Category Archives: Photography

HARVEST COTTAGE PIE: MACRO COOKERY

Carol and her family were in San Diego this weekend, so there was no Sunday family dinner. They had gone to watch the Notre Dame/Navy game. (ND won by a substantial score to remain undefeated.) Carol’s husband is a Notre Dame alum as are his father – and his brothers – and his sister. And they are all devoted sports fans. Carol’s husband goes to South Bend for football whenever he can, and the whole family often comes to LA when Notre Dame is playing nearby, usually against USC. The pilgrimage left us by ourselves, and so I thought Sunday would be a good time to clean out the refrigerator. There was a sweet potato that needed to be used. (It had tiny leaves appearing.) There was a potato that also needed to be used, along with a package of ground beef that I had bought the day before without a clear idea for it. The days have gotten cooler, so something like cottage pie sounded good. Why not top it with sweet potato mash instead of/along with the usual mashed potatoes? Done.

The other thing to while away my time was a new toy. I had bought a Xenvo lens set from Amazon. The lenses clip onto your cell phone to augment the built-in lens. The wide-angle lens does not really do much as my iPhone lens is already wide angle with a large depth of field. The macro, on the other hand, is great. It has only a single focus point, so it is not as versatile as the macro lens on my DSLR, but it is still fun to see what really-close-up images you can make. I am afraid that this post will wind up being a series of macro images of ingredients. Even at that, I hope you enjoy them.

RECIPE

Harvest Cottage Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter* (You will need 8 tablespoons – one stick – in all)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt  and pepper to taste
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter*
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup beef stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 medium cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler (alternatively grate)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for topping*

Method

  1. In a small stockpot, cover the sweet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Add the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly.
  2. In a small stockpot, cover the cubed russet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Then stir in the milk and egg until they are completely incorporated. Add  salt and cayenne pepper to taste. You can substitute black pepper but it will leave black specks in the mash. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir until they are completely wilted but not browned. Add the ground beef and stir occasionally until the meat is completely browned. Stir in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the stock and stir until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the thyme and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Assemble the cottage pie by transferring the meat mixture to a well-greased oven-proof dish large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Layer the mushrooms and carrots on the top of the meat. Then alternate large spoonsful of sweet potato and potato mash on the top. Using a pastry brush, baste the top with melted butter. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for one hour.
  5. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Cook’s note: The carrot slices, although attractive, turned out to be a little hard to eat. Coarsely grated carrot may be better. Actually it may be even better to leave out the carrot as it has sweetness and  flavor that compete with the sweet potato.

 

 

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SHRIMP-STUFFED EGGPLANT WITH SHRIMP CREAM SAUCE

I have dropped out of the blogosphere for a while. This is my first post in a long time. There are all sorts of explanations: I have turned into a couch potato watching the never-ending news while growing evermore discouraged and we have been very busy watching grandchildren. Carol and her husband went to Parents’ Weekend at our eldest granddaughter’s university and their son needed to stay in his high school classes. Then Sarah and Evan went on an extended book tour to publicize their cookbook, “Rich Table”, so we watched their boys in LA and in San Francisco. Then Sarah and Evan were invited to Zürich, Switzerland as food representatives of San Francisco. Somebody’s got to do it, right? More babysitting which, by the way, we enjoy – but – but – we need an extended rest when we’re finished. Even with all of that, I think the main reason for my absenteeism was that I had run out of things to say and things to cook.

I was nudged back into posting by a gentle note of concern from two blogging friends of many years, Dianne and Tom.  (Even though I have never met them, I consider them friends.) That encouraged me to finish an uncompleted post that had been sitting (floating?) somewhere in my computer cloud for months. Here it is.  I have already generated a new idea for my next post, so maybe I’ll get back on track.

By the way, you would enjoy the blogs of my friends. She is an excellent cook with a wry sense of humor, and he is an erudite expert on wines, especially from Italy and also with a keen sense of humor. So use the links to check out what they are eating and drinking these days.

