Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Joys of Food Writing

I love being a food writer. Not only do I get to put words together that focus on my favorite subject, but I also get to meet all of the creative and often lively people in the food world.

In the past, I’ve interviewed some famous people—Emeril Lagasse (three times), Mario Batali, Rachel Ray (in a telephone press conference), and Dan Aykroyd (he has his own line of wines). However, the interviews I remember most are the ones with chefs and restaurant owners who work outrageous hours each day to share the food they love with the public. I also enjoy interviewing everyday folks who want to share a special recipe.

Today a food article I wrote ran in the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper. It’s about a local church’s cookbook that features recipes from some well-known Kansans. When I went to interview Carol and Margaret, they each fixed a recipe they had contributed to the book so Thad the Photographer could take some photos for the article. After the images were captured in Thad’s fancy digital camera, we got to enjoy the food!

Carol’s Tabbouleh Salad was the perfect summer dish with fresh, bright flavors. It was a wonderful complement to Margaret’s Shrimp and Scallops with Linguine, both of which I devoured. I will be making both many times in the years to come. (Wish I could take photos like Thad!)

Carol Schmidt’s Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh Salad is a very versatile Middle Eastern dish that can be served as a side dish, a dip with crackers or corn chips, or as a salad on a bed of lettuce. It can be served either chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 12
For the salad:
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced
For the dressing
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
To prepare the salad, soak bulgur in hot water until water is absorbed, 15 to 30 minutes. Combine remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add bulgur and mix thoroughly.

To prepare the dressing, blend ingredients with a whisk. Pour over salad.

Note: if preparing to use for a dip, you might want to omit the garbanzo beans.

Margaret Carreno’s Shrimp and Scallops with Linguine

Carreno said this recipe is a family favorite served for Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and birthdays.

1 pound cooked salad shrimp
1 1/2 pounds fresh sea scallops
1/2 to 1 cup chopped green onion
2 gloves minced garlic
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried red pepper
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 cup fresh pea pods, stems removed
1 12-ounce package linguine
1/2 cup Romano or parmesan cheese

Cook linguine according to instructions on package. While linguine is boiling heat a large skillet on medium: add butter, olive oil, garlic and onions. Sauté on a low heat until tender. Add shrimp, scallops, dried red pepper, basil and parsley. Cook until scallops are done (opaque in color). Add pea pods and heat until tender crisp. When linguine is cooked, drain and toss with the seafood mixture. Add cheese, toss and serve.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

TV Gourmet: Television is my Culinary School

I am a television gourmet. Just about everything I know about cooking came from watching TV. Culinary shows send me straight to the kitchen in search of my chef’s knife and whisk, and made me the cook I am today. I guess this implies that I spend too much time in front of the television.

Actually, my fascination with cooking programs is a direct result of my mother’s aversion for the culinary arts. In other words, she hates to cook. There are some great recipes in her repertoire, including sugar cookies that are much requested at Christmas, and a rich vegetable soup that will warm any winter day. Mom taught me how to sift ingredients for Tollhouse cookies and acted as my consultant while, at ten years of age, I fixed my first pot roast. Still, if a dish isn’t quick and simple, she doesn’t want to deal with it. And since Dad retired a few years ago, she doesn't have to deal with it. He loves to cook! That must be where I get my love of cooking.

On the other hand, Mom is the one who introduced me to my first television cooking show. Anytime I was home sick from school we would watch The Galloping Gourmet while eating Mom’s potato soup (which was actually just cubed potatoes in warm milk with a little onion, butter, salt, and pepper.) Thanks to Graham Kerr I was probably one of the few Missouri elementary students who could clarify butter. I had never seen kitchen skills like Kerr’s—chopping, dicing, and flambéing his way through a dish, with a knife in one hand and a wine glass in the other. A recipe for Otaki Potatoes that mom copied from the show is still a family favorite. The sauce is so delectable that I use bread to clean the plate of every drop.

During middle school I discovered Julia Child on PBS. I am not afraid to prepare even the most complicated dish thanks to Child’s easy-going attitude about food. If a recipe doesn’t come out the way I planned, c’est la vie. Child taught me the basic skills that are necessary to allow me to explore recipes variation on my own. And I will be forever grateful to Child for providing the formula to roast a chicken to perfection every time.

