Thursday, July 21, 2016

Zucchini Feta Gratin

I go away for a few days to small zucchini transformed into baseball bats. The resident gardener claims to have been blindsided by thorny leaves!!! So now I have a zucchini palooza, a veritable farmstand worth of gourds. So if I can't give them away fast enough, I have to dream up a dish a day!  Today's veggie special is a simple, quick fix...a gratin.

I saute onion, garlic and zucchini cubes along with tomatoes and herbs. This mix is piled into a gratin dish and drowned in egg and milk. Some adeptly arranged feta is nestled in to the veggies before they are baked. The resulting gratin is pleasing mouthful, letting zucchini and feta fight for dominance. A delicious accompaniment to the adjacent Cajun fish filets.

Serves 4

2 medium size Zucchini 
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
1 large Onion
2-3 Garlic cloves
2 Tomatoes 
1/4 cup chopped mixed Herbs-- Thyme, Parsley, Basil, Oregano 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Several grinds of fresh Black Pepper 
1/4 cup Feta 
1 1/2 cup whole or 2% Milk
2 Eggs

Cut zucchini and onions into 1/2 inch diced cubes.

Mince garlic finely.

Heat olive oil in a pan.

Add onions and garlic and sweat then till translucent.

Add zucchini cubes and saute for 5 minutes till zucchini is tinged brown.

Slice tomatoes and add to zucchini. Saute for a few minutes.

Add herbs and seasonings. Stir well to mix. Take zucchini off heat.

Heat oven to 350F.

Divide veggie mix between 4 gratin cups.

Wedge pieces of feta into gratins.

Whisk milk and eggs well. 

Divide between gratin cups making sure the batter covers veggies.

Place cups on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Take them out of the oven and enjoy them warm.

Today's special goes well with spicy Cajun flavors. The mellow tones are the perfect foil for tongue tingling southern spices! Tomorrow is another day... I see a grilled zucchini pizza in my future.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pork Chops with Savory Apple Butter

Think pork and apples. You couldn't ask for a more complementary pair. This combination is a Cajun spiced happenstance. Pork chops are liberally sprinkled with zesty seasonings and then topped with a spicy apple butter. I could stuff the chops, but for that the chops would have to be at least an inch thick. Not quite up my alley, freezer or kitchen. Plus I do like using the stuffing as a topping which turns crusty brown while roasting.

The savory butter is a strange combination.  The holy trinity of Cajun cuisine are sauteed.. onions, green peppers and celery. Added to this mix are chopped apples, butter, stock, breadcrumbs and Cajun spices. This mix is then cooked just enough to keep some texture. You should see bits of apple, butter and greens. Pork chops are generously spiced with Cajun seasonings and then topped with the apple butter. Roasted in a hot oven, they take on earth tones...dark brown and crusty.

Serves 4

8 loin Pork Chops
3 Gala Apples
1/2 cup unsalted Butter
3 tablespoons Olive Oil 
2 big Onions
5 Scallions
2 Green Peppers
4 Celery Stalks
4 Garlic Cloves
3 + 2 tablespoons Cajun Seasoning (recipe below)
3/4 cup Chicken Stock
1/2 cup Breadcrumbs 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Cajun Seasoning 
1 tablespoon ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Chile powder
1 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon dried Thyme
2 teaspoons Garlic powder
2 teaspoons Onion powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Whisk powders well and keep in an airtight jar.

Wash and pat dry pork chops. Arrange them on a baking sheet or ovenproof dish.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning over chops.

Chop onions, green peppers and celery into 1/2 inch pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet.

Add chopped onions, celery and peppers. Saute for 5-8 minutes till onions turn translucent.

Mince garlic finely and add to onions.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning over onions. Keep sautéing for a few minutes longer.

Add chicken stock and breadcrumbs to onions and let the liquid come to a low simmer. Take off the heat and cool.

Heat oven to 350F.

Core and chop apples into large chunks. Do not peel.

Put chunks into a food processor along with butter. Pulse a few times till you have small chunks of apple. 

Scrape apple butter into the onions. Mix well to combine.

