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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Green Noodles


No, it's not green eggs and ham. This is perhaps even better. Te story goes that yesrs ago (more than fifty), my brother was courting the woman who became his first wife. She had promised to cook him dinner but had no money for groceries, so she used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. Over the years, I “improved” on the idea.

First, I substituted spinach fettucine for the spaghetti. Then I added scallions and mushrooms. Next inspiration was to add chopped artichoke hearts. Finally, when I had lots of basil, made my own pesto, and froze it in an ice cube tray, I began to add a cube of pesto. I always topped the whole thing with freshly grated Parmesan although these days I prefer Pecorino.

I frequently served this to my children as they were growing up. It was a family favorite that they called “green noodles.” Megan, always weight conscious, used to complain I used too much butter, but I like it that way.

The beauty of it is that it’s still good without any one of my additions, if you have butter and lemon. I often make a single serving for myself.



Green noodles

1 16-0z. pkg. spinach egg noodles or fettucine

1 stick butter

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself)

4 scallions, chopped

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, chopped

1 ice-cube of pesto, thawed (about a generous Tbsp)

Juice of one lemon

Grated fresh Parmesan or Pecorino

Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. Sauté the mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add artichoke and pesto and stir to incorporate. Add noodles and toss to coat. Top with cheese

Jamie’s wife, Melanie, did a slightly different version for her daughters, Maddie and Edie, both of whom at a very young age loved sour things like pickles and capers. Mel cooked angel hair pasta and buttered it liberally; then she added lemon juice and capers. I watched in amazement as she dumped in capers out of the jar, not bothering to drain them (as I always do, with some difficulty). “Oh, yeah,” she said, “the juice adds a really good taste.” I tried it, and she’s right.

Makes a good and quick meatless meal.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The everyday sandwich




Sandwiches seem to be all over the internet food sites these days. I first noticed this trend with an article on peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. It seems you either love them or despise them, with most people falling into the latter camp. This struck home to me because I’ve eaten those sandwiches all my life. My mother fixed them for me, and now my oldest son eats them while the rest of the family scoffs. We like to put some lettuce in the sandwich for a bit of crispness—and, you know, eat your greens every day.

It seems the sandwich, once as revered as peanut butter and jelly, was a staple in the South during the Depression, when rib-sticking food was hard to get. I’m not sure how my mom, who spent almost her entire life in Illinois, came by this southern tradition, but it was a staple in our house.

In other parts of the country, people experiment with additions—you can put pickle on the sandwich, or bacon, or cheese. But always that thick layer of mayo. I have been known to try a combination of peanut butter, mayo, cheddar, and bacon—in some regions that’s called an Elvis sandwich (or how much cholesterol do you want in one bite?). Today I’ve heard of people putting Siracha sauce on peanut butter sandwiches. I’m not a fan of that hot sauce, though I have a friend who puts it on almost every and anything, especially pimiento cheese.

Grilled cheese is another staple that’s in for revision these days. Many of us grew up on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. To me, they present a dilemma—I never get them quite right. They’re either undercooked—the cheese still firm, the crust on the bread pale and limp—or they’re burnt. One grandson refuses my grilled cheese because they’re always burnt.

Now I’ve seen suggestions for modernizing that standby. I’ve tried adding pickle and bacon before cooking. That makes one huge and hearty sandwich! But it’s difficult to keep all the parts in place as you flip it, unless you let the cheese get gooey enough to hold everything before flipping it. I think I like the idea of adding just pickle better, and I have always liked tomatoes in a grilled cheese.

How about grilled pimiento cheese with tomato? Or grilled cheese with pesto? The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Then there’s the question of bread—traditionally these sandwiches have been made with white bread, what I call “cotton candy bread” because it sticks to your teeth and the roof of your mouth. I prefer a bread with more substance—a light wheat or a rye. And a modern technique I’ve begun trying—use mayo rather than butter on the outside of the sandwich to fry it.

