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PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

Jeez.  The last time I posted here was December? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. I’ve mostly been in a fetal position since the election, emerging only now and then to refill my bottle with bourbon. I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I just hope we don’t all get blown up.

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It seemed like a tomato soup kind of day, what with the rain, the Orange Dumpster Fire in the White House, the strike some of my friends are participating in, the Orange Nutjob in the White House, the cold, The Tropicana Fascist in the White House… you get my drift.

I made some tomato soup in the style of Provence. It tastes pretty good and it’s easy. It’s good for a cold wet day when you’ve lost hope but still remain optimistic that maybe we will survive. Also, a few stiff drinks don’t hurt.

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stalk
  • 2 fresh tomatoes. chopped
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 large (28-ounces or so) can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 can (16-ounces or so) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 orange, zest plus all the juice
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil (fresh is better if you have it, but it’s winter right now)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • Anise liqueur and/or orange liqueur (optional)

Saute the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until they start to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fennel seed and let it cook for a few minutes. Then throw in everything else and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or thereabouts.

Now either use a stick blender to puree the soup (don’t be too concerned about getting every veggie) or puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Pour soup back into the pot and let simmer another 10 minutes, and taste.

You may want to add more fennel, more orange juice/zest, some wine (I used white vermouth for its herbal taste), some booze (Pernod/anisette or an orange liqueur), more broth, EVOO, whatever.

If so inclined, you could also add some cooked rice and finely chopped spinach or other greens.

When it seems just right, turn the stove off and let sit for an hour or more, then reheat when ready to serve.

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MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

It’s the week before Christmas and chances are good that most people are just thisclose to either exploding or imploding, whichever comes first.  The sheer amount of nonsense and self-imposed misery people are willing to accept is mind-boggling – but we’re not here to talk about that.

*beat*

Well, yeah. My blog. I CAN talk about that. I sometimes think I might implode myself if I hear one more person whinging about the commercialization of Christmas as they head out the door to shop for more presents for little Esmeralda and little Heathcliff – well, pull up your big girl/boy panties and accept responsibility for your part in that commercialization. “They EXPECT presents/ my mother-in-law will judge me/I don’t want to be Scrooge” – oh, put a sock in it. No one HAS to be out there in the mall. If you really feel that way, declare your home a commercial-free zone. Little kiddies WILL get over your giftlessness. If your MIL has a cow, tell her to give it lots of hay and milk it every morning.

The worst Christmas I ever had – and I’ve had some bad ones – I had to return a present to the store because the intended recipient died before I could give it to him. If you want to give presents, don’t think that Christmas is the only acceptable time. You see just the right veeblefetzer that Aunt Hilda would love, but it’s only April? Get it and hand it over. Aunt Hilda may not make it to December.

Where were we? Oh. Yeah. Meat and potatoes.

Among the many headaches at this time of year is the need to feed a lot of people. You’ve already had spaghetti and lasagna and take-out and bags of lettuce with bottled dressing; now you need to come up with something a little more festive but also substantial. This dish works on all those accounts. And it can be prepped ahead and left in the refrigerator until time to roast it.

I saw a friend make a roast this way, the meat balanced on top of new potatoes, and I marveled at its simplicity. The seasoning idea came from an episode of Man, Fire, Food on The Cooking Channel. Roger Mooking visited Rancho Llano Seco, which is about 70 miles south of here, where they prepared an amazing porchetta roast on a rotisserie, allowing the pork fat to drip down onto oysters. The thought makes me salivate.

For this dish I used a boneless pork roast just under 5 pounds – not a tenderloin. Ask to be certain that the pork roast you choose is ideal for the dry heat of an oven; some cuts are better suited to braising in a crock pot. To fill the 8″ X 11″ baking dish took about four pounds of potatoes. You don’t have to use pork – you could do a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or beef roast, though because they don’t take as long to cook, you’d want to start the pan of potatoes in the oven about 45 minutes before putting the meat on top.

You’ll need kitchen string and a meat thermometer.

PORCHETTA ALLA LLANA SECO

  • 1 boneless pork roast, 5-6 pounds
  • 4 pounds new potatoes (use a thin-skinned type such as Red Bliss, White Rose or Yellow Finn; Russets or other baking-type potatoes will fall apart)
  • 2 heads of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the type you get in pizza parlors)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Broth or stock

Put the fennel seed in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan every few seconds until the seeds begin to lightly brown, pop, and smell fragrant. When they are lightly toasted, remove them immediately. if you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that; if not, use a spice grinder. If you don’t have either one, put the seeds in a sturdy plastic bag and whack them with a hammer to break them up.

