Monday, August 25, 2008

Sardinian Stuffed Eggplant

Plippety plop
Fay won't stop
something something something rain
something something a giant pain.

I am not a poet.

Sardinian Stuffed Eggplant
Adapted from this recipe in Food and Wine

1 large eggplant
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a medium white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup freshly grated fresh pecorino cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain, dried bread crumbs
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
One 35-ounce can Italian peeled tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

Halve the eggplant lengthwise. Carefully scoop the flesh out of each half, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Chop the scooped out eggplant flesh and place it in a colander. Toss the chopped eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt and let it drain for 30 minutes, then rinse well. Working in handfuls, squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet. Add the eggplant shells to the pot and cook, gently poking them under to keep them submerged, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant shells to the wire rack to drain and cool. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and arrange the eggplant shells in it, cut sides up.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant and wine and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and just beginning to brown, 15 minutes. Add the turkey and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up the meat, until cooked through and lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer the eggplant filling to a bowl and stir in 1/8 cup of the pecorino, the eggs, bread crumbs, nutmeg, and basil. Season the filling with salt and pepper. Spoon the filling into the eggplant shells.

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon half of the sauce over the eggplants and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 cup of grated pecorino. Bake the eggplant until browned and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve, passing the remaining tomato sauce on the side.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Change of Scene

There's nothing more refreshing than a change of scene. We spent this past weekend in Philadelphia as part of a family reunion.

In addition to the historic sites, we visited several markets, including the Italian Market in South Philadelphia:

I didn't want to leave. I loved walking down the narrow sidewalks, peeking into bins of bright fruits and vegetables. In one shop, we stood among the baked ricotta and hard-rind cheeses, sampling bits that the counterperson cut for us. I found a bag of Black Beluga lentils in another shop. In a third, we purchased a beautiful salami washed with Pinot Grigio.

For dinner, we ate at Osteria, a Marc Vetri restaurant that was nominated for a James Beard award this year. Osteria offers house-cured meats, thin-crust pizzas (we ordered a fig and proscuitto combination that was out of this world), and savory fresh pastas. The specials included an antipasto platter that may have been my favorite item.

As a tribute to our trip, I made an antipasto platter of fresh veggies, cheeses, and salami when we got home.

Antipasto Platter
A Fritter Original

This antipasto platter contains green beans with parsley pesto, olives with red pepper flake and garlic, blanched asparagus tips with lemon, fresh mozzarella, sliced salami, arugula salad with lemon and Parmigiano-Reggiano, blanched carrots, fingerling potatoes with thyme, fresh figs and blueberries, and slow-roasted tomatoes with honey.

2 Roma tomatoes
2 teaspoons of honey
6-8 olives (I used Kalamata and Manzanilla)
2 fingerling potatoes, or other small potato
Handful of green beans
4 small carrots, peeled
Handful of asparagus tips
5 slices of high-quality salami, sliced (I used De Bruno Bros. salami washed in Pinot Grigio)
4 figs (I used Brown Turkey figs)
Handful of blueberries
1 small ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
Handful of arugula
2 cloves of garlic
1 lemon
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 teaspoons
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, divided
1 cup of fresh flat-leaf parsley, lightly packed
1/8 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice the Roma tomatoes lengthwise and place them on a baking sheet. Rub them all over with olive oil, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. Add the 2 teaspoons of honey to the tops of the tomatoes after 45-60 minutes, then continue roasting for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool slightly, sprinkling 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme over them.

Place the olives in a small bowl (or coffee cup), and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Chop 1 small clove of garlic and add to the olives. Add the red pepper flakes and toss the olives to coat. Set aside to marinate.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add the fingerling potatoes and boil for 10-12 minutes, until tender. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool to room temperature. Using the same pot of boiling water, blanch the green beans for 1 minute, then remove them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Repeat with the carrots, then the asparagus. Drain the vegetables well and set aside.

Chop 1/2 teaspoon of the fresh thyme and mix with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes to infuse. Slice the potatoes lengthwise and drizzle with the thyme-olive oil mixture.

Make a pesto for the green beans: place one clove of garlic, 1 cup of flat-leaf parsley, and the pine nuts in a food processor. Turn the processor on and add 1/4 cup of olive oil in a steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the processor and turn it on again until the ingredients are smoothly blended.

Toss the blanched green beans with the pesto in a bowl until they are coated evenly.

Assemble your platter. Place a handful of arugula in the center and drizzle with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Surround the arugula with your fruits, vegetables, cheese, and salami in an eye-catching manner.

Serves: 2-4

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Medals and Other Musings

I would like to take a moment to give Michael Phelps his due.

Yes, the man has won more gold medals than any previous athlete. Yes, he breaks a world record every time he dips a toe into a pool. Yes, he has an "aw, shucks" adorableness that NBC newscasters giggle and blush over (I'm talking to you, Bob Costas).

But have you heard what this guy eats for breakfast?

"Three sandwiches of fried eggs, cheese, lettuce, tomato, fried onions and mayonnaise, add one omelet, a bowl of grits, and three slices of french toast with powdered sugar, then wash down with three chocolate chip pancakes."

