More tomatoes, less rant and self deprecation this time.

GRILLED TOMATOES WITH HERBS & GARLIC

4 medium tomatoes, cut in half crosswise — or 8 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 T fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme, finely chopped

Parmigiano reggiano, grated (optional)

Brush the tomato halves all over with the oil. Season them generously with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the garlic and chopped herbs over them.

Preheat the grill to medium high. Arrange the tomato halves, cut side down, on the hot grill on a diagonal to the ridges. Cook 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and drizzle a little more olive oil over them.

Should you feel the urge, grate some parmigiano reggiano over the cut side of the tomatoes for the last minute or so of grilling.

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Israeli Couscous (x2)

June 6, 2009

In Hebrew פתיתים אפויים are “baked flakes.” These little curvaceous pearl gems that pop on each bite deserve more playing time.

COUSCOUS WITH PINE NUTS & MINT

4 T unsalted butter
2/3 C pine nuts
2/3 C shallots, finely chopped
3 C Israeli couscous
2 large cinnamon sticks
2 dried bay leaves
3 3/4 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C fresh mint, minced

Preheat broiler.

Toast pine nuts in broiler until lightly browned. Set aside.

Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until light golden, about 5-8 minutes. Add couscous, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves and stir until couscous browns slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add broth and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and stir in mint and pine nuts. Season with salt and black pepper.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH OLIVES, LIMA BEANS & HERBS

1/4 C sherry vinegar
1 C extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C Israeli couscous
1 C chicken stock
1 C water

1 C fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
1 C cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1/2 C kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 C lima beans, cooked
3 green onions, chopped
1 C arugula, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the sherry vinegar and mustard, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy, medium sauce pan over medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the couscous to the pan and stir regularly until it starts to turn light golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add chicken stock and water to the pan and then cover. Turn the heat to low and let gently simmer until flat and fluffy, about 8-10 minutes. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid and allow the precious steam to be released.

Allow the couscous to cool and then toss with the vinaigrette, then the basil, tomatoes, olives, lima beans, green onions, and arugula.

Butter is…the most delicate of foods among barbarous nations, and one which distinguishes the wealthy from the multitude at large.~Pliny the Elder

My previous topic, Languedoc-Roussillon, will be revisited promptly. But before the serious que’ing season is upon us, I have been meaning to post about herb butter. (I have yet to fully comprehend why so many await the summer season to begin grilling, as some of the most satisfying open fire cooking is to be had in cooler seasons, even ankle deep in a blanket of snow—a glowing orb, comforting much like a fireplace.) Herb butter is simply made by blending butter with herbs and spices which quickly transforms and dresses up a dish, often grilled or sautéed meat, fish or chicken.

CILANTRO LIME HERB BUTTER

8 T unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T chopped cilantro, packed
1 T lime juice, freshly squeezed
Grated zest on 1 lime
1/4 t sea salt

Mix together butter, cilantro, lime juice, and salt in a small bowl. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.

If you save the butter for later, wrap it up in plastic wrap in the shape of a log and refrigerate until firm. To use, just unwrap and slice from the butter log and place on warm food.

HERB & LEMON BUTTER

8 T unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T minced fresh herbs (chervil, parsley, dill, fennel, chives)
1 t freshly grated lemon zest
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the softened butter and the remaining ingredients to a medium size bowl.
Use a large spoon to cream the ingredients together until well blended. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.

If you save the butter for later, wrap it up in plastic wrap in the shape of a log and refrigerate until stiff. To use, just unwrap and slice from the butter log and place on warm food.

HERB BUTTER WITH CORNICHONS AND EGGS

Large bunch of fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, tarragon, chives, oregano, thyme)
3 cornichons, chopped
3 good quality anchovy fillets
1 T of chopped capers
3 egg yolks, hard boiled
1 clove of garlic peeled, crushed and chopped
12 T unsalted butter
Sea salt
Cayenne pepper

Drop the herbs into boiling water for 1 minute, place into an ice bath, then drain well. Place the herbs into a food processor or blender and purée in short bursts. Add the cornichons, anchovies, capers, egg yolks, and garlic; purée further until well combined. Add the butter and continue pulsing until you reach a smooth consistency, while seasoning with salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Serve immediately or save in refrigerator.

If you save the butter for later, wrap it up in plastic wrap in the shape of a log and refrigerate until firm. To use, just unwrap and slice from the butter log and place on warm food.

The potato, like man, was not meant to dwell alone.
~Shila Hibben

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial evergreen shrub with slivery green leaves that exude a memorable fragrance. The most common variety of the herb was first found growing in regions around the Mediterranean. Aside from its culinary merits, sage has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes for centuries—as the Latin word salvia means “to heal.”

What a heavenly scent to start off the evening…simmering fresh sage and butter.

ROASTED NEW POTATOES WITH SAGE

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup well chopped fresh sage

4 pounds medium red potatoes, scrubbed, quartered
1 teaspoon dried sage

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cook butter and fresh sage in small saucepan over medium heat until butter simmers and is well flavored with sage, about 4 minutes.

Toss potatoes with dried sage and 2 tablespoons sage butter in bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer potatoes to large casserole or jelly roll pan. Roast until potatoes are tender and golden, turning occasionally, about 45-55 minutes. Transfer potatoes to large bowl. Add remaining sage butter and toss. Season as necessary with salt and pepper.

Scrambled Eggs — An Art?

