Monday, May 31, 2010

Last Class: Food for Students

I am astonished to be posting for the first time without photos and a recipe, but also in a small way consider it a personal breakthrough for having transcended guilt over not doing everything, and also determined to be as reliably posting every week as I was for years. So. A post with no photos, but still, something. And it is, at least, about food.

At the end of every semester, I make a meal for whichever of my graduate classes falls on the last day of term. I of course did something different every time, until enough students who had taken classes with me previously started asking for the same thing again. That thing was: pulled pork with the fixins’: homemade barbecue sauce, my inimitable cole slaw (nothing, really, but for some reason the people who don’t like cole slaw love it), homemade rolls, pound cake­—sometimes pimiento cheese to start. I am, after all, in Nashville during the academic year.

I teach my last class before leaving for Little Compton on Thursday, and I am way too busy to cook tonight (OK, I made a piece of grilled chicken and some lemon-parmesan rice, but that’s not blog-worthy). But nevertheless, I am thinking about what I can make for the students for lunch on the last day of class. Something simple, that will not take too long. I am determined not to do the pulled pork again, despite the pleas. But most of all—and those of you who know me will know the horror with which I say this—I am trying to think of something that can be refrigerated. Without being ruined, that is.

This rules out chicken salad--completely. Quiche. Potato salad. Grilled lamb or flank steak. Enchiladas. Shrimp. OK, pretty much everything worth eating. What does one make when it must be done the night before and not served until Noon the next day, after teaching since 9:30 in the morning?

I am going to go for the notion that the last thing eaten will be the most remembered, and make my friend Trina’s Greek Lemon Nut Cake. Deceptively simple and delicious. But for the main event? Still struggling. Leaning toward a pasta salad of some sort, even though they are plebeian and I never really enjoy them (because they are, well, refrigerated). Some grilled red peppers, onion, and radicchio, maybe some asparagus, some grilled chicken, lots of olive oil and lemon and parsley and parm, perhaps a little smoked country ham and some nuts. At least it’s do-able under the circumstances. I content myself with the knowledge that the students will, for the most part, not know the difference from refrigerated chicken or not.

Or maybe I should just do the pulled pork?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Red Romaine: Bloody Caesar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s hot, hot, hot here—still 82 degrees at 10:00 at night, after a blistering 90s earlier today. Not complaining: I love the heat. But when it came time to turn on the grill to cook my pork tenderloin, I decided I just wasn’t that hungry. I was planning to make a salad anyway, but decided to make it my meal. One of the very best stand-alone salads, in my opinion, is a Caesar salad. It’s got protein. It’s filling. It’s got lemon and garlic. It’s tangy and delicious. And it’s finger food. My favorite way to eat.

OK, I may have just lost you at the finger food part. Yes, Caesar salad can, in fact was meant to be, eaten without utensils. You can dunk the whole leaves into the dressing, like giant crudités. Or you can do what I do—at least when I’m alone—and dress the leaves, then pick them up and eat them. It’s a bit messy, like eating ribs or something, but only a bit. And it’s very satisfying.

There is very, very nice red romaine lettuce from California available now. We’ll have our own within the month, but for now, imported will do.


Bloody Caesar Salad

I mix this is in a lasagna plan so the leaves don’t get bruised. Serve it in individual flat bowls or small oval platters. Use only good quality bread for the croutons, or skip them. Serves 2.

8-10 perfect leaves of red romaine or romaine, washed, dried, and chilled
1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, placed in a glass measure
Enough lemon or lime juice to reach the ½ cup mark when added to the oil
1 large egg, beaten
½ tea salt
8 or more twists of the pepper mill
½ cup freshly grated parmesan

Homemade croutons—sliced French bread, salted, peppered, and toasted

Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to the oil and stir; set aside for about an hour.

Just before serving, toss the lettuce leaves with the egg in a lasagna pan or other large shallow dish. Add the lemon/line juice to the oil/garlic mixture and whisk to emulsify; remove the garlic and pour the dressing over the coated lettuce and toss well; taste for seasoning. Lift the leaves out, shaking them a bit, and place them in the serving bowls. Garnish with a toasted crouton or two; you can toss them briefly in any dressing remaining in the lasagna pan if you like. Generously sprinkle the salad with the parmesan, about ¼ cup for each serving. Theoretically, of course, you could mix the egg, the vinaigrette, and the cheese all together and toss it with the leaves. I just like it this way.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Asparagus for Supper

Asparagus 001 May is asparagus month. Get it while you can.