Child’s cooking reminded me of maternal grandmother. Mamaw, as I called her, ran a farmhouse kitchen that was the heart of her home. Dinner was at noontime, eaten while listening to the news, weather, farm prices, and Paul Harvey on the radio. These were large meals of meat, boiled potatoes, gravy, and home-canned vegetables. Best of all was Mamaw’s chocolate meringue pie, made completely from scratch—crust, filling, and the light fluffy meringue. All this from a woman who, like Mom, hated to cook. Mamaw gladly gave up her utensils when she moved to a retirement home. I acquired her recipe file, which is one of my most cherished possessions.

The next television chef to contribute to my education in the finer points of good food was Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. By now I had graduated from college and was in the work force. I considered Smith’s program a must see each Saturday morning on the local PBS channel. The shows introduced me to the history behind a recipe, particularly his Cooks American series, and taught me about the different cultures that make our country, and its cuisine, so diverse. Most of the dishes were down-home, peasant food, much like the ones made by my father’s mother.

Grandma enjoyed cooking for her large family (my father is the oldest of six children.) All of her dishes were country food—fried chicken and pork chops, buttery mashed potatoes, fresh green beans cooked with bacon, and numerous pies. I remember watching Grandma make homemade noodles that were so coated in flour that the chicken broth they boiled in became thick, rich gravy. The mere thought of that dish makes my mouth water. Now that Grandma is gone, the recipe is gone too, since she kept it all in her head. However, my sister challenged me one Thanksgiving to try to recreate the dish--and I did!

My romance with TV food shows blossomed in adulthood. I fell head-over-heals for Jacques Pépin. There is something incredibly sexy about a man who speaks English with a French accent and who can cook, too. Pépin taught me the importance of those brown bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan to making a good sauce. Plus, I never throw out an old piece of fruit without contemplating some last possible uses, be it as juice, cut up in and added to a flavored gelatin, or baked into a fruit cobbler.

Another TV chef crush I have is Jamie Oliver. You just know that anyone who calls himself The Naked Chef will be fun to watch. I enjoy his high energy way of throwing ingredients together into a simple, easy dish with at least one unique flavor weaving along my taste buds. Oliver’s fruit cobbler might remind you of your grandmother’s, but the addition of balsamic vinegar adds a new dimension of flavor. Pukka. I also like the way he is fighting to bring healthy foods to our schools.

Lately, thanks to the Cooking Channel and a DVR, I can't get enough of watching Nigella Lawson. I love how she makes no excuses for her love of food. Of course, being a true anglophile, I also like her use of British ingredients and techniques. She can also make just about any dish sound sexy!

For someone who never wanted to captain a fine restaurant, my television has been the next best thing to culinary school. Here is the original Galloping Gourmet recipe for you to try in your own kitchen. Enjoy. It's delicious!

Otaki Potatoes
From The Graham Kerr Cookbook (Doubleday, 1969)
4 large potatoes
1 medium onion
4 tablespoons clarified butter*
1 1/4 cups tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish
Peel and slice potatoes 1/2 inch thick. Peel and chop onion. Heat butter in saucepan. Cook chopped onion until golden brown. Add potato slices, tomato sauce, and water. Cover and cook gently until potatoes are tender and liquid has reduced, approximately 30 minutes.
*To clarify butter: Melt butter and use only the clear yellow liquid, leaving behind the milky residue.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Step Away from the Jar

Last week, I joined a group of food bloggers who are paying tribute to the Gourmet Live list of 50Women Game-Changers in the food world. On Fridays we each post a recipe we’ve completed from a woman on the list.

Today’s recipes feature chef Lidia Bastianich, who turned her Italian heritage into a food empire—cookbooks, television shows, restaurants, kitchenware, and recently, the new Eataly Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City.