Wash and thinly slice the potatoes. Stand them on edge in a baking dish large enough to put the roast on top of the potatoes and not have any hanging over the sides.

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Distribute plenty of chopped garlic throughout the potatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground pepper. If you want, you can add another herb or two – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.

Unwrap the pork roast. This one was tied with string to keep it from flopping around. Snip and remove the string. DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT ON TOP! If the pork rind is still intact, leave it on too!

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The boneless roast should have a flap where the bones were removed. Pull it open, so that you have a long somewhat flat roast; if necessary cut an opening so you can unfold it like opening a book.

Sprinkle the cut side with the toasted ground fennel, lots of chopped garlic, the teaspoon of hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

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Put a hand under each end of the flattened-out pork and carefully snap the roast back together, fat side up.

If there is a rind (skin) on the roast, score it lightly with a knife.

Cut four lengths of kitchen string long enough to go around the pork cross-wise, and two pieces to go around it length-wise. Slide the cross-wise lengths under the roast, spacing them apart, and one by one tie them tightly. Then slide the length-wise strings under the pork package and tie those. Snip off excess string.

Pour stock into the pan to about 1/2″ deep. (You can see some jellied stock on the left side of the roast here.) Put the porchetta package on top, fat/rind side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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At this point, you can put the whole thing in the refrigerator as long as overnight. Bring it out about two hours before you want to roast it.

Here is a chart  from the National Pork Board detailing how long to cook pork. I usually figure about 25-30 minutes per pound at 325 Fahrenheit. This is where a meat thermometer comes in very handy.  I roasted this to 160F, then took it out of the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes, covered.

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All roasts will continue to cook for a while; they will firm up and be much easier to slice if allowed to rest after removal from the oven.

Snip and pull the strings off. Slice the meat. If the roast has a rind, remove it, put it on a cookie sheet and run it under the broiler (watching CAREFULLY) to crisp it; slice it and put it on the platter with the meat.  Although the roast looks really spiffy on top of the potatoes, it is much, much easier to serve if you put the meat on a separate platter from the potatoes.

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I think that you want a slightly sweet side dish like carrots, beets, applesauce, red cabbage, or parsnips alongside, as well as some sort of green like spinach, kale, or collards. This is a very rich dish; a big ol’ cheesecake for dessert would be too, TOO much. Some simple cookies and sorbet would be less overwhelming. And a big red wine or dark beer is appropriate.

Obviously the seasoning can be varied – one of those barbecue rubs that’s sitting around in your cupboard would work. A Mexican seasoning like toasted cumin seeds with garlic and oregano would be great, or a good curry mix. Google “dry barbecue rubs” and go wild. I particularly like the spice rubs suggested by Chris Schlesinger in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun.

LEFTOVER CRANBERRY SAUCE

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Cranberry sauce is one of those foods at Thanksgiving that is like Charoset at Passover Seder: absolutely essential without which you cannot proceed, but for God’s sake don’t make too much because no one will take a lot. (I found this out the hard way at the one and only Seder I was invited to. How was I, a shiksa, to know this? Maybe that’s why I’ve never been invited to another one.)

Even though cranberry sauce keeps really well in the refrigerator – a good three weeks – it’s probably getting tossed because it’s taking up room. Too bad because it goes with turkey, ham, chicken, duck, pork, and is delicious mixed with all kinds of things like horseradish and applesauce.

But if you have some that you don’t know what to do with: mix it with a spoonful of prepared mustard, pepper, vinegar and a little oil. Toss it with some sturdy greens like Romaine, some sections of Mandarin oranges (in season now), thinly sliced red onion, and maybe a few stray beans if there are any in the fridge (green, black, pinto, garbanzo, whatever).  Maybe sprinkle with some feta cheese. Yes, it’s purple. Dim the lights if that offends you. It’s delicious.

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

I am not a fan of the entire pumpkin spice craze, the lattes and teas and candles and whatnot. I have a limited view of how pumpkin & its usual spices should be incorporated into food.

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For instance, this is wrong in so many ways.

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This, on the other hand, is funny.

Here is something I do approve of, seasonal, festive, and simple to make. I stole the recipe years ago from a blog on LiveJournal and have no idea who contributed it. It’s rather good and not nearly as difficult as you might think. This makes a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday occasion.

