Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Ceviche

Sundays are my favorite. They are lazy days. I sit in the room overlooking our green backyard and slowly flllllip, fllllllip through the morning paper with a cup of coffee at my elbow.

Saturdays are for errands and social engagements. Yesterday, I weeded our front flower beds, I went to the grocery store, I went to the dry cleaners, and then I sat for an hour and twenty-five minutes in the service waiting room of my car dealership while Fox News blared from a TV overheard and a little girl whimpered to her mother in Portuguese that she was bored, bored, and hungry, and oh, I shared in her misery.

Not today.

Today, I was so lazy, I didn't even want to cook. I made ceviche, letting citrus juice do my work for me.

Oh, Sunday, Sunday.

Shrimp Ceviche

20-25 medium deveined and peeled shrimp (41-50 count works)
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/8 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup peeled and sliced cucumber
1/2 of a jalapeno
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
1 avocado

Pour the lime juice and lemon juice into a non-reactive 9x13 dish (I used glass, but ceramic would be fine, too). Add the shrimp in an even layer, making sure that the shrimp are covered with the juice. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Check the shrimp after 2 hours. They should be pink and firm to the touch. If they still have grey spots, flip them over in the juice and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

Add the orange juice, red bell pepper, jalapeno, cucumber, and cilantro to the dish and toss in the juice. Serve in bowls, garnishing with slices of the avocado.

This dish pairs fabulously with a light beer, or any other beverage that does not require much effort to open.

Serves: 2

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Cookie for All Seasons

Everyone has their share of family legends. Mine is no exception. A curious number of our family stories involve food.

Take the one about my dad and the Girl Scout cookies.

In the early 1980's, when my sister and I were very young, our parents purchased my father's childhood home in Texas. In my heart, it is my childhood home, too, although my family moved to the brighter lights of Dallas before I was nine. My sister and I would unearth little plastic Army Men figures in the backyard, forgotten there by our father and his siblings in the early 1950's. We played hide and seek under huge oaks in the acre of land surrounding the house, and jumped in big leaf piles in the fall.

One spring day, a pair of Girl Scouts walked up our long gravel driveway under the tall oaks and knocked on our front door. The customer of their dreams answered. An individual who knows a good cookie when he sees one, and has an unrestrained sweet tooth.

My dad.

He filled out an order form and the Girl Scouts walked down our gravel driveway, smiling. A few weeks passed and the Girl Scouts returned, pulling a red Radio Flyer wagon that was stacked with boxes of Thin Mints, Jubilees, and Shortbreads. They knocked on our front door.

My mother answered.

I'm not sure what words were exchanged between my parents later on, but I do know that we were flush with Girl Scout cookies through August.

The next year, the Girl Scouts returned. They walked up our long gravel driveway with their order form and knocked on our front door.

My mother answered.

These Girl Scouts were no dummies. Seeing my mom, they slid each other a long, entrepreneurial look before speaking.

"Mrs. Ross, is Mr. Ross home?"

Chocolate Mint Cookies
Adapted from this recipe from Bon Appetit

When Girl Scout cookies are in season, naturally, I purchase a fair number of boxes (I am very much my father's daughter in this regard). Since cookie season comes but once a year, however, I had to try out this recipe for those other eleven "off" months. It's not a Thin Mint, but it's got that peppermint-y, chocolate-y lusciousness that I love.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Beat the butter in large bowl until smooth, then beat in the peppermint extract and the vanilla extract. Beat in the sugar in 3 additions. Add the egg and beat until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat just until blended (the dough will be sticky).

Divide the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Form each piece of dough into a 2-inch-diameter log. Wrap the dough log with plastic and place in the freezer for 30 minutes until well chilled.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the cookie dough logs; roll briefly on work surface to form smooth round logs. Cut the logs crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place the rounds on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies until tops and edges are dry to touch, about 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool.