Even though our local farmers market has slowed down as winter approaches, there are still eggplants. They are so beautiful, and there are so many varieties that when I see them I ask myself, “What else can I do with them?” In Louisiana, cooks stuff just about any vegetable you can think of. There are stuffed tomatoes, stuffed artichokes, zucchini, winter squash, mirlitons (chayotes) and, of course, eggplants.

In the Cajun repertoire, there is a typical variety of stuffings: crawfish, crab, oysters, white fish, and probably the most popular, shrimp. Combinations of one or more of the above are also common. Paul Prudhomme, the late, great New Orleans/Creole/Cajun chef was noted for his seafood dishes. Think blackened redfish and pecan-crusted snapper. But he  loved to stuff all sorts of vegetables with the bounty of the water. There is an abundance of such recipes in his first cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (William Morrow and Company, New York, 1984)  I looked at his recipe for seafood-stuffed eggplant with shrimp butter cream sauce (pp 67-68) but it looked way too complicated for my humble skills, so I made a simplified, toned-down version. Not as good as the original, I’m sure, but still pretty tasty.

RECIPE

Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 medium (2/3 to 3/4 pound each) globe eggplants
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves, crumbled
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bottle commercial clam juice (8 ounces) divided
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup cream

Method

  1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the halved eggplants. Return to the boil and cook until the eggplants are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Remove the eggplants from the boiling water, drain, and cool on a rack. When the eggplants are cool, use a large spoon or knife to remove the flesh, leaving a ¼-½ inch rim and being careful not to break the eggplant skin.  Set aside the hollowed eggplants and reserve the flesh for the stuffing.
  2. In a medium saucepan with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cover for about 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Stir in the chopped celery, chopped bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, uncovered, for another 5 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted. Stir occasionally and do not let the mixture burn.
  3. Chop the reserved eggplant flesh and add to the mixture. Season to taste with the thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add half the clam juice (4 ounces) and the bread crumbs. Reserve about half of the shrimp: two each to top the stuffed egg plants and more for the sauce. Chop the remaining shrimp coarsely and stir into the stuffing.
  4. Place the hollowed eggplant halves in a well-greased baking dish.  Divide the stuffing equally among the four eggplant halves. You may have more stuffing than the eggplants will hold. In that case, put the extra stuffing in a well-greased ramekin to be baked with the eggplants. Top each stuffed eggplant with two whole shrimp. Bake in the middle of the oven preheated to 350°F for 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, melt the  butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Do not let the mixture color. Stir in the remaining 4 ounces of clam juice and cream. Stir vigorously until the mixture is completely combined and smooth. Add the remaining shrimp and cook 5 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and have lost their translucency.
  6. Serve the stuffed eggplants immediately, topped with shrimp cream sauce.

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NOT EXACTLY RATATOUILLE

One of my favorite stalls at the farmers market is run by two young women who always have friendly greetings and interesting offerings. They have bunches of several varieties of basil along with many other herbs. Earlier in the season they had garlic scapes, fava beans, and a wide variety of Asian vegetables. They have bins and bins of tomatoes. But they also have an amazing selection of eggplants: not just the big purple tear drops that my grandmother grew but also white, variegated, Japanese, Italian, long, and green varieties. On my last visit I found eggplants that I had never seen. They were labeled as “Indian”, but their distinctive characteristic was that they were only about the size of a hen’s egg. They looked so cute that I bought them, although I wasn’t sure what I would do with them. You could stuff them with shrimp, Cajun-style, for individual servings. You could make an eggplant tapenade, but that would subvert the whole idea of miniature vegetables. I guess you could steam them and serve them by themselves. Of course, if you  think of eggplant you think of ratatouille, so I bought some tomatoes, squash, peppers and onions as well.

I have long thought of ratatouille as a dish that is delicious but labor-intensive. That’s because the first time I ever prepared it years ago I followed Julia Child’s recipe exactly. Each vegetable was cooked separately and slowly to maintain its shape and color before combining with all of the other ingredients and then simmered gently to meld the flavors. In short, Julia’s version is not a dish that you start when you get home from work. The mystique has even been amplified by the wonderful Disney Pixar film, Ratatouille.  In the movie, the signature dish prepared by the rat was an elaborate layering of slices of eggplant, squash, tomato and pepper. Beautiful to behold. And if you go to the web these days there are several versions of the recipe that use a similar artful arrangement of vegetables. Again, not something you would whip together before the evening news.

