Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lentils with Cream: A Salsa for Maria

Maria had an opening this evening, a ceramics exhibit in Athens, for the students in the University of Georgia pottery class she just finished teaching this summer. I brought an appetizer for the event, a Mexican-inspired lentils cooked with dry chilies and sour cream, lentejas con crema. It was served with corn tortilla chips. We used the tri-colored chips, which are very festive. Naturally, the creamed lentils were served in a pottery bowl that Maria had made.

The recipe uses to advantage 'French' green lentils, which are available typically in bulk at health food and natural food stores. The regular supermarket tan lentils do not have as good a texture, or flavor, as the small green lentils. Regular lentils could have been used, but the cooking time is shorter and the amount of water absorbed would be different. The dried chilies, California or Guajillo, are smooth, mild flavored, dark red flattened chilies from 4 to 6-inches long. Only the seeds are hot, and you need to discard the seeds and pith. They are available at Mexican groceries and at our Dekalb Farmers Market.

Lentils Sauteed with Cream Tim

3 cups (about 1-1/2 pounds) French green lentils (natural food stores) or regular tan lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium-small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 medium-sized dry California (Guajillo) chili peppers, seeded and shredded (easy with kitchen sissors) and coarsely cut up
3 cups water plus more for the cooking
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 to 2 cups sour cream
Coarsely chopped cilantro and diced, seeded tomatoes for garnish.

Rinse and drain the lentils. Prepare the fresh vegetables. In a heavy pan over low heat, fry the lentils, onions, garlic, and bell pepper in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add the black pepper and cut dried pepper. Add 3 cups water, stir well, cover, and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the water is absorbed. Then beginning adding water 1/2 cup at a time, stirring, and simmering, covered, until the water is absorbed. When it is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup water, etc. Depending on the dryness of the lentils, this process may take from six to eight 1/2-cup measures of water. Gradually the lentils will be come tender, a few will start to break up, and no more water will be absorbed. As the lentils are softening, add the salt. Let cool. The lentils can be stored, refrigerated, at this point, up to several days until ready to serve.

Before serving, stir in the sour cream, part at a time, until the desired degree of wetness is achieved. Taste for salt, and add some as needed. Serve liberally sprinkled with coarsley chopped cilantro and diced tomato, seeds and juice pushed out before dicing.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baba Ganouj: Roasted Eggplant Spread

Eggplants are nearly in season in Georgia. Beautiful big purple-black ones are already available at farmers's markets and supermarkets. That for me means baba ganouj.

One of the traditional ‘meze’ or Middle Eastern appetizers, which are served in profusion at the beginning of a meal or even as a meal on their own, baba ganouj often has a smoky flavor from charring the eggplant over fire. This may be an acquired taste for outsiders, but it is considered desirable, and even delightful, in the Middle East. A traditional method that is feasible in the modern kitchen is described here, as is the original method plus a quick and easy microwave method that makes a milder dish.

When serving baba ganouj as an appetizer individually or with a group of other Middle Eastern meze, a dry white wine or a dry rosé would be most likely in the Eastern Mediterranean where these dishes are served (although not by strict Muslims. who do not drink alcohol). Alternatively small glasses of local brandy are served, sometimes laced with anise, such as raki. arrak, or ouzo, and mixed with water into a milky concoction. Frankly, I prefer the wines.

Eggplant and Tahini Appetizer (Baba Ganouj) Tim

1 medium-large eggplant (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 medium-large clove of garlic
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste; available at health food or Middle Eastern groceries)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (bottled is acceptable)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/8 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Olive oil and minced parsley for garnish
Pita bread (substitute is sliced baguette) for serving

Rinse the eggplant but do not peel or cut it. Prick it 8 to 10 times with a fork. Roast by one of the three following methods: 1) Toast over a charcoal or gas grill, turning it often with large tongs, until the skin is blackened and blistered and the eggplant has collapsed. Or 2) Place on a cookie sheet and cook it under the broiler, turning frequently, until the skin is blackened and blistered and the eggplant has collapsed. Or 3) Place the eggplant on a microwave-safe plate and roast it at full power, turning it every 3 minutes, until it collapses and the juices run out. This takes about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool, leaning the pan on a slight angle so that the juices, which are bitter, collect away from the eggplant.