Meanwhile, add the chopped chocolate to a double boiler. Stir the chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the heat and cool until slightly thickened but still pourable, about 2 minutes. Dip a spatula into the melted chocolate, then drizzle over the cookies.

Refrigerate cookies on baking sheets until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes.

Makes: about 3 dozen small cookies

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sour Milk Cornbread

If my house ever burns down--and I pray that it never does, truly I do--I'm going back in for my 1943 copy of The Joy of Cooking.

Much has been made of this cookbook and all of its various editions. The 1943 version contains wartime rationing tips. The 1975 version was hugely popular. The 1997 version was disliked because it abandoned Irma Rombauer's wry voice, and the recent 75th anniversary edition has been critiqued for its forced nostalgia (discussed here and here).

I have not read either of those later versions. Why would I? I have one of Irma's early versions.

Joy of Cooking enthusiasts love Irma as much as they--we--love her recipes. Who wouldn't? In 1931, during the worst of the Depression years, Irma Rombauer took $3,000 left to her by her late husband and self-published The Joy of Cooking. Billed as "a compilation of reliable recipes with an occasional culinary chat," Joy is comfy and informative--not unlike food blogging.

Sure, the stories may be dated. But not completely.

Irma's preface to the 1943 edition gives some insight into the life of an ordinary woman who created a new world for herself. She writes:
My daughter says that when my book is praised I purr like a cat. Perhaps I do. I can't help it for I am a fortunate woman.

After middle age, my family duties ended, my brood scattered, my civic and social interests (properly) in younger hands, many familiar doors seemed closed to me. Suddenly a new one flew open. It has led to a multitude of human contacts, experiences and gratifications. I felt
useful once more, far more useful than I ever expected to be. Who wouldn't purr?
And who wouldn't love a woman who took this kind of initiative and this kind of financial risk for something she loved? She was 54 years old when she self-published the first Joy. She was not ready to retire; she was ready for new experiences.

Here's to you, Irma. Thank you for sharing your recipes with the generations that followed you. (And thank you, Mom, for giving me this cookbook!)

Sour Milk Cornbread
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

This cornbread is pleasantly tangy from the buttermilk. It would not be at all wrong to smear some blackberry jam on it and call it a snack.

1 cup of corn meal
1 cup of bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups sour milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk)
2 tablespoons melted butter or bacon fat (I used butter)
2 well-beaten eggs

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread an 8 x 10 pan or a muffin tin (or a 12-inch iron skillet, as I did) with butter, oil, or bacon fat. Place it in the oven until sizzling hot.

Sift the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat the buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat them just until they are blended. Pour the mixture into the hot pan or muffin tins and bake for about 25 minutes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rainy Summer Day Soup

Something beautiful happens in Fort Lauderdale during summer afternoons.

Miles to our west, out over the Everglades, dark knots of clouds begin to swell around one o'clock. They crowd east, slowly. The sun is shining through my window, but I hear a sigh of thunder in the distance.

The light fades to gray around two o'clock and a flicker of lightening makes me blink. Rain streaks my window. The streets below go quiet. I can't see the building next door.

I am cozy, nestled in the privacy of water and white noise.

In these snuggly, dim minutes, I yawn and smile. Some soup would be nice. The kind that you eat cross-legged, wearing socks but no shoes, while staring out the window into the blowing rain.

Eventually, the western sky blotches. The light warms to yellow again. My phone is ringing. The street comes back to life.

But I still want the soup.

Tangy Lemon-Egg Soup with Tiny Meatballs
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine Magazine

The original version of this recipe calls for ground lamb instead of ground turkey, and for mint instead of parsley. Since I wanted to use what I had on hand, I adapted the recipe slightly.

1/2 cup medium-grain white rice
3 cups water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 cups chicken stock
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound lean ground turkey
1/3 cup sweet onion, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped dill, plus dill sprigs for garnish
1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
All-purpose flour, for dusting

In a large saucepan, bring the rice to a boil in 3 cups of salted water. Simmer over moderate heat until the rice is tender and the water is nearly absorbed, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Transfer 1/2 cup of the rice to a food processor and spread the remaining rice on a plate.