I think of a farm family sitting at their dinner table in Provence. I suspect they enjoy a good ratatouille but I doubt that it is in delicate layers. For that matter, a good shakshuka in Israel or bibimbap (add some beef and rice) in Korea may employ the same or similar ingredients without a lot of fanfare in their preparation. In other words, ratatouille should be easy to make and still be wonderfully delicious. This recipe just tosses the vegetables together, uses mushrooms, and adds a poached egg – definitely not authentic ratatouille, but a good way to use miniature Indian eggplants.

RECIPE

Not Exactly Ratatouille

Ingredients

  • 6 small Indian eggplants
  • 2 small zucchini
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 small white onions
  • 6 medium mushrooms
  • 4 small ripe tomatoes (about 4-5 inches in diameter), halved
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and slice into ¼ inch thick rings
  • 1 small can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs, poached

Method

  1. Trim the tops of the eggplants and slice them in half lengthwise. Do not peel. Slice zucchini in ¾ inch rounds. Sprinkle the cut vegetables generously with Kosher salt and place in a large sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes to draw out water, Blot dry with paper towels. Over a high flame, grill the vegetables for a few minutes until lightly browned with grill marks (if desired). Remove from the grill and set aside until ready for assembly.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or lidded oven-proof vessel over medium heat. Add the grilled eggplant and zucchini along with the onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green pepper, tomato sauce, wine and seasonings.
  3. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 300°F. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are fragrant and tender. If there is too much liquid, remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking to reduce.  Adjust the seasoning and serve, topped with 2 poached eggs for each serving.

 

 

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FRIED OKRA, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, FRIED EVERYTHING

Our local farmers market is moving into full season. Corn is making a tentative appearance, and there are tomatoes in abundance – all sizes, shapes, and colors – in every vegetable stall. This last week we went to the larger market in Torrance and were surprised to find green tomatoes. I am used to seeing them later on as the season begins to taper off. Fried green tomatoes is to my mind one of the great Southern delicacies. We bought some. Then we saw okra! And the timing was perfect. Carol is away on vacation. She avoids okra as much as she avoids onions. I believe that her aversion arises from childhood. She grew up in Louisiana and spent many days in East Texas. She bought her lunches in the school cafeterias, and she declares (although I think it is an exaggeration) that stewed okra and tomatoes, along with collards that had been cooked beyond recognition, were served every single day. She insists that there is no preparation of okra that will pass her lips. My reply has always been that she just has never had okra prepared correctly. Then we all laugh at the standing family joke.

When we lived on the Texas-Mexico Border, I made the mistake of declaring that I didn’t like menudo. A co-worker informed me that I had never had HER menudo, and the next week she brought a big pot of the soup for lunch. Being a slow learner, I made the same comment at various gatherings, and the outcome was always the same: somebody would bring a batch of their lovingly made tripe soup.  And I would eat the soup along with the ever-expanding chunks of tripe. I still don’t like menudo. Never say you don’t like a particular dish. It will be seen as a challenge.

On the other hand, be very careful in saying how much you like a particular dish. Years ago, we visited Thailand where I was treated royally. The first night was a banquet where they served roasted suckling pig. As the guest of honor, I was treated to the crispy skin along with the tail and snout. I said how much I enjoyed it (I really did; it was delicious) so that for every evening meal for two weeks in various parts of the country, I was treated to roasted suckling pig complete with snout and tail. I have not eaten roasted suckling pig since.

Back to okra. I agree with Carol: tomatoes and okra is not a favorite. The dish seems to bring out the worst quality of okra, the slime. Deep-fried okra with a crispy corn meal coating is another story. In my view, it is delicious. Fried green tomatoes have a distinctive citrusy tang, but they are a variant of the same preparation method, along with hush puppies, fried catfish, battered cutlets, chicken fried steak, or even fried chicken. But that’s one of the things that makes Southern home cooking so good – frying. Think deep-fried Twinkies.

