Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade

There is only one thing that makes the first fall frost tolerable in my book and that is green tomatoes. In the fall I keep an eye on the weather. I hope for an extended season so we can get a few more red tomatoes from our garden. The tomatoes that we were getting in late September weren’t as delicious as the summer ones (I’m guessing that they don’t like the cool nights), but they were still garden-fresh tomatoes and I was happy to have them.

With a frost forecasted, my husband and I picked all of the green tomatoes. I have heard that some people don’t wait until the frost to pick green tomatoes. They pick them mid-season when they have too many tomatoes crowding each other. So far, we haven’t had that problem. We picked a bagful of small green pear tomatoes. I still haven’t decided what to do with them, though I’ve been eying green tomato relish recipes. We also snagged a few that were the perfect size for frying.

There are few foods that say “Southern” as much as fried green tomatoes. Turns out there’s a bit of a debate as to where fried green tomatoes originated. Food historian, Robert F. Moss, asserts that they were originally a Northern dish. Combing through cookbooks and newspaper articles, the first mention that he could find was in an 1873 Dayton, Ohio Presbyterian Cookbook. He also found recipes in several early 20th century Jewish cookbooks.

Mosses blames the 1992 movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” for the misplaced notion that this dish is Southern in origin. A quick trip around the blogosphere and you’ll see that everyone claims them, lots of people vehemently so. I enjoyed reading all of the accounts of people remembering their grandparents’ stories of eating fried green tomatoes. People traced their families fried green tomato lineage. I love when people get all up in arms over food origins.

I don’t remember the first time that I had them but I do remember the first time I really appreciated them. It was several years ago in New Orleans at Liuzza’s. As with many things, they do fried green tomatoes differently in New Orleans. The green tomatoes are lightly dusted with cornmeal, fried and topped with a tangy shrimp roumalade. Delicious. My husband does an excellent version and was kind enough to share his recipe.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade
Use the largest, firmest green tomatoes you can find.

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
A few dashes of hot sauce
Vegetable oil, enough to add about an inch in the bottom of your frying pan (we use coconut oil)
12 slices of green tomato, approximately 1/2-inch thick (3-4 tomatoes should do it)
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal, lightly seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)
One pound small to medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and chilled (see below)

1 cup chilled remoulade sauce (see below)
Mixed greens

Method:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and hot sauce.
  • Heat oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat.
  • Lightly salt and peeper each tomato slice.
  • Dip each tomato slice first in cornstarch, then in the egg mixture, then coat with cornmeal. Be sure to coat both sides with all three dips. Place tomato slices in the pan with heated oil in a single layer. Do not crowd. Cook over moderate heat until golden brown on bottom. Turn and brown on other side. (Total cooking time is 3 to 4 minutes.) Exterior should be golden brown.
  • Place cooked tomatoes on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Toss cooked shrimp with the remoulade.
  • On individual serving plates, place a handful of mixed green. Top with two slices of fried tomato and top with shrimp remoulade.

Makes 6 servings (as appetizer)

Remoulade Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups chopped celery
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon horseradish, grated
1/2 cup ketchup

Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasonings to taste (or salt, black pepper and a dash of cayenne)

Method:

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until mixed. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Boiled Shrimp

Ingredients
4 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 lemon, quartered
36 small-medium shrimp (about 1 pound)

Method:

  • Fill a pot with 4 quarts of water, add Old Bay seasoning and lemon quarters. Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel and devein. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

SalmonI’ve always found grilling fish to be a bit challenging. Lots of things can go wrong. Pick a fish that’s not firm enough and you are likely to lose it through the grates. If you don’t oil the grates enough, the fish sticks, falls apart and then slips into the flames. I seem to end up with more fish incinerating on the coals than on my plate.

There is always the old tinfoil stand by, but I don’t see the point. True, it is easy and fool proof, but if I’m going to cook in foil, I’ll opt for the convenience of my oven.

I was very happy when my sister-in-law, Tori, gave me a great way to grill fish.

Tori is an avid Facebook user. She often posts photos of their cute twin girls, passes on the latest funny videos and every now and then to my great pleasure, she throws in a recipe.

This from Tori:

Making dinner for friends involved a quick trip to Home Depot for some untreated cedar fence slats, which I soaked then threw on the grill to make some brown sugar cedar smoked salmon. Why pay $20+ at Williams-Sonoma when you can be resourceful and buy a $1.47 piece of lumber?

Then after my request for the recipe:

Easy peasey: soak the slats for about two hours, put them on the hot grill until they smoke, turn them over then immediately put on some salmon (skin side down) on which you’ve put some dijon mustard and heavily coated with brown sugar. Close the lid, turn down the heat and, voila! in 15 minutes you have a tasty dinner.

If you are shopping at the hardware store for the cedar planks, be sure to get untreated cedar slats. Ask to make sure. Nobody wants to cook chemicals into their salmon. If you want kitchen-grade cedar, I’ve seen the planks everywhere from fancy kitchen stores to Walmart. Yes, there now are cedar cooking planks for the masses.