I have enjoyed watching Lidia’s television shows on PBS for many years. On my last trip to NYC, I enjoyed a wonderful meal at her restaurant, Becco. I was on my own, and sommelier Jeremy Ensey, who was filling in that evening as matra di’, made me feel comfortable and at home, with a table right next to the window. We chatted about the menu’s offerings and he made wine suggestions throughout my meal. I chose the Sinfonia di Paste, three pasta preparations that change daily and are served table side. I don’t remember completely what the dishes were—one had ribbons of pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil, and another had a duck confit sauce—but I do remember it was one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed. Jeremy even brought us both a lovely dessert wine at the end of the meal—on the house! (I wonder if he’s still there?) Now I’m looking forward to paying a visit to Lidia’s Italy in Kansas City very soon.

I am grateful to Lidia Bastianich for one thing—getting me to stop using jarred sauces. By watching her on television, it was clear to see that making a fresh sauce can be done in no time at all, often while the pasta boils. I made her recipe for Gemelli with Sausage-Tomato Sauce, and over time adapted the sauce to fit my tastes. It is now my go-to sauce, as is her Neapolitan Pizza Sauce. Pizza is my absolute favorite food, and my adaptation of her sauce is the one I use each time I make it.

This week, I decided to try her longer-cooking Simple Tomato Sauce. It was rich with a mellow tomato flavor—the perfect start to almost any Italian dish requiring a tomato sauce.

For my first go with the sauce, I just added it to some browned hamburger and mixed it with some cooked pasta shells I had in the pantry. My sweetheart, Michael, who doesn’t like sauces with lots of garlic and Italian seasoning, loved the sauce. It reminded him of his favorite goulash dish, and his only criticism was, “It needs more ketchup.” (If you read thisblog from a couple of months ago, you will understand why.)

I would have liked the dish even more with the addition of garlic and Italian seasonings, which I’ll try the next time. I could even see adding some oregano and using it on pizza. There is a large container of the sauce in my freezer, just waiting for me to get into an experimental mood. 

Gemelli with Sausage-Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (I use half sweet and half spicy), casings removed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Salt, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Crumble in the Italian sausage to brown. If sausage rendered a lot of fat, drain off the excess. Once sausage is browned, add the onions and salt, and continue to cook until onions soften. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes to release the flavors. Add tomatoes. Lower the heat and allow sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally.

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Stir in the gemelli and cook until the pasta is done, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pasta from the boiling water and add to the sauce. Stir to coat the pasta and allow to cook in the sauce for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cheese. Pour pasta onto a serving platter or individual bowls and top with remaining cheese.

Neapolitan Pizza Sauce
Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

1 14 1/2-ounce can of petite-cut diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Simple Tomato Sauce
From Lidia’s Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

8 cups (two 35-ounce cans) canned San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with juices (I used  crushed tomatoes, and they worked out well.)
1 large onion, chopped in small pieces
1 medium carrot, chopped in small pieces
1 inner rib celery, chopped in small pieces
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
1/2 teaspoon honey (optional, after tasting)

Put the tomatoes through a food mill, using the medium blade, or a colander or sieve, set over a bowl. If you’re sieving the tomatoes through a sieve or colander, push the flesh through, scraping against the sieve to extract all the pulp and juice. (Note: I used crushed tomatoes, and then once the sauce was cooked and the bay leaves removed, I used a hand-held blender to smooth out the sauce. It was thick and rich!)

Put chopped onion, carrot, and celery pieces in the food processor and pulse several times, until you have very finely chopped small shreds. Or chop the pieces by hand into tiny bits.

Pour the oil into the sauce pot, stir in the chopped vegetables, and set over medium-high heat. Sprinkle on the salt. Cook for 3 minutes or so, stirring frequently, as the vegetables start to sizzle and soften; don’t let them brown.

Pour the milled tomatoes and juices into the pan, and stir with the vegetables. Rinse out the bowl and the tomato cans with the water, and pour into the saucepan as well. Stir in the bay leaves, honey, and peperoncino, turn up the heat, cover, and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring and checking it frequently.

Adjust the heat to maintain an active simmer, with lots of small bubbles all over the sauce. Cover, and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cover; raise the heat so the sauce is still bubbling energetically and gradually reducing. Cook for another hour or so, stirring frequently to make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot. Turn down the heat as the sauce thickens (and if the bubbles are bursting out of the pot). Taste for salt near the end of cooking, and add more if needed. When the sauce has reduced by about a quarter and is concentrated but still pourable, remove from the heat.

