Winter 2011

Posted on February 20, 2011 in Archives

February 20, 2011 We have a contract on our house

Nothing like a real old-fashioned breakfast to celebrate a holiday weekend and getting a contract on our house! Last night we had our dear friend Lisa Reich over for dinner and we had a great time. She’s a pescatarian, so I went down to the wharf to buy fish … and everything was gorgeous… It’s that time of year when shad roe and bream and mackerel are coming in and oysters and clams are still gorgeous and available. We bought oysters to serve before dinner. I made pasta with mortar-made pesto, green beans, and potatoes, per the Ligurian tradition, and strawberry shortcakes (recipe follows). The daffodils are coming up in the yard and we’ve had several days in the upper 60s. I know winter’s not over, but I’m loving these harbingers of spring. We saw forsythia blooming yesterday. At the wharf, I also bought some gorgeous Spanish mackerel and I’m making ceviche (recipe follows). After Lisa left after midnight last night, I went to cut up the mackerel but I didn’t have limes, so I used the last of my sister Sue’s Meyer lemons. We’re going to have dinner with our friends Seth and Elizabeth tonight, and I’ll take the ceviche with us.

Breakfast Pancakes from The Fearless Frying Cookbook

Hotcakes like these are served in countless diners across the country as part of a hearty breakfast. On Shrove Tuesday, Episcopal and Catholic parishes offer pancake suppers as the last feast before Lent. I like these made with buttermilk; you can add sliced bananas and chopped pecans to them for a southern touch. You should dry-fry these on a well-seasoned griddle or skillet. Without one, you may need to add a little butter to the pan.

 

Serve these with bacon or sausage and plenty of cane, maple, sorghum syrup on the side (or with a homemade fruit syrup*, as I did). Some people want extra butter as well.

This recipe serves 4 but you can divide it (in half, for example, as I did this morning), or multiply it with no problem.

  

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, separated

2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter

 

Preheat the oven to 200° and place 4 plates therein to warm. Sift the flour, soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Beat the egg yolks into the buttermilk, then pour into the dry ingredients, mixing well. Stir in the melted butter.

Preheat a well-seasoned griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then fold them into the batter. Use a ladle to pour the batter onto the hot griddle into pancakes about 4 inches wide and 1/4-inch high. Cook until the pancakes are full of holes and have started to brown on the edges. Flip the pancakes once and cook until browned on the second side. Remove the pancakes to the warmed plates in the oven and continue cooking the rest of the batter. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

 

*Fig syrup is simply the leftover syrup from canning figs (I posted the recipe in August 2007, but it’s simply 2/3 pound of sugar to each pound of figs, cooked at a low boil until the figs are transparent, about an hour. I process them in sterilized jars for 15 minutes. Each pound of figs will make a pint of preserves, plus one more jar of fig syrup.)

Strawberry Shortcake from The New Southern Cook

I took a cell phone image of this last night, then dropped my cell phone and broke it. Oh well.

During the spring throughout the South, when strawberries come to the supermarkets by the truckload, huge displays of the berries, along with packaged ladyfingers, sponge cakes, and pound cakes, dominate the produce sections. The strawberry price wars fill the local newspapers with colorful ads, offering the berries for a song, with the baked goods thrown in as a bonus.

Why anyone would want those store-bought baked goods is beyond me — homemade shortcake and ladyfingers take about 15 minutes and are infinitely superior.

 

Shortcake is nothing but a gussied-up biscuit, made with butter, cream, and a little sugar. And short they are — 5 times the normal amount of fat! Traditionally the recipe is made into one large cake, but in this recipe I make 8 individual cakes. You can wrap them well in aluminum foil and reheat them and serve them later if you like.

This recipe can be divided or multiplied by two with no problem.

1 quart (4 cups) fresh, ripe strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

3 cups soft southern flour plus flour for dusting

1/3 cup sugar                      

2 teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter

1 egg

1 cup cream

whipped cream or crème fraiche 

One or two hours before you plan to serve the shortcake, hull the berries and slice all but 8 of them (for garnish). Toss the berries with the sugar. Set aside at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425oand line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat-lined pan).

           

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and  salt together into a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until it is evenly incorporated.

           

Mix the egg with the cream and gradually add to the flour mixture, mixing it in with a rubber spatula. Avoid touching the dough with your hands.