We happened to have a cedar plank in the junk drawer in our kitchen. I picked it up at a food show a couple years ago but never used it. After making this dish, I have no idea why I haven’t.

The cedar gave the salmon a smoky, subtle flavor. The smoky cedar aroma was also nice to have wafting though our house.

If you have already printed out your handy pocket guide to sustainable seafood, then skip the next two paragraphs. If not, read on.

I know I’ve said it before but I’m a big fan of the pocket guide to seafood put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I particularly like the “Super Green” list of seafood that is both healthy for you and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. To make the list, fish must have low levels of contaminants, a minimum of 250 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids and be well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of choices on this list. According to the guide, as of May 2010, the Best of the Best are Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia), Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.), Mussels (farmed), Oysters (farmed), Pacific Sardines (wild-caught), Rainbow Trout (farmed), Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska).

Luckily, the delicious sounding recipe from my sister-in-law called for salmon. She didn’t specify, but of course, I like to seek out Alaskan wild-caught salmon. It’s not hard to find, I’ve seen it at several local grocery stores.

I altered Tori’s recipe by using maple syrup rather than brown sugar. Brown sugar is something I only have around if I’m baking. Maple syrup is something I make a point to keep stocked.

I’m not going to return our cedar plank to the junk drawer just yet. We still have weeks of grill time and I have a few more things to try. Sea scallops are up next!


Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

Ingredients
1 cedar plank (large enough to fit the fillets)
2 medium-sized salmon fillets
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Soak the cedar plank in water for a couple of hours.
  • Mix, mustard, maple syrup and lemon juice and brush mixture on the top of the salmon (not the skin side). Generously salt and pepper the fillets and set aside.
  • Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Place the plank on the hot grill. Leave it until it starts to smoke. Turn the plank over and place the fish on top, skin side down. Brush again with mustard/maple syrup mixture.
  • Cover the grill, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 10-15 minutes. I like my salmon medium rare, so I pull it off after 10 minutes. Keep it on the grill if you want it cooked more. Keep in mind, that it will continue to cook on the hot plank.

Ps. If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, mist with water.

Serves 2

Shakshuka and Bell’s

Shakshuka at Bell'sWhen we moved to Catskill, NY, we had only been to the town three times. We didn’t research the area much. As foodies, you would have thought that we would have done our due diligence in the food department, but we didn’t. We were charmed by the town and in love with the house and that was enough for us.

As we got to know the area, we felt like we lucked out food-wise. The grocery store was much better than the one in our old Brooklyn neighborhood, there was a weekend farmers market and we could walk to Bell’s Café.

Bell’s Israeli inspired menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients. Their beef and poultry are sustainable, grass fed, antibiotic and hormone-free. That’s right up my ally, so I am happy it’s just a few blocks away from us.

The first time we went to Bell’s we decided to stop in for a quick bite before we went to the movies next door at the Community Theater. We learned that Bell’s isn’t the place to go for a quick bite. Once we got our dinner, we quickly forgot about the movie and focused on the delicious food. With dishes like duck tacos with a chipotle sofrito, mussels in a spicy basil and coconut broth, Moroccan spicy fish and brie & crispy shallot burgers, you want to savor it and you definitely want to stay for dessert!

Chefs Yael Manor-McMorrow and Keith McMorrow were nice enough to invite me into Bell’s kitchen and teach me how to make shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a classic Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s traditionally eaten for lunch or dinner. Yael told me that in Israel, hummus is more common for breakfast than eggs. Personally, I’d eat this delicious dish any time of the day.

Yael’s French Culinary school training started to show as soon as we stepped into the kitchen. She doesn’t measure ingredients, is quick with a knife and cleans as she goes. When I asked her what insider culinary graduate info she could pass on to the average cook, she paused, lifted her knife and said, “Start with a good knife.”

She also recommended a well-stocked pantry. She always stocks brown rice, coconut milk and curry paste. For produce, Yael buys what is fresh and in season, which ensures she is getting the best quality and the best price.

“Cook less and use the ingredients more,” she said. Fresh food does the work for you and is traditionally how people cook in Israel.

To accompany our shakshuka, Yael quickly made a chopped salad. In Israel, every meal, including breakfast is served with some type of fresh salad. For ours she used fresh grilled corn cut off the cob, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint, basil, and dressed it lightly will lemon juice and a little olive oil. It tasted just like summertime and was the perfect cooling counterpart to the spicy shakshuka. Yum!

Shakshuka

This recipe is my interpretation of Yael’s version. I was taking notes but if it doesn’t taste as good as hers, you’ll know whom to blame.

Take this basic recipe and run with it. Add any vegetable or herb that you have on hand. Summer suggestions: add bell peppers and zucchini.