Divide onion apple butter between the pork chops, mounding the mix over the chops.

Place chops uncovered in the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes.

Remove from oven and enjoy with any side of your choice.

The pairing of pork and apples is as old as the hills. The emanating aroma is enough to lure my meat lovers into the kitchen, where the deliciousness happens!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Beets with Goat Cheese and Shallots

A trip to the farm stand yields a handful of yellow beets. And so begins a summer salad. A year ago my brother the chef made us a slow roasted beet salad with whipped goat cheese and a white balsamic glaze, topped with a crunchy granola. The taste has stayed with me long past the end of the salad. I crave it whenever I see beets. So this is my next to best effort. 

Goat cheese is infused with lemon zest, whipped with blood orange olive oil and used as a base for roasted or boiled beets. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some hand shredded basil and crisp fried shallots brings me to the brink...not quite the original, but a lagging second.

Serves 2

2 medium roasted or boiled Golden Beets
1/2 cup Goat Cheese at room temperature 
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
1 tablespoon Blood Orange Olive Oil
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh cracked Black Pepper 
2-3 Basil leaves
1 tablespoon fried Shallots

Peel beets and cut into wedges.

Place goat cheese in a bowl and add lemon zest, blood orange and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oils to cheese. 

Add a pinch of salt and whip cheese till smooth and creamy. A wire whisk works well.

Spread cheese on a small plate.

Top with beets wedges.

Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle remaining olive oil over beets.

Shred basil leaves and arrange over beets.

Top with fried shallots and enjoy!

Salad is simple makings with a few standout items. It's nowhere near the epicurean taste of Samir's salad. Then again that unique flavor resides permanently in memory lane.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cherry Bluberry Lattice Pie

The Fourth  of July screams all things American and what could be more appropriate than pie. It is to be a fruit pie, one that oozes the essences of summer. I have cherries and blueberries to fill a small pie. Just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. 

I experiment with an old fashioned pie crust. After years of using a food processor, I follow a recipe that is explicit details about handmade pastry. My butter and flour encrusted fingers become adept as I follow the recipe. Cold water pulls the dough together and then the magic happens. I roll the dough into a large rectangle. A few well placed folds, divided in half, the dough sits in the fridge for a short while.

I pit cherries with a knife. Blueberries and cherries are doused in sugar and arrowroot. I only use one portion of the chilled dough. This is further divided in half. I roll one half on a heavily floured surface. If the weather is warm and humid you might have to dust the surface repeatedly with flour as the dough is rather buttery. The recipe is insistent on pie plates, calling for tempered glass ones....yes..that's Pyrex in my vocabulary! I use a 6 inch pie plate..perfect for the rolled circle. The second half is also rolled into a circle and then cut into 1/2 inch strips for a lattice crust. This step involves a lot of bluster as I haven't quite grasped the lattice portion well. But then I am not entering this pie in any contest anytime soon!

Serves 4 people or makes 1 small 6 inch pie

Old Fashioned Flaky Pastry
Attributed to Stella Parks on Serious Eats
Makes one double crusted 9 inch pie

1 2/3 cup APB Flour plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt or 1/2 teaspoon Table Salt
2 sticks or 16 tablespoons COLD unsalted Butter
1/2 cup cold Water

Cherry and Blueberry Filling

1 heaped cup pitted Cherries 
3/4 cup Blueberries 
2 tablespoons Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Arrowroot 
1 Egg

Make the dough by whisking flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.

Cut butter into small pieces and scatter over flour.

Use your fingertips to smoosh the butter into thin sheets. Work the sheets into the flour.

Add cold water and knead the dough into a shaggy ball.

Place dough on a generously floured surface and roll out to a 10x15 inch rectangle. Dust the underside of the dough as you roll as the dough might stick to the surface. Use a bench scraper to reposition dough.

Use a rubber spatula to make small indentations dividing the dough into fours. Fold each quarter inwards so the ends meet in the middle. Then fold one end over the other. You should have four layers. 

Gently fold in half so you have eight layers. 

Cut dough in half. 

Put each half in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 20 minutes. 

