Friday, May 25, 2007

Brik, or the greatest fried egg ever!

I think I went through most of the past decade avoiding fried foods, with the exception of the occasional french fry. Then I discovered New England fried clams and things went downhill from there. But, wait, fried food, done right, isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just another way to cook things, and when Mike and I do it on occasion, it is usually a lot of fun. On top of that, the results can be a revelation.

We’ve fried donuts and egg rolls; even squash blossoms. When I saw the recipe for Brik, a wonton-like Tunisian turnover, in the May issue of Gourmet, I knew I had met the fried food of my dreams. It seemed to defy logic: a raw egg cracked into a little nest of tuna and parsley, wrapped in egg roll dough and fried to a golden crisp, yet keeping the yolk soft and silky within to create a rich, yellow dipping sauce that would ooze out when the brik was cracked with a fork. Too wonderful to be possible, right? Of course, we had to give it a shot.

Gourmet came through with this one, people. The recipe worked perfectly, and the promise of a soft, runny yolk was fulfilled. I have never eaten anything, much less fried anything, quite like this. As exotic as it sounds, it employs everyday ingredients, and requires a simple skillet for the quick shallow fry. We did watch our oil temperature carefully using a deep-fat thermometer, but this was really easy to do, especially with two cooks.

Just a couple slight changes to the recipe: The egg roll wrappers they sell in our grocery store are 6 x 6, not 8 inches, as the recipe calls for. The 6-inch wrappers were too small to fold over to form a triangle, so we just used 2 wrappers, one on top of the other to form a “pillow” with the egg and tuna nest in the middle. We did not brush the wrappers with oil because we forgot and then it didn’t seem necessary. We fried one brik at a time and pretty much ate as we went. They do keep beautifully for a few minutes in a low oven, however, if you need to fry a bunch and then serve.

These were so much fun, especially if you love a great, runny egg. Here is the link to the recipe, and if you have the magazine, there’s a lot of pictures in there too.

Just a quick note: Mike and I are leaving on Saturday to travel to Seattle to see his family, then on to Tokyo, Singapore where his aunt and uncle live, then Thailand and Vietnam. We'll be gone for over three weeks, but I'm going to blog as we go...I don't know what to expect, but it should be an amazing time; and I absolutely cannot wait for the food!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spring Vegetable Tart with Herb Whole Wheat Crust

I can't believe it's almost summer! I have always felt that summer kicked off with Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend of May in the U.S.). However, since I moved to Florida a few years ago, I often find myself forgetting what time of year it is due to the near constant sunshine and tropical climate. I am not complaining, just explaining why I happen to be a little late with my "spring" tart. At least I snuck it in before the holiday weekend!

Although I think of asparagus, green onions and mushrooms as spring vegetables, they are available year round just about everywhere. If you are lucky enough to get hold of some fresh wild mushrooms, like chanterelles, they would make this tart extra special. The simple ricotta and feta cheese filling makes the tart substantial enough to be a main course and would be a great base for other vegetable tarts-- a summer version with eggplant and tomato comes to mind.

I have done several variations on my whole wheat tart crust in the past few months, and I think I have settled on this one as my favorite. I love adding rosemary to the dough for extra flavor and fragrance. I like to freeze the dough in the tart pan before I bake it because this seems to encourage it to hold its shape when it hits the hot oven. If you can't get enough tart-making, here is another savory option.

Spring Vegetable Tart with Herb Whole Wheat Crust
Makes 1-9 to 11 inch tart

1 c. whole wheat flour
½ c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.), cut into small cubes and chilled
¼ to ½ c. ice water

