Monday, 01 May 2006

Girlie’s Birthday Feeding

Since the joyous day of celebrating my wife’s birth fell on a weekday, a weekday when some clean-living, nose to the grindstone people had to work (and me too), the cooking festivities had to be postponed until the weekend.

Scallops with Red Wine Spaghetti

Since I am well acquainted with Mme. Pants, I knew that what she wanted for birthday eating was to not be asked what she wanted. Her ideal dinner is for me to cook something fun and delicious and not bother her with all of the particulars.

Being an ideal husband, I complied.

The lady is a big fan of seafood, but does not get to partake of it much, especially at home, as until recently I have only really cooked vegetarian. This being the case, I thought she might appreciate a little meaty variety. So early on in the selection process, I decided that scallops should be involved.

Scallops Cooked in Butter and Olive Oil

These sweet, tender little mollusks rank high on her list of eatin' treats.

Scallops are versatile and really don’t need much fuss to make them fantastic. However, being a special occasion and all, I wanted to go with something striking.  Several options sprang to mind, but last week I’d seen old Michael Chiarello of Tra Vigne fame, whip up a particularly interesting dish of spaghetti cooked in red wine with broccoli rabe.

Red Wine Spaghetti Cooking Away

Perfect fit right? The white, the red, the green. It certainly seemed like a dish with pop and panache.

And I was right. It looked great and tasted better. Best yet Mme. Pants was very pleased. She finished most of it.

The Eatin's Done

We ended the meal with a light sabayon topped with some strawberries macerated in red wine, sugar, and lemon juice.

Sabayon with Strawberries Macerated in Red Wine

The sabayon is egg yolks, champagne, and sugar whipped over a double boiler. It’s just the right amount of sweet and boozy to finish up a tasty meal.

Beginning a Sabayon

Sabayon Almost Done

Check out another sabayon rendition here.

Ci vediamo.


Sunday, 23 April 2006

You're Lying, You're a Liar, That's a Pickle.

Cocktail Avocado

I had no reason to suspect that the  Cocktail Avocado or avocadito even existed.  Why would anyone need a tiny, pitless, finger-shaped avocado?  I still have no idea, but I do know that these little dudes are freaking delicious. 

They're like little tubes of super concentrated avocado flavor.  They're amazingly buttery and nutty and creamerific.  The shape is really cool too, lending itself to making tiny avocado circles. 

They're kind of a pain in the ass to peel, but I understand that if you slice off one end you can just squeeze the whole thing out like a savory mini  push-pop.

Delicious and Open Cocktail Avocado

I'm not sure where they came from.  I thought they might be some new designer produce following the recent micro-everything craze, but apparently they've been around for awhile.  The Produce Hunter says that they're a product of sudden climate change coupled with a naturally occurring genetic aberration.  Whatever that means.

Regardless, they're pretty awesome.  So thanks again Central Market for finding the weird stuff and making me buy it.  Hopefully I'll get really hooked on them and then never be able to find them again.


Thursday, 20 April 2006

Louisiana Typified: The Crawfish Boil

A picture of Louisiana.

You know, were I to write a dissertation on Louisiana for some reason, I think that would be my title.  I'd get to eat crawfish across the state, which would be a pretty sweet benefit, as well.

We were lucky enough to make it to Natchitoches, Louisiana (home of large chunks of the Husbear's family) for Easter this year.  As part of the Easter festivities, Husbear's aunt and uncle, Jod-I and Keiff, organized and threw a raucous crawfish boil. 

Realizing that this would probably be our last crawfish boil for a couple of years, we had to bring our little camera and do some documenting!

Live crawfish contemplating their doom

There's a fair amount of preparation that goes into creating a good crawfish boil.  The crawfish have to be bought alive, for one thing - in giant mesh sacks holding 35-40 pounds each, usually. They have to be kept alive until it's time to cook them, or they're nasty - hence, the saying "don't eat the dead ones" as you pick through your pile of cooked crawfish trying to decide which ones to munch on.  (It's easy to tell which ones were dead before they were cooked - they're the ones with the straight tails.)

The crawfish have to be purged in a succession of salty and fresh water - skip this step, and you're eating lots of mud and crawfish innards. I know that sounds delicious but it's not as good as you'd think.

Then, fill your enormous boiling pot with water (of course!), margarine or butter, throw in a heap of Zatarain's crawfish boil seasoning along with various proprietary herbs and spices and get to it!  Zatarain's even publishes their tips on creating a great crawfish boil on their website. (No they're not paying us.  Yet.  Although any Zatarain's rep can easily and conveniently reach us through our on-site email.  Get in early while we still work cheap.)

Now, Husbear, being a vegetarian, likes to gussy things up a little.

Boiling Veggies

Potatoes, corn, onions, and lemon are normally included to represent the vegetable spectrum; each time Husbear and I get to a boil, he likes to add a few different vegetables - partly for experimentation, partly for sustenance.  This time, he broke out a lively medley of asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, and artichokes to add to the pot.

Speaking of pots, Keiff just got a new one, which is ginormous! Brandog helped him out by filling it up.

Filling the giant pot

He used it to supplement Old Reliable Crawfish Pot (in the hood the ORCP).

So - veggies cut, crawfish purged, time to cook!

The ORCP showed the new pot the ropes.

The New & Old School Methods

People circulated into and out of the house, checking on crawfish and grabbing beers from the ice chest.  (Husbear took this time to whip up dippin' sauces - a basil aioli and lemon butter.  A nice addition to the requisite and delicious horseradishy cocktail sauce.)

The crawfish, they are finished.

Soon enough, the crawfish and veg were done.  They all went into an ice chest to keep them warm.  Some people take the opportunity at this juncture to sprinkle some more of the spicy crawfish boil mix over the cooked critters, just to up the heat level.

Get everyone gathered around tables/plywood on sawhorses covered in newspaper, make sure everyone has a cold drink, and dump!

Pile of crawfish on newspapers

Make sure you get some veggies in there, too, while you're at it.

The table

Now, eat.  There's a bit of a trick to getting the tail meat out, but once you go through a few pounds or five practicing and eating, it's pretty easy.  And be sure to suck the heads, like you're a real cajun!  That's where all the fat and flavor are!  (I say this like I participate in that part of the ritual.  I usually don't, but I remember at my first boil at Jod-I and Keiff's during college, Tiffany totally took to it like an old pro.)

GQ goes to town

If you're having trouble, just ask GQ - he'll walk you through it! 

Soon, you'll end up with a pile of little crawfish carcasses in front of you, like a tiny trophy hunter.

Picking through the pile

After an hour, or two, stagger backwards from the table - and you're done.  Of course, there's still cleaning to do - but the best way to take care of that is with a large garbage bag.  This is why crawfish boils are really an outside only sort of affair.  (Unless you're a sissy -L. Pants)

Cleaning up afterwards

The carnage can be quite extensive, depending on who you're eating with.  This little guy tried to make a break for it, but forgot that it's difficult to dash away once you've been boiled.

The ultimate indignity

Since this was not only an Easter crawfish boil, but also a birthday crawfish boil (happy birthday to... lots of people!) there was also Jod-I's wonderful apple cake for dessert.  Oh, was this GOOD.

Apple Cake

And there you are - you can totally say you've been to a crawfish boil now - you're a seasoned old hand at this.

Thank you of course to Jod-I and Keiff for their hospitality - and for the great birthday bag they got Husbear for our upcoming travels - and for the spiffy arm band and case for my new iPod!

Oh - did I not mention my new iPod?  (Like how I worked that in?) I have joined the ranks of the cool and suave, thanks to Husbear's folks!  I am now the proud mama of a black iPod nano - which is something I thought I would never be slick enough to own.  Unfortunately, now I have to get a whole new wardrobe to live up to the coolness of my new toy.  Oh, is it sweet!

That's all you'll hear about the iPod - for now!


Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Entertaining Pants Family Style

Recently, I’ve been trying to do that thing where when people come over I don’t spend 90% of my time either in the kitchen or running back and forth between the kitchen and somewhere else. Personally I don’t mind, but Mme. Pants has been encouraging this. She says that people who come over like to “see me” and “talk to me”. I’ve done both and can assure you that they are absolutely overrated.

