I like to say I was born with a stainless steel thumb - my culinary equivalent of the green thumb - and that's a lucky thing for me since my passion in life is food and cooking, and everything that comes a long with it.
What do I do with my life? I dream food, think food, look at food, read about food, work in the food business, travel via food, talk about food, use food as my artistic muse, teach others about food, and clearly, cook, play with and EAT food!
Food is my compass.
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
So, it's HALLOWEEN!! Unfortunately, I didn't have all of the above ingredients from Billy Shakespeare's hell-broth - but maybe next year. Of course, I had to keep thematically appropriate - it is one of my favorite holidays after all. A wave of nostalgia always sweeps over me around this time of year. I always loved dressing up and trick-or-treating as a wee one, the Halloween parades in elementary school, and I absolutely LOVED watching Disney's Halloween Treat (anybody...anybody?). McDonald's Halloween trick-or-treating pails came out, as did the Pennywhistle Halloween Party Book. I remember how my mom used to deck out the house with creepy decorations - including the giant spider that she rigged up from the entrance into our house, that would drop RIGHT in your face as soon as you closed the door shut. (AMAZING! Bringing this one back, big time) The old Halloween parties we used to have were always great, dancing to the Monster Mash, eating eyeballs, worms in dirt, pickled brains, zombie fingers, you name it. The grosser, the better. Heck, Hocus Pocus is one of the best movies ever. Shout out to SJP on that one! Oh, and mashed boo-tatoes. Thank you, Martha.
Honestly, I can't wait until I have an actual HOUSE that I can decorate, where kids come and trick-or-treat, and get terrified/entertained by all of my Halloween to-dos. Obviously, I will be giving out King Size Candy Bars. Dear person who hands out apples (not even caramel or candied), quarters, and other not exciting things: you are the Scrooge of Halloween. Granted, I'm generally opposed to mass-produced hullabaloo such as candy bars, but I'll make exceptions for Halloween. Soon, that day will come! But for now, I'm just going to stick with some serious cooking business. So why not amp it up this year with something macabre or downright gruesome? Or - something only a pescatarian vampire (?) would eat - BLOOD CLAMS! You heard me - blood clams. No, these aren't like blood diamonds - they are legitimate, live, bloody clams. Mmm, gory!
Seemingly normal on the outside...
All that bloody goodness on the inside! Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's hit up some biology. Most clams/any bivalve or mollusk you see has clear "liquor" inside. What's different with these little gems is the presence of hemoglobin and myoglobin in their blood - an oxygen-transporting protein. Of course I had to have blood clams on Halloween! Deliciously appropriate. Like any other clam, this can be eaten raw, with some cocktail sauce or a squeeze of lemon, or cooked. Blood Clam chowder anyone? I decided to give it a little kick and make it into a ceviche, so...partially cooked! I did try one of these guys on their own, just to see what the flavor was like - of course, it had the typical shellfish flavors of the ocean, but this was just a bit more "meaty" tasting if you will - a bit more depth of flavor than standard shellfish. So sanguine!
Blood Clam Ceviche
8 blood clams, shucked
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup diced watermelon
2 T thinly sliced scallion, plus more for garnish
2 T thinly sliced jalapeno, plus more for garnish
Ceviche is literally the easiest thing in the world to make - and I love it! Combine all of the ingredients besides the salt together and let sit for about two minutes. Be sure not to let it sit any longer lest your clams will become tough and chewy! Note: in ceviche, seafood is essentially "cooked" (proteins denatured) by the acid it's sitting in. You can see this best with a thin slice of some white-fleshed fish. If you squeeze lemon or lime on it, you can literally watch as it becomes more and more opaque over time. Yay cooking! Drain some of the liquid from the mixture and serve. For looks, I put the clams back into their shells with just a bit of it's marinating liquid, ensuring to get a few pieces of watermelon in there also. Top with a few slices of scallion and jalapeno, a tiny sprinkling of salt, and you're ready to dig in!
So you may not be able to find any blood clams around, but I assure you this preparation is just as good with any other bivalve - or any fish for that matter! A little bit of sweetness, plus a little bit of kick - not to mention a great textural combination between the melon, clam, pepper, and scallion. There you have it! So if you're bloodthirsty, seek these out. Otherwise, have a GREAT Halloween, and don't forget - King Size candy bars always win.
