Sunday, January 23, 2011
Today is the first Dim Sum Sunday of 2011 over at The Karmic Kitchen, and the theme of this DSS is vegetables, at the request of MS, who is trying to get her Little Sweeties to eat more veg. Big Shamu has a two-part entry this week, here and here, so stop by to see what she's up to and check the comments for links to posts by the other participants.
I make no assumptions when it comes to kids’ palates, but I’m offering up a dish that has always been a hit when I’ve made it for adults. In fact, I made it for Christmas dinner. It’s neither fancy nor difficult, although it can take a bit of time to cut and cook all the veg, depending on how large a batch you’re making . . . and whether your plans are unexpectedly derailed.
Intending to make a platter of oven-roasted veggies, I lovingly peeled and sliced my carefully collected veg bounty. But after the first two sheet trays were in the oven for just 6 minutes, I heard a loud pop and saw an uncharacteristic glow from the back left corner of the oven heating element. My mom has a kick-ass stove I’ve always lusted after (with gas burners and an electric oven). But after 11 years of serious use, even kick-ass stoves can falter. There was no choice but to shut the oven down, and since it was the afternoon of December 24th, we knew getting hold of a repairman (or a part) was out of the question.
I took a deep breath . . . and was glad I’d started early. If this had happened the following afternoon, when we were expecting dinner guests at 4:00, I would have been far less composed. My mind immediately went to Plan B options. Some veggies I could sauté on the stovetop. I could caramelize the onions (although I would have cut them thinner if I’d known that was how I was going to prepare them). I could . . . I could . . .
Then my dad offered a very sensible suggestion: I could grill them! Although snow was on the way the next night, that afternoon was a great window of opportunity for grilling. I hustled back and forth between the kitchen and grill on the patio without needing a coat.
The only hiccup was when Dad came outside offering to take a photo of me grilling. I lost hold of the cookie sheet I was transferring veggies to and from, and the whole thing tipped over and fell. I invoked the 30-second rule, unwilling to forgo my grilled butternut squash and soon-to-be grilled zucchini. We avoided another near-disaster when Dad almost tripped on the garden hose as he backed up trying to frame me in a photo.
So here is my technique for making roasted veg, which for the most part translates to the grill too. Roasting and grilling are great preparations for veggies from all seasons (from asparagus to rutabagas). For seven people, and this being the only hot side dish for our Christmas dinner, here’s what I used on this occasion.
1 small butternut squash
3 large onions
1 medium yellow squash
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
2 portabello mushrooms
I also had some tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, which I'll get to in a minute.
Whether you’re grilling or roasting, you’ll need some fat or oil to keep the veggies from sticking to the cooking surface. I like to steep garlic and/or shallots in some olive oil, along with some herbs. This time I used fresh rosemary and thyme, although other herbs, fresh or dried, work too. You’ll want to do this a bit ahead – the longer you steep the goodies in the oil, the more the oil will absorb their flavors.
To promote even cooking, cut each of your veggies into slices of fairly uniform thickness. You’ll be better able to keep from crispy-crittering them if you opt for fairly thick (say, ½ inch) slices. Brush them with the infused oil and apply heat of your choice. For oven roasting, I usually aim for at least 400 degrees (and you’ll simplify clean-up if you line your sheet trays/cookie sheets with foil.) Different vegetables cook at different speeds, so I place them on separate sheet trays (or do them in separate batches on the grill).
Barbara Kafka’s cookbook Roasting is my go-to cookbook guide for estimated roasting times (and it covers the roasting of a broad range of ingredients, from meats to veg to fruit). But I’ve learned that, depending on the ripeness of your veg and the peculiarities of your heat source, there is simply no substitute for keeping an eye on how quickly (or slowly) they’re cooking. You’re looking for browning and caramelization, but you’ll want to avoid heavy char.
Except in the case of peppers: blistering and blackening the skin is actually a good thing when it comes to them. After you remove them from the heat, place them in a brown paper bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam a bit further. When they’re cool enough to handle, if the skin is sufficiently charred, you’ll find a bit of char helps separate the skin from the flesh of the pepper, making it easier to peel away the skin and leaving silky roasted peppers free from stringy skin. (I recommend cutting peppers in halves or quarters for cooking; wait to cut them into thinner slices until after they’re cooked.)