Regardless, it seems my hosting abilities are gradually but steadily being nudged toward the Martha end of the spectrum. I hope not too far though, as I’m not comely as a blonde and the rectally inserted rolling pin sounds like it may chafe.

Chilled Watercress Soup

Click on the picture for the recipe

So, what great secrets am I employing to wow my guests with my poise and preparedness? Simple, I’ve implemented the age old practice of making big vats or pans of vittles before hand and then just scoop and slop when company comes around.  I know.  I’m a freaking genius.

Seriously though, it has been a little more difficult for me than I seems like it ought to be. For some reason getting the timing down proves a tad more troublesome than it should with many dishes. Cold soups work well. You can make them days in advance and then just pour into a bowl. We started this particular meal with the above pictured, crazy tasty watercress soup with green onion crème fraiche. Tre magnifique! It's a little spicy and very refreshing.

I’ve also discovered a whole class of foods that lend themselves particularly nicely to low maintenance, low worry serving. I call them “Stuff on Polenta,” or SoP for short.

The SoP requirements are short. Just take something, preferably easy to handle and not too temperature sensitive and put it on polenta. Done. My most recent SoP were some delightful Eggplant Involtini filled with homemade ricotta and herbs and baked in a light tomato sauce.

Involtini just means rolled. I probably should have cut the eggplant lengthwise to get a nice long wrap. But I didn’t and people ate them anyway.

Eggplant Involtini in Dish

One little trick to cooking with eggplant is to make sure you purge them of excess water. After you slice them, salt both sides heavily and then set them to dry on a wire rack with some paper towels underneath. After an hour or so, rinse them off real well and give each one a gentle squeeze. I think this really helps both the texture and the flavor.

The tomato sauce is a riff on Mario’s basic recipe just using whatever herbs and whatnot that I had in the fridge. The filling can be whatever you want really, but currently I’m obsessed with making ricotta so that’s what I did. Sure you can buy it, but it’s soooo much better homemade. I’m going to do a post about the process soon so I won’t go into a lot of detail about it here. Sorry turophiles, you just have to wait.

Eggplant Involtini and Polenta

Polenta is always easy of course, but you have to use good stuff – none of that instant or quick cook crap. If you can get it, I can’t recommend Anson Mills enough. It’s so much better than other polenta that I’ve had that it’s almost like a whole different animal.

You can cook your polenta with practically any liquid you want – stock, cream, water, whatever, but if you have one handy, I highly encourage you to throw in a bay leaf. Laurel makes things better.

All in all, it seemed to work. All I had to do was pull one thing out of the oven and throw some stuff on plates. I saw the people who had come to eat. They saw me. Words were exchanged. In short, success.

-L. Pants

Wednesday, 05 April 2006

Straight Birfday Feastin'

As a few of you savvy readers may know, I’ve been dabbling a bit in the art of seafood preparation in anticipation for the upcoming move and immersion in all things Italian. And Italians, at least a healthy chunk of them, love seafood.

What to make? Where to start, you may wonder? So many choices, so many options, so much deliciousness. Where does a defrocked vegetarian begin?

Indecision is for the weak. According to an elaborate and semi-nonsensical set of personal rules, I have limited all initial forays into the fleshy end of the spectrum to shellfish and crustaceans. Recently, I have cooked several shellfish dishes, so I turned to their chitinous cousins, the aquatic arthropod.

I wanted prawns, but on short notice all I could wrangle were some good looking U21-25 Gulf Shrimp that were unfortunately headless.

And what platform should I present these wee guys on? Well, it was my birthday and I had been nursing a craving for my favorite little potato pasta, gnocchi. (You can see some of my previous renditions of the stuff here and here.)

Gnocchi with Shrimp and Arugula Pesto

I figured that shrimp and gnocchi with a little arugula pesto would go together swimmingly (sorry) and real Italians be damned. See, Italians have a very strict interpretation of exactly what ingredients go with what pasta and I’m pretty sure my pairing would be deemed highly unacceptable.

So I made the gnocchi (try out Michael Chiarello’s recipe if you’d like, but ignore all of the anal salt baking and fork shaping business – rustic is good). Then I made the pesto which is just pine nuts, garlic, and lemon juice blended to a paste. Then you add a few handfuls of raw or blanched arugula, a little salt and then drizzle in olive oil until you get the consistency that you want.

I de-veined the shrimp, but I left the shells on for more flavor (and a bit of a messy/fun time later). I cooked them off in olive oil, added a few cherry tomatoes and then a few scoops of pesto. Then I spooned in my freshly boiled gnocchi and tossed it all together for a real good time.  It rocked.  I licked the bowl. I’m pretty sure Mme. Pants had to stop me from going back to lick the pan.

I know, I know. You’re all sitting there thinking, “Well that sounds lovely, but didn’t you say it was your birthday? What about dessert?”

Rhubard Triptic

Oh yes. There was dessert. And its name was Rhubarb Soufflé. It was delicious. Light and tart and fluffy. When I was baking it, I knew it would rise, I just didn’t realize that the thing was going to go all black snake on me and climb a foot and a half to the top of the oven. Since it was actually resting against the heating elements, it got a tad dark on top.

Before and After Souffle Note: The picture on the right is after the thing had already fallen. I'm telling you it was huge.

Regardless, it was delicious. We served it with a homemade vanilla custard sauce that would be good on anything that didn’t run away from you. These were both Silver Spoon recipes, so props to those guys yet again.

Rhubarb Souffle with Vanilla Custard Sauce

                                            *Special Bonus Leftover Addendum*

So if you have any leftover gnocchi (and if you’re gonna make it you should make lots and lots) I have a great way to put it to use.

Toasted Gnocchi Salad

Pan fry those puppies up in some butter and put ‘em on a salad. This one has mixed greens and endive with blue cheese, walnuts, and a smoky paprika, shallot vinaigrette. And gnocchi of course.

Cook it up people.

-L. Pants

Saturday, 18 March 2006

A (Pictureless) Pictorial Essay, by Girlie (Pants)

What I Did on My Saturday Night, by Girlie.

(Insert picture of Girlie looking frusturated, but understanding.)

I planned to do a picture essay of what I'm up to this evening, but then I found out that Husbear took our little camera in to work with him, since his big ol' professional Canon has decided to stop working.  So, he has the little camera, and I am left with the cats and a bubbling cauldron of energy.

That last is a lie.  Actually, I'm left with a bubbling cauldron of not-really-feeling-well, which I think I can fairly attribute to my St. Patrick's Day celebrating last night - I went out with work-friends to see a band whose guitarist is married to a workmate.  We had a great time, but several beers, a lemon drop, and a red snapper (which tasted great at the time, but looking at the ingredients, I don't know how soon I'll be having another) later, washed down with country griddle cakes now at IHOP, left me feeling not-so-hot this morning.

(Insert picture of what I got at the grocery store.  No, not that.)

I did make it to and from the grocery store and Hollywood Video, though - where I purchased chicken legs (which I could only find in packs of 5 or 15? -I got one with 5), rosemary, chianti, dried mushrooms, and asparagus for dinner tonight, along with a carb-frenzy of chips, mac & cheese, sandwich bread, and cereal for later this week.  At Hollywood, I picked up this documentary, by the son of Louis Kahn, which I thought looked interesting last week when we rented corpse bride and project grizzly.  I'll have to watch it closely to see if I can wholeheartedly recommend it to Brandog and sisinlaw, our resident architectos.

The eats I'm using to make Giambonetti di Pollo al Vino Rosso (Chicken Legs Stewed in Red Wine), out of our trusty awesome Silver Spoon.  I'm going to serve it over polenta with roasted asparagus on the side.

(Insert picture of Girlie desperately wrapping pancetta around half-cooked chicken legs, while the pancetta falls apart and the polenta burns and sticks to the pan and the oven takes forty-five minutes to preheat, thus ensuring the asparagus is ready hours after the rest of the meal.)

(Insert new picture of the look on Girlie's face when she realizes the wine she just licked off her finger is actually chicken blood.)

Good thing I got that bottle of wine, eh?

Well, hours later, it turned out pretty O.K., at least.  The chicken probably could/should have been cooked a little longer - but this is something I'm having to relearn, since I haven't really cooked meat at all (with this one notably gross exception) for years.

