Monday, June 21, 2010

In the Markets Now: New Potatoes

I love potatoes. And I especially love local, organic, newly-dug potatoes that are so tender and flavorful, that they need little to no adornment. We have been getting some amazing yellow-fleshed potatoes from a local farm since early spring, and last week, we made our first visit of the season up to St-Chrysostome, QC, to the Friday night farmer's market where we procured, among other things, several pounds of lovely new (white) potatoes.

We prepared some of them old-school style--drizzled in olive oil, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven. Yum! But I also wanted to make a potato salad with some of them, and I didn't want the sort that was so laden with various veggies and eggs and a heavy, mayo-based dressing that you couldn't taste the simple, wonderful sweetness of the potatoes themselves. So I went searching for a simple, but still very flavorful potato salad. What I found was an heirloom recipe from Ruth Reichl, former editor-in-chief of the much-missed Gourmet Magazine, her Aunt Birdie's famous potato salad. With only five ingredients (not counting salt and pepper, of course), it's downright spartan, but it's simply delicious. It has a sweetened, vinegar-based dressing in the Germanic tradition, and it's the type of dish that gets better the longer it sits--the next day for sure, and day three is best, if it lasts that long!

The only thing I would add to Aunt Birdie's fine recipe is something fresh and herby. I have used parsley and also dill, which are readily available at this time of year, and both are lovely additions to the salad (chives would be good, too). And this is another fine picnic/potluck/BBQ recipe, as it's wonderful hot, room temperature or cold, and you don't have to worry about mayonnaise spoiling in the hot summer sun (if YOU have any of that phenomenon--we haven't seen much of it yet this year, and in point of fact, as I write this post, we have a fire burning in the wood stove, at the end of June!).

Aunt Birdie's Potato Salad
(Source: adapted from Mmmmm: A Feastiary, by Ruth Reichl)

3 pounds small potatoes
1 or 2 onions, chopped (2 onions?? half of one onion was enough for me!)

salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar (I doubled this=2 T)
1/2 cup white vinegar (I think apple cider vinegar would be good, too)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
*Optional: add 1/4 cup or so of chopped fresh herbs of your choice

Boil potatoes in jackets. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice. (Slice rather thickly, and don't cut the slices further. They will break up too much as you mix the you can see in my pictures.)

Cut onions and mix into the potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Over this, add oil and mix.

Dilute vinegar with a little water (I didn't dilute--I think this is a holdover from "the old days" when vinegar was a lot stronger), bring to a boil and add this while hot over the potatoes. Add herbs, if using, and mix well. You may serve immediately, but it is much better if you let it sit overnight!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A very sexy story of PBGV love...and pie.

I don't think I ever taxed you poor readers with the somewhat salacious tale of trying to breed my dog, Grady. But today is your lucky day! Ha ha. My story starts last November, the week I was to leave for my 20th college reunion, the week I was ultimately struck down by the swine flu. This was also right before I moved into the new house, and in the midst of all of this, I was driving back and forth to a little village near Ormstown, Quebec, trying to make some PBGV babies! But that was easier said than done. Lord knows they were both willing, but they just weren't connecting, if you know what I mean. Finally, we took them to the vet, and she detected some physical strictures in the female that made it impossible for them to do the deed the old-fashioned way.

So the vet did two artificial inseminations, and amazingly enough, even though we were at the tail end (har, har) of her season, it worked! Three weeks later, they did an xray, and they saw at least four viable embryos. However, at some point after that, she must have spontaneously aborted, because she didn't carry the litter to term. It was mysterious and disappointing, but the breeder told us that it was quite common in her lines for the bitch to lose her first litter, but then go on to have healthy puppies the next time around.

So at the beginning of June, the breeder contacted me to let me know that Bianca was in season, and that she's like to try again to breed her to my Grady. But this time, she wanted to take the happy couple back to her house near Ottawa and do the A.I.'s herself. So one Sunday, we all met at the approximate halfway point, which is Cornwall, Ontario, for the doggie swap. She kept Grady and Bianca for the week, and I will spare you the gory details, but we are hopeful that all the lurid activities that occurred behind the velvet curtain will finally yield a litter of little PBGVs come August! Keep your fingers and paws crossed for us!