The man eats between 8,000 and 10,000 calories per day. And then he gets in the pool and swims for five hours.

He should get a medal every time he finishes a plate.

If I could consume 8,000 calories in a single day and not burst like the Hindenburg, I would eat the following:

1. 25 chocolate chip cookies
2. 2 slices coconut cake
3. 1 Margherita pizza
4. 1 glass red wine
5. 3 avocados
6. 3 Twix bars
7. Vegetables (for balance, you understand) over pasta (because I can)
8. 1 pint of Ben and Jerry's Half-Baked.
9. Cheese: so, so much of it
10. A loaf of warm sourdough bread
11. A big ol' steak
12. Have I passed 8,000 yet?
13. Several plates of true fettucine alfredo, made the way Cafe Romantico here in Fort Lauderdale prepares it: Buttered pasta swirled in a large carved-out wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, spoons scraping curls of cheese off the sides, a little black pepper on top... mmm...

Unfortunately, unlike Michael Phelps, I do not exercise for five hours every day. I do a lot of sitting. I do a little standing. I pace myself with a brisk walk to my printer, then loop back to my desk. I do a few reps of this over 9 hours or so.

Yeah, I work it out. Body by Dell PC.

That's why I need recipes like this one. Vegetable-based, low-fat, whole grain recipes that are utterly tangy and satisfying in sedentary-human-size portions. Recipes that'll leave room for some dessert.

Zucchini, Garbanzo Beans and Quinoa
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric, divided
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
2 cups water
2/3 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces), rinsed well, drained
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 medium zucchini, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds on the diagonal
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/8 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Combine garbanzo beans and lemon juice in large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; press in garlic and stir to combine. Let marinate at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups water, quinoa, and coarse salt; bring to simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 16 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan. Place zucchini on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle with ground cumin, a pinch of turmeric, and a pinch of paprika. Toss to coat evenly.

Place zucchini in saute pan and cook until tender and browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to work surface. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Add zucchini, green onions, and parsley, then garbanzo bean mixture to quinoa. Toss gently to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves: 2

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did I Do That?

I make mistakes in life. This happens.

I tend to beat myself up about a mistake. I dwell on it. If, perchance, I get distracted and forget about the mistake, it will lurk in the outer edges of my mind. Mistakes have all the time in the world to make their presence felt. A mistake is patient in that way. The mistake gathers itself on its haunches as I fall asleep, then pounces, fangs bared. I wake up, heart pounding, and consider my mistake.

Why do screw-ups always seem worse at two o'clock in the morning? If I had the answer to that, perhaps I could corner the market on sleep aids.

Here's something that never fails to surprise me: the person from whom you least expect compassion is often the most gracious about your mistake. And for that, I am thankful.


Viewing my errors of the week in the best light possible, they are not so bad. They just make me look stupid for a short period, which I can live with.

Maybe Oscar Wilde had it right: "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes." Or maybe Elbert Hubbard was even more right: "The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."

Time to move on--and learn from my experiences.

Here is a goof-proof dessert for the error-prone.

Swirled Summer Berry Souffle
Adapted from Anabel Langbein's recipe featured in Food and Wine

2 cups raspberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1/2 tablespoon water
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons salted pistachios, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium saucepan, combine the raspberries with the granulated sugar, water, vanilla and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring often. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold very soft peaks. Gradually beat in the superfine sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, and continue beating until glossy peaks form, about 3 minutes longer. Gently swirl in 3/4 cup of the berry mixture, leaving streaks in the beaten whites.

Spoon the remaining berry mixture into two 1-cup ramekins. Top with the soufflé mixture, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle with the pistachios. Bake the soufflés for 6 minutes, or until golden on top (or, if you're like me, deep brown on the tips with a caramely crunch).

Serves: 2

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beat the Heat!

Here I am on a Friday, blogging away. What got me out of bed at this hour, you ask? The inimitable--and totally hilarious--Grace of A Southern Grace is hosting a blog event called "Beat the Heat."

The challenge is to prepare a dish that does not require the use of any heat. With South Florida's temperatures in the 90's and the humidity at, like, 1,000 percent, and my clothes sticking to my skin every time I walk from my front door to my car, how could I not take up this challenge?

Interestingly, with this recipe, things got hot, but not because I turned on the stove.

Preparing this recipe, I learned a thing or two about poblano peppers. It turns out that the heat of poblano peppers varies a lot. One poblano might exude a pitiful amount of heat. Its presence may be barely discernible in a dish. You could use the whole pepper, seeds and all, no problem. And that's what I did when I made chiles rellenos on Sunday night: I used one entire poblano and got a satisfying, but not excessive, degree of heat from it.

And then--it turns out--there are poblanos that will scorch your skin as you chop them, make you cry with their fumes, and generally turn your dish into a steaming pit of hell-fire. That's what this little demon fruit nearly did to my gazpacho:

Cute, huh? I wasn't quite prepared for what it had in store. Let's just say that I sampled the recipe at just the right time. Always taste your recipes as you go along. All those screeching reality show chefs can't be wrong.

