Saturday, August 9, 2008

Adventures in Cookery - Salsa & Pudding

Thanks to our wonderful friends Meagan and Leo, we got to participate in an Adventure - in Cookery. They designed a evening game that is very Seattle: ask multiple sets of people over to dinner, requesting they bring an ingredient. Any ingredient. You can choose to bring a supportive ingredient, something easy like eggs or milk, or a particularly difficult one, like pie crust or durian. Pairs are cruelly separated at the door, and forced to be on a team without their mate/partner/friend.

We misunderstood the intent, however. We understood that each pair of people brings the same ingredient, and the cruel separation is so that the two teams can compete, each trying to outdo the other with the same list of ingredients. On the contrary, the divisive cruelty was only intended to ensure people mingled with people they didn't know, and both people were allowed to bring a different ingredient.

Even in misunderstanding the rules of the game, we both had a blast - we were, indeed, cruelly separated onto different teams, both armed with our secret ingredient: fresh corn from the Madrona farmer's market. The two teams of four people made very different dishes, one a dinner and the other a dessert, but both came out wonderfully. Pat's team had a lentil pilaf with artichoke hearts, plated beautifully as a formed round on a bed of steamed Swiss chard, topped with a single blackberry. It was accompanied by a colorful salsa of blackberry, mint and fresh corn. Tanya's team made a sweet baked egg custard, made with acorn squash, roasted orange and yellow peppers, and roasted fresh corn kernels. The pudding was drizzled with a spiced chocolate sauce and a roasted red pepper coulis, garnished with caramelized squash rings.

While the food wasn't exactly balanced or perfect, it was a great start for truly thought-out yummy dishes to serve anywhere. Given the constraints of the game, we both were impressed with how random people were able to work together to make a spectacular show dinner. Both teams had something we want to make again, with tweaks and improvements, so here's what we remember.

Squash and Pepper Baked Custard
(serves 12-14 easily)
  • 1 yellow acorn squash, steamed and flesh scraped out of shell
  • 1 yellow and 1 orange pepper, roasted on a low-temp grill till charred & skins removed
  • 2 ears bicolor corn, roasted until thoroughly blackened on the same grill, and kernels separated (not cut) from the cob
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk (*note: the custard was a bit runny - maybe reduce this by 1/2 cup next time)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Boiling water
Squash Ring Garnish
  • 1 long squash
  • dark brown sugar
  • sea salt
Red Pepper Coulis
  • 1 roasted red pepper, blackened with the other peppers on a low-temp grill and skin removed
  • cider vinegar
  • chopped onion
Spiced Chocolate Sauce
  • 1/2 bag Nestle chocolate chips
  • half and half
  • bourbon
  • 1 tsp Ethiopian hot pepper mix
*To make the custard
  1. Puree the squash, yellow and orange peppers until smooth in a food processor.
  2. Add the brown sugar and process to combine.
  3. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs.
  5. Add the milk and vanilla and whisk until well combined, but not foamy.
  6. Whisk a small amount of egg mixture into the squash puree until combined. Repeat with larger amounts until squash is fairly soupy, then put it all into the egg mixture and stir.
  7. Pour the custard base into either lots of ramekins or a large Pyrex baking dish, and place them into a larger Pyrex dish.
  8. Fill the larger dish with boiling water, up to 1/3 of the way up the dishes.
  9. Bake in a CONVECTION oven at 300oF for about 1 hour, until pudding is set.
  10. Cool slightly before serving. (We did this by replacing the water in the lower Pyrex dish with
  11. slightly cooler water, letting the pudding equilibrate slightly, then repeating twice.)
*To make the squash round garnish
  1. Slice the long squash thinly crosswise into rounds, removing seeds, and steam or parboil just until tender.
  2. Lay flat onto a baking sheet.
  3. Sprinkle with brown sugar and sea salt.
  4. After the pudding is done, broil until the rounds are caramelized, about 4 minutes.
*To make the red pepper coulis
  1. Put all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Cook in a saute pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Cool, and reserve until serving.
*To make the spiced chocolate sauce
  1. Over a double boiler, melt chocolate chips and half and half.
  2. When melted, add bourbon.
  3. Whisk in more half and half as needed to thin, and add spice mix.
*To serve:
  1. Cut rounds of the pudding, one for each plate. (We did this with a spoon, crudely, but if the pudding has enough integrity you could use a cookie cutter and do it right.)
  2. Place one squash round on each plate, leaning up against the pudding round.
  3. Fill a ziploc sandwich or quart bag with the red pepper coulis, and make another for the chocolate sauce.
  4. Pinch one corner of the chocolate bag, and snip a very tiny bit off the corner.
  5. Using like a pastry bag, squeeze the chocolate in a thin drizzle attractively over the pudding and plate.
  6. Repeat for the coulis.
  7. Serve!