Add the chicken stock to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Ladle 1 cup of the hot stock into the food processor, cover and puree until the rice is smooth. With the machine on, add the egg yolks and lemon juice and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the mixture into the stock and keep warm over low heat.

In a medium bowl, mix the ground turkey with the onion, parsley, 2 tablespoons of the dill, 1/4 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 1 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls.

Lightly dust the meatballs with flour, tapping off any excess, and drop them into the warm soup. Increase the heat to medium and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved rice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of dill and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with dill sprigs and serve.

Monday, June 16, 2008

But Let's Come Back to the Blueberries

They're still here.

The blueberries. Like little shadows in my refrigerator.

I have baked them in muffins. I have tossed them on top of oatmeal. I have eaten them straight from the container by the handful, but my fridge is still full of them.

Which is why we had blueberry cobbler for dessert.

Cobbler must be one of those dishes whose origin hearkens back to the Revolution. It seems stoutly American and old-fashioned somehow, like July 4th parades, or pantyhose. Only delicious. Apparently, cobbler is also called "grunt," or "buckle" in some parts of the country. I can't see how such a sunny dessert got saddled with such grouchy-sounding names.

As a native Texan, cobbler is one of my favorite desserts. I make it with rolled oats and slivered almonds, which is practically healthy. Try it, you'll see.

Blueberry Cobbler

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
3 tablespoons chilled butter
1/4 cup sugar, divided into 1/8 cups
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh blueberries
4 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, toss the blueberries with a 1/8 cup of sugar and the vanilla extract until coated.

Mix the flour, oats, almonds, 1/8 sugar, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Cut the butter in until you have a fine crumb. Whisk an egg in a separate cup, then mix it into the flour mixture just until the dough is moist. Do not overmix.

Pour the blueberries into the greased baking dish in an even layer. Pinch off bits of the dough and place over the blueberries. Do not attempt to smooth out the dough; it should be clumpy.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden. Serve hot with a drizzle of heavy cream.

Serves: 4

Miami Spice Sneak Preview 2008

Today is the opening day of the Miami Spice Sneak Preview 2008!

From June 16 - 30, a number of Miami's top restaurants will offer three-course lunches and dinners to showcase the culinary talent in our area. Lunches cost $23 and dinners are $36.

Here is a list of this year's excellent participating restaurants. Take a look at what Miami has to offer!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blueberries for Sarah

I went a little overboard, I know it.

Florida blueberries are on sale right now at my local grocery store. I bought two pints on Tuesday. And then I bought 2 8-ounce containers today. And--egads--I now remember that I picked up another pint yesterday when I ducked into the grocery store on my way home from the dry cleaner's. It must be hiding behind the milk!

No problem, I can deal with this.

If all the health hype about the power of blueberries is true, I may live forever.

Cinnamon Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious

The original version of this recipe calls for a meager 1 1/2 cups of blueberries. That won't do. When one is overrun with ripe blueberries, one increases the amount to 2 cups (with excellent results).

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used skim, with good results)
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-muffin tin and place muffin liners in each hole.

Whisk together the butter, brown sugar, milk, and egg in a bowl until combined well. In a large separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix, or you will end up with dense muffins. Fold in the blueberries gently.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups in 1/2-cup amounts and bake until golden brown. The muffins are done when a fork inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Makes: 12

With apologies to Robert McCloskey for corrupting the title of his book, Blueberries for Sal, to fit my own name.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Persnickety Twit

Kids and food.

Matthew Forney wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times today entitled, "Scorpions for Breakfast and Snails for Dinner." He and his Italian-born wife have raised their children, ages 9 and 13, in China. This means that his kids eat a lot of things that the average American child has never seen, let alone consumed.