When the eggplant has cooled, discard the bitter juices. With a spoon, scrape all the flesh and seeds out of the skin. After allowing the mixture again to drain its juices, place the pulp in a food processor. Add the garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper, and 3/8 teaspoon of salt. Puree, pulsing occasionally and scraping down the sides of the container. (Alternatively, the eggplant and garlic can be chopped finely and the baba ganouj mixed using an electric mixer.) Taste the mixture, add lemon juice if not tangy, and add salt to taste. Let the mixture rest for at least half an hour before serving. Taste again, and if needed, add a little salt. Refrigerate if storing for more than an hour (and up to several days), but serve at room temperature.

To serve, spread on a platter or in a shallow bowl, making a large depression in the middle like a bird’s nest. Drizzle the surface generously with olive oil and sprinkle with finely minced parsley. Accompany with pita bread, preferably warmed. Diners tear off pieces of bread and scoop up bits of the appetizer. Alternatively serve the baba ganouj with sliced French bread.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I've been on a tear recently getting recipes onto my blog. Some of the recent ones are from my repertoire from the cooking classes I do for Evening at Emory. I did not volunteer this year for summer classes there or at the Rolling Pin in Athens. We had the big catering for Maria's wedding this summer, and our business has a wedding to do in August. I also wanted some flexibility and a little vacation time. But I find myself, perhaps compensatingly, putting in more time on my blog. I'm also encourgaged to do it because I'm getting more hits than ever, and people are spending more time on the blog. So here's a recipe I worked out for one of my Emory classes, which highlights an ingredient that I like but haven't used much in the blog, shrimp.

Although the name in English, 'shrimp scampi', is redundant – ‘scampi’ means shrimp in Italian – this is a delightful dish, and makes a great supper or snack, or even a hot antipasto. Fresh shrimp are quickly fried with butter, garlic, and a little white wine. The secret is getting the freshest shrimp you can, or at least frozen ones that are still frozen, and medium-large if possible. Georgia and Florida shrimp, in season, make excellent scampi. As an antipasto or snack, scampi are served with crusty bread to soak up the sauce. Alternatively scampi can be served over lightly buttered pasta.

This recipe serves six. Ideal wines include Sauvignon Blanc, especially one from New Zealand or South Africa, or a Pinot Grigio or Trebbiano from Italy. Washington State and Oregon white wines (other than Rieslings, which are typically sweet) are usually crisp and light bodied enough for scampi also.

Shrimp Scampi Tim

1-1/2 pounds uncooked shrimp still in their shells, as fresh as possible, or still frozen
1 large clove garlic
1 small shallot, or 1 small scallion (green onion), including part of the green
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced parsley for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 squirt of hot pepper sauce

If using frozen shrimp, defrost them in a large bowl of cool water shortly before using. Peel the shrimp, keeping the tail sections on. Devein the shrimp by making a shallow cut down the middle of the back and lifting out the vein with the tip of the knife. Then partially “butterfly” the shrimp by cutting a little deeper down the upper third of the back of the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp in running water and pat very dry with paper towels. Refrigerate, covered with a damp paper towel, until ready to cook.

Finely mince the garlic and shallot or scallion. Squeeze and measure the lemon juice, and place it in a small cup. Mince the parsley and set aside for garnish.

Heat a frying pan (it can an attractive one the scampi are to be served from) to medium hot. Add the olive oil, butter, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Immediately add the minced garlic and shallot or scallion. Fry quickly for about 10 seconds, stirring constantly, just until translucent and fragrant but not browning. Add the prepared shrimp plus another 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir and fry until the color partly changes and the flesh starts to become opaque (1 to 1-1/2 minutes). Add the wine, stirring. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly until the shrimp are fully changed in color, curl up, and are opaque, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and taste the sauce. If it is not slightly salty, add a little salt. Stir in the lemon juice and hot pepper sauce. Stir in part of the parsley. Sprinkle with the remainder.

Serve with warm crusty bread or over pasta, such as linguini or vermicelli, which has been moistened with melted butter and lightly salted.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hummus bi Tahini

As the economy worsens, I perceive that more people are cooking at home and working with less expensive ingredients. A dish I have made for many years, hummus, is inexpensive, tasty, and healthy. It is also something that we make a lot of at Donderos' Kitchen, both for retail and for catering.