At this point you could freeze one half of the crust if you are making the above 6 inch pie. 

Mix cherries, blueberries, sugar, salt and arrowroot in bowl. 

Generously flour a surface and place one half of the dough on it. 

Cut the dough in half.

 Use one half for the bottom crust. Roll dough to a 7 inch circle. 

Place dough onto a 6 inch glass pie plate. Crimp the extra dough over the rim of the plate.

Roll other half into a 7 inch circle.

Cut into 1/2 inch strips.

Heat oven to 400F.

Scrape cherry blueberry filling into prepared pie plate.

Place one lattice strip on one end of filling.

Place the second strip at right angles to the strip.

Place next strip under the first strip.

The fourth strip has to be woven under and over the strips.

Subsequent strips should be woven under and over... It's complicated. Look in NOTES below for instructions.

When you are done trim lattice edges and tuck edges under the outer rim.

Use left over strips to neaten the outer edges. I pressed the left over strips over the outer edges as you can see below.

Break egg into a bowl and whisk well.

Brush pie with egg wash.

Place pie on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.

The lattice crust should turn a rich brown color.

Remove pie from oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Slice and enjoy!


If the weather is warm or humid refrigerate the dough if you see the butter becoming too soft. Keep the bottom crust in the fridge till you are ready to fill and top.

If you do plan to make a regular 9 inch round pie, the dough recipe is more than adequate. Double the filling recipe portion. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

I used the other half of the dough to make peach hand pies. The dough refrigerates well for a few days. The dough freezes for up to a week. 

I had trouble with the lattice crust, trusting my instincts, not reading the article in its entirety. Read this to make the perfect lattice crust. 

Lunch is on the patio, under bright blue skies, with a crisp chenin blanc and turkey lettuce wraps.....a perfect summer afternoon to also eat some humble pie.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Oven Roasted Beef Filet infused with Lime

I discover some filet in the deep recesses of my freezer. The unused remnants of a large tenderloin features in tonight's dinner. Trimmed of visible fat, I portion them into chunks. Then I contemplate their fate. Should I make a simple pan roast with salt and pepper? Or should I aim for a more ambitious roast. A new cookbook has been burning a hole on the shelf. Big Flavors from a Small Kitchen has an innovative take on recipes. There are no titles...just the mains bunched together as a guide. I pour over unusually paired creations. And I joyfully experiment with the chef's leanings. Love blossoms immediately. Chris Honor uses staples from my pantry with more than unusual slants. One such compilation is beef marinated with nigella, coriander and  fenugreek, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves.... Hmmm...Sounds like the beginnings of a pickle. And all items are within arms reach! 

I deviate a little from the original. The filets are rubbed with garlic, salt and pepper. Nigella seeds soak in water while I assemble the marinade. Limes are zested and juiced. Garlic cloves are lightly smashed. Kaffir lime and curry leaves are roughly slivered. Coriander and fenugreek seeds sit in heaps. Nigella seeds are drained and added to the beef along with marinade ingredients for a short steep.  A cast iron pan goes into the oven as it comes to a high temperature, another deviation from the recipe. I find beef roasts best in cast iron. The sizzle sets the tone for the night.

Adapted from Chris Honor's Big Flavors from a Small Kitchen
Serves 4-6

2 pound Beef Filet OR Sirloin
2 tablespoons Nigella seeds
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
2 teaspoons Garlic powder 
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1 tablespoon Fenugreek seeds
20 Curry leaves
12 Kaffir Lime leaves
6 Garlic cloves
4 Limes, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons Olive Oil 
Basil leaves

Trim filet of silver skin. Slice filet into 2-3 inch pieces. Place in a bowl. If you use a sirloin steak, leave the steak as is and follow the recipe.

Soak nigella seeds in water for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle salt pepper and garlic powder over filet. Massage seasonings into meat.

Roughly chop curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves.

Smash garlic lightly.

Add lime juice to filet, along with half the zest.

Drain nigella seeds and add to beef, along with coriander, fenugreek, garlic, curry and kaffir lime leaves and garlic. Massage spices into beef.

Drizzle olive oil over beef, cover and marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 425F. 

