From the Market – Week Whatever

I’ve lost count of the missing weeks by now, but couldn’t let the last vestiges of summer slip by without posting about the latest seasonal finds from our market in Ringwood.

I don’t know about you, but we’ve nearly eaten our weight in corn this summer. Grilled, smoked, raw, creamed, sautéed … it’s all been delicious and now that summer’s winding down, I’m truly savoring fresh corn while it’s still around. But a couple of dishes really stood out from the crowd and I want to make sure I tell you about them, and include links so I can re-create them next year.

This weekend I adapted Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for baked buttered corn (seen above), gilding the lily with burro di parma and wisps of freshly grated locatelli before baking, then finishing with a dab of truffle butter before serving. It sounds excessive, but the extra ingredients were used in moderation for just a touch of earthiness so really, corn was still the star. This dish is a great way to use late-season corn that maybe isn’t quite the revelation it was even a few weeks ago.

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For a couple of weeks in August, I was obsessed with cooking variations of Shrimp with Sweet Curry and Coconut Creamed Corn. We had it 3 times in the span of two weeks and I could still go for more, which will probably happen next weekend, now that I think about it. The only reason for adapting the recipe at all was because I didn’t have the specific spice blends called for, but after working around that problem, I’ve discovered that there isn’t a way to mess this up. The first time around, I left the curry out of the corn mixture and coated the shrimp with it instead (using Singapore curry from World Spice Merchants). The curry blend was light and paired perfectly with the shrimp; it accentuated the shrimp’s natural sweetness and, with a dash of cayenne pepper, added a touch of heat which cut through the richness of the coconut corn.

Nina found herself up to her ears in callaloo this summer, after deciding to grow it on a whim. Since I’m a sucker for any new (to me) ingredient, I made a beeline for the strange-looking vines when they appeared at her booth and managed to work it into a couple of other iterations of the shrimp and coconut corn recipe. If you’ve never had callaloo, it’s similar to water spinach or chard, but cooks down to something that seems much less virtuous, with a thick, silky, rich mouthfeel. I used madras curry in the corn base this time and simmered the shrimp along with it, so the dish was more of a stew than it was the first go-around. (No picture of what was an otherwise delicious dish because the callaloo turned the whole mixture a thoroughly unappealing-looking shade of bile green. And because I cobbled together a few recipes without writing down any of the steps/measurements, there’s no real recipe for you. But I’ll try to re-create it this weekend and let you know how it turns out.)

continued after the jump

Continue reading “From the Market – Week Whatever”

Deeeeep breaths…

The Saints game is about to start. As such, I have no time nor the presence of mind to write a real post, so I’ll leave you with a few pictures and a promise to do better next weekend. I’ve been creatively moribund since the holidays, but hope it’ll pass soon.

Got my gris-gris going first thing this morning with shrimp & grits. I hope the spirits aren’t too upset that my coffee lacked chicory.

And since it’s old home day, why not have a little old-fashioned banana pudding with Nilla Wafers? (I’ve been playing with the recipe I got from my mom, who got it at her wedding shower, but it’s not quiiiiite there yet. Will post it once it is.)

And on the topic of comfort foods, all I wanted last weekend was graham crackers and milk.

OK, that’s not entirely true. These Szechuan noodles with shrimp really hit the spot.

How could they not?

Time for a beer, maybe some wings. Geaux Saints! No matter what happens tonight, nothing will ever beat this fan video or the run that inspired it:

Happy Bastille Day

We spent a very busy weekend with family, celebrating niece Sela’s SIXTH BIRTHDAY. Plenty of pics to come, but I couldn’t let this date go by without posting a French (ok, Cajun/Creole)-inflected dish from Saturday: Shrimp boil seafood salad.


See, my parents sent me a lovely care package a few weeks ago, and that Zatarain’s had been taunting me every time I opened the pantry, so I decided on a shrimp boil seafood salad, using good gulf shrimp and lump crabmeat liberated from my parents’ freezer when I was home last month. Since Gil and I were the only two eating, I didn’t fire up the crab pot, but kept the whole thing indoors. I boiled water, salt and Zatarain’s seasoning together for a couple of minutes before tossing in 4 small yellow onions and a whole head of garlic to season the water to perfection. Once they were cooked through, I fished them out and added baby red potatoes, then shrimp in the last couple of minutes. I turned off the heat as soon as the shrimp went in, and when they floated to the top, the salad was ready to assemble.