But dare I say it? Asparagus is not one of my favorites. I do like the looks of asparagus, though. I like its pointy little crowns, its combination of green and purple, set off by a purple rubber band holding the spears into a bouquet of not-too-thin, not-too-fat, spears. I like the little thorns that are not thorns, more like triangular petals. I like their presence on a platter, garnished with egg or red peppers, or fencing a big steak; they are a good accent, like a nice bag or pair of shoes. Food cuteness, or sexiness, or color, or luster, is always important to me, and can compensate enough for the meh taste that I will eat it. At least, occasionally and when, like now, it is at its peak.


Looks, of course, will only take you so far. Asparagus has a dull personality—always the same, not very versatile. I’ve learned not to expect too much from it. If I am going to eat asparagus—not too often—it needs to be quickly and simply cooked; it’s just grass, isn’t? OK, that’s unfair. But just as well that the season is short. I’ll cook it now, in honor of the novelty and its looks. By the time boredom sets in, it will be gone.


Browned Buttered Breadcrumb Asparagus Omelet

Buttered breadcrumbs improve everything. Serves 1.Asparagus 005

7 or 8 small asparagus spears, broken off so that they are about 5-6” long  
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 very small clove garlic (from the inner bulb), crushed
2 tea unsalted butter plus 1 tea more
1 tea olive oil
1 T, generous, freshly grated parmesan
2 large eggs, beaten with 1 T milk or cream
Salt and pepper

Melt the 2 tea butter and the olive oil in a small (9”) pan until hot. Add the asparagus and cook over high heat, tossing around with tongs, for a minute or two. Add the bread crumbs and the crushed garlic and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the crumbs are brown and have dried out a bit but are still moist. Salt and pepper to taste near the end of cooking, and remove to a plate. Add the parmesan and toss.

Wipe out the pan, and melt the other teaspoon of butter over medium heat until sizzling. Pour in the eggs, lightly salt and pepper, and cook, without stirring, until mostly set, lifting the edges and tilting the pan as needed to cook all the egg evenly. Place the asparagus and about half the crumbs into the center of the omelet and fold the edges over. Remove and scatter the remaining crumbs on top.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Celebrate With Strawberries: Mother’s Day, and LCM 3rd Anniversary


Strawberries bowl It is Mother’s Day, and as typical since I began spending the academic year in Nashville, I am alone in my kitchen, without my son, who is a thousand miles away in New York, to cook for. Now, I know that most people don’t want to cook on Mother’s Day, but being in the kitchen is my idea of relaxing. And cooking for my son…well, that’s the best.

It is also the third anniversary of Little Compton Mornings this weekend. Looking back on my first anniversary post, I feel the way I suppose most mothers do from time to time: that they have, in some way, failed their offspring. Since moving to Nashville during the academic year, I have been less attentive to my blog-child than I would have liked, and feel guilty and neglectful. Or perhaps it is just that my blog has been going through the terrible two’s.  Fortunately, many of you seem to understand that, like all mothers, I do the best I can. Thankfully, it’s not children who expect you to be perfect.

Today, I cook what I like, and for no particular reason other than the fact that there are local strawberries, and very good ones I might add. One compensation for spending September to May in Nashville is that I enjoy two growing seasons, one here and one in Rhode Island. I get “the first strawberries” twice. I bought enough to make some preserves, to eat some out of hand, and to make this classic strawberry tart.

To all of you mothers among my readers, Happy Mother’s Day. Now that I’ve made this tart, shown next to the beautiful flowers my son sent me, I think I will go to the movies.


Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry Tart

This tart involves a few steps, but is very easy; you can even make some jam while the pastry is chilling. It is a celebration in itself.

Chocolate Pâte Sucrée

1 cup less 2 T a-p flour
2 ½ T cocoa
8 oz unsalted butter, cool room temperature
½ cup + 2 T confectioners’ sugar (10x)
1 egg yolk (freeze the white)

Sift the flour and cocoa and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the butter, cut into 4 or more pieces, and sift the 10x over it. Cream together on medium speed until the sugar is blended. Add the yolk and mix again until completely incorporated. Gradually add the flour/cocoa mixture, stopping after you have added about half it to scrape down the bowl with a spatula, then continuing until the dough comes completely together. Remove, pat it into a disk, and wrap in wax paper and chill for at least 2 hours.