The recipe below is the way I have taught the dish at Evening at Emory international cooking classes for a number of years. It was influenced by the way a friend, who is a skilled Turkish chef, made it. This is similar, but not identical, to the hummus we make at our business in Athens. (Eventually I'll put our trade secret recipes out in a Donderos' Kitchen cookbook, but we're not there yet.)

'Hummus bi tahini', literally in Arabic 'chick peas with sesame seed paste', is a favorite appetizer and snack throughout the Middle East. It has become popular in the US over the last 20 years, especially among vegetarians, and now shows up here too on snack and appetizer tables. For real Middle Eastern hummus (and there are numerous styles there), a variety of garnishes are used, from drizzled olive oil and chopped parsley, to the spice 'sumac', to pomegranate seeds, to spiced meat, in order to vary the presentation.

Hummus is typically accompanied by warmed flat bread, such as pita. But thinly sliced baguette or strips of raw vegetables, while non-traditional, also serve well. In addition, hummus can be used spread thickly in sandwiches along with grilled, lightly salted vegetables. The recipe serves six. Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen.

Hummus bi Tahini Kazim/Tim

1 (15-16 ounce) can chickpeas, or 2 cups unseasoned home-cooked chickpeas
1 medium sized clove of garlic
3 rounded tablespoons tahini (from Middle Eastern or health food stores)
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon oregano, crumbled between the fingers
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice plus more to taste (frozen or bottled is OK)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Olive oil plus oregano, chopped parsley, paprika, or sumac, for garnish

Drain the chickpeas if canned, rinse twice with fresh water and drain. For freshly cooked chickpeas, do not rinse, but just drain with slotted spoon, saving liquid for use as needed. In a food processor, chop the garlic first, then add the chickpeas, tahini, seasonings, lemon juice and olive oil. Process, pulsing frequently and scraping down the sides of the container with a spatula, until the hummus has a creamy, slightly pasty consistency. If too thick, add a little cooking liquid (if freshly cooked chickpeas) or water. Check taste and add lemon juice and/or salt if needed. (If making a larger quantity than one recipe, the preparation can be done in several batches and the batches mixed together in a bowl.) Store cold in zip-lock plastic bags or a plastic-wrapped bowl. Hummus will keep 4-5 days in the refrigerator*. Before serving, taste and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed.

Serve spread out on a platter with the edge of the hummus raised like a low birds nest and the center hollowed out slightly. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with paprika, minced parsley, or other toppings of interest. Accompany with flat bread, such as pita, preferably warmed.

*Note: Hummus freezes well. Thaw overnight in refrigerator (or in the microwave, being careful not to overheat the edges). Eat within a day or two of thawing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quiche, so many ways

Quiche in many variations has gone through a wave of American popularity over the past three to four decades. The original 'Quiche à la Lorraine' was a fairly simple French open-faced pie filled with seasoned egg-and-cream custard. A popular variant added fried un-smoked bacon. Subsequently, fried sliced leeks were often added. Cheese was not part of the original pie, but tiny cubes of Gruyère were added as quiche became more widespread. The recipe presented here substitutes smoked turkey or salmon for the bacon, scallions for the leeks, and adds a non-traditional seasoning, horseradish. But otherwise it adheres to the contents, if not size, of the individual quiches sold in bakeries in France.

While I've shown a variant on the fairly classical 'quiche lorraine', wonderful quiches are made with other meats -- diced cooked ham, cooked Italian sausage thinly sliced, or even shredded pepperoni, pastrami, or Genoa salami. and there are many vegetarian versions, such as with lightly roasted or blanched asparagus, spinach, or broccoli. And other cheeses can be partially substituted for gruyere, including cheddar, and blue. Cut back on the salt slightly if a salty meat or cheese is added.

This quiche makes a substantial first course in a fancy dinner for six people, or more commonly serves as a snack, lunch, or supper for four to six, either alone or accompanied by salad. Like with most cheese dishes, red wine is a good accomaniment, a dry, not too fruity red, like Cabernet Sauvignon, a Grenache or Garnacha, or Chianti.