I diced the potatoes along with carrot, avocado and red bell pepper, added some of the boiled garlic, salted capers (soaked in water and chopped) and the seafood, then tossed everything with a gorgeous Creole remoulade from Chef John Folse. Shame I didn’t make more, but there were tacos and cake to look forward to at Sela’s party and it would’ve just put us over the top.

But if you’re looking for something more properly French on this date, you could take a gander at my Paris pix from our seven-month anniversary. What I wouldn’t give to go back…

Let the bon temps rouler


I finally realized a couple of years ago exactly what makes northeastern winters so difficult to bear. The weather plays a large part, of course, but mostly it’s the lack of anything to look forward to between the holidays and spring (or the start of baseball season, if you’re so inclined). It’s just one long, dark slog through gray skies, snow, and wind chills in the single digits. Harumph.

Contrast that to the time and energy spent on balls and parades during carnival season in Louisiana. Beginning on Twelfth Night (January 6th) and going straight through to Mardi Gras day, even if you’re not into the whole parade thing, at the very least you can get a king cake at a local bakery. But most people catch a parade here and there in the weeks leading up to the big day, even if they don’t go all out and make the trek to New Orleans.

I’ve only been back to one Mardi Gras since I moved away from the area, but I’ve made it my annual tradition to have a little taste of home as Endymion and Bacchus roll. The winds may be howling here in New Jersey, but barbecue shrimp and king cake keep me warm inside.


For those of you who made it to the parades today, laissez les bon temps rouler, and may your hangovers be mild.

Lest you think I only post the success stories…

After the success of the grilled salmon with blueberry salsa, I decided to try my hand at a similar combination over the weekend — grilled shrimp with peach salsa. (The original plan was for pork and peaches, but we had dim sum Saturday, which pretty much topped off our pork tanks for the week.) And “meh” doesn’t even come close to describing it. I’m practically dozing off just writing about it now.

It was a good idea in theory — ripe peaches with brandy, cilantro, red onion, cumin, and jalapeno. What could go wrong? I blame the peaches, which were ripe and smelling quite peachy, but tasted like not much of anything, to be honest. I tried doctoring them with pineapple juice and a touch of brown sugar, but to no avail. The best parts of the salsa were the red onion and jalapeno, which do not a complete salsa make.

So it’s back to the drawing board. I’ll try the peaches at the market again this weekend to see if they’re better this time around, and if the weather cooperates, I’ll grill them, too. But perfecting this one’s going to take some work, I can tell…

The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “The beet and the coconut”

How flat was my bread


It was another “meh” experience, I’m afraid. Turning to the incredible new Gourmet site for inspiration last weekend, I found a lovely photo of Algerian flatbread and knew, just knew! that I had to base a meal around it. The description alone of the flaky, seasoned breads sounded good enough to eat, and the technique promised to be satisfyingly repetitive and exacting, very appealing to the OCD side of my personality.

Since I’m too lazy to do the kneading thing anymore, I adapted the recipe just a touch to take advantage of Sir Mix-A-Lot, who appears infrequently here, but always saves the day when he does with his untiring arm and stylish good looks.


I set the mixer to low speed and let it do its thing to the dough for about 5 minutes, instead of the 15 minutes of hand kneading called for in the recipe. I’m completely smitten with this machine. After letting the dough rest for an hour in an oiled bowl, I was ready to start the fun stuff, so on to the preparations!

Step 1: ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! Hmmm…where’s my big shoe?


Step 2: Spread the dough with cumin, paprika and turmeric-spiked oil.

ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! … ROLLOUT! (That song’ll haunt your dreams. You can thank me in the comments section.)


Step 3: ROLLUP! … ROLLUP! … ROLLUP! … ROLLUP! (See what I mean?)


And then there was more of the rolling out (continue humming along), but I’ll spare you the picture. If you’re curious, just scroll up to the second image. It looked just like that, only orangier.

Step 4: Cook the flatbread in a hot, dry cast iron pan until puffed and browned in spots, like so…


And that’s that. They were pretty easy to make, but I dunno. They tasted a little, ahem, flat. (Sorry!) I think it’d be a pretty easy fix just to add more salt to the dough; with all of the spices in there, they were pretty flavorful otherwise.