Corn-Blackberry Salsa
  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp minced onion
  • 1 tsp minced fresh mint
  • sugar, salt, and lemon juice to taste
Cut the kernels from the cob. Add blackberries and mint. Stir and adjust seasonings.

French or Japanese? Aïgo Bouïdo - Garlic Soup

This soup took a couple incarnations to be something we liked. Like most of the soups we've tried from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook", the recipes turned out to be great bases for other flavors. In this case, you really can use just a couple heads of garlic, papers included, to make a slightly garlicy soup base. It turns out very thin, however. The addition of the egg yolk/mayonnaise at the end was not enough.

Miso paste, however, and another head of fresh garlic, sliced, made this a great soup. A VERY GARLIC soup. As a Japanese soup, it's a great beginning - we haven't thought yet about how to keep it French and vegetarian, but for the record, here's how we made the Japanese style.

Aïgo Bouïdo
modified and twisted from Juila Child's "The Way to Cook"
  • 2 large heads of fresh garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled and smashed
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/4 tsp sage
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1 medium Turkish bay leaf
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 3 Tbl fruity olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
  3. Fish out the cloves of garlic, if you like, and purée those separately.
  4. Strain remaining stock, and use for the following recipe or something else that will be French. :)

Japanese version
  • 4 cups Aïgo Bouïdo recipe
  • 2 Tbl light miso paste
  • 2 cloves to 1 head garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp tamari
  • 1 Tbl plum sauce
  • sliced scallions, wakame, etc.
Combine and simmer for ~10 minutes to allow flavors to mingle and to blunt the edge of the fresh garlic. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tuna Salad From Heaven

This recipe post was requested by Evgenia, Pat's housemate. I caught her off guard one morning, before 7am, after having made two mayonnaise-based salads the night before. She was sitting at the end of the teak table in the kitchen, sleepy-eyed in her nightgown and beautiful as always, opening up her laptop. "Hey, Evgenia! Try this!" The spoon zooms her way.... "What is it?" "Tuna salad." I get a crinkly face, but an open mouth, so she tries it. Her trust in me, however misplaced, resulted in her request for this post.

(The other salad, unfortunately, was my favorite potato salad. I somehow in my exuberance forgot she HATES potato salad and raw onions.... I'm still not sure if the awesomeness of the tuna salad forgave my indiscretion of feeding her kryptonite at that hour of the morning.)

I don't really think about how amazing this recipe is until somebody new tastes it. But it's an old standby that will wow and amaze at a potluck, or be a tasty lunch for two with the smaller recipe. Enjoy!

