Monday, January 29, 2007

Salmon with Chiplotle-Honey Glaze and Cinnamon-Scented Couscous

This dish came to be because we wanted to eat something quick and healthy on a Saturday night. Usually, Saturdays are reserved for the more indulgent and labor-intensive of recipes; however, we had plans to eat out at a very tasty restaurant on Sunday evening, so taking it easy was a wise choice.

Paragons of moderation that we are, I came up with this dead easy glaze for baked salmon that turned out to be even better than I had hoped. Seriously, the whole time we were eating, I couldn't shut up about how delicious the fish tasted. Sometimes I turn into a broken record when I'm really enjoying my food; thankfully, Mike just nods and keeps chewing.

The idea for the warmly spiced couscous with dried fruit, pine nuts and scallions came from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, but I kept this one very light with just a dab of butter that you could actually leave out if you wanted. It is one of my favorite couscous dishes in recent memory. Maybe it's not really all that healthy because you will want to eat more than just one serving.

Rounded out with steamed kale quickly sauteed in a little olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, salt and pepper, I thought this was the perfect colorful healthy plate. The wonderful thing is that it tasted as flavorful and delicious as any meal we would usually cook on a Saturday night.

Salmon with Chipotle-Honey Glaze
Serves 2

Nonstick cooking spray
2-6 oz. salmon fillets, skin on
salt and pepper
3 tbs. honey
1 canned chipotle chile, seeded and chopped, plus 2 tsp. of the sauce from the chile can
1 tbs. lime juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, place skin side down on the baking sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the honey, chipotle chile, chile sauce and lime juice together in a small bowl. Taste and add more honey if you want it sweeter, or more chipotle sauce if you want it hotter.

After 13 to 15 minutes or when the salmon is three-quarters of the way done (depending on thickness), take the baking sheet out of the oven and drizzle the chipotle-honey glaze all over the fish. Continue baking for 5 minutes, or until the salmon flakes easily and is cooked through. Spoon any excess glaze that has collected on the foil over the salmon and serve. If the salmon skin sticks to the foil, gently remove the flesh to the serving plates and no one will have that extra piece of skin left when they are done eating.

Cinnamon-Scented Couscous
Inspired by a recipe in Nigella Lawson's How To Eat

Serves 3-4

1 ¼ c. water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
½ tbs. butter
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. whole wheat couscous
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ c. dried currants (raisins or cranberries would also work well)
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 tbs. pine nuts

Bring the water or broth to a boil over high heat. Add the butter and salt. Add the couscous while continuously stirring with a whisk or fork. When the liquid returns to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest setting and add the cinnamon, cumin, currants, scallions and pine nuts. When all the water is absorbed, cover tightly and remove from heat. Let the couscous steam for at least 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Vanilla-Cardamom Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Buttercream and Candied Orange Zest

The cupcake is the perfect canvas for a chef to express herself by creating unexpected flavor combinations that delight and challenge the palate... That pretentious B.S. may have a bit of truth to it, but it is not the real reason why you should make yourself some cupcakes tonight.

You should dig deep into your pantry and find those rainbow-colored sprinkles and muffin cups you've been holding onto since the 90s because cupcakes are just a lot of fun. And I mean the baking AND the eating. I'm a real muffin fan and I love a simple frosted cake, but I don't know the last time I've eaten an actual cupcake. Thanks to the motivation I got from the witty Garret of Vanilla Garlic and the super-creative Cheryl of Cupcake Bakeshop, I rectified that situation this week. Cupcake fanatics that they are, Garrett and Cheryl challenged food bloggers to enter their own cupcake recipes in a round-up to be posted on their blogs on January 29.

I wanted to get a little wild (because bakers are a wild and crazy bunch) with a unique flavor combo that had definite grown-up appeal. Toasting and grinding the cardamom in my new mortar and pestle was the right decision, as the small amount of fresh spice perfumed not only the cake batter, but the whole kitchen, as well. You just know it's so much fresher than pre-ground spices. I was a little heavy-handed with the orange liqueur in my frosting, and why not? This is definitely buttercream for adults.