I'm having a little trouble really getting into this movie, though - to be fair, of course, I'm "watching" it while blogging, so I should probably put the computer down and actually pay attention.


Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Sweet, Sweet, Radicchio

For years I have hated radicchio. I dismissed the odd red and white, bitter lettuce as filler and coloring for mediocre salads. It turns out I was horribly mistaken.

The years I had been eating it, it was being mishandled and abused. You see, radicchio needs coaxing. You have to draw out the subtle sweetness and earthiness and mute the bitter just a bit so it blends with the other great flavors.

This time of year, winter and early spring, some areas of Italy are overflowing with interesting and delicious radicchio varieties. Recently, some of these have become available here in Austin and I was eager to do some experimenting.

Radicchio Trevisano

Four or five different types lined the vegetable shelves, but the most alluring of the bunch was Radicchio di Treviso Tardivo (Treviso is apparently renowned for its radicchio and the tardivo just means that it’s ready late in the season). It’s weird looking stuff. It has a large tap root off of which sprout long, somewhat thick, red and white fingery leaves. Cool huh?

So I bought myself a whole mess of it and brought it home. Turning to my trusty Silver Spoon I found literally dozens of great sounding radicchio recipes. However, one of them was for a simple radicchio risotto and in my opinion, if you’ve never eaten something before, you should damn sure try it in a risotto.

Radicchio Risotto with Scallion Oil

I did. It was amazing. Creamy, sweet, savory, with a pleasant nutty bitter finish. I think I ate for hours. Judging from the mmm’s and sighs, I think Mme. Pants enjoyed it as well. (The green is some scallion oil that I added, you know, to make it purdy).

Like most risotto’s it’s super easy to make. Basically, after you sweat some onions in some olive oil you add in about a half pound of radicchio leaves. Let that cook for another minute and then add in two-ish cups of rice and continue as usual. I think you’ll gain a whole new respect for the sadly misunderstood radicchio.

Radicchio Risotto Cooking Down

Oh, and if you find yourself unable to finish off all of the risotto, never fear. One of the all time best leftover dishes is fried risotto cakes. Just mix in a little egg to the cold risotto, form it into patties or balls and fry away. We had ours with spinach and some fresh yolk.

Radicchio Risotto Cakes with Egg Yolk in Crispy Cheese and Sauteed Spinach

Good Lawd.

-L. Pants

Saturday, 04 March 2006

Why I Love My Wife #463

I’ve been working on the new Robert Rodriguez movie a lot. Like A Lot. It takes a surprising amount of time to explain to city officials that the exploding zombie pieces probably won’t blow out any windows of the historic buildings. And even if they do, the odds are even slimmer that the car fires or flaming tanks will spread to the inside.

Have a little faith people.

Anyway, after one particularly unrewarding day I returned home to a pleasant surprise. My normally kitchen-phobic sultana had been cooking. And what had my intrepid young bride endeavored to make you ask?

Warm Farro Salad with Apples and Cheddar

None other than this splendiferous warm farro salad (courtesy of F&W Feb. '06) with a side of apples and Neal’s Yard cheddar.

Yum Bitches!

The salad has broccoli rabe, grapes, carrot, onions, walnuts and lots of other good stuff. The cheese was also amazing as you probably won’t be surprised to learn if you check out the Neal’s Yard website.

So thanks for the good eatin', Girlie and now everyone knows that you CAN cook! Ha. Where’s your fancy excuse now?

-L. Pants

Sunday, 05 February 2006

Happy Superbowl!

Superbowl Guacamole - Grilled Avocado and Lime

Well, since there's guacamole made, Corona and chips purchased, and limes wedged, it must be almost time for the Superbowl!

Husbear's been cooking for several hours already.  He's made bean dip (don't groan, this one is actually from scratch and looks/tastes awesome), the aforementioned guacamole, and a mexican-style tempeh/green bean/onion/pipian stirfry we're meant to eat in lettuce wraps.

Superbowl Eats Triptic

We do have friends coming over to help us out with all the food, though.  And the beer.  Thank Gd.

This year Mr. Pants took the guacamole for a little twist...

Grilled Avocados for Guacamole

He showed the avocados and limes who's boss by grilling them first, and then adding the usual cilantro, chopped red onion, bit of serrano, and his garlic/salt paste.

While he's been doing this, I've been cleaning the house.  Since if I tried to make guacamole it would taste like the death of an avocado, this division of labor suited me fine.

Gotta finish getting everything ready... go Seahawks!  (we've decided at the last minute.  Though, as we all know, it's the advertisers with their $83,333 per second ads that are the real winners.)

Have a great superbowl!


Saturday, 04 February 2006

Getting Back to my Roots

Soup Peddler Borscht

Lots of people hate beets.  I know the first few times I tried them, they tasted like dirt.  Of course, that could have been because they were the canned, pickled kind... and those are gross.  Plus, on top of often not being tasty, they are really intimidating to work with, tending to dye all available surfaces in your kitchen bright pinky red.

When treated correctly, though, beets can be a wonderful earthy vegetable, with a sweet flavor that is very different from other root vegetables.  They are so, so good roasted!  The first time I ever had beets and liked them, though, was in borscht from Mabenka, a Lithuanian restaurant on the South Side of Chicago.  (I miss that restaurant so much.)

Borscht, really good borscht, is difficult to come by here in Austin.  This is why every time the Soup Peddler puts it on his menu, we jump on it.  (By the way, if you're in Austin and haven't signed up for the Soup Peddler, you really should do so!  His soups are good, for the most part, and it's a great local business to support!  Here's another post about a Soup Peddler soup.)

The Soup Peddler's version is vegetarian, and totally full of beety goodness.  It also contains potatoes and cabbage, very Eastern European, and then a little Granny Smith apple for sweetness.  It's very tasty.

So, what do you have with borscht?

Potato Pancakes

That's a really easy question - you have potato pancakes.  We didn't get to make these this year during Hanukkah, so I was jonesin'. 

These potato pancakes a la Husbear are made with potatoes he baked and riced with this awesme ricer I got him for Christmas a couple of years ago.  It's great for making gnocchi, too, and fluffy mashed potatoes.

He took the riced 'taters and added grated carrot (for sweetness), green onion (for onionyness), garlic he mashed into a paste with salt and the side of his knife in this awesome Italian technique, salt/pepper, nutmeg (for flavor, duh), a half of a thin sliced serrano (you need a little heat, right?) and panko and egg for binding.

This all got mashed together and formed into patties, which he pan-fried in cast iron in maybe an inch of oil.

These were some seriously tasty potato pancakes.

Then, serve with the traditional sides:

Potato Pancake Toppers

Sour cream and applesauce.  Oooh, so good!

It's fun to have these Jewish-style meals - thanks Sr. Peddler, for giving us the nudge!


Sunday, 29 January 2006

IMBB #22: Klaatu Pasta Nikto

Pasta Procession

Recently, on a dark and bitterly cold Tuesday morning, I was inducted into a Secret Society; a Society shrouded in flour and water and sometimes eggs. Yes my friends, I was tapped to join the Noodly Brotherhood.

I showed up dressed in black (with a small white towel… and a tiny apron, fine) in the back of Vespaio – the finest Italian restaurant in Austin. It was 5 a.m., the mythical Pasta Hour. I can’t delve too deeply into details dear readers, but in a multi-hour affair we were anointed with truffle oil, the air was perfumed with burning bay and sage and we were flogged with sheaths of winter wheat, the hardest of the wheats, as you know. And the kneading- oh the kneading was copious and intense. There was also an olive race, but of this I shall not speak.

Painful theatrics aside, I have had the pleasure of hand-making pasta “professionally” for the last few months. Really I’m somewhat of a pasta-whore as I have a borderline unhealthy affinity for the stuff and have been known to do strange things to obtain it. Such as getting a job, making pasta.

Pasta Making Triptic

Pasta making in a restaurant does have several benefits however. One is that we own a huge pasta machine with the Roller of Doom “Bane of Fingers and Scourge of Board Scrapers”.