Tuna Salad From Heaven
(modified for two from Pasta & Company's book, Pasta & Co. By Request by Marcella Rosene, one of my very few cookbooks)
  • 1/2 cup Jasmine or Basmati rice, cooked and cooled to room temperature (this is important!)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated lime zest
  • 4 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 can tuna, drained (we use St. Jude's - line-caught and locally canned)
  • 2 Tbl buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup Best Food's mayonnaise (if you like Miracle Whip, I feel pity for you - but you could use it and delete the sugar and lime juice, and add these to taste if you like)
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press or grated on a microplane
  • 2 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas straight from the freezer
  1. Cook and cool the rice to room temperature before beginning
  2. Mix the lime and lime zest into a medium bowl. Flake the tuna into the lime and toss thoroughly.
  3. Add the rice, stir, and let sit while you mix the dressing and chop the parsley.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, Tabasco, sugar and garlic. Pour over the tuna and rice.
  5. Sprinkle the parsley and scallion over the salad and stir just to combine.
  6. Add the peas about 15 minutes before serving - DO NOT cook them. They will thaw out in the salad, and also keep the salad chilled as it sits out. Any leftovers will have yellowed peas, so only add peas to what you'll eat in the next couple hours.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Leek and Potato soup - Hot. Take I.

I came home late from work on Monday night, and although we had a refrigerator full of food, the inevitable question came up: what to eat when you've got just vegetables on hand? Since potato-leek soup was on the list for this week, I thought we could at least prep the vegetables so we'd have a head start the next day. On pulling out Julia's "The Way to Cook", I discovered potato-leek soup is surprisingly easy - really easy. And fast. Chop potatoes, chop leeks, simmer in water or broth 20 minutes, blend it only if you feel like it (we did). Done. If you like it cold, you can chill it to make Vichyssoise, but the only modification is to use only the white parts of the leeks, not the light green parts.

The useful comments we can give about this soup are that it is certainly yummy, but is a real winner as a base for some other bright or loud flavor. We dolloped a bit of crème fraîche on the top, a bit of salt and pepper, and brainstormed about what could go in it. The flavor we used that night was a bit of minced scallion — a perfect light oniony foil for the thick, rich, and subtly flavored base. We'd have used chives, but we ran out.

As a matter of record: purple potatoes make gray soup. Just say'n.

Julia's Potato-Leek Soup, or Vichyssoise
Modified for two (one small appetite and one huge one)
  • 2 medium to large (not purple) potatoes, diced
  • 2 large leeks, sliced in 1/4" rounds to the light green part, soaked in water to remove grit
  • 3 cups Safeway Organics chicken broth (3/4 of the box) - Julia says you can use easily use water instead
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
  • some crazy strongly-flavored something (2 Tbl scallions, 2 tsp lemon thyme, etc.)
  • couple dollops sour cream or crème fraîche
  1. Bring vegetables in the broth or water to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Salt, cover partially, and simmer 20 minutes. If the veggies aren't tender, try another 10 min or so.
  3. Keep it as is with flavoring, or puree in a good blender with the flavoring of choice (careful of explosions!) if you feel like a velvety soup.
  4. Top with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Perfectly Boiled Eggs

Our recipe came from Julia Child. She credits the Georgia Egg Commission for its development.
You will need a
  • taller rather than wider saucepan or stockpot with a well-fitting lid
  • an egg pricker or a pin
  • and a large bowl of ice water
Take a quantity of eggs, which Julia recommends not exceed 24 with home equipment, and do the following:
  • Prick the large ends to at least 1/4 inch, popping an air bubble that may cause the eggs to crack while cooking.
  • Place them in a single layer in the pot, and cover with cold water by one inch.
  • Using high heat, bring just to a boil, and remove from heat and let rest, covered, for 17 minutes.
  • Place them in a bowl of ice water for 2 minutes, during which reheat the cooking water to boiling.
  • Up to 6 at a time, reboil them for 10 seconds, and then return to the bowl of ice water, cracking them gently in several places.
The result is an egg with a gentle white and cooked yolk, without discoloration at the boundary of the white and yolk, and thanks to the last two steps, with a shell that peels easily — in short, a perfectly boiled egg.

Oil & Lemon Dressing

Oh, goodness - this one is a keeper, for sure.