1 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. Portobello mushrooms, cut into 2 inch pieces
5 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ c. ricotta cheese
½ c. crumbled feta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a food processor, pulse the flours, 1⁄2 tsp. salt, and rosemary to combine. Add the cold, diced butter and pulse until you have a coarse mixture roughly the size of small peas. Sprinkle ¼ c. of the ice water over the flour mixture, then pulse again, adding additional water as needed until the dough just starts to come together. It should still look scraggly and a little sandy at this point. You don’t want to get it so wet that it forms a ball in the food processor.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing and kneading it together and forming it into a disk. Roll the dough out into a 12 or 13 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick, with a floured rolling pin, keeping the dough moving on your floured surface so it does not stick. Drape the dough over your rolling pin and transfer it into a 9 to 11 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides of pan and trim any excess dough hanging over the edges. You can use these extra pieces to patch any holes. Prick the dough all over with a fork and freeze for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bake the frozen tart crust for 20 minutes or until just beginning to color.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling: heat half the oil in a large skillet to medium-high. Add the asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a bowl. Add the remaining oil and the mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the scallions and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the asparagus, add the fresh thyme and gently stir to combine the vegetables.

In another bowl, combine the ricotta and feta. Season with pepper and just a pinch of salt (because the feta is salty). Stir in the egg. Spread the cheese mixture over the surface of the tart crust. Pour the vegetables over the cheese. Bake the tart at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly puffed. Cool for 10-15 minutes and serve.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Saveur’s Naan Bread (and Eggplant Curry)

Naan is the impossibly light, perfectly blistered, wonderfully chewy Indian flatbread cooked in a tandoor oven. The temperature, which can approach 900 F, in the tandoor is so hot that the naan wallah (or bread maker) needs only throw the soft, smooth dough against the wall of the clay oven and slide it out just moments later, before the bread is blackened beyond recognition.

Naan is one of my favorite things to eat at an Indian restaurant. I often want to branch out and sample other breads or side dishes, but the naan just won’t be denied. I thought I had accepted the fact that due to my oven’s inferior heating capability relative to the awesome power of a real Indian tandoor, I would never be able to make my favorite flatbread at home. But when I saw the recipe and accompanying photo in the May issue of Saveur, I couldn’t resist trying, even though I was afraid I was only setting myself up for disappointment.

Mike was game and we had a pizza stone and a cast iron skillet, the two pieces of equipment required by the recipe. I mixed up the dough according to the simple directions, using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook to take care of the ten minutes of kneading. Against our better judgment, we attempted to stretch the individual naan by draping the dough over an inverted bowl. It stuck badly and stretched very little, so we rolled it out instead.

Our first flatbread looked great, but came out like a cracker. We shortened the cooking time, flipping the bread halfway through and eventually got the hang of it. You may get it on the first try, but if not, keep tweaking the process until you get naan that is browned in places but still very soft and chewy…it’s all about trial and error.

I wish I could say our naan was as good as India House, our favorite Fort Lauderdale curry stop, but I knew that would be too much to hope for. On the bright side, it was pretty good flatbread and fun to make. My biggest complaint was that the naan tasted too much like the Gold Medal all-purpose flour I used. The naan actually had a flavor similar to my homemade buttermilk biscuits—a great taste for biscuits, but not so much for naan. Doing a little more research, I came across one recipe that warned against turning the dough over when rolling it out to avoid getting loose flour on the top of the bread. I think this might help.

We made a spiced basmati pilaf and Saveur’s Bhaigan Bhartha, an easy eggplant curry dish to eat with our naan. The flavor of the baigan bharta was deep and complex, but I didn’t see the need for all the fat called for in the recipe. I used about a tablespoon each of butter and oil instead, and I cut my eggplant lengthwise and cooked it flesh side down under the broiler.

Our naan experience was definitely worthwhile, but since we won’t be installing a tandoor in our kitchen anytime soon, we’ll be off to India House when the next naan craving strikes…that is until I’m enticed by the siren call of another promising homemade naan recipe.

If anyone out there has found a great home method, don’t hesitate to share…

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Bacon-and-Egg Ice Cream (toast optional)

With my technical difficulties of late and readjusting to being home after our vacation, things feel a little strange. So, this is the perfect time for a strange food—bacon and egg ice cream.