But what does this have to do with FOOD, you may rightly ask? Well, the route to Cornwall, ON takes you right through the Akwesasne Reservation, and on the res, there is a fine little diner called the Bear's Den. I always stop when I'm passing through, because they make a chocolate cream pie there that I'm overly-find of. But my roommate's favorite is their coconut cream pie. In fact, we weren't more than a few miles down the road before she had finished her slice-to-go, and demanded that I turn around so that she could go buy a whole pie to bring home! I was eager to get back home (it was a school/work night), so I didn't want to backtrack, but I promised that I would soon make her a homemade coconut cream pie. I found a recipe that looked excellent on Epicurious, and I read through all the reader comments, and chose to make some key changes that yielded a pie that Cyd declared the best coconut cream pie she'd ever had!

First of all, I made 1 1/2 times the original amount of filling, as other reviewers recommended, and as they also reported, it perfectly filled a deep-dish pie plate. When I increased the filling, I did not increase the sugar, and I used four whole eggs and five tablespoons of flour. Then I substituted a can of coconut milk (=1 2/3 C), and the rest whole milk to make a total of 2 1/4 cups. I also added a pinch of salt, and omitted the coconut extract. When the custard had finished cooking, I removed it from the heat and added the vanilla and also a tablespoon of butter. I chilled the filling over an ice bath until it was cold to the touch before putting it into the cooled crust and getting it into the fridge. That REALLY cut down on the time it took to set. I think we cut into it about four hours after I made it, and it was PERFECT. For the whipped cream topping, I used powdered sugar instead of granulated, omitted the coconut extract, and swapped out 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. WHEW! I think that's it. Ok, I realize now that my pie barely resembles the original recipe--tee hee--but it turned out GREAT! I hope you agree. My version of the recipe follows...

Coconut Cream Pie
(Source: adapted from Bon Appétit, September 2002)
Yield: Makes 8 servings (I would say 6...ha!)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water

1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 can (1 2/3 cups) coconut milk
1/3 plus 1/4 cup whole milk
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter

2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For crust:
(Ok, I confess--this time, I cheated and used a refrigerator crust, pricked all over with a fork and blind-baked for 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees, then set aside to cool completely.)

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle four tablespoons ice water over mixture. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic. Chill one hour.

Roll out dough to a 14-inch round. Transfer dough to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under. Crimp edges decoratively. Pierce bottom of crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 15 minutes. (Can be made one day ahead. Keep frozen.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake until golden and set, about 10 minutes. Cool. (Crust can be made one day ahead. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature.)

For filling:
Whisk 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Bring milks and flaked coconut to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to same saucepan; cook until pastry cream thickens and boils, stirring constantly, about four minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla extract and pat of butter. Transfer pastry cream to medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent formation of skin. Chill until cold, at least two hours and up to one day (or chill it quickly over an ice bath, as I did). Transfer filling to crust. Cover; chill overnight (if you get it cold in the ice bath, you can chill it for just four hours before serving).

For topping:
Toast coconut in heavy small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about three minutes. Cool completely.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream all over top of filling. Sprinkle evenly with toasted coconut. (Can be prepared four hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve cold.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Perfect Picnic Pasta Salad

So, as is my way, I was watching the Food Network recently, and I caught an episode of Giada at Home, starring everyone's favorite Italian bobblehead doll. (I kid, Giada, I kid!) And on this particular episode, she made an intriguing pasta salad that really looked more like an entrée, but that's probably because we don't expect pasta salads to have tomato-based sauces/dressings. What I can tell you is that this dish is excellent served hot for dinner, just as good at room temperature for a snack later on (when cleaning the kitchen and putting food away...tee hee), and awesome cold the next day for lunch, once the flavors really had a chance to mingle.

Hence, I think this would be the PERFECT thing to take to a picnic, potluck, or BBQ, because it can make use of fresh, seasonal tomatoes and herbs, it's yummy at any temperature, and you don't have the safety concerns of mayonnaise-based dressings baking in the hot summer sun. Plus, it's a great make-ahead dish to give the flavors time to develop further. Now, I know the combination of tuna and tomatoes may sound a little weird to some of you, but TRUST ME, PEOPLE, it is DEE-licious! And, my apologies to lovely Giada, but I think my twists on her recipe made it even more delectable. ;-)

Tuna and Campanelle Salad (Gina's Way!)
(Source: adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Food Network's Giada at Home)

1 pound campanelle pasta (I used some huge imported radiatore)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small or 1/2 medium red onion, chopped (I used a whole medium onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced (um, or SIX!)
1 (6-ounce) can Italian tuna in oil (I used 2 cans)
1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved (I used one can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered (I used a 14.5 oz. can, drained and coarsely chopped)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (I omitted these and used about a half cup of sliced burgundy olives)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used fresh basil)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

*In addition to the above, I also added perhaps a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, the juice of half a lemon, and about 3/4 cup shredded parmesan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about one cup of the pasta water.

