Friday, February 26, 2010


As much as I like fish and seafood, I'm not sure why I don't cook them at home more often. But I'm of a mind to change that, especially now that it's Lent. Not that I observe Lent, or make a point of abstaining from meat on Friday. But there sure are a lot of fish bargains and fish specialties available this time of year. This Friday I was especially eager to leave work. Not just because the weekend was here, but because there was a lobster roll with my name on it! My real name, not Eggy. And from a legitimate business, not handed through the mailbox of the basement apartment "covert operation" of this dude. (Who I'm pretty sure was on the first episode of "Throw Down," so how covert can he be? Maybe it's a Brooklyn thing? The "speakeasy-ization" of fish? We're just not that hip here in the midwest.)

The Underground Lobster Pound: A Purist, An Apartment & The Perfect Lobster Roll - *food curated* from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

I ordered my lobster roll from Lobsta Bakes of Maine, a new favorite haunt since I discovered that Kevin Smith, former owner of Bounty Seafood II, has a new retail outlet in Newtown. Kevin is from Maine, where his family has the original Bounty Seafood (aka I). I figured if anyone around here could make an authentic lobster roll, he'd be the guy. At $14.99 for this puppy with a side of cole slaw, my Friday Find this week doesn't exactly fall into the bargain category. Although if you take into account that the lobster was flown in from Maine yesterday and made fresh today, it's not all that steep in my book. Chunky lobster, check. Just a tad of mayo, check. A little celery, check. White hot dog bun, check - although it was cut differently than the standard off-the-shelf variety (is that a Maine thing?). Lightly seasoned (Old Bay or just s&p?). Clearly the star of this dish was the lobster, which fell from the bun in delectable, recognizable chunks. I confess I removed the leafy greens when eating the roll. Although attractive and fresh, I preferred direct contact between the bun and its savory filling. While I was picking up my lobster roll for supper, I couldn't resist also buying this house-made smoked salmon bratwurst. Where else would you find such a thing, except from a Mainer transplanted to an old German city like Cincinnati? (Well, maybe from some hipster in Brooklyn . . .)


30 days til your birthday is here 30 days til your birthday Mark one down and Wait for the next 29 days til your birthday is here To be sung to the tune of: Bernie, as you can probably tell, we're not going to let the sun go down on this birthday thing. After all, we know where you come from: You may have been bumped around a few times. And tilted occasionally. Hey, we all know life can be a roller coaster ride. But one person's shut out is another person's perfect game. You've had some major achievements. And reached some pretty tall heights. So . . . relax and sit back. Grab a beer. Imagine you're in the tropics. Just let this birthday thing waft over you . . . And remember that you'll always be younger than Elton John, Billy Joel - or me. As Dylan would say, Hang on, er, sloopy, only 30 days to go. :) Your big sis

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I've always been a fan of pungent, pickled foods. I prefer to have olives on hand at all times. I get edgy when the jar of capers in my refrigerator door runs low. I was delighted when my local supermarket started carrying these lovely pepper shooters on its olive bar. Hadn't seen them since a neighborhood specialty store went out of business.

But let's face it, even the "best" olive bar or specialty store, at least where I live, doesn't offer up the real deal. One of my fondest memories of dinner with an ex was the giant jar of pickled cauliflower, carrots, onions, etc. that were always in the fridge thanks to said ex's Eastern European mother, who would never let her child go hungry during the long winter months - and never lost "the touch," or interest, in making them.

So I was gob-smacked when I came across this video of Copenhagen chef Rene Redzepi, where he talks about making pickled roses for his Scandinavian winter dinner contribution to Cook It Raw 2010. Talk about hard winters. His research took him to stories of 1941, when the winter was so harsh that some rivers froze solid, fish included, and they could actually walk - or skate - from Denmark to Sweden. And, oh, by the way, his country was occupied by Nazis. OK, I'll stop complaining about our recent snow now.

Pickled . . . roses.

The one time I ate roses was in a rose-petal salsa, which haunts me to this day. Back in the infancy of Food TV, the network sent its folks around the country to drum up interest. When their dog-and-pony show actually came to my town, I was there for the day-long event.

Curtis Aikens, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay did demos with accompanying tastings for the audience. I still make Bobby's Grilled Pepper and Black Olive Relish from time to time, as you can tell by my well worn copy of the brochure. Sissy Biggers hosted a live Ready, Set, Cook featuring hometown chef-hero Jean-Robert de Cavel.
Also at the event were a number of local chefs/restaurants offering up their own tastings. Which is where I tasted (alas, from a chef I think is no longer in town) rose-petal salsa. A revelation. Floral, but not at all perfume-y. Delicately balanced with the heat and pungency of other ingredients.