Has anyone been watching Diary of a Foodie on PBS? I think the new episodes are over, but I still have one or two unwatched on my tivo, and I’m sure they are re-running the whole series now or sometime soon. It’s such a great show! My favorite episode was titled, Anatomy of a Meal, and featured Jose Andres, a Washington, D.C. chef originally from Spain. I ate in one of his less experimental restaurants, Zatinya, and the meal inspired this recipe for grape leaves stuffed with goat cheese.

The Bacon-and-Egg Ice Cream comes from the “Science of Deliciousness” episode. Luckily, it’s a really easy recipe if you’ve ever used an ice cream maker (like we did here and here). The bacon gets sprinkled with brown sugar as it cooks in the oven. The ice cream is made from a simple, pale yellow custard, rich and smooth with egg yolks and cream.

This ice cream is really delicious! When we saw it on the show, we decided immediately that we had to try it. I like bacon; Mike really likes bacon; and we thought the idea was brilliantly simple and cool. The egg yolk ice cream base would be a nice component of any less esoteric ice cream recipe. But add sweet, crispy, salty bacon and you’ve got a surprising dessert that might even make it easier to justify ice cream for breakfast.

Recipe Notes: I am giving you the link to the recipe on the Diary of a Foodie site. We followed the directions, and all was well. We used low-sodium bacon because that’s what we happened to have. After adding the brown sugar, the bacon was finished in about 5 minutes, not 15-20, as the recipe says, so keep an eye on yours. We let our custard churn in the ice cream maker for over 30 minutes, but it never got very firm. After 3 hours, in the freezer, it was still a little soft, but freezing overnight took care of that. We just added the bacon to the ice cream maker when we were almost done churning instead of folding it in by hand.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cambodian Eggplant Stir Fry

I can finally post...there has been a problem posting to blogs that aren't hosted on blogspot, so hopefully it is fixed now! Since I have been home from my trip to London and Amsterdam, we have been doing loads of cooking. Not being able to post properly has been so frustrating. I guess the good news is that I have a lot of tasty posts in the pipeline...

This unique eggplant dish comes courtesy of Mike who is rather fond of my Southeast Asia cookbook. From its pages, he has made a Vietnamese Bun Bo and a garlicky beef dish with onions and watercress. This eggplant stir fry was another winner—simple and flavorful, with only a few ingredients.

Simple as it looks, this recipe uses eggplant in an unusual way, making very good use of its smoky flavor and silky texture. In fact, I have never seen eggplant cooked like this for a stir fry, but it is the method I would use when making a dip like Baba Ganoush. You slice the eggplant in half lengthwise, and cook it under the broiler skin side up until the flesh is soft. Meanwhile, you toss together some pork, shrimp and fresh chile in a skillet, and flavor it with fish sauce. Stir in the shredded eggplant flesh, scoop over rice noodles and you’re done!

Cambodian Shrimp & Pork Stir Fry with Silky Grilled Eggplant
Adapted from Savoring Southeast Asia by Joyce Jue

1 large purple eggplant (about 1 ½ lb.)
1 tbs. canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tbs. (approx.) finely chopped chile peppers (use jalepeno, Fresno or serrano, depending on the heat level you like and what’s available)
½ lb. pork loin chopped into small pieces
½ lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
2 tbs. fish sauce
1 tbs. sugar
fresh ground pepper
pinch of salt, to taste
4-5 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
8 oz. rice noodles, cooked according to package directions

Preheat broiler to high. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil eggplant 8-10 inches from heat source for 10-12 minutes or until the skin feels hard and hollow when tapped, flesh is soft and has released a lot of its water onto the baking sheet. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Use a fork to scrape stringy strips of eggplant flesh into a bowl.

Preheat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chiles and cook until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pork and cook until the meat just starts to brown. Add the shrimp and cook until opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the fish sauce, sugar and eggplant; stir to combine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Taste to check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice noodles and sprinkle with scallions.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

The Perfect Margarita—With the Fastest, Simplest Recipe Ever!