My mom used to have a kitchen gadget that made round grilled cheese sandwiches. It was two round pieces of metal, attached at one end and each with a long handle. You made your sandwich the same way, fit it into the mold, clamped the mold shut, and trimmed off the outside bits of bread. We “grilled” by holding over a burner. The process sealed the sandwich shut all around—no leaks. You could use it for all other kinds of things—I remember banana sandwiches, I think, and egg. Sound familiar to anyone? I’ve looked online but don’t know what to call it to do a thorough search.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Chicken lettuce wraps





On Wednesdays, Sam Sifton’s column in the New York Times usually includes a no-recipe suggestion for a dish—directions but no quantities. Just kind of “do this and then do that.” Recently the recipe was a chicken lettuce wrap that struck my fancy. The night I wanted to fix it, I discovered I was missing several ingredients—cilantro, fresh mint, fish sauce (I didn’t really miss the latter—never used it, though I suppose I should try sometime). Also I didn’t have head of iceberg lettuce. I usually refuse to buy it—all water and no taste. I buy leaf, but we found that leaf lettuce doesn’t wrap. We ended up with open-faced salads, with a meat layer as the base. Here’s what I did:



Ingredients (this serves two, two-to-three wraps each)

4-6 leaves from a head of iceberg lettuce (no other), washed and patted dry

1 lb. ground chicken

1 small red onion (if such exists—all I ever find in the stores are huge red onions), diced

3 scallions. chopped

¼ c. dry white wine

A generous glug of soy sauce, to taste

Pepper, if needed—go light on salt because the soy is salty

1 small can chopped green chillies

Diced tomatoes

Cilantro sprigs (I didn’t use but will next time)

Crumbled feta

Optional: ½ tsp. cumin.

            Use a large skillet. I started out with my small skillet and found ground chicken jumping over the side. Put a little water in to keep the chicken from sticking and cook until all pink is gone from the meat. Remove pan from hot plate. Keep warm on a low heat while you dice the tomatoes and onion. Add onion, scallions, and chillies to the meat  mixture and remove from heat (you want the onions to be crunchy, not sautéed).

Spread lettuce leaves flat. Put generous spoon of meat mixture in center, top with tomatoes, cilantro, and feta. Wrap—or eat with a fork, like a salad. This is best eaten the night you cook it—I had some meat leftover and tried to duplicate the wrap for lunch the next day but without heating the meat. It wasn’t as wonderful as it had been the night before.

Every cook is entitled to an oops moment. Please don’t judge me by my biscuits. First of all, I should make them from scratch, but I don’t (hear the guilt!); I use a tube of grands. But my wonderful toaster-oven-sized cookie sheet will only hold five biscuits at most, so I do them in batches. My attention clearly wandered the other day when I was baking my breakfast.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

An apology…and my family’s favorite casserole




Last week on “Judy’s Stew” I blogged about fixing Doris’ casserole, a family favorite, for a houseguest and promised the recipe on Thursday’s “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” blog. Trouble is, I never did the blog. We were busy entertaining our guest, and when I blogged, I forgot all about the casserole and blogged about the day’s events. Mea culpa. So here it is: ta-da, the recipe for Doris’ Casserole.

For those who didn’t read last week’s blog, here’s the back story. This was served to me at a dinner party nearly fifty years go by a woman named Doris. She called it Mrs. America Beef Casserole. Our husbands were training together as residents, and after residency I didn’t see much of Doris. Once when I did mention how much my family likes the dish, she barely remembered the casserole or the dinner party. I gave the recipe to a friend who insisted the noodle layer should come first. I assured her it shouldn’t. Another friend calls it American lasagna.

This is supposed to feed six, but it disappears quickly, so I sometimes make a double batch. It freezes beautifully. A bit of trouble to make, so I think of it as making two separate dishes—the meat layer, followed by the noodle layer.

Doris Casserole



Meat layer:

1 lb. ground beef

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press

2 tsp each sugar and salt (I cut back to one tsp. on those, but sugar is important in tomato-based sauces—my mom taught me years ago it sort of rounds it off.)

Pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease and return to skillet. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, until it thickens a little.

Spread in a 9 x 13 pan.



Noodle layer:

5 oz. egg noodles  (approximately—they don’t come in this size pkg.)

3 oz. pkg. cream cheese (here again, you have to fudge; cream cheese doesn’t come in 3 oz. pkg. anymore, and I use half an 8 oz. package)

1 c. sour cream

6 green onions chopped, with some of the tops included



Topping:

1-1/2 c. grated cheddar



Cook egg noodles and drain. While the noodles are hot, stir in cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Spread evenly over meat mixture. Top with grated cheddar, bake 35 minutes at 350 or until bubbly and cheese is slightly browned.