Sadly, despite some serious googling, I've never come up with a recipe for that rose-petal salsa. Sadder still, can't come up with a thing for pickled roses.

But I did find out a little more about Redzepi, whose Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant named Noma (which translates as "mad Nordic") was named 3rd best restaurant in the world in 2009. He's worked at El Bulli and The French Laundry and is seriously committed to terroir cooking, so perhaps I shouldn't find his notion of pickled roses so unexpected. Perhaps they're just someone else's tradition I'd never heard about before. Nonetheless, I'm captivated. This article from Food & Wine, in all its vinegary goodness, sealed the deal.

Maybe it's because the Eggplant has some Scandinavian blood in her. Or maybe I'm just drawn to thoughts of combatting the cold, snow, and cabin fever. But I love what Redzepi has to say about trying to create a "slice of light" with his winter meal. Although I couldn't find a recipe for pickled roses, I was inspired to go buy a few roses to photograph. When the kind folks at the flower shop offered me the chance to go into their walk-in cooler to select them myself, I couldn't have been happier to smell that sweet scent of spring.

It will be here eventually. But for now, at least I have enough capers to keep me warm.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I just spotted this bacon-licious photo at Serious Eats, and had to share with Shamu and any other members of the Tribe of Bacon Lovin' Bloggers who might be reading. Check out the original source for this bacon cheeseburger turtle here. Hmm, woven bacon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Somehow February always feels like the longest month, even though it's the shortest. The last two weeks have been no exception. Five inches of snow last weekend, followed by close to ten more this week in a two-pronged storm that didn't "quite" meet the meteorological definition of a blizzard, but was still pretty punishing for a city like Cincinnati. This morning I woke to predictions of another six to eight inches and felt my shoulders sag as though they were already bearing that cold, snowy weight. How to get through this long, dark night of the winter soul? My spirits warmed when Shamu at The Karmic Kitchen suggested this week's Dim Sum Sunday theme: hot, steamy soup. But what to make? I'd recently made bean soup, and did a soupy seafood stew last weekend. I pored over my bulging file of soup recipes, then googled some more. Lots of appealing ideas, including one for asparagus soup with parmesan custards and another for roasted eggplant soup with goat cheese dumplings - I'm always a sucker for "stuff" on top of soup. Inspired by the vision of a soup colorful enough to yield a blog-worthy photo, I also had to face the cold, harsh reality that I had so many leftovers in my refrigerator I didn't know where I would store more after making a pot of soup. So, as often happens here in the Intuitive Eggplant Kitchen, I decided to wing it, using a bunch of items I had on hand. First I roasted leeks, golden beets, and asparagus slicked in rendered bacon fat. Bacon always perks me up, but as I checked my veggies for doneness, the earthiness of their roasty aroma made me even happier I'd decided to go the roasting route. Then I decided to fry some bacon, because, well, what isn't better with bacon? I had in mind to make a sort of chunky baked potato vichysoisse "with stuff." So I sauteed shallots and mushrooms in - you got it - more bacon fat, then added chicken broth (alas, from a box this time, but I was, after all, cleaning out the refrigerator), some white wine, and eventually some 1/2 & 1/2. I let the roasted leeks steep in the creamy goodness for a while, then added two leftover smoked potatoes cut into hearty chunks. When the soup pot was back up to a simmer, I added the beets and asparagus, not wanting to overcook them. Tasting for salt and pepper, I added more, but still wasn't quite where I wanted to be. A bit of dried thyme and basil from the winter pantry helped, but what made it all come together was tarragon. Fortified with this steamy bowl of soup and a bit of toasted bread with goat cheese, I'm ready to head down the hill to the bus stop tomorrow morning . . . I think.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Where are those back-up singers when you need 'em? When my actual birthday rolled around, we were just beginning to dig ourselves out of nearly ten inches of snow. So plans for going out to dinner with friends were postponed and I had to come up with an alternate game plan, preferably without having to drive to a grocery store. On my lunch hour, I walked to Avril-Bleh's, a great old-fashioned meat market downtown that makes its own sausages. When I'd stopped in the week before to pick up Andouille for my seafood stew, I spotted their "wagon wheels," flank steak wrapped with asparagus and provolone, which would be perfect, and easy, for my solo celebration. I also purchased a smoked potato, because, well, when presented with the prospect of a smoked potato, how could I resist? Unable to leave well enough alone, I transformed it into a riff on Appleton potatoes using other ingredients I had on hand. My sister picked up the recipe while staying at the Appleton Inn in Massachusetts, and it is one of my favorite versions of twice-baked potato. I had bacon and sour cream on hand, substituted Swiss cheese for cheddar, and added diced roasted red pepper left over from last weekend's rouille in place of green onions. By the time I doctored it up, I couldn't taste much smoke from the smoked potato, but it was tasty nonetheless. Some asparagus with leftover Sauce Maltaise rounded out my birthday dinner plate. Dessert was a chocolate cordial cup filled with Grand Marnier-laced marmalade mascarpone cream and topped with toasted almonds. These cups are tiny little things, but cute as a proverbial button. Just the right touch of sweetness to end my meal.