Sometimes, with a simple medium like the cupcake, garnish is everything. I had never made candied zest, and was happy to learn that it is a surprisingly simple technique that yields yummy results. The zest turns into sugary jelly candy and makes a beautiful topper, hinting at the flavor within. Another boon of the cupcake challenge is that I discovered something I never knew about my husband; the man is powerless when faced with adorable and delicious cupcakes. He ate four the first night we had them. Now I'll just have to figure out the best way to use this knowledge to my advantage...

I loved my first try at candy-making... find the simple instructions here.

First, crush the pods lighty in order to extract the seeds. Then, discard the pods and grind away, either with a pestle or in a spice grinder.

Vanilla-Cardamom Cupcakes
I used this recipe from Joy of Baking as a base. It calls for a bit less sugar than similar cupcake recipes. I loved that the cakes were not overly sweet and the flavors could shine.
Makes 12 regular cupcakes

½ c. butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ to ¾ tsp. ground cardamom (start with 10 to 12 green pods, toast and grind it yourself for best flavor)
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. milk (I used 2%)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla along with the last egg.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom (up to ¾ tsp. depending on the intensity you want; ½ tsp. yielded subtle flavor, but I would add more next time) and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the butter and mix on medium speed. Add the remaining flour and the milk, beat at medium speed, then increase to medium-high and beat until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then remove the cakes and cool completely on a wire rack.

Grand Marnier Buttercream Frosting
Use any orange liqueur you want in this recipe. You can also substitute orange extract or flavoring for the alcohol.
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes, with leftovers

2 to 2 ½ c. powdered sugar
½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tsp. Grand Marnier, triple sec or other orange liquer
2 tblsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar, and beat until combined. Add the liqueur and orange juice and beat on medium high until incorporated. If frosting is too “loose” and liquidy, add additional powdered sugar ¼ cup at a time until you get a smooth, spreadable texture. If icing is too thick, add more orange juice or milk. Frost the cooled cupcakes and top with candied orange zest if desired.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Toasted Pasta with Duck Leg Guazzetto

Sometimes I just want to hunker down and spend some quality time in the kitchen. Occasionally this means baking or setting up a big pot of something wonderful to simmer away on my stove top all afternoon. Sometimes it means I’m up for a challenge; it means I want to tackle something I have never tried before or a recipe with multiple steps that can span a whole weekend. If you are in this kind of mood, make this duck guazzetto, created by Lidia Bastianich. Rich duck, dried porcinis, tomato paste and aromatic spices create an intensely flavorful, silky sauce as the long, slow braise transforms the meat to fall-off-the-bone tender.

A close-up of the finished guazzetto.

Luckily, I have been fawning over the Italy-themed January issue of Gourmet for a couple weeks now, and I decided by Thursday that we (it’s always nicer to face a challenge as “we” instead of “I”) were going to make our own Istrian feast complete with aforementioned duck legs and homemade toasted pasta. Mike was whole-heartedly on board with the toasted pasta, but thought the duck guazzetto (the Istrian term for a braise) might pose a challenge. I was certain that the guazzetto would be utterly glorious, and the recipe did come off without a hitch. Planning ahead was a factor, however, as I had to visit the butcher a day ahead to buy some beautiful frozen duck legs. These folks are not open on Sundays, and I needed the extra day to let the meat defrost in the refrigerator.

To make it easy on ourselves, we made and toasted the pasta one day ahead, as well. It truly came together easily, with rolling out the dough being the only mildly tedious part (that’s where the “we” came in).

Everything about this meal was heavenly. If we paid a lot for this dish in an Italian restaurant, we would have been more than happy. I wouldn’t recommend trying to put it all together in a single day, but if you want to spend a weekend making something really special, you will not be sorry with this one. Toasting the pasta in the oven gives it a nutty flavor, but the real treat is the rustic texture of these noodles. Hand-rolling, baking and breaking the dried dough into pieces creates uneven shapes that make every bite delicious in a slightly different way.

Do not forget to top the guazzetto with some good cheese. We also added our own special touch with some Bahamian sea salt that a friend gave me. Like the pasta, this very freshly harvested salt has an uneven grain and tastes like the warm ocean water of the Bahamas, only sweeter. As the pasta and guazzetto were not too heavily salted, we decided to try this salt, adding yet another incredible flavor note in the dish. If you don’t have a lovely person to bring you salt from the Bahamas, there are lots of different sea salts to experiment with.

Sometimes weekend projects don’t live up to expectations, but this one paid back our efforts in every bite. We gave ourselves all the time we needed to actually enjoy the cooking process, and none of it was terribly challenging after all.