Note: Harissa is a mixture of hot peppers, coriander, red chili powder, caraway, and other spices. It can be found as a paste or powder. Look in the ethic section of your grocery store. It’s worth seeking out.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 fresh large tomatoes, quartered, the juicier the better
2 tablespoons harissa (More or less depending on the amount of spice you want.)
1-2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or other fresh herbs, divided)
4 large eggs

  • In a medium-sized frying pan heat oil, garlic and tomatoes over medium heat. Stir in harissa and salt. Continue to heat until tomatoes break down. You want a nice bubbly sauce. Turn heat down and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on how much juice your tomatoes have.
  • Stir in half of the parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Gently crack eggs into the pan, giving each a bit of room. Simmer until eggs whites are set but yolks remain runny, about 8 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle remaining parsley. Divide into four bowls, each getting an egg and serve with warm pita bread or baguette.

Serves 4

Bell’s Café Bistro is at 387 Main Street in Catskill, New York. Hours are: Dinner from Thursday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; Brunch from Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 518-943-4070

Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)

When I told my friend Joan that I was going to make Vietnamese sandwiches or, bánh mì (pronounced bangh me), her eyes lit up and a big smile came across her face. “Oh, I would send you to Saigon to a tiny place that makes the most incredible sandwiches.”

Joan grew up in Vietnam and returns frequently, so she would know just where to send me. She fondly remembers the unique sandwich wrapped in newsprint that she would buy as a kid. And it’s also one of the things she looks forward to getting on her return trips.

This culture clash of a sandwich can be traced to the French colonization of Indochina. It combines ingredients from the French (baguettes) with the Vietnamese (pickled veggies) and results in a multi-culture match made in heaven.

Joan gave me enthusiastic but slightly vague details. She said that she loved the combination of the crispy bread, spicy sauce, tangy pickled vegetables and savory meat.

Her vagueness had to do with the meat. Joan told me that meatballs aren’t in an authentic Saigon bánh mì, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly what the meat was. She and her husband finally decided that it was somewhere between pâté and bologna. Both agreed that whatever the meat is, the sandwich is delicious.

Turns out that there are lots of interpretations of the proper meat for the sandwiches, including roasted pork, ham, pork pâté, grilled chicken, meatballs and even tofu.

Joan has several Vietnamese cookbooks, but she wasn’t able to find the sandwich in any of them. The thought is that bánh mì is primarily street food and not something many home cooks make. I don’t think this is because it is difficult, but rather that the sandwich, at least in Vietnam, is ubiquitous and cheap.

Joan doesn’t know it, but I plan to sit in her kitchen, comb through her cookbooks and pick her brain about other delicious Vietnamese dishes. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

Quick Pickled Vegetables
1 carrot, julienne
1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish, substitute a regular radish)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Meatballs
1 pound ground pork
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil for cooking the meatballs

Spicy Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer homemade)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

Toppings

Cucumber slices
Jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs
2 large French baguettes (or four small baguettes)

Method

Quick Pickled Vegetables:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sesame oil, carrots and radishes, mix well.
  • Marinate for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

Meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, except the sesame oil. I roll up my sleeves and mix this with my hands.
  • Using a tablespoon on the mixture, form a one-inch meatball.
  • Heat the sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs that will comfortably fit in the pan and sauté until they are cooked through, flipping occasionally. You want them browned, but not burnt. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Spicy Chili Mayo

  • Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

Sandwich Assembly

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the baguettes in half; you will have four pieces. Slice the pieces length wise, but not all the way through. You want it to open like a hot dog bun. Hollow out some of the bread in the middle to make room for the meatballs (save for breadcrumbs or feed the birds).
  • Place baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until hot and crusty; about five minutes.
  • Slather the insides with the spicy mayonnaise. Place cucumber, jalapeños and cilantro on the bottom. Top each sandwich with a quarter of the meatballs, followed by the pickled vegetables (drained).

Serves four.

Gluten Free: Sweet Potato Linguine with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

Gluten Free Sweet Potato No gluten-sensitivity needed to indulge in this delicious dish! Next time that I make it, I’m adding shrimp or maybe meatballs.

Be careful when using a mandolin. They are sharp and quick to damage as my bandaged thumb can attest.

I found this recipe on the Progressive Pioneer blog and as I’m want to do, I modified it.

Ingredients
1-2 large sweet potato, pick ones that are straight and plump
1/4 cup water or stock
3 Tablespoon butters
5-10 Fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wash and scrub the potato. Slice it lengthwise as thinly as possible using a mandolin or a sharp knife.
  • Cut the slices into even strips about 1/4 of an inch wide. You are going for strips that look like fettuccine.
  • In a large frying pan, add water or stock and the sweet potatoes strips. Heat over medium until the water/stock has reduced by half. Do not stir too much. This will cause the “noodles” to break (which isn’t a deal breaker but they look nicer when long). Transfer to a large bowl.
  • In the same pan, melt the butter then add the sage. When sage gets crispy, remove and set aside. Watch carefully, you want crisp sage but not burnt sage.
  • Add noodles to butter and heat through while stirring (but again, not too much).
  • Crumble the sage over the pasta (save a few for garnish). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2.

Chicken and Spinach Burritos

It’s perfect weather for roasting a chicken and one of the best things about cooking a whole bird is the leftovers.

