Simple Spring Meal

Cheese course: roquefort, goat cheese with olive oil, lemon zest and pepper.
Vegetables are becoming bountiful now. Our peas are finished, though the seed packet label says we can replant late in the summer for fall. Our tomatoes are growing, but still light green. We have herbs aplently. Sadly, the spinach never grew beyond thin green whisps.

Our CSA is delivering lots of lettuce and now new potatoes. We also got the first beets of the season. The beet greens joined the spinach in my latest batch of saag.

I recently grilled thick slices of zuchini, dressing each with peas poached quicly in a thyme-infused olive oil, basil and feta. It was delicious:


Pea Pesto

So our peas have matured and we've enjoyed them lightly steamed and also raw in salads.

The pea shoots are edible, and we had lots of them.

The thought occured to me that perhaps they might make a decent pesto.

I hacked away at the plants and brought in a big bowlful. I rinsed them out-- I'm sure there was a bit of dog pee on them (thanks, Django), and pulled the leaves from the tough stems.

I steamed the stems to make a weak pea stock, then blanched the leaves in the hot water for a few seconds.

I scooped out the leaves and squeezed out much of the moisture, then put them in the food processor with a good pinch of salt, some pepper, and some of the stock, and gave it a good whirl. It produced a satisfying green, pea-flavored puree.

Not really a pesto, of course: no garlic, no nuts, no cheese.

But when you take a good tablespoon of it, and slowly blend in some good homemade vinagraitte, it makes a wonderful salad dressing.

The New Summer Salad:

To a bowl of cleaned, mixed greens, add a handful of chopped feta cheese, some shelled, raw peas, and the afforementioned pea vinagraitte. Stir, portion, eat.

Other uses? I bet it'd go well with some sauteed scallops. Pasta is a given. Swirled into vegetable soup. What else? Any ideas? Anyone? Bueller?


More Easy Indian

Lentils (Dal)

1. Make a spice mixture. I used the same one as my previous post on Chicken Saag. In fact, it's pretty much the only curry/garam masala mix I make: pulverize some cardomom seeds, add (in decreasing amounts) cumin, smoked paprika, tumeric, then bits of cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon: whatever you have in your cupboard.

2. Saute some finely diced vegetables: carrots first, because they take the longest; red pepper, shallots, and the, at last, just til they release their pungent bouquet, lots of garlic and shredded ginger.

3. Add the spice mixture and stir to coat veggies.

4. Add a cup of small lentils and stir.

5. Add some chicken stock (or water) and S and P. Cover and simmer until the lentils are very tender. I used about two cups of stock. If you want it soupier, use more.

6. Serve with basmati rice, with a dollop of yogurt.

This would be greatly improved with the addition of cream and/or butter. Swap out the lentils for garbanzo beans, and add more stock and some cooked chicken and/or lamb and you have the wonderful Moroccan soup Harira.


Chicken Saag

I have an abundance of spinach so I'm going to attempt to make a favorite Indian dish for lunch, saag (which, I imagine, translates as "spinach.") As I have a leftover grilled chicken breast too, that'll go in. However I really prefer saag with lamb or fresh cheese.

Here, after a careful 10 minute on-line review, is what I'll do:

1. Saute some chopped onion til lightly browned in vegetable oil. Add some chopped garlic and minced ginger.

2. Steam lots of spinach til wilted, transer to blender or food processor and puree the hell out of it. Season with S and P.

3. Make a spice blend: cumin, tumeric, crushed cardomom seeds, smoked paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne. Add to sauteed vegetables and saute 'til fragrant.

4. Add chopped chicken (or cooked lamb, or tofu, or fresh cheese). Saute to coat with spices.

5. Add spinach puree. Check seasonings. Add butter, cream, milk or yogurt.

6. Eat.


Community Garden

My neighbor Kristen bought an abandoned property behind our houses and had