the small print on the back) tiny bits of almond as well.
So I did what any of you would have done: I made two, with the only recipe difference being the chocolate. Interestingly, though, was the difference in the pans I used. One, the straight chocolate one, was done in a 8" spring-form pan. The other, with the orange flavor, was done in an 8" cake pan, but it was one of those insulated ones, with a layer of air between two layers of metal. I found that at the end of 30 minutes the spring-form pan cake was more than done. And the second cake needed a few more minutes.
There was an overwhelming preference to the texture of the cake baked in the insulated pan. It was moister and smoother on the tongue. Not that anyone left any of either on his plate!
Now came the choice of wines. My friend Larry rose to the occasion to pair the straight chocolate cake with a 1995 Banyuls. From Les Clos de Paulilles. Banyuls is the southern-most AOC appelation in France, on the Mediterranean, near the border of Spain Banyuls is a fortified wine...think of it as France's answer to port. Our wine was a deep dark, tawny, rich flavored mouthful. Made 100% with the grenache noir grape, with notes of dried fruit, particularly raisins and currants, and a nutty finish, I don't believe we could have had a better match.
I reached into my wine closet for a bottle of Domaine de Coyeux 1997 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. I just love a good Muscat dessert wine! From the Southern Rhone valley, it is grown on rugged hillsides with low rainfall, so the Muscat flavors are concentrated. Fermentation is stopped by adding a bit of brandy, which fortifies it, and retains sweet fruit of the muscat grape. A sparkling gold in the glass, the bouquet was of rich floral and ripe grape aromas. Lush and heavy with apricot, citrus and honey flavors, it made a near-perfect match for the orange scented cake.
An interesting thing was this: the Banyuls really didn't complement the orange cake. The raisiny taste made the orange flavor taste muddy. And the Muscat REALLY didn't complement the straight chocolate cake. Funny how that works, isn't it?
You'll want to try one of these cakes for yourself. It couldn't be easier!
Clotilde's Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake
2 sticks, less 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
7 oz dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon flour
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter an 8" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Break the chocolate into chunks and place in a glass bowl.. Top with the butter and microwave for 10 seconds. Stir and microwave for 10-15 more. Stir again. Repeat if necessary until chocolate has melted and mixed with the butter. (Alternately, you can do this in a double boiler.)
Scrape into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Let cool slightly. With a wooden spoon, stir in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Finally stir in the flour.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Turn off the oven but let the cake set in the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove and place the pan on a rack to cool completely. Then cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Take out an hour before serving. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan, remove and place topside up on a cake plate.
Monday, September 05, 2005
Shrimp 'n' Grits
It's time for the Paper Chef Blog Event, and this month we are honoring New Orleans, home of some of the finest food in the country. In addition, we are celebrating the launch of the Is My Blog Burning? web site, a sort of clearinghouse for food blog events and news.
We were given four ingredients and challenged to come up with a dish that would do the Crescent City proud: shrimp, beer, tomato and sausage. The idea was to have a dinner party at home, and donate what we might have spent going out to eat to the Red Cross, or other relief effort, to assist in the disaster recovery.
Anyone who has ever eaten in New Orleans cannot fail to be impressed by the professionalism of their restaurant and hotel service staff, from the waiters at the finest restaurants right down to the bartender at a run-down looking neighborhood beer joint. In their honor, I will be forwarding my check to the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund, spearheaded by the Brennan Family of Commander's Palace.
On Sunday, I gathered a group of friends, and several pitched in to help prepare this dish. I used andouille, a spicy smoked sausage, pretty much native to Louisiana. If you can't find that, use any spicy smoked sausage. We used green tomatoes, so beloved in the South.
We used a dark beer, Warsteiner Dunkel; with its rich smooth flavor it gave a great boost to the dish. I really liked the dipping sauce for the asparagus we made on Friday, so I used it again to drizzle over the finished dish.
The directions may look long but the whole dish can be completed in about 20 minutes...so have a dinner in, invite your friends, and pass along your savings to the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief as well!
Shrimp 'n' Grits Katrina
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup dark beer
3 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (stripped from the stems) or 1 tsp dried
8 oz andouille sausage, sliced about 1/3" thick
olive oil as needed
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green tomato, cored and cut into large chunks
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1-1/2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
the rest of the bottle of beer (1 cup)
Salt and pepper
2 cups stoneground grits
4 cups water
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Mix all ingredients for the finishing drizzle together and set aside for flavors to mellow.
In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, sautŽ the sausage until lightly browned. If it doesnŐt give off a film of fat, add a little olive oil to the pan. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Add the onion and cook until the onion starts to soften, stirring frequently. Add the green tomato and continue to cook until the onion is tender and just starting to brown. Remove to a bowl and reserve.
Add the 1 cup beer to the skillet, bring to a simmer and stir, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink, 3-4 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the sausage mixture. Raise the heat and boil the beer until reduced to about ? cup.
When the grits are done, return the sausage-shrimp mixture to the pan and toss to just heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, for the grits, bring the water and salt to a full rolling boil. Add the grits in a stream, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the cream. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Put the grits in the middle of a large serving platter. Top with the shrimp mixture, drizzle on the finishing sauce and dig in! Serves 6.
Friday, September 02, 2005
It's a Party!
The popular clearinghouse site for food blogs, Is My Blog Burning is launching its newly refurbished web site today, and in honor of the occasion, is hosting a virtual cocktail party.
I am delighted to accept the invitation, and of course, I won't be coming empty-handed! I've made a little appetizer to share. Since our host is particularly fond of beer, I've used it in the sauce. I just love a party and can't wait to see what everyone else is bringing!
ASPARAGUS WITH HONEY-BEER DIPPING SAUCE
2 lbs asparagus, not too thin
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup dark beer (I used Warsteiner)
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried
Red or yellow bell pepper, cut into long strips
Snap off the bottom woody stems of the asparagus. In a wide skillet with a lid, put enough of the stem bottoms to cover the bottom of the pan. Add water to just barely cover and place over high heat. This will make a sort of steaming rack for the asparagus. When the water comes to a boil, lay the asparagus spears on top, cover, lower the heat to medium and steam for 2-3 minutes, or until just barely crisp-tender. Remove from the skillet with tongs and place on a rack to cool.
For the sauce combine all ingredients and whisk together. This benefits from a little resting time to let the flavors mellow. Arrange the asparagus and bell pepper on a serving platter with a ramekin of the sauce.
Serves 8 as an appetizer.
This sauce keeps well in the fridge. Drizzle over grilled steak, lamb or pork, or brush on vegetables before grilling.