Sunday, July 29, 2007

Food Snobbery

I'm not really a food snob. I enjoy a lot of bad food--see the bluberry muffin post. I could eat my weight in Olive Garden salad and Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuit. But on some level, I acknowledge--even revel-- in the badness. It's good eating but it's not good food. Deep down, I think that good food is expensive. Quality ingredients are costly. The talents and skills to bring out the best in those ingredients are rare and usually well-compensated. Zagat's top restaurants are $$$$ for a reason. Or so I've long believed.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a restaurant that changed my mind. It's called Pita Inn. I visited the one in Skokie, but there are branches in Glenview and Wheeling too. I had the Vegetarian Falalel Platter. Six of the most tender, perfectly seasoned falafel patties I've ever had, accompanied by 2 fluffy, light homemade pitas and lettuce salad, hot sauce and tahini sauce. Price? $3.95. It's insane. If you're in the Chicago area, you must go. And while you're there don't try to resist the perfectly sweet and crisp bakclawa. At $0.95, why would you want to?

Martha and Me

Martha Stewart may be the most hated of the celebrity lifestyle gurus. For me, that honor goes to Sandra Lee, queen of things semi-homemade and wholly-repulsive. I understand the Martha mockery. She's prissy and, well, is there something above Type A+? But I don't care. Martha makes great food. And frankly, if I had the time (and patience) I might even try some cute Martha crafty project.

But since I sadly have to work for a living, for now I'll stick with Martha's fabulous Caesar Salad. Honestly, it's rare--very rare--that I make recipes and don't tweak them in some way. I did try some changes, but I keep coming back to the original. Martha made it perfect. Shocking, right?

Let's talk frankly about ingredients here. This salad is a real Caesar. That means raw egg yolk and anchovies. There's some risk in raw egg, of course. But if you are healthy and the eggs are fresh, it should be minimal. I've been eating this salad for years and have never had a problem. If you are concerned, Martha says (and Martha's never wrong) that you can substitute mayo. Now about the anchovies. Lots of people hate them; few of those have ever tried them. They aren't fishy. They just add a nice background flavor. Food is about adventure--give it a try.

Serves 4 to 6.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eight-to ten ounce loaf rustic Italian bread, crusts removed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ten-ounce heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded, inner leaves washed and dried
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, or 2 1/2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler


Make the croutons: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine butter and olive oil in a large bowl. Add bread cubes, and toss until coated. Sprinkle salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper; toss until evenly coated. Spread bread in a single layer on an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet. Bake until croutons are golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside until needed.

Make the salad: Place garlic, anchovy fillets, and salt in a large wooden salad bowl. Using two dinner forks, mash garlic and anchovies into a paste.
Using one fork, whisk in pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and egg yolk
Using the fork, whisk in the olive oil.
Chop romaine leaves into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Add croutons, romaine, and cheese to the bowl, and toss well. If you wish, grate extra cheese over the top. Serve immediately. To make a version of this dressing that you can store, simply mince garlic and anchovies, and place with remaining ingredients in a jar. Screw the lid on the jar tightly, and shake to combine. Shake the jar before each use. Store, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.

The recipe can be found on Martha Stewart Living here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I thought that I posted this recipe a while ago, but apparently I did not.

Jon and I have been trying to curb our dining out :( So I wanted to find some Asian recipes because I love Asian food but have never cooked it. I knew that I would miss it if I couldn't find a way to duplicate it at home and our goal would go out the window with the carvings. I found lots of egg roll recipes online and combined and adopted them to our tastes and came up with this:

Egg Rolls
Large egg roll wrappers
Peanut oil for frying
Vegetable oil
1 lb. ground pork
3 cups shredded green cabbage
1-2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced onion
2 Tbs. low sodium soy sauce
garlic powder to taste
ground ginger to taste.

Brown the pork in a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat. Remove from pan. Add a bit more oil to the pan and the carrots and onion. Saute for a couple of minutes, and then add the cabbage (the cabbage cooks faster and you want it to be more tender-crisp). Saute until tender. Add the pork back to the pan. Add the soy sauce and garlic and ginger and mix well. Set mixture aside to cool. (Note: this mixture can be made well ahead. The cooler the mixture is when you fill the rolls, the better because hot mixture will make the wrapper weak and hard to handle.)