These recipes are not authentic. Usually you can just shake cut okra with some seasoned cornmeal and fry it. The slime binds the cornmeal to make a crispy fried coating. Same with the green tomatoes. Instead, I have used a flour-egg-buttermilk-cornmeal coating; I like the extra body (and calories) that the coating brings. I am certain that Carol would still not like the okra. I served the vegetables with battered pork cutlets. It was a very brown plate, and my mother would not have approved of the absence of green vegetable – collards, maybe?

RECIPES

Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Breaded Pork Cutlet

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about) fresh okra pods
  • 3-4 medium green tomatoes
  • 4 thin-sliced  pork cutlets
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • bread crumbs
  • oil for frying

Method

  1. Wash the okra and cut it crosswise into ¾ inch rounds
  2. Cut the green tomatoes into ½ inch slices
  3. Dust the pork cutlets in flour and pound with the edge of a saucer to flatten. Turn over while pounding and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dust the okra slices and green tomato slices with flour.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Dip the floured okra, tomatoes, and cutlets in the egg mixture. Then  dip in a plate filled with the bread crumbs until completely covered.
  6. Let the vegetables and pork  rest on cooling racks for 15 minutes.
  7. Fill a deep-sided heavy pot with 2 inches of frying oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry okra, tomatoes, and pork separately, turning frequently, until well browned. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 170°F oven until everything has been fried. Serve immediately.

 

 

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BLACK FOREST CAKE

Our local cherry season is over. At its height, I had promised my grandson a Black Forest cake. But  one thing led to another and the promise just never got kept. Not to worry! Cherry season in the Northwest is still going strong, so I bought the cherries from the grocery store. Now, authentic recipes for Black Forest cake call for canned or preserved cherries, but to my mind fresh is always better.  If you use fresh, just be sure to pit them. Authentic recipes also describe the chocolate cake as a “chocolate génoise”, but that is beyond my baking skills and requires more time than I had allotted to the project. Instead, I used my mother’s favorite recipe for chocolate cake.

There could not be an easier cake to bake nor a tastier one. You dump all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix them up with an electric beater, You can sift the dry ingredients to prevent tiny lumps of unbaked flour, but that added step still falls within my bounds for easy. I’m not certain where my mother got the recipe. Perhaps it was from a cookbook of the Great Depression, a newspaper clipping, or even a conference for school cafeteria workers. My mother was a “lunch lady” complete with hair net. Every week she turned out schoolhouse spaghetti, mac and cheese made from giant blocks of USDA surplus commodity cheese, and other hot lunches that the kids loved. On Fridays she always baked a batch of her wonderful pan rolls that the kids fought over and the teachers begged for. My mother also specialized in desserts  – especially chocolate cake. I suspect she used this recipe.

Finally, I used whipped cream for the filling and canned whipped topping for the decorations on the top.  Some recipes call for a more elaborate sauce based on crème anglaise. And canned whipped topping would be unheard of. In short, this was not an honest-to-goodness Black Forest cake and it was definitely not suitable for a cover shot for Bon Appetit, but it was close enough  and good enough for both me and my grandson. He deemed it “delicious” and asked for a second slice.

RECIPES

Great Grandma’s Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¾ cup neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 eggs

Method

  1. Sift the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda, into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the buttermilk, oil. hot water, and eggs. With an electric beater, either a stand mixer or hand-held, beat the mixture until well combined and smooth. Do not overbeat.
  3. Distribute the batter equally among three 8-inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake for 20 minutes in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F. Test for doneness with a toothpick, and when done , remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on the cooling rack.

Black Forest Cake

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup Kirsch
  • chocolate cake baked in three layers (see above)
  • 2 pounds (about) fresh Bing cherries, pitted
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 pounds (about) fresh Bing cherries, pitted
  • canned whipped topping

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to the boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the Kirsch. Cool.
  2. With a pastry brush, brush the Kirsch syrup generously on the tops of the three cake layers.
  3. Whip the cream and sugar  until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  4. Arrange one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread generously with half of the whipped cream. Arrange pitted cherries on the whipped cream. Top with one of the remaining cake layers and repeat the whipped cream and cherries.
  5. Top with the remaining layer. Decorate with whipped cream rosettes using the canned whipped topping. Decorate with cherries. Chill until ready to serve.