With onions, which are especially delectable grilled or roasted, finding the right balance between cooked and charred can be particularly tricky, especially since the rings tend to separate from each other. If you have any tips, please let me know. The best solutions I’ve come up with are to cut the slices thick, do my best to keep them intact, keep a careful eye on them (especially on the grill), and be prepared to discard any thin outer rings or small inner bits (or even whole slices) that get downright burnt. When I pulled mine off the grill this time – at various stages of doneness, I put them on a plate and covered them with plastic wrap, holding in the residual heat and allowing the less-done amongst them to continue “cooking.” If you struggle a bit with the onions, don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re in good company. However, your efforts will be rewarded, as they are usually the element of any roasted/grilled veg platter I’ve ever made that people are most likely to want extra helpings of.
I also had some Brussels sprouts I’d intended to roast. But I was nervous I’d burn their outer leaves on the grill. So I did them on top of the stove, inspired by this recipe for Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts, and doing my own streamlined riff on it.
Basically, I had a bit of bacon renderings left from another dish, to which I added halved Brussels sprouts. Once they began to brown, I added a bit of chicken broth and some chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, letting them braise until cooked through. Then I finished them with a splash of Balsamic. I’ve learned to love Brussels sprouts, but I know many people are hesitant about them. These were both mild and flavorful, and they seemed to appeal to even the non-Brussels sprouts fans at our table.
The last bit of my “veggies without an oven” conundrum was the tomatoes I’d planned to oven-dry. I know, I know, tomatoes aren’t in season, but I had a hankering for their color and taste to perk up my platter, and oven drying them seemed like a good idea at the time. (In contrast to roasting, oven-drying is done at a low temp, but it similarly concentrates flavors.) I ended up doing them on the grill, where they most definitely did not dry out. But the grill’s heat did help the skins pull away from the flesh (the same way parboiling them does).
I peeled and chopped the grilled tomatoes, then threw them in the sauté pan in which I’d braised the Brussels sprouts, added some chopped grilled onion, another splash of Balsamic, and ended up with this saucy little condiment I served on the side.
I piled my veg in rows atop some purple ornamental kale, tossed a sprig of rosemary in for good measure, and turned out a platter of abundance that everyone enjoyed.
Happy Dim Sum Sunday!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Over the weekend one of my Facebook foodie friends posed the question: What is your absolutely favorite homemade soup? I love far too many to single out just one, but this is a recipe I've made (and tweaked) many times over the years - a warm and satisfying meal in a bowl, brightened with lemon juice, tarragon, and thyme. Just add some bread and maybe a fresh salad to round out your meal.
It originated at a great little soup restaurant in Knoxville called The Silver Spoon, which is either out of business or no longer under the same management. But my mom found the recipe in the local paper, and she and I have been making it ever since. You'll find my tips at the bottom of this post.
10 T. butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup scant chicken base (use at your own risk!)
7-1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. tarragon
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1-1/2 cups half and half
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup toasted almonds
Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute 3-5 minutes until tender and translucent. Add flour. Stir constantly 4-5 minutes to cook flour and form a roux. Add chicken base (if you dare) and stir to blend. Slowly add chicken stock, stirring well to incorporate and remove any lumps. Increase heat and bring soup just to the boiling point. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, tarragon, and thyme. Do not boil. Remove pot from heat and stir in half half. Add chicken, mushrooms, and almonds.
I actually made this soup pretty much according to the directions recently (a rarity for me), and I was reminded why I usually skip, or drastically reduce, the called-for chicken soup base (basically, granulated bouillon cubes). I used it conjunction with canned chicken broth and the result was way too salty. I've made this soup with homemade chicken stock and various canned or packaged chicken broth products over the years, but the bottom line is: you really want to control the salt level yourself rather than following any recipe too rigidly. Restaurants tend to salt their food more aggressively than many home cooks do (sometimes I think we fail to salt enough to bring out the flavors). And I presume this recipe was cut down from the restaurant-size quantities in which it was originally prepared. Salt is one of many factors that can get a little off-kilter when reducing a mass-quantity dish to home-size proportions according to simple math.
If you're making your own chicken stock, once it's nearly finished, you'll want to add salt to bring up the chicken flavor, taking into account what you'll be using it in. Beware salting your stock too early in the cooking process or it can result in an overly salty product as it reduces.
As for the cooked chicken, use whatever you like, including leftovers from a whole cooked chicken. A short-cut that works in this soup is to microwave boneless, skinless chicken breasts until just done.
Although the recipe calls for adding the 1/2 and 1/2 half off heat, then adding the chicken, I usually keep the soup pot on the stove at a low temp to warm everything through. (I hate tepid soup.) But do your best to keep from letting the pot come to a boil after you add the 1/2 and 1/2 or it can make the texture go hinky.
A splash of sherry or brandy adds extra depth of flavor; just make sure the alcohol has a chance to cook off.
Although the recipe doesn't call for it, I usually saute the mushrooms lightly before adding to the soup pot - especially when, as this time, I use portobellos.