As Matthew puts it, "Think of a child staging a sit-in at his suburban dinner table because there’s a fleck of dried parsley on his breaded fish finger, and you have imagined everything my children are not."

Clearly, he is proud that his kids are adventurous eaters. He has taken steps to make it so. It is a thought-provoking piece.

When I was 13, my mom made me eat goat brain. It was offered to my family on a steaming dish of goat parts while my father was guest lecturing in Monterrey, Mexico.

My mother, anticipating rebellion, fixed me and my sister with a penetrating stare before either of us could utter a word. "This is a gesture of hospitality by our hosts," she hissed under the laughter and the chatter and the exclamations of cabrito! "You only need to try a little. And say thank you."

The message was clear. Food is not just a collection of vitamins and minerals and proteins on a plate. It's a key part of our social experience. There is meaning in a refusal that has no connection with the cabrito being offered.

Since then, I have eaten every novel food that has been offered to me. Cow cheeks in Italy. Gefilte fish at my first Passover with my husband's family. Haggis in Scotland, accompanied by a deep-fried Milky Way bar, a bottle of Cavi, and a kiss by a tipsy, elderly bagpiper. (A story for another time)

I'll try anything once. And I say thank you.

The point is, kids can be a tad picky when it comes to food. So can adults, for that matter. Giving new foods a try can be important, however, for the social reasons I have just described and for the myriad enriching moments these experiences can bring. Had I not tried each of these new foods, I would be deprived of many stories and many memories of places and people. The burden is on us to teach our children not to deprive themselves of such opportunities.

So, Mom, when you read this, thank you.

So, being a hardy food blog reader with an interest in all things new and tasty, what is the most interesting, or off-putting, or unexpectedly delicious item that you have ever been offered?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Speaking of Lists . . .

1. Elbows on the table.

2. Belgian wheat beer.

3. Clams.

4. Slurp.

5. Slurp.

6. Chomp.

7. Sigh.

8. Smile.

Littleneck Clams with Fennel, Lemon, and Belgian Ale
Adapted from this recipe posted on Chowhound

The broth in this recipe, made with Belgian wheat beer, has a pleasantly bitter undertone that contrasts nicely with mounds of sweet fennel and onions.

I have made some changes to the original recipe, which called for mussels. Mussels were unavailable to me this afternoon. With commendable frankness, my fish guy informed me, "the mussels are a disaster today," and I wasn't one to insist. Instead, I went with littleneck clams, which were lovely.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup Belgian-style wheat beer (such as Avery Brewing Co.'s White Rascal)
24 littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
8-12 grape tomatoes, washed
1 teaspoon fennel fronds, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
crusty bread, for serving

Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the onion and fennel. Sweat until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.

Add the beer and bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the clams, tomatoes, and lemon zest and reduce heat to medium. Cover the pan with a large lid and let simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams begin to open, about 3-5 minutes.

Discard any clams that do not open after 5 minutes. Serve the clams in the broth with crusty bread.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.*

It's Sunday evening. We have a long work week ahead, folks. Let's just have a nice, quiet little recipe then off to bed with us.

Homemade ricotta is lovely and making homemade ricotta could not be easier. Heidi Swanson simplifies it all.

Homemade Ricotta (Part Skim)
Adapted from this recipe on 101Cookbooks

1 gallon 2% milk
1 quart buttermilk

Line a colander with cheesecloth or, if you have none handy, with three or four sheets of paper towel.

Combine the milk and buttermilk in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally as the milk warms, scraping the bottom with a spoon in long, even strokes to prevent scorching. Keep a candy thermometer handy to check the temperature.

As the milk approaches 175 degrees, stir often, still scraping the bottom. You will notice the curds and whey begin to separate as the milk becomes hot. When the milk reaches 175 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and ladle the white, clumpy curds into the lined colander to drain. Allow the ricotta--this is what the curds are now--to rest for about 10 minutes, then scoop into an airtight container and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 cups.