Cook’s Note: The cake recipe can also be used for two 9-inch layers,  cupcakes or sheet cake. Use a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan for the sheet cake and increase the baking time to 30 minutes.

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LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES AND FRUIT SAUCE

Our local farmers market is moving into high season. The market is just a couple of paths in a high school parking lot lined with a couple of dozen or so stalls. It is modest compared with the vibrant green market in New York City’s Union Square or the wondrous carnival at the Ferry Building in San Francisco; it pales next to the huge market in nearby Torrance. But visiting the various stalls and merchants has become a Sunday ritual for our family.  By this time of season, green peas are gone, and asparagus is just hanging on as the weather gets warmer. Sweet cherries have given their last gasp. Plump ears of corn are on limited display. Tomatoes have made a tentative appearance; it’s still too early for the big, juicy specimens of late summer. Right now, the stars of the market are berries of all sorts and stone fruit of every variety.

This last week, the family met at the market in search of ingredients for our Sunday meal – all, that is, except the recent high school graduate who has taken to sleeping late and enjoying the days of summer before she heads off to college. The plan was for her mother to find some fruit for a fruit sauce so that on our return the graduate would arise and prepare pancakes for all of the exhausted shoppers. That plan served a secondary purpose: a crash course in basic cooking skills before the fledging leaves the nest. Everything worked as planned, and we enjoyed a delicious late breakfast. In fact, I liked them so much that I made my own batch a few days later and topped the pancakes with maple syrup that Peter and René had brought to us a gift from their recent trip to Montreal.

RECIPES

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained + zest from the lemon

Method

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Separate the eggs and set aside the whites.
  3. In a larger bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ricotta, buttermilk, butter, lemon juice, and zest.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquids, making sure they are well combined but taking care not to over-beat
  5. Whip the reserved egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then by thirds, gently fold them into the batter mixture.
  6. Let the batter rest for about 15 minutes while you heat a griddle over medium heat.
  7. Pour ½ cup of batter onto the griddle for individual pancakes. Do not crowd, and work in batches. Turn the pancakes when bubbles have formed on the surface and the edges are golden brown. When both sides are browned to your liking, serve immediately or transfer to a warm oven until all the pancakes have been prepared.

Fruit Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (strawberries would also work)
  • Or, you can make it 2 cups of your favorite fruit

Method

  1. In a small sauce pan combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the corn starch is completely dispersed. Place the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the fruit and cook until the mixture has thickened and the fruit has begun to release its juices, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and serve over the ricotta pancakes.

 

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SUNDAY FAMILY DINNER

Since our move to Los Angeles, Sunday dinner with the family has become a tradition that we all enjoy and do all we can to avoid missing. The dinner was originally Carol’s suggestion, and her rules were very simple: We would rotate between our house and her house. The host was responsible for the main meal and the visitor was responsible for an appetizer with drinks along with dessert.  The rules were modified when, as is our wont in this competitive family, the appetizers grew ever-more complex and caloric. They were tasty, but it became clear that our bathroom scales could not sustain the weekly onslaught to our “diets”. Thus, the appetizers were downsized to crudités or nuts. Even with this revision, there is plenty to eat, and the food is always thoughtfully planned, cooked and anticipated. Every week, my grandson begins to ask around Tuesday or Wednesday what’s planned for Sunday. The pressure is definitely on.

Even though the food is always excellent, for me – and I think for others – the highlight of the evening is the conversation. Everyone brings us up to date on their activities and news of the past week. Then we review activities of the week ahead so that schedules don’t conflict and duties are assigned. What follows is a lively, free-ranging conversation in which everyone contributes. We steer clear of politics, not because of differences but because we’re mostly politicked-out by the weekend. New movies and music are popular topics, especially with the teenagers. Current events and community activities are also included in the discussions. This last Sunday was a little melancholy. We were still enjoying the excitement of high school graduation and the anticipation of the next chapter in a young life. But the euphoria was tempered by the realization that our granddaughter would not be part of the conversation in a couple of months. She would be clear across the country, engaged with new challenges and new friends. Perhaps that made the conversation this last Sunday even livelier than usual. Still, we’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy our granddaughter before she is off.

