N is for… Nigeria; Through Every Fault of My Own

Hello

Nigerian Flag

Last week I was tired. Tired and lazy and forgetful. Without a doubt the worst part of vacation is the part where you have to return to real life which has, shockingly, continued along in your absence. On the one hand last week I was busy playing catch up; on the other hand I was wistfully longing to be back on vacation.

I had picked up some great looking eggplant at the farmer’s market on Thursday. I threw in a green pepper for color and decided to grab some carrots too and I’d make a nice saute with herbs and spices to have a hearty vegetarian week. I forgot to get the carrots. FAIL

I’d serve my hearty, now carrot-less, vegetable saute with my Nigerian recipe, Jollof rice as in my research I’d learned that the dish is served with either chicken, mixed seafood or just vegetables. I didn’t pick up any fresh ginger, but I could just use the ground. FAIL

Even though I had little success leaving my hot peppers whole in my Haitian dish, I just was not in the mood to get out rubber gloves so I decided to just cut a few slits in the peppers and throw them in. This time it would be better because I’d be throwing them in boiling liquid. FAIL

Ok so last week was not my finest, but I promise you that I plan on coming back strong soon!

Vegetarian Joloff Rice

  • Neutral flavored oil for sauteing (peanut is traditional, but because of my nut allergy I used vegetable)
  • 1 medium onion; roughly chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes; roughly chopped
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers (don’t be a wuss like I was, cut them in half first)
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 32oz low sodium vegetable broth

In large pot, heat oil. Add onions and saute 2-3 minutes until onions just begin to soften. Then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and started to break down. Add tomato paste.

Stir in salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Using an immersion (stick) blender or transferring to a regular blender, puree until smooth.

Toss in rice and stir to coat with tomato mixture. Add hot peppers and broth, stir.

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is fully cooked.

Love love love my immersion blender!

FINAL VERDICT: C

While I admit that much of went wrong with this recipe was my own fault, most of the recipes I saw out there weren’t that much more exciting than this. I definitely should’ve cut the peppers because the dish ended up having no heat and I actually sprinkled some cayenne in to it after the fact. I also should’ve used one less tomato and a bit more ginger.

Many believe that Jollof rice is the grandfather of jambalaya, a dish that I love, but other than the use of rice and tomatoes I didn’t see (or taste) much of a resemblance. Honestly even if I make all those tweaks I listed above, I can’t imagine this dish ever being more than just ok. It’s just not that exciting.

With the eggplant and peppers mixed in.

Bon Appetit!

M is for… Malta; Cleaning Out the Pantry

Hello

Flag of Malta

Guess who’s leaving for vacation on Tuesday… this girl! I’ll be gone for almost two weeks so of course I need to start emptying out my fridge. I still had some left over scallions from my Korean dish, some spinach and eggs so it seemed like the perfect time to make Froga tat-Tarja, a Maltese dish I’d read about. Malta is a country made up of a series of small islands in the Mediterranean.

With its unique position between Sicily and North Africa and history of colonization by foreign powers such as Greeks, Arabs, France and England the culture is an interesting mashup of all. The Maltese have their own language, which is actually Semitic, but they’ve borrowed heavily from Italian and English which you’ll notice it the greeting at the top of this post. Similarly the food of Malta bears many of the same dishes as Sicily, but often use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Froga tat-Tarja is a Vermicelli (or Angel Hair) omelette. In my research I found that there are only two absolutely necessary ingredients; thin pasta and eggs. Once you have that as a base you can use anything you want. My mind reeled with possibilities. Maltese cooks use leftover chicken or whatever veggies they have lying around. I’d seen several recipes online that used pancetta, a few that used ricotta and one that even used tomato sauce, but I’m leaving soon so I needed to start getting rid of what I had in the fridge. A quick look turned up some spinach, parmesan cheese and scallions still left from my Korean dish and a recipe was born!

Froga tat-Tarja

  • 3 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions or to taste
  • A couple of handfuls torn baby spinach
  • 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg or to taste
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 lb cooked Angel Hair (or other thin pasta), room temperature
  • Olive oil for frying

Crack eggs in to a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and beat eggs as you would to make scrambled eggs.