Let sauce cool; remove the bay leaves. Allow the flavors to mellow for an hour or two. Use however much sauce you need immediately; refrigerate or freeze the rest.

Check out my fellow bloggers who also posted about Patricia Wells. There are some yummy recipes here!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to School Muffins

I love back to school time! When I was a kid, school supply shopping was one of my favorite activities. Even now I feel the urge to buy new pens, pencils and notebooks every August.

This is also when parents look for healthy options to pack in the kids’ lunchbox or serve as an after school snack. This muffin recipe is a winner—and kid-tested!

The recipe is from Miriam Jacobs’s book The School Lunchbox Cookbook. I used it in an article I wrote in 2005 for the Concord Monitor newspaper in New Hampshire. For the photo shoot, I invited the neighborhood children (and their moms) to come get their picture taken for the newspaper and enjoy a few treats. These muffins were a hit—so much so the kids requested I make a second batch, which disappeared just as quickly as the first! And yes, the grown-ups liked them, too!

I’ve made these muffins ever since. Full of healthy stuff like whole wheat flour, oatmeal, apples, coconut, and yogurt, and sweetened with honey instead of sugar, they are a yummy way to start the day or stave off hunger as an afternoon snack. The muffins are very moist and just slightly sweet. Next I plan to try some different add-ins, like dried cranberries and nuts. The basic recipe could be adjusted to fit any time of year.

Apple, Oatmeal and Coconut Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups chopped apples
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup extra-light-tasting olive oil
1 egg
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with vegetable spray, or place baking cups in the muffin pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine the apples, oats, yogurt, honey, coconut, and oil. Mix well. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. Then add the egg and mix thoroughly.

In another mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder and spices and mix well. Add to the oat mixture and stir until the try ingredients are moistened.

Fill the muffin cups; they will be quite full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then remove them from the pan and let cool completely.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Patricia Wells and the Recipe that Wasn’t

As a certified member of the food-obsessed club (Hi, my name is Linda and I’m a foodaholic), I jump at the chance to try a new recipe. You know, those recipes you read through and your mouth begins to drool until you reach the point when you say to yourself (or even out loud), “I have to make this!”
So when that recipe turns out completely wrong in spite of your best effort, it is oh so very disappointing.

Let me backtrack for a moment: Recently I joined a group of food bloggers who are paying tribute to the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world. On Fridays we each post a recipe we’ve completed from a woman on the list.

The group has already gone through Julia Child, Alice Waters, Fannie Farmer, Martha Stewart, Irma S. Rombauer and others.

I was thrilled to learn Patricia Wells would be my first “assignment.” I have been enamored with the Provence region of France ever since I read Peter Mayle’s book A Year in Provence.  (He is now one of my favorite authors.)

Like Julia Child, Patricia Wells brought France to home cooks. Originally from Wisconsin, she now divides her time between homes in Paris and Provence. She has written 12 cookbooks, one of which won the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook, and she was the only woman restaurant critic for a major French publication in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She was also a restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune until 2007.  Best of all, she teaches cooking classes both in Provence and Paris. I dream of going to one some day!

A few years ago I snatched up a copy of Patricia Wells’s The Provence Cookbook, but I never had the opportunity to make something from it. So here was my chance! I’ve been on a lemon kick lately (note my last post), so I chose her Lemon Mousse recipe. To go with it, I selected her Domaine St. Luc’s Almond Cookies.

About the cookies—I don’t know what I did wrong. Maybe it was too humid, since they have a candy-like consistency. Or maybe I didn’t let them bake long enough. The recipe said to bake, “until an even, golden brown, puffy and fragrant, 25 to 30 minutes.” Well, they were golden brown, puffy and fragrant at 20 minutes for me, but maybe I should have left them in for 5 more minutes. Whatever the reason, the cookies did not turn out as planned. I’ll have to try them again. I’ve posted the recipe so you can give them a try. Let me know what happens.

Almond Cookies R.I.P.