           

Flour a counter  and either your hands or a rolling pin and dump the dough out onto the counter. Pat it out or roll it to a thickness of 3/4 inch, in either a 6- by 12-inch rectangle or a 9-inch circle. Make the circle only if you have a 3-inch open  biscuit cutter with high sides (a low cookie cutter will not do); otherwise, make the rectangle. Cut out eight 3″ square (or  circular, if using the biscuit cutter) biscuits and place them close, but not touching, on the baking sheet.

           

Bake in the preheated for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove them from the oven and transfer them with a metal spatula to a platter or to individual plates, and split each one horizontally in half, using a fork or a large serrated knife. Split all the shortcakes, even those you want to serve later. (To save, wrap each split shortcake individually in aluminum foil.)

           

To serve, spoon a few berries and some juice onto the bottom half of each biscuit, then put a dollop of either whipped cream or crème fraiche (I prefer the crème fraiche, sweetened ever-so-slightly with confectioner’s sugar). Cap with the biscuit top, another dollop of cream, and a whole berry. Drizzle with juice and serve immediately.

           

To serve refrigerated biscuits later, preheat an oven to 250o. Open each wrapped biscuit carefully and put a little dab of cold butter in each one, then carefully rewrap and return to the oven for a few minutes to rewarm. You don’t want to melt the butter totally, but simply warm the biscuit and butter through. Serve as above.

Serves 8.

Ceviche of Spanish Mackerel

           

Spanish mackerel that weigh about a pound are perfect for grilling, baking,or broiling, but the oldest Lowcountry recipe we have for them is “caveached,” or cured in the West Indian manner. In this modern version, I have eliminated the flour and frying of the older receipts; the “cooking” is done by the citrus. The old recipes were formulas for preserving fish in a world without refrigeration. Both the cooking and the breading are unnecessary today.

                       

two 3/4 to 1 pound Spanish mackerels, filleted, or 3/4 to 1 pound of fillets, with the skin

1 small onion, peeled and sliced  in thin rings

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 large tomato, cut into bitesize pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

1  jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)

           

Cut the fillets into 1″ squares and put them in a nonreactive container such as a Pyrex dish with a lid. Add the onions and salt and pepper. Cover with the lime juice and refrigerate overnight.

           

The next day, drain off the lime juice, add the remaining ingredients, toss the ceviche, correct the seasoning, and allow to come to room temperature. This is delicious as is or when served with avocado, called “alligator pears” because of their appearance.

4 servings.   

                 

February 7, 2011

I haven’t been blogging much lately because of all that our upcoming move to Bulgaria entails… (see below).

The stress of selling one’s house and learning an entirely new language (I’m fine with French and Italian, but Bulgarian has its own alphabet…and sounds…) and preparing to move halfway around the world has me cooking tried and true dishes that I don’t have to think about. Most of the things I’ve been cooking the past two months have already appeared on the blog, such as the chili that I made last week, bolstered with oxtails. The recipe appeared on the blog in November 2007. Most of the ingredients are at left.

I rarely cook so that there are leftovers, but in cold weather I tend to buy too much and cook too much. This weekend I found myself with leftover celery soup, blanched green beans, steamed broccoli, baked potato skins (I was in the mood for creamy mashed potatoes one night last week), and cornbread. I sliced, buttered, and reheated the cornbread, seasoned the potato skins and fried them (photo, at right), added the vegetables to the soup, and called it supper. It was delicious. (See photo, above.)

I’ve been really enjoying the Kumato tomatoes that I’ve been buying for two years now. Finally, breeders have developed a tomato for its flavor. Bioengineered? You betcha. And I’m all for it. I’m willing to bet that most people who are against genetic engineering don’t even have a basic knowledge of what genes are; what they’re really against is big business and the idea of “engineering” mixed with the word “food.” Bioengineering is a much more specific than traditional breeding and it’s probably safer. Less land, less energy, fewer chemicals, and higher yields are the goals of bioengineering. Yes, I believe in bio-diversity, and I have for my entire career promotoed both “fresh and local” and “heirloom,” while also writing about the dangers of monoculture.

But I am always astounded when I hear people tell me that they will eat organic foods raised in manured fields that are sprayed with natural pesticides (like the massive organic fields that have given us two major outbreaks of E. coli in the past two years), but they won’t eat bioengineered foods that are grown with no chemicals whatsoever. One gene inserted into the DNA of the traditional cowpeas that feed 60% of Africans could boost production — and save millions of lives — if it weren’t for the protestors. But I digress. I write about flavorful foods, and the genetic engineers are working not only to feed the starving and save people from disease, but also now to engineer for flavor. (I’m also mindful that bioengineering is exactly what the drug industry is about, and modern drugs save millions of lives — even the lives of folks who won’t eat bioengineered foods — every day. One of the most nationally prominent anti-GM-foods spokespersons was diagnosed with a devastating cancer a couple of years ago; she’s still taking the bioengineered drugs.)

