The 40-year-old virgin

Sometimes the stars align and my pictures turn out as planned. This is one of those times, though they do look a little brussels sprouty from afar. Aka tomatillos.
As (almost) always, click on the images to view larger in flickr. Unless they’re shots of, I dunno, appliances (foreshadowing!), then you’re SOL.

For the past few months, I’ve been keeping a list of things I’ve finally gotten around to trying this year. For what purpose, I couldn’t say because planning an end-of-the-year wrap-up post in May would show remarkable foresight on my part, but the list has been steadily growing nonetheless. On the exotic end of the spectrum, sea cucumber found its way on the list in 2009 (in phenomenal dim sum at Lai Wah Heen in Toronto), but it got much more mundane with red currants (in the “never cooked with” column… also in the “not gonna cook with again” column, if I’m being honest) and gooseberries (also a “never cooked with,” but much more to my liking than the red currants).

Despite my love of trying whatever new thing occurs to me and having a spice cabinet that long ago overflowed to the hall closet, I have lacunae that are downright embarrassing. Which brings us to the tomatillo. Of course, I’ve eaten tomatillos in restaurants many times, but I’ve never gotten around to inviting them into my kitchen before this weekend. When I saw a basket of them at the market being passed over in favor of corn and tomatoes, I decided to remedy the situation without a recipe in mind, and thus bought way too many.

No, seriously. I could not be happier with these two pictures. Aka tomatillo close-up.

I grilled them along with some jalapeno peppers and blended both with cumin, loads of lime juice, salt & pepper…and some sofrito I had in my freezer. If you’re thinking that sofrito sounds odd in a salsa, I can’t argue, you’re right (at least from my online recipe searches). But I was out of fresh cilantro and thought, “Hey! I always have sofrito in the freezer, thanks to Daisy. And sofrito has cilantro in it. Also onion and garlic. What could go wrong?” And that’s usually where things go pear-shaped — one of my favorite sayings from the old Brit roomies, so forgive the pretense — around here, but not this time. It was a little bit sweeter than a regular tomatillo salsa because of the sweet peppers and tomatoes that hitched a ride with cilantro and the gang, but still great with chips and even better on migas the next morning. And because I made so much, we still have half of the batch in the freezer for the next time I get a craving.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Accio, my new favorite beverage! Aka, St-Germain and whatever.

In the “Where have you been all my life?” column, you’ll find St-Germain elderflower liqueur. Though I’ve been curious about it for a while, picking up a bottle never was a big priority because I’m more of a wine drinker these days, but I finally got around to it after Gil‘s boss recommended a martini starring a gin on Gil’s short list supplemented with St-Germain. Now, everyone has words that make them cringe and “ambrosial” is right up there for me along with “tender” (emotional sense only), but I can’t think of a better word to describe this. It’s even stunning paired with nothing more than seltzer and a few cubes of ice. If only I’d known about it earlier in the summer…

* * * * * * * * * * * *


I’m not sure where this would fall on the list exactly — somewhere between acting my age and putting down roots? — but we got a new refrigerator this weekend! Our old one had been in this house since my first year of college and was getting downright menopausal with its temperature swings, so we took advantage of the Labor Day sales to bring home this beauty. It’s got tons more room, no more side-by-side nonsense, and a functioning water dispenser and ice maker. I’m in heaven. We haven’t named it yet, though — any suggestions?

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”