Choking on Artichokes

Fictional recipe writer Antonio Esposito had this really bad habit of listing ingredients in his recipes that never appeared in his instructions.  “What are we supposed to do with the three pounds of artichokes?” was often asked when someone was trying to make a frittata recipe from page 162 of his cookbook, The Heart of the Artichoke.  In fact, if one was to methodically examine each and every recipe in this phantom cookbook, they’d find artichokes listed in vast quantities in each recipe, yet never appeared in the instructions.  Artichoke Lasagne, Artichoke Smoothies, Artichoke Risotto, and the list goes on . . . Not one of the recipes mentioned artichokes in the instructions.

If you knew Antonio Esposito, whose real name could have been Darren Schminckleberg, you’d know this was not the result of some forgetfulness or careless error.  Rather, it was a prank played by him with full intentions.

Okay, I’ll say it wasn’t exactly a prank.  Maybe a better description was that it was an underhanded conspiracy for the general public to purchase more artichokes.  For, you see, the book’s publication was secretly funded by the Artichoke Producers of America to promote the use of artichokes and, of course, increase their market sales.

And so, when you come upon a recipe in a cookbook which lists ingredients yet never mentions them in the instructions, you have to be suspicious, and are left with two options.

1.  Leave the ingredient out and hope to use it in another recipe.

2.  Improvise, and project how the author may have intended the ingredient to be used.

Such was the case when I made Yotem Ottolenghi’s recipe for Egg, Eggplant, Potato, and Tomatoes, which I decided to call, Eggplotatomato.

The recipe is quite wonderful, delicious, and very worthwhile to make.  However, after I made it, I was left to ask, “What do you do with the red onion and Sriracha?”  To answer my own question, I improvised.  The result is the rewritten instructions for this recipe which you really should try to make.  And while you make it, the ghost of Antonio Esposito may be seen drifting about your kitchen, urging you to incorporate artichokes, but not telling you how.

Eggplotatomato

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Adapted from Plenty More by Yotem Ottolenghi

4 medium tomatoes

red onion 1/4 cup diced!!!

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 cup parsley

1 tbsp Sriracha sauce!!!

2 medium eggplants

Cooking oil, about 1 1/4 cups

1 1/3 lb Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup tahini paste

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove of garlic

6 eggs

1 tsp sumac OR lemon zest

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

The Instructions . . . Which include the onion and the Sririacha

1.  The Eggplant

Peel and slice the eggplants into 1 1/4” chunks.

Put oil in saute pan about 1/2” up the sides.

Place over high heat.

When the oil is hot, fry eggplant in batches for 3 to 4 min at a time.

Remove and place on plate or pan covered in paper towel.

2.  The Potatoes

Slice potatoes into 1/8” thick slices. (Maybe cut slices in half)

Place in boiling water for 3 min.

Use saute pan to fry potatoes in oil for 5 min.

Add salt and pepper, and flip pieces then cook another 5 min.

3.  The Sauce

In a food processor, mix;

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Sriracha

clove of garlic

lemon zest

salt

4.  The Other Stuff

Cut tomatoes into 1/2” pieces

Dice red onion into small pieces 1/4 cup

Chop up cilantro and parsley

5.  Poaching the Eggs

Boil a large pan with enough water to float the eggs.

Add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.

One egg at a time, crack into a cup, then gently place in water.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat.

Let eggs sit for 4 minutes or so.

6.  Assembly

On large serving platter, spread the potatoes first.

Spread half of the sauce over the potatoes.

Spread the eggplant next.

Spread the rest of the sauce on the eggplant.

Cover next with the rest of the fresh veggies and herbs.

Place eggs on the top.

Devour!  And show particular enjoyment of the onions and Sriracha sauce.

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Seven Nation Army on the Trumpet

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Doesn’t this look delicious?  Don’t be fooled by looks or preconceived notions in general.

Asparagus Season.  Eat it while it’s fresh.  To freeze asparagus is a sin, punishable with one hundred lashes on the left hand with– appropriately enough– a stalk of asparagus.  Believe me, after about eighty lashes, you’ll be begging to unplug your freezer.

The theoretical versatility of fresh asparagus is nothing short of staggering.  Boiled, fried, baked, pickled– the imagination reels with possibilities.  Asparagus flatbread, asparagus smoothies, shredded asparagus, asparagus fries, asparagus spring rolls, asparagus soup, asparagus lasagne, asparagus wine . . . okay, so I’ve never heard of asparagus wine, but I’m sure someone out there has given it a try.  My guess is that the results were quite underwhelming, so it hasn’t caught on in the wine world.