About that flavor

For years, recipes following the rigors of classic French cuisine have called for tomatoes to be peeled and seeded. But the wonderful jelly-like substance around the seeds is the most flavorful part of the tomato: it’s the placenta. It is like the placenta of hot peppers (the ribs), which is the part you want to remove if you want to remove the most intense heat of the fruit. I’m no fan of tomato skins, but tomato jelly is so delicious that I sometimes will remove the stem end and simply squeeze the guts out of a tomato onto a salad. In the photo at left above, I’ve made a salad of homemade gravlax (recipe appeared on July 22, 2008), avocado, radishes, lime juice, sea salt, and the wonderful innards of a peeled and smashed Kumato tomato, bred to have large placentae. I served it before the celery soup.

I also found fresh fava beans at my local bodega, so we have been snacking on them raw with salame before dinners these past couple of days that have seen temperatures in the 50s, with a glass of rosé.

On Sunday we went to our friend Richard’s house for breakfast of the delicous raised waffles from Marion Cunningham’s marvelous The Breakfast Book. There’s no reason to print the recipe here; it’s been written about and published dozens of times. Just Google Marion Cunningham’s raised waffles and you’ll find them. It one of the many, many wonderful recipes in that book.If you should buy the book, be sure to check the magical custard-filled cornbread on page 52.

I’ve known Richard for 30 years. He, too, from South Carolina, and he’s a very good cook. Some of his cast iron pots hanging in his kitchen are captured at left in this cell phone image. Never washed, like his waffle iron, which was his grandmother’s. Nothing sticks to any of these bad boys!

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An “Honest” Salad

I serve a simple green salad almost every night. More often than not, it’s simply some greens anointed with good olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps, but not always, a little lemon juice or vinegar. Nearly every time folks eat at my house, I am asked for the recipe for the salad dressing. There is no recipe, but here are my tips:

 

Simple Green Salad

           

Buy the prettiest salad greens you can find, and wash and dry them scrupulously. A salad spinner that allows water to flow into the top and out of the bottom, I’ve found, is one of the best-designed kitchen tools available. Place the salad greens in the refrigerator to stay cool until after you have eaten.

 

Buy the best olive oil you can find. Make sure it is no more than a year old. Olives are picked in the Mediterranean, which produces 95% of the world’s oil, in the autumn. There are more varieties of olives than there are of grapes, but olive oil, unlike wine, does not improve with age. Few oils are varietals, that is, made from one type of olive. Buy only extra virgin oil for salads, preferably from a single source. Don’t pay much attention to some of the labeling. “First cold press,” for example, is meaningless. Be true to your own palate. I buy delicate, costly Ligurian oil for my salads, because it’s the oil I learned to love when I lived in that northern Italian region. I also love Andalucian oil from near Baena in southern Spain, where the purest flor de aceite, or flower of the oil, rises to the surface of great casks and is scooped off and into numbered bottles. I use other, heartier oils from other regions of the Mediterranean for sautéing, grilling, and frying. 

           

I usually serve the salad after dinner. Often we are drinking fine wines, and the acid in lemon juice and vinegar can destroy their flavors and aromas. Just before serving the salad, I drizzle it with oil, tossing it with tongs, and seasoning it with good sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I squeeze a small amount of lemon juice onto the salad unless we are still drinking wine, in which case I don’t. If you’ve got good olive oil, you won’t miss the acidic touch of lemon or vinegar. Be gentle. Toss the salad again and taste a bit of greens. Season to taste, then serve immediately.

Happy New Year!!!

We’ve been out on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to celebrate the New Year with our friends Chuck and Bruce. It’s been balmy, and I’ve seen several bald eagles. Our meals have been traditional ones — standing rib roast for New Year’s Eve (recipe here) and for New Year’s Day, the traditional meal of hoppin’ john, collards,roast pork with pear chutney, cowpeas, and ambrosia, the recipes for which appeared on my blog three years ago.  Served with cornbread made with my cornmeal, of course.

David Shields of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation sent me the heirloom Sea Island red peas (which were found growing wild on Kiawah Island 13 years ago) and Carolina Gold Rice pictured below. My quasi-academic deconstruction of my namesake dish will appear in Gastronomica this fall. The peas and rice are displayed in traditional lowcountry coiled baskets made by Catherine Dingle.