3.20.2005

Baked egg cups, with sausage and home-made chevre grits

About a week ago I made a recipe from the April 2005 Bon Appetit that I thought had great potential but sucked. Actually, it was the first of two recipes I made from that issue that both sucked. I am not normally a recipe follower, more of an inspiration stealer (the folk process as we experience it), but for some reason I was feeling sheep-y. And it got me nowhere.

The original recipe is for Bacon-Wrapped Baked Eggs with Polenta (p 117), the end result being cute little cups you can turn out. But the recipe calls for a killer amount of parmesan in the polenta, the bacon ends up rubbery (that's 3 strikes in and of itself), and overall it is too messy and time consuming for breakfast. I hated it so much I only ate three bites, even after all the mess and time consumption.

This version tastes fantastic, is less fussy (but still intensive enough to be weekend breakfast/brunch material), but doesn't solidify so don't plan on turning them out. If you don't own souffle cups/ramekins, here's a good excuse! They only cost $3 each for good ones at my local store, Artichokes, or 6 for $10 at chef's catalog. No, seriously, if you don't own them you can bake each portion up in an oversized muffin tin, and then scoop it out onto a plate, but you might as well just cook everything separately and pile it together when you plate it. You could just fry the sausage, set it aside, make the grits and warm them in the microwave, then fry the eggs. Still a weekend breakfast, but not as cute, and not as fun to eat. With this version, as you dig down through the souffle cup, all the flavors mix and its like digging for treasure (sausage, of course).

Baked Egg Cups
enough for a good breakfast for six people if served with a bit of fruit

tube of fresh breakfast sausage
2 cans white hominy (yellow is ok, too)
1/3 cup cream cheese, room temperature
6 oz chevre, room temperature
1 tsp fresh thyme
good salt
fresh pepper
6 large eggs
Spanish smoked paprika


Preheat the oven to 400F. Unwrap the sausage, then cut it into six slices. Flatten each slice a bit so they will nicely cover the bottom of the ramekins. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausages on both sides, and err on the side of underdone rather than overdone. Meanwhile, drain the hominy. In a food processor, grind into small bits to resemble grits. Add the cream cheese, chevre, thyme, salt and pepper and pulse to combine.

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Assemble the cups: put the sausage patties in the bottom, then divide the grit mixture between the cups, press it in and it should come to a bit under the lip of the cup. Make an indentation with the back of a large spoon, and crack an egg into each indentation. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the egg whites have just set. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.

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just before they go into the oven
you can see I improvised because I only have 4 ramekins

3.19.2005

Wine tastings are dangerous.

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I've just come home from a wine tasting at The Red Ginger in Rye. Instead of putting a couple wines out once a week, they get a couple distributors together and have many wines once in a while. You can get on their email list, which only sends out info on when things are happening, by stopping by the store. Today they had twelve wines, five came home with me. They do a nice job of having snackies out, and the wines are almost all around $20.

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I like wine tastings because I really don't know much about wine. I love wine, but for some reason, I can't remember very much about specific bottles I've loved (ok, maybe there is a very clear and obvious reason for this), except for what the label looks like. But I'm working on it, and wine tastings help me learn a lot about different wines and the places they are grown and the grapes they are made from. Plus, you get to sample before you buy. I have no problem picking up a bottle and taking a chance on it, but it's even more fun to get to take home a bunch of bottles that I know I really like. And, it's just plain fun to stand around and drink wine for free.

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First impressions:

Cave de Turckheim 2002 Tokay Pinot Gris (France)
Light and sweet. A perfect summer afternoon wine.

2001 Lamborghini Trescone Umbria (Italy)
Only slightly tannin-y, a really great food wine.

Marietta California Old Vine Red

A blend of mostly Zin, also Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay. Wholesome and toothy, but not overly so. Barbeque.

2001 Innocento Tramonti (Italy)
This wine totally surprised me with its sweetness and rich berry action. No tannin at all.

Choy Umeshu (Japan)
(the one in the funky bottle all the way on the right in the picture)
It's no secret I love the dessert wines, and this syrupy (that's a positive adjective in my book) plum wine/liquor definitely has danger written all over it. Lazy late summer evening, drinking icy sips down to the plums at the bottom.

If you follow the Choy link, you'll find a page with all sorts of information about Choy Umeshu including recipes for cocktails, under the "how to use" section - my favorite being a summer drink of Umeshu and and your favorite sports drink. Under the "History of Umeshu" section, they are selling Choy Umeshu as a health food. I'm sold.

3.17.2005

Second Sunday Supper Club, April

Apologies to those who read this from afar, we are starting a pot-luck supper club, eventually you will reap the benefit with pictures and recipes.

The idea for the supper club has been kickin' around for awhile, and the time feels right to get the show on the road. We thought we'd start out using this blog as home-base, see how that works for awhile for a communication medium.

So the concept: a once a month pot-luck, always on the second sunday, faily early start (4ish? 5ish?) to just have a relaxing end to the weekend. With themes. There must be themes.

