Archive for My Test Kitchen

Shrimp and the Future

The BP oil spill has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about a month now, with no end in sight. As oil and chemicals drift towards the Louisiana coast, it’s easy to imagine the destruction being inflicted on these fishing grounds and the people who make their livings from them. This article from the New York Times addresses the issues straight-on, explaining how the majority of our domestic seafood comes from either Louisiana or Alaska, and how this spill will likely cause seafood shortages from the Gulf. It makes me wonder, between E-coli laced meat and toxic seafood, what will be left for us to eat?

One of the many reasons why I feel so sad about the BP situation is because in the past few years, I had recently renewed my love for shrimp. It all started with my first trip to Disneyworld as a child—whenever I think about it, I don’t remember the exhilarating curves and dips of Space Mountain or the sentimental sweetness of the It’s a Small World ride. No, my most vivid memory is of sitting at a white-clothed table with my parents and younger sister in front of a tall, narrow glass filled with my first shrimp cocktail. After my initial bites of those cold boiled shrimp dipped in their deliciously zesty tarter sauce, I couldn’t get enough, and I think I had a shrimp cocktail every night for the rest of that week. Mickey Mouse and Goofy just couldn’t compete.

But something changed in my early twenties, and for a long while I couldn’t stand the sight of shrimp. It had something to do with the texture, and I didn’t touch them for years. But in an effort to partake of their health benefits, I started eating and enjoying them again a few years ago. Their mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between.

Currently my favorite shrimp dish is this recipe from the New York Times, published over a year ago. From the moment it appeared, these roasted, lemon-infused shrimp and smoky, cumin- and coriander-accented broccoli took the blogging world by storm, and with good reason. Served with brown or white rice, they form an easy and healthy meal, packed with a unique and addictive combination of flavors. I’ve been making it at least once a month for the past year, and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Jim and I recently tried a Thai-inspired recipe from Food & Wine as well, an intriguing mix of grilled shrimp, garlic, cilantro, shallots, red pepper, and soba noodles, mixed with various Asian seasonings. Jim loved the spicy combination of flavors with the buckwheat noodles, and I expect this recipe to enter our regular dinner rotation as well. We slurped up every bite in one sitting.

I don’t mean to minimize the oil spill in the Gulf with petty talk about my favorite shrimp recipes; there are so many huge ramifications of this catastrophic event that it depresses me just to read about them. But talking about the impact of this spill on my daily life in Brooklyn, miles away from where it is actually happening, reminds me that I’m really not so distant from it at all. These disasters, both natural and man-made, impact us all in one way or another. Shrimp dinners are just the beginning.

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Finally. . .Ramps!

I’m not sure if you remember, but last spring I wrote a rather pathetic post about my futile search for ramps. I had never tasted these coveted spring onions before, and visits to both my neighborhood and Union Square farmers’ markets were busts. Reading other bloggers rave on and on about ramps without knowing what was so special about them spun me into a ramp-related tizzy, and I remained so for the rest of 2009.

Well, I can finally relax. Over the weekend Jim came home with a bag of these slender greens from one of our local fruit and vegetable stands. With the help of this recipe, we took some whole-wheat dough out of the freezer and layered the ramps into a quick pizza bianca. With just olive oil, mozzarella, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese acting as the base of the pie, Jim and I were able to revel in the pure, onion-like flavors of spring’s first sprouts.

While I’m happy to declare the end of my ramp-infused innocence, I’m not sure I understand the frenzy that begins when ramps hit the farmers’ market every year. Sure, they are only available for a few short weeks in early spring. And I understand that by the time ramps arrive everyone is sick of winter root vegetables and any sign of fresh spring vegetables is a welcome relief. But the fetishization of ramps seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past few years; David Kamp, the author of The United States of Arugula, agrees. He recently declared ramps the new arugula, in the way this formerly little known food product was once over celebrated and scrutinized back in the eighties. Last week Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post went further and said ramps are simply overrated. Of course, these are just a few dissenting voices in a sea of ramp enthusiasts, so I suppose I should keep my griping to a minimum.