Roll each piece of dough into a thin rectangle...

bake until golden...

and break into pieces before boiling.
Duck Leg Guazzetto
Adapted from Gourmet; Originally published in Lidia’s Family Table by Lidia Bastianich
As in the magazine, we made the rustic toasted pasta to serve with this richly flavored braised duck. If you are not up for doing homemade pasta, I think this would be wonderful over polenta; a large, flat noodle like tagliatelle; or lasagna noodles broken into smaller pieces before boiling.

Serves 4 generously

2 c. boiling water
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 to 2 1/2 lb. fresh or frozen duck legs (not confit; about 4 legs)
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 c. dry white wine
2 c. chicken broth
1 ½ California bay leaves, or 3 Turkish
1 (5-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
5 whole cloves
toasted pasta (see recipe below)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Pour boiling water over dried porcini in a bowl and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes, or until softened. Pour the contents of the bowl through a fine mesh sieve lined with a slightly dampened paper towel into another bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any grit, chop into small pieces and set aside.

Trim the duck. Remove any excess fat and about 2/3 of the skin from each thigh leaving a two inch strip of skin down the center. Leave the drumstick skin intact. Pat duck dry with a paper towel.

Heat 2 tbs. oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Sear the duck, in two batches if necessary, so you do not overcrowd the pot. Cook until lightly browned on both sides. If the oil starts to splatter, partially cover the pot and use tongs to carefully turn the legs. Remove legs to a plate, sprinkle with coarse salt and set aside.

Add onion to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season lightly with a pinch of salt and ground pepper. Add the porcini mushrooms and tomato paste, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and return all the duck legs to the pot along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes to reduce the wine. Add chicken broth, reserved mushroom-soaking liquid, bay leaves rosemary and cloves and bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Gently simmer, covered, 1 hour, turned duck legs once halfway through.
Reposition lide to partially cover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Turn duck legs again, remove lid and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, until meat is very tender and sauce is thickened. Remove duck legs from pot and set on a cutting board. Allow sauce to continue simmering for 15 to 30 minutes or until you are left with about 3 cups of rich, slightly thick sauce. Remove rosemary sprig, bay leaves and cloves from the sauce and skim off any fat. Cover and keep warm over low heat. When duck is cool enough to handle, remove skin and fat and tear the meat into bite size pieces. Discard the skin and fat and return the meat to the pot. Keep covered over low heat until pasta is ready.

Toasted Pasta
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 4 generously

2 to 2 ½ c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ½ tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 ½ tbs. ice water, plus more if needed

Add 2 c. flour to a food processor and process for a few seconds to aerate. Whisk the eggs, oil and ice water together in a liquid measuring cup or bowl that pours easily. With the processor running pour the egg mixture through the feed tube and process until a slightly sticky dough forms and gather on the blade, about 30 to 40 seconds. Feel the dough. If it is a bit too sticky to handle, add more flour, a scant tbs. at a time and process until you can handle it. If dough is hard and dry, add more ice water. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperture for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line 2 large (about 17 x 13) baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough and cut into four equal pieces. Put one piece on a lightly floured surface and cover the rest. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out as thinly and evenly as possible into a large rectangle about the size of your baking sheet--You want the dough to be VERY, very thin. Keep the dough moving as you roll and add more flour to your work surface so dough does not stick. Transfer dough to lined baking sheet and repeat with the next piece of dough. Bake the first two sheets, rotating their positions occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Turn the baked pasta sheets over and continue baking until completely dry and golden, about 15 minutes more. Bubbles may form on the pasta during baking, but don’t worry; they add to the textural variation that makes this so delicious. Transfer pasta to cooling racks and let them sit out to continue drying for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Roll the next two pieces of dough, bake, and cool in the same manner.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil over high heat. Season with salt. Break the sheets of pasta into large, irregular pieces, about 2 to 3 inches each. Add to pot and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness, until al dente. Drain in a colander and serve immediately topped with duck guazzetto and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sea salt, if desired.

We also made this easy Italian salad from Gourmet. It is thinly sliced celery hearts and mushrooms, dressed with lemon and olive oil, and topped with salt, pepper and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Slicing the mushrooms as thinly as possible and adding the dressing transforms them.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Big Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta

If you hear the word, "meatballs," and immediately think, "spaghetti with...," you need to keep reading.