The inaugural theme for April 10th is "Spring." Fairly vague, a bit mundane, but we're going to have to work up to things like (my pet theme) "Classic Foods of the '50s," and, (thanks Amy Roy) "Picnic on the Beach" (my house is 1 block from the ocean).

Everyone's invited, I'm hoping for some general idea of numbers from the posts on the blog, but a few more or less a month shouldn't be any big deal. So bring your out of town guests, and if you come down with sickness at the last minute, don't worry.

Pot-lucks can be a little too heavy on the luck factor - so the idea is that each person will generally post what they are bringing. Like, "I'm bringing some greens!" or "I'll bring wine." That kind of stuff.

With that in mind, there are plenty of non-food things that the supper club will need, so if you enjoy food but can't cook or buy worth a darn (yes, purchased food-stuffs are ok), here are some ideas:
- music
- offer to help with dishes
- non-alcoholic drinks
- alcoholic ones
- digital camera
etc.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Snide remarks?

Think Spring.

3.15.2005

The Helmand and Amazon in the restaurant biz

helmand

When my sister suggested we check out this Afghan restaurant in Cambridge, I was all for it. I'd never tried Afghan food before, though I am a big fan of the cuisines of countries surrounding Afghanistan.

My sis was vague in her initial email so I did a brief google search for Afghan restaurants in Cambridge and came up with this link at the top of the results. I am both excited and confused to find Amazon scanning in menus and making them available on the web. Excited because I got to study the menu in advance and refer back to it later, confused because I can't figure out what Amazon is getting out of the deal. I guess they figure they got you to the site, maybe soon they'll be giving you suggestion of what to buy based on what restaurants you eat at. I did like the handy link to driving directions from Mapquest.

When sis and I confirmed the place, she mentioned the brother of the president of Afghanistan is the owner. No political celebrity sightings, though.


The food:

was wonderful. We lucked out and got a seat right away, though the hostess told us up front we could only have it for an hour and a half. Our waiter was great, attentive but not pushy, even fought off a crazy demanding lady to give us decent service.

We ordered a Riesling, though in hindsight this wasn't the best choice. The food turned out to be fairly sweet, and the wine was verry sweet - a medium red would've done well. Although we didn't really know what the food would be like upfront, so we were just guessing. Their wine list is pretty good - enough variety to please most people's tastes, and a good variety of prices to boot.

Bread was brought right away, along with three sauces. The bread was a bit like foccacia, a little thinner, but with the same general flavor, texture, and look. Yogurt sauce with mint and lemon, a red pepper sauce with some balsamic vinegar and honey, and what my sister dubbed "Afghan salsa." It contained cilantro and hot peppers, but had a deliciously definitely Indian flavor to it.

Our entrees were all fabulous. I had the vegetarian special, which was a bit of a sampler plate: baked pumpkin, pan-fried eggplant, spinach, okra with tomatoes, and rice. I adored every bite. I would eat eggplant everyday if it was flavored like that. Spinach, too. It was creamy but not creamed with dairy. B's lamb was so tender it melted in my mouth. Words to describe the flavors aren't coming. Well seasoned, Middle Eastern but definitely Indian, too.

In fact, the whole menu reflected the effect of the physical location of Afghanistan, with such things as kourma and koufta alongside curried cauliflower. There was plenty of lamb, plenty of chickpeas and lentils, and a whole lotta pumpkin. I love pumpkin.

Our desserts were fabulous, especially my bucklawa (baklava) which was heavy on the rosewater, cardamom, and pistachios. And wonderfully, they offered Turkish coffee.

3.13.2005

Happy Birthday Erin, Welcome Home Martha


peanutcups

B was looking around for something to make for Erin's birthday. "She likes peanut butter and chocolate." I vetoed the recipe for Buckeyes (essentially peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate) he found on the 'net because it called for paraffin wax. I know that much cheap decorating chocolate contains wax, but I would have no part in it.

Instead I turned to my girl Martha, who requires such ridiculous stages and steps in her recipes, but who has never disappointed me. We found a recipe for what are essentially home-made open top Reese's Cups in Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003 (p 198).

martha2003

Since this isn't my recipe, I'm not going into detail here, but if anything is unclear, please let me know in a comment and I'll clarify.

The recipe is fairly straight-forward and doesn't take very long, definately worth it. You melt 12 oz chocolate (Martha says 10 oz, but our favorite cooking chocolate, Ghirardelli's sweet dark, comes in 4 oz bars) in a double boiler, put a spoonful of melted chocolate in a little paper cup and swivel it around until it coats the bottom and sides. Instead of making 30 1 1/2 inch and 12 2 1/2 inch candies, (yes, she asks you to buy two different size little paper candy cups. I told you she is ridiculous. She and I have a foodie-sado-masochistic relationship.) we bought foil cupcake papers and cut them down to be shallow. Made about 25 overall. After we did the first round, we had some chocolate left so we added some more to the sides of the cups. Then you put the chocolate cups in the fridge while you make the peanut butter insides.

fillingcups

In the stand mixer, beat 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 6 oz cream cheese (although I would have liked to even it out to 8 oz, to conform to the standard packaging of cream cheese, the end product tastes cream cheesy enough and is the right texture with 6 oz). This is where having a second bowl to your stand mixer is justifiable. Chill the second bowl, then beat 1/2 cup heavy cream until it is whipped cream. Fold the peanut butter stuff and whipped cream together. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can just spoon the mixture into the cups. If you do, outfit a big one with a big star tip and pipe the mixture in. Chill, covered.