Thursday, April 11, 2019

Eggplant Parmesan


Years ago I used to fix Eggplant Parmesan (or Parmigiana if you prefer)—it was one of my favorite “company” dinners. Instead of layers of sliced eggplant and meat sauce, I used halved eggplant shells as dishes and piled the filling in. But then along came four children who must have consulted about the matter, because they uniformly rejected eggplant. I admit that it’s one of those touchy things—you either like it or you hate it, and I have known people who were allergic to it. So I took it off my list, lost the recipe in my great downsizing, and occasionally thought about it wistfully.

When I joined Imperfect Produce, I impulsively ordered an eggplant, mostly because they looked so sleek and pretty. Then serendipity hit—I found a recipe online by Michael Chiarello (a chef whose work I admire). He called it “Mom’s stuffed eggplant,” but it was the same principle as what I’d done years ago. A friend was coming for dinner who I was pretty sure would eat eggplant, so I fixed it. But of course I had to fiddle with the recipe a little. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

1 eggplant

Olive oil

½ lb. ground beef

Salt and pepper

1small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp. dried basil

1 cup grated Pecorino (I like it better than Parmesan)

¼ c. seasoned bread crumbs

1 egg

Note: Chiarello’s recipe called for a red pepper but bell peppers are among the few things I never eat, never cook with. Feel free to add it in with the garlic and onion

Directions:

            Remember slicing eggplant and frying it, then draining it—the whole things was a mess, and eggplant soaks up oil more than anything. This is easier—slice the eggplant in half and hollow out the shells, leaving enough meat inside so that each half will hold its shape. Dice the meat you’ve removed and fry in olive oil—don’t use any more oil than you have to. Set aside to cool.

Brown onion and garlic in a bit of olive. When the onion is limp and slightly browned, add the hamburger and brown, breaking it up into small chunks. Stir frequently so the onion doesn’t burn.

In a separate bowl, combine 2/3 cup cheese, bread crumbs, basil, and egg. Mix thoroughly and then stir in the eggplant and the meat-and-onion mixture.  Pile this mixture into the carved-out eggplant shells (you will have leftover meat mixture, so just put it in a small oven-proof dish to bake along with the eggplant halves).

Top generously with more pecorino. Bake at 350o for 30 minutes. Watch carefully that the top of the eggplant halves aren’t too close to the heating element in your toaster oven—the cheese topping will burn. In fact, that cheese is sort of your guide as to when the dish is read—watch for the cheese to not only melt but darken a bit.

Enjoy with crusty baguette slices and a green salad. My guest loved it, and said, “You notice I never say, ‘Let’s go out to eat.’ Your dinners are too good.” The kind of praise I love to hear.

           


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Pan bagnat – sort of




           
Pan bagnat is the street taco of Nice, France, a sandwich layered with the ingredients of the classic French salade niҫoise. The recipe I have used and liked calls for chicken, but good albacore tuna is more traditional. The bread is usually a small round loaf (the French pain de campagne). Because it’s a made-a-day-ahead recipe, pan bagnat is great for company. You just whisk it out of the fridge and serve with a salad.

Like many folk foods or foods of the street, pan bagnat is flexible—you can substitute, and when I recently made it for supper for two, I did just that. All the round loaves I found at Central Market were way too big, and I remembered I had ciabatta in the freezer. It worked just fine.

Then I got out the rotisserie chicken breast I’d bought for the sandwiches, but it turned out to be a rotisserie turkey breast, so that’s what I used. A sliced hardboiled egg is sometimes included in the sandwich, but I knew my dinner guest was traumatized by eggs in childhood and does not eat them. So I guess what I’m saying is “Here’s a basic recipe. Take it where you want.” The only hard and fast rule that may be hard on the American palate is “No mayonnaise.”