Appetizers for this year's birthday beach party were inspired by my recent research on blood oranges - I had plenty of them on hand. Sauce Maltaise: Where Have You Been All My Life? One of my best finds as I researched blood oranges was Sauce Maltaise, a Hollandaise classically made with blood orange juice and grated blood orange rind. Can't believe I'd never heard of it before. Since we were, after all, cabin camping, I made this version in the blender rather than going the double-boiler route. It did double duty as a dipping sauce for chilled blanched asparagus spears and as a topper for our Saturday breakfast benedict - eggs scrambled with leeks, asparagus, and Swiss cheese piled on top of thick slices of ham and toasted English muffins. The delicate sweetness of the sauce is a spectacular counterpoint to the bitterness of asparagus, and I will definitely be making it again, even if I have to use regular oranges when blood orange season is over. Who Would Put Black Pepper in Blood Orange Marmalade? Sometimes odd-sounding recipes grab my attention, as did this one for goat cheese crostini with blood orange and black pepper marmalade. Although I added quite a bit more pepper than the recipe called for, it never did taste that peppery. But this one's a keeper nonetheless. The goat cheese flavored with orange zest is a treat by itself, and the blood orange marmalade was remarkably easy, except for the time-consuming process of releasing the orange segments from their membranes. Oh, and I failed to realize the orange rind would remain in the marmalade rather than just flavoring it and being removed before serving. The strips of rind I'd made with a vegetable peeler were far too large, so I fished them out after cooking and chopped them down to more suitable size, a messy process that left my hands magenta. I spread the orange-flavored goat cheese on the crostini, then topped each slice with marmalade on one half and sliced kalamata olives on the other. Inspired by this recipe from Batali for a simple salad of blood oranges and olives and reminiscent of a tip I picked up years ago from a Spanish cooking class about brining your own olives in orange juice, garlic, and herbs, the kalamata-orange pairing is another keeper.


When I mentioned my birthday bash to a co-worker, she was surprised I was cooking for my own party. Hey, that's just what I do. The focus each year is on the seafood. I tried to duplicate last February's "clambake in a bowl," kind of like South Carolina Frogmore Stew - no frogs included. This year's rendition included clams, mussels, shrimp, tilapia, Andouille, potatoes, corn, leeks, onions, and tomatoes. Running short on time during a busy week at work, I didn't make my own fish stock this year. Instead, I used three quarts of lobster stock from one of my favorite fishmongers, Kevin Smith of Lobsta Bakes of Maine. I also like to add rouille, commonly served with bouillabaise, which is equally good to swirl into the steaming bowl of seafood stew or to slather on bread and broil with cheese. My simple version skips the saffron and incorporates mayo, garlic, roasted red pepper, lemon juice, and a little thyme and smoked paprika. The best part of the meal? Sharing it with friends patient enough to wait until 10:30 to eat, and kind enough to clean up my cooking mess after.


This was the site of my Third Annual Beach Blanket Birthday Bash last weekend. Gotta love friends who will trek through sleet and snow to help you celebrate. We rented the same cabin at Lake Cowan State Park as last year, and despite the 5-6" of snow that came down Friday night, the staff had the roads plowed and even scooped the sidewalk up to our front door before we were up Saturday morning. Now that's easier than being at home! This party is a twist on celebrating Christmas in July. Since my birthday is in February, we turn up the heat, don Hawaiian shirts and sandals, decorate with tiki lights, put beach towels on the furniture, sip tropical drinks, and eat seafood. This year Becky brought an array of fabric to hang on the decidely un-tropical wood paneling of the cabin, and we joked that the pool was just on the other side of this faux cabana curtain. The tropical drink this year was one Becky discovered in Hawaii years ago - a sweet concoction of rum, banana liqueur, macadamia nut liqueur (who knew there was such a thing?), Bailey's, vanilla and coffee ice cream, and banana. Alas, I didn't snap a pic, but I sure got a kick out of this beer-can cozy she gave me.