Pasta Machine & Roller of Doom

The upside being that this industrial beast makes it possible to work dough made of durum flour; a chore that by hand is virtually impossible. The durum gives the finished product a great bite and a particularly nice mouthfeel- closer to the dried pasta you buy rather than the softer homemade varieties.

Another of the perks of this new job is that we end up throwing out a lot of scraps. So on occasion I rescue a few of the stragglers destined for dustbindom and bring them home for a new life of deliciousness. On this particular IMBB occasion, I introduced them to a happy passel of clams and they all hit it off quite nice as Spaghetti alle Vongole.

Spaghetti al Vongole

I’m not a cookbook, so I’m not going to get all numbery and specific with you. I pretty much made it up to fit my tastes and those of the incomparable Mme. Pants. I’ll give you a “so’s it was kinda like this” rundown, though:

Buy some fresh smallish clams. Figure 2/3 to 3/4 of a pound per person. I put them in about a gallon of water with a couple teaspoons of salt added and kept them in the fridge for an hour to purge. Does this help? Hell if I know, but it makes me feel better. And give them a quick scrub before you use them. That’ll make everyone feel better.

Heat up some butter and oil in skillet. Remember, it’s all going in the sauce so only use as much as you want to eat later. Sauté some chopped garlic, a couple pinches of chili flake, and a few torn basil leaves. Give it couple of minutes without harassing it.  Check your salt.  Always keep checking your salt.

Garlic Chili and Oil

Now deglaze with white wine. Add a can of peeled whole tomatoes that you’ve crushed roughly. Add a cup of stock, preferably seafood, but whatever. Reduce it for ten minutes or so.

Toss in your cool, shiny, freshly brushed clams and a tablespoon of cold butter. Cover the whole crazy, good smelling pan with another skillet or a pie pan or some foil or something MacGyverish that you build out of thumbtacks or some such.

Let it steam for five minutes or until your clam friends open up. Dump in your drained, perfectly al dente noodles. Toss them with the shellfish and sauce and let them all get to know each other for a couple of minutes.

Garnish with parsley and fresh pepper. Serve it up. It’ll make you friends.

And here's a closer look 'cause i know you want one.

Spaghetti al Vongole CU

As a special bonus addendum to all you people that made it to the end (you probably watch movie credits too) I’m including one of the best, most freaking awesome appetizers of all time. You guessed it, Fresh Mozzarella Grilled on Lemon Leaves. I just can’t get too much capitalization.

Mozz Lemon Leaves Triptic

It’s super easy. Wipe some clean lemon leaves with olive oil. Put a small piece of fresh mozzarella and a touch of garlic on top. Grill until the cheese melts. Squeeze on a few drops of lemon juice and that’s good antipasti. Booyah.

-L. Pants

Tagged with: +

(And my goodness - Amy already has the roundup up! Here is a link to see the rest of the tasty entries.)

Friday, 13 January 2006

Stock It to Me Baby

A while back I had the unfortunate pleasure of eating dinner at a friend’s house who spent almost an hour preparing a lovely risotto. When he finished, it looked delicious, but due to a regrettable lapse in judgment he used reconstituted bullion cubes for the broth so the whole thing tasted like some sort of weird, overly salty, canned ramen thing. Not tasty.

Trust me people, there’s just no substitute for homemade stock. Sure there are plenty of substitutes for sale, but calling a pig’s ass a bar of gold ain’t gonna help you pay off your mortgage any sooner (or insert your own appropriate colloquialism here).

It’s just so easy and so cheap. And once it’s made you can just whip up a soup, stew, or gravy, make rice and polenta tastier and hook-up paellas and risottos like they deserve. That’s right. Homemade stock just delivers the goodness.

And it’s not like there’s some super secret recipe. Say you want to make veggie stock. Take a big pot, chop up some vegetables (onions, carrots, garlic and celery are staples, but feel free to throw in things like leeks, mushrooms, turnips and such) toss in a bay leaf and a few peppercorns and add enough water to cover the top by several inches. Turn it on low heat and let it simmer uncovered for a few hours. Skim off any gunk that accumulates on top. Strain.

Want chicken stock? Same thing, but toss in some chicken bones, necks, wings, whatever you’ve got and add a few less vegetables. Tough huh?

Afterwards, you can freeze it in bags or ice cube trays and it keeps for a good long time, but odds are you’ll use it up pretty fast.


See, if you have your own stock lying around, a leek, an egg and some old bread turns into this fantastic egg poached in leek soup dinner. I know you’re jealous, but with just a little effort on your part, you too can have the awesome power to turn things into delectably scrumptious other things.


Oh, I couldn’t resist putting up the salad we had with the soup. Avocado, green onion and spiced pecans. You can’t beat a good salad.

L. Pants

Monday, 02 January 2006

Guilt and Italian Food - the Girlie Story

I totally have a guilt complex that we don't update more.  We've been really concientious about taking pictures of almost every meal we make at home (to the point where I'm sure we're starting to get a well-deserved reputation for being a little eccentric), and there is quite a backlog at this point.

So, when Laura pulled me aside during Sushi New Year to ask why I hadn't blogged the dinner we had with them after we got back from Florence, well, I hope she understands that my screech of "I"M ONLY HUMAN!" followed by my uncoordinated stompy flouncing in some random direction, leaving behind a trail of wasabi and tears, had absolutely nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.

All that aside, let's get to that meal, shall we?

We brought back a ridiculous amount of ingredients back from Florence when we went over Thanksgiving break.  In fact, had we not borrowed a fairly large carry-on suitcase from the Husbear's parents, I don't think there would have been any way to get everything back with us!

Foodstuffs brought back from Florence, Thanksgiving 2005

I hadn't wanted to post this picture until after the holidays, as there are a number of gifts on that table - but I would like to point out that this is actually only the food we brought back - there were other non-food gifts we came back with for friends and family as well.  Yeeeeaaaah.

Husbear took some of these ingredients to put together a meal, to which we invited laura, steve, and jod-y.  It was a whole lotta fun - having people over to eat is always a good time!  See?

Laura and Steve

Hi!  Now you're on the internets! 


So, we started with some antipasti...

Pecorino, Crackers, and Olives

For the antipasti, we had a simple tomato bruschetta (no picture, for some reason!), a chunk of the young pecorino you can see vacuum-packed in the bottom of the photo, and some of the best olives EVER, these bright green monstrosities that were only lightly brined.  The pecorino was luscious (that seems like an odd word to use regarding cheese, but work with me here!) - when it was cool, it had a very brie-like quality, with maybe a little more of a tang; but as it warmed, it became wonderfully oozy, and a deeper flavor came out - like a grassier, earthier note.  I want MORE.  NOW.

Eventually, Husbear tore the cheese away from me, and we sat at the table for our primi.  (Primi, according to the Silver Spoon, traditionally fall into two categories - minestre in brodo, or soups in broth, and minestre asciutte, or dry soups - like pasta.  Oh, and blah blah blah blah-blah.)

He made two kinds of primi:

Cocoa Noodles with herbs and fresh mozzarella

Cocoa noodles, from Vestri (and they had really, really good hot chocolate, too!), with fresh mozzarella made by the Husbear from curd, and herbs (parsley?), with parmagiano-reggiano grated on top - very good, with an interesting bitter chocolate note;

Gnocchi with gorgonzola and arugula

and homemade gnocchi (potato pasta dumplings) in a gorgonzola-arugula sauce.  This was an extremely good rendition of what appeared to be a traditional Florentine way to serve gnocchi.  On the Amalfi Coast, everywhere had gnocchi alla sorrentina -  gnocchi in a zesty tomato sauce.  Good, but eventually you want it a different way.  So, gnocchi alla sorrentina : the amalfi coast :: gnocchi alla (al?) gorgonzola : Florence.  I don't know if it was the time of year or what. 

It is a really tasty way to serve gnocchi, though, and the Husbear's version was very good.  Awesomely good, even.  That man really has a way with the gnocchi. No, really.

Then, on to the secondi.  (I was completely full by then, but played gamely along.)  Usually, secondi are pretty meat-centric, but we went against the grain for this one.

Crespelli with mushrooms and asparagus

Our vegetarian secondi was crespelli, or italian crepes, filled with mushrooms and asparagus in a light stockbased sauce.  It was much lighter than the primi, which was a good thing, since I was nigh-on exploding by that point.