It’s Cinco de Mayo tomorrow, and we’ve had the forethought to provide you with a recipe in advance of the actual holiday! We also thought noon on a Friday was a good time for a cocktail...

Sure, you’ve made Margaritas before, but try it our way and you’ll get one of the best drinks you've ever tasted without the hassle of simple syrup, sour mix or prolific lime juicing.

What's the magic ingredient? It's a common can of frozen limeade from the freezer section of the grocery store. We always have a can in our freezer. For one drink, you'll use a shot of the slushy stuff, so measure it straight from the frozen can and it will melt and dilute slightly when you shake it over ice. This is Mike's recipe, but we also have to give credit to his dad, my awesome father-in-law, Brian, who introduced Mike to the limeade innovation.

If you feel the need to serve actual food for your Cinco de Mayo celebration, try our Chiles Rellenos or Mole Sauce, two specialties from Puebla where this holiday was born.

The Perfect Margarita on the Rocks
By Mike (adapted from Brian O'Hara)

One little tip: You're mixing it with a sweet, acidic juice, so there's no reason to use a premium tequila in a Margarita recipe. Restaurants do it so they can charge you more, even though you'd never be able to detect the difference between Patron and cheap Sauza. Save the good stuff for sipping straight up.

Makes One

1 shot tequila (1.5 ounces)
1 shot limeade (Minute Maid Frozen Concentrate from the freezer section)
splash triple sec
1 fat lime wedge
kosher salt

Add a handful of ice to a cocktail shaker. Pour the tequila, limeade and triple sec over the ice. Shake well, then let it sit for two minutes to melt and dilute the limeade.

Meanwhile, spread some salt on a plate. Cut a diagonal sliver in the flesh of the lime wedge and run it around the rim of a Margarita glass. Dip the rim in the salt and shake off excess. Fill the glass with ice and garnish with the lime wedge.

Shake the drink again and strain into the prepared glass, discarding the ice in the shaker. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

London & Amsterdam Photos

Mike and I are back from our trip to London and Amsterdam. We had so much fun, and we're already planning our next trip (and our next, and our next...) which is coming up in about a month if things go to plan. I always feel that deflating let-down when I return from traveling, but thankfully it usually passes quickly.

I am glad to be back to my blog, my kitchen and all the other blogs that it seems like I haven't read in ages! Before I come up with another food post, I want to share some of my vacation pics. If you want to know anything about the places we went, leave a comment or drop me an email.

Though food doesn't feature in too many of these photos, rest assured that we ate very well, and very inexpensively, the whole time (with the exception of a dismal quattro stagione pizza at a touristy Italian restaurant in London because we were starving). Forget what you've heard about London and especially Amsterdam not being great food cities. They're both brilliant! All you have to do is stay away from the tourist traps, do a little research and develop your tastiness radar.

I am about to eat this lovely pickled herring, a favorite dutch snack (contrary to popular belief, they don't swallow them whole). It has the texture of sushi, the pucker of a pickle and the flavor of, well, herring.

We had an awesome and deliciously new-to-us meal at this Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam right next to the flower market. You order one of several set menu options where you get rice and little portions of at least 8 different dishes, just like tapas--love that!

This is one of my very favorite places in London: the Millenium Bridge leading to the Tate Modern, one of the most original and stunning museums in the world.

The other side of the Millenium Bridge facing St. Paul's Cathedral across the Thames.

Me in front of Somerset House on the Strand where another favorite museum, the Courtauld Gallery is located. If you like Impressionism, do not miss this relatively small, but priceless collection of treasures by, most notably, Renoir, Degas and Manet.

"Cheese!!!" A Wallace and Gromit fan in front of Neal's Yard Dairy, a fabulous, pioneering cheese shop near Covent Garden.

The entrance to Old Spitalfields Market in the eclectic, delicious and gritty East End.

Leading to Notting Hill's Portobello Road, just a couple streets from our hotel.

I want to go back! Until then, I'll be resuming food blogging soon...

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