On the other hand, the Lemon Mousse was perfect—light, airy, sweet and tart. Mmmmmm!

Thank goodness one of the recipes worked! I don’t think my ego could have handled two failures!

Domaine St. Luc’s Almond Cookies

About 1 teaspoon almond oil or flavorless oil, such as canola oil
2 tablespoons lavender honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg white
8 ounces (2 cups) unblanched whole almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a 9-inch cake pan as a template, cut a round of parchment paper the same size as the pan. Place the parchment in the bottom of the pan. With a pastry brush, brush the paper and the sides of the pan with the oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the honey, sugar, flour, and egg white. Beat vigorously with a whisk until the mixture is white and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the almonds and stir to thoroughly coat the nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until an even, golden brown, puffy and fragrant, 25 to 30 minutes. (If your oven has hot spots, you may need to rotate the pan halfway through baking.) Remove from the oven and transfer the cake pan to a rack to cool and firm up, about 15 minutes. Carefully cut into 16 wedges. Place on a platter and serve.

Lemon Mousse

3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably organic, blanched and refreshed (Note: I did not blanch my lemons—just washed them.)
1/3 cup hot water
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) powdered unflavored gelatin
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt, drained
3 large egg whites

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, beat the sugar and egg yolks until thick and pail yellow, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the lemon juice, whisking constantly. Whisk in the lemon zest. Set aside.

Pour the hot water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water an stir until it dissolves. Whisk the gelatin mixture into the lemon mixture. Whisk the yogurt into the lemon mixture, blending thoroughly. Set aside.

In a second bowl of the heavy-duty mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the lemon mixture into the whipped egg whites. Ladle the mixture into ramekins or pots-de-crème. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.

Check out my fellow bloggers who also posted about Patricia Wells. There are some yummy recipes here!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Elusive Lemon Cake

Last weekend, my fiancé’s son, Mike, Jr., came up from Wichita with his wife, Kaitlin, so he could golf in a local Topeka tournament. It was also his birthday on Saturday, so I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his celebration. I knew he would pick something other than the standard vanilla or chocolate considering he selected cherry cheesecake for his law school graduation celebration a few months ago.

I was right. Mike, Jr. chose a lemon cake with white frosting—and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to go along with it!

All of the mass-market cake mix brands have a lemon variety, but I wanted to make one from scratch. So the search was on for a recipe. How hard could it be?

Turns out, a lemon cake recipe isn’t that easy to find! Most of them are for vanilla cakes with lemon curd between the layers. Since I wanted the actual cake to be lemon flavored, I kept looking.

Leave it to Martha Stewart to have the answer. I found this recipe on her website, and it was perfect. I also liked that it is done in a French style, where each layer is soaked in lemon-flavored syrup to enhance the moistness of the cake. And the light whipped frosting was the perfect background to the sweet-tart flavors of the cake.

We all enjoyed the cake on Mike, Jr.’s birthday, and I sent the leftovers home with him. On Monday, he left me this message on Facebook, “Thanks for the birthday wishes and the awesome cake. I had another piece last night and it tasted even better than Saturday night. So good, that I had to split another piece with Kaitlin :)”

Lemon Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
Whipped Frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. (I used 9-inch pans and they worked well. Just lower the baking time.) In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.

Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes. (About 25 minutes for the 9-inch pans.) Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.

While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add lemon slices and simmer 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lemon slices to a waxed-paper-lined plate. Stir remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.

Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup. (Yes, you will use all of the syrup. Don’t worry, it does not make the cake soggy.) Let cool completely. (This is important!) Prepare frosting. Frost cooled cakes and top with candied lemon slices. (I skipped the lemon-slice decorations since there would be 26 candles on the cake!)

Whipped Lemon Frosting

3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and water. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved (or mixture registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high until glossy, stiff peaks form (do not overbeat), about 3 minutes (it took mine longer than 3 minutes—just keep checking for those stiff peaks); reduce speed to low, add lemon juice, and beat just until combined. Use immediately.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Julia!

“Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture—a gummy beef Wellington, say. But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience.” –Julia Child, from My Life in France.

