January 28th, 2011 § § permalink
Tonight I’m headed to a potluck dinner that focuses on family heritage and local, seasonal ingredients. To a certain extent I have the local ingredients covered for, since Christmas, I’ve been growing a small garden of oyster and shiitake mushrooms. These homegrown gems will star in mushroom stroganoff, a meat-free take on my mother’s beloved beef stroganoff recipe.
In terms of heritage I’m a bit off the mark with stroganoff. As its name may indicate, this dish hails from Russia. In fact, it reputedly was named for the 19th century Russian military commander and diplomat Count Pavel Stroganov.
As you might guess, none of my ancestors came from Russia. Most were French with a few Irish, English and Welsh men thrown into the mix. So, how did this Russian meal of sautéed sliced tenderloin, onions and mushrooms blanketed in a sour cream sauce become a recurrent offering at our French-Anglo dinner table? How indeed.
Today many culinary historians attribute the creation of beef stroganoff to Count Pavel Stroganov’s personal chef, who came from . . . France. It’s believed that he adapted a classic French dish, fricassée, for the Russian palate by adding sour cream.
His dish caught the interests of diners not only in Russia but also in Great Britain, Scandinavia and China. Decades later Russian immigrants brought this rich creation to American shores. By the 1950′s it had become a huge hit with U.S. home cooks and restaurant chefs. Thirty years later this hearty, simple-to-make dish still wowed my family.
In Russia potato straws and pickles accompany beef stroganoff. In England and China rice is paired with it. In my mother’s and now my kitchen it sits atop a bed of egg noodles. Whether you partner it with potatoes, pickles, rice or egg noodles, chances are you’ll fall for stroganoff. I only hope that my fellow potluckers will, too.
1 white onion, skin removed and cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces oyster mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into 1 1/2″ pieces
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and sliced
12 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup low fat sour cream
1 package of wide egg noodles
Place the onion chunks and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped.
In a large frying pan heat the olive oil. Pour in the onion-garlic slurry and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and allow it to melt before adding the mushrooms. Stir the ingredients together, cover and allow the mushrooms to cook until softened and reduced, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid and add the nutmeg, paprika, salt and sherry, tossing until well combined. Add the sour cream, stir and allow to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
As the stroganoff is simmering, cook the egg noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and place them in a large bowl. Spoon the mushroom stroganoff over the noodles, toss to coat and serve immediately.
January 21st, 2011 § § permalink
It’s another cold morning on the East Coast, one that leaves me with little desire to step outside and into the latest snowstorm. On days like this I start rooting through my freezer, searching for ingredients for a warm, hearty stew. A one-pot wonder, stew consists of slow-cooked vegetables and fish or meat and the thick, savory liquid in which these ingredients simmer. Although I’ve consumed this nourishing dish since early childhood, it still remains my favorite way to add some heat to wintry afternoons.
Most stews were born out of necessity, using whatever items cooks had on hand. In the case of Irish stew, these staples included old, economically unviable sheep, or mutton, along with potatoes and onions. Beginning with mutton, Irish cooks of yore would place equal parts of meat, potato and onion in separate layers in a large casserole or kettle. They added a pinch of salt and pepper, poured in enough water to cover the layers, and clamped a lid on the kettle. They then set the concoction over an open fire and left it to simmer for two to three hours. Once the mutton and potatoes were tender and the stewing liquid had thickened and become infused with juices, dinner could be served.
Little of this recipe has changed since the stew became Ireland’s national dish in the early 1800s. Today, it is more commonly made with lamb, not mutton, and it simmers on a stove or cook top instead of an open fire. Otherwise, it’s the same nurturing repast from generations ago.
Similar to Irish stew, bouillabaisse began when French fishermen tossed their least worthwhile catch into big cooking pots. Along with the unmarketable fish and a generous dose of olive oil and water, they dropped onions, garlic, tomato and fennel into the cauldrons. Ladled into bowls and eaten with slices of grilled or crusty bread, aromatic bouillabaisse satisfied Marseille fishermen in the rawest weather.
Unlike its one-meat Irish counterpart, bouillabaisse demands a wide assortment of seafood. Firm-fleshed fish such as halibut and eel that are perfect for eating in chunks, flakier fish such as hake and sole that disintegrate and create a sumptuous broth, and inexpensive shellfish all find their way into the pot.
While Irish stew and bouillabaisse may be lovely, they aren’t the only dishes to make. When cooking for a carnivorous crowd, I might offer Spanish cocido with its salted meats, chicken, sausage and chickpeas, or Belgian waterzooi, which features chicken, leeks, potatoes and eggs. Likewise, I could dip into the delicacies of the American South and serve game-filled Brunswick stew or burgoo. The possibilities seem endless for almost every country warms up with its own take on stew.