Remove the dough and soften enough to roll by cutting it into several pieces and kneading them with your hand, then forming them back together into a disk. Tap the disk with your rolling pin, then roll it out quickly on a floured surface; once soft, it gets really soft. Lift the dough carefully into your tart pan, trimming the overhang to about ½”, and turn this overhand to the inside against the edge. Chill again for 30 minutes or so, preferably in the freezer. Preheat the oven to 375 F while it chills.

Remove the pan and flute the edge or press it with a fork. Prick the bottom with fork, and line the pan with foil and some weight (beans, rice, etc.) or a smaller-size pan, lightly greased. Bake 10-12 minutes; gently remove the foil/weight or pan, and bake another 3 minutes or so, until you can smell the chocolate and it the interior is mostly dry. It will look a bit like a large brownie. Cool on a rack.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

I use a standing mixer for this, but it can be done entirely with a whisk. I don’t strain it; you can if you want. Makes a generous 2 cups.

2 cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped into the milk
6 large egg yolks (freeze the whites)
2/3 cup sugar
2 T flour
2 T cornstarch

Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil in a 3-4 qt saucepan. Remove, cover, and keep hot.

Ribbon the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed; it will become pale yellow. Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over it and beat at low speed until incorporated.

Fish out the vanilla bean pod from the milk and discard. With the mixer running on low, pour the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture until combined, then pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan; you may need to wash the pan first if it has milk residue. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly and vigorously so it does not burn or stick, and boil for about one minute until it is thick and creamy and any foaminess is gone. Pour into a bowl and rub the surface with butter. Cool completely in the refrigerator.


While your pastry shell is cooling, core the most perfectly ripe, heart-shaped, medium-small strawberries in your batch; you will need about 40-50 for a 9” tart. Set them, peaks up and with space between them, on a towel.

When the pastry is completely cool, fill it with the pastry cream, smoothing with spoon or spatula, and set the strawberries, peaks up, into the cream, pressing down a bit. Begin at the center with one or three larger strawberries, then work out toward the rim in concentric circles, trying to match the berries by size.

Optional (recommended if your strawberries are not real red, or if you just like the shine): Melt a little strained strawberry jam; I make very fluid strawberry preserves, so just pour off a little and heat it. Brush the tops of the berries with a thin jewel-like layer. Chill for an hour or so before serving.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The ‘Tween Months II: Chiles Rellenos

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I don’t want to bore you with the joys of the season of anticipation, but really, another word about eggs is in order. You know, eggs, spring, rebirth, etc., etc. Besides, I love them. They are, quite simply, the perfect food, the indispensable protein, leavener, and liquid in your kitchen.

So it’s shocking how badly cooked they always are. I swear, you cannot get a decently cooked egg outside of a five-star hotel with a French chef (and then, it’s a gamble) or that disappearing diner with that near-extinct breed, the gen-u-ine short-order cook who can cook your burger medium-rare, thank you very much, or your scrambleds moist and not a single bit of brown! Since this requires demonstration and practice, no directions here (maybe a video in the future. . .).

But I digress. The subject is eggs in the ‘tween season—those months between winter thaw and the first local produce of the year—, and I feel compelled to share one of my prized recipes for eggs (despite knowing that prized recipes are precisely the ones others don’t share, or leave ingredients out of, including many of my so-called “friends”—you know who you are). And this is a true ‘tween recipe in that it uses the new (eggs) with an inventory draw-down item from last summer, my frozen tomatoes.

The recipe, like all good recipes and food things, has a little story. When I was in my 20s—yes, I was really that old (young?) once—I lived for several years on the Monterey Peninsula in California, and worked halfway between the coast and the Salinas Valley, one of California’s great agricultural areas and, therefore, one of its great Mexican immigrant communities. There was a place in Salinas where we used to go for lunch called Rosita’s Armory Café that had huge and wonderful combination plates for $1.99 that included really, really good chiles rellenos. Turned out, my friend and roommate, Lyle, had grown up in New Mexico with a Mexican cook who made some that were very similar. Lyle knew how to make them, and she taught me. I have taken that basic recipe, fooled with it a bit, and combined it with an authentic Mexican tomato broth, not typically found in even good Mexican restaurants in the United States.