I realize that while many people have heard the term jelly roll*, they have probably never seen, tasted, or made one, it being a bit passé like bar le duc, prune whip, and croquettes. Too bad, because those old-fashioned dishes are fun and tasty.  Jelly roll might be thought of as the American version of a buche de Noel.

*I am speaking of jelly roll in the culinary sense. There are other meanings which Urban Dictionary covers.

Before serving, dust with powdered sugar. You can go all festive and decorate the plate, as I did here for a Christmas party.

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To serve, cut into one-inch slices.

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Variations: Use almond, maple, or orange extract in the filling, or add grated orange peel. I really don’t think this cake should be frosted as it is quite moist and sweet already. Chocolate goes well with pumpkin so a dark chocolate filling could be substituted for the vanilla cream cheese filling.

TACO SALAD/TOSTADAS FOR THE FORGETFUL

TACO SALAD/TOSTADAS FOR THE FORGETFUL

I am certain that anyone who likes taco salad already has a favorite recipe for it, so this is not for them. This is for me. I have made this three times this summer when it was too damn hot to cook. The first time was a veggie taco salad. The second time was with some bits of steak thrown in. The third time we made tostadas.

I am sure that by next summer I will have forgotten what I did to make this, hence this post. There are tons of possible variations.

TOSTADAS ON THE GRILL

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • salt and pepper

Stir together and refrigerate.

Salad:

Chopped tomato, chopped red onion, sliced black olives, 1 can corn, 1 can kidney beans or black beans, shaved cheeseP1050824

Top that with

Romaine, iceberg lettuce, shredded cabbage

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Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

On the grill:

Heat refried beans in skillet. Keep diced steak (or chicken, or pork) warm in foil packet.

Place corn tortillas on grill and lightly brush each side with oil.

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Flip tortillas as necessary and let them get crisp.

Toss salad with dressing.

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Smear crisp tortillas with refried beans. Top with a spoonful of Greek yogurt or sour cream, then with salad, bits of steak, and pour green and/or red salsa on top. Pick up to eat. Have lots of napkins available.

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For taco salad, break up some bagged tortilla chips and toss with the salad and dressing. Some avocado would not be amiss with this.

PIE ON THE BARBIE

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PIE ON THE BARBIE

It’s one of those unfair life situations: just when the best, sweetest, juiciest fruit is ripe, it’s too damn hot to turn the oven on to bake a pie. I mean, it was over 122 F/50C in parts of Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona yesterday and they’re not expecting that to change soon. You just go into survival mode when it’s that hot. Pie doesn’t even cross your mind. You are just trying to not cook to death.

I almost never turn the oven on from June through mid-September. But summer pies are legendary. Jesse Colin Young sang about them in “Ridgetop.”

I’ve got hundred foot pine trees
That just love to dance in the wind

And a yard full of bushes
That turn into pie in July

So what’s a piemaker to do when the summer fruit is plentiful but you don’t dare heat the house up any more than it already is? Turn to the barbecue. Instead of making a two-crust fruit pie, make one giant crust and use it like a hobo pack to envelope all the filling.

This is called a gallette in French – a flat, round(ish) pastry filled with fruit.

PIE ON THE BARBECUE

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons very cold butter
  • ice water

Directions for making pie crust are here.

When you’ve made the crust, wrap it in waxed paper and store in the fridge for at least 20 minutes – an hour or two is better –  until very cold.

Filling:

  • 2-4 cups fresh summer fruit (slice fruit like peaches or apricots thinly as well as oversized berries; leave small berries whole)
  • sugar to taste (I use two or three tablespoons, depending on how sweet the fruit is)
  • tapioca

Combine fruit, sugar, and tapioca, and let sit until ready to make the pie. If you use the larger BB-sized tapioca like I do here, let the mixture sit an hour or two to allow the tapioca to soften and start absorbing moisture.

(If you really feel you can’t bear to make a crust, buy one of those refrigerated pie crusts in a box and roll it out really thin on a floured board.)

Roll out the crust on a floured board. Do not worry if the crust isn’t perfectly round. It’s fine if it looks like a map of France.  Roll it thinly to get a very large crust.

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Patch any holes with dough from the edges and a dab of water.

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Using a dough scraper or spatula if necessary, fold the crust in half and then in quarters, and transfer it to an aluminum pie plate. Unfold and let the edges flop over the sides.