In a 14-inch skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until aromatic. Add the tuna to the skillet and, using a fork, break into chunks. Add the tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, thyme, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the pasta and the parsley or basil, and toss until all the ingredients are coated, adding a little pasta water, if needed, to thin out the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle on the shredded parmesan. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature (or cold!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hippie Skillz: Making Homemade Yogurt

It must be admitted that my roommate and I are, well, "of an age" where a little probiotic help to maintain good digestive health would not be unwelcome. The problem is that we have been spending a small fortune on pre-made smoothie drinks (Cyd) and the thicker, Greek-style yogurts like Fage, Chobani, and Oikos (me). So I decided to try making my own yogurt at home. I already make my own granola and garden organically...might as well fully embrace my inner hippie! (All that's left is to start growing sprouts in the fridge! Tee hee.)

It seems odd that I had never made homemade yogurt before, but I didn't want to risk it not turning out due to inconsistent or unreliable heat sources during fermentation. I know there are all sorts of methods and devices that can work. An acquaintance of mine from when I worked at the farmer's market a few years ago told me that she fermented her yogurt during the summer months in a thermos wrapped in a blanket, tucked in a backpack, stored in a closet! But I decided to go a safer route for my first attempt and buy an inexpensive little yogurt maker that is comprised of a heated base, a dome cover, and seven little glass jars with plastic lids. The one I chose was called Total Chef and was only $18.88 from This little machine makes it EASY and pretty much foolproof, as far as I can tell. I've only made one batch, but it was a snap and turned out perfectly! Here's what I did:

My goal was to make a very thick, Greek-style yogurt like Fage (which can cost up to $2 a cup!) WITHOUT having to strain it. First, I sterilized the glass jars in boiling water. To a heavy-bottomed, stainless steel pot, I added a quart of whole milk, and because I didn't have any powdered milk on hand (often used as a thickener), I whisked in two tablespoons of dried buttermilk powder, and also a teaspoon of sugar. I heated this mixture to 180 degrees and held it there for about ten minutes. Then I stuck the whole pan into the sink with cold water halfway up the side until the temp came down to 110 (or lower).

Next, I gently stirred in the starter. I used five grams of Yogourmet dried starter, but you can use 1/4 cup of plain yogurt that either you have purchased or saved from your last homemade batch. Once the starter was blended into the milk, I filled the cups, put them in the machine, covered them with the lid, turned it on, and by morning (about nine hours), it was perfectly thick and deliciously tangy and flavorful, though not TOO tart (the buttermilk powder turned out to be an inspired substitution!). It's perfect for adding fresh fruit or a swirl of jam, or as a lower-fat alternative to mayonnaise or sour cream...or my favorite combination, paired with homemade granola! YUM!

*Follow-up (3/8/11): I finally got around to trying this recipe/method with goat's milk (just from the grocery store). I used regular powdered milk and increased the sugar to one tablespoon. It turned out GREAT with a wonderful tang, although I did have to incubate it much longer before it set up all the way. (I let it go 14 hours in the yogurt maker.) FYI...

Monday, June 14, 2010

"The Best Thing I Ever Ate" Inspires Strange Hobby in Home Cook

I can't decide if I love or hate the Food Network program, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It is certainly very interesting to learn about what foods that famous chefs crave when they go out to eat, but it's ultimately very frustrating, because you end up wanting to try the dishes yourself, and they are, invariably, far, far away. Of course, I do keep a running list of restaurants and bakeries that I wish to visit in NYC (where many of the places featured on TBTIEA are located), but I can't afford to visit that fabulous but wallet-draining city more than once or twice a year.

Thus, I have developed a strange passion for cloning and/or adapting recipes for foods that I have never even tried! So I don't know if the things I create are close to the original versions or not, but I guess if they are good eats in and of themselves, who really cares? The funny thing is, I have had the experience of trying a clone first, and finding that I actually prefer it to the original item once I finally get to try the "real thing" (refer to the infamous Levain chocolate chip cookie)! However, please know before I share some recent experiments that I have never actually tried the foods referenced on TBTIEA, so I'm not sure how they compare. But I welcome readers who have had the originals to try my versions and let me know how they stack up!

