Saturday, May 22, 2010

Paradise "Lost"

Well, friends, it has been six exhilarating and often bewildering seasons, but one of my favorite shows of all-time, "Lost," is coming to an end tomorrow night. And with three hours of prime time programming, that's a huge send-off worthy of some special fanfare from fans like me. Thus, for the foodies among us, the big question is: What will be on YOUR "Lost" finale menu?

I have been giving this a ridiculous amount of consideration, and have done my due diligence in researching the foods depicted over the course of the entire series, and here are my thoughts on the occasion and how it might be celebrated.

For appetizers, there could be cheeseburger sliders or mini grilled cheese sandwiches ("Others" food that Juliet feeds Jack in captivity). Or how about smoked (monster) feral chicken satays with peanut sauce (made with Dharma peanut butter like Charlie brings to Claire when she's pregnant)? And of course, sushi (esp. sea urchin) would be highly appropriate! But I think I'll pay homage to Hurley by preparing some Mr. Cluck's Fried Chicken Bites with Ranch Dipping Sauce (remember when he was hoarding all the Dharma ranch dressing?). Also, we will have a green salad with tomatoes and some kind of herby dressing, courtesy of Sun's garden, of course!

Then for the entrée, one might wish a pork roast or pulled pork (to simulate "wild boar") braised in Dharma beer, naturally. You could also have rabbit if you don't have Bambi and Thumper issues like I do. But I think I'm going to go with a grilled tropical fish like mahi mahi topped with mango salsa. And my side dish will be coconut basmati rice. Yum!

I am still grappling with dessert. Of course, the Losties ate a LOT of fruit salad--mangoes, passion fruit, guava, papayas, bananas, and oranges would all be welcome, tossed with some shredded coconut and maybe a rum-laced dressing or spiked cream? But I am leaning toward a more decadent option, probably some kind of peanut butter brownies (made with Claire's peanut butter and Apollo chocolate bars?). Although black and white cookies would be very fitting--especially this season, as we try to distinguish the good people from the bad. If I could find a big fish cookie cutter, fish biscuits would be ideal and highly amusing as well! Tee hee.

Finally, for drinks, one should serve wine (Merlot or Cabernet, or generic red or white from a box), beer--lots of Dharma beer--and perhaps other liquors in tiny airplane bottles? But I'll probably just have a Dharma cola. The funniest idea I read about (by one witty poster on Chowhound) was to serve root beer floats with little labels on the glasses: "NOT PENNY'S FLOAT!" LOL!

No matter what you make for your "Lost" finale event, enjoy the show! And let's hope it wasn't all just a very lengthy dream sequence that we realize once we see Bobby Ewing in the shower or Bob Newhart in bed, or that the main characters don't get left in jail indefinitely while Green Day's "Time of Your Life" plays them off. ;-)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Springtime...and the Chickens are Layin'!

When I went to pick up my last CSA order, I grabbed a dozen jumbo (organic, free-range) eggs from the fridge on the farmer's porch on impulse. They were a bit of a splurge at four bucks a pop, but well worth it, as they were so flavorful and had the most gorgeous orange yolks. So I had to try to find some ways to really showcase these beauties. Then I stumbled upon a package of diced pancetta at the grocery store, and that's when it hit me: CARBONARA!

Spaghetti alla carbonara became popular in America after World War II when soldiers who had discovered the dish while stationed in Italy returned home. Of course, in Italy, no heavy cream is used in the sauce, but it is often included in less authentic American adaptations. Guanciale is also the traditional meat in Italian carbonara, though pancetta is also common, and in the U.S., we often swap out regular bacon. There are several theories about the origin of the name, but the one I buy into is that the generous amount of pepper sprinkled onto the golden, eggy sauce looks like little flecks of charcoal ("carbone" is "charcoal" in Italian).

Regardless of its origins, I think pasta carbonara is a perfect dish to highlight spring's bounty by including both the lovely, fresh eggs and inviting some peas to the party as well (another inauthentic but delicious and seasonal addition). It's a supple and luscious one-dish meal that, while anything but low-cal, is the ultimate quick fix. Once the pasta has cooked, you're basically done. The heat from the hot pasta will cook the eggs, but you should make this recipe with the freshest, preferably local eggs, and anyone with a vulnerable immune system (children, the elderly, those with HIV/AIDS) may want to opt out, just to be on the safe side. In any case, here's my version of pasta carbonara for those who dare to try it. (Your risk will be rewarded tenfold!)

Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta and Peas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta, small dice (or 8 slices of bacon cut into thin strips)
4 shallots (or one small onion), chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
1 pound pasta (I used tagliatelle, though spaghetti is traditional)
4 large eggs (very fresh!)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan (or romano or asiago) cheese, finely shredded
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
salt to taste
additional parmesan
fresh parsley, optional

Get a large pot of water boiling to cook the pasta to al dente. In a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, pancetta (or bacon) and shallots (or onion). Cook until bacon is crisp and shallots are tender and beginning to caramelize (7 or 8 minutes?). Add the peas and minced garlic, stir, cook for another minute or two, then remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, parmesan, and pepper. Add the bacon mixture in fourths, whisking as you go. When the pasta is done, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Whisk the water into the bacon and eggs. Add the hot drained pasta, and toss everything together. Put a plate or plastic wrap over the bowl, and let the pasta set for a few minutes. Taste, add salt if needed, and serve garnished with more parmesan and/or chopped fresh parsley.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Finals have you frazzled? There's a cookie for that!

We're in the thick of it now, folks! FINALS TIME! There is just WAY too much to do, and far too little time to do it. As of this writing, I have completed four of six finals, and by some miracle, have actually computed grades for two of the classes that have finished. I have faith that, eventually, it will all end, but the amount of grading that I still have to do is oppressive, to say the least. Plus, there are all of the end-of-the-semester and end-of-the-year tasks and events to participate in and contribute to...AND all of the last-minute meetings (faculty, committee, and student) that everyone is trying to squeeze in before we all scattered to the four corners of the earth. In short, it's GO-GO-GO without a moment to take a breath...or a nap!

I was chatting with my officemate today, who has it worse than I do as department chair AND caretaker of two young daughters, a husband who works around-the-clock, and also her elderly mother. She confessed to me that she woke up at 2am last night/this morning, and decided to just stay up and grade a big stack of term projects, as it was the only uninterrupted time that she could find to do it! Poor thing! In a similar vein, I have been trying to find time to de-stress a bit by making a simple cookie recipe that I ran across recently, and I ended up starting the project after midnight on a school night during finals, because I am a crazy, nocturnal baker, and that's how I roll. Actually, it's a drop cookie with no rolling required--perfect for hectic days like these. Thus, I give you the third installment in my Springtime Lemon Series, a tender and tangy sweet treat that may be just the incentive you need to help you complete any end-of-the-school-year obligations that you might have before summer finally arrives.

Buttermilk-Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
(Source: adapted from
My Kitchen Cafe')
*Makes about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen cookies (I got 28 cookies with a cookie scoop)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (I doubled this=2 T)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I doubled this, too=1 t)
zest of one lemon (plus I added 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and poppy seeds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon zest and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk. Mix well.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto a greased or lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are set. The cookies should be puffy and fairly light in color when they are finished baking. Remove from the oven and let cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet. Move the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

After tasting the cookies the next morning, they had developed a great lemon flavor, but they still needed something. So I whisked together a quick buttermilk glaze consisting of one cup of powdered sugar, one tablespoon of softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, and enough buttermilk to get it to the right consistency (a scant tablespoon?). I then warmed the glaze on defrost in the microwave for 15 seconds or so to make it very smooth, then I dipped the top of each cookie, let the excess run off, and then set them on a rack to drip and dry. Not only did the glaze add some needed sweetness, but it made the rather plain-Jane cookies look prettier, and it helps keep them soft and tender.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bring on the springtime salads!

With lettuce being recalled in 23 states due to E. coli contamination, the timing was perfect for my local CSA to announce that some of their beautiful, organic head lettuces were ready to harvest. I didn't miss a beat in ordering two Boston Bibb-type called Sylvesta, one tender, "teenage" Romaine, and one called Winter Density which is a Romaine/butter lettuce cross. So with four lettuces to contend with, it was time to eat some SALADS!