Forget about fussy little meatballs that take ages to roll and fry. If you want spaghetti, try a Bolognese. The next time you want meatballs, try this recipe. You form them into roughly two-inch patties, so a serving is about 2 meatballs per person. A quick sear in a skillet creates a wonderfully crusty exterior. Then they are smothered in a simple mushroom-tomato sauce and baked so they stay moist within.

The polenta can come together at the last minute, as you take the meatballs out of the oven. Finely ground (not stone ground) cornmeal cooks instantly. You could also use one of the imported Italian products labeled "instant polenta." I like these products, but they are not as smooth as the finely ground cornmeal. It depends on your preference. Make sure you spoon some of the juice from the meatballs over the polenta before serving. Eat this once and you'll never think of meatballs any other way.

Big Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta
The idea behind this recipe comes from Tyler Florence, but I have adapted and simplified it down to its delicious fundamentals.
Serves 6 to 8 (Makes 14 large meatballs)

1 1/2 lb. ground beef sirloin
1 1/2 lb. ground pork
2 tbs. Worchestershire sauce
6 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
3 large eggs
½ c. dried bread crumbs with Italian seasoning
big handful of chopped parsley (divided)
handful of chopped basil (divided)
1 tsp kosher salt, plus additional to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
12 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-28oz. can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, Worchestershire sauce, two-thirds of the garlic, eggs and bread crumbs. Reserve about 1 tablespoon each of the parsley and basil for garnish and add the remaining herbs to the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and blend everything together gently with your hands. Form the meat mixture into about 14 large meatballs (about 4.5 ounces each if you're using a kitchen scale), roughly 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Shape them more like hockey pucks than tennis balls. Set the meatballs on a large platter.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly browned. Add remaining garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the can of tomatoes, tomato paste and water and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until sauce is thick and flavors blend. Taste for seasoning, remove from heat and set aside.

Coat a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking spray and heat it to medium-high. Add as many meatballs as will fit comfortably, leaving about 1 inch of space between them. Cook until the bottoms are browned, then flip and brown the reverse side. Remove the meatballs to a large baking dish (I used 9 x 13) and repeat with the remaining meatballs. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until cooked through (internal temp should be 160F). Garnish with reserved parsley and basil and serve immediately over creamy polenta.

Creamy Polenta
Adapted from Tyler Florence

4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ c. finely ground cornmeal
¼ c. half and half or milk
1 tbs. unsalted butter
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a full boil. Turn the heat to low and start stirring the broth with a wire whisk. Gradually add the cornmeal as you constantly whisk. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in the half and half and butter. If your polenta thickens too quickly, whisk in hot water to thin it out. It can cook alarmingly fast, but it is forgiving and will still taste great if it is a little lumpy. Season to taste and serve immediately.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Banana Soufflés

A Dieter's Dream Dessert!

150 calories. That's really all I need to tell you, but being the garrulous little food writer I am, let me continue for just a paragraph or two.

You may already know that I love to make souffles. They are fun, easy and make me feel more like a domestic goddess than any dish in my repertoire. I also love bananas. If you too, enjoy the exquisite torture of watching a couple bananas ripen to the point of sweet, blackened smooshiness on your kitchen counter, this is the recipe for you. Instead of whipping up the same old banana bread, try these souffles. Did I mention they're only 150 calories each?

The lightness of the pureed bananas, egg whites and sugar create a gorgeous rise. Sweet and airy, they are the perfect dessert to follow a heavier meal, or a whole season of holiday feasting. You could even afford to spoon a little chocolate sauce over them without a bit of guilt.

I love how a souffle goes from this...

To this - stunning!
Banana Soufflés
The original version of this recipe appeared in the January issue of Redbook magazine, and was first published in Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim.
Makes 4-6oz. souffles.

2 large ripe bananas
5 tbs. sugar, divided, plus extra for coating soufflé dishes
2 tbs. water
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites
¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Puree the bananas in a blender or food processor. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 4 tbs. sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves completely. Cook without stirring for an additional minute until mixture thickens slightly. Slowly stir in the banana puree and cook until mixture reaches a full boil. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon. Allow mixture to cool slightly in the refrigerator while you prepare the ramekins.