You can add all manner of other veggies to this soup, depending on what strikes your fancy and what you have on hand or need to use before it goes bad. Cooked carrots are great, and I've thrown spinach in as well.
The almonds definitely benefit from toasting, but wait to add them until your soup is in a bowl and ready to serve. You can toast a batch of almonds ahead, then add them at the last minute or to leftovers.
Sorry I don't seem to have an official yield quantity to for this recipe, but it makes a big batch, as you can guess from the quantity of liquid. It's easy to cut down, however, and also makes great leftovers.
This recipe is also a good make-ahead. I think my mom's technique is to warm up the creamy base, then add the chicken and mushrooms before serving. An extra squeeze of lemon juice perks up the flavor, especially if you're reheating.
So . . . once again, I take a seemingly easy-sounding dish and, in trying to share my tips, may have made it sound far more complicated than it really is. But this is kind of how I roll in the "Intuitive" Eggplant Kitchen. I hope some of these suggestions are of help if you decide to make this soup . . . or maybe they'll come to mind when you're cooking up something else.
Meanwhile, for the Top Chef fans in the house, stop by my "other" blog for a Restaurant Wars Trivia Game!
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Sorry to be cryptic with yesterday’s quick post (you'll find a better pic and fuller explanation below), but the day marked one year since I started blogging, and I wanted to acknowledge the start of year #2. While some people take to the gym or resolve to diet after the turn of a new year, it’s amazing how many people start their blogs on or about Jan. 1.
I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions, but when I received a digital camera for Christmas in 2009, I was eager to start using it. Hoping to join in some friendly blogging cook-o-rama’s I’d been following from afar, I’d been mentioning a digital camera on my holiday wish lists for some time. Last year Dad said he and Mom finally decided I must be “serious” about wanting one, and it may be the best Xmas gift I’ve ever received (even better than both the easel and zither I received at age 5).
My camera, and blog, have led me to a new creative outlet, an expanded awareness of what other bloggers and food enthusiasts are doing, and an unanticipated experience of community. Putting together my little (or, more often, long - lol) posts has often helped me refocus my energy away from day-to-day frustrations, and I can't count how many times my spirits have been lifted by a kind word, a gorgeous photo, or a quirky story shared by my blogger friends.
It took me a while to go public – various technical blogger stuff to figure out, a number of draft posts deleted. When initially faced with page design options, I hesitated to add a tag line or try to encapsulate what I do in a pithy “about” item on my sidebar (is there anything that hasn’t already been said by the gazillion food bloggers who’ve come before me?). Besides, I wanted give my little blog a chance to grow up and see what it wanted to be. And while this remains a food-focused blog (sometimes I eat out; sometimes I cook in), I’m happy to let it continue to grow and meander where I choose to take it.
What’s been more interesting is where my blog has taken me. I’ve gained lots of new recipes and picked up great cooking tips from others. Although I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned a lot about photography from observing how other people do it, and experimenting and practicing myself. I’ve also been following the local food scene more closely, and making a point of, yes, backing away from the computer and getting out of the house to explore what some of Cincinnati’s talented, hard-working food vendors are up to.
My oft-referred-to friend Cindie has kindly aided and abetted me in these pursuits, and this fall we evolved a new ritual – our “food days out.” It started when we made reservations for an event sponsored by Buick that promised a free opportunity to see Marcus Samuelsson and taste his food in exchange for test-driving a car. We made our reservations early and arrived a little after noon on the appointed day, only to learn the event had been pushed back to 2:00 p.m., with no attempt by organizers to contact us. We were hungry and skeptical, eyeing designer waters, Sunchips, and the prospect of a long wait. So we decided to skip the shilling she-bang and head to the nearby neighborhood of Northside instead.
We had a great lunch at Melt Eclectic Deli, my first time there with camera in hand, Cindie’s first time period. We both chose "Halvies" with 1/2 sandwich and 1/2 salad portions. I went for the white-cheddar-laden Artichoke Melt on foccaccia, with artichoke-spinach spread plus artichoke hearts and sliced tomatoes, coupled with Greek salad and sundried-tomato dressing.
In much better spirits after our bellies were full, we wandered down Hamilton Avenue to the bakery/lunch/brunch spot Take the Cake (too bad I was too timid to try to snap any pics of their lovely dessert case or stylish interior and that my photos of their delicious red-velvet whoopee pie didn’t turn out). Then we walked back up the street to Melt’s sister business, Picnic and Pantry, a great little carry-out featuring fresh soups, salads, sandwiches, produce, baked goods (lots of vegan options) – and Columbus-based Jeni’s ice cream! I picked up some fresh salads and this fresh-from-the-oven lemon-pesto zucchini bread.
