A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Leek, Potato, and Mushroom Tart

Hey, I made a good pie crust! Like, the real way: cutting the butter in with a fork and a cool, fast hand, then chilling the dough, then rolling it out, then folding it up so I could move it and unfolding it in the pan.

This is a new thing for me. I hadn't tried the real thing in several years, partially because I thought I didn't care that much about pie crust and partially because the whole procedure seemed fussy. But I think that was just me being defensive about my poor pie crust skilllz.

Of late, I've been alarmed by the premade frozen pie crusts we sometimes buy -- who knows what's in those? And my simple oil crusts have been tough and nasty. So when I decided to make a roasted vegetable tart thing the other night, I knew I had to make a real crust.

The egg yolks were the trick. I used this recipe for the crust. For the filling I sort of followed the recipe except that I used fewer potatoes, left them in bigger chunks, and added a whole bunch of quartered cremini mushrooms. I also added the two egg whites left over from making the crust. And I used a deep springform pan, so the vegetables had plenty of space.

The whole thing was wonderful. It wasn't eggy or creamy at all. At that high temperature, each vegetable roasted up perfectly, with internal juiciness but lots of browned surface. It was a little oniony -- these were unpredictable local leeks, and they were not as mild as I would have liked. Otherwise, though: perfect.

Local Beets

Apropos of not much, here are some local beets from the All-Local Farmers Market. They were so tender and delicious -- quite a bit juicier and milder than what I get from the grocery store. And rich, so rich -- I could only eat small amounts. I roasted them at 400 degrees for 80 minutes, covered in tinfoil, and sliced them up with just a little butter. They did not need salt or pepper. I wish I could remember the name of the farm they came from.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Classic Mojito Recipe

The point of this post is to record my mojito recipe. I had it down last year, but I managed to completely forget my recipe over the winter and have had to spend the past month re-perfecting it.

Easy way to remember it: the Rules of Twos.

For each mojito:
  1. Put about 2 inches of fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a tall glass. Smush them up a little with the handle of a sharpening steel, which is the perfect muddler if you're not into buying something as fancy as a muddler.
  2. Mix in a measuring cup:
    • 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, which is about 2 limes' worth of juice
    • roughly 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, depending on how sweet the limes are
    • 2 ounces light rum
  3. Mix. If you're making several, you might as well put it all in a shaker with some ice to get it really well mixed, but for just one I wouldn't bother.
  4. Add ice to glass on top of mint.
  5. Pour lime-sugar-rum mixture over ice.
  6. Add 2 to 5 ounces club soda, depending on desired strength, and mix well.

This is a classic mojito recipe, something surprisingly hard to find online.

Actually, decent drink recipes can be hard to find, period. For one thing, neither the public nor the alcohol industry seems to understand the concept of "parts." For example: the back of the Kahlua bottle in my liquor cabinet instructs me to mix 1 ½ parts Kahlua to 1 ½ parts vodka as the base for a White Russian. I am not kidding.

Here, take a look at the mojito recipe at the official Bacardi site: 1 part rum, 2 parts club soda, 12 mint leaves, half a lime, and half a part sugar.

Now, the whole point of giving a recipe in parts instead of measurements is that it's scalable. If you tell me to mix 1 part Canadian whisky with 2 parts motor oil, I can make one small cocktail or an entire punchbowl full.

I'm serious here: You cannot mix measurements and parts in the same recipe. Mix half a lime with half a part sugar? What if I'm making a bathtub full of mojitos? Is Bacardi suggesting that a lime is a quantity fixed in relation to a part? Cause that would make my head explode.

Moreover: there is no such thing as half a part. Rather than halving the part, you double the parts of the other substances. Instead of "half a part Sweet-n-Low to 2 parts Asti Spumante," you would need to specify "1 part Sweet-n-Low to 4 parts Asti Spumante." That's kind of the whole point.

Astute readers will chip in here to observe that my recipe requires 2 inches of mint but doesn't specify the diameter of the glass, which is equally imprecise. That's true. So here: Use 12 to 22 mint leaves per drink, depending on how much you like mint and how much mint you have.

Also: No, it's not okay to make a mojito with dried mint. That's pretty much the definition of not okay. If you don't have any fresh mint, just drink a stupid beer. Or some rum and soda with a squeeze of lime -- nothing wrong with that. Just like in cooking, you have to let the ingredients on hand dictate what you make. You don't make beef Wellington out of leftover hamburgers just because you're craving beef Wellington and don't have any tenderloin.


It's strange having a one-sided conversation here these past few weeks, Mom. It seems to be leading me to lecture imaginary conversational partners. I wonder where you are today -- crossing into Canada, probably? If you get near a computer anytime soon, tell me what you're eating.

That summer I helped you, Dad, and Russell move up to Alaska, I remember eating in a lot of rural Canadian diners. I ordered a lot of Denver sandwiches. Eat one for me. Tell 'em you want 2 ½ parts egg to one lime's worth of bell pepper on six ounces of toast. See how they feel about that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp and Herbs

We have Thai basil and regular basil growing steadily now (except for the Japanese beetles chowing down on them every night), and the All-Local Farmers Market always has local shrimp lately, so I made this herby stir fry. I marinated the shrimp in a little lime juice and fish sauce first. Then I stir fried onions, red peppers, and rice noodles (already soaked and cooked), then stir fried the shrimp and a bunch of basil, then added a sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. I served it over lettuce and more basil, plus some mint.