Eat the ricotta within a few days. One serving suggestion, as indicated in the photo above, is to use the ricotta in homemade ravioli. But that is a recipe for another time.

Goodnight, everyone.

*The title of this post is from the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The first line of this post is attributed to Albert Einstein, who oughtta know.

Needs Must

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who make lists, and those who don't.

I go to the grocery store with a list in hand. To do otherwise would be to court failure. Without a list, one leaves the store with a superfluous, expensive box of tea that caught one's fancy. Without a list, one leaves without the eggplant that was to be tomorrow night's dinner.

I even have a list-making ritual. On Sunday morning, I sit with a cup of coffee and my cookbooks and magazines, scouting for new dishes. My selections get dog-eared and the ingredients go on my list according to each ingredient's location in the grocery store and its perishability. Center-aisle baking goods go first, followed by produce, followed by dairy and meats.

This is compulsive behavior, I'm sure. Some of you are thinking, "There's probably a prescription for that, Sarah." List-making makes me happy, though. It's reassuring. In the hurricane of activity that is my work week, list-making allows me to organize my desires on one little index card.

After all, I am not a retiree leaning on her cart, slowly ambling the aisles. I am a harried Gen-Xer, a full-time worker, a commuter. A week's worth of groceries go into my cart. If I forget an ingredient, I don't make a second trip; I compromise instead.

Additionally, with a list, I buy only what I think we will need. This cuts down on cost and waste.

Sometimes things get away from me, though. I end up with an item that does not get eaten. For example, this bag of cherries that sat on my counter all week.

They were dancing on the edge of overripeness this morning and I felt a blip of anxiety just looking at them. At a cool $5.99 per pound, I could not bear to toss them but I knew that we would not have a chance to eat them today.

Which is why I made cherry jam. Needs must, as they say. Waste not, want not, as they also say.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe posted by Robin of the beautifully-written Caviar and Codfish. Because I did not have a lime waiting around to be zested, I used a lemon instead. I also increased the amount of almond extract from 1/8 teaspoon to a 1/2 teaspoon since almonds and cherries are a match made in heaven.

Cherry Jam
Adapted from Caviar and Codfish's recipe

1 pound cherries, halved and pitted
The juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup water, if needed
2/3 cup sugar

Put a small plate in the freezer.

Heat the cherries in a large pot over medium heat. Add the lemon and almond extract. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the cherries are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup of water and stir, then add the sugar and stir for a few minutes.

Robin offers this test for the jam: "Test the jam by placing a bit on the plate from the freezer. Put it back in the freezer for a couple minutes, then take out and nudge the jam with your finger. If it wrinkled up a bit, or if it hardly moves when you tilt the plate sideways, your jam is done. If not, put the pot back on the heat and cook some more before testing again. Cherry jam sets easily, so you’ll probably only have to test it once or twice."

Once the jam is done, you can store it in one of two ways. I used a regular Tupperware because I know that we will eat all of the jam in the next few days.

If you plan to can the jam, Robin has the following instructions for you: "If canning, screw on the lids and heat another pot full of water until boiling. Add the jars to the pot carefully and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars–carefully–and place on a towel. The jars should make a popping noise soon, telling you they are properly sterilized. When you push down on the lid of a sterilized jar, it will not make a clicking noise. Store in a cool dark place and consume within one year."

Fills about 3 4 oz. jars.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Takes Me Back

Oh, my.

What a nice moment. I had to run out to the parking garage today around lunchtime to retrieve a file that I'd forgotten in my car. This trivial errand turned into an unexpected blast from the past when I stepped on the empty elevator.

Warm, nutty basil pesto. Mozzarella and artichoke hearts. Halved grape tomatoes.

The aroma of some unknown person's lunch had filled the elevator. In seconds, I was lost in a memory. It was the special dish that I asked my mother to serve at my graduation luncheon, right before I received my high school diploma. The first dish in which I experienced real mozzarella and fresh basil pesto. The feeling of sophistication, the idea that I was turning into an adult. The pretty iced tea glasses next to my mom's china and silver on the table. The white linen napkins.