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and minced
1 celery stalk, washed and chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored and chopped
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried basil
4 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes with their juices
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 littleneck clams, washed and scrubbed
6 mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
3/4 pound halibut, tilapia or flounder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
chopped fresh parsley, optional
In a large saute pan heat the oil. Add the leek, celery, fennel and onion, sprinkle the salt over top and saute the vegetables until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, saffron, black pepper, basil and garlic and saute for two minutes. Pour in the white wine and allow to simmer for 5 minutes before adding the tomato paste, tomatoes and the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt and ground black pepper if needed.
Place 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stockpot and heat on medium-high. Tumble in the clams and mussels, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pot periodically so that the shellfish cook evenly. Add the broth, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Add the halibut, tilapia or flounder and allow to cook for another 2 minutes before tossing in the shrimp. Allow the fish and shellfish to cook for an additional 3 minutes or until done. Remove any unopened mussels and clams, sprinkle the optional chopped parsley over top and ladle into bowls. Serve with a baguette or crusty white bread.
January 14th, 2011 § § permalink
Thanks to a dozen brown bananas over-ripening on my kitchen counter, I spent a good chunk of last weekend making loaf after loaf of banana bread. I could just as easily have baked dozens of banana muffins or even a few coffeecakes. They all fall into the same category of baked goods known as quick breads.
As their name indicates, quick breads are made quickly. Unlike with white, whole wheat, rye and other yeast breads, I don’t while away hours letting the dough rise. Likewise, I don’t spend precious time kneading it. I simply mix the ingredients together, pour the batter into a greased pan and allow the loaf to bake.
The absence of yeast is what gives quick breads their short prep time. A living organism, yeast requires a draft-free, warm environment of between 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It also needs moisture and food, such as sugar and starch, to grow. As it grows, it gives off carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to rise. The first rise can take anywhere from one to two hours. After that initial growth period the dough might be formed into loaves or it might call for a second rise. Once the bread is formed, it has to rise yet again before being baked. Truthfully, a better name for yeast breads might be ‘slow breads.’
In quick breads the leavening agent is baking powder or baking soda or a combination of both. When moisture is added to either, the rising process starts immediately. Hence why these breads come together so swiftly.
Along with speed I appreciate the versatility of these breads. Depending on what I have on hand, I can add fresh or dried fruits such as pears, apples, bananas, dried apricots, blueberries or cranberries to the batters. I can include savory ingredients including cheese, olives, bacon, herbs and beer. I can even feature vegetables such as zucchini, hot peppers and pumpkins. Nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips are also good additions.
When making quick breads, I follow a few basic rules. I always mix the dry and wet ingredients together until just combined. If I stir the ingredients until the batter is smooth, I’ll end up with tough breads, cakes or muffins. Before pouring the batter into the pan, I fold in any fruit, nuts or chocolate chips. Lastly, no matter what I bake, I always use the toothpick method to determine when muffins, cakes or breads have finished baking. With this I just insert a toothpick into the center of my baked good. If the toothpick comes out without any batter or crumbs clinging to it, I can remove my treat from the oven. Easy and quick!
Since I have baked so many loaves that I can now recite the recipe in my sleep, I’ll share my soft, banana-laden bread this week.
Makes 1 loaf
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups plus 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs, whisked
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 generous cup mashed, very ripe/brown bananas (Depending on size, you will need up to 3 bananas.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.
In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
With an electric mixer beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until well incorporated. Slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Fold in the bananas until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan, return the bread to the rack and allow it to cool completely before cutting or wrapping.
January 11th, 2011 § § permalink
If you live with someone who grew up eating a specific cuisine, chances are that you either avoid cooking that food or beg and plead to learn the special techniques and recipes from that person’s family. In my case I first avoided then pestered and finally amassed a slew of books on Southeast Asian cooking. While no Asian cookbook can replicate the kind of skilled, hands-on instruction that my husband’s Vietnamese step-father provides, Jeffrey Alford’s and Naomi Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet comes close. With over 175 recipes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and southern China their book details the cuisines of the Mekong River region.
Broken into 12 chapters, Hot Sour Salty Sweet looks at what everyday people living along the river eat. It covers everything from spicy hot sauces and warming soups to vibrant street foods and refreshing drinks and sweets. Rice and rice dishes as well as noodles and noodle dishes have their own chapters. Likewise, salads, vegetables, meats and seafood receive their due.
For each recipe Alford and Duguid give a history of the food and/or its main ingredients. In ‘Fish and Seafood’ I learn that Vietnamese squid boats go out at dusk to catch the star of muoc tuoi, squid with ginger-garlic sauce. In ‘Poultry’ I find out about the prominence of lemongrass in Khmer-Cambodian cooking while ‘Beef’ discusses the popularity of sun-dried beef or neau kaem in Laos and Thailand. From each page I glean new insight into the Mekong and its style of eating.
Truthfully, if I didn’t enjoy cooking, I could read Hot Sour Salty Sweet as a travel narrative and culinary history. The authors first started traveling through Southeast Asia during the 1970s. Through their journeys they witnessed the changes in and enduring traditions of this region. As a result of their long history, they offer riveting insights and anecdotes about life along the Mekong River. They also include breathtaking color photographs of food and daily life in Southeast Asia.