Stir in cheese, scallions, spinach and spices then fold in the pasta mixing well to make sure the pasta is coated and the mixture is well incorporated.

In a medium saute or frying pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Pour the pasta mixture in to the pan and smooth out to form an even layer. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes then flip and cook about 5 minutes more.

Turn out on to a plate, slice in to wedges and serve with a light salad.

Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 as an appetizer.

FINAL VERDICT: B

What a great use for leftovers! The texture of this dish is wonderful; crispy in the outside and sort of fluffy/spongy on the inside. I didn’t love the spice I used, but I will definitely make this again and would love to try it with ricotta, garlic and whatever else I have lying around.

I ate this with a simple tomato and cucumber salad and some leftover sauteed eggplant. Lovely with a glass of white wine

Tajba Tiekol!

********

I’ll be leaving on a jet plane tomorrow at 5:30pm. I doubt I’ll do any blogging while I’m away so don’t expect much from me for the next couple of weeks.

K is for… Korea; Reunification On My Plate

Flag of South Korea

Ok ok so Korea is not technically a country, but cut me a little slack here as I’m currently filled with the Olympic spirit.

Seriously I am certified Olympics nerd. I love every single thing about the Olympics. The pomp and circumstance, the citizens of the world coming together, the spirit of competition. I DVR every bit of it, grab the kleenex to get me through the wonderful personal stories and cheer for favorites and underdogs alike. I also have a strict “make no plans during the opening ceremonies policy,” so this past Friday night I settled in with a bottle of wine, my mock soy sauce and a everything I would need to make Haemul Pajeon.

I am addicted to Mama O’s Kimchi!

It was a lovely evening. David Beckham was in a suit. On a boat. With the wind blowing through his hair….  Oh err, sorry we were talking about the opening ceremonies and my Korean (but seriously how good did he look in that suit.)

I had expected my head to explode from excitement being that I am both a total Olympics nerd and a huge anglophile, but like most people I found these opening ceremonies a bit disappointing except for the part with David Beckham in a suit on a b… ooohh there I go again, sorry!

They weren’t bad, just a bit underwhelming. Still the part I look forward to most, the parade of nations, was as joyous and heartwarming as ever. My favorite’s are the countries that have one or two athletes. Can you even imagine the pride and excitement? I’m sure for these athletes just being there is a victory in itself and I contend that even the lowest ranked Olympian in any sport is still a thousand times better than myself and pretty much anyone reading this blog at their particular sport.

GO TEAM USA!

Frying away

Haemul Pajeon

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic; crushed
  • Salt to taste
  • Mixed seafood (I used about 10 shrimp cut in half lengthwise a 6 jumbo scallops cut in to bite sized pieces)
  • 1 cup scallions; green parts only, sliced in about one inch sections
  • Vegetable oil for cooking
  • Dipping sauce (recipe follows)

In a mixing bowl combine flour, water, eggs, garlic and sauce. Gently fold in seafood.

Heat a bit of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, scatter some of the scallions in the pan and cook one minute.

Ladle some of the batter over the scallions, covering them completely and allow to cook until the underside is browned and firm enough to flip; about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of your pancake.

Use two spatulas to flip that pancake and cook 5 more minutes.

Cut in to wedges and serve with dipping sauce, rice and kimchi.

Yield 3-5 pancakes depending on how big you make them

Dipping Sauce

  • 2 teaspoons mock soy sauce (or real if you can have it)
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Hot red pepper of chili flakes to taste

FINAL VERDICT: B

This is one of those recipes that could definitely be an “A” with a little tweaking. It was tasty and I liked the texture a lot, but I wish I’d used more scallions and more garlic to give it more flavor. Also next time I’d like to make them a bit thinner. I could, however, just drink shots of that dipping sauce. YUM!

Perfect Olympic meal. I had left over brown rice so that’s what I had long with some kimchi. I forgot to put the dipping sauce in the picture.