February 14, 2009

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
~Samuel Butler

So often we see abused plates of scrambled eggs—overcooked, hard, lumpy, devoid of life. Mastering simple scrambled eggs is more difficult than it may seem. I have even heard some chefs remark that they occasionally test new cooks by watching them prepare a plate of scrambled eggs. The perfect scrambled egg is a rare dish demanding a gentle, slow and low cooking process. The end product is all about texture.

Do not overwhip, but you must impart air to the eggs so they will be fluffy. The air bubbles in the liquid become coated with protein and the molecules uncoil (denature). When whisking, tilt the bowl so the whisk moves diagonally across the plane—the eggs should be well mixed, but not overly frothy. Overwhipping can unravel the protein molecules in the eggs.

According the venerable James Beard, using liberal amounts of butter is crucial. Also lodged somewhere in the recesses of my hippocampus is a chef’s hint that a very, very small pinch of cayenne pepper can “wake up” the eggs. As with such obscured memories, I do not remember the source of that truc.

It is essential to use low, gentle heat when cooking eggs, as egg protein begins to thicken at only 144°F, which allows them to toughen rapidly.  So, create tiny curds.

When the eggs are soft and shiny, remove from heat before they are too set as they will continue cooking. Remember the adage…“when eggs are done in the pan, they are overdone on the plate.”

SCRAMBLED EGGS

3-4 T butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, organic, free range eggs, meaning the hens are raised on pastureland
1 T crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper, dried
Small pinch of white pepper, dried
Small pinches of herbes de provence and thyme, dried

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy non-stick skillet. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream in a glass bowl and whisk briskly — just until the yolks and whites are combined.

Pour into the non-stick skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture—they will continue to cook after being removed from both the stovetop and the pan.

Pourboires:
Also known as the egg white, albumen accounts for about 2/3 of an egg’s liquid weight. It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of differing consistencies. Egg white tends to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character which is why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

Scrambled eggs have many faces, allowing for a variety of permutations and combinations with other ingredients. Consider adding cooked proscuitto, serrano ham or pancetta, chives, sliced sauteed mushrooms, diced sauteed chicken livers, ricotta cheese, goat cheese, barely wilted spinach, fresh tarragon or other herbs…the possibilities seem endless.

Finally, for an even creamier version, try 5 whole eggs coupled with 2 egg yolks.

Dry Rub A Dub

February 6, 2009

The food in such places is so tasteless because the members associate spices and garlic with just the sort of people they’re trying to keep out.
~Calvin Trillin

Today, spring-like weather bathed the city, evoking the seductive melody of vividly blossoming daffodils, azaleas, red buds, lilacs, forsythia…coupled with the aroma of active grills and barbeques.

A dry rub is simply a mélange of spices and herbs that imparts variegated flavors, scents and textures to meat, even the occasional vegetable. They are not to be confused with (but sometimes are married to) their moist but equally alluring cousins—marinades, glazes, sauces, wet rubs, bastes, sops, or mops. Only imagination limits the composition of your rubs, so put the grey matter to work and concote your own favorites.

With all of these rubs, first combine dry ingredients in a bowl or jar. Rub cut fresh, plump, cut garlic cloves into meat. Then gently massage the combined dry rub ingredients into the meat tissues. Let stand for an hour or more before cooking.

Ancho, Coffee and Cocoa Rub

2 T ancho chili powder
2 T instant espresso powder
2 T golden or dark brown sugar
1 T cocoa
1 T ground coriander
1 T dried oregano
2 t salt
1 T black pepper and/or white pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Basic Barbeque Rub

2 T sea salt
4 T light brown sugar
1/4 t ground cinnamon
2 T ground cumin
2 T coriander
1 T ground cardamom
3 T pimentón or smoked paprika
2 t dry mustard
1 T ancho chili powder
1 T chipotle chili powder
3 T freshly ground pepper
1/2 T white pepper
3 t cayenne pepper

Tandoori Rub

6 T sweet paprika
2 T ground coriander
2 T ground cumin
1 T ground cardamom
1 T turmeric
2 T sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T sugar
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t crumbled saffron threads (optional)
1 t cayenne pepper

Basic Vinaigrette

February 3, 2009

Vinegar, the son of wine.
~Proverb

Like sandwiches, vinaigrettes always taste better if someone else makes them. So, have a friend or lover whisk up this simple version for you. For use on salads, cold roasted vegetables, even as a marinade for grilled chicken…you name it.

Some maintain that vinegar was discovered when wine was inadvertently left to sour. This resulting in the first batch of full bodied wine vinegar. The Talmud, a central text of mainstream Judaism, refers to a wicked son of a righteous father as a “vinegar son of wine.” The word vinegar is derived from the French word vinagere, which literally means sour wine.

Given the overt simplicity of the ingredients, good quality vinegars and olive oil are much preferred, even mandated.

BASIC VINAIGRETTE

2 T sherry vinegar
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T French Dijon mustard
Sea salt to taste

1-1 1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisking gently, combine sherry and red wine vinegars, mustard and salt in a bowl. Whisking more vigorously, slowly add olive oil to create an emulsion. Taste for seasoning with a component of the food it will dress, such as a lettuce leaf or vegetable.

Pourboire: to vary, add or replace with any of the following: hazelnut oil, walnut oil, balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar, citrus, smashed garlic, finely diced shallots, fresh chopped or whole herbs, whisked egg yolk, freshly ground pepper, white pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper…the possibilities are almost endless.

Store in a bottle or cruet in the refrigerator and shake or whisk at serving time.