Thursday, January 29, 2009


This is how I started my morning today: thirty minutes on an exercise bike, followed by oatmeal and a cup of coffee, followed by this article. And that bring us to the present, because I can't move past it.

For those of you who have not heard, an item described as "the Bacon Explosion" has swept the internet. According to the New York Times, the Bacon Explosion came to the light of day in mid-December. Its creators, a team of Kansas City barbecue competitors, marketed their item (product? monstrosity?) through Twitter, Del.i.cious, Digg, and Stumble Upon, resulting in a near-instantaneous cult following, as well as acknowledgement from more traditional news outlets. The websites of Air America and the National Review have both given nods to the Bacon Explosion. In my favorite paragraph of the article, the NYT quotes Jonah Goldberg as saying, "There must be a reason one reader after another sends me this every couple hours.”

Here's what grabs me about this situation: it is incredible how quickly we share information now. The Bacon Explosion recipe was posted on the creators' blog on December 23. On Christmas Day, the website received 27,000 hits. It spawned "game meat" variations on the original, debates about proper cooking times, and even a claim that the recipe was not original. The sum total of this activity is every blogger's dream.

Doesn't it make you question the notion that technology is driving us all into social isolation? Doesn't the Bacon Explosion prove that we are very, very connected with other people? And whatever happened to the Bacon Explosions of the world before the internet?

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Braised and You'll Like It

I had a busy week, how about you? I wish that I could tell you that I was MIA due to the fact that I had tickets to the Inauguration, but that is not the case. Sadly. I listened to the Inauguration on NPR in my car as I tried to prepare for a 3:00 o'clock meeting.

In addition to some work-related time constraints, I had a tough time devising recipes this week. Maybe that's because it is late January and the seasonal pickings are slim right now. How many root vegetable dishes can one girl make?

Anyway, I'm back from a brief hiatus in posting, but I have a nice pasta dish for you to make up for it. It even features a root vegetable, but in a good way.

Braised Fennel Pasta
A Fritter Original

1 large fennel bulb
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 pound of whole wheat rotini, essentially two handfuls of dry pasta
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar that has a touch of underlying sweetness)
3/4 cup of chicken stock
1 cup of loosely-packed fresh spinach leaves
1 cup of fresh green beans (not canned or frozen), sliced on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
4 tablespoons freshly-grated fontina

Take the fennel bulb and remove any fronds still attached. Core the bulb and chop the fennel into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat and add the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted and is beginning to foam, add the fennel and toss well to coat. Braise the fennel in the butter until it is soft and golden-brown, about 20-25 minutes.

While the fennel is braising, bring a separate medium-sized saucepan of water to a boil. Add the rotini and boil until al dente, 10 - 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

When the fennel has caramelized to a golden-brown color, add the apple cider vinegar and mix in well. Once the vinegar has evaporated, add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the spinach leaves and green beans and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low and cover for 3 minutes, until the spinach has wilted.

Divide the pasta between two shallow bowls. Spoon the fennel sauce over the pasta, then add 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts and 2 tablespoons of fontina cheese to each bowl. Serve immediately.

Serves: 2

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I love a good one-pot meal. Especially on weeknights, when I really don't have the time to futz around with high-maintenance food.

I discovered this stew on the Food and Wine Magazine website and adapted it to be less fattening and speedier than the original. You can go from grocery bag to table in about 35 minutes, most of which is unattended. So go ahead, open your mail and water your houseplants.

Chickpea Stew with Spinach and Shrimp
Adapted from this recipe at Food and Wine

The original version of this recipe called for dried chickpeas, but I didn't have that kind of time on my hands this week, so I used the canned variety. The original also called for chorizo instead of shrimp, but the shrimp lighten up the stew and reduce the cooking time.

1/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Vidalia onion (or any small yellow onion), finely diced
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 bay leaf
One 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, chopped, 1 cup juice reserved
1 cup of water
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
8 large shrimp, cleaned and peeled with the tails left on
2 packed cups of spinach, thick stems discarded
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium-sized, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, rosemary and bay leaf and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and the water and cook over moderately high heat until sizzling, about 4 minutes. Add the chickpeas, cumin, and paprika and simmer for 20 minutes.

Five minutes before serving, stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Turn off the heat and stir in the shrimp, then cover the pot and let it stand, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Peek in on the shrimp at this point; they should be pink and tender. Season with salt and pepper, then serve in 4 soup bowls, arranging two shrimp in each.

Serves: 4

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winter Squash Salad

What do you do with a B.A. in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree . . .
-Avenue Q, What Do You Do with a B.A. in English/It Sucks to Be Me

Have you seen Avenue Q? It came to Fort Lauderdale this week and I caught the show on Wednesday with my friend Tanya. Avenue Q's characters are fresh out of college, experiencing the kinds of conflicts that people in their twenties and early thirties experience ("Maybe I'm not meant to work in a damn office my entire life. Maybe I have a higher purpose!"). It parodies Sesame Street, with swear words.