J is for… Japan; All You Need is An Ice Cube Tray

Japanese Flag

Like all other Asian food establishments, it’s nearly impossible for me to eat at a Japanese restaurant, what with all that sesame and soy, but I’ve actually had Sushi before. Back when I was living in Boston I had one of those tiny little original Whole Foods (I think it may have been the first on the East Coast) right near my apartment and I frequented it often. I got to know one on the Sushi chefs there and he started making me Alli-allergy-approved salmon rolls. He rolled cooked salmon (I’ve tried raw fish several times and it’s not my thing), cucumbers and carrots in a layer of nori and rice on a clean work surface free of sesame seeds. I skipped the non-Alli-allergy-friendly soy sauce and enjoyed a bit of wasabi and pickled ginger, which I could eat a bucket full of, as accompaniments.

That was 7 years ago and I’ve missed sushi ever since so when I was ready to make a recipe for the letter “J,” Japanese Sushi seemed a logical choice. Then “J” got closer and I started thinking about logistics. “Do I really want to buy a Sushi mat? How often would I really use it? What if I just made Chirashizushi, Sushi bowls, they’re legit Japanese, I know I looked it up. But that’s just too easy and boring, right? Maybe I should look up some Jamaican recipes…”

And so the inner monologue went until a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a recipe for mock soy sauce that people claimed tasted like the real thing and I reeeally reeeally wanted to make Sushi! Still the logistical problems remained so I did what anyone would do in 2012, I took to Wikipedia and looked up the various types of Sushi. My best bet seemed Oshizushi or box sushi, a specialty in Osaka where the ingredients are placed on the bottom of a box, rice is placed on top and then the whole thing is pressed together firmly, unmolded, cut in to squares and served. Oshizushi Seemed like the best bet, but where to get the box? Then it occurred to me; ice cube tray sushi.

Silicon trays work best

Using an ice cube tray to make sushi was something I’d heard about awhile ago and filed somewhere in the back of my mind (a scary, messy, disorganized space; I assure you!). I’d seen the idea in several places touted as a way to get kids to try Sushi* and I just adored it (kids in the kitchen yeah!), but I realized there was no reason I couldn’t use an ice cube tray too. Ok, ok so it’s not really authentic, but I’ve been really good up until now so cut me a little slack!

I had a hard time deciding on toppings because I wanted to at least keep that part authentic, but sushi has become so ubiqutes these days that it’s hard to tell what’s authentically Japanese and what’s not at this point so I kept it simple. I decided on thinly sliced cucumber, thin Japanese omelette and salmon roe. The roe was a bit of a splurge, but once in a while you just have to!

I followed Alton Brown’s recipe for making Sushi Rice which could not have been easier. I put a slice of cucumber in each square of the tray, followed buy a few strips of omelette, another piece of cucumber and then the rice and packed everything down firmly and unmolded them on to a plate and topped them with the roe. Of course there was wasabi, pickled ginger and mock soy sauce on the side too. And…

It. Was. Amazing!!

FINAL VERDICT: A

I’m sorry that there’s not really a recipe with this, but it’s really more of a technique then a recipe. I will so so soooo be making this again with a variety of different ingredients, authentic and otherwise. The only change I’d make is that I think I’ll just mold the rice in the trays and then stack everything else on top. Some of the toppings slipped off a bit after unmolding and I realized it’s really only necessary to mold the rice.

PS- *For anyone saying, “Kids won’t eat Sushi, they only eat chicken fingers,” go visit my friend Erin’s blog and ask her what her beautiful daughter eats!

Erin- I fully expect Katherine to be eating ice cube tray Sushi some time in the next few years.

Broiled Fish with Grapefruit Salsa

I worked out a lot this week. I worked out a lot last week too. Working out sucks which is why I try to avoid it as much as possible. I truly believe that every single person who claims to love working out must be lying. Sitting on my couch watching trashy reality tv = fun; working out = not fun. I (grudgingly) work out because it’s good for me, not because I enjoy it.

Anyway for some odd reason that even I myself haven’t figured out, I’ve gone from the absolute bare minimum of working out to working out almost every day for the past 2.5 weeks which in turn has left me tired. As much as I hate working out, even I can admit that it’s the good kind of tired, but tired none the less.

I was craving a meal that was light, fresh and bright and was inspired to make some simple broiled fish, in this case Arctic Char, with a grapefruit salsa. This was super simple to make and took very little time and was perfect for my workout weary body.