It was one of my more successful stir fries -- instead of the wok, I used a giant skillet, which made much more sense since we have one of those awful flat-top ranges. Since the skillet was bigger than the burner, I could move things on and off the hot part of the pan just like with a wok over a gas burner.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Garden Foods

The first garden foods are beginning to creep in to our meals. We don't have enough tomatoes yet to eat plain -- the rats got to the first round -- but we had some yellow cherry tomatoes for our salad. And we didn't have enough yellow squash for a squash gratin, but we had enough for a potato gratin with a little squash mixed in.

I liked this potato gratin enough that I plan to make it again soon. I sauteed some sliced red potatoes in olive oil, salting them lightly, then added a sliced squash, then moved the whole thing to a gratin pan. I sprinkled some thin slices of Emmenthaler cheese around and poured a little cream over the top, ground some pepper over the whole thing, and then baked it and browned the top. It was roughly based on MFK Fisher's descriptions of her cauliflower gratin and similar dishes she would make when she was young and poor and living in France.

That funny little thing on top of the chicken is smoked chicken liver. Astoundingly good.

Friday, June 13, 2008

First Okra of the Year

And so it begins again.

I picked up some local crowder peas at the Rosewood Market and cooked them very simply with bacon, salt, and the first two okra pods of the season. And I understood this time what's so special about crowder peas. Lawson describes it as a metallic flavor, and yes, there's a brassy freshness even after 25 minutes of cooking. They taste sort of like fresh peas and sort of like dried beans. Very exciting. We ate them with cold smoked chicken and a simple green salad.

I am impatient for more garden okra. I almost became unprofessional yesterday while interviewing a lady who represents a certain organization that promotes local food when she told me she doesn't like okra. What? She's only lived here a year, though. I guess it took me a few more years than that to come around. She was very neat otherwise. But okra. OKRA.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Spicy Pork Tacos!

Spicy pork tacos! I don't know why that requires an exclamation point, but it does.

Lawson smoked a pork butt last week. We ate the meat with his homemade barbecue sauce for the first few days, but then I decided to try something else. I added chopped roasted green chiles, a fresh green chile, some diced tomato, lime juice, and salt to the leftover smoked pork, and I served it with corn tortillas. On the side we had roasted cauliflower. It was pretty delicious -- the smoked pork stood up really well to the roasted green chile flavor. I will try it again next time we have smoked pork around.

Note to readers: Kris/Mom is going to be on the road for the next 40 or so days, so it'll just be me posting...and she'll have a lot to catch up on when she returns.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pipián Verde

So I made a pipián, the pre-Columbian dish made from toasted squash seeds, tomatillos, chiles, cilantro, and a few other things ground up and stewed with poultry. James Peyton's recipe called for duck, preferably wild, but I used a chicken.

I didn't know quite what it would taste like -- I'd never eaten one before -- and couldn't quite imagine the flavor, so I didn't tweak the recipes much (Peyton + Gabilondo + internet). Next time I will. It was rich but not as full of chile flavor as I would have liked. And a whole chicken was too much food with all that thick nutty sauce. It was mostly like a dull mole (and indeed, Peyton says pipians are like ancestors of moles -- basically pre-roux sauces thickened by tortillas or nuts).

Toasting the pumpkin seeds was fun; they popped and danced and browned nicely. But even with a whole cup of cilantro and some green chiles, the sauce was a kind of an icky light brown. Next time I'll use a whole bunch of poblanos and tomatillos and fewer pumpkin seeds. A little white wine or vermouth would be good. Maybe more oregano. Lime juice instead of vinegar for brightness. And I think I'll cook the sauce for less time -- use breasts or smaller pieces and only cook the thing for 45 minutes or so once the chicken is browned. I don't think it was improved by the few hours of stewing.

Lawson's growing tomatillos this year, so it shouldn't be long before I try again.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Salmon, Red Potatoes, Chard--and Aioli

I took the shortcut tonight and made an aioli-type sauce based on mayonnaise, mixed with yogurt to make it lighter--after all, farmed salmon is fatty enough already, no point in adding an extra cup or two of olive oil. The menu tonight was roasted salmon with basil aioli, roasted red potatoes, swiss chard with onions and garlic, and fresh raspberries.

Over the last couple of days we've had red chile enchiladas with chorizo, guacamole salad; tofu with red curry sauce on a bed of cabbage; and many beautiful cherry tomatoes from the garden.

Basil Aioli Sauce for Salmon

Chop finely, or use food processor:

2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
2 anchovy fillets
Juice and rind of 1/2 lemon
Several dashes hot pepper sauce

Stir into:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Monday, June 2, 2008

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

I saw rhubarb at the grocery store last week (nobody I know seems to grow it) and got to thinking about the rhubarb sauce you used to make when Russell and I were kids. I remember eating it plain, slightly warmed, with a spoon. That was just rhubarb and sugar, right? It was magical.

Then, in one of the many strange food coincidences of the late spring, my pal Kerry sent me a link to this rhubarb pie post.

I also saw that strawberries were on sale, and not knowing whether Lawson was ready to handle plain rhubarb sauce, I then got to thinking about strawberry-rhubarb pies.

But you know what? Pies are too fancy, with their fussy rolling pins and optional lattices and pie weights. So I decided to make a cobbler.

My favorite chapter in the 2000 Joy of Cooking is "American Fruit Desserts." It covers cobblers, grunts, slumps, crisps, pandowdies, and apple brown betty. The linguist in me is ecstatic over this.

I used the Joy strawberry-rhubarb cobbler recipe. It has just a tiny bit of cornmeal mixed into a basic biscuit dough. I used white whole wheat flour instead of white flour. And I made rough blobby chunks of dough the way you used to instead of rolling out the biscuit dough or something else all fancy.

It was delicious. Lawson, who found his one previous run-in with rhubarb pie kind of weird, loved it. So now I have to find out if I can grow rhubarb down here in South Carolina.