About an hour later, we shared like three vestri chocolates for dessert between the five of us.  A huge meal, but an immensely satisfying one as well.

Gawd, I'm lucky!


Friday, 30 December 2005

Bread Gnocchi in Broth

Ah, The Silver Spoon.  The Husbear got this book for Christmas from his ever-loving brother and his ever-loving brother's fiancee, and I think he may be obsessed.

Here's why.

Bread Gnocchi in Broth

Because the recipes contained in the book are crazygood, duh!

So, tonight, Husbear made Bread Gnocchi in Broth, or Brodo con Gnocchetti di Pane.  This seems to be another of those clear-out-the-fridge meals, in that it's a simple veggie broth made with whatever vegetables you have around (he used leeks, carrots, onions, garlic, and celery) and then tasty little bread dumplings made of yesterday's bread, with scallions and parmesan mixed in for flavor and then an egg to bind it together.  Serve all this topped with olive oil, some of your own pepper oil, and grated parmesan, and you're good to go.  (Last night's leftover braised peas and lettuce were added also - worked really well.)

The recipe calls for all of those tasty cooked vegetables to be strained out, which always causes us some consternation - I mean, they look so good, all cooked and tasty!  The book therefore points out that these leftovers can be either eaten cold in a salad, or cooked au gratin in the oven.  Huh.

Husbear decided to go cold.

Cold Vegetable Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

He took all that veg, threw it in the freezer for a few, then tossed with balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  Simple, and a lovely side dish.

I could get used to having this cookbook around.


Thursday, 29 December 2005

One More Reason Italians Kick Ass

Eggs in Nests w- Braised Lettuce and Peas

I have had the recent good fortune to receive several choice cookbooks from my loving family. The largest and most imposing is called The Silver Spoon. At least that’s what it’s called in English as it has been only published in Italian for the last fifty-five years. The thing is immense and intimidating and of Biblical proportions, but man it sure looks fun.

It is a virtually inexhaustible repository of traditional, family-style, basic, delicious, Italian dishes- weighing in at two-thousand recipes and change. It seems to cover every vegetable, meat, fish, pasta, and grain and throws in a few that I’ve never heard of for good measure. It’s almost as if Italians have had a multi-millennial long history of cooking and cooking well. Wait. Anyway, it’s an amazing cookbook.

For my first foray into its’ deep and imposing innards, I chose two dishes; a simple but intriguing combination of braised lettuce with green peas and a nifty number called Eggs in their Nests.

The peas and lettuce are pretty much just that. Sauté a little scallion and then add a chopped lettuce and four or five cups of peas. Pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up and season to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Delicate and yummy. Lettuce, much like flat leaf parsley is way under appreciated.

Eggs in Nests are just as easy if more on the cute side. Basically, you make some loose mashed potatoes of whatever flavor you want (we went garlic, thyme, and parmesan) and mix in an egg. Then use a pastry bag or zip lock minus one corner to pipe the mash into a spiral base with a few higher supporting rings on top. Geez that sounds kinda complicated, but trust me it’s easy.

Potato Egg Nests al Fresco

Pop the potato volcanoes into the oven at 350˚F for about 20 minutes until they’re brown all over. Just before you take them out, scramble up some soft, savory eggs and use them to stuff the hollow spud receptacles when you pull them out of the oven. Top it with pepper or pepper oil or regular olive oil or any herb or sauce of your liking.  Eat!

All in all I was quite pleased with the outcome. Next time I might break a raw egg into the nests a few minutes before the end of cooking, then finish it off under the broiler. More yolk makes me happy.

Well, this was a great intro into a fantastic book and now that I’ve up and broke the ice I suspect I’ll be working my way through this culinary behemoth for quite some pleasurable time. Look for more num-nums to come.

-M. Pants

Monday, 05 December 2005

A Clarification

If you're ever making a hundred crepes or so and you're cooking them off in clarified butter and you think it might be a good idea to grab one of the pans real fast like and slosh some of the butter down your finger and hand, that's a great idea.  You should try it.  You'll probably get a fun little happy mark possibly similar to my own.  Yeah.

Burns are Fun

-L. Pants

Friday, 21 October 2005

Is My Blog Burning XX: Touché Soufflé (Parsnip and Cheddar)

Oooh. Don’t mess with me chumps, I’m Mister Fancy-schamncy soufflé. I gots a hardcore reputation for not playin’ real nice-like and I’ll make ya all look like a bunch of assolopes if you try to bake me up. You gotta mix me just right. Don’t breathe too hard. Don’t be jigglin’ me around. Best to not open that oven once you puts me in. But are you sure that it’s at the exak right temperature? Will I be too dry? Whoops, don’t walk too hard in the kitchen. That’s right, one wrong look from you and I’ll fall faster than a CIA operative’s name from Karl Rove’s mouth. It’s just how I roll.

Parsnip Cheddar Souffle

Why you gotta front soufflé? As far as I can tell you just got served. Served up all crispy, fluffy, golden brown, moist and delicious. That’s right. Who’s the bitch now?

For too long soufflés have been vilified and posted with double black diamonds, when in reality, they’re more like neighborly blue squares. What? You don’t ski? Anyway, point being, soufflés get a bad rap, but they’re easy, tasty and fun and people should make them more.

For this edition of Is My Blog Burning, Mme. Pants and I decided to go savory and whip up a parsnip and cheddar soufflé. We figured it was a good idea because you can never find enough excuses to eat more parsnips.


So, start by peeling a pound of that pigmentally challenged cousin of the carrot, give it a half inch dice and simmer it off for about fifteen minutes in 2-3 cups of stoutly salted water with a bay leaf floating around. When everything’s nice and soft, toss the leaf, keep a cup of the liquid and then puree the drained parsnip chunks until smooth.

Wait. Actually, start by getting out six eggs and letting them come to room temperature and then the parsnip stuff. No, wait. Start by getting a big drink and then the eggs and then all that parsnip crap. Yeah. (Be sure to get your wife a drink too or she’ll just stare at you with those big, sad doe eyes.)

Meanwhile (back at the Batcave), make a roux with about four tablespoons of butter and flour. Cook it ‘til it’s golden then whisk in the tasty reserved parsnip juice. Stir that until it’s thick and looks a little like gluey cream gravy.

Now stir in 1½ or 2 cups of grated cheddar, the parsnip puree, and a tablespoon of chopped sage. Separate your eggs. Stir in the six yolks. Good. You’re almost there.

If there is a trick to soufflés and I’m not saying there is, it’s all in the whites. Much like with laundry, you don’t really have to worry about the colored stuff. If something gets screwed, it’s probably the whites.

Here’re three quick tips to beating egg whites:

1) Make sure you don’t get any yolk mixed in

2) Start with them at room temperature

3) Add a little acid. This helps with volume, stabilization and moisture retention.  Cream of tartar is best, lemon juice or vinegar work in a pinch; avoid hydrochloric and lysergic acid diethylamide unless you’re going for a whole different thing.

4) So I said three. So what? You want a piece? DON’T over beat them! Then they’re just gross. Feeling now fully empowered, whip your whites to frothy, creamy, peaks of excitement.

See, easy. Take half and fold it into the parsnipy, cheesy, pasty stuff, then fold in the other half.

Grease and flour an appropriate receptacle (don’t be nasty) and fill it about 2/3 full. Oh, your oven should be pre-heated to 400ºF. Pop that baby in and check on it in about half and hour. Contrary to popular belief, it is not certain soufflé death if you crack the oven to look at it. Just do it fast and sparingly. You’re not twelve and it’s not the girls’ locker room, so easy tiger.

There. It’s done when it’s big and poofy and beautifully brown. Serve it quick and be generous with the portions because everyone needs more soufflé.

Parsnip and Cheddar Souffle Plated

We had ours with a nice salad dressed with a warm sherry and shallot vinaigrette and a lovely Cotes-du-Rhone. Insert lip smacking here.

Stay fluffy people and don’t let the soufflés grind you down.

(And thanks to Kitchen Chick for choosing a great theme and hosting a great Is My Blog Burning!   Part One of the roundup is savory, and posted - yay!  there we are!  And here's a link to part two - sweet soufflees!  (My fault - it's been up for several days.))