Quiche Lorraine Tim

Pastry for a 9-inch one-crust pie (such as Pillsbury or homemade)
Dijon mustard for the crust

3 scallions (green onions)
1/4 pound sliced smoked turkey or smoked salmon
1 cup cubed (1/4 inch) or grated Swiss cheese, about 1/3 pound
3 eggs
1-1/4 cups whole milk (or part cream)
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
3/4 teaspoon salt (or 1/2 teaspoon if using salty smoked salmon)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

If using a frozen pastry, let it thaw in its plastic wrapping. It's best to do this overnight in the fridge. If in a hurry, you can start to thaw it, carefully, in the microwave, and let it come to temperature out on the counter. If using homemade pastry, roll it and line a 9-inch pan. Fold any excess crust under and pinch the edge or press it with a floured fork to make a simple but decorrative border. Paint the inside of the crust bottom and sides with a little Dijon mustard, using your fingers or a pastry brush.

Trim off the roots from the scallions. Line them up together and cut both the white and the green into 1/4-inch lengths. Distribute the pieces over the bottom of the crust. Cut the smoked turkey or salmon (or other meat or blanched or roasted vegetable) into small pieces, and distribute it over the scallions. Spread the cheese over the ingredients in the crust.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk, grated Romano or Parmesan, horseradish, salt, nutmeg, and pepper, and whisk it briefly to combine. Pour it into the piecrust.

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and continue baking until the center does not wiggle and a sharp knife inserted an inch from the center comes out clean (25 to 35 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Plum Cake: Seasonal and Simple

With guests coming over for dinner last week on short notice, we were suddenly scrambling for a dessert. The only ingredient of interest in the fridge or pantry was plums, succulent California red plums. But not many of them. We adapted the super-easy 'Norwegian' apple cake recipe of my sister-in-law from Vermont and used our plums in it. I recalled doing that once before for some student friends. The result was so good, again, that I wanted to get it on the web log.

Though incredibly simple and actually low in calories (no shortening), this is a rich dessert. None of the four of us dining that night needed extra calories, so we had the plum cake straight up. When we served it to those college kids last year, we topped it, to their strong approval, with Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream. Whipped cream would also have worked. But as is or garnished with a topping, this is one fine dessert.

Easy Plum Cake Libbet/Christina/Tim

With cooking spray or butter, grease a 9-inch pie dish, preferably glass or ceramic
Heat oven to 350 degrees

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 medium plums, dark skinned preferred
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds or coarsely chopped pecans

Combine the dry ingredients. Rinse and wipe the plums dry, but do not peel. Cut them off the pits, and cut the flesh into 1/2-inch chunks. Mix these into the dry ingredients. Lightly beat the egg and vanilla together in a small bowl, then stir them into the fruit and dry ingredients just until moistened.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle with almonds or pecans.

Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the middle bounces back when you touch it. Cool, and serve alone or topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Split Pea Soup with or without Ham: Two recipes

I grew up eating good pea soup. My mother made it whenever we had a meaty bone leftover from a ham dinner. I've since learned to make pea soup in many ways, including the old style on those rare times when we have a ham bone, or with a smoked pork hock, or with some smoked sausage (we had wonderful Dutch smoked sausage, 'rookworst', available when we lived in Malaysia), and in recent years increasingly I've made vegetarian pea soup. Surprisingly, to me at least, it is nearly as flavorful as the ham version. Our restaurant/deli in Athens makes 'Grandma's' pea soup, which is essentially my vegetarian soup finished with finely diced ham.

As it turns out, split pea soup is both traditional and common in many parts of Europe and North America. Peas grow in colder climates even on unfertile land, dry in their pods in the field, store easily, are economical, and are a fine source of protein and fiber. Plus, simply, they taste good. Pea soup is comfort food. While dry split peas are the basis, there is a choice between green and yellow. To me they taste the same, but the presentation of the soup is very different for the two colors. In New England, where I grew up, pea soup is made with green split peas, as it is in France and Holland. Yellow split peas were the standard for soup in French Canada (Québecoise 'Habitante' soupe au pois), and yellow peas are also used in Scandanavia. Which, if any, herbs to include varies by region, too. The New England pea soup is traditionally seasoned only with onion, celery, bay leaf, and black pepper. The Quebec soup has the herb 'savory' in it, and sometimes a whole clove or two. These days, I have migrated over to using savory, with a little oregano if I don't have savory on hand. Bay leaf and black pepper are essential. Croutons served with the soup are optional.