I say “theoretical versatility,” for if you look a little closer, in almost every case, asparagus is pretending to be something else.  Kind of like the guy with the trumpet trying to be a rock musician.  Or carob pretending to be chocolate.  It doesn’t quite fly.

But here’s an asparagus recipe that actually works.  Asparagus Pesto.  When you make this, don’t expect the pesto to taste like your old basil, etc. standby pesto.  Just open your mind to a new flavour, setting judgement aside until you’ve actually tasted it.  To forewarn you, I’ll just say it doesn’t have the bite that basil pesto has, which isn’t to say this is good or bad.  It’s just the way it is. 

So, keep an open mind.  Let the guy play his trumpet version of “Seven Nation Army.”  Try asparagus pesto.  Release those assumptions!

Asparagus Pesto

Ingredients

1 lb. asparagus

1 cup grated parmesan

2 cloves of garlic

3 handfuls of spinach

3/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 tablespoon juice

Directions

1.  Cook asparagus in salted water until soft.

2.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

3.  Roast or fry the walnuts.  (I like to fry them, personally.  Don’t microwave!)

4.  Puree the asparagus, garlic, spinach and walnuts.

5.  Slowly drizzle oil into mixture.  If too thick, add water.

6.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Simply mixed into fresh noodles, this makes a dish worth taking up the trumpet for.

The Discobolus Dispatch

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Write the novel, paint the picture, compose the song . . . So, then what are you going to call it?  How about a novel titled,  “39,000 Words Divided into Twelve Chapters.”  Or maybe, “A Main Character Named Edward Who Falls Madly in Love with Another Character Named Doris.” 

Sorry.  It just doesn’t work.

So, why, when a recipe is created, is it called something like, “Avocado With Greek Yogurt and Horseradish Pizza,” or “Broiled Double-Thick Lamb Rib Chops With Store-Bought Mint Jelly Sauce?” Such names are completely lacking in flair.  No imagination.  The ultimate sin of being dull!  dull!  dull!

What an original recipe needs is a name that holistically captures the qualities of the creation without being too explicit about the ingredients.  For example, there’s “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” and “Bubble and Squeak.”  You have to know the recipe intimately to get the significance of the name.  But when you do, it makes so much sense and gives the recipe a splash of panache. 

With this in mind, I’d like to present a semi-original recipe I call, “The Discobolus Dispatch.”

This recipe is essentially made up of rounds of focaccia bread covered in a variety of cheeses, pesto, and roasted vegetables warmed up in the oven.  Call it a take on the pizza  Here’s how it goes:

Part 1:  Focaccia Bread

First you make the Focaccia Olive Oil Bread with Sage recipe from The Tassajara Break Book by Edward Espe Brown. The only change I made to this was, instead of dividing the dough into 8 pieces, I divided them into 4 simply because I wanted larger platforms.

Part 2:  Pesto

2 cups fresh basil

Pinch of salt

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix in food processor.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil

Add 1/4 cup walnuts

1/2 Parmesan cheese

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)

This pesto is so good, you’ll want to eat it on its own.  But don’t. 

Part 3:  Roasted Stuff

It’s pretty wide open what you can use, but here are some specific ideas:

red peppers

zucchini slices

mushrooms

onions

Roast in a 400 F oven until done.

Part 4:  The Assembly

I sliced the focaccia bread horizontally to create a flat surface.

Spread the pesto, then pile on the roasted veggies. 

Also, add black olives to give this a bit of a kick.  Also, grate cheese over the top if you like.  I’m thinking some goat cheese could be spectacular.

Heat up in a 350 F oven until the bread’s nicely warm and the cheese melts.

Devour.

Master Supply List

If you’re like me, you need a master list of ingredients for this pretty involved recipe for planning purposes, so here it goes:

Whole wheat flour

White flour

Yeast

Olive oil

salt

dried sage

basil (or supplement with spinach)

garlic

Parmesan cheese

lemon juice

walnuts

zucchini

red peppers

cheese of some sort

mushrooms

black olives

Salad of Impending Alarm

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According to a report in the July 1983 edition of the Journal of Belgian Medical Anomalies, the beet is charged with being the vegetable causing most unnecessary visits to the doctor. To counter this alarming trend and rehabilitate the reputation of Belgium’s eleventh most popular root vegetable, the Beet Growers of Belgium produced a cookbook called (in English Translation) Rooting for Beets! This cookbook was full of beet recipes for every imaginable occasion.  There were recipes for beet bread, beet sherbet, beet salsa, and beet martinis. The recipe book was distributed free by the overhead flight of a fleet of Mars bombers dropping 150,000 copies over the cities of Brussels and Liege.