I look at cooked chicken as fast food. I can knock out a meal in a few minutes with minimal effort. Throw it in pasta with some vegetables; add some cauliflower, curry and cooked rice for a quick Indian meal and of course you can always make soup, especially if you made stock from your roasted bird. And as with most leftovers, you can throw it into a burrito.

Chicken and Spinach Burritos
This is a good dish to make when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s quick and healthy. You can add whatever you have on hand. Add a can of black beans if you want to stretch your dollar a bit more.

Ingredients

2-3 cups of cooked chicken
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
3 generous handfuls fresh baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon chopped jalapeno (optional)
3 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoon salsa
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
4 Whole-grain flour tortilla
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Heat olive oil in large skillet.
  • Wrap tortillas in foil and place in a 350° oven to heat for 10 minutes.
  • Add onions, garlic, jalapeno and chicken to skillet. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
  • Mix in chili powder, salsa, yogurt and cream cheese. Cook until cheese has melted and sauce has thickened.
  • Add spinach. Cook on low just until spinach starts to wilt.
  • Remove from heat, add cilantro.
  • Spoon about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture onto each tortilla; roll tightly and place seam-side down.
  • Top with salsa and plain yogurt or sour cream. Serve with a salad.

Serves 4

Hoppin’ John

I love the name of this dish. There are many differing accounts of where the name came from. My favorite is that a man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 hog jowl sliced (or a few strips of bacon or a ham hock)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long- grain white rice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  • Wash and sort the peas, making sure to remove any small pebbles.
  • Place in large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. (If you want to skip this step, you will need to increase the cooking time.)
  • Place onions and garlic in small sauté pan and cook until onions are tender.
  • Place peas in the large soup pot, add water or broth. Bring to a gentle boil .
  • Add onions, garlic, red pepper and hog jowl.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until peas are tender, about an hour (two if you didn’t soak them).
  • Add the rice, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Serves four to six.

Roasted Root Vegetable Pizza

I used to be a thick crust pizza gal. I liked a Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza. Most of the thin crust pizza that I had eaten tasted like cardboard. When I moved to New York, I had heard about the famous New York style pizza. Sure, there is a pizzeria on every other corner and you can pick up a slice for a few bucks most hours of the day. But that pizza was just okay, some better than others, but certainly nothing to write home about.

Then I went to Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. My pizza world was forever changed. Grimaldi’s is one of many pizzerias in New York with coal-fired ovens, any of which could have been the first to rock my pizza world.

Pizza from a coal-fired oven is different. The intense heat works magic on the crust. The thin crust is crispy on the outside yet somehow remains tender and chewy. It is often dotted with delightful, giant dough bubbles. The coal imparts a slightly smoky flavor. In my opinion the way to order it is with few toppings, too many and the thin crust can get soggy. I like just tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.

There are many factors that go into making a great pizza. One, which the home cook may find challenging, is heat. To get that perfect combination of chewy and crisp crust, you need heat. 700 degrees should do it, which is a couple hundred degrees above the highest setting on most home-kitchen ovens.

People will go to great lengths to work around this limitation.

One way is to build an outdoor brick pizza oven. A grill can also reach staggering temperatures. Seeing how there is a chill in the air, I’m more interested in people who’ve tricked out their indoor oven to achieve intense heat.

In It Must’ve Been Something I Ate,Jeffrey Steingarten, food critic at Vogue magazine, details his pursuit of heat hot enough to make a proper pizza at home. (Let me first say that I want his job. Steingarten decides to write about pizza and gets sent to Naples, Italy, the birthplace of Neapolitan-style pizza. I, on the other hand, pay for my own flour.) Steingarten tried such things like covering the heat sensor on his oven and cooking (or rather burning) a pizza using the self-cleaning setting (which locks the door and imprisons your pizza).

The LA Times has another DIY indoor pizza oven idea. You take some firebricks and make a little box in your oven. Then you heat it on its highest setting for about an hour. The bricks hold the heat and increase the heat inside the brick box. Pretty cool.

The only pizza equipment I have is a pizza wheel. I would love a pizza stone and a pizza peel (yes, this is a hint to any gift buyers). The pizza stone retains heat and helps give the pizza a nice crisp crust. The pizza peel is that fancy paddle thing you see pizza makers skillfully use to slide pizzas in and out of a hot oven. For now, I make due with a plain old baking sheet.

Steingarten had a good tip. He suggested that if you have a gas stove, place the pizza stone directly on the bottom of the oven. I placed my pizza on a baking sheet then placed it on my oven’s floor. With a leery eye, I peered in every couple of minutes. I was hungry and didn’t want to risk burning the bottom. While I love a crisp crust with maybe a couple of chard spots, I don’t like burnt pizza one bit. Luckily, it worked beautifully. Though not as good as Grimaldi’s, I did end up with a darn fine pizza with a near perfect crust.

No-knead pizza dough

This is adapted from Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey’s recipe. It takes a day to make, but don’t fret, the hands on time is only about 10 to 15 minutes.