What do you think, readers? Do ramps deserve the hype? Am I just a grump? Don’t answer that last question…

Recipe for Pizza with Ramps (adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes)

  • 1 ball of your favorite pizza dough, white or whole-wheat
  • salt
  • 1 bunch of ramps, washed, with the bottoms trimmed
  • cornmeal
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • a small amount of grated parmesan cheese (less than 1/4 cup)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (I use a pizza stone, so I am basing this recipe on this method.) Place your pizza stone in the oven so it can preheat.

While your pizza stone heats, put a medium size pot of salted water on the stove to boil. While you wait for the water to boil, roll out your pizza dough into a circle on a floured surface.

When the water is boiling, add the ramps. Let them boil for a minute or two, then drain and set aside.

Remove your pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place your circle of dough on a pizza peal. Brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle it with the mozzarella cheese. Place the ramps on top of the cheese so that they radiate out from the center of the pie. Sprinkle the pie with parmesan cheese. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil across the top of the pie. Season with black pepper. Carefully transfer the pie to your pizza stone.

Bake the pizza for about 10-15 minutes. Remove it from the oven when ready and top with another tablespoon of olive oil. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serves 3 to 4 people. Enjoy!

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Snow Day

Last Wednesday morning I shuffled to the window in my robe and slippers, took one look at the fat, drippy snowflakes swirling around outside, and immediately gave myself a snow day. It was the morning after my birthday, after all, and as a child of February I figured I deserved it. So while thick piles of snow quickly covered the brownstones, trees, and sidewalks outside my Brooklyn apartment, I huddled under a blanket inside. I passed the hours drinking tea, watching Lost, and checking my work email here and there. When I finally finished lazing around on the couch, I made my way over to the kitchen and started cooking.

Cold, snowy days call for slow-cooked comfort food, and as soon as I heard the weather reports earlier in the week I began planning the perfect snow day dinner. I wanted something warm and rustic, a dish to make us forget the chilling winds and falling flakes outside. Florence Fabricant’s Chicken Baked with Lentils, a recipe I had saved for just such an occasion, came to mind immediately, and I made sure I had all the ingredients on hand before the snow started falling.

In this recipe, chicken thighs are nestled in an earthy cloud of cumin-spiced lentils, pancetta, radicchio, and chicken stock. Piled into a baking dish or casserole, the mixture cooks away for a tranquil hour in the oven, the liquid slowly reducing into a saucelike consistency. Soon enough, the comforting aroma of baked chicken infused my apartment, and the snow seemed very far away indeed.

When finally pulled from the oven, the spicy lentils become a complex mix of smoky (provided by the pancetta), tangy (from the radicchio), and sweet (the onions), while the chicken remains moist and tender, absorbing the essence of the lentils in a more subtle way. Dominating this dish in terms of both flavor and quantity, the legumes retain a hint of firmness, and provide a supportive bed for the meaty chicken thighs. Together they’re a hearty, one-pot wonder of a meal, and if we’re lucky enough to have another snow day, I may even have to make this again.

Chicken Baked with Lentils (adapted from Florence Fabricant’s recipe in the New York Times)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 thin slice of pancetta (less than 1/4 lb)
  • 4 chicken thighs, patted dry
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely chopped radicchio
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup of French green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water*

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or another ovenproof casserole dish. Add the pancetta and cook on medium heat until golden. Remove the pancetta and set aside. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the pot, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat. Remove from the pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove one tablespoon of fat from the pan and set aside. Pour out the rest of the fat and discard. Return the tablespoon of fat to the pan.

Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook on medium until soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the cumin. Add the radicchio, vinegar, and sage. Sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock, water, and cooked pancetta.

*I used 1 cup chicken stock plus 1/2 cup water because I cheated and used prepared chicken stock from a box. When I use commercial stock I like to dilute it a little bit with water. If you are using homemade chicken stock, feel free to use 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and disregard the water.

Return the chicken to the pan, bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for about an hour, checking on the lentils occasionally. Cook until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be saucelike, but not soupy. Add more stock if necessary. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, then serve. Recipe serves 3 to 4 people, or 2 to 3 people with leftovers. Enjoy!