Tagged with: +

L. Pants

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Mommy, I can feed myself!

Unfortunately, I've never really felt comfortable in the kitchen, for a variety of reasons.  When I was in high school, I was responsible for a few dinners every week, so I did learn my way around a kitchen, becoming at the very least passable at making such things as meatloaf, chicken breasts, and boxes and boxes of hamburger helper.  (boy, did my brother DJ and I think that was tasty at the time -- mmmm, cheeseburger macaroni!)

And, of course, after I met the Husbear I spent even less time in the kitchen.  Most of the recipes I could make were rather meaty (see above) and he's a vegetarian.  Plus, he really enjoys cooking, where I really don't, so much, so I had no problem backing almost entirely out of the kitchen and letting him do his thing.  This isn't to say I don't like helping, but I get really stressed if the meal-planning falls to me.  Oy.

So, now he has this job at Enoteca, which is taking him out of the house for the majority of the week, so I'm once again responsible for feeding myself.  I've learned that it's really no fun cooking for one! 

Here's one thing I came up with:

Girlie home alone eats

Though it does look pretty good (braised pork chop with gravy and lightly sauteed spinach with garlic) it was unfortunately gross.  The pork chop itself was ok, juicy but not particularly flavorful, but the gravy taught me a lesson - don't make gravy by reducing veggie bouillon cubes with water.  guh.  It was way, way too salty.  I might try the recipe again with actual broth, but not any time soon.

The spinach was all right, if a little slimy in texture.  Maybe I needed to cook it a little longer, to get all the water out?  Good garlicky flavor, though.

I'm not discouraged, though - I'm going to keep at it.  A year from now, maybe you'll be reading about how I put together a caviar and fois gras based dinner party for 12 with my hands tied behind my back.  Yeah, unlikely, but a girl can dream, right?


Tuesday, 27 September 2005

The Texas Treat

Yum, Frito Pie.

I'm pretty sure my Northern sensibilities would have balked at this not too long ago, but it's definitely become a common craving around these parts.  Along with a cold Shiner, it's pretty well unbeatable.

So, why let the fact that it was 107 yesterday (yeah, that's farenheit, not kelvin) stop us from eating a bunch of Fritos doused in the Soup Peddler's awesome 3-bean chili?

Apparently, the real way to do a Frito Pie is to split open a bag of Fritos (not the economy-size family bag, a snack size) and ladle chili on top of the Fritos therein.  Then you eat.

We fancied it up, but only a little.  Hey, if we were going to commit the sacrilege of eating Frito Pie with :gasp: VEGETARIAN chili, with BEANS no less, we figured we might as well go all the way.

First of all, we ate it out of a bowl.

Here's a picture of the chili over the fritos, with the accoutrements in the background.

The beginnings of frito pie

That's sliced cherry tomatoes, green onions, a thinly sliced serrano, sour cream, and shredded colby jack cheese.

And, all dolled up:

Frito pie, all done up

Then, you mix everything together so the cheese melts.

We didn't take a picture of the completely finished product to show you guys, becuase we were too busy scarfing.  Too bad, so sad.

Really great, easy dinner (especially if you have the chili already on hand).  Maybe we should have it again when the stupid temperature drops a little.  Seriously?  This is the third day in a row it's been over 100 degrees (and yesterday and Sunday, the high was 107).  Look at this month-to-date from the Weather Channel.  Since I don't know how long that's going to be an active link, I'll tell you that we've had one day so far this month that the high temperature was below 90, and 20 (!) days where the high was over 95.


Thanks for letting me yell that. 

Oh, and for those of you who are thinking "Well, it IS her fault she lives in Texas," let me tell you that these are record temperatures.  We busted the record high yesterday by 10 degrees.  This is getting stupid.

But at least the Frito Pie was good.  (Did you like what I did there, bringing you back to the central theme?  Hey, my pleasure.)


Thursday, 07 July 2005

Oh It's On, It's Sabayon...

You’ve got to give it to the French.  They love their deserts and will let nothing stand in their way of whipping one up even in the face of serious ingredient shortages.

“I am craving ze dezert.  What do we have?”

“Noszing Pierre.  We have but eggz, booze, and a pinch of shugare.”          

“Perfect! Give me ten minitez and we shall have somezing so delishish you would gladly leek it frum ze hind end of ze Jeff Gannon!”


Well perhaps a bit overstated, but the simplicity and tastiness of a good sabayon is hard to beat. It makes a great canvas for practically any fresh fruit.  Of course it’s good on cakes or pastries or, well, most things.  You can make them savory as well for seafood and caviar and whatnot, but that’s not what I was drooling over last night so I’ll skip that crap for now.

Since it’s juicy, juicy, peach season and my moms was thoughtful enough to pick up a fresh sack full for me and the little lady, peach sabayon it was.  The July issue of Gourmet just happened to have a scrumptious looking twist on the idea with balsamic peaches and boy was it good.

It’s easy.  Slice up some peaches.  Mix together three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with one tablespoon of sugar and toss in the peaches.  Let them soak up the goodness for about half and hour.

Now start drinking a glass of dry white wine or champagne.  Enjoy it.  Have another.  Good, good.  Now take four egg yolks, three tablespoons of sugar, and a third of a cup of your friendly wine and put it all in a metal bowl.  Oh, add a little more booze – three tablespoons or so of peach brandy or kirsch or more wine or whatever other flavor you want.

Put the bowl on a simmering pot of water and whisk, whisk, whisk.  You could use a hand mixer, but you know you sat on your ass all day and a little exertion won’t kill you.  Keep at it for about seven minutes.  This stuff will really fluff up and that’s what you want.  Take it off the heat and whisk for a few more minutes.  There, you’re done.  Spoon it into whatever serving thingies you want and top it off with the succulent peaches.  Yes. Oh God yes.

Enjoy folks!

L. Pants

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Is My Blog Burning XVI: Son-In-Law Eggs

Are those deep fried eggs in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


Hello, peoples!  We’re really excited to be joining in on our first IMBB, started over a year ago by Alberto over at Il Forno … so thankee.

Eggs… versatile, wonderful, tasty, occasionally gross when mishandled.  We eat a fair amount of eggs here in the Pants household, what with Mr. Pants being a vegetarian/not vegan. 

He thought for a while about what kind of eggs to use for this is my blog burning (Ostrich?  Dog?) and what to do with them (Scramble?  Chug?) and eventually decided to go Thai.

We like our dinners with a generous helping of thinly veiled threats of bodily harm.  This dish is called Khai Luuk Kheuy or Son-in-law eggs.  When doing some research on the recipe, we came across several stories as to how they got their name.  One, however, was clearly the best and therefore, in our minds, obviously the true one. 

It goes like this:  a young man in a newly wed couple is being less than chivalrous to his bride.  His behavior does not go unnoticed.  So on a visit to his new mother-in-law’s place, she puts him in check by serving this dish.  Her innuendo is clear.  Straighten up and get some ack-right or your, let’s say, marital tackle, is going to be replacing these suspiciously similarly sized eggs the next time I make this recipe.  Oh yeah.  You do not want to mess with that.

Luckily for us, we just wanted dinner. 

I must say that I’ve never had anything quite like this dish.  Not being Scottish, I have never had the urge to fry an already boiled egg.  Boy was I missing out, because this stuff is seriously tasty.  While some of the flavor components might seem a bit foreign to me, Mr. Whitey McAnglo, all together this meal is easy to make and well worth the effort.


Start by boiling six eggs from an animal of your choosing and then peel them and set them aside to cool.  You should under hard boil your eggs by a few minutes since you’ll be cooking them again later.

Then mix together about a third of a cup each of tamarind juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce, then adjust it to taste.  I used more tamarind because I love that bright twang it has.  Add it all to a sauce pan and let it simmer until it reduces to a nice shiny syrup. It will seem too salty at first, but keep in mind that it’ll be seasoning all of the eggs and whatnot.

Technical Note: You can get the juice by steeping 2 or 3 peeled tamarind in a half cup of hot water and then straining out the seeds. If you can’t find it fresh you can use tamarind paste instead. If you can’t find palm sugar you can use dark brown sugar (maybe with a touch of honey).  If you can’t find fish sauce then you’re just up Poop Creek because you really need the fish sauce.