So the fall season is fully upon us - I've whipped out my scarves and gloves already, and my coats have gotten more than their fair share of usage. The air's turned a bit crisp (and smells like winter - oh no!), the leaves are starting to fall, and Halloween is just around the corner. With that, our cooking tends to turn towards more comforting, home-y and warm-spiced goodness. Stews, soups, and long roasting take the lead. Or, if you're like me, tagines come into handy. Just a year ago, I serenaded Moroccan cooking - perfect for this time of year! The winter vegetables and fruits are bountiful. Sweet potatoes, squashes, and apples (oh my!) AND, one of my favorites, cabbage! Granted, I use cabbage all year round, but there's something about Fall that just makes me crave braised red cabbage. And braise away I did. Braised red cabbage is always super delicious, gorgeous on the plate (purple!) and beyond that, it is ridiculously good for you! Read: tons of antioxidants - thank you anthocyanin. The other great thing is that you can combine it with just about anything - pork, veal, beef, fish, duck, chicken - you name it! My fishmonger had some particularly good looking grouper today, so grouper it was.
Mustard Crusted Grouper with Braised Red Cabbage
2 lb grouper fillets, or other firm white fish, skinned and portioned (preferably from the shoulder end)
1/4 C Greek yogurt
1/4 C whole grain mustard
2 T capers, chopped
Salt and pepper
For the cabbage:
1 head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1-2 firm apples, depending on the size, julienned (Fuji, Macintosh, Pink Lady, etc.)
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup chicken or turkey broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Begin by preheating the oven to 400F. Prepare a baking pan or dish for the fish by lining it with foil. Next, begin cooking the cabbage. Heat a medium to large sauce pot (big enough to hold all the cabbage) over medium-low heat, and allow to come to temperature. Heat the olive oil until it shimmers, and add the onion. Allow the onions to cook until they are soft and slightly caramelize, then add in the julienned apple. Cook until soft. Next, toss in the red cabbage and allow it to saute for about a minute, stirring often. Pour in the apple cider vinegar, stir a few times, then pour in your stock. Give it a quick stir, cover the pot, and allow the cabbage to cook for at least 20 minutes. If there is a lot of liquid remaining, turn the heat to high and allow it to reduce until it's almost gone. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and fresh ground black pepper as needed. This recipe will produce a lot of braised cabbage, but it's epically delicious as leftovers!
Now onto the fish! Amply sprinkle each fillet with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, and capers and stir until combined. If you don't have whole grain mustard, you can definitely use Dijon, but I like the added pop of the mustard seeds! Spread a layer of the mustard mixture over the top of each fish fillet. Bake the fish for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness, until it is just cooked through. Place the fish under the broiler for the final minute or two of cooking to brown the mustard coating. If you're unsure when the fish is done, you can use the Ripert technique - stick a metal skewer into the center of a fillet and touch it to your lip - if it's warm, but not hot, it's done!
At this point, both the cabbage and fish should be ready for plating. Spoon a hefty amount of the cabbage onto a plate, and top with the baked fish. I finished mine with a bit of fresh tarragon which added a nice nuance to the flavor profile, but it's just as delicious as is!
Such a tasty dish! The flavor combination is divine - the braised cabbage has a great depth of flavor, but is brightened by the acidity of the apple cider vinegar. The mustard coating on the fish is just enough to give a bit of bite, but isn't so strong that it overpowers the flavor of the fish itself. Altogether, the mustard and cabbage combination lead to a dish that just as pleasing on the palate as it is on the eyes! Definitely give this dish a try when you're in the mood for a hearty, but not overly filling meal. Or, at least braise yourself some cabbage to have on hand!
OKRA! Oh, how you have been taunting me the past couple weeks - looking all nice and pretty at the market week after week. Red AND green. But what to do with okra!? I've heard horror stories about it's gooey-ness and being sticky all over the place. It definitely doesn't have a strong hold in my cooking repertoire, but mostly because I couldn't ever get serious inspiration from the fruit. But it's definitely a pod I will be experimenting with more! Naturally, I had to do a little okra research. Okra, of all things, is of the mallow family and is related to cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus. The flowering okra plant does bear similarities to the hibiscus plant if you compare the two! The cotton and cocoa I'll have to look into a bit more, but I'll leave that for later. We all know the common Southern use of okra in gumbo and to thicken soups and stews, but it's also used widely in Asian, Indian, Caribbean and African cuisines. I wanted to do a little something different - fortunately, I had a random light bulb moment, and recalled an okra side dish a family friend had made for me some time back, and I knew I had to recreate it!
Spiced Okra with Chickpeas and Tamarind
3/4 lb okra, washed and dried
4 T vegetable oil
1 t whole black mustard seeds
6 fresh, or 10 dried curry leaves
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 t ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground turmeric
Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
1 C cooked chickpeas
Salt, to taste
2 T tamarind paste
Once the okra is washed and dry, trim off the stem and slice crosswise into 1/2 in pieces. Note: stickiness was not an issue! Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a saute pan with a lid. When the oil is shimmering, add in the curry leaves and mustard seeds. Be careful here - the mustard seeds can act like Mexican jumping beans!