For a few moments, I was no longer a worker bee in my office building; I was a teenager in flip flops. I leaned against the wall of the elevator, remembering the meal, remembering being a lot younger.

I've written once before about scent and its link to memory. Having been transported for those few seconds, I simply had to recreate the recipe for a dish that I had not eaten in ten years.

The results take me back. The taste of fresh basil pesto, paired with soft mozzarella and crisp grape tomatoes may not stand for sophistication in your mind, but for me, tasting this dish as a teenager was special. I learned something about food by eating this. And by recreating it so many years later, I was able to taste a little bit of my own personal history and once again appreciate what I'd loved about the dish from the beginning: the beauty of simple, fresh flavors.

What special meal takes you back? Don't be shy, tell me!

Summer Basil Pesto Pasta

1/2 pound rotini pasta
1/2 pound ball of mozzarella packed in water
16-20 asparagus spears, the tips only plus one inch of the stalk
1/2 pint of grape tomatoes
1 14-oz can of artichoke hearts packed in water, rinsed)
2 packs cups of basil leaves, plus 1/2 cup of basil leaves, cut chiffonade
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup Parmigiano Reggiano

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta. Cook until al dente, then drain and rinse the pasta with cold water. In another pot, steam the asparagus tips over an inch of boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse the asparagus with cool water to stop the cooking process.

When the pasta and asparagus are well-drained, add them to a large serving bowl. Cube the mozzarella roughly into bite-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Rinse the grape tomatoes and cut them in half, adding the halves to the serving bowl as you go. Add the artichoke hearts.

In a food processor, blend the 2 cups of basil leaves, the pine nuts, and the Parmigiano Reggiano until they form a coarse paste. With the machine still on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The pesto should still be a thick paste, unless you prefer yours to have more oil and be looser.

Toss the contents of the serving bowl with the pesto until well-coated. Sprinkle the basil chiffonade over the top. Serve the dish at room temperature, with iced tea.

Serves: 2.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Ego Hurts. So Does My Left Elbow.

Do you have days when nothing seems to go right?

Please understand that I am not talking about the kind of day when your best friend is diagnosed with cancer. Those are awful, soul-crushingly bad days. Those are healing-is-going-take-awhile, we'll-get-through-this, let's-all-pray kinds of days that no food will fix.

No, in this post, I'm talking about the absurdly trivial bad days. The kind of day that is an index of minor irritations. The one-hour-wait-at-the-doctor's-office day, the I-banged-my-funny-bone-blue day, the where-in-creation-are-my-car-keys day, the ma'am-I-have-no-cash-to-pay-this-toll day.

You know what I mean. We all have them, and the fact that the aggravations are piddly-small doesn't help. I'm not zen about the small things. I get cranky when the lunch that I schlepped two sweltering blocks back to my office has mayo instead of mustard, and I stub my toe, and no one holds the elevator for me. I sulk.

Petty annoyance is a character flaw, I'm sure. You have a character flaw too, right?

Sometimes, I have enough poise to take a deep, calming breath and achieve some perspective. There is meaning in each of these hapless little moments, I just know it. If the cashier at the grocery store had not been so bloody slow I might have missed the rainbow arching over that funny little church on my way home. If I'd had just a tiny amount of change--50 cents!--in my wallet, I would not have a funny story about how a sour-faced toll worker made me write a 50-cent check to the Florida Department of Transportation Turnpike Authority before letting me through (she was so mean about it, too).

And, when I discovered that I did not have the right ingredients for a recipe that I wanted to try out (ricotta, how did you elude me?), I created this new recipe.

It's a brothy, aromatic bowl of shittake mushrooms sauteed in caramel-y Amontillado sherry and butter then heaped with Swiss chard over fresh fettuccine. Thyme and grated Pecorino bring it all home. Hello, gorgeous.