Meanwhile, mince a couple of big shallots, three or four cloves of garlic, and four to ten thai chilies depending on your tolerance for chemical burn.  (Here at the Pants household numbness and burning are not cues to head to the doctor, but rather signs of a successful meal.) 

Ok, now the fun part.  Get out your favorite wok and pour in a couple of inches of whatever frying oil strikes your fancy.  Get that bad boy hot.  You want it to be about 350-360ºF.  Grab your eggs (no funny business now) and carefully lay them in the oil.  Leave them alone for a couple minutes until you see a nice golden brown line just above the oil level.  Then turn them over and leave them for a minute or two more.  When they’re brown and kind of wrinkly all over, take them out to drain on paper towels or a cooling rack.


Now pour off all but a couple teaspoons of the oil (or you can do this in a different pan if you don’t feel like juggling a wok full of scalding lipids – babies.) Throw in the shallot/garlic/chili mix and fry it up just until some of the pieces start to get real crispy like.

Slice the eggs in half, pour on the luscious sauce, spoon on the shallot stuff and garnish it all with cilantro and more freakin’ peppers!  Good Lawd.  Serve it with rice and maybe some Asiany greens and that is one threat to my manhood that I will eat any day of the week.


To check out the other great IMBB submissions peruse here, and thanks to Viv at Seattle Bon Vivant for hosting this edition of Is My Blog Burning.

Mme. and L. Pants

Sunday, 19 June 2005

Francophiles, Untie!


Contrary to what our government wants you to think, France is actually a great place.  Unfortunately, it is a bit far away and they speak some crazy language so popping in for dinner can be a bit of an ordeal. Never fear. A few key pieces of produce and couple of eggs later and you too can have a 35 hour work week and questionable hygiene (I really do like the French, I swear).

I was amazed at how tasty and easy a classic French salad with endive, pear, walnut, and blue cheese is.  Seriously, it’s just endives, pears, walnuts – ok so it’s pretty self explanatory.  Just peel the leaves off some endives and give them a wash.  Then toast some walnut pieces.  Slice a pear and toss the pieces in the vinaigrette so they don’t brown.  Throw it all together and crumble some blue cheese on top.  Spoon on a little more dressing and let the good times roll.

Food addict note:  Traditionally, I hear, one would use Roquefort in this, but we used a raw Bleu D’Auvergne that made my knees weak with piquant, creamy deliciousness.  What? I said it was a food addict note.

Oh right, the dressing.  This is not a Thousand Island kind of situation.  When we were in France, they seemed to have one national dressing.  It’s a kind of rich, mild, mustard thing that was executed with vastly varying degrees of success.  When it was good, it was real good, but when it was bad - ughn, it still makes me shudder.

Lucky for you, this is the perfect dressing for this salad and this recipe has been personally vetted by the lovely and talented Mme. Pants, the Wonder Dumplings, and the rest of the Pants family (yeah, that’s just me.  You got something to say?).

The original version of this dressing (and meal) hails from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.

Take a tablespoon and a half of white wine or Champagne vinegar, a little less than a teaspoon of good mustard and a raw egg yolk and whisk them together.  (“I’m gonna get salmonella. I’m gonna get salmonella.” You bunch of whiners.  If you’re eating stuff raw just make sure it’s fresh, then store and handle it properly.  No worries.)

Throw in some salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar then whisk in extra virgin olive oil to taste- anywhere from two to eight tablespoons. That’s it. Easy, see?

For the full Provencal effect, you can have this with some herb baked eggs.  I’ll give you the speedy rundown for this simple dish.

Get some oven-proof dishes.  Turn on your broiler.  Put a little cream and butter in each dish and slap them under the broiler for 3 minutes.  While that’s heating, crack two or three eggs per person in separate bowls.  Mince some garlic and some of your favorite fresh herbs (we used thyme, parsley, basil, and lavender).

Pull out the hot dishes.  Pour in the eggs.  Add salt and pepper. Toss in the garlic and herb mix.  Everything goes back under the broiler for one to six minutes depending on how you like your eggs.  Poof, it’s France. 

Serve it all with a hunk of toasted sour dough bread and some sparkling wine and it doesn’t get much better. 

Damn that’s good.

L. Pants

Thursday, 02 June 2005

Yo' Momma's So Easy, They Call Her a Savory Panini.

Look, I never said my Yo’ Mama jokes were particularly good, but in the tradition of forced segues everywhere, I will tell you what is particularly good.  That’s right, paninis (paninii?).  If you’re ever in need of some hot, fast, crispy, chewy, delicious, sweet or savory eats –then these are for you.

It’s just like making a sandwich but the panini press (or two cast iron skillets) just gives it a deep golden brown and squeezes all of the flavors and juices into one another. The heat also melts any cheese you may have included and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

I guess if there is a secret, the one thing that is pretty crucial is to use a good stout bread.  One that can really hold it’s own under pressure if you know what I’m saying.  If you go the white wonder bread route you’ll end up with some kind of thin little emasculated crakery thing.  That’s just sad. 

Also, the heat can dry things out a bit so a nice moist condiment of some sort will keep everything well lubricated.  Oh and just lightly oil the outside –you’re trying to toast it, not deep fry it people.

Here’s my take on a classic panini combo.  It’s fig, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella.  I made a mustard, fig and ginger spread, put it all together, brushed the outside with some olive oil, threw it in the press- à voilà, a perfect, but not French, panini.


Now is probably a good time to mention that roasted green beans are freaking amazing.  Here they are substituted for chips or fries, but they make a delicious side dish or snack pretty much any time.  Toss them with a little olive oil, into a 500° oven for fifteen minutes, finish with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt, then try not to eat off your own fingers. 

Fast, easy, and a hell of a lot better than McBurgerHut.  No excuses. 

L. Pants

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Pizza This

Pizza.  Pizzapizzapizzapizzapizza.  It’s the bee’s pajamas or whatever the saying is.  Love for it is practically compulsory.  Like most people (ones that don’t suck), I need a steady supply.  I like to eat it, roll in it, rub it all over myself, wear it as shoes, fashion it into forts and form it into the besieging armies and then save the people who are trapped inside by feeding them with even tinier pizzas.  Yeah, it’s real good.

The problem is that in America we have this Little Debbie pizza culture where, for the most part, we have traded flavor and texture for consistency and convenience.  Not that there isn’t something to be said for the extra greasy mega-cheese-chains; they’re perfect after a few beers and a sapping of motivation.

Regardless, there is plenty of good pizza to be found, but the really tasty stuff around Madam Pants’ and my place is hidden in fancy-shmantzy restaurants which is by no means pizzas’ natural habitat. So whatever is a boy to do?  Apparently the solution is to make it ourselves. 

Unfortunately, I have seen many earnest home pizza attempts thwarted by ovens that aren’t hot enough and retain heat about as well as Michael Jackson retains his skin tone.  But I figured if this was the biggest challenge, it was worth a try.  So with the help of my local Habitat Re-Store, I lined my home bakery hole (don’t be nasty) with eight or so large, foil wrapped paving tiles. Voila, instant pizza oven.

I used a standard Napoletana dough recipe (this particular one provided by Peter Reinhart) with just AP flour, water, salt, and yeast.  I let it rise over night in the fridge and got six lovely starter balls. 


Three I froze for later, one I indiscriminately mangled with my sausage-fingered man paws, and two I actually turned into some surprisingly delicious pizza. 

I made the sauce out of a can of San Marzano tomatoes and some dried herbs and lemon juice.  Then I made one Pizza Margherita with scrumptious mozzarella di bufala and fresh basil


and one with mushrooms, red onions, and arugula or rocket for you dirty Brits out there.


You could put toenail clippings and your neighbor’s underwear on this pizza and it would still be awesome.

So despite my trepidation the work was well worth it.  Sure I’ll still buy pizza, but now when I really need a hardcore fix, I’m going homemade all the way.  Oh yeah.

L. Pants

Thursday, 12 May 2005

Tempeh Hey Hey!

A few months ago my dad got a new job and one of the first things they did was send him to Malaysia.  This is a man who likes to travel about as much as I like to moisten stamps with my eyes.