On a roll, and with plenty of our allotted
This particular Saturday happened to be the weekend Fresh Table opened, and its stunningly displayed prepared foods were impossible for me to resist that day or on any subsequent visit.
Daisy Mae's, which is open year-round and, I learned recently, delivers downtown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Sign up for their e-newsletter to receive weekly updates of what's available.
Another old favorite we’ve fallen in love with again is Avril’s (nka Avril-Bleh’s), on Court Street, with its house-made, house-smoked sausages, hams, and more. Cindie found “real” city chicken (with veal) there for the first time in eons, got an awesome ham there for a family holiday party, and is on standing orders from her father to pick up Avril’s fresh sauerkraut whenever she can.
Since that day, Cindie and I have made a point of scheduling our “food days out” at least once a month, trying new (to us) restaurants in addition to our now de rigeur trips to Findlay and Avril's.
One glorious fall Sunday, we started with brunch at forkheartknife, which opened last summer to considerable, and well-warranted, buzz.
Another weekend, Cindie and I started our day with lunch at Terry’s Turf Club, hoping that if we arrived near the noon opening time on a Saturday, we might avoid the long waits that have only gotten longer since this little Eastern Avenue gem filled with vintage neon signs was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” Huzzah, there were a few people ahead of us waiting for Terry’s to open, but once it did, we were able to walk right in and take a seat.
We started with an appetizer of belotta ham from Spain, served antipasto style with greens, a rich goat cheese, and black garlic (preparations of this dish, and others, apparently change often at the whim of the chef). Then we moved on to Terry's gourmet burgers and split an order of fresh-cut fries cooked in duck fat. Cindie was a bit overwhelmed by her foie gras-topped Beef Wellington burger (the burgers themselves are enormous and rich, and we both ended up asking for to-go boxes). I ordered my burger with triple creme brie and the house burgundy wine sauce with wild mushrooms and truffle, every bit as succulent as I'd been led to hope for. The crisp, hot duck-fat fries were a knockout! Cindie's been wanting to try duck-fat fries ever since I told her I'd had them at Hot Doug's in Chicago, and these did not disappoint.
article. Cindie (who always requests a booth) would be happier to go back if they had more comfortable seating than tall stools at both bar and tables. I, on the other hand, would happily return to try more of Terry's menu, as long as the wait is not prohibitive.
Despite the dismal economy, I am invigorated by the many fine new local food businesses that have launched in the year I’ve been blogging, as well as established businesses that continue to thrive and hone what they do. People are focusing their businesses in all sorts of creative ways, carving out their own strategies to reach a slice of the local food-dollar pie, and often partnering with each other. It's a great time to be a food lover in Cincinnati.
But of course blogging isn’t just about who and what you cover on your blog; it’s about connecting with other people. And that’s the biggest thing I did not anticipate a year ago. Cincinnati food bloggers don’t seem to comment much on each other’s blogs. Nor, for some reason, do the readers of AllTopChef, where a lot of my blogging hours have gone since I joined that blogging team in September.
So it's been fascinating to discover that I have readers - and new friends - from across the U.S. and even around the world. This blogging thing has allowed me to meet a wider spectrum of individuals than I would ever have chanced to meet otherwise. Some share my affinity for food and cooking; many have other fascinating interests and talents. I am richer for the opportunity to glimpse the corners of the world in which they live, and the corners of their minds they choose to share. Nothing could have brought that point home more movingly than the blogger party/fundraiser this New Year’s hosted by Boxer, which raised nearly than $1500 for our various causes - and was a whole lot of fun to boot!
I thank all my friends in the blogosphere, as well as my family, for your support, inspiration, and kindness. My dad has turned out to be one of my biggest supporters, talking up my blog to friends and relatives and encouraging me to contact them - "with instructions" :) My sister reads and even comments when she can, and I am looking forward to the Ingredient-of-the-Month Club she is creating for me this year, not only for the opportunity to try some new foods but also as fun blog fodder. My aunts, who I vacationed with in California in September, could not have been more receptive to my cooking, eating, and blogging interests, and it was my very artistically inclined Aunt Jeanette who created this lovely thank-you card from hand-made paper after our trip, which I posted yesterday.
Finally, thanks to Cindie for 40 years of friendship. Yikes, we're getting old. But I love it that our friendship keeps reinventing itself - and that we keep eating so well.