Included below are two versions of pea soup. The vegetarian one has a little more carrot, celery, and onion than the ham version, and the vegetables are lightly caramelized in olive oil to bring out their flavors. The ham version uses either a ham bone or diced ham. A recipe serves six with leftovers. A double recipe is just as easy to make as a single one, and the soup freezes well in plastic containers.

Vegetarian Pea Soup Tim

1 pound green or yellow split peas
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more at the end
2 medium or 1 large carrot
2 large sticks celery
1 medium onion
1 small clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water

Rinse the split peas and drain. In a large soup pot, bring them to a boil in the water, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the bay leaves, savory or oregano, and black pepper. Simmer, partially covered and stirring from time to time, until the peas are tender and starting to break up, 20 to 40 minutes depending on the variety and age of the peas.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into 1/2-inch dice. Discard leaves from the celery, cut the stalks lengthwise into four strips, hold the strips together and cut across into 1/4-inch lengths. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. In a frying pan, gently fry the vegetables in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to turn golden on some of the edges.

When the peas are tender, add the caramelized vegetables plus the salt and 1 more cup of water. Simmer, stirring from time to time, for 15 minutes or until the peas are very broken up and the soup becomes somewhat creamy. Taste and add salt if needed. Dilute with a little water if too thick. When the soup is done, add a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. The soup is tastier if stored refrigerated for a few hours or up to several days and then reheated. Taste and season with a little more salt, if needed.

Serve with croutons, if desired.

Grandma's Pea Soup with Ham Tim

1 meaty hambone leftover from a roast, or 1/2 pound cooked or raw ham
1 pound green split peas
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more at the end
1 medium carrot
1 stick celery
1 small-medium onion
Salt to taste (be careful, the ham may be salty)
1 cup water

1) If using a ham bone, simmer it in the water for at least half an hour, with the pot partially covered. Rinse the split peas and drain. Add them to the soup pot, bring them to a boil, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over. Or 2) if using just ham with no bone, rinse the split peas and drain. In a large soup pot, bring them to a boil, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over.

In either case, reduce heat to a simmer and add the bay leaves, savory or oregano, and black pepper. Simmer, partially covered and stirring from time to time, until the peas are tender and starting to break up. This will take 20 to 40 minutes, or possibly longer with the ham bone broth.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into 1/2-inch dice. Discard leaves from the celery, cut the stalks lengthwise into four strips, hold the strips together and cut across into 1/4-inch lengths. Dice the onion. When the peas are tender, add the vegetables plus 1 more cup of water, and simmer 15 minutes or more until the vegetables are tender and the peas are broken up.

Remove the ham bone, if used, and cut the meat off the bone and into small pieces and return them to the soup. If using ham but no bone, cut the ham into 1/4-inch strips, then cut across into 1/4-inch dice. Add the ham to the soup and simmer at least 10 minutes.

Taste the soup. It may or may not need salt, depending on the ham. Simmer the soup, stirring from time to time, until the peas are very broken up and the soup becomes somewhat creamy. Dilute with a little water if too thick. Taste again and add salt if needed. When the soup is done, add a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

The soup is tastier if stored refrigerated for a few hours up to several days and then reheated. Taste and season with a little more salt, if needed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sautéed Chickpeas and Spinach: a Middle Eastern Treat

This richly flavored vegetarian dish is based, though discreetly different, on one I developed at my friends’ Turkish restaurant, the Istanbul Café, where it is served inside a ring of rice pilaf accompanied by seasoned yogurt and feta cheese. One of their few vegetarian specialties, for a long time it was actually their best-selling dish. This recipe is also similar, though not identical, to the chickpea and spinach specialty that has become one of our restaurant/deli's best-selling items for catering in Athens -- usually paired with Middle Eastern marinated chicken kebabs that we call 'Kazim's Chicken' and served on a bed of rice pilaf.