Heat approximately 1 inch of peanut oil over medical high heat in a small, high-sided, heavy pan. (I use a very small iron skillet; a deep fryer would be perfect.) While it heats, prepare the egg rolls. I lay several wrappers on a clean DRY surface. Spoon a small portion of the filling into each wrapper in a line in the center (do not overfill--I estimate 2-3 Tbs.). Fold one long corner of the wrapper over the filling. Fold both short corners in. Use your finger to rub a little water on the remaining corner (this makes it stick). Gently roll the part with the filling over onto the long side to close and seal the egg roll. Repeat.

When the oil is hot (test by dropping a tiny piece of wrapper in--it should bubble and rise to the surface immediately), gentle place rolls into it and fry (turning if necessary) until golden brown. (This process will depend on what you are frying in. My small skillet fits 2 rolls and I have to turn them. The key is not to put in too many rolls at once because the temperature of the oil will drop and the rolls will be greasy rather than cripsy.) Drain on paper towels.

I know that this seems like a lot of steps, but it's surprisingly easy and quick.

I like to serve these with this this sweet and sour sauce I found on allrecipes.

Guilty Pleasures

As you can probably tell from the simple fact that I have a food blog, I love cooking. Baking is a different story. It just seems so complicated what with all the specialty ingredients and the measuring and rising. Jon bakes bread, but I bake nothing. That's not to say I don't enjoy the occasional baked treat.

So here's the confession: I love, love, love...(deep breath)...Duncan Hines Bakery Style Blueberry Streusel. There I said it.

I know they're far from authentic. They're a little too sweet. The blueberries are almost flavorless. But they are delicious. And I love them.

There. I confessed. So what's your guilty pleasure? I know you've got one.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Change in Plans

I had planned to make the asparagus pancetta flatbread pizza tonight, but after shelving our books in the new apartment all day (two English majors with grad schooling makes for an absurd number of books) I was not in the mood to knead the dough for flatbread. So I resorted to an old favorite that I haven’t made in years.

I tossed the asparagus with extra virgin olive oil and roasted it at 450 until tender-crisp. While the asparagus roasted, I sautéed diced pancetta until golden and crisp. I combined the asparagus and pancetta and served it over rice drizzled with a little evoo and dusted the whole dish with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Dishes don’t get much simpler than this one, but there’s something delicious about the asparagus, pancetta, and cheese combination.

When Jon is away...

I'll play. Jon does not like shrimp and I love them. With him away at a conference, I pulled out the ol' shrimp scampi recipe. I used to make this dish a lot because it's fast, simple and tasty. I can't remember the origins of the recipe but I think that I combined one from Rachael Ray and one from Ina Garten. Most of this can be changed to suit your tastes, but I do recommend using lots of garlic.

Mince 4-5 cloves of garlic. Combine approximately 1 clove with 6-8 medium shrimp. Sprinkle liberally with red pepper flakes. Add the juice of half a lemon and extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat.

While the shrimp are marinating, cook the pasta. We've recently switched to whole wheat pasta. I have to say that this is the first dish I didn't like it in.

When the pasta is a few minutes from done, heat some evoo in a saute pan over medium and add 3-4 anchovy fillets. Cook until they melt. (You can omit the anchovies but they give the dish great flavor and is not at all fishy). Add the rest of the garlic and more red pepper flacks and saute until garlic starts getting tender. Add the shrimp and cook until done. Do not overcook! Add the pasta and toss with a little extra lemon juice.

I really like to add some chopped fresh parsley at the eat but alas I had none.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The sweet taste of summer...

While I was home in Virginia, I picked up this recipe from my mom. It's a simple and quick take on strawberry shortcake. I've already made it a few times for events and it's always a hit. The best part is that there's almost zero clean-up.

1 store-bought angel food cake*
2 packs of fresh strawberries
2 packages of Cool Whip (light works fine)
sugar or Splenda
Tear 1/2 of the cake into bite-sized pieces and line the bottom of the dish. Slice one pack of strawberries on top of the cake and sprinkle lightly with sugar (this helps the berries make a little syrup). Spoon one package of Cool Whip on top of the berries. Repeat to make a second layer. Top with a strawberry for decoration. Done--delicious, fast, pretty and easy. What more could you want?

*Note: if you can find an angel food cake in a tall container (like the one pictured), you can invert the cover and use to hold the dessert and use the bottom as a lid. This is nice if you are taking the dessert to an event because the "dish" can just be tossed at the end of the evening.