One month later, the Beet Growers of Belgium surveyed the populations of both cities for their reaction to the recipes. Far and away, the most popular recipe was the final recipe in the book– Salad of Impending Alarm. Immediately, the question was asked, “Why was this?” Why would Salad of Impending Alarm be more popular than, say, beet pie or beet smoothies?

The popularity of Salad of Impending Alarm remains one of the great unanswered questions still troubling the culinary elite of Belgium. You can choose to do your part for resolving this seemingly minor yet persistent national quandary by making the Salad of Impending Alarm, then send any hunches you may have to the nearest Belgian embassy. An entire nation awaits your answer.

Salad of Impending Alarm

(adapted from Nichols Garden Nursery)

Ingredients:

4-5 cups claytonia with stems

6 small baked beets, peeled & sliced

2 tablespoons red onion finely sliced

4 teaspoons oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

1/3 to 1/2 cup cup walnut pieces toasted in a frying pan

2 to 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Directions

  1. Peel the beets and cut into small cubes.  You can bake them in the oven, but I prefer to stir-fry them in a pan.  That’s just the way I am.
  2. Pan-fry the walnuts.
  3. Combine the beets, walnuts, vinegar, salt, pepper, and onions, then mix them up.
  4. Wash and lay out the claytonia on a serving dish.  Cover with the beet mixture, then sprinkle the cheese to top things off.

The Defining Burger

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Dillon and Miranda, in every sense of the definition, are meant for each other.  Both have pet iguanas named Cuddles, a mutual love of complementary colours– her red, him green, and both are fans of the now-defunct Kansas City Scouts Hockey Club.

Dillon asks Miranda to his place for their first date– he’ll make his special, pretty-much famous homemade burgers.  He loves to cook, she loves to eat.  How convenient!

Everything’s going swimmingly.  The iguanas are asleep in the corner, compliments fly back and forth, there’s smiling and laughing, and then,  Miranda sinks her teeth into her burger.

She chews three times and then, convulsively, spits out her partly chewed lump of burger and bun.  It lands in Dillon’s lap.  It was an accident.  Her aim isn’t that good.

A look of confusion comes over Dillon, but Miranda wears a look of abject horror.  “What the hell is that?” she says, her voice sounding more gag than question.  “I thought this was supposed to be a burger!”

“It’s a non-meat alternative burger,” Dillon says in an apologetic mumble.  “I call them Dillon’s Pretty-Much Famous Yam Burgers.”

Miranda throws her napkin on her plate and rises abruptly out of her seat. 

“The words Yam and Burger do not belong within the covers of the same cookbook! A burger contains beef!  Does your garden contain a herd of yams?  I think not!  When you say Burger, the Beef part is an unspoken assumption!  This monstrosity on my plate is definitely not a burger!”

Their fledgling relationship has not merely hit a bump in the road– it has gone over a steep precipice and burst into flames upon impact with a dry riverbed.  Yes.  It is over.

And so, Dillon resolves to learn from this catastrophic misstep in romantic relations.  He still enjoys his Pretty-Much Famous Yam Burgers, but elects to make a slight alteration to his recipe.

Dillon’s Pretty-Much Famous Yam Not-Really-Burgers

(Adapted and possibly even slightly mutilated from a recipe in Made With Love by Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie)

For this recipe, you will want:

1 large yam or a sweet potato

1 cup of quinoa

1/2 cup of white flour

2 tablespoons of dried cilantro or 1/2 cup fresh

2 green onions

salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic crushed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon olive oil

How Dillon Makes Them:

1.  Dillon peels the yams, cuts them in small cubes, then stir fries them until they’re soft.  He puts them in a large bowl and mashes them with a potato masher or a robust fork.  When he’s frustrated with life, he’ll just use his bare hands.

2.   Dillon cooks the quinoa according to the directions on the package, then throws it in with the yams.

3.   He adds the rest of the ingredients, then gets his hands in there and mixes the mixture until it is well mixed.  Dillon uses a 1/2 cup measure and they come out about the right size. 

4.  Dillon microwaves them for 45 seconds to firm them up before frying.  He fries them in a pan at medium high heat until they are nice and crunchy.  Dillon likes to see a little bit of black charcoalish stuff on them.  He claims it gives them added personality.

5.   He places them in his bun of choice. 

6.  He’ll tell you that these don’t need much in the way of condiments.  Lettuce and tomatoes are always good, and his Great-Aunt Minnie’s plum or pear chutney also works well.

7.  Serve with caution.  Emphasize the non-burger aspect of the name.  Maybe even call them Yam Cakes on a Bun.  Assess your guest.  Use your judgement.