Since I do love to cook, I can vouch for the recipes in this book. In ‘Noodles and Noodle Dishes’ I’m taught, through step-by-step instructions, how to make fresh noodles and noodle sheets. I then receive recipes in which to use my homemade ingredient. Similarly, if I want to know how to make my own rice crackers, rice balls or tamarind or peanut sauce, I’ll discover how to do so in this cookbook. You name the Southeast Asian dish. By the end of Hot Sour Salty Sweet you and I will be able to recreate it in our own kitchens.
Needless to say, Alford and Dugoid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet is an essential cookbook in my collection. Perhaps it will become one in yours, too.
January 6th, 2011 § § permalink
A few weeks ago I shared some tips on selecting eco-friendly, consumer-safe seafood. With the new year here and most of us thinking about, if not actually engaging in, healthful eating habits, I’ve decided to revisit the topic. My search for environmentally sound fish continues with barramundi, sablefish and Dungeness crab.
Now raised in the U.S. in enclosed, re-circulating tanks, the hardy, fast-growing Australian barramundi qualifies as eco-safe seafood. High in omega-3 fatty acids, it likewise offers a heart-healthy option.
Thanks to its sweet, succulent meat and edible, crisp-when-cooked skin, barramundi has become a favorite with cooks. A versatile fish, whole barramundi can be grilled, baked, roasted or steamed. Fillets are ideal for pan-frying, grilling, sautéing and broiling.
Barramundi pairs nicely with a range of foods. It compliments arugula, bok choy, brown sugar, cilantro, garlic, limes, shallots and soy sauce, among others.
While the overfished Atlantic cod tops the list of seafood to avoid, the abundant, long-lived “black cod” or sablefish falls firmly into the safe category. Caught wild in Alaska and British Columbia, this firm, oily fish also serves as a good source for omega-3 fatty acids.
Sablefish has pearly white meat and a deep creaminess that favors such seasonings as honey, miso, mustard, sake, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. Juicy when cooked, it can be grilled, sautéed, pan-fried, steamed, poached, braised or roasted. Additionally, sablefish’s high fat content makes it excellent for smoking. In fact Jewish delis often sell it under the label “smoked black cod.”
Considered a delicacy of the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness crabs are caught wild with special traps that allow the escape of undersized crabs and bycatch. Their strict size limits, protection during molting season and overall sustainability mark them as eco-friendly seafood.
Moist, tangy and slightly nutty, Dungeness crab brings to mind lobster. Similar to lobster, it is either boiled alive in salted water or killed immediately before being placed in the bubbling pot.
Cooks often serve Dungeness crab directly from the shell. They also put it in crab cakes, crab Louis and the seafood stew cioppino. It partners well with artichokes, bell peppers, cucumber, garlic, mayonnaise, oregano, shallots, thyme and white wine.
The next time that seafood shopping leaves you overwhelmed, remember that good options do exist. Talk to your fishmonger or consult such agencies as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Defense Fund, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute for further information about safe, sustainable fish and shellfish.
January 4th, 2011 § § permalink
After two weeks of sheer gluttony the time seems right to chat about a fascinating, food-oriented book. Unlike my previous Tuesday offerings, it is not a cookbook but rather a book that looks at what people around the world cook and eat. Created by writer Faith D’Aluisio and photojournalist Peter Menzel, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (Material World, 2010) details what 80 individuals from around the globe consume in one day.
In some respects What I Eat can be seen as a follow-up to the duo’s 2005 book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. In that publication Menzel and D’Aluisio looked at what 30 families in 24 countries ate during one week. In their latest offering they pare their exploration down to one day in the life of 80 individuals from over 30 countries. For each profiled person D’Aluisio cites the number of calories he consumes in a day and how he consumes them, i.e. 11 ounces of thin grain porridge made of sorghum and served with 1 tablespoon sugar for breakfast. She also provides a brief biography, listing occupation, age, height and weight. She then describes how the person obtains, cooks and eats his food and the conditions that surround each of these activities. This may sound fairly commonplace but, in fact, it proves fascinating.
Menzel’s beautiful and tale-telling photographs support D’Aluisio’s intriguing text. Together the two develop a compelling story about how the world perceives and uses food. Take, for instance, the smiling, healthy-looking Masai herder, who survives on a mere 800 calories per day. Compare his lifestyle with the obese British school aid who takes in 12,300 calories in 24 hours. How could one live on so little and the other on so much? Then there is the 135-pound Tibetan yak herder’s intake of 5,600 calories and the 260-pound American truck driver’s 5,400 calorie diet. One man gets his energy from cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and noodles. The other derives his from candy, sweetened coffee drinks, cheeseburgers and fried foods. Interesting choices. Interesting results.
Essays from such respected writers as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle further enrich What I Eat. While none ever chastise the profiled individuals – or the readers – for their food choices, they do leave all of us contemplating what we eat and why. It’s yet another reason why I admire D’Aluisio’s and Menzel’s latest work. It inspires thoughtful consideration of how we and others in the world eat and live.