Spray 4-6oz. ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle sugar all over the bottom and sides. Spin ramekins around to coat completely and shake out any excess sugar.

Put the egg whites and salt in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until white and foamy. Add the remaining 1 tbs. sugar and continue to beat, increasing the speed to medium-high, until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold about one-third of the egg whites into the banana mixture. Continue to fold in the remaining egg whites. Divide soufflé mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until tops have risen and browned lightly. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Herb Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce

If you ever get tired of the constant rotation of beef, chicken and pork, why not give lamb a try? It is just as easy to cook as beef and delicious in recipes that make use of inexpensive cuts, like these kabobs. We made this dish when we were looking for something to eat with a nice bottle of red wine, but did not want to resort to steak, the obvious choice.

Served with a simple salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and parsley, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, these kabobs can be the focal point of a healthy meal. I’ll cook Middle Eastern food any chance I get because it gives me an excuse to make dips like hummus and this garlicky yogurt sauce, brightened with lemon juice. Be sure to share it with someone who likes you, and that lingering garlic essence on your tongue will be a non-issue.

Herb-Marinated Lamb Kabobs
Adapted from Ina Garten
The marinade, with its vinegary kick, makes the meat very moist and flavorful with little effort.
Serves 4

1 ½ lb. lamb (boneless loin or leg work well), trimmed of fat and cut into large cubes
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tbs. fresh thyme, chopped (or ½ tsp. dried)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh ground pepper
4 long wooden or metal skewers
2 red onions, cut into large chunks
Coarse salt

Place the lamb cubes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and add the vinegar, rosemary, thyme, garlic and ground pepper. Toss everything together with your hands. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the lamb marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours. If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water while the meat marinates.

Preheat a broiler or grill. Thread the lamb cubes and the red onion onto the skewers and place on a broiler pan or baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt on both sides. Cook until the meat is lightly browned on the outside and pink within, about 7-10 minutes total, flipping once. The meat will still feel soft, but will spring back when pressed with your finger. Serve immediately with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce.

Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
You can make this sauce up to several hours ahead. I like to allow at least 30 minutes for the garlic to mellow and the flavors to mesh. This sauce is also amazing as a dip for roasted potato wedges with rosemary.
Serves 4

8 oz. plain nonfat or lowfat yogurt (Greek style or regular)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of ½ lemon
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine first four ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice or garlic if you like.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Meyer Lemon Tart

Before I continue the love affair with Meyer lemons, I want to apologize for not posting as often as usual for the past few weeks. This is not due to any drama in my life, but to the new Blogger software. I’ve only been able to publish sporadically because they are having a problem accommodating blogs who have their own domain and use an FTP program. Right now, all we can do is manually upload new posts through our FTP program, but I can't receive comments because Blogger sets up the comment message board. As always, you can email comments to me at aminglingoftastes @ gmail dot com. Thank you for bearing with me…now, on to the tasty stuff.

The first time I had even heard of a Meyer lemon was in one of the many food magazines I read, and since then I have wanted to test their miraculous lemony properties for myself. As I attempted to illustrate in the previous post, Meyer lemons contain pure lemon flavor that exists in the absence of acidity. In icy-cold martinis, as well as in baked goods, this can be quite a boon.

Unless you’re going for sour, in a key lime pie for instance, that tongue-numbing, lip-puckering, cheek-burning citrus kick is not going to do you any favors. True, a tart made with regular lemons is not going to send anyone running from the table. But, when I used the Meyers in this simple tart, it was all lemony sweetness, and the lemon flavor tasted more complex without the sour tang that tends to take over.

This recipe comes from the blog, baking bites. I’ve made two baking bites recipes in the past month (the other was these pear muffins), and both have been perfect. Nicole calls this tart “foolproof” and I think she’s right. I was a little impatient and did not handle the buttery, lemon-flavored dough with much finesse, and the finished product still looked and tasted wonderful. The only change I made to the recipe was adding a scant ¼ tsp. of salt to both the pastry and to the lemon filling. I also used an 11-inch tart pan instead of a 9-inch to no detriment whatsoever. With only two of us around to eat it, this tart was kept for a full week at room temperature and did not suffer at all from overly soggy crust.

If you don’t go for lemon tarts, look through the baking bites archives and see what else strikes your fancy. And go get some Meyer lemons before they are gone till next year!