8.  Do not be discouraged by an unfavourable reaction.  This means it was not meant to be.

Mona Lisa Revisionist

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So, you’ve got a copy of the Mona Lisa hanging in your living room.  Don’t ask why.  You just do.  Then, after living with the picture for a few weeks, you finally start to let go of the notion that the painting if perfect in everyone’s eyes.  In other words, you begin to think about ways of improving the Mona Lisa.  She needs more bling you decide.  You begin by painting in a few decorative rings on the fingers.  Then a necklace.  Lipstick and eye shadow.  Is this sacrilege?  Is this totally wrong?  After all, you’re the one who has to live with the painting.

When I made a recipe from Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem.  I had received a jar of za’atar and was itching to use it. The recipe I chose was “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar.”  I made it, and it was great.  But then, I began to think . . .

Is it sacrilege to change a recipe developed by Yotem Ottolenghi?  Probably.  I would defer to him on any food matters.  Except, I’ve got this thing about wanting to feel free to change recipes– to tinker with them, so that they fit my own tastes, inadequacies, or limited supply of exotic ingredients.  So, after making “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar,” I’ll have to rename it the next time I make it. 

Next time, I will ditch the onions.  (This was a group decision by those of us eating it, although I think there may have been an unfair anti-onion /pro-squash bias, meaning that the onions didn’t stand a chance.)  I’ll also replace the pine nuts with walnuts just because I don’t want to have to remortgage the house every time I make it.  I’ll make a few other changes, too, but I don’t feel like letting them get out on the internet because, to many people, they would be cringeworthy in a culinary sense.

And so, the next time I make this wonderful dish, I’ll do it differently.  Yes, I realize it’s like altering Munsch’s “The Scream” to become, “The Yodel,” or Monet’s “Waterlilies” to become, “Waterlilies with Man Doing Backstroke.”  But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I’m the one eating, “Roasted Butternut Squash & No Red Onion with Tahini If You Have Any and Za’atar on a Tight Budget.” 

Fryvolution

The Evolution of the Zucchini Fry

In your alphabetic cookbook, very likely the last recipe will involve zucchini since the consumption of zebra just seems wrong, and your abhorrence of cannibalism forbids you to eat zombies.

On a related note:  You love fries but know that eventually they will be blamed for your early death, so you seek out “healthy alternatives.”  Yams work, and zucchinis definitely qualify.  Plus, they start with ‘Z.’

Zucchini fries seem like a pretty perfect combo.

So, you strike out to make zucchini fries and soon discover that the “Preparation to Consumption Time” ratio of these stringy little veggies is about 263 to 1.  Microscopic slicing to transform a zucchini into a bunch of fry-shaped pieces, shaking them up in a flour-filled bag, one dip, another dip, then laying them out on a rack to bake– you know there’s got to be a better way.

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And then, it strikes you.  Use your zucchini as a mandolin pick and slice them up into rounds. 

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For some reason, the whole process seems much less laborious.  But there’s one problem.  There’s no longer the illusion that you’re eating fries.  You can’t even call them Zucchini Fries because, with fries, the shape is a pretty critical part of their definition.  So, you refine the name, arriving at a compromise that pays tribute to the original recipe but clarifies one essential difference.  

Once you make them, you realize they represent a fitting final entry in your alphabetic cookbook.  That is, until the day arrives when you develop a liking for zabaglione.

This recipe is adapted from one found on Budget Byte$.

Circular Zucchini Fries

You’ll need:

1 lb. zucchini
¼ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ tsp salt
1 cup bread crumbs
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp seasoning like dried oregano, basil or something Italians would use.
1 large chicken egg
1 Tbsp water

INSTRUCTIONS

1.  Use a mandolin or a wickedly sharp knife to slice the zucchini into 1/4” thick rounds.

2.  Throw them all in a plastic bag with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/8 tsp of salt.  Shake!  Shake!  Shake!  

3.  In a bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasoning.

4.  In another bowl, crack in the egg and add a splash of water (1 Tbsp or so) then whisk it up.

5.  Here’s the messy part, but it’s totally worth it, so tough it out and you’ll be glad you did when you snack on these beauties–  Dip each zucchini slice in the egg, then the dry mix. 

6.  Place them on a wire cooling rack which sits on a cookie sheet covered with tinfoil.  The thing about the rack is that it elevates the zucchini, giving them a sense of self-importance and a tendency to bake without getting all mushy.

7.  Bake at 425 F for ABOUT 15 minutes, depending upon how thickly you sliced the zucchini.  I can’t really tell you how to test that they’re done other than say to sacrifice one of the pieces at the front of the rack and periodically bite into it to test for doneness.  It may not sound elegant, but it’s effective, and which would you rather be:  elegantly ineffective or inelegantly effective?