I tried to think of any possible reason to cajole my way into tagging along – you know corporate espionage decoy, emergency marrow donor, nightlight- but nothing quite panned out.  (Apparently if you don’t work for the company you have to pay for yourself and make your own travel arrangements.  Like that’s going to happen.)

I love my dad and all but he’s not what you might call an adventurous eater.  He’ll pretty much try anything once, but if left to his own devices he tends to gravitate toward bologna and white bread.  So I kept having these horrible visions of him. A stranger in a new world of taste, texture and smell; set afloat in an ocean of foreign delicacies and delectables- watching it all pass by from behind the plate glass window of the Bennigan’s in the lobby of the Anglo Express Hotel.

Luckily for both of us this was not the case.  He actually had a wonderful time and didn’t recognize what he was eating for the vast majority of it.  And being the thoughtful man that he is, he brought me home a great Malaysian cookbook since char kway teow tends to stain if left in one’s pockets for too long.

Most of the ingredients are exotic to a lot of America, but through the blessings of the gods, I live in a town with multiple gour-mega groceries and a plethora of thriving ethnic markets.  So it wasn’t that difficult to track down the goods for one of the simpler recipes.  I’m a big tempeh fan, so I started with a spicy-sweet, fried tempeh dish.

The mise en place looks, oh, exactly like this.Mise_1

Cubed tempeh, kecap manis, palm sugar, oyster sauce, tamarind juice, minced shallots, garlic, hot peppers, and ginger.  I also added some choy sum because I thought it would be good.  I gather that traditionally it would be served on the side.  I’m such a jerk. Geez.Tempeh_triptic_1

Anyway, it’s really, really good.  Seriously.  So good.  So tasty.  Lick the screen.  It’s great. I promise.


L. Pants

Friday, 06 May 2005

Kugelcizer 3000

Whatever to do with all those pesky Passover leftovers?   I know it’s a question that keeps most of you up at night.  However, I do hate to throw out good food, especially when it’s tasty.

Just such a situation arose for me recently, as I prepared enough apple and onion kugel for the Ten Lost Tribes and only me and my wife showed.  I promise, making too much food is not a problem for me (snork).

Anyway, no one wants to keep eating the same thing like some kind of culinary treadmill so we did a little improvising.  I reheated the kugel with an apricot-thyme cream sauce; then dished it up with some lightly boiled asparagus – one of the finest of spring flavors. Oh yeah, and put an egg on it.  What?  You can put an egg on anything.  I swear.  It’s delicious.  Look, just try it.  It seriously brings a rich creaminess and bold pops of color to practically anything.  Except my cat.  But now I know.Kugel_w_apricot_and_thyme_and_asparagus2_1

(That's a tomato salad in the back with grated frozen blue cheese on top a la Michael Chiarello.)

Well here’s to fighting the good leftover fight.  It’s a never ending saga, but we’ve got to stick with it people.  Cheers.

L. Pants

Wednesday, 04 May 2005

Peasantly Pleasing Panade

Ah the poor.  How is it that the starving, unwashed masses always manage to make such delicious food even with all that poverty and oppression?  I’m pretty sure that the salivary glands aren’t supposed to rev at the thought of old bread and salt water. That’s more like a Turkish prison that a scrumptious weekend meal.

I blame the French.  Panade.  It sounds French.  It’s supposedly a precursor to french onion soup and that’s definitely French.  It doesn’t have peanut butter and we all know how the French don’t eat peanut butter. French or not though, it’s real tasty.

I’ve never had a panade that I didn’t make. I hear that it’s supposed to be a soup or a casserole or a savory paste or silky gruel or hearty stew.  Luckily for me, I don’t care.  I just made it like I thought it would taste good.  It’s real easy.  Caramelize the hell out of a bunch of onions. Then take a dish- round, rectangle, oval, whatever- and put down a thin layer of bread or bread cubes.  Cover with onions and then cheese and then more bread.  Repeat until you run out of vertical real estate (be warned though, it will rise about an inch).  Then pour in enough salt water to come almost to the top.  How salty you ask?  You’re the one that’s eating it, start there and work back. Finally, top off the whole mess with cheese.  Cover and bake for an hour at 350 F, then uncover it and bake another half hour or so.  If at any time it looks too dry, add more water.  Just remember- it was pioneered by oppressed peasants- it’s not tricky.

The whole thing was golden brown with a soft light interior and an alternating crisp and cheesy top.  The baking caramelized onions filled the whole kitchen with rich earthy aroma. I couldn’t resist fancying it up with some garlic mushrooms and a nice spinach sauce (yum).   Panade_with_mushrooms_and_spinach_sauce2_1

This is one of those dishes that’s so simple and straight forward that it begs for improv.  You could fill it with practically anything.  You could top it with anything.  You could slap on any sauce.  Think “cleaning out the fridge” food.  It’s definitely worth a try.  Happy Panading!

L. Pants

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

You're Such a Tart



Okay faceless masses.  Listen up. I don't like you and you don't like me.  But dammit, I love food - cooking it, eating it, tossing it around.  And I really like you. Seriously.  Why don't you like me?  I'm a fairly sweet man.  Not like Splenda sweet.  You know, the real kind.

I'll drop it for now, but I'll be watching.

So, back to my gastronomic proclivities.  That's right. I said it.  I'm a man with proclivities. 

I have a secret.  I fancy myself to be marginally talented in the kitchen.  Not all Morimoto style or anything, but I can throw together some vittles when there's call. I like trying to make new things and then playing "Guess What's Edible."

So let's dive right in.  On tonight's Board of Possible Dinner are three things:

A Fennel, Cardamom, and Taleggio Tart (NOTE: I have never made a tart.  Well, there was that one time but I forgot her name)                                  
"Taleggio, the cheese what smells like butt, but tastes delicious." 

A Collard Green and Canellini Bean (Brazilian-Italian fusion kinda) Thing

Peperonata (a favorite)

I started with the tart crust after spending way too much time tracking down a tart pan (I ended up buying one from a store that we had called earlier. On the phone my wife, M. Girlie, had been told by a very engaged, energetic, and informed young man that they only had pans "for like muffins and stuff."  It is kind of like a large flat muffin. You know, kind of.)

So after we obtained said pan, I mixed the dough - basically just flour, butter, salt, and water.  Chilled it for an hour, rolled it out, and laid it gently (read -pain in the assedly)in the pan. It looked something like this:


While round two of tart-crust-chilling progressed, I crushed the cardamom pods (with my mind) and then butchered and dismembered the two bulbs of fennel.

After tossing the fennel bits with various oils, booze, unguents, and random seasonings they cooked down for about 25 minutes in my Evil Pan of Delicious Vegetable Penance.


Mmm.  Smell the forgiveness.

That underway, it was time to show the tart crust who's boss by filling it with beans for a well deserved blind bake.  15 minutes for the edges and then another 15 for the bottom - to put some healthy color on it.


"Maw. This here bean pie don't taste right."

"Hush up and finish breaking out the last of them teeth."

I made M. Girlie take out the beans because it looked unpleasant and dangerous and after all, what is marriage really for?

So, we then filled the crust with fennel and dotted it with the taleggio before pouring in an egg custard mixture (eggs, milk, half and half).  Of course one part of the crust had cracked and the custard went streaming into the pan like suburbanites at the opening of a new Olive Garden.

Girlie (she of the clear head) suggested fashioning a tiny cheese dam to plug the gap.  That turned out to be much more effective than me yelling "stop you bastard for the love of all that's holy STOP!" at it.

The Infernal Tart goes back in the oven.  We turn our attention to the side dishes.

Pan fry some canellini beans with some pepper oil and then throw in some chiffonaded collards and presto:


That's right, it's almost good for you.

Then we diamond chop some bell peppers, toss in some crushed garlic and a habanero (which is your friend - be nice to it and it will be nice to you. Oh, and it can smell your fear).  Finish it off with a healthy splash of good aged sherry vinegar and tastiness abounds.

Add some crusty white bread and the whole spread looks something like this:


Yumminess all around.

Tonight's endeavor seems to have worked.  Girlie only gnawed one of my shoulders while we were fighting for the last piece of pepper, so I guess it could have been better.

           -L. Pants