Lahey’s version uses all white flour. I added whole wheat and buckwheat flour. I’m a little obsessed with buckwheat flour these days. I love its slightly nutty, complex flavor. If you are trying to replicate a Grimaldi’s pizza, use all white flour.

Makes four 12-inch pizza crusts

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose white or bread flour, more for dusting
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup buckwheat flour (substitute white or wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups water
cornmeal for dusting

Method

  • In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until well mixed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for 12 to 24 hours. If your house is cold in the winter like ours is, plan to leave it out for 24 hours.
  • Place the dough on a floured work surface and sprinkle the top with flour. It will be sticky, so flour your hands. Fold the dough over on itself a few times. Divide the dough into four pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Set each ball in an oiled bowl (or plate). Cover with plastic wrap (oil the wrap if it might touch the dough when rising) and let rise for two hours.
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If using a pizza stone, place it on the floor of your oven if it is gas, or on the bottle rack if it is electric.
  • Stretch or toss the dough into the desired shape. I roll the dough out on a piece of floured wax paper. If you are using a pizza stone, assemble the pizza on a pizza peel or flat baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal, then carefully transfer the uncooked pizza to the hot pizza stone. If using a baking sheet, lightly dust with cornmeal, then transfer the rolled out dough to the sheet and cover with toppings (see below).
  • Place baking sheet on the floor of your oven if it is gas, or on the bottle rack if it is electric.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the bottom is crisp, but not burnt and the toppings are bubbly.

Roasted root vegetable pizza topping

This pizza was inspired by the Isabella Pizzarella at Baba Louies in Hudson.

Ingredients
2 medium-sized beets
1 medium sweet potato
2 small onions
3-4 garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
8-10 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds

Method

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Slice the beets, onions and sweet potatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a chef’s knife and remove peel, leaving the clove whole.
  • Toss vegetables with olive oil to coat well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning at least once.
  • Remove and let cool enough to handle before adding to pizza.
  • Lightly brush prepared pizza dough with olive oil. Arrange vegetables in a single layer, covering the whole pizza.

Pear Risotto with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

It is hard to go wrong with pears and blue cheese. In fact, when making this dish, keep some sliced pears and blue cheese handy. You’ll want a snack between all the stirring.

Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio rice are traditionally used in risotto. They have a high starch content, which gives the dish a beautiful creamy consistency. You may substitute other types of rice but you won’t get the same degree of creaminess. Since we only have white rice in the house when my husband smuggles it in, I use short-grain brown rice. It’s not quite as creamy, but the blue cheese makes up for it. I could easily double the amount of blue cheese, but then that wouldn’t leave me enough for snacking.

Ingredients

5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferably)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of mushrooms sliced (any fresh type will do)
2 cups rice (short grained, like Arborio)
4-5 medium-sized pears, chopped (peeling or not is your choice)
5 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
Salt/pepper to taste

Method

  • Using a large frying pan, sauté onions and mushrooms in butter for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.
  • Add 2 cup of rice to the frying pan; toast the rice over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
  • Keep a pot/bowl of warm chicken/vegetable stock close by. Add a ladleful of stock to the pan with rice. Stir to keep the rice from sticking. Reduce heat to medium. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep repeating with the remainder of stock. The rice should be tender but not mushy. If the rice is not tender, you can continue to add small amounts of water until the dish has a nice creamy consistency.
  • Add pears and blue cheese and stir well until cheese is melted.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve risotto warm. Add a salad for a meal, or serve a smaller portion as a side dish.
Serves 4 as main course.

Part of Fight Back Friday.

Tacos de Pescado

I wouldn’t call my mother an adventurous eater. While she will try new things, with the exception of sushi and oysters, two things she has no interest in ever trying, she usually doesn’t stray too far from what she knows. When she does find something new that she really likes, she will go out of her way to get it.

Case in point, my mother has thrown caution to the wind when seeking out a good fish taco. This obsession took us to some of the rougher neighborhoods in San Diego. I won’t say that we did this on purpose, but once when visiting my brother in San Diego, she and I went on a search for authentic fish tacos. We got lost. Very lost.

The cute shops and inviting cafés were replaced by auto repair shops and semi-abandoned strip malls. Luckily, the place was rife with food offerings, without a chain restaurant in site. Blindly picking a spot, we pulled into a parking lot of a restaurant. It was a nondescript white building. There were only a handful of people there, all of whom made note of our entrance.

The menu was not in English, but we were able to figure out that “tacos de pescado” meant fish tacos. We ordered them and were happily served perfectly prepared fish tacos. Mission accomplished, only we then had to find our way home, which, without a GSP system, was no small feat.

My mother has often complained that a good San Diego style fish taco is hard to find. She is very particular about what makes a proper one. They must use a light white fish, be lightly battered and fried, topped with shredded cabbage and a white sauce. She is a purist and doesn’t like guacamole or anything else messing up her taco. I, on the other hand, adore guac and whole-heartily add it to any taco I get my hands on.