Bandchocopeanut

3.12.2005

Mexican candied vegetables in San Diego

I had never seen anything like them before, so when we stumbled into La Panaderia, at Bazaar del Mundo in Old Town San Diego, looking for an afternoon snack, they are what we bought (along with a divine Mexican hot chocolate, really rich and creamy with a good flavor, not Ibarra - though I like Ibarra, this was just way better).


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We tried the calabaza (a type of pumpkin) and the camote (sweet potato).

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The camote was the clear favorite, both for its flavor, but more importantly the texture. The calabaza was too soft, and retained a bit of the stringy texture of some winter squash.

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The camote had a firm exterior, giving a nice contrast to its soft interior. It was also more fun because it looked like a whole sweet potato.

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Here is some info on calabazas as well as a recipe for calabaze en tache from Diana Kennedy, the woman in the know when it comes to all good food things Mexican.

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3.06.2005

Las Brasas, San Diego

A couple of weeks ago we went to San Diego. Although B quipped (repeatedly, to anyone who vaguely mentioned anything about vacation, or a trip, or the zoo) that he "wasn't going to eat anything that wasn't shaped like Shamu and stuck on a stick" I knew there would be some good eating happening. We live in NH. We love real Mexican. The zoo closes at 5pm.


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Almost across the street from the hotel, on the corner of San Diego Ave and Noell St in the Five Points neighborhood, was Las Brasas. There is nothing pretentious about this place, with its take-out order window, plastic ware and styrofoam. The menu had many an item that initially confused me (of course those are the things I ordered), in stark contrast to a couple tourist traps we visited later in the week with their over-explained gringo-plain menus. Now, when I am on vacation in a distant city, my primary mode of eating is usually to eat as many meals as possible in as many different places as possible. So it is the greatest testament to Las Brasas that we ate four meals there. I loved Las Brasas. Every meal after was compared to Las Brasas. "The beans at Las Brasas are better." "This meal would have cost $50 less and made me 50% happier at Las Brasas." and so on. I ate at least three meals I regret, not because they weren't good, but because they weren't as good as Las Brasas, making it an opportunity missed.


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Our first meal was dinner, the night we arrived. With three tables outside and two inside, we decided to take our food back to the hotel, mostly due to the crazy rain. Huge portions, great tortillas, the best refried beans in the country, fun dishes like menudo, and nopales, and every time our total came to $11 and change.

Breakfast couldn't come soon enough - breakfast burritos with crumbled chorizo, potatoes, cheese and egg. Putting potatoes in burritos seems like the most basic thing in the world. So good. So right. Yet I've never had a breakfast burrito with potatoes before. And chilaquiles. Crisp up some corn tortillas, cut them up, then simmer in green chile sauce. At Las Brasas, they scramble eggs and cheese into it, and every dish is served with beans and rice.


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Las Brasas beans and rice make my party world go round.

I had awesome fish tacos from Las Brasas, too, even though they were served with lettuce instead of the traditional cabbage. And some crazy good carnitas, which is amazingly cooked pork, seasoned well but not spicy.

Each morning B and I would walk past the other tourists crowding the hotel's continental breakfast, balancing corporate pastries and week-old fruit on their laps and think, "suckkkas."

This may have been our cheapest vacation yet, food wise. We had a brief moment of planning how to move the entire Las Brasas organization- building, morning cook, morning counter girl, afternoon cook and afternoon counter girl-to NH. Preferably across the street from our apartment.

3.04.2005

Failing Lent

I am failing Lent. B was doing really good, would get up and eat 5 bananas, or 5 apples, or 5 grapefruits, and then get on with his day. You and I know that wasn't the intention, but in his individual B style, that was really good. Then we went on vacation, and he started following my slovenly example.

I should have followed his example. It would be 7 o'clock at night and I'd still need to eat three servings.

I have never failed at Lent before, and the first lesson learned is that it is easier to give up a bad habit than add a good one. (Wait, maybe I've learned this lesson before. Something about excercise.)

But still, I am totally dissapointed. Too bad Lent isn't in the summer. In the summer I eat very little other than fresh organic veggies from the farm I work on. In the winter, my favorite foods aren't environmentaly responsible. Nor do they taste very good.

Cheese tastes good in the winter. As does bacon.

Alas alack.

In a month more it will be as close as we get to asparagus season here in NH, we'll be able to get some from New Jersey. And then it is downhill from there - greens of all sorts, followed by peas, then rhubarb and so on. Until after Thanksgiving I will eat locally, and well.

Perhaps the lesson I can learn is to bust out the canner this summer, and put up some of those excess Brandywines. Then next winter perhaps . . .

But the sun is now out over twelve hours a day, and there is no need to think about next winter. Now it is time to start those tomato seedlings, and dream of sun-warmed tomatos eaten out of hand like apples.