Anyone who truly loves food understands how a meal can be life-changing. When you take that first bite, and then close your eyes because the flavor is so exquisite you think you just might die from the pleasure.

It is that kind of pleasure Julia Child brought to the American kitchen through her landmark cookbooks and television shows. When people ask me who I admire, she is at the top of the list, second only to Mom. I not only look up to her because of her cooking and teaching skills. What I admire most about Julia is how she sought out her life’s calling and pursued her passion once she found it, and it didn’t matter that she was already 37 years old. I was just a few months away from that age when my first newspaper article was published and I was on my way to pursuing my life’s passion. I haven’t looked back since, even through the bumpy times, much like she experienced with the writing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (To the right is my Julia collection.)

I also admire the love Julia shared with her husband, Paul. He was her biggest supporter, always encouraging her to follow her passion. I feel so blessed that I, too, have found such a champion in my fiancé, Michael. Like Paul, he believes in my talent and encourages me to follow that passion 100-percent.

From a culinary standpoint, I have Julia to thank for every perfect roasted chicken that comes out of my oven. Her formula for the timing (45 minutes plus 7 minutes per pound) and the oven temperature (425 degrees for 15 minutes and then 350 degrees for the rest of the time) lead to a chicken that is beautifully browned and not over cooked. Of course, her instruction of rubbing the chicken with butter, and then basting every 10 minutes or so doesn’t hurt, either! (I found these directions in her book Julia's Kitchen Wisdom. The picture is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with my own notes in the margins.)

As you can see from this photo, I’ve also made her classic Boeuf Bourguignon. The picture also shows the notes I took during the process and my own personal changes I made, or planned to make the next time around. By the way, if you haven’t made this dish yet, it is sublime! Make it!

On the day Julia died, August 13, 2004, I roasted a chicken and I made her classic chocolate mousse for the first time.  

My favorite dish of Julia’s is perhaps one of the simplest—leek and potato soup. I’ve made it many, many times and this delicious, humble soup always fills me with a sense of comfort and love—what any good food should do.

Even the most casual Julia Child follower knows how the simple fish and butter dish of sole meuniere eaten in a restaurant on her first day in France was the beginning of Julia’s passion for food. She said of that meal at the end of My Life in France, “In all the years since that succulent meal, I have yet to lose the feelings of wonder and excitement that it inspired in me. I can still almost taste it. And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite—toujours bon appetit!"

Leek and Potato Soup
From Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child
(The Time magazine cover hangs in my kitchen.)

For about 2 quarts, serving 6

3 cups sliced leeks, white and tender green parts
3 cups peeled and roughly chopped “baking” potatoes
6 cups water (I use chicken broth.)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraiche, optional (I use heavy cream, which makes it a cream of leek and potato soup, according to the book.)

Bring ingredients to the boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Cover partially and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Correct seasoning. Serve as is, or puree in a blender or food processor, and/or top each portion with a dollop of the cream. (Or, once the vegetables are tender and the soup is pureed, add the heavy cream.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Return of the Zucchini

They’re back!!! Yes, it’s zucchini season. When Mom came for a visit a few weeks ago, she brought me my first one of the season from my sister’s garden.

Here’s my dilemma: I love zucchini in just about any way it’s prepared—sautéed, fried, grilled or baked. However, my fiancé, Michael, does not. In fact, unless a vegetable is a tomato, corn, green bean, carrot, celery, or in a tossed salad, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.

My one hope was zucchini bread. He likes banana bread, so I thought this version just might work. I decided to mix up a batch of MarthaStewart’s Zucchini Spice Bread.

But before I could get started, I saw a recipe on for a Savory Summer Squash Quick Bread, and I was intrigued. So I decided to give it a try as well.

The first step was to grate-up the zucchini. This one gave me enough shredded flesh for both recipes.

I went with the savory version first, knowing full well that Michael would probably turn his nose up at it, so I would probably have to eat it all myself. (Oh well, life is hard sometimes!) As I read through the recipe, I came across a couple of issues.

First, the recipe called for buttermilk, and I didn’t have any. So I went with the standard buttermilk substitution—1 tablespoon of white vinegar stirred into 1 cup of milk, which is allowed to sit for 5 minutes.

