Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Garden recipes: Swiss Chard Tart

I have swiss and rainbow chard growing in my garden right now, and have been cooking it every way I can think of - sauteed, baked into crispy chips, fresh in salads, atop grilled pizza - you name it, I've tried it. Here's my chard tart, my latest recipe for a delicious way to enjoy these greens:

1) Start with a simple pie crust, either store-bought or from scratch if you prefer. Fit into a 9-inch round pan.

2) Saute chard in a pan with onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper to taste.

3) Mix eggs, milk, grated gouda, and blue cheese (if desired.) The ratio is 3 eggs to a cup of milk and 1/2 cup cheese, roughly. Our next door neighbors have chickens so we get our eggs fresh, and it really does make a difference in flavor. Whisk together.

4) Add sauteed vegetables to the egg-cheese mixture. Pour into the pie crust:

(Note I placed the blue cheese on one side; you can also top with grated parmesan.)

5) Bake at 425 for 15 minutes and then reduce to 350 for 10 minutes or until golden brown like this:

Enjoy hot or cold, best served alongside (you guessed it) more salad from the garden!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spring Salads

I've started a vegetable garden here in Louisiana, and the lettuce is growing up a storm!

Fresh lettuce in abundance calls for lots of creative salad ideas. Here are a few I came up with:

A little tart: fresh salad greens with radishes, shaved parmesan, lemon vinaigrette 

 A little sweet: mesclun mix with local Ponchatoula strawberries, goat cheese, pecans, black pepper

Very hearty: salad topped with lentils, root vegetables, clementines, and fresh herbs

A nice savory salad: greens with roasted butternut squash, white beans, and shallots

A bit of everything: wilted greens with quinoa, onions, crispy tofu, and avocado

And the simple: nothing but lettuce, tomatoes, good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. These baby greens are so buttery soft they really don't need anything else!

Monday, March 23, 2015

How To: Crawfish Boil

Crawfish season in Louisiana means fresh crawfish to eat in every way possible, but the simplest and classic preparation is a crawfish boil. All you need is a giant pot, burner, Cajun seasoning, and of course crawfish, though you can get as creative with the extra ingredients as you want. Here's how to do it:

1) Get fresh crawfish (spring is the season) and keep them in water:

2) Simmer Cajun seasoning, andouille sausage, potatoes, corn, and vegetables in boiling water. (Stand around and drink beer while it's cooking.) When the water has taken on a red color and the sausages are cooked through, add half the crawfish and boil:

3.) Pour on to a table covered in newspaper and eat! Then repeat with the rest of the crawfish; the water will get spicier over time as the seasoning simmers, so the second batch of crawfish will have stronger flavor. You can get real creative with the other ingredients, from the basic green beans, asparagus, and onions, to pineapple or mushrooms. These will soak up the flavors as well, and accent the crawfish nicely. Enjoy y'all!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What to Eat in Louisiana

Louisiana is famous for delicious food, and there's no shortage of options between its Cajun, Creole, and Southern styles. Here are a few must-have dishes when in the state:

Fried catfish, preferably covered in etouffee:

I had this at Parrain's in Baton Rouge, a no-frills restaurant with some of the best seafood in town. Another classic Cajun dish is gumbo, made with andouille sausage and spices:

As famous as Louisiana is for its seafood, it's also known for these sweet treats:

Beignets and chicory coffee - found of course at the famous Cafe Dumonde in New Orlean's French Quarter, but also made fresh at off-the-beaten-track cafes throughout the state, if you know where to look. I love how these fluffy hot pastries cut through the bitter, rich coffee (and it must be noted that it's virtually impossible to eat these gracefully - there will be powdered sugar all over the table, and probably your face.) These beignets pictured are from Coffee Call in Baton Rouge.

And for the more adventurous eaters, one has to try fried alligator, if purely just to say you did:

It tastes like slightly gamey chicken, much milder than I expected. Though of course I'd probably eat an old shoe if it was battered and fried ...

Just be sure to get it fresh, and not from can.

Oh, Louisiana.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cooking in Cajun Country

Well, after over nine great (cold!) years in Boston, I packed up my kitchen and moved down south. My new home - and our first house, pretty exciting - is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is not New England, to say the least. So far the people here have been incredibly friendly, and the food is fantastic, of course. So I'm making it my mission to learn how to cook real Cajun food, (healthier) Southern food, and eat my way around the South as I go.

First things first, the new kitchen:

It is soo much bigger than the old kitchen, which was, sadly to say, about the size of my closet now. Note the vintage copper teakettle, which I found at a nearby antique shop and am overly excited about. (I'm obsessed with copper.)

And onto the cooking. One of the first classic Lousiana dishes I've made since moving here was jambalaya, and the recipe is too simple. I got some andouille sausage (in my case local, but you can find it all over the States) and sliced into medium rounds, browning them up in the pan to crisp the edges and release those flavored oils. Then I diced onion and green bell pepper and cooked them in the sausage grease, adding a jambalaya rice package, and Cajun seasoning.