My Chiles Rellenos in Spiced Tomato Broth

This dish makes a wonderful supper for family or friends or for you alone. Like all true Mexican food, it is beautiful to look at and cries out for a party. You can make the sauce and prepare the chiles the day before if you want, and the finished chiles rellenos can be held quite nicely for half an hour in the oven without compromise (it took me 20 years to discover this, so I’ll just save you some time. . .), making this a reasonable choice for entertaining. Apologies to Anne, who begged me not to post this recipe because it was too unique. But when it comes to food, I share.

The chiles

1 roasted, peeled, and seeded fresh poblano pepper per person
1 large brown RI egg, separated, per person, and 1 for the bowl
2 or 3 slices queso blanco or good-quality California Monterey Jack cheese, about 1/8” thick x 3” long (mozzarella, goat, or Philadelphia brand brick cream cheese can be used too) per chile
1 1/2 tea flour for each egg (when making a large quantity, you can cut this down)
salt-big pinch per egg

lard for frying (no substitutes please! You may as well eat at Taco Bell! Long article on the virtues and necessities of lard for everything to come in future editions!)

To roast the peppers, place them whole a few inches from a hot broiler or on the grill, turning occasionally, until blistered all over; they should char somewhat but be careful OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         not to burn or they will be ruined (“toast,” I almost said). If you are just doing one or two, your toaster oven works fine. Place in a plastic bag to steam for a while, and when cool enough to handle, rinse the skin off under running water. Gently pull on the stem to remove, hopefully bringing most of the seeds with it. Remove any others by rinsing under running water, and pull away any big fleshy veins. Try really hard not to tear them. Dry between layers of paper towels. When dry, insert a few pieces of cheese into the opening; if pepper is torn, try to fold the pepper edges over each other. Cover and set aside.

Mix the egg yolks with the flour and salt; it will be pasty. In a separate bowl, beat the whites until they form soft peaks: keep them moist and dry/don’t let them break. Fold into the egg yolk mixture in two or three batches, keeping a light touch. Once you’ve done this, you should cook the chiles or the batter will separate and become watery.

In a large frying pan, melt enough lard over medium heat to give you about 1/8” inch of fat (chiles rellenos are not to be deep-fried, ever); Goya or Armour brand is fine if you don’t have a farm source. With a large spoon, drop and spread an oval of batter into the pan, making them large enough to form a “bed” for your chiles, according to their size. Place a chile on top of each oval, and cook over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         and the base is partly dried. Top each chile with more batter and, with supreme confidence, flip them neatly, adding a little more lard to the pan if necessary and corralling any batter that threatens to run away. Don’t worry about them merging together or having imperfect shapes; just sever them at the seam with the spatula as needed and enjoy the informal character of the dish. Sometimes I tip them on their sides to cook them a bit more evenly.

When the chiles rellenos are evenly golden, remove them and place them in a large, shallow serving dish, such as a gratin or Italian pasta dish, filled about half-way with the spicy broth. Serve the chiles over rice, and spoon broth over all.

The broth

This should be thin without being watery, a broth with body and texture, not a sauce. You want it to be absorbed a little into the chiles rellenos and Chiles and Strawberries 015the rice.

1 medium-small sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
2 T lard
5 or 6 whole frozen tomatoes, defrosted (in summer, of course, use fresh), or 1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes
6 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4” piece cinnamon , broken in three
¼ tea dried thyme
2-3 cups pork, ham, or light chicken stock (see Note)

Briefly whiz the tomatoes in the food processor and set aside.

Melt lard and sauté onion and garlic quickly over medium-high heat. Throw in the spices and herbs and stir for a minute or two. Pour the tomato into onion-garlic mixture, blending well, and cook for a minute. Add 2 c. broth, reduce heat, and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes or so to meld the flavors; add more broth or water to as needed to achieve a consistency that is thin and brothy but has a some body to it. I like to leave the whole spices in, for both the rustic look and the flavor. If stored overnight, it may be necessary to thin it again.

NOTE: If you do not have homemade stock, Goya’s Sazon brand ham bouillon powder works quite well; use 1 small packet only, as it’s strong; add additional water to thin.