I’m so glad I took the recipe’s advice and served the flatbread with shrimp charmoula. Holy moly, that was good stuff, definitely good enough to make again soon, even if the bread doesn’t accompany it.


recipes after the jump

Continue reading “How flat was my bread”

My new wonton technique is unstoppable


Happy 2008, everyone! Keeping with our tradition, Gil and I stayed in for a movie marathon last night rather than endure the crowds in the city and the loooong drive home. This year’s feature: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (No, really, it was his idea. Something about the big screen HDTV, battle scenes, I dunno. I wasn’t going to argue.) We started late and only got up to about the 45-minute mark of The Two Towers, but it’s a rainy day, so I’m sure we’ll finish what we started before nightfall.

With hours of Middle Earth fun ahead of us, I wanted to make something festive for dinner that wouldn’t require too much time in the kitchen, and after my success with two recipes from Simple Chinese Cooking, I turned to its pages again for inspiration. The shrimp dumplings practically leaped off the page and demanded an audition, so I obliged, despite the potential for disaster — eviscerated dumplings churning in a pot of boiling water isn’t as appetizing as you might think. But Kylie Kwong’s step-by-step photo illustrations of dumpling assembly made the technique seem easy enough, and it really was.


Oops, looks like a bit of shrimp got away from me there. We’ll just ignore that.

Didn’t affect the outcome, at least:


Awww … they couldn’t be cuter if they were a pile of puppies frolicking on the cutting board. Hairier and much less sanitary, yes, but definitely not cuter.


Wonton regiment 24 reporting for duty!

And you may find this hard to believe (I certainly did), but not one dumpling burst in the boiling water! That’s a success rate I haven’t come near with homemade ravioli, so I think there’s something to Ms. Kwong’s techniques. Hmmm, maybe I’ll start making “tortellini” instead — sneaky, sneaky.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Gil and I have to get back to our movie research; he has a theory that Ed Wood was resurrected to direct Orlando Bloom in this trilogy, and I’m having trouble disproving it.

I’m half crazy, all for the love of you


Do you know Daisy Martinez? Do you love her as much as I do? I discovered her public television show Daisy Cooks! shortly after I moved to Ringwood and began scheduling my Sunday treadmill sessions around it; her PASSION for Latin cooking and sharing her knowledge not only made the time pass likethat, but she piqued my curiosity about this area of cooking that has gotten short shrift compared to, say, Italian and French.

And so how happy was I to open my Christmas gift from our friend Tom and discover her cookbook in the box?! Tom sent Gil a hilarious Jimmy Olsen comic collection in the same shipment, so we sat on the couch talking over each other for an evening:

“Oh, look! Six-armed Jimmy Olsen!”

“Hey, sofrito!”

“Ooh, I remember this one! Jimmy got zapped with a ray and turned giant sea-turtle man!”



So the presents were well received, I’d say. But back to Daisy. I bought the ingredients to make sofrito, which turned out to be a lot like the Cajun trinity, only even MORE flavorful and garlicky — heaven. I also got a big pot of chicken stock going on the stove in my new 12-quart stock pot and began dreaming of garlic soup with chorizo and chicken with soupy yellow rice and alcaparrado. (Incidentally, how great is that word? Very sexy, I think.) It involved a full weekend of cooking, but ultimately, everything was so far beyond delicious, I couldn’t even get up the nerve to post. Just incredible. Buy. This. Book.

Yesterday, we had her 20-minute shellfish sauté and even though I screwed things up in a major way, it still “made my mouth sing.” I couldn’t find littleneck clams and don’t care for them much, anyway, so we did without. Not a huge deal, but I was evidently lobotomized before doing my grocery shopping in the morning and came home with a bunch of cilantro instead of the parsley the dish called for. No worries! I added chopped chorizo to the dish to balance the more assertive cilantro. Other than that, this meal called for just a few ingredients, anyway — scallops, shrimp, white wine, a slurry of milk and cornstarch, and tons of garlic. I added some bittersweet pimentòn just before serving and it disappeared faster than anything I’ve made in a long time. So now we’re three-for-three with this cookbook. Dare I try a fourth today?

Did I mention how much I love Daisy? Cuz I do. I really do.