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Meyer Lemon Drop Martini

Picture this:

You slowly sidle up to the bar, resting your forearms on its smooth oak surface as you settle yourself onto a stool. Your shoulder lightly brushes against the attractive gentleman (or lady) on the stool beside you, as he greets you with an eager smile and a kiss on the cheek.

You lean back in your chair, languidly tossing your hair over your should and say, “What a day,” as your chest rises and falls with a gentle sigh.

Your companion motions for the bartender and asks what you’d like to drink.

“Lemon Drop,” you reply.

You anticipate the sensation of the cold, smooth liquid on your tongue as the bartender expertly prepares the cocktail. He slides the drink towards you, and you lift it to your lips as the moisture from the icy glass drips down the stem like sweat, wetting your fingertips. You pause, holding the rim of the glass centimeters from your lips and look up at your companion as the corners of your mouth curve into a sly smile, full of promise for the evening ahead.

Your eyes lock with his as you take a slow, full sip of your drink. Suddenly, you register the harsh, sour sting of the lemon juice. You hastily set the drink back down on the bar, spilling a sip or two with your clumsy movement. You scrunch up your nose, pushing your eyes into a squint as the acidic liquid burns the inside of your cheeks. You press your chin downward into your neck as you force yourself to swallow. You open your mouth and take a big breath and rub your watery eyes, leaving a black smear of eye makeup along your cheek.

“What’s wrong?” asks your bewildered companion.

“I didn't expect that drink to be so sour,” you answer.

“We can send it back,” your companion suggests helpfully.

“Good idea,” you say, as you smile sheepishly and order a beer.

Has this ever happened to you or to someone you care about? If this mood killing, awkward scenario could be prevented with one simple ingredient substitution, you’d do it right?

I’m happy to say that no one need suffer a painfully sour Lemon Drop Martini ever again thanks to the Meyer lemon. With pure lemon flavor, but none of the pucker, Meyers are perfect for a lemon cocktail. They are only in season during the winter months, so look for them now. If you can’t bear the sour bite of regular lemons, this drink is the answer you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy it after a long day with someone special.

Meyer Lemon Drop Martini
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Serves 2

2 oz. simple syrup made with zest of 1 Meyer lemon (see below)
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
3 oz. vodka

To make the simple syrup, combine 1 oz. water, 1 oz. sugar (measure in a cocktail jigger) and the lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves.

In a cocktail shaker, combine a handful of ice, the lemon juice, vodka and simple syrup. Shake vigorously and strain into 2 chilled martini glasses.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 Favorites

Before I plunge headfirst into the New Year, I am taking a quick look back over some of my favorite food-related things of 2006. Do you think I'm dead wrong and don't have a clue what I'm talking about? Let me know, or better yet, share your own "Best Of" list.

I am receiving all your comments over email notification, but due to my recent conversion to the New Blogger, they are not appearing in the comment sections of my posts. I will respond through email while I send good vibes to the lovely people at Blogger so they can fix this bug (isn’t that what beta is for?). Thank you for reading in 2006… I can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring.

Favorite Cookbook: Spice by Ana Sortun - I love her fresh, personal and inspired take on Middle Eastern food, as in these Lentil Kofte with Pomegranate Salsa. The book explores how spice is used in both basic and unexpected ways to create food that will leave you ready for a night of dancing, as Sortun puts it. Most of the recipes are realistic for the home cook, but unlike anything you will find in other cookbooks. If you find yourself in the Boston area, you must visit her restaurant, Oleanna, in Cambridge.

Favorite Food Show:
Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie - I dare you to watch this and not start planning your next food-focused vacation. This fascinating show focuses on a particular theme in each episode, such as “H20,” "Italy" or “Anatomy of a Meal.” As you can see, the topics are quite varied, but each episode offers a view into the lives, homes and businesses of people who are passionate about food. My husband does not watch food shows short of the occasional Iron Chef (and only the Japanese version), but he’ll watch this.

Favorite TV Chef:
Julia Child - Granted, Julia is no longer with us, but I could not come up with an American TV chef among the living who I want to shower with accolades right now. Feel free to weigh in with your own opinions on this. There’s quite a few I enjoy; I even tivo Nigella Lawson. Still, so many of today’s food shows are so over-produced, over-choreographed and just plain grating, that I long for simpler times when Julia was on public television and a show on the Food Network did not guarantee cookbook sales in the hundreds of thousands. Please read about Julia’s humble beginnings in her charming and compelling memoir, My Life in France, written with her nephew, Alex Prud'Homme. It was one of the literary and culinary highlights of my year.