She was delighted to find out that my husband makes fish tacos just the way she likes them. When we visit, they have worked out a deal. He will make fish tacos for her if she makes her delicious chicken-fried steak for him. Both think that they are getting the better end of that deal. I, for a change, get to sit just back and eat!

Tacos de Pescado

Ingredients:
1 pound of fresh fish fillets, firm white fish like tilapia or catfish
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, divided
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup cooking oil (I use olive oil)
6 soft corn tortillas (2 tortillas per person)

Cabbage Slaw (recipe below)

Method:

  • Rinse fish fillets in cold water. Pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Add olive oil to a large skillet. Heat to medium-high heat, staying below the oil’s smoking point.
  • Sprinkle the lime juice over the fish.
  • Mix half of the salt, pepper and chili powder together and sprinkle the mixture on the fish.
  • Mix cornmeal with the remaining spices.
  • Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture.
  • Place fish in skillet. Cook for a couple of minutes, then flip. Cook until golden brown and fish is cooked through (cooking time depends on the thickness of the fillets). Drain on a paper towel lined plate.
  • Warm the tortillas either in a skillet on the stove or in an oven.
  • Place fish in the center of the tortilla. Top with cabbage slaw and guacamole. Fold tortilla in half and enjoy!

Serves four.

Cabbage Slaw
Ingredients:

2 cups cabbage, chopped or shredded
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper

Method:

  • In a medium-size bowl, mix lime juice, yogurt, mayonnaise and chili powder.
  • Add cabbage and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy Peasy and Absolutely Delish Salmon Kebabs

Fish is one of those things that we hear we should add to our diets. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, fish is an excellent source of heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and selenium, is high in protein and low in saturated fat. They recommend eating one to two three-ounce servings of fish a week. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies or sardines are particularly beneficial.

Unfortunately, we also hear that some types of fish are full of mercury or PCBs and other seafood is endangered of being over fished.

It’s hard to keep track of all of it. To help sort it out, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a Super Green list of seafood that is both healthy for you and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. To make the list, fish must have low levels of contaminants, a minimum of 250 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids and be well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of choices on this list. According to the guide, as of May 2010, the Best of the Best is Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia), Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.), Mussels (farmed), Oysters (farmed), Pacific Sardines (wild-caught), Rainbow Trout (farmed), Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska).

They also include a list of second best choices. These fish contain less omega-3 fatty acids than their top picks. This list includes Arctic Char (farmed), Bay Scallops (farmed), Crayfish (farmed, from the U.S.), Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington), Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic), Pacific Cod (longline-caught, from Alaska)

Local Ocean, in Hudson, NY, has come up with an innovative solution to both over-fishing and environmental contamination. It uses a closed salt-water system and raises fish that are both sustainable and pollutant free. I like that. They currently sell to restaurants, but I’m told they will open a retail outlet this fall. I’ll be waiting by the door.

Until they open, I will be consulting my guide and buying fish on the Super Green List. When buying fish, if you don’t see the origin listed, ask. You don’t want to end up with farm raised Atlantic salmon when you are looking for wild caught Alaskan salmon, now do you?

Salmon is a nice firm fish and excellent for kebabs. Kebabs are one of my favorite ways to cook food on the grill. Just about anything you can skewer, you can grill. Some things, like garlic, are tricky. You have to pick large cloves so they don’t split open when you stab them. With softer items, like tomatoes, be sure to cut big pieces. Cherry tomatoes work great on kebabs. My new favorite thing to kebab is fruit.


Pancetta Salmon Kebabs on Arugula

My sister-in-law Tori calls these “Easy Peasy and Absolutely Delish Kebabs.” I have to agree. She modified the recipe from Sunset Magazine. I tweaked it a bit more.

You’ll need eight skewers (two per serving). If you are using wooden ones, be sure to soak them in water for a couple of hours to prevent the whole thing from catching on fire!

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper, divided
1 1/2 pounds skinned salmon filet (wild caught, Alaskan preferred)
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
3 teaspoons chopped parsley
4 cups arugula, washed and dried


Method:

  • Combine 1/4 cup oil, vinegar, garlic and salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Set dressing aside.
  • Cut salmon into one-inch chunks.
  • Prepare grill for high heat (450° to 550F°).
  • In a large bowl, combine remaining tablespoon of oil with remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Add salmon to bowl and gently mix to thoroughly coat.
  • Wrap each salmon cube with pancetta, then skewer each wrapped chunk.
  • Oil cooking grate, using tongs and a wad of oiled paper towels. Set kebabs on grate and grill covered, turning once, until salmon is barely cooked through, about four minutes total.
  • Toss arugula in dressing and divide onto four plates.
  • Set two kebabs on the arugula bed and serve.

Barbecued Baby Back Ribs in a Slow Cooker

Photograph by Kate Sears

I think I’m like most people and consider the slow cooker strictly a winter appliance. It’s for making piping-hot casseroles and hearty stews. It is kept neatly stored all summer. There is no room for it on the counter with all of the bags of fresh produce we lug home.