Because I took a bite of the gazpacho before dumping all of the poblano in there, I saved myself and my husband from a capsaicin conniption.

Conclusion: the amount of poblano that you include in this recipe will depend on the individual pepper and your tolerance for heat. I suggest that you sample a small piece of the pepper and proceed accordingly.

Citrus Gazpacho
A Fritter Original
Serves: 2

1 small fennel bulb, chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon poblano pepper, chopped (see narrative above)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes, chilled (place the unopened can in the fridge for 30 minutes)
1/8 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 Valencia orange
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 avocado
4 tablespoons of chilled, pre-steamed crab meat (available at the fish counter)

In a medium bowl, combine the fennel, shallot, cucumber, yellow bell pepper, poblano pepper, garlic, tomatoes, flat-leaf parsley, and fennel fronds. Gently stir until well-incorporated. Add the lime juice and squeeze half of the orange over the gazpacho, and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve the remaining half of the orange for later use.

Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours, until ready to serve.

When ready to serve the gazpacho, scoop equal portions into 2 bowls. In a separate mixing bowl, gently toss the chilled crab with the juice from the remaining orange half. Top each bowl of gazpacho with two tablespoons of the crab. Garnish with several slices of avocado, and serve.

And here's the true genius of gazpacho: it moves effortlessly from dinner to brunch, like a tank top that looks killer with your Sevens and your sweat pants. Pulse your leftover gazpacho in your processor for 5 seconds, add a shot of vodka, and you've got the most vitamin-rich Bloody Mary around.

! Two recipes in one!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chimichurri, Deconstructed in Photos

...and the reason that this blog post celebrates deconstructed chimichurri is that I forgot to take a final photo of the meal.

Tres artistique, non?

That is what happens when you don't eat lunch.

Chimichurri Skirt Steak
A Fritter Original

1 3/4 pound skirt steak
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 cups of chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make the chimichurri by combining the 1 cup of olive oil, chopped parsley, shallot, garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Allow the ingredients to rest together for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place the skirt steak into the skillet and cook for 5 minutes on one side, then turn and cook for another 4 minutes on the other. Remove and cover the meat for 3 minutes.

Serve the skirt steak with chimichurri slathered on top.

Picture of meal [ here ].


And now for something completely different:

He wants to come in.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Chiles Rellenos

Last week, I mentioned a friend of mine who craves Tex-Mex when she is stressed out. That got me thinking: I haven't made chiles rellenos in a while.

Tex-Mex cooking has the unfortunate (but well-deserved) reputation for being heavy, fattening, salty, and served in platters that could feed three people. I love the stuff. Growing up in Texas, my family would go to church on Sunday mornings, then head over to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant for enchiladas, carne asada, tortilla soup, and chips and salsa.

When I went away to college in the far, dark North, my mother froze a pint of salsa from our favorite restaurant and sent it to me so that I would not suffer from withdrawal. I crave Tex-Mex to this day, but I just shouldn't eat it in the quantities that I did when I was fourteen.

This quandary provoked me to create a few healthier versions of some of my favorite Tex-Mex recipes so that I can get my fix without losing a year of my life to every plate that I eat.

My chiles rellenos--or "stuffed peppers"--are vegetarian but completely filling. Trust me, even a true Tex-Mex fanatic will acknowledge that these little guys are great, even if they aren't cooked in lard and topped with processed cheese.

Vegetarian Chiles Rellenos
A Fritter Original

For the Chiles Rellenos
2 large red bell peppers
1/2 cup brown rice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, shelled and unsalted
1/4 cup poblano pepper, chopped (reduce to 1/8 cup if you are sensitive to spiciness)
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper

For the Salsa
1 15-ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/8 cup of poblano pepper, chopped (omit if you are sensitive to spiciness)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of half of a lime

Put the brown rice in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente. Remove the rice from the heat, drain, return it to the pot, cover, and set aside for later use.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, carrots, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds, tossing to coat with the oil. Stir every minute or so for 8-10 minutes, until the nuts are golden and the onion is nearly translucent. Add the poblano pepper, garlic, cumin, chile powder, flat-leaf parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper, then stir to combine. Saute for another 3-5 minutes.

Add the nut mixture to the rice and stir well to incorporate.

Cut the tops off of the red bell peppers and remove the seeds. Scoop the rice and nut mixture into the bell peppers, then place the cap of the pepper back on. Place the bell peppers upright in an oven-proof skillet and add 1 cup of water to the skillet so that the peppers are standing upright in the bath. This will tenderize the peppers.

Place the skillet in the oven, uncovered, and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. The peppers should still be fairly firm and able to stand upright when done.

While the peppers are baking, make the salsa. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the canned tomatoes, red onion, poblano pepper, and cilantro. Simmer gently for 5-8 minutes. Add the lime juice right before serving.

Serve the chiles rellenos in a shallow bowl with the salsa, and devour.

Serves: 2