That's the thing about perspective: "what we see depends mainly on what we look for." (attributed to John Lubbock, English banker, politician, naturalist and archaeologist, 1834-1913)

Shittake Fettuccine with Amontillado Sauce

10-12 large shittake mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons Amontillado sherry (alternatively, you can use tawny port. The point is to use something with caramel notes)
1 shallot, chopped
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large leaf of Swiss chard, chopped into long ribbons
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/2 pound of fresh fettuccine, recipe following (alternatively, you can use pre-packaged pasta)

To Make the Fettuccine
Adapted from James McNair's Favorites

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Combine the eggs, oil, and salt in a mixer and blend well. Add 2 cups of the flour in 1/2 cup amounts and knead the dough in the mixer using a dough hook for about 3 minutes. Check the dough for stickiness. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour until it is no longer sticky. Form into a ball. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes, covered with a dish towel.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Run each piece through a pasta machine to flatten the dough into sheets, then, using a fettuccine slicing attachment, cut the dough into fettuccine strips.

Heat a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and boil for 3-5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and set aside.

For the Shittake-Amontillado Sauce
Heat the olive oil in a broad skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and stir to coat in the olive oil. Saute until translucent, stirring to prevent browning. Add the garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. Do not allow it to brown.

Add the Amontillado and reduce for 1 minute. Add the vegetable stock and heat to a boil, then reduce to low heat. Add the thyme, mushrooms, and Swiss chard, as well as the salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Serve the mushrooms over the fettuccine. Grate 1 tablespoon of Pecorino over each dish and serve.

Serves 2

Monday, June 2, 2008

One Fish, Two Fish

Many people here in Fort Lauderdale love to fish. I work in an office full of suited-up men with sunglass-tans who keep photos of their boats on their desks, next to the pictures of their wives and kids. They tell animated stories about snook on Monday mornings.

Me, I hate fishing. No way can I spend six hours on a Saturday in the scorching sun, gripping a rod in a pitching boat. I like my fish two ways; either:

(1) flittering around a coral head at 35 feet while I hover nearby in neutral buoyancy, or

(2) on ice in a display case.

There is no line between these two points that I want to trace. Nature girl, I am not. At least not when it comes to fish.

That said, I love seafood. Fish is a welcome alternative to the unending beef, poultry, and pork train. Most nutritional experts agree that some amount of fish should be included in your diet, although women who are pregnant or nursing need to be choosy. Sustainability matters too. Chilean seabass has been off my menu for years because overfishing is leading to a population collapse.

Farm-raised trout is plentiful and versatile. In this recipe, the sweet trout is best served with red potatoes tossed with butter and a little extra fresh thyme. Go ahead and polish off a glass of the same semi-dry Riesling used in the sauce; it's all good.

Riesling-Poached Trout with Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2001

3 tablespoons chilled butter
1 very large leek (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
2 trout, boned, butterflied
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup Riesling (I used Loosen Bros. 2006 Dr. L Riesling, available for approximately $13.00 at Whole Foods)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced leek and carrot strips; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper over the trout, then fold the trout closed and nestle each piece of fish in the skillet, skin-side down. Add the fresh thyme over the fish. Top with the leek and carrot mixture and bay leaves. Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour the Riesling over the trout and place the skillet in the oven.

Bake the trout until it is just opaque in center, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve.

Serves: 2

Sunday, June 1, 2008

. . . Does a Body Good

Yesterday marked the end of National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.

Chances are, you are related to someone with this condition, which causes bones to become fragile and prone to fractures, particularly as a person ages. Calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong in the face of osteoporosis. In the spirit of prevention, Susan of Food Blogga has hosted the superb "Beautiful Bones Round-Up," a collection of calcium-rich recipes from bloggers across the globe.

Milk's not the only thing that does a body good. Check it all out here.