As for which rice I chose, this is what the grocery store looks like here, so I had many options ...

(It goes on like that for half an aisle. I never knew there were so many kinds of rice.) Which reminds me of the king cake display that was up, for the record, the first week of January:

 Gotta be ready for Mardis Gras.

Anyways, back to the jambalaya. Cook the rice and seasoning in water or chicken broth according to the package instructions or until the liquid is absorbed, and serve:

Such an easy weeknight meal to serve up with salad or cole slaw. (Note: the sausage can be substituted for diced chicken if you prefer, I just love the flavor the real andouille adds to it.)

Next classic Cajun dish I've been working on: shrimp etouffee. This is one of my all time favorites. I've tried many variations of this recipe but mine is closest to this.

More recipes to come!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Boston Bucket List

Before we move from Boston at the end of this year, I'm determined to get through my culinary bucket list for dining out in Boston (and surrounding New England, for that matter.) Here are some of the places I've crossed off the list:

1) Brunch in the South End: Gaslight
Sunday brunch is a city institution, and what better place to enjoy such a trendy tradition than Boston's hip South End? Gaslight Brasserie is a French bistro with an excellent brunch menu, ranging from classic egg dishes to decadent waffles and French toast. The tough question for every brunch goer: do you go savory or sweet? I opted for the croque madame, which was, well, ridiculous:

2) Dining al fresco on Newbury Street: Itadaki
Strolling down Back Bay's fashionable Newbury street is a favorite pastime of Boston summers, and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from that offer outdoor seating, so you can enjoy a meal while people-watching. From Indian to tapas to Italian to upscale American, you have a range of options to suit almost every mood. I went for sushi at Itadaki, which may be just as famous for its absurdly large dragon punch bowls as it is for the food (they're just vats of blue alcohol). The rolls were creative, not bad, and surprisingly not ridiculously overpriced considering the restaurant's prime real estate on such a frequently trafficked city street.

3) The new hotspot: Washington Square
Over the past few years Washington Square has transformed from a quiet residential area of Brookline to the Next Big Place to Eat. I've been to Ribelle, the Fireplace, enjoyed the exquisite desserts of Athan's Bakery and the nightlife at Golden Temple (a Chinese restaurant that turns into a dance party - so bizarre), but I'd passed The Abbey countless times before I got to eat there. The tapas-style dishes were all great, but the truffle fries were to die for.

(Sorry for the blurry photo, but you get the idea.)

4) Maine Lobster
We went up to Maine to get some fresh lobstah by the lighthouse, but if you don't have the time to get out of the city, there just happens to be a fantastic lobster shack on. OUR. STREET. It's called Alive and Kicking, and it's the real deal. Line out the door, smells strongly of seafood, sit at a picnic table in the yard and pick your lobster by a pile of crates. That's the whole experience right in Cambridge.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Garden to Table

In my opinion one of the most underused parts of vegetable plants in the U.S. is the zucchini flower - I'd bet that many Americans don't even realize that zucchinis are flowering plants, let alone cook with them. Over in Italy they have the right idea, stuffing and frying squash blossoms galore, and they are just. heavenly. (I mean really how bad is anything when it's stuffed with cheese and deep-fried?) So when I saw the unpicked flowers at my work's kitchen garden, all alone and abandoned among the weeds, I knew I had to take them home with me. And stuff them and devour them. Here's how I did it:

1) Pick the blossoms. This is the obvious first step in the process, and you may ask, "really how hard can that be?" But it's important to know which blossoms to pick: apparently there are male and female flowers, the female being able to cross-pollinate to create more plants, so if you pick them all then no more zucchinis. Which would be sad. You can tell the difference between the two because the females have little bulbs sort of bulging at the base of the blossoms, where the petals connect with the stems. So I picked only male bulbs (though I heard a rumor that the females taste even better), careful to avoid the little prickles on the stems as I cut the flowers. It's best to store the blossoms in the fridge immediately and cook them that day, to best enjoy their freshness.

2) Clean the blossoms, rinsing and drying them gently, and then fill the petals with ricotta. I made a mixture using a cup of part-skim ricotta, lemon zest, fresh thyme, salt and pepper - simple and easy. Getting the mixture into the flowers was a little trickier, requiring small utensils to spoon a few teaspoons of cheese into each, closing the petals gently with fingers to keep it from spilling out.

3) Heat some frying oil in a heavy skillet - I used canola - and make the frying batter. Again I kept it really simple, whisking some all-purpose flour into beer until the batter was about the color of peanut butter and the texture of a wet paste. I used my friend's homemade lager, which gave the batter a nice subtle flavor - I probably used about a cup of flour to half a bottle of beer, whisking out the lumps, but I didn't measure it exactly. It's more about getting the batter to the right consistency, which I find is easiest to just eyeball it.

4) Dredge the stuffed blossoms into the batter and then drop into the frying pan, submerging them in the oil. They only take a few minutes to cook, the petals are so delicate and fine, so once the coating turns a light golden brown they're ready to come out and drain on a paper towel. Then sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve warm!