Monday, August 29, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

On a completely different note, I'm pleased to announce the e-publication of my first novel: 

Zofia Smith left behind a promising career as a journalist when she realized her former employers meant it when they said, "You'll never work in this business again." Convinced by her best friend to move to New Orleans and start over, Zo opened a bookstore in the Crescent City's French Quarter.

For six years, life was peaceful, enjoyable. Bloody Murder made a profit with its focus on mystery books and its regular patrons enjoyed Zo's homemade muffins and fresh coffee.

Things changed one morning when Zofia walked downstairs from her apartment above the store and tripped over a corpse, landing in a heap of blood and muffins. The clues the police found included a knife with a Polish eagle and the corpse's criminal record that indicated he typically worked for a crime family, though not a local one.

Clues came from and pointed to different directions. A narrow miss with a gunshot, mysterious phone calls, and oddly enough to a man Zofia long thought dead.

While there are no recipes, food is almost a character. If you've ever been to New Orleans, you'll understand why. I hope you enjoy, and please, spread the word!

A lesson in humility

Cucumbers are right up there as a favorite vegetable, especially if I can find some that have a thin-to medium skin, some serious crunch, and ideally, no wax on them. It's a pain in the whatsis to get off.

I like them in a lot of ways, cut into spears and eaten with nothing but salt & pepper; with onions, yogurt and a touch of white vinegar, in a sandwich with Swiss cheese, in a salad, in a cold soup with dill, I could go on.

When I lived in Nashville, I visited some friends in Atlanta and they introduced me to a sushi place called RuSan's. This local chain (still expanding!) serves some of the tastiest and most creative sushi I've ever had. Before a meal at the sushi bar, they serve a small appetizer of cucumbers, sesame seeds, ponzu and some crab.

I didn't have any crab in the house, but I thought to myself, "Self, let's have something different for lunch. Ponzu is just citrus and soy sauce, right?"


I was on my lunch hour, so this impulse didn't leave me much time for research. I put into a bowl:

2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T fresh lemon juice.

Then I sprinkled the whole things with sesame seeds. It did come out rather pretty.

The tea towel I'm using as a table runner was hand-stitched by my friend Opal. You can see more of her jewelry and art at The Hyper Monkey.

Back to my experiment. It did not come out tasting like ponzu. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't the combination I was looking for. I discussed it with my sweetie when he got home and he was very sensitive and didn't laugh. He also said that ponzu involves some citrus only available in Japan and the recipes I found a little later were something similar, but not, but his native definition, ponzu.

So, not my finest experiment and I will use the bottled ponzu when I'm next in the mood for the above dish. While RuSan's has spawned some restaurants in Nashville, they certainly haven't made it into Connecticut, so I'm on my own.

Questions? Comment? Let's hear them!

As a note, I used to sign off joking about Death Threats. I will not be doing that any longer. A friend pointed me to Ittybiz, and suddenly my jest didn't seem to be as funny anymore. I hope you'll show your support and spread the word.

Next time--something with pork and a lot of garlic, and cumin, if I'm not out of it. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This summer's top salad

I haven't gone to a lot of barbecues this summer. Austin the former landlord did find some lovely steaks a few weeks ago and marinated a few of them in a store-bought raspberry vinaigrette  which turned out delicious. My contribution to the party was a salad that was both easy and a little unusual. No pictures this week, it got eaten a little too quickly, so I would definitely call it a success.

Epicurious is a fantastic source for salads; I have several saved to be used at upcoming galleries. Fortunately, my friends don't mind being used as guinea pigs.

This week's recipe has only a few ingredients, but they all add a new level of flavor when blended together:

Romaine and Arugula Salad with Toasted Seeds

  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (packed) finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce
  • 4 cups baby arugula leaves
A couple of quibbles with the ingredients. I would have found it easier to have said, "Juice from half of a small lemon." Unless you have the hand-eye coordination of a superhero, it's a little hard to squeeze lemon juice into a tablespoon. 

And packing the lemon peel? Don't. Grate the zest off an entire small lemon--about the size of a couple of golf balls. If you can fit it whole into your coffee cup, that's about the right size. When you tightly pack lemon peel, it stays packed and can be a bit of a pain in the ass.

Back to our recipe:

Combine all seeds in heavy small skillet. Add large pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until white sesame seeds are pale golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Using potato masher, press mixture in skillet until coriander seeds are coarsely crushed.

  • There's an assumption here. Specifically, that one has a particular type of potato masher: 

  • So, next time I do this, I'm toasting the coriander seeds first, then crushing them in my mortar and pestle. You don't want the sesame seeds smushed with this salad.

Back to the recipe:

Place lemon juice and peel in small bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. (Seeds and dressing can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
Combine romaine and arugula in large bowl. Add dressing and half of seeds; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining seeds and serve.

This came out beautifully. The seeds add a nice, but different kind of crunch,and just loved the coriander. I never would have thought about putting it together with sesame seeds. If you're not used to shopping for sesame seeds, you can often find a large container of them in the Asian food section of your grocer. If they aren't there, yell at them. You may also find them on the spice rack.
Black sesame seeds are a little tougher to find. I got mine at an Asian grocer when we lived in Danbury. Our friends at Amazon have a variety of brands and prices if you don't have an Asian grocer handy.

I'll be making the salad again, and maybe one or two more new ones by the time the summer is over.

Next week: How not to make ponzu!

Questions? Comments? Death Threats? All are welcome!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nachos that won't kill you (quickly)

I'm going to do something a little different today and actually use brand names. I have, generally speaking, taken a page from our friends at the Food Network, and not used any brand names. Partly because all things aren't available in all places (and I have no idea where half of you are) and partly because, well, nobody is paying me to do it. If they offered, and I liked the product, I'd consider it.

Anyway, I love nachos. Most people I know do. When we get them in Mexican restaurants, they're so damn heavy, though, afterwards I feel like I swallowed a bowling ball. And let's face it, half the reason they're so good is because they're so bad for you. Gooey cheese, sour cream, meat dripping with juice and fat. . .

A while back, I bought some chips from the nice people at Food Should Taste Good. They make a variety of chips and crackers and I've enjoyed several flavors. I saw the mulit-grain chip and I started thinking.

I usually have black beans in the house. Meat? Well, why not chicken for a change? I took the lazy way out and got a rotisserie bird from the supermarket. It was a lime & garlic flavor, I thought it would work. For cheese, I went with Cabot low-fat cheddar. I forget what salsa I had in the house, probably something chunky and organic (and no sugar!).

So, let's list this out:

One package multi-grain tortilla chips
one avocado, sliced
one jar salsa
one cup shredded low-fat cheese
two cans of black beans
two cups of shredded chicken (about two breasts and a drumstick off your rotisserie bird)
one medium onion (smaller than a baseball)
one jalapeno (optional)

Grate cheese
chop onion
Slice avocado. If you wait to do these things until you're ready, the chips will get soggy.

Arrange chips on a microwave-safe plate. Good stoneware will do. I did about a layer and a half. You should see no dish showing through.

Throw the beans, chicken, onion and a heaping spoonful of salsa in a pot. Heat on low until the chicken is heated all the way through.

Microwave your chips for about thirty seconds to get them extra crisp. Spoon chicken and bean mixture over the chips. Top with cheese. Microwave on high for thirty seconds until cheese is melted. Top with salsa and sliced avocados:

Dig in!

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Spokesmodel offers? Let's hear them!