I did almost nothing to the fish, so there’s no real recipe there, but I did want to share this awesome trick I got from my friend Heather. I used to broil my fish in individual packets, but the last time I was at Heather’s she cooked up some salmon and placed all the filets on one piece of foil and folded it in on three sides, creating a packet with no top. She then loosely placed another piece of foil on top to cover the fish. That way you can easily check the fish for doneness without having to pull apart a packet and without risking steam burns.

Grapefruit Salsa

  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper; finely chopped
  • 2 scallions; finely sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon cilantro; torn
  • A few squeezes of honey to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A drizzle of olive oil

Supreme the grapefruit and then roughly chop the segments. Toss into a bowl. Add jalapeno, scallions, honey, cilantro, salt and pepper. Toss together, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve over fish.

I really love the tang of grapefruit and the heat of the jalapeno, so I add just enough honey to round everything out, but not to add enough to add much sweetness. If you prefer things a little sweeter just add more honey.

I despise (if I could think of a stronger word I would use it) raw onions, but it you like them you could definitely use finely chopped red onions in place of the scallions whcich would add a nice color contrast.

I served this over brown rice.

Enjoy!

Summer “Pasta” (Zucchini Ribbons with Sauteed Veggies and Mascarpone)

Last night I made one of my absolute favorite meals, zucchini “pasta” with seasonal veggies and mascarpone cheese. If I had to list the top 10 dishes I make, this meal would very likely be on it. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it also speaks so much to how I see food. It uses local seasonal ingredients I bought at the farmers market and it makes the veggies the star of the show. I limit meat consumption not only by eating plenty of vegetarian meals, but also by making dishes where the meat is the guest star and not the main act. This whole recipe uses only 1/4 pound of pancetta for the whole dish (and certainly could be made totally vegetarian). This recipe also represents so much of what I believe about healthy living and eating. Now, take a deep breath and put that frozen “Jenny Craig monosodiumdycalcitride glucolaurelatepathos may contain rat poison, but it only has 2 grams of fat and 100 calories” meal down and listen to me; I used 1/4 pound of pancetta and 2 oz of mascarpone. I used very small amounts of two fairly fatty foods to add a ton of flavor. So I used a little and got a lot, got it? Plus this meal was fresh, natural and had a ton of nutrients from all the vegetables and I’ll take a little real fat over fat-free chemicals any day!

Zucchini “Pasta” with Seasonal Veggies and Mascarpone

  • 4 medium zucchini (I like using 2 green and 2 yellow because it looks prettier)
  • 1/4lb pancetta (optional if making vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion; sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 oz mascarpone cheese

Using a vegetable peeler make thin strips of zucchini, working down all sides until you get to the seeds. Set ribbons aside and cube up the inside, seeded part of the zucchini (You could just discard them, but I think that’s a waste of food and they’re delicious). Set aside.

Cut pancetta in small cubes, then in large saute pan cook over medium high meat until pancetta is crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon remove pancetta to a plate covered with paper towels. Drain then transfer to a serving bowl. Do not discard the fat from the pan, if there is too much fat pour some out to leave you with a couple of tablespoons in the pan. If you’re keeping the recipe vegetarian skip and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the next step.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is boiling add salt and zucchini ribbons and cooks for about 5 minutes until ribbons are tender. Strain through colander then set aside in serving bowl with pancetta.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and cubed zucchini to the pancetta grease with some salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt since pancetta is salty, if you’re not using pancetta you can be a little more liberal) and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 more minutes.

Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes just begin to soften and lose their shape a bit, about 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the tomatoes to turn to mush.

Gently toss the sautéed veggie mixture into the “pasta” and pancetta. Stir in the basil. Gently fold in the mascarpone until it’s all melted and the veggies are coated.

Serve with an extra dollop of mascarpone and more basil on top.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Tips:

I think this recipe might look prettier if you didn’t mix the sauce into the ribbons in a big serving bowl and instead put the “pasta” in your individual bowl and then piled the veggie/mascarpone mixture on top. I put everything in one bowl because space is at a premium in my apartment.

If you keep this vegetarian I might try adding some parmesan cheese for a salty kick. Or if you find mascarpone too bland without the pancetta, you could replace it with creme fraiche, which is a totally different flavor, but adds a great tang.

The Pudding Pledge (Salted Butterscotch Pudding)

Dear Readers,

I invite you to take the following pledge with me.

