Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Indian Summer

We're on our last leg of summer here in Los Angeles. Some days are cooling down, and beginning to resemble what we know to be Fall. However, today the temperature gauge will reach 90 - something, making us well aware that summer isn't quite over. I walked by these popsicle molds in Whole Foods the other day and was immediately reminded of the times we would visit my grandma's house in Florida. She always had dozens of cherry flavored popsicles on hand, such a welcomed treat for my sister and I.
Instead of using Jell-o and Kool -Aid, which is what she did, I used a watermelon which was on it's way out, and simple syrup. Blending the watermelon chunks and straining out the seeds is the bulk of the work. I am sure almost any fruit could stand in for the watermelon. If you don't want any extra sugar, leave out the simple syrup. Just blend up fruit(s), and freeze! These frozen treats will speak directly to your inner-most child.

Watermelon Popsicles
makes about 6 popsicles

1/4 whole watermelon, cut into chunks, blended and strained through mesh colander
1 cup water
1 cup simple syrup
popsicle molds

Make simple syrup: (optional)
In a sauce pan, bring water and sugar to a boil and allow sugar to dissolve. About 3 - 5 minutes.
Allow to cool to room temp.
In a bowl, or pitcher with a spout, add simple syrup to watermelon juice.
Pour into popsicle molds, leave about 1/2" room at the top.
Place sticks on molds and freeze for about 2 hours, or until frozen completely.

Yvette Roman Photography, 2008.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mangoes and Curry Leaves, part II

I wrote about these amazing burgers months ago. I decided to repost because now I have some beautiful photos of them. Recently, we grilled about 20 burgers for our closest friends, one of them being Yvette, my dear and talented wonder-friend. I asked her to put her burger down mid-meal and take some photos. (She's a not only an amazing photographer, but also a good sport!).
These burgers come from a great cook book, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It chronicles their travels through the great sub continent.
After making these as often as I have, I prefer to omit the yogurt that is called for in the meat mixture. I find that it makes these too moist and they are likely to fall apart on the grill. Instead, I make a yogurt cucumber sauce (raita), which works really well. To top these off, we add a simple watercress and shallot salad which we use as a condiment.

Cumin - Coriander Beef Patties
From Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

About 1 lb best-quality lean ground beef (preferably grass fed/organic)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro or mint leaves
vegetable oil

Place meat in a bowl, add onion, ginger. cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, yogurt and vinegar. Mix well with your hands - you want a smooth texture. Add cilantro or mint and fold into meat. Form patties into an oval or round about 3/4 " thick. Place on lightly oiled plates. Grill patties over medium flame, turning after 5 minutes. Cook to desired temperature.
Serve with toasted pita bread or flat bread.

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce / Raita

1 cup Greek yogurt - plain
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 radishes, finely diced
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime

Mix together - chill until service.

Watercress and Shallot Salad
1 bunch watercress - roughly chopped
1 shallot, cut thinly
juice of 1 lime
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place watercress and shallot in large salad bowl, add lime juice and olive oil. Toss gently and serve.

Salt and Pepper

About four years ago, I saw a lovely cookie recipe in the Los Angeles Times Magazine which looked elegant, yet totally unexpected. A basic sugar cookie dusted with Fleur de Sel and cracked black pepper, brilliant! I saved the article and stuffed it into some place and forgot about it soon after, (like most of the recipes I find). Fast forward to a few days ago, as I was unpacking some boxes of cook books, I happened upon my now faded torn out page of that same recipe. (love that!). As it turned out, I had the perfect occasion to try them, our Labor Day party in a day or two. So, I made a few dozen for our friends and they were an instant hit. It's the unexpected salty and sweet combination, rounded out by a little spice that got people talking.
This recipe is quite versatile and since sugar cookies are like blank canvases, I think next time I'll try lavender or sage. The options are limitless. I encourage you to experiment with this ever so simple recipe.

Fleur de Sel and Black Pepper Cookies
Adapted from Phil Barber, 2004.
Makes 3 dozen 1 1/4 inch round cookies

2 teaspoons lemon zest
*optional: 2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme, finely chopped sage, or lavender or nutmeg...
4 oz. butter (1 stick), softened
4 TBLS sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
2 pinches table salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon Fleur de Sel

Cream lemon zest, *optional herbs/spices, butter and sugar. Add flour and salt mix until a thick dough forms. Form dough into a ball, place in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8 thick. Cut cookies into any shape you like.
Crack fresh pepper and sprinkle Fleur de Sel on each cookie.
Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10 -15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Cool slightly and serve.