The cinnamon in this gives an almost 'meaty' flavor. Serve it with a rice pilaf (see my blog entries for 1/5/07 and 3/30/08 for rice pilaf recipes). Accompany with a cucumber-yogurt condiment (see blog posting of 4/25/08).

As with most vegetarian main dishes, in my view, a red wine of almost any sort seems to go best. Because of the spices in this dish, I prefer the spiciest of reds, made from the Grenache, or Garnacha. grape, especially those from Spain (which still have good value despite the strength of the Euro) or a French Côtes du Rhône.

The recipe serves six generously. Leftovers store well and the flavor intensifies.

Middle-Eastern Chick Peas Sautéed with Spinach Tim

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
1 large onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon (or less if desired) crushed hot red pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
2 cans (14-15 oz each) chick peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Chopped parsley for garnish

Thaw the spinach, removed from the boxes, on a plate, either at room temperature for several hours or defrosted in the microwave. Finely chop the onion and fry in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden brown. Meanwhile, mince the garlic and set aside; measure out the spices and salt into a bowl. Lower the heat under the onions. Stir the garlic into the onions and fry 15-20 seconds. Add the dry seasonings, and stir and fry 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomato and simmer 4-5 minutes. Drain the chick peas. Rinse twice with fresh water and drain well. Add to the onion-tomato mixture, stir to mix well and simmer 4-5 minutes.

Squeeze part of the water out of the thawed spinach. Add the spinach to the cooking mixture, stirring to combine. Let simmer 2-3 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. The sauce should have the thickness of heavy cream. Taste the mixture, and add salt as necessary. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice.

This tastes best if made ahead and allowed to sit for at least half an hour (or it can be stored, refrigerated, for several days). Reheat before serving (the microwave works well). Taste, and adjust salt if necessary.

Dust with chopped parsley when serving. Accompany with rice pilaf and yogurt or a yogurt-cucumber-dill mixture.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Red and Black Chili: Economically Delicious

With the economic downturn, delicious yet economical food, especially that can serve more than one meal, seems timely. Chili is a classic American dish that meets those needs. I said 'American', because the chili we grew up with here is only distantly related to Mexican cuisine. And if it were Mexican, it would be called 'chile' anyway. At most, our chili is related to Texas cooking, Texas Anglo cooking. But just because it isn't Mexican doesn't mean it can't be delicious.

At our restaurant/deli in Athens, Georgia, we make several chilis: a 'hot blond' chili with turkey, white beans, habañero peppers, cream, and neither tomato nor ground dry chilies (my blog , 10/28/06); a green chile (like the New Mexico dish; my blog of 11/20/06); and both meat and vegetarian versions of Red-and-Black chili (we're in the home of UGA, after all). Below is a recipe resembling our meat chili, adapted for home use.

This is a double recipe. It will serve six people, then give leftovers for several more later or it can be sloshed on grilled hotdogs or hamburgers. It is good ladled into big soup bowls over top of a little cooked white rice (see rice cooking, my blog of 1/26/08). Some people put a little grated cheddar, jack, or Mexican melting cheese on top to serve. A salad rounds out the meal. Texas style chili calls for beer. But hearty dry red wines of almost any type -- except expensive -- go quite well with it too.

Red and Black Chili (with Beef or Turkey) Tim

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans or, preferably, 1 pound dry black beans, cooked (long way best, or pressure cooked 24 minutes)
2 thick or 3 thin strips smoked bacon, finely chopped
1 medium-large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (at least 85% lean) or ground turkey
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomato, including the juice
1 small-medium red bell pepper, large dice

Prepare the beans and set aside: if canned, drain and rinse them; if home cooked, drain, saving some of the juices. Fry the chopped bacon with the onions, stirring frequently, until onions start to turn golden. Add the garlic and meat (raw if reasonably lean, pre-fried and some grease skimmed off if fattier). Cook until the raw color leaves the meat. Add the bay leaves and dry seasonings, including 3 teaspoons of salt. Fry gently several minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the diced bell pepper, and simmer another 5 minutes. Finally add the beans. If needed, add a little of their liquid (if home-cooked) or water, just enough to make a medium-thick gravy. Simmer 10 minutes. Taste, and add salt as needed. Remove bay leaves toward the end of cooking.