Next, the recipe called for crumbled feta cheese. I didn’t have that either. So I decided to substitute cheddar instead. (I like cheddar better anyway.)

So I mixed together the dry ingredients…

and the wet ingredients, and then stirred it all together, poured it into the loaf pan, and baked. The house smelled heavenly.

Next, I moved on to the sweet version. It was the same process, but in reverse.

First mix together the wet ingredients…

then sift together the dry ingredients…

and stir it all together, place into the pan, and bake.  A different kind of heavenly aroma came from the oven. It smelled like Christmas!

Both breads are delicious, though as expected, Michael didn’t care for the savory version. He did say the sweet one, “isn’t bad,” which I see has high praise for a bread with a vegetable inside.

(I do recommend enjoying the Savory Zucchini Bread warm, with a little butter on top. Actually, butter wouldn’t hurt the sweet one, either!


Savory Zucchini Bread
Adapted from recipe

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk/vinegar substitute)
2 cups grated zucchini
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place flour, cornmeal, baking powder, oregano, salt, baking soda, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk until combined.

Place eggs, buttermilk, and olive oil in a separate bowl and whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in squash and cheddar until evenly combined. Pour squash mixture into flour mixture and stir until flour is just incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until bread is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, about 60 to 65 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, and then turn the bread out on to the rack and cool for at least another 15 minutes before serving.

Zucchini Spice Bread
From Martha Stewart’s website

1 3/4 cup grated zucchini
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with cooking spray, and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, oil, vanilla, and eggs.

Into a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, and stir to combine well. Stir in grated zucchini.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack, then reinvert, top side up. Cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Ploughman’s Lunch

In 1987 I made my first trip to Great Britain—and loved every minute of it!

My friend, Barbie, and I spent five weeks exploring all of the traditional sites—Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, British Museum, the Highlands of Scotland, the Welsh Folk Museum—well, just about everything! (Here we are at the center of the famous maze at Hampton Court.)

I even saw Princess Diana, Prince Edward, and the Duke and Duchess of York (better known as Fergie.)

Perhaps my favorite places to explore were food related, from the large market in Harrods to the local food shops on the corner. When I returned to England in 1992, this time with my friend, Tee, I reacquainted myself with some of my favorite products:

Toffee Crisp

Cadbury Drinking Chocolate

Digestive Biscuits (cookies that are tastier than the name suggests)

Scottish Shortbread

Thank goodness most of these are available here in the US, either at grocery stores with good international sections, or shops like Brits in Lawrence, Kansas.

Somewhere along the way in 1987, Barbie and I made a stop at a pub for lunch. I don’t remember what town it was in, but I do remember ordering the ploughman’s lunch. I had read in numerous British guide books that this was a traditional lunch served, as you may guess, to ploughman when they took a break from their work in the fields. Turns out, it was actually created as an advertising gimmick for the country’s Milk Marketing Board in the 1960s to promote the consumption of cheese. However, there were references to the phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1837, and a meal popular before World War II was called the ploughboy’s lunch, so perhaps the marketing people were just promoting a menu item that already existed in one form or another.  It’s a popular lunch order in today’s British pub.

If I remember correctly, the ploughman’s lunch I ordered was fairly traditional—a piece of cheese, a thick slice of crusty bread, pickled onions, some fresh veggies, and Branston pickle (we would call it relish.)

The traditional beverage of choice was, of course, a pint of beer or cider. I think I drank Diet Coke. Really!

Ever since then, I have often enjoyed a ploughman’s style lunch. It’s quick, simple and tasty. It is also perfect for a hot summer day since no cooking is required and it takes advantage of the season’s fresh vegetables.

I just stick to the basics—cheese (in this case both cheddar and a garlic/onion cream cheese), crusty bread (this is a slice of Italian leftover from dinner the night before, and a 9-grain loaf slice), veggies from the farmer’s market, marinated olives from the same Italian dinner, and a dill pickle wedge. You can mix it up any way you like—just pick your favorites!

Too bad I didn't have any Toffee Crisps around for dessert. Oh well...