Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Salad Dressing

I didn't like salad when I was a kid. Salad at my house was iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, white onion and carrots topped with something called "Creamy Cucumber" dressing. I knew other people in the south who preferred iceberg, cheese, egg, tomato, and from-the-box croutons with an orange goopy concoction called Thousand Island. I could never get into it. It wasn't until lived in Paris for the first time a few years ago that I learned to like salad. I remember eating several salades composées and realizing that it wasn't salad that I didn't like but crappy American dressings. This isn't pure food snobbery on my part (I like other crappy American stuff!), but a realization that bottled dressings taste way less good than stuff you throw together yourself.

The following recipes were taught to me by others and I just keep adapting them. Always mix all acidic and dry ingredients before adding oil.

From my first landlady in France, who otherwise was a horrible person:
1 part smooth dijon mustard
1 part white vinegar
3 parts olive oil

From a girl named Laura from BC:
1 part grainy mustard
1 part balsamic vinegar
3 parts olive oil

From Aurore of QFFL
2 parts balsamic vinegar
a little honey
black pepper
3 parts oil

My own making, for that California staple "Chinese" chicken salad:
1 part low sodium soy sauce
1 part rice vinegar
a little sesame oil
2 parts canola or other light tasting oil

Mine again, but for a salade composée with tuna or salmon:
3 parts full fat yogurt
1 part lemon juice
chopped garlic
chopped dill

Monday, September 18, 2006

Red Curry Pumpkin Soup

I made this last night for 10 with some leftovers. Here I've cut the recipe in three for a more manageable amout. I used small pumpkins that were $2 each at the Hollywood farmers' market, but I am not sure how much they weighed. They were a little smaller than a volleyball, I'd say.

1 small pumpkin
1 small head of garlic
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
a thumb of fresh ginger, minced
2 tbs red curry paste (or more to taste)
1 quart vegetable stock
1 can coconut milk (or less to taste)
1 can water (or more for thinner soup)
2 tbs sugar (palm or cane)
2 tbs fish sauce
purple basil cut into thin strips
chopped cilantro
red pepper, in slivers
olive or peanut oil

Cut pumpkin in quarters, remove seeds, and rub with oil. Place flesh side up on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until it begins to caramelize. Cut the top off of garlic and wrap the whole thing in tinfoil. Roast this with the pumpkin.

While roasting the pumpkin, saute the onion in some oil in the stockpot until translucent. Add the ginger and the curry paste saute for a few more minutes, but do not let it burn. Add the vegetable stock to this and let it simmer.

When the pumpkin and garlic are ready, remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them. Squeeze each clove of roasted garlic into the simmering broth. Peel three of the pumpkin quarters and add them to the broth in chunks. (No need to chop). Reserve one quarter of pumpkin and chop into half inch cubes.

Bring the mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Add coconut milk and water so that the pumpkin is just covered. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture. Return to heat, but do not allow to boil. Add diced pumpkin, fish sauce, and sugar. Allow to simmer for at least ten minutes, stirring often.

Garnish with herbs and pepper.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My fake life

Next week Laura and I will move into a small, one bedroom apartment in Hollywood. Right now we are house sitting for an entertainment lawyer and a screen writer. Thier house is in Santa Monica Canyon and is far, far away from the smog, traffic, and hoards of Hollywood. The house is part of the old ranch of some 1950s movie star whose name I didn't recognize when the guys who live here mentioned it and thus promptly forgot it. The hosue is as fabulous as you would imagine, but in a rustic, cozy way. Last night we had Margaux over and made a pretty good dinner of lamb kebabs, roasted potatoes, and a green salad. We ate outside, next to the pool. We drank some wine. I drank a lot of the wine, actually. It was all very, uhm, grown up. The lamb, which Laura suggested, was really good, so I'll tell you what I did.

Lamb on a stick
Fist, I soaked the wooden skewers. They still burned, but whatever. Then, I made the marinade. The lamb marinated in the fridge for about an hour. It could have stayed longer, or overnight, but it was good anyway. I think I had just over a pound of lamb shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes, assorted vegetables, and fresh mint leaves. The threading order went lamb, mint leaves, vegetable, vegetable, mint leaves, repeat. I put them on a medium hot grill and cooked until they were medium, about 12 minutes.

*Juice from two lemons [1]
*Zest from one lemon
*Four cloves of garlic, minced
*Chopped fresh mint leaves
*Dried oregano (fresh if you have it)
Mix these ingredients well, then add one part olive oil (so that there is as much oil as lemon juice mixture). Whisk until the mixture thickens and pour over lamb cubes. I put a little aside for basting on the grill.

[1] When Laura and I visted Eddie in NYC this summer, she was really jealous of his lime juicer, so when we saw one at Sur la Table, we picked it up, only we got the larger lemon version. It is fantastic.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It is Sunday and so far, all I have done is take Max on a walk and wash a load of clothes. Laura wants something sweet so I think I'll try my first yogurt cake stateside.