Let sit 10 minutes, stir, taste and add salt if needed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grandma's Chocolate Cake: Surprisingly Quick and Easy

This is the cake my 'kids' (they're quite grown now) have always considered the standard by which to compare chocolate cakes. They would have it when visiting my mother. Mum was of the old school in two ways: 1) you always had to have dessert, usually a cake, available for after meals and for nibbles anytime, and 2) anything requiring more than one bowl or a couple of steps was too fussy. The best -- and most astounding -- thing is that this cake is made with cocoa, not baking chocolate. Hershey's cocoa was what she used, but there are some more elegant ones now available.

This cake remains one of the best chocolate cakes going, and we have used it for some commercial baking at our restaurant and deli in Athens. Birthday cakes in the family are this one. The recipe will make a layer cake -- which my mother favored -- or a sheet cake, or even cupcakes. Covered with a freshly made chocolate ganache or a cream cheese white frosting, the cake is amazing. Even just dusted with a little powdered sugar, the cake is outstanding.

The recipe makes two 9-inch layers, a 9 by 13-inch sheet pan, or 24 cupcakes.

Quick Cocoa Cake Mum

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter or grease two 9-inch round layer cake pans or a 9x13-inch rectangular pan. Put a little flour or cocoa in the pans and tap them to coat the butter with the flour or cocoa. Alternately place 24 paper cupcake papers in a cupcake pan (and spray the insides of the papers with non-stick spray for easier peeling).

In the mixing bowl of an electric beater, stir and fluff together with a fork:
9 tablespoons cocoa
2-5/8 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Add but do not mix until all ingredients are in:
3 eggs
1-1/8 cups canola or corn oil
1-1/2 cup cold water

Beat the ingredients together well, scraping down the bowl several times. Transfer to the prepared pans, scraping out the bowl with the spatula. Bake about 22 minutes for the cakes or about 20 minutes for cupcakes. Test by inserting a toothpick near the center of a cake. The toothpick should come out dry, with no liquid attached.

Cool the cakes in their pans on a cake rack for 10 minutes. Then for the cakes, run a knife along the edges and set the cake rack over the pan and turn them over together so the cake drops onto the rack. Remove the pan and let the cake cool completely.

Frost or dust with powdered sugar as desired.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chicken Cacciatore; 'Hunter Style'

A number of European culinary traditions have 'hunter style' dishes. 'Chasseur', meaning hunter in French, is attached to the name of several specialties. 'Bigos' is a Polish hunter's stew. 'Landjager' (country hunter) is a heavily smoked Bavarian 'hunter's sausage'. 'Jägermeister' (German for 'master hunter'), the herbal liqueur, became fashionable with young urbanites in the US, far from the fields and woods. Even the original name for the luscious steamed plum pudding my New England Irish mother made for Thanksgiving and Christmas was 'hunter's pudding'. Somehow, rustic dishes with hearty herbal flavors got attributed to hunters.

Chicken cacciatore, or more correctly 'pollo alla cacciatora' [ka chah tor' ah] (chicken in the style of the hunter), originally had some wild gathered ingredients, like dried forest mushrooms, juniper berries, and fresh herbs. The cooking method was also used for real game, like rabbit and venison, or even wild boar. But our hunter must also have done some of his hunting in the neighbor's garden, since tomatoes, carrots, onions, and celery are traditionally part of the sauce, along with wine.

When I was a kid, 'chicken cacciatore', as it was usually called, was more likely to be just chicken cooked up in the regular red sauce for spaghetti, with the chicken simply replacing the meatballs and Italian sausage. But, as the recipe below shows, the sautéed chicken can be much more interesting, and the sauce more in the background. The chicken can be accompanied by a pasta dressed lightly with fresh herbs and olive oil or with marinara sauce (see my blog posting of 8/7/06). Or it can go with fried potatoes, steamed potatoes, polenta, or lightly salted rice. A not too fancy dry red wine, like a red Zinfandel, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, or Chianti will go well with this. Serve a coarsely textured crusty bread, such as ciabatta, alongside the chicken to mop up the sauce.

The recipe will serve six.