Carol made a delicious meal: roasted pork, glazed carrots from a recipe by Ina Garten, a savory rice pilaf, and a salad that included watercress, fresh cherries, and strawberries all from the farmers market that morning. It was my turn for dessert. Cherries are just about finished for the season, so I thought of Black Forest cake, but some of the family doesn’t like cake. Stone fruits are just beginning to reach their peak at the farmers market; there were apricots, peaches, many varieties of plums, pluots, and nectarines – no lack of choices for a juicy pie. Everyone likes pie, so the basic choice was made. Looking for ideas, I turned to the beautiful cookbook, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by the two sisters, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, who left successful New York City careers to start their famous pie shop in Brooklyn, now with at least three outlets in the city. The sisters hail from Hecla, South Dakota (population 227) just down the road from Frederick (population 199) where my mother grew up. That makes their terrific pie recipes (and images) more neighborly and not so “big city”. I chose their version of nectarine and blueberry pie. I found both the nectarines and blueberries at one of our family’s favorite stands at the farmers market. I made a few changes in the recipe (of course) but this is essentially the recipe from Emily and Melissa.

RECIPE

Nectarine and Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced nectarines (about 3-4 fruit)
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • juice from ½ lemon, strained
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • two rounds of pie pastry for a nine-inch pie (I used prepared pie crust from the frozen food section of the grocery store)
  • 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water and pinch of salt for egg wash
  • turbinado sugar

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and bitters. Mix gently and set aside while you prepare the pie crust.
  2. Roll the pastry dough if necessary to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange one of the rounds in the pan and chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Then add the fruit mixture to the chilled pie shell.
  3. Top the filling with the remaining pastry round or you may cut the round into strips to make a lattice top. Crimp the edges of the pie and, if you are using the whole round, cut several vents near the center.
  4. Using a pastry brush,, paint the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes
  5. In the meantime, arrange the racks in the oven so that one is at the lowest level and one is in the middle of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.
  6. Place the pie in the middle of the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 375°F, transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  7. When the pie is golden brown, remove from the oven, transfer the baked pie to a cooking rack, and cool completely.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature. Add a scoop of ice cream if you wish.

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DILLED FAVA BEANS IN SOUR CREAM

Things just seem to come together at the farmers market. Vegetables and fruits that complement one another seem to ripen together. Maybe not, but there are combinations that work, like strawberries and rhubarb or squash and corn. Another great combination is dill and favas. They both peak in the spring and trail off in the summer. A while back at my favorite market stall I found some beautiful fronds of dill tied up in bundles along with a big bin of favas ready to be scooped up. I was mindful of the effort that lay ahead of me, but the  earthy taste of fresh green favas compensates for the work involved to prepare them. Although favas can be used in many ways once they are shelled, a simple preparation highlights their flavor. Nothing could be easier than this way to serve fava beans.

RECIPE

Dilled Fava Beans in Sour Cream

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (about) unshelled fresh fava beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Shell the beans by pressing the seam of the pod between your fingers and popping the beans into a container.
  2. Blanch the beans by adding them to a large pot of boiling salted water. Return to the boil after adding the beans and boil for one minute. Drain and chill immediately in ice water.
  3. With your thumbnail, pop the thick bean coating open and squeeze out the bean to a waiting container.
  4. When you have finished shelling all of the beans, combine them with chopped dill, sour cream and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

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BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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FEIJOADA

This is not the real thing, so Brazilians who might be reading this should not comment that it is missing an ingredient that made their mother’s version the best that ever was or that the recipe has an ingredient that makes the dish NOT feijoada.  Traditional recipes often call for unpeeled pork tongue, snouts, ears, and tail. This recipe has none of those.  The two essentials are black beans and meat. This recipe has both. If you serve this dish, you should be aware that the only thing you will want to do after the meal is to take a nap. Be warned. Feijoada is usually described as the national dish of Brazil. The first time I ever had it was over 40 years ago. One of several international colleagues served it at his home as part of sharing among us at the end of long work weeks. Over time we enjoyed cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Greece, Australia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan – and of course, the United States –  so it was an excellent culinary world tour.