UPDATE: I baked a batch of these over the weekend and added freshly ground nutmeg and they were amazing. I served Indian food for dinner and these cookies with a hint of nutmeg complemented the spices we had just eaten. I also made chai tea to serve with the cookies - all good! I took Yvette's advise and instead of rolling out the dough and using a cookie - cutter, I rolled dough into a round log, stuck it in the freezer for about 30 minutes and just cut from the log - it was so much easier, thanks, Yvette!
Yvette Roman Photography, 2008.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Poppy Seed Cheesecake

For some reason, I was under the impression that making a cheesecake was difficult, so I never tried one. (Plus I didn't think I liked the thing). I was used to the overly sweet mound of cream cheese, topped with some kind of sticky, syrupy, shiny fruit. But as I was going through a new (seriously great) cookbook of mine, I saw this cheesecake and decided to give it a shot. I am really glad I did - it is so good. Rich, creamy and fantastically easy to prepare. The original recipe calls for drunken raisins, soaked overnight in vodka, but I omitted that step because my husband doesn't like raisins. The poppy seeds give this otherwise texture-less cake a subtle crunch. If you are planning on having anyone over for dinner, make this and they will think you are a super hero. (At least, that's how I felt).

Poppy Seed Cheesecake
Adapted from John Pawson and Annie Bell's, Living and Eating.

Serves 6-8
2 TBLS softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup white bread crumbs
1 tsp sugar

1/2 cup golden raisins
4 TBLS lemon, or any flavored vodka
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 medium eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 - 2 TBLS poppy seeds

Place raisins in a bowl and pour vodka over them. Soak overnight.

Preheat oven to 375. To prepare base, grease an 8" spring form pan, using all of the butter.
Mix bread crumbs and sugar and press into the sides and base of the pan.

To make the filling, blend cream cheese and sugar in food processor. Beat in eggs and heavy cream, carefully fold in flour and vanilla extract. Mix in raisins and residual soaking liquor. Carefully pour mixture into prepared cake pan. Dust surface with poppy seeds so it is lightly covered in a thin layer. Bake for 45 minutes - until just puffy around the sides. It should be wobbly in the center. Turn off oven and open door slightly. Cool in oven for one hour. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Turkey meat balls and Romesco

This is really fast and easy. I didn't have a clear idea of what I was going to make for dinner, I walked aimlessly through the market today and picked out random items hoping I could come up with a meal. Ground turkey and a plethora of red bell peppers from the Newman's garden steered me in this particular direction. I picked a handful of herbs, and dinner is served!
Consider a simple green salad to make this an elegant meal.

Romesco originates from Catalonia, Spain. It's typically made with almonds, roasted red peppers (or tomatoes), roasted garlic, olive oil and a hint of sherry vinegar. Try it with roasted vegetables, fish or poultry. I don't follow a recipe, but there are many versions readily available. Here's what I do:

4 red bell peppers - roasted and skins removed* (see below)
4 cloves garlic, raw or roasted
1 large handful of blanched almonds
pinch of paprika
pinch of red pepper flakes
drizzle of sherry vinegar
salt and pepper taste
extra virgin olive oil

Place everything above in a food processor, except olive oil, and blend, slowly adding oil until the consistency is thick, yet smooth. Make sure the almonds have been ground all the way. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temp.

*The easiest way to roast peppers is to rub a very small amount of olive oil on peppers and place them on top of your burner (gas stove ONLY), set the heat to med/low and allow peppers to char on all sides. (If you are using an electric oven, place the oiled peppers on a pan and place under the broiler, rotating every few minutes until charred). After, place peppers into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The heat will allow the skins to separate and then they can be peeled of. Wait a while, the peppers are little pockets of steam waiting to be released. Remove the seeds and charred skins when they have cooled.

Turkey Balls
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb dark turkey - ground
1 egg
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbls fresh sage - finely chopped save a few sprigs and leave whole
1 tbls fresh thyme - finely chopped
1 tbls fresh rosemary - finely chopped
1 tbls fresh basil - finely chopped
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, place the above ingredients and combine thoroughly. Shape bite - size balls and set aside.

Heat oil in a large saute pan and place a handful of sage in hot oil for a few seconds to flavor the oil. Remove it and add turkey balls. Careful not to over crowd pan. Saute on each side for about 8 minutes, or until cooked all the way through. Drain balls on paper towels. Serve warm with romesco sauce.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh, the Joy!

(This 1946 Joy of Cooking is a reprint of the 1943 edition and was printed through 1950.)

Recently, I bought a few more cook books for my cooking library. As much as I love the modern recipes and glossy photos (food porn), I always seem to refer to the greatest reference book of all, The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and her daughter, Marion, who was first to illustrate and test her mother's work . (Great title, by the way). True, I don't really need to revisit chicken a la king (pg. 502), or marshmallow pudding (pg. 746), I do use it for basic things like mayonnaise, meringues, cakes, and basic cooking methods. Some recipes are grossly out dated, but don't be fooled, this book is a treasure for all food lovers. It's my most adored book, and I would bet that if you have one, it was bought by your mother, or even better, her mother. If you don't have a copy, look for one in a second hand store, it would be a sweet find, especially if you come across an original vintage edition.

(The highest known sum ever paid for the paperback rights to a single book, $1.5million, is for a cookbook that first came out in 1931: "Joy of Cooking.") NY Times.