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Peach Buttermilk Soup

Once I get on a roll with something, I can’t stop. You may remember that over the winter I was obsessed with soup, trying out several different recipes in response to the never-ending, freezing weather outside. This summer, in comparison, has turned into my season of the peach.

A stone fruit tea cake packed with peaches was so delicious it inspired me to return to the blog after a long absence. Soon after came my successful attempt at Terra Luna’s imaginative peach carpaccio. And over this past weekend, I was inspired by Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times to puree my favorite stone fruit into a tangy, Indian-inspired soup. (On second thought, perhaps my winter soup fixation isn’t resolved after all.)

makingpeachsoup

I soon realized that fruit soups are the perfect summer food. With most of them, there’s barely any cooking involved, whether you’re using peaches for this recipe, melons for that one, or even tomatoes for gazpacho. No hot oven is needed, no long-simmering pots on the stove. The peaches for my Sunday soup required only a brief swim in boiling water and then a quick dip in ice water, so that their skins slipped off easily. After peeling them, I quickly chopped the fruit into small pieces, and pureed most of them with some buttermilk, honey, and lemon juice. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla extract were added right before I put the soup in the refrigerator to chill. It was really that easy.

peachdrink01

Shulman compares this soup to a lassi, which is an Indian milkshake drink. Jim and I sipped it slowly for dessert, after an appropriate home-cooked meal of tandoori chicken and basmati rice. The thick mixture slowly slid down our throats, the slightly sour buttermilk tamed by the sweet peaches and rich, almost warmth-inducing spices. Toasted almonds, added at the last minute as a garnish, provided a crunchy contrast to the smooth liquid. It was just as good for breakfast the next morning, while I sat at my desk and reviewed my work for the rest of the day.

I cut all of the measurements for this recipe exactly in half, so that I only had enough soup for three people instead of six. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, as I was left craving more by the time I emptied the bowl. Obviously I’m not ready for my summer of peaches to end.

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A Rustic Fruit Dessert

Usually after a prolonged absence from the blog I take a few minutes to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. Well, this time is different, as I don’t have any excuses or stories to share. The simple and short explanation is that I got lazy, swept up in the easygoing vibe of summertime. I pushed the blog to the back burner and spent some quality time at the beach, computer be gone. But one look at the piles of fresh peaches and plums at the farmers’ market near my office last week quickly changed my attitude. The multiple baskets of tender stone fruit, bursting with their sweet, sticky juices, instantly awakened my urge for cooking, and yes, blogging.

cake

I knew exactly what I wanted to make with this summertime bounty. During one of those relaxing afternoons at the beach (as I sat under an umbrella with my toes buried in the sand, of course) I came across a gorgeous-looking recipe for a stone fruit tea cake in Gourmet magazine. Published from a new cookbook called Rustic Fruit Desserts, this recipe seemed perfect for me and this sunniest of seasons: simple, forgiving, and filled with ripe fruit. 

The key to this recipe is in the dough. Instead of a traditional pie dough, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and eggs are combined into a loose, almost cream-like mixture. No rolling or painful dough transport required here, as I carefully spread half of the sticky dough into an even layer across my tart pan. After tossing the peaches and plums on top, I dropped the remaining dough in tablespoon-size pieces across the mounds of fruit, wherever I found room. This liquidy batter doesn’t follow any rules, but that’s what being “rustic” is all about, right? A sprinkle of brown sugar, 40 minutes in the oven, and my cake emerged. Bits of pink plums and orange peaches peeked through browned cushions of cake, promising a sweet taste of the season.

slice

I brought the cake to a barbecue over the weekend, and all I can say is that if the rest of the recipes in Rustic Fruit Desserts are this good, then I have to run out and buy the book. Every bite revealed the inherent luscious nature of the fresh fruit, while the surrounding cake was light and airy in its own right. The recipe suggests serving this dessert with a dollop of cream, but we didn’t bother. Oh, and if you can’t tell, you don’t need to serve tea with this tea cake either. It is perfect on its own.

I didn’t change the recipe (except for substituting a sprinkling of turbinado sugar with brown sugar before baking), so I am not reprinting it here. You can access it in the August 2009 issue of Gourmet, on Gourmet’s website, or in the new cookbook Rustic Fruit Desserts.

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