The Yogurt Cake

I make this cake all the time in numerous variations. Below is my favorite one, great for breakfast or to take for a sack lunch dessert. This is my own recipe, a modified, Americanized version of a French classic. To be fair, it is more muffiny or coffee-cakey than most American cakes.

1 small tub plain, full fat yogurt (4 oz)
Use the empty tub to measure:
1/2 tub vegetable oil
2 tubs raw cane sugar, like Sugar in the Raw or turbinado
2 tubs whole wheat or unbleached flour
1 tub oats (or another tub of flour)

3 eggs
2 tsp baking powder (or just one euro packet of the stuff)
1/2 tsp baking soda (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 packet of euro vanilla sugar)
1 medium apple, peeled and grated
2 tubs each of dried cranberries and walnuts
1 tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 (160 c).
Whisk together yogurt, oil, eggs, and sugar in a large bowl.
Sift in flour, baking powder, and baking soda a little at a time, stirring after each addition.
Stir in vanilla, oats, apple, orange zest, cranberries, and orange zest.

Pour into a greased and floured 10 X 15 cake pan, or two small ones, or twelve muffin tins or whatever...

Before putting in the oven, sprinkle the top of the cake with turbinado sugar and raw oats.

Bake for thirty to forty minutes, maybe even 50 depending on your oven (mine has no temperature markings and no thermostat so who knows... )

It is done when a cake tester or knife or a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center, and the edges have begun to pull away from the side of the tin. (If, for some reason, you decided to make a loaf, it will take longer.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fiore di Zucchini

Los Angeles is a land where restaurants often look like the food they serve (with the exception of the Thai hot dog place on Western), but I'm out to eat well while I am here. I thought I'd miss the food in Paris, but a couple of trips to farmers' markets and Trader Joe's have cured me of that. Laura and I have been here two weeks and we have only eaten out a handful of times--Thai, Canter's, Thai, Tacos, Sushi. Otherwise we have been cooking a lot. We're lucky to be staying at a place with a great kitchen, and we are about to house sit for these guys who have a restaurant stove. The best thing I have made so far is almond and sundried and fresh tomato stuffed sole. I was so excited to find a great fishmonger on the first try. The guy at Santa Monica Seafood asked me what I wanted to make. I described the dish I had in mind and he recommended sole. I had been thinking catfish, which was about half the price, the sole looked great and really was fantastic quality.

Today we went to the farmer's market and saw some zucchini flowers. Laura wanted me to try to make fritters like her Italian grandmother makes. I've never actually cooked with flowers and have only ever eaten them once, in the south of France with Elana, but I liked the idea.

I decided to make simple fritters and stuffed fritters. The former are easy. I washed the flowers, dipped them in batter, and then fried them in canola oil. These had a crispy exterior and a chewy, zucchini-y interior.

For the stuffed flowers, I made a savory pesto filling and dipped them in the same batter. I served them both with a simple tomato sauce. Both Nat and Laura liked them, but then they each left to go do various kinds of work, leaving me to clean up, watch Mulholland Drive, and write this.

I use them, sometimes. I adapt them to my needs. I don't measure. Here's an approximation.

1 cup beer
1 cup flour
1 egg
salt, pepper, cayenne
(always let batter sit in the fridge for a while before frying with it)

two boiled potatoes
one lightly boiled squash (I used a yellow summer squash but zucchini would make more sense)
one egg
one tablespoon pesto
one clove garlic
salt, pepper, cayenne

Mash or rice the potatoes and squash, stir in egg, pesto, and garlic. Season to taste.

Stuffing the flowers was actually fun. I blew on the flowers to open them, dropped in a spoonful of filling, and then closed the flowers back up around the filling. The oil for frying has to be really hot, and the fritters should only be lightly coated in batter, not dripping.

Friday, August 18, 2006

12,500 miles

In a bit of a departure for my tastes, I spent the better part of an hour yesterday reading about math in the New York Times. The article was about the Poincaré conjecture, a theory of how space works and what it means to be a sphere. Or something. I have to admit it was over my humanities-addled head. In short, I took away from the article a better understanding of why an apple is different from a donut (I'll say more about food here later) and the knowledge that on the surface of the earth, it is never possible to be more than 12,500 miles from home.

I don't want to quibble with mathemeticians, but I think we must, as Mr. Lantrip, my 9th grade geometry teacher always said, define all of our terms before we jump into a problem. I guess this is a new way for me to express my mistrust of a term like "home." I'm still not sure where home is, but for now, I have landed in Los Angeles, which right now feels about 12,500 miles from home. All you mathemeticians and topographers out there: where's that one the globe?

Friday, January 16, 2004