Oil and Lemon Dressing, à la Julia
Makes about 2/3 of a cup, only 2/3 of which we used for Salade Niçoise

  • 2 strips of fresh lemon peel (1 by 2 1/2 inches each) grated off a lemon with a microplane
  • 1/4 tsp salt, more if needed
  • 1/2 Tbl Dijon mustard
  • 1 to 2 Tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice (NOT NOT NOT the bottled, pasturized stuff)
  • 1/2 cup really tasty oil (salad oil or olive oil)
  • (optional - a clove of garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press)
  • Freshly ground pepper
Puree all ingredients in a little salad blender. Put on any salad - light, fresh and yummy.

French Potato salad

Easily a great potluck dish, or a warm summer night side dish. Fresh, tangy and light. Serve at room temperature if you use the (optional) oil.

French Potato Salad
makes about 1 quart
  • 1 1/2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4" cross sections
  • (we used purple potatoes - beware! the purple color turned sort of gray-purple when we cooked them)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt per quart of water
  • 2 Tbl minced shallots
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or potato-cooking water
  • 1 1/2 Tbl tarragon wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbl minced parsley
  • (optional 2 to 3 Tbl olive oil, to finish)
  1. Pre-measure all ingredients before you begin, as once the potatoes come out you have 3 minutes before you have to start putting it all together!
  2. Rinse the potatoes as you slice them by putting into a bowl of cold water.
  3. Drain. Put the potatoes into a saucepan of cold water, salt, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
  4. Turn down the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until just tender.
  5. Drain out the water (but keep 1/4 cup for later, or dump and use 1/4 cup chicken stock), and cover immediately with a lid.
  6. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes (but not more than 5!!) to "firm up" the potatoes (still haven't figured this one out - we'll get back to you on that).
  7. Add the remaining ingredients except the oil and toss gently.
  8. Let sit 10 minutes at least, letting the flavors come together.
  9. Correct seasonings, and add the oil.
  10. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Salade Niçoise

This salad is one of Pat's favorites, reminding him of earlier days in faraway lands. He's always complained about these salads in the US being 'not quite right', so we decided to try to make an authentic go of it last night. When we finally sat down to dinner (after an hour of prep), a happy, wistful smile spread across his face. It was just right. He closed his eyes to savor the flavors, and told me stories of dear friends, beautiful countryside, and memorable food.

The recipe we used is from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook". We are using her book as a way to learn new French techniques, and to stretch ourselves to eat/prepare foods we might not otherwise. This was perfect for a midsummer's meal - everything was fresh and in season from the farmer's market.

Salade Niçoise
  • 1/2 recipe French Potato Salad
  • 2/3 c. Oil & Lemon Dressing
  • 1 head Buttercrunch lettuce, washed, thoroughly dried, and torn in large sections
  • (get only fresh heads with soft, supple leaves - others will be bitter)
  • 2-3 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lb wax beans, blanched
  • 2 very fresh tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can tuna belly, packed in oil (St. Jude's - available in Seattle supermarkets as our locally-canned line-caught tuna)
  • 1/2 c. Niçoise olives
  • 1/2 c. fresh shelled peas, blanched
  • 2 large duck eggs, perfectly hard-boiled and sliced
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 2 Tbl. fresh parsley, chopped

*To assemble the salad
  1. Drizzle the lettuce leaves with the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Pile into a large, shallow serving dish.
  2. Spoon between a tablespoon and a teaspoon of dressing on each of the following in separate bowls or plates: wax beans, tomatoes, tuna, and peas.
  3. Mound the potato salad in the middle of the lettuce.
  4. Place the pre-seasoned vegetables and tuna in small, attractive groups around the potato salad.
  5. Dress the salad with the remaining dressing.
  6. Place the egg slices around the perimeter, laying an anchovy fillet across each.
  7. Sprinkle with olives and parsley.
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