Then something happened that changed my perspective on slow cookers. That something was “The New Slow Cooker” by Brigit Binns. We are lucky to have Brigit living among us in the Hudson Valley. She is an awesome cook and prolific cookbook writer — a marvelous combination. Not only does she know her way around the kitchen, she shares her immense culinary knowledge and spot-on recipes.

It’s always good to know someone who is working on a cookbook. There’s lots of testing and, more importantly, eating involved. Brigit was recently working on a new one. Being good eaters, my husband and I happily volunteered to come over and do our part. We are always helpful that way.

On one such visit, I spied a brand-spanking-new cookbook, “The New Slow Cooker.” These aren’t your grandma’s crock pot recipes. The eye-candy photos are inspiring, as are all the dishes that scream summer. Yes, summer dishes in a slow cooker! I went home, cleared some counter space and let my slow cooker see the summer sun.

Williams-Sonoma was nice enough to let me reprint a couple of my favorite recipes from Brigit’s book.

“The New Slow Cooker” is currently available in Williams-Sonoma stores and online at www.williams-sonoma.com.

Barbecued Baby Back Ribs

Reprinted with permission from Williams-Sonoma The New Slow Cooker.
Photograph by Kate Sears; recipe by Brigit Binns. Copyright 2010 by Weldon Owen Inc. and Williams-Sonoma Inc.

1 tablespoon bacon drippings or canola oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) ketchup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
Salt
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, or to taste
5 pounds (2.5 kg) baby back ribs

Apple-Fennel Slaw for serving (see below; optional)

Makes six servings.

To make the barbecue sauce, in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the bacon drippings. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, wine, lemon zest and juice, brown sugar, mustard, chile powder, cumin, celery salt, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook very gently, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until slightly thickened, about 12 minutes. Stir in the Tabasco and taste for seasoning. Use right away, or preferably let cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.

Preheat the broiler. Trim the membrane from the back of each rack, then cut into individual ribs. Arrange the ribs on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning once, until browned on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer the ribs to a slow cooker, add the barbecue sauce and turn the ribs to coat evenly. Cover and cook on the low setting for five to six hours. The ribs should be very tender.

Using a slotted spatula, transfer the ribs to a large platter and keep warm. Pour the sauce into a small saucepan, let stand for few minutes and skim away the fat from the sauce with a large spoon. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil rapidly to reduce and thicken slightly, three to four minutes.

Arrange the ribs on warm individual plates and drizzle with some of the reduced sauce. If using, mound the slaw alongside the ribs. Serve at once.

Apple-Fennel Slaw

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) each fresh lime juice, sour cream and mayonnaise; 1/2 teaspoon each salt and chile powder, preferably chipotle; 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar; and 3 1/4 cups (3 1/4 oz/20 g) fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped. Add 2 large fennel bulbs, quartered lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced crosswise; and 2 small tart red or green apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced. Toss to mix. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Ratatouille

The farmers’ markets are filled with vegetables begging to be in this traditional French Provençal dish. I recommend adding whatever vegetables that appeal to you. Serve it with crusty, rustic bread as a main meal, as a side dish with chicken or pork or as a pizza topping. It’s a delicious way to get a hefty couple servings of vegetables.

I also like to make a double batch of this and freeze half.
 
I roast the vegetables in this recipe but you can also grill them or simply add them all to a heavy bottomed pot and sauté them until soft. This is one of those dishes that seems to taste even better the second day.

If you are using eggplant that is a little past its prime, slice it in 1/2 inch thick slabs and salt each piece. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, then using a paper towel, gentle sop up the moisture and salt.
 
Ingredients

2-3 medium eggplants
2 red, yellow or green peppers
1 medium zucchini
1 medium summer squash
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
5-6 large tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400º F.
  • Cut eggplant, peppers, squash and onion into 1″ chunks and salt and pepper lightly.
  • Toss vegetables with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 4 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of rosemary. Place in a rimmed baking sheet or other large shallow baking pan and spread the vegetables in a single layer (use two sheets if necessary). Place in preheated oven.
  • Chop tomatoes. Salt lightly and mix with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon of rosemary and spread in another oiled pan. The tomatoes will develop a bit of liquid, so be sure the pan has high sides. Place pan in oven.
  • Roast vegetables, turning a couple times for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Some of the vegetables will get a nice roasted brown color. Be careful not to burn.
  • Combine roasted vegetables; be sure to include the liquid from the tomatoes. Add chopped basil and mix. Serve hot or at room temperature.
  •  

Serves four.
 

Grilled Whole Chicken

In the summer heat, my goal is to turn on the oven as little as possible. We have a small kitchen and no air conditioning so, when it gets too hot in the kitchen, we do indeed get out of it.

Thankfully we have a grill. My husband and I got a beautiful grill as a wedding gift. We were eager to get it up and running because we had invited people over for a pre-wedding cookout and our new grill would play an important roll in that event.

Since in a few days we were expecting 50 plus people in our backyard, we opted to go pick up the grill from Sears instead of waiting to have it delivered. Loading the heavy, large, flat box into our truck was the first clue that “some assembly required” took liberties with the word “some.”