Put cast iron pan into oven to heat. 

Once the oven has reached 425F, use tongs to place beef pieces in the cast iron pan. Add the remaining marinade to the pan.

Roast for 15 minutes for medium rare, 25 minutes for medium, 35 minutes for well done.

Remove beef from oven.

Place on a platter and tent with foil for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the remaining lime zest on beef.

Garnish with basil leaves.

Slice and serve.

Roasting beef inevitably emits the most pleasing aroma. Cooked in cast iron, the beef emerges crusty but medium rare. Browned spices add layers of flavor and crunch. Lime features predominantly as we slice and dice.  Each bite  is reminiscent of achaar gosht..Indian style meat cooked with similar spices. No need for naan or roti...all this beef needs is a steak knife and good appetite.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beef Bao Sliders

Bao buns are the quite the rage. Or are they now passe? Not in my house. David Chang popularized them a few years ago. Since it has been a challenge to eat at Momofuko, I create this popular recipe at home. True to the original concept I start with pork belly. It's delicious! But getting there is a lengthy process, from brining the pork, to braising or roasting it, and lastly, pan frying pork slices. The end result, stuffed into a warm steamed bun, paired with pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber and cilantro, drizzled with hoisin, is a mouthful of wow. Caramelized pork, rich hoisin flavors and crisp veggies warm the heart and belly. These bite size baos are the quintessential finger food.

To make my life easier I decide to substitute another meat. A ground beef patty, full of Asian aromatics. Grated garlic becomes a pungent puree, with no pieces to bite into. I use a fancy Japanese ginger grater Rehan brings me from his travels. I have trouble with this new contraption...but then I haven't read the accompanying instructions. I finally figure it out and I'm left with wonderfully minuscule grated ginger. Thanks Rehan!

A short marination on the counter, after which beef is shaped into small oval patties and fried as the baos steam. These patties are a lazy cook's best friend. A short marination, a quick fry and they are ready to be eaten or stuffed. Baos are ready to be assembled. In place of daikon I use a fennel and carrot slaw. New flavors for an old standard.

Makes 8-10 portions

1 pound ground Beef
2 teaspoons Sambal Olek
2 tablespoons Ketchap Manis
1 teaspoon Sriracha 
1 teaspoon grated Garlic
1 teaspoon grated Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 tablespoon Canola Oil 
1/2 cup shredded Carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced Fennel
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt 
1 tablespoon White Vinegar
Cilantro Sprigs
Thai Basil or Italian Basil
Sweet Chile Sauce
8-10 Chinese Steamed Buns

Mix ground beef, sambal olek, ketchap manis, Sriracha, ginger, garlic, black pepper and salt. Massage the spices and beef well. Keep beef aside for 15 minutes.

Put carrots and fennel in a glass bowl. 

Sprinkle sugar, salt and white vinegar over veggies. Stir occasionally so veggies can absorb the vinegar.

Heat an inch of water on a wide saucepan. 

Place a steamer rack in the saucepan.

Line steamer rack with wax paper so the buns wont stick to the steamer.

Once the water simmers, place 4-5 buns on wax paper. Cover the pan and steam for 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining buns. Buns can stay warm in the steamer for 15-20 minutes.

Fry patties as buns steam.

Shape them into 2-3 inch ovals. You should have 8-10 oval patties.

Heat canola oil in a nonstick pan.

Add patties to hot oil and cook till brown and crusty on one side. Flip and brown other side.

To assemble the baos, line up the patties, slaw, herbs and sweet chile sauce.

Place one opened steamed bao on plate. 

Top with one beef patty.

Pile some slaw over patty.

Drape cilantro and basil over slaw.

Drizzle sweet chile sauce over patty.

Fold the upper flap over the fixings and dig in!

Repeat  and enjoy!!

Lunch is a true delight. I start with just one bao. Then I assemble a few for G. Temptation prevails and I put another together for myself. G thinks it is for him. That notion is swiftly destroyed as I eat the bao taco style, right out of the palm of my hand!  Eaten horizontally or vertically, beef baos might be a little messy but they have come to stay!