OK raise your right hand:

I (insert name), being of sound mind, do solemnly swear that I will never buy pudding in a plastic cup or powdered box mix again. I hereby acknowledge that making pudding from scratch is incredibly easy and with very little work I will create something that is far superior in flavor and texture to prepackaged pudding and pudding mixes.

Seriously, once you start making pudding from scratch you will wonder why you ever bought it pre-made before. One of my favorite recipes of all time  is the butterscotch pudding recipe from the no deceased Gourmet Magazine (RIP, may its memory be a blessing to generations of foodies). It’s not overly sweet like butterscotch puddings you may have had in the past; rer it has a deeper, more complex almost caramel like flavor. It’s a tried and true recipe, but after having that amazing experience at Sweet Cheeks in Boston, where they topped their pudding with salted caramel, I decided to attempt a salted version of Gourmet’s butterscotch pudding.

Salted Butterscotch Pudding

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar; tightly packed
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Fleur De Sel
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 Tablespoons SALTED butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In heavy bottomed medium pot whisk together sugar, cornstarch and Fleur De Sel. Then whisk in milk and cream.

Hey, who you calling heavy bottomed!

Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat; whisking frequently. Then boil for one minute; whisking constantly.

You can see and feel the pudding thicken up.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla.

Pour into storage bowl or container.

Luscious

If you don’t want a skin to form, cover surface of pudding with a piece of buttered wax paper. I’m sort of skin neutral, but went skinless this time.

Skin protection, like SPF for your pudding

Chill until cold; at least 2 hours. Serve with extra Fleur De Sel sprinkled on top. Serves 4.

Extreme close up!

Tip: To determine how much salt to use, taste your butter first. Not all salted butter have the same level of salty-ness. I’d also suggest being conservative with your salt in the actual pudding since you can always sprinkle more in after the fact.

Enjoy!

I is for… Iran. Mid East Peace in My Belly

Flag of Iran

I attended a private Jewish day school from nursery school through 6th grade. Every once in a while to celebrate things like Israeli Independence Day or other special occasions we’d have Israeli food. Well, everyone else would have Israeli food while I ate a sandwich.

Israeli food is very similar to other middle eastern cuisine and middle eastern food is maybe even more dangerous to me than Asian cuisine. Between the sesame and lentils, the pistachios and figs, the dates and walnuts; it is a food allergy mine field for me. So, other than a delicious serving of plain couscous I nibbled on the food from my lunch bag while my classmates savored their falafel and humus and halva.

Then last year I stumbled on an amazing Libyan recipe. It was a lamb, olive and carrot casserole (it’s actually the photo in my banner on the top of this blog). I can’t tell you how excited I was to find a middle eastern dish that I wouldn’t have to modify at all to make. I was even more excited that it turned out to be delicious. Still this is recipe was an exception and most middle eastern dishes are still impossible for me to eat.

Another exception is Tah Chin, a baked rice and chicken dish from Iran. I did try to find an Israeli recipe, mostly so I’d have a good story to tell, but didn’t find any that would be safe for me. The Tah Chin though, required no modifications and I’ve been really anxious to get to “I” and try it.

Tah Chin

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken; cooked and shredded (you can use leftover or store bought rotisserie if you’d like)
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • Salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 8-10 oz yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (or saffron threads crushed and steeped in hot water)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tablespoons butter plus more for dotting

Rinse rice a few times until water runs clear. Cover with water by about an inch. Add salt. Bring to a boil uncovered then turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for 6-7 minutes. At this point the rice should be about half-cooked; soft on the outside, but still a bit hard on the inside.

Remove rice from heat and allow to cool a bit for easier handling.

Preheat oven to 350.

In separate bowl beat 3 egg yolks. Add rice, saffron and yogurt and mix thoroughly. You want enough yogurt that the rice begins to bind together, but not so much that the rice is wet.

I love how the saffron turns the rice such a beautiful color

Remove one-third of mixture and set aside. Stir raisins in to remaining two-thirds.

Cut a round of parchment paper and place at the bottom of a 4-6 quart dutch oven. Over medium heat melt butter. When butter is melted coat the sides of the pot as well (tip: use the leftover scraps of parchment paper to spread the butter). Reduce heat to low

Place the rice and raisin mixture in the pot, pressing down so it covers the bottom of the pot. Press the middle down in to a well and place the chicken on top.