The first item I attempted to clone was a favorite southern pie of Cat Cora's from The Crystal Grill in Greenwood, Mississippi. I seriously doubt that I'll ever get to try this confection in person, but I reviewed the episode a few times, and watched the baker at The Crystal Grill make it, and I think this recipe captures the general spirit of the pie. It seems very similar to a key lime pie, but with lemon instead of key lime juice. Of course, you can make this with a traditional graham cracker crust as they do at The Crystal Grill, but my twist was to use ginger cookies, because I LOVE the combination of lemon and ginger. In any case, this is one pie with serious PUCKER POWER!

Lemon Icebox Pie with Gingersnap Crust

1 package of Anna's Ginger Thins (32), crushed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the crushed cookies, sugar, salt, and butter, and press evenly into a pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

2 cans sweetened condensed milk
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of two lemons
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

Whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Spoon into the prepared pie shell, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until just set. Let cool to room temperature, then chill at least two hours, preferably four, or ideally, overnight. Serve with whipped cream.

The second recipe came from the same episode of TBTIEA where they profiled "Fluent in French Toast," a maple-flavored rice pudding from a shop in NYC called Rice to Riches that is reported to have the best rice pudding in the known world. They have many original flavors that change daily, and also inspired toppings with lyrical names like Mischief, Burst, Cloud 9, Flourish, Blessings, and Heart Throb. Now I couldn't find a copycat recipe for the maple rice pudding, but I found one for a variety called Chocolate Chip Flirt that I adapted a bit to suit my own preferences. The resulting dessert tastes very like the love child of rice pudding and a chocolate chip cookie! If this flavor doesn't suit you, I still think this is a boilerplate methodology that can be used for any kind of rice pudding that you favor. I know that this is how I will be making all rice puddings in my future! Oh, and if you want to try the real thing, you'll be pleased to know that Rice to Riches offers rice pudding by mail order, and there's still time to get some for Dad for Father's Day!

"Rice to Riches" Chocolate Chip Flirt Rice Pudding
(Source: adapted from
Group Recipes)

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
zest of half an orange (I omitted this--I personally do not enjoy the orange/chocolate combo)
3/4 cup brown sugar (next time I might cut this back just a bit, to maybe 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup Italian risotto rice (I doubled this to one cup, because I wanted more rice and less custard)
1 to 1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I used mini chocolate chips)

Put everything except the chocolate into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Simmer 30 minutes until rice is tender and mixture is thick and creamy. (This took more like 45 minutes for me, and perhaps as much as an hour.)

Remove from heat and add chocolate. Stir a couple of times to give a ripple effect. Serve warm or cold.

*Gina's Note: I might actually prefer this pudding without the chocolate, if you can imagine--it tastes like decadent dulce de leche! So I did not mix the chocolate into the whole batch of pudding, but when chocolate was called for, I simply threw a small handful of chocolate chips into the warmed pudding and swirled it together.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Lost" Post?

SHEESH! Something happened to my follow-up post to the "Lost" finale. Someone must have turned the big frozen wheel, creating a fracture in time, and now that post is at the bottom of the ocean. Oh well. I will at least post a few pictures of my "Lost" menu. How did y'all like the finale, by the bye? It seems that the reactions were strongly divided, mythology vs. mystery. I fall into the former camp, as I found the ending very satisfying emotionally, though all the loose ends were certainly NOT tied up into a neat little package. Still, it was cathartic and redemptive, all the important character arcs were completed, and it was, overall, a very worthy ending to a great series, IMHO. (Haters, bring on the debate!)

Whatever you thought of the finale, I assure you that my "Lost" menu would have left you fully satisfied. The links to the recipes were embedded in my last post, but here are some pictures of how it all actually turned out:

We started off during the summary pre-show with Mr. Cluck's Fried Chicken Bites and Hurley's Favorite Ranch Dipping Sauce.

Our second course was a green salad with "one perfect tomato" and homemade green goddess dressing (veggies and herbs from Sun's garden, of course!).

Our "Lost" finale entree' was Black Grouper with Mango-Jicama Relish and Coconut Jasmine Rice.

And finally, our amazing "Lost"-themed dessert (that we were too full to eat the night of the finale--tee hee!): Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Brownies with Chocolate Ganache. SO GOOD! These are definitely going in my regular baking repertoire. And they are pretty easy to make, too!

GOODBYE Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sawyer, Sayid, Sun, Jin, Locke, Desmond, Ben, Juliet, Claire (and the rest, here on Gilligan's Isle!). We'll miss you!