After about 20 seconds, add in the minced garlic and saute until golden. Finally, add the sliced okra and ground spices and stir to combine. Saute for about a minute, distributing the spices, and finally pour 1 cup of water into the pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Finally, stir in the chickpeas, salt, and tamarind paste. Cook for another five minutes, covered, or until the chickpeas are just heated through. Done! (PS: remove the curry leaves!)
This dish really is delicious, and could be a definite full meal for a vegetarian, or any old meatless Monday! The chickpeas really help to round out the dish and make it heartier. The flavors in this dish are really wonderful - a bit acidic and sweet from the tamarind paste, with a really deep warmth from the coriander, cumin, and cayenne. The pinch of cayenne really added the perfect amount of spice to this dish as well - it wasn't overpowering at all, but left a nice lingering heat on your tongue! Absolutely lovely. And so absolutely simple as well! Okra, welcome to the club - you are officially part of my culinary arsenal now!
I had a bit of a surprise when I started unpacking my groceries from the market the other day...I heard a slight buzzing noise. At first, I thought I was losing it, but lo and behold, there was a HONEY BEE IN MY KITCHEN! Fortunately, honeybees are not as terrifying (looking) or belligerent as wasps, and they're generally more concerned about sweet things than people - so I just closed the bag back up, walked outside, and let him go. It seemed like every bee in the city was attacking the Concord grapes at the market - either that, or it's because the honey man sometimes travels with his bees - but my farmer and I both inspected the bunches to ensure we were good to go! Alas, we both failed.
At this point, I had two concerns: Could he find his way back?! I figured yes - apparently, bees have a pretty good sense of direction. Hopefully that's the case, or we've got a country bee trying to live big in the city. Concern #2 - I didn't want to have a hand in our recent honey bee crisis/colony collapse disorder. One-third of the food we eat is produced by honey bee pollination (who knew?), and there is some epidemic causing the global honeybee population to decline. Granted, this was one honeybee taken from his hive, but my brain works in strange ways. That being said, I felt as though I had to honor said honeybee with my next creation!
On a side note - Concord grapes are unbelievably delicious, so I understand why all these bees were hanging around them. I've never been the biggest fan of "grape"/"grapes" but these definitely swiped that notion aside. Once I returned home, I'd pop a few here and there, but I knew I wouldn't be eating an entire quart of grapes - so instead of letting them go to waste, of course I had to make granite! Logical enough, I'd say. Add some honey-lavender madeleines, and call it a dish.
Concord Grape Sauternes Granite
1 1/2 cups fresh Concord grape juice
1/3 cup Sauternes
The granite is ridiculously simple. A lot of time, people will add extra sugar or even a simply syrup to their mixture, but I think the sweetness of the grapes is just enough - that and the Sauternes added a hint of sweetness without being too cloying. To get the grape juice, I popped the grapes out of their skins and pureed them in a blender, straining out the seeds and skins by squeezing the mixture through cheesecloth. You could also use a juicer, or go the Lucille Ball route. Mix in the Sauternes, pour into a shallow dish, and pop into the freezer. Every so often, scrape through the mixture with a fork to break up larger frozen pieces. The granite is ready to eat when it's fully frozen. Also - if you've never had fresh Concord grape juice, you are seriously missing out. It is like grape nectar, and absolutely delicious. And look at that color! (WEAR BLACK!)
For the Madeleines:
3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 C plus 2 T sugar
2 large eggs
1 T honey
1 T packed light brown sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1 T lavender buds
6 T unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
This recipe necessitates at least a 1 hour wait period, or overnight chilling - just remember that when you're ready to make them! Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugars, honey, and orange zest. Either crush the lavender buds in a mortar and pestle or pulverize them, then stir them into the mixture as well. Add the flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Slowly add the melted butter stirring just until incorporated. The butter and batter will stay separate for a bit, but be patient. Finally, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or overnight.
madeleine pan with non stick cooking spray or wipe liberally with butter. Place the batter in a pastry bag - or a simple plastic bag with the tip cut off - and pipe the batter into the mold. Fill the molds about 2/3rds of the way - the batter will rise while baking and spread.
Bake these until the edges are golden brown and the centers have puffed up just a bit. Mini madeleines should take about 4 minutes, and large madeleines about 9 minutes - ensure to rotate the pan halfway through cooking. Remove from the oven, invert the pan and tap it against the counter to release the madeleines. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve warm. Forewarning - the scent from baking these madeleines is haunting.
So, not only are these two treats fabulous on their own, but they go together beautifully! The madeleines are soft and cloud-like, with just a hint of lavender and orange, and the interplay between frozen cold granite and the warm madeleine couldn't be any better. The granite itself has an intense grape flavor, but is mellowed out and actually elevated by the flavor of the Sauternes. This is definitely a refreshing treat for a nice Indian summer! Enjoy!