I have been thinking of making feijoada for our Sunday family meal for some time, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Now, the inspiration is the coming together of a number of things. First, Sarah has engaged a lovely young woman from Brazil to help with the children so that Sarah can focus more on the restaurants and on a cookbook that will be published soon. Second, Bia, the young woman, brought a gift with her, The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwarz (Kyle Books). Finally, I was up for cooking Sunday dinner.

The cookbook is so beautiful that I bought my own copy. The author is from Brazil but an American culinary school graduate and professional chef. Her recipes are simplified and often modernized versions of traditional dishes. Instructions are clear, and the images are mouth-watering. Like me, you may have a hard time finding Brazilian ingredients in your local grocery store. Of course, these days you can order them online. The most basic and hardest-to-find ingredients are sweet and sour manioc starch and manioc flour. To add to the confusion, in the USA sweet manioc starch is often called tapioca flour. You can substitute one for another, but then – as I found out – the results won’t be the same.

To go with the feijoada I made hearts of palm salad and pão de queijo, a delicious Brazilian cheese bread that we first enjoyed in an eclectic restaurant in Redondo Beach. This is where I ran into trouble. Schwarz’s recipe for the bread called for both sweet and sour manioc starch. All I could find at the store was tapioca flour. The resulting batter was so sticky it stuck to everything and was impossible to shape into balls, but after some extended time in the refrigerator before baking, the results were still excellent.

Here’s the recipe for my version of feijoada. Many recipes call for carne seca, akin to jerky but not so tough. As a substitute, I used fresh beef seasoned with dry meat rub and dried in a warm oven for several hours. I also used the slightly spicy Portuguese sausage, linguiça. As an aside, many beans contain phytohemaglutinin which can cause nausea, vomiting, and even blood problems. The toxin is inactivated by cooking at boiling temperatures. Red kidney beans are said to have the highest content, cannellini beans next, and others down the line. Black beans have lower levels.  It has been reported that very slow, low-temperature cooking, like sous vide or a slow cooker set on low, fails to raise temperatures sufficiently to inactivate the toxin, so if you are concerned, you should cook the beans in a pot at a good boil. In any event, be prepared for a hearty meal and the need for a long nap.

RECIPES

Feijoada

Ingredients

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound beef cut for stir-fry
  • dry meat rub (your favorite)
  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • beef stock
  • 1 pound linguiça, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1 pound pork stew meat
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch rounds
  • farofa (recipe follows)
  • cooked collard greens

Method

  1. Soak the beans overnight with enough water to cover them at least two inches deep.
  2. Spread the pieces of beef in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan, sprinkle with dry meat rub, and heat in warm (170°F) oven for at least 8 hours to dry out, turning occasionally.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to crisp. Stir in the onion and cover the pot for 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Add the celery, bay leaves, and garlic. Then add the beans with their soaking liquid, and enough beef stock to cover the beans. Bring to a low boil and cook until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional beef stock as needed.
  4. Add the dried beef, linguiça, and pork. Continue to simmer until the meats are cooked through, about one hour. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange a mound of hot, cooked rice in the middle of a large serving bowl or platter and top with parsley. Surround the rice with the feijoada. Arrange sliced oranges around the feijoada. Serve immediately. Pass the farofa separately, to be sprinkled on top of the feijoada if desired. Serve with collard greens that have been braised, covered, with additional bacon and water for 30 minutes or until the collards are wilted and cooked through. Drain excess water from the collards.

Farofa

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir in 1 cup of tapioca flour. Stirring frequently to avoid burning, cook the mixture until the flour turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat. Serve with a spoon so that it can be sprinkled over the feijoada.

 

 

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