Chicken Cacciatore Tim

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh (or 3 pounds thighs with skin and bones)
Salt and pepper for chicken plus more later
1 large carrot
1 large stick celery
1 medium-small onion
2 medium-large cloves garlic
1/2 pound mushrooms
1 cup diced, drained tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon juniper berries (or 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds or 2 extra bay leaves)
2-inch piece of fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup red wine (or beer)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley for garnish

If using boneless skinless thighs, cut them in half. If using whole chicken thighs, remove the skin and excess fat. Cut thighs in half, across the bone, using a cleaver or heavy knife. Set meat on a platter or cookie sheet and fairly generously salt and pepper it on both sides. Set it aside.

Peel and dice the carrot. Cut the celery in several long strips, then cut across into 1/4-inch dice. Peel, and coarsely chop the onion. (Alternatively, these vegetables can be coarsely chopped, separately, in a food processor.) Crush, peel, and mince the garlic. Rinse mushrooms, and cut off the bottom 1/8 inch of the stems. Slice the mushrooms 1/2-inch wide.

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, fry the carrot, celery, and onion with the olive oil over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the garlic, and fry half a minute, stirring. Add the chicken plus the bay leaves, juniper berries, rosemary, and black pepper, and fry quickly over increased heat, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until the outsides of the chicken are completely changed in color. Add the wine or beer plus a half teaspoon salt. Boil quickly for about two minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently. Add the mushrooms, and cook for several minutes, until mushrooms begin to shrink. Stir in the tomatoes, and when the mixture boils, reduce the heat and simmer UNCOVERED for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time, until the chicken is becoming tender. Taste the sauce and add salt to taste -- you need to make the sauce slightly salty, since the chicken and mushrooms will soak more up.

When done, either serve it now, with the parsley stirred in just before serving, or cool, refrigerate, and reheat it before serving later. Stir in the parsley just before serving.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Created for the Wedding Today: North African Chicken Medallions

For the wedding of our daughter Maria Louisa to Kevin Yates this evening, our restaurant's cooks and I made a special dish, which is presented below. Maria was born in Cameroon, in Central Africa. Kevin spent several of his growing years in Tunisia, in North Africa. And Maria and Kevin travelled widely in Morocco, also in North Africa, when they were purchasing ceramics and brassware for our kitchen-related market in Athens, Georgia. I have also spent time on work trips in North Africa. The three of us love the cooking from that region.

In their honor I created a special dish as the centerpiece of the reception dinner, spiced roasted chicken breast medallions with North African seasonings. I've called it 'Médaillons de Volaille Mariènne', wedges of chicken in a style for Maria. Not speaking Arabic, I am limited to the French which is the other language of the Magreb.

The recipe below, which is a reduction of the version for 40 pounds of chicken we used, will serve six people.

North African-Style Spiced Chicken, Médaillons de Volaille Mariènne Tim

Marinate chicken and seasonings 12 to 36 hours.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large clove of garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon oregano
3/8 teaspoon dry ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Garnishes: toasted slivered almonds, pine nuts, or walnuts, plus pitted dates, golden raisins or dried apricots, and clusters of grapes

Trim away tough or excess fatty parts from chicken. Cut chicken flesh into 2-inch square medallion pieces. Mix well with the lemon juice and olive oil.

Put the garlic through a press, or mince it very finely. In a small bowl, mash the salt into the garlic, then mix in all the seasonings and cornstarch. Sprinkle a third of the mixture onto the chicken, and mix it in well. Sprinkle the chicken with another third of the seasonings, and mix well. Repeat with the last third of the spices.

Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes, and mix it well again. Place it in a zip-lock plastic bag, and let the chicken marinate overnight or longer, refrigerated. Mix it from time to time by squeeing the bag to move the pieces around.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the chicken pieces on a large baking sheet so they do not touch each other. Roast 6 minutes, and remove from the oven. With a spatula, turn the chicken, and quickly return it to the oven. Roast for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (split a piece with a knife and be sure there is no pink color in the center). Remove from the oven and cool.

Serve cold or at room temperature on a platter. Garnish, as desired, with a selection of dried fruits and nuts. (Toast the nuts dry on a baking sheet at 300 degrees, stirring and checking for doneness occasionally. Toasting time will be 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the nut used.) For extra color, cut small bunchettes of grapes and arrange them on and around the chicken.