Cover with remaining rice mixture and dot with butter. Cover with lid and leave on the stove top for 5 minutes. This will help the crust start to form.

Move covered dish to the oven and cook for an hour and a half.

Place an inverted plate on top of the pot and, using pot holders, flip the pot over allowing the Tah Chin to unmold on to the plate.

Unmolded perfectly

Slice like a cake to serve.

Serves 6-8

FINAL VERDICT: B

I really enjoyed this dish. It looks absolutely beautiful with the rich brown color on the outside and the vibrant yellow on the inside. The texture is also wonderful; crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Dinner

I kept this recipe pretty basic, but I also saw some versions that called for the addition of sautéed onions with the kitchen and some that marinated the chicken in a yogurt sauce too. Next time I would definitely try one or both of those things to add more flavor, but overall this is a satisfying and comforting dish. This is also a dish that would be great if I was hosting people as the presentation is really dramatic.

BONUS RECIPE

I had some leftover yogurt and I’d recently heard about a savory Persian yogurt drink, Doogh, so I thought why not make a glass to enjoy with my Persian feast. I Googled for a recipe and used it to figure out the proportion of yogurt to seltzer and then just eyeballed the rest of it.

Doogh

  • 1 part yogurt
  • cumin to taste
  • dried mint to taste
  • honey to taste
  • 2 parts seltzer

Mix together yogurt, cumin, mint and honey. Top with seltzer. Stir. Serve Ice cold.

Make sure there’s plenty of room in your glass, the seltzer will fizz up when you stir it

This drink was delicious and so refreshing. Since I know this is supposed to be savory I went light on the honey and this was not at all sweet so it’s not for everyone, but for a savory gal like me it was perfect. As I said above, the Tah Chin would be a great dish to serve for a group and I’d love to serve a big pitcher of Doogh on the side. Maybe one of these days I’ll have to host a Persian party.

I Done Gone Strawberry Crazy!

As it is my deeply held belief that strawberries are the greatest food on earth (and likely in the whole universe), I make sure to buy some every single week when they’re in season at the farmer’s market. Yesterday, at my lunchtime visit to the market, I went strawberry cray-zay! I saw those sweet smelling, luscious red, heart shaped globes of amazingness in front of me and instead of buying my usually pint of strawberries I bought a quart!

Much as I love strawberries and will happily eat them every day, as soon as I was back in my office I knew I’d made a mistake. Stupidly I hadn’t even bought rhubarb so that I could make a quick compote. I have a wedding to attend this weekend and so had no intention of baking either. What to do, what to do?

Then sitting on my couch last night watching Bravo’s Top 20 Real Housewives Reunion Moments show PBS it hit me; Strawberry Balsamic Sauce! It’s incredibly easy to make and really versatile. You can drizzle it on vanilla ice cream or scoop it on a simple pork loin. It’s also super simple to cater to your own personal tastes; add more sugar if you like it sweeter (or if your strawberries aren’t that sweet) or more vinegar if you like more of a tang.

Cooking away

Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

  • About 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Throw everything in to a pot and gently boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Yes, it’s that simple and so so delicous. If you’re serving it over ice cream or with pound cake I’d suggest grabbing some fresh basil, slicing into chiffonades and sprinkling on top.

Good on pretty much everything

Enjoy!

H if for… Haiti; Facing Fears and Failing

Alo!

Haitian flag

I have heard multiple times that Haitian food is delicious so I was really excited to cook “H.” I decided to go with two dishes; Griot, a fried pork dish which is probably Haiti’s most famous and Pikliz, a quick pickled cabbage condiment that served alongside most everything in Haiti.

The ingredients for these two recipes are all quite common save two; sour orange juice and Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) peppers. One of the great pleasures of doing this international cooking project in New York City, and one of the greatest pleasures of living in New York City is that you can get your hands on pretty much anything. I got lazy though. It’s been a really busy few weeks and I just didn’t feel like traipsing the city to get my hands on sour orange juice; instead I used Rick Bayless’s tip of 1/2 cup orange juice and 1 cup of lime juice. Then came time to decide what to do about the hot peppers.