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Spoon the filling into the center. Here I used plums and peaches.

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Then flop the edges over the filling.

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If not baking right away, refrigerate the pie. Do not set the pie near the barbecue because you want the crust to stay cold and not allow the butter bits in it to soften.

When ready to bake, preheat gas grill to 350 (charcoal BBQ, use this guide to determine temperature.)

Invert an empty aluminum pie plate or other aluminum pan on the grill.

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Set the pie on top on that, and close the lid.

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Monitor the temperature to keep it between 350 to 375.

A smaller pie with about 2 cups filling will take about 25 minutes. This larger pie with four cups filling took about 40 minutes. It’s done when the filling is bubbling and the crust feels crisp instead of soft.

At this point you can remove the pie, or you can set it directly on the grill for about five minutes to let the bottom crust brown. Watch it carefully (lift a section of the pie up gently with a spatula) because it can go from golden brown to burned fast.

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Cut into fat wedges to serve. Makes about four servings.

 

 

 

 

 

TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

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TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which here in the US of A is considered the Unofficial Start to Summer, as well as being a three-day weekend. (I am glad my grandmother didn’t live to see this, as she would have disapproved of Decoration Day, as she always called it, being hijacked like that and not given proper respect.) It is also a huge weekend for outdoor  barbecuing, and tri-tip is going to feature on many grills around the country.

I don’t remember seeing tri-tip until about maybe 30 years ago when it suddenly became popular, and that’s because it wasn’t available. It was either made into ground beef or sometimes cut into steaks or stew meat (which is still how it’s treated in the rest of the world). But then in Santa Maria, California, a butcher took the bull by the horns (as it were) and created tri-tip roast – if you’re interested you can read all the details right here.

I wasn’t all that crazy about tri-tip for a long time because it was almost always overcooked and sinewy and tough. I did find a foolproof way to cook it in the oven, but when it’s a zillion degrees outside, turning the oven on is a last resort.

After beef being sky-high for months and maybe years due to the drought (no matter what Donald Trump says, THERE IS A DROUGHT), we suddenly noticed the prices tumbling, and especially the price of tri-tip. It was time to get some and figure out how to cook it on the grill, and that’s where the internet came in handy. I won’t pretend this is a method I dreamed up; it was blatantly stolen from The Tri-Tip Guy. It’s a good method and quite easy, though there are a few points that are really important to follow in order to not screw this up.

An instant-read meat thermometer is essential for this.

TRI-TIP ON THE GRILL

All tri-tips look about the same and weigh about the same. You can buy them “trimmed” of fat for a nominal fee, but get an untrimmed one and do it yourself.

They look like this….

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…until you flip them over and find a huge slab of fat.

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Get a sharp, long-bladed knife, and start at one end, pulling as you slice. The fat will peel off as you work. Don’t obsess over tiny bits of meat that may come off with the fat.

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You can go back and trim off any remaining large pockets of fat, which usually cause flare-ups on the grill.

Once you have your tri-tip trimmed, you can leave it as is or marinate it. We put this one in a bowl and poured low-salt soy sauce over it and added garlic powder and freshly ground pepper, and let it sit and think about things about a couple of hours.

POINT 1: Let the tri-tip come to room temperature.

Now get your grill going. For a gas grill, bring it up to 350. For charcoal or wood, you want a medium fire (to judge this, put your hand just above the grate without touching and count how many seconds you can hold it there – figure 6-7 seconds for 350).

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Point 2: Once the grill is up to temperature, put the tri-tip down and put the lid or cover on for 15 minutes.

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After 15 minutes, uncover the trip-tip and flip it over.

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Let it cook undisturbed for about 15 – 20 more, then start testing with the meat thermometer. Could take 20 minutes, could take 40 0r 50 minutes. Go with the thermometer reading. If you want, paint some barbecue sauce on the top when it’s almost done.

When the tri-tip is almost up to the temperature you prefer, remove it from the grill. (The temperature will continue to rise during the next step.)

Point 3: Wrap tri-tip in aluminum foil and let it sit 15 minutes. Do not skip this step.

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When you’re ready to slice the tri-tip – stop! Do not slice it the way you’ve been slicing – that is, slicing off the narrow ends.

Point 4: Slice it against the grain, across the widest part, and slice it thinly.

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Once you grill tri-tip this way, you’ll be converted to this method. It turns this tough cut of beef into a juicy and flavorful roast on the barbecue.

 

 

 

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