Looking forward to more food and blogging friendships and adventures in 2011,
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Wow! Just wow! Boxer’s 36-hour virtual New Year’s party was easily the most fun I’ve had on NYE in many a year. Even better, the Blogapalooza is up to $1349.00 for charities! I am constantly inspired by the wit, warmth, and generosity of my blogger friends – and this just took it over the top!
My donation is going to the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank, and after doing some liberally construed “Eggy math,” here’s what I’ve come up with.
I’m counting all comments on my blog posts from 12/29/10 through 1/1/11 that mentioned the ‘contribution-palooza, - a whopping 72 comments total – thanks, all! I’m also crediting an additional 16 comments over at Boxer’s place that said “Eggy Sent Me” and/or mentioned my virtual New Year’s brunch.
In addition to those comments at my promised 50 cents each, I’m kicking in $20 with big thanks to EACH of these fine bloggers:
$20 in honor of Velva from tomatoesonthevine for letting me share her excellent Pomegranate-Champagne Punch for my brunch – I know her fine beverage had many of you coming back for second and third helpings!
$20 in honor of Fishy, who kindly contributed this limerick about me and my brunch efforts over at Aunty Belle’s Word Game Emporium:
Top Eggy's brunch looks tres yummy
Really teasing this virtual tummy
With culinary feats galore,
And new drinkies to explore?
Woe that I'm home with my Honey !
$20 in honor of the lovely – and feisty – Aunty, who delights us all and decided to boost her donations by arm-rasslin’ Uncle and addin’ to her contributions by awarding Fishy a tie on the limerick contest.
That brings me to a total of $104 for the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank. And because I flat ran out of time this weekend with my travels to the river, and putting up brunch for y’all (even if I might have somehow found my glue-gun and remembered how to work it), in lieu of a garland, I would like to kick in $20 for the award of “bravery and selflessness” going to Chickory’s young friend Heather and her foster-parenting efforts.
Huge thanks to Boxer, who got this ball rolling (racking up a monumental 324 comments for great causes), her blogger summit co-hosts Chickory and Moi, to everyone from around the world who made this happen, to old friends who showed up in their finery (including Karl and Buzz), and to new friends I have made this weekend. I am in awe of what we’ve accomplished, and I’m proud to be part of this community. I can’t think of a more inspiring way to start 2011. Now forgive me if I get misty-eyed watching Boxer’s video recap once again.
Thanks to all my remarkable, talented, quirky, effervescent, snarky, generous, kind, and inspiring friends in the blogosphere! May your new year be filled with good health, good eats, good times, and whatever your bloggy hearts desire!
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Hope you all had a swell time at Boxer's place and around the blogosphere for the New Year's virtual party and commentathon! I'm borrowing Buzz's auto-launcher to bring you this New Year's brunch while I'm out covorting on the river. So grab a cup of coffee and join in this morning-after feast. Remember that I'll be donating 50 cents per comment you leave here to the Freestore Foodbank, along with 50 cents per comment you leave at Boxer's place saying "Eggy sent me."
I've made breakfast burritos for a crowd, so step right up.
I also whipped up a batch of strata.
And this lovely quiche.
And I'm cooking to order over at the omelette station. What would you like in yours?
We've got bacon.
You say you want some steak with your eggs? We've got that too.
I even have a veggie saute for Boxer and the other vegetarians in the crowd.
The home fries are sizzlin'.
And to make those potatoes even tastier, try dipping them in this pacquillo mayo.
Just a hunch, but I'll bet a few of you might go for shrimp and grits.
In addition to sweet corn bread, we've got homemade cinnamon rolls and a fine array of breads.
And don't forget to help yourself to one of these sour mash biscuits.
Knowing how Shamy loves her blackberries, I'm offering them up with some other fruit at one end of the buffet.
For an extra special side dish, you won't want to miss this apple-beet salad.
If you're getting a bit thirsty by this point, help yourself to some Pomegranate-Champagne punch courtesy of Velva at Tomatoes on the Vine. The punch table is over there in the corner, and there's plenty for all.
Photo courtesy of Velva at tomatoesonthevine
And speaking of plenty for all, I ordered up this bad boy to share with all my bloggy friends, in honor of my very favorite breakfast of 2010, porchetta at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market!
Goodness, gracious, but I'm running out of room here. I think we're going to have to move on over to the foyer for the sweets table, starting with these loaded waffles.
For those of you who missed the ice cream party Thursday night, how about some lemony gelato to round off your meal?
Accompanied, of course, by these delectable macarons.
Here's wishing you all a grand New Year and all good things in 2011! I think this big old spread has put me into a food coma, so I'll toddle off to take nap . . . but I'll be around to check in with you later today when I can snag some computer time at Cindie's before we start prepping New Year's dinner.