Ingredients

Rotisserie grilled chicken or canned albacore tuna (preferably packed in olive oil)

Round loaf of artisan bread

1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. anchovy paste

1 garlic clove, pressed

Capers

2 sliced tomatoes

sliced red onion to taste

Sliced hard-boiled egg (optional)

Romaine lettuce leaves

Slice the bread in half horizontally and pull out all the bready insides; discard or freeze to use for bread crumbs, etc.

Drizzle anchovy/lemon sauce over top and bottom of bread. You may want to add a bit of softened butter to make it more of a paste that will spread nicely on the bread. Line bottom of the bread with capers, drained.

If using chicken or turkey, slice into slivers If using tuna, drain well and break into chunks. Place the meat on top of the capers. Top with remaining ingredients.

Put the top on and smash it down with your hands to flatten. Wrap in foil and put in fridge overnight, weighted down by heavy skillet or canned goods--I used a lighter skillet and two cans of green beans. Cut into wedges and serve.

My dinner guest liked it so well she decided she’d make it for an upcoming casual dinner party for about twenty people. I call that an ambitious plan.






Thursday, March 28, 2019

Traditional American Food and Recipes Old and New




In between other projects, I’m researching background for a culinary mystery, and I find myself reading a lot about James Beard. In fact, I’m browsing through one of his memoirs, Delights and Prejudices. For all his broad-ranging knowledge of international food and his snobbishness, Beard was a proponent of traditional American cooking. He despised French fries, calling them soggy, greasy, and tasteless—but he relished a good pan of cottage fries, those potatoes sliced thin and fried until crisp. To read Beard is to rediscover some old favorites—and the right way to fix them.

I’m also a devotee of Sam Sifton’s New York Times cooking column, but reading it—what? five times a week? —I sometimes feel bombarded by recipes calling for ingredients I’ve never heard of and probably can’t get easily and dishes I’ve never imagined—maqluba, Baharat, gojuchang, pad kee mao. And recipes that sound outrageous to me, like charred strawberry ice cream—do you char the berries on the grill before making the ice cream? (I think that one is not Sifton’s fault but came from a “cutting edge” food magazine). Or Oaxacan hibiscus foam—I’m not sure yet if that’s a topping for a margarita or a flower (the web offers pictures of both). Sometimes I long for good old-fashioned meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

But it is spring and, as I said before, time to think about salads. Buried in the research material I inherited for the Alamo book was a folder of vintage recipes.  For now, I’ll spare you the ones dealing with liver and tongue sandwiches and offer instead the advice on spring salads.

“The greatest possible discrimination must be exercised in the selection of the salad at this season of the year. For a luncheon salad, the fancy may be permitted to move at will [you can include nuts, berries, and other fruit] … but for a dinner salad, simplicity itself must be the rule. It may be composed of lettuce or endive or romaine or cress, and it must be dressed in the only perfect way such a salad can be dressed, with the mixture of oil and acid of the ancient Latins and Greeks. To be absolutely without fault, the dressing should be mixed at the table, just as it is to be served.”

The article recommends placing ¼ tsp. each pepper, salt, and paprika in the bowl, followed by a Tbsp. olive oil. Then, impale an ice cube on a fork, stir the ingredients until well blended. Add a tsp. of vinegar, and then alternate oil and vinegar, always stirring, until you have added three Tbsp. of oil and one of vinegar. Taste and add salt and paprika as needed. Apparently, the moisture from the melting ice aids in the vinegar/oil emulsion. That ice cube would make a showy presentation, but it reminds me of a family favorite recipe.

Rub a salad bowl thoroughly with the split sides of a garlic clove. Discard garlic and rub bowl with salt, dry mustard, and a bit of pepper. Crumble blue cheese in the bottom of the bowl and add vinegar. Mash blue cheese into vinegar, with a fork, until it dissolves in the vinegar. Add olive oil. These days the ratio is considered two parts oil to one of vinegar (it always used to be three-to-one). The amount of vinegar you put in determines how much dressing you make. (I frequently end up with way too much dressing, so I simply save it in the fridge for another day; I believe salads should be lightly dressed.) Add torn greens, toss and serve.

And on the subject of dressings, I just made a batch of Chuy’s creamy jalopeño dip and dressing. There are several versions on the web, and I believe any of them will do—except that I used pickled jalopeño slices and a bit of the juice. And do use cilantro and lime juice.

Happy spring salads everyone.