It's not for everyone, this show. For example, it's not for kids. It also was not for the aged woman sitting to our left, who smoldered silently throughout the first half then stalked out at intermission and never returned. It was not her type of the-ah-tah.

I thought that it was pretty darn funny. Profane, but cleverly written. If it's coming to your city, go see it. Just leave your stuffy, humorless types and children at home.

Winter Squash Salad
A Fritter Original

For the salad
1 acorn squash, or any other hard winter squash
1 large heirloom tomato (look for one the size of a beefsteak tomato)
6-8 small fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the branch
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

For the salad dressing
1/4 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Kalamata olives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the acorn squash in half, remove the seeds, and smear both with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle each half with a little salt and pepper, then place cut-side down on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until a knife can be inserted easily into the rind.

While the squash is roasting, cut the tomato into eights. Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of rosemary over the slices. Add to the cookie sheet when the squash has been roasting for 30 minutes and continue roasting with the squash for another 15 minutes, or until the tomato skin is puckered and tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, then add the fingerling potatoes. Boil the potatoes for 12-15 minutes, until tender. Drain well and slice along the diagonal. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then casually assemble the potatoes, squash and tomatoes on four plates. Top with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Next, prepare the dressing. Combine all of the salad dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified. Drizzle over the platter of potatoes, squash, and tomatoes, then serve immediately.

Serves: 4 side portions

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Isn't that pretty? It's a little bundle of saffron threads, tied with red silk thread. My parents, who travel a lot for business and pleasure, brought it back from Turkey. I've resisted cooking with it for a while now, just because it is such a dramatic-looking spice.

That changed this weekend, though. I've got a thing for risotto, and I decided to try risotto milanese.

Risotto milanese is saffron-infused risotto. I read somewhere, sometime ago, that the recipe was created by a poor merchant in Milan during the 1400's to commemorate his daughter's marriage. The story goes that the merchant had lost a shipment of goods during a storm, and thus had no money to give the newlywed couple. To prevent them from going empty-handed on their wedding day (that would be bad luck), he created a risotto dish for the wedding feast that looked like so many golden coins.

True or not, I like the story and the dish itself is delicious. Perhaps it's just the thing to eat in the rotten, rotten economy.

Risotto Milanese
Adapted from this Mario Batali recipe

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
2 tablespoons of butter (optional)
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a simmer. Add the saffron, stirring to infuse the threads, and reduce the heat to low and cover.

Meanwhile, in a separate 12-inch saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Once the onions are translucent add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then add 3/4 cup of the saffron-infused stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock 3/4 cup at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Cook until the rice is just al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed, then serve with a little freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Serves: 2

Sunday, January 4, 2009

It Shouldn't Be This Easy

Homemade marshmallows should be much more difficult to prepare. They really should.

A simple, sugary recipe is dangerous. The ease with which I made these marshmallows suggests that I could make them again and again. That, as you can imagine, would be a real problem for someone who has vowed in a not-quite-a-New-Year's-resolution way to eat less refined sugar.*

If you subscribe to Bon Appetit, you probably read Molly Wizenberg's article in July 2008 about homemade marshmallows. As Ms. Wizenberg is the funny and literary author of the blog Orangette, I read her article with interest, however, I had no real desire to try the marshmallow recipe. It was July and nothing could tempt me to stand in my sweltering Florida kitchen over a boiling pot of sugar.

Last week, though, my mother commented that it might be fun to make homemade marshmallows while I was home. With snow on the ground and the light dim the way it is before a snowstorm, we inhaled sugary steam from a bubbling saucepan then watched as the mixture was whipped from a syrup to a resin to a gum in my mom's upright food mixer. We patted our piece of elastic vanilla candy into a pan to set overnight. In the morning, we dusted the set marshmallow block with powdered sugar and corn starch, then cut a few sample cubes.

Delicious. Meltingly so. Best eaten in quantities with your fingers while standing at the counter with sugar powder on your chin.

Way too easy, this one. If your resolutions require you to restrict your calories or sugar-intake, think twice before making these. If you step off the path of Goodness and Discipline, go for it with abandon.**

Molly Wizenberg's Homemade Marshmallows
From this recipe featured in Bon Appetit, July 2008

Most of the time involved in this recipe is rest time; the active preparation time requires no more than 25 minutes. You will need a reliable candy thermometer, preferably one that will latch to the side of your saucepan. Try to restrain yourself when the finished product sits before you, but don't be too hard on yourself when you find that you cannot.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water, divided
3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup potato starch (you can substitute corn starch, as I did)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Line a 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil.

Coat the foil lightly with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

Makes: 50 1" x 1" marshmallows

*Before you abandon this blog, please note that I did not say I've cut out all sugar. I just said I would eat less. I won't take you down with me.

**Then again, I never promised to be a good influence.