As a spicy food lover I’m always eager to eat a fiery dish, but cooking with one of the hottest peppers on the planet struck fear in my heart. I’m a huge klutz and I could easily visualize myself sitting in the emergency room after thoughtlessly rubbing my eye with a hand that had just held the cut peppers. “No,” I thought, “I won’t let fear hold me back. I will be extra careful and take all the necessary precautions. Bring on the peppers.”

I purchased two Habaneros (there were no scotch bonnets) and a pair of rubber gloves, and blasted the theme from Rocky on my iPod… well ok maybe not that last part. All the Pikliz recipes I found called for 6-8 thinly sliced Scotch Bonnet or Habaneros. 6 to 8! As much as I love spicy food that just sounded insane so I decided to go with just one thinly sliced pepper.

Pikliz

My first mistake was buying rubber gloves instead of latex. The gloves were big for my little hands which made the process arduous. I thinly sliced about 3/4 of the pepper, but by the time I got to the upper 3rd, where the seeds are I was annoyed by the gloves and figured I wouldn’t want to use the seeds (the hottest part) anyway so I quit and threw the thin slices of Habanero in with the rest of the ingredients to “quick pickle” over night.

For the Griot I couldn’t seem to get a consensus on what to do with the peppers; some recipes called for one pepper minced, others used half and some wimpy americanized recipes called for just a couple of dashes of hot sauce. Then there were a few recipes that said to just cut the stem off the pepper and throw it in whole thereby making the dish hot, but not lethal. I went with that one. I did actually cut a few slits in the pepper and, once it was inside the bag I used to marinate, squished it a bit hoping some oils would seep out.

Griot

The vinegar in the Pikliz neutralized the heat in that pepper. As for the Griot, as soon as I transferred the mixture to a cooking pot I could tell there was no heat. Habeneros are so strong that I’d be able to smell the heat. I decided to remove the pepper, thinly slice it and throw it back in to pot. I’d thrown out the rubber gloves after cutting the first pepper so I instead covered my hands with plastic baggies. Again this made chopping cumbersome and again I only chopped as far as the seeds, fearing to do more and again there wasn’t enough heat.

So hear’s a question; can cooking be a metaphor for my life? Is the lesson hear that I should be more open to risk, more willing to take chances? Nah! I think the lesson here is; buy better latex food prep gloves!

Even with the lack of heat, these dishes were both great so I’m going to give you the Pikliz recipe and the recipes as I intend to make them next time.

 Pikliz

  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers thinly sliced
  • 4 whole cloves (or a large pinch of ground cloves)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups white vinegar

Place all ingredients in an airtight container.

Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Pikliz will last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks since vinegar is a preservative.

Griot

 
  • 2lbs pork shoulder cut in to 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large bell pepper; sliced
  • 1 large onion; diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic; chopped or crushed
  • 1 scotch bonnet or Habanero pepper; finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 cups sour orange juice (or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice)
  • 1/4 cup oil for frying

Place all ingredients except oil in a large sealable plastic bag (or bowl) and refrigerate several hours or over night.

Preheat oven to 375.

Transfer mixture to a dutch oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours until the pork is very tender.

Remove pork chunks from pot and place pot over medium heat with the lid off, allowing the mixture to reduce (there’s not much liquid so this won’t take long).

Meanwhile heat oil in medium saute pan and, working in batches, fry pork chunks until crispy and brown on all sided being very careful as the hot oil will splatter. This can also be done in a deep fryer.

Toss pork back in to pot and serve over rice with Pikliz on the side.

I need more pepper, you wuss!

THE FINAL VERDICT: A-

This recipe would’ve totally earned a solid A had I not been so conservative with the peppers. It was delicious.

The Griot is flavorful and the texture of the pork chunks almost reminds me of ribs; browned and crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. The vegetables in the Pikliz remain bright and crisp and the vinegarey bite cuts through the richness of the pork when eaten together.

Obviously next time I make this I’ll add more hot peppers, but other than that I wouldn’t make any other changes. I love recipes like this where you get so much flavor for so little work.

Bon Apeti!

**Remember Haiti is a place that needs your help! Please consider opening your hearts and your wallets. Two organizations I would recommend are Partners In Health and Fonkoze so check ’em out.