Favorite Post:
The Frittata - This is one of my first posts that generated a good amount of comments, telling me I must be doing something right! Learn to make one frittata, and you will have a dish for any meal, with any ingredients you have on hand. There are plenty of ideas in the post, as well.

Favorite Recipe: Fig Pizza - I've made this one so many times, and it is always sweet, salty and deliciously special. Scroll through this epic post containing three fresh fresh fig recipes and start counting the days until the summer fig season!

Favorite Food City:
I love Boston! - Mike took me on a long weekend to Boston for my 28th birthday in October. I went to college there, met my husband there and ate some of the best meals of my life there. Check it out here and here.

Favorite New Technique: Canning - I did it for the first time, and what did I preserve for the long, harsh Florida winter? Figs, of course!

Favorite Food Magazine:
Gourmet - I read a lot of food magazines. I am sitting amidst piles of them right now. When I first started reading Gourmet several years ago, it didn’t do much for me, so I let my subscription run out. I recently took it up again, and I have not failed to go into a rapture with each new issue over a stunning and unexpected photo, a humorous essay, a fascinating person or a recipe that I have to make or I’ll burst. Gourmet is worth it for the photography alone, but I really love the heartfelt, infectious enthusiasm for all things food.

Favorite Dessert: Creamy Butterfinger Pie - Borrowed from Ana of Cookie Madness, this recipe got me out of my baking rut.

Favorite New Toy: My Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker - Originally purchased because we needed to make this fresh fig gelato, we were quickly inspired to create this fabulously creamy peanut butter ice cream too.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Hoppin’ John: A Recipe to Bring You Luck in the New Year

If you were told that collecting chicken bones and burying them in the backyard at midnight while wearing daisies in your hair would bring you prosperity in the New Year, you wouldn’t do it, would you? Assuming the answer is no (it is “no,” isn’t it?), you probably are not a terribly superstitious person. Still, couldn’t we all use a little extra luck in 2007? I have a solution that won’t have you running around like a crazy wood sprite, and it’s tasty too.

In many parts of the American South, it is traditional to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to bring luck and wealth in the year to come. The peas, or beans with little black “eyes,” signify coins. Fill your plate with them and your proverbial cup will runneth over.

Hoppin’ John is a stew of the creamy, slightly sweet beans flavored with pork, thyme and vegetables. It’s easy to make, even when you start with dried beans. I soaked them overnight in a big pot of water and didn’t give them a second thought until it was time to simmer the stew. This is usually served over rice, but I skipped it and ate a warm slab of buttery skillet cornbread on the side.

Although it is tradition to make Hoppin’ John on January 1st, I think you’re still eligible for the fortune-conferring benefits if you cook this dish in the first week of the New Year. If anyone accuses you of giving in to superstitions, they will be silenced as soon as they have a taste.

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season and are as excited about the New Year as I am. I had a very fun Christmas in Washington with my family. I even got to cook some of my favorite things for them on our short visit. I will share a recipe soon. Cheers to a wonderful and delicious 2007!

Hoppin’ John
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse. Serves 6-8

1 tblsp. olive oil
2 to 3 pork hocks (about 1 ½ lbs. total)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
½ c. carrots, chopped
½ c. celery, chopped
salt and pepper
1 tblsp. chopped garlic
5 to 6 cups water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 lb. black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
2 dried bay leaves
1 ½ tsp. dried thyme
cayenne pepper, to taste
1 bunch green onions, sliced
chopped parsley (optional)

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the pork hocks on all sides until browned. Remove from the pot and set aside. Add the bell pepper, onion, carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring constantly. Add 5 cups of water or broth. Return the pork hocks to the pot and add the black-eyed peas. If you need additional liquid to cover the peas, add more. Add the bay, thyme, cayenne and more pepper, if desired. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes or until the peas are tender and creamy.

When the peas are nearly done, remove the pork hocks. Trim away the fat, cut out any chunks of meat and return them to the stew. Some pork hocks may not yield much meat, so you can skip this step if you wish. Taste for seasoning and serve with the green onions and parsley.

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