Assembling a grill with 42 pages of instructions should be a requirement for all engaged couples. You find out interesting things about your betrothed that may have otherwise taken years to uncover. For instance, you may discover that your wife-to-be always likes to try everything without first reading the directions on the off chance that she can figure it out on her own. Or maybe your groom, when frustrated, tends to use a hammer when other, more appropriate tools, like a screwdriver, might work better.

I’m not saying that if you don’t pass this grill-building test, that you shouldn’t get married; I’m just suggesting that it will give you some important framework to navigate your marriage.

“Oh, Kara, remember the grill incident. Read the directions, honey.”

The pressure of a wedding combined with the impending cookout was intense, as was the usually warm May weather. Knowing us, we probably started the project on empty stomachs with a package of hot dogs on stand by for the fully assembled grill. No matter, we finished the task and still agreed to marry each other, even if we did end up with a couple of wayward bolts.

Since then, I’ve been burning up all kinds of things on the grill. I think I just get excited and want to rush things along. I turn on the grill full blast; throw whatever I’m cooking on. I close the lid and walk away. I am always very disappointed when I open the lid to see that my juicy hamburgers have turned into little black hockey pucks. Dang.

Lately, I’ve decided to master the grill. The first thing I did was read our grill’s manual. Second, I learned the value of indirect heat. Not everything needs a burning hot flame under it to cook. If you have a gas grill, indirect heat is a snap. Just turn on the burners for one half of the grill and cook on the other half. With a charcoal grill, you just have to maneuver the hot coals either to one side or around the edges. Indirect heat is a must for things that require a long cooking time, like a whole chicken.

Real grill aficionados pooh-pooh our gas grill in favor of hardwood lump charcoal. It burns hot and imparts a natural smoky flavor. It’s also usually a natural product without the chemical additives that charcoal briquettes can sometimes have. My interests are certainly piqued and I plan to try it the next time I’m around a charcoal grill.

Until then, I’ll keep perfecting my gas-grilling skills and wait for the day when something falls off our beautiful grill so that we will finally know where those extra bolts were supposed to go.


Grilled Whole Chicken

I love cooking whole chickens, but usually relegate that task to the winter kitchen. I was happy to discover that I can get excellent results with a whole chicken on the grill. Now I can enjoy it year round. Use any leftover chicken for chicken salad and be sure to make stock out of the bones.

I always brine my birds. The process captures and holds moisture, giving you a nice juicy chicken.

Ingredients

Whole chicken, about 3 pounds
1/4 cup salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 orange (or half of a grapefruit or 2 lemons)
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
Pepper, salt, cayenne

Method

  • The night or morning before you plan to grill, place chicken in a large bowl or pot and cover with water.
  • Mix salt and minced garlic in about a cup of warm water and stir until dissolved. Add mixture to the pot/bowl with the chicken.
  • Refrigerate and soak for four to 12 hours.
  • After brining, rinse the chicken in cold, running water. Pat dry.
  • Quarter the orange and place in chicken cavity (make sure you remove the neck and giblets if there are any).
  • Rub the chicken with olive oil or butter and generously sprinkle with pepper and salt. Add cayenne pepper according to your spice preference.
  • Prepare grill for indirect grilling. If using a gas grill, heat one side to medium-high and leave the other side off. If using a charcoal grill, light the briquettes. When they glow red, scoot them to the sides, leaving an empty space in the middle of the grill.
  • Once the grill is hot, you’ll want to oil the grates. This can be done using a basting brush (a silicone one works well. Make sure it is meant for high heat), or you may ball up a couple of paper towels, dip them in oil and, using tongs, rub the towels over the grates.
  • Place chicken, breast side down, on the grill rack over direct heat; close the lid and cook for five minutes. Using tongs inserted into the cavity, turn chicken over, close the lid and cook five minutes.
  • Move chicken over to the indirect heat side. Close the lid and cook 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the beast registers 165°. If you don’t have a thermometer, cook until the juices run clear.
  • When the chicken is getting close to done, brush with barbecue sauce, if desired.
  • Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.

Serves four.

Yep, Onion Sandwiches!

onion SandwichDid you catch the NPR story about a retired postal worker? After 37 years on the job, Chester Reed recently retired from the post office. What is remarkable about the story is that he never called in sick. Never. He wracked up 3,856 hours of sick leave. The other remarkable thing is that Chester is 95 years old.

When asked what his secret was, he quickly replied, “Garlic. And onion sandwiches.” Chester’s recipe is to take two slices of bread, put lots of mayonnaise on both slices, cut a “great big slice of onion” and put it between the bread and eat it!

Of course, being an onion lover, I had to make one. And then I had to make another version that my neighbor John told me about. Instead of mayo, one bread slice gets peanut butter (yes, that’s right, peanut butter) and the other gets mustard. Yu-um!

To your health!

Worth a listen: Postal Worker Retires At 95, Onion Sandwich In Hand