We made quick work of the soft, sweet Boston lettuces simply by dressing them with an awesome garlic dressing that's a homemade clone of the dressing that they serve at our favorite creperie in Montreal. These were side salads, though, and I wanted to try something new for an entree. As is often the case, it was Smitten Kitchen to the rescue, by way of Gwyneth Paltrow. Now I'm not sure if Gwyneth is recasting herself as the Martha Stewart in Britain or what, but she does have a lifestyle website and weekly newsletter called GOOP where she encourages everyone to "nourish the inner aspect." Much of it is a too new-agey and radically health-conscious/vegan for my tastes, but sometimes she does have some recipes that genuinely appeal to me. One of these is called Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing, and that title was all I needed to hear. I LLLLUUURRRRVE avocados beyond all reason, and the salad was made up of just greens, avocado and red onion, but topped with this amazingly flavorful and colorful (and healthful!) Asian-style dressing.

Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing
GOOP and Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 4 side salads or two entrees, with dressing to spare

1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sweet white miso (I swapped out low-sodium soy sauce)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup grapeseed or another neutral oil (I used canola)
2 tablespoons water

1 small/medium head of lettuce or mixed greens of your choice
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, quartered

Whiz the carrots, shallot and ginger in a blender or food processor until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides, then add the miso (or soy sauce), vinegar and sesame oil. While the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil and the water.

Divide the lettuce among four bowls (or two plates), add some of the onion and a quarter of the avocado*. Drizzle with plenty of dressing and serve.

*To make this a more filling entree, I threw in a handful of pea pods as well, and I think some cold shrimp would be another welcome addition.

**The next day, I still had some dressing left over, and I wondered what a creamy version of this dressing would be like. So I added about 1/4 cup of mayonnaise to the remaining carrot-ginger mixture, and it was delicious! So that's another option for those who may prefer a creamier dressing.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

GREENlighting Some Easy Weeknight Enchiladas

Each semester at school, we hold an intramural public speaking competition to give our COM 101 students a chance to showcase their best speeches and to put a little "public" back in public speaking. It's always interesting to see what topics the contestants will present, and this time around, one of the finalists did a fun speech about green salsa (salsa verde). The speaker was very enthusiastic and personable, which is, no doubt, why he won third place. And when he was done with his speech, the whole room smelled of garlic and onion and cilantro and lime...on a day when I didn't have time for lunch, damn him! ;-)

Thus, the craving for salsa verde grabbed ahold of me and wouldn't let go! My plan was to buy the fresh ingredients and make something delicious over the weekend, when I had the time. But when I stopped by Hannaford (local grocery chain) to pick up a couple of quick things on a weeknight, I spied this stuff in the Latin food aisle.

It's a two-step green chile stew mix made by Cookwell & Company, a small operation out of Austin, TX, and the label boasted "all natural" ingredients and authentic fire-roasted Hatch chiles. It seemed a bit pricey at six-something a jar, but then I realized that it was the equivalent of two large cans of El Paso or the like, and each of those cans was $2.79, so it was comparable. (I found out later that this stuff can command between $9-12 a jar on the internet!) And I know it's supposed to be used to make stew by adding a favorite meat (I vote for pork posole!), but I wondered if it couldn't be pressed into service for making some quickie chicken enchiladas? As it turns out, it can, and there was even a recipe on the back of the jar. And--quel surprise--this jarred sauce yielded a simply SCRUMPTIOUS batch of enchiladas with great flavor and just a trace of heat!

Now I know this is a semi-homemade cheater recipe, but I had a rough week, okay? First, I bought a big deli roaster from Sam's Club and removed and shredded the meat. I added a cup of the green chile sauce, about 3/4 cup sour cream, a cup of shredded Mexi-cheese, a teaspoon of granulated garlic, salt and pepper.

Then I used these great low-fat/whole grain tortillas that I also get from Sam's and rolled about three tablespoons of the filling into each of ten tortillas, and placed them into a 9x13 baking dish with enough sauce to cover the bottom. Ten enchiladas fit perfectly (8 in a row, 2 along the side).

I poured the rest of the sauce over them, and baked the enchiladas uncovered for 30 minutes at 350. Then I topped them with a couple of cups of the Mexi-cheese, and returned the pan to the oven for 10 more minutes until the cheese melted and just started to brown at the edges. YUM!

Next time, I'm going to do the same thing, but try pork in the filling. Pork and green chiles are a match made in Latin heaven! But these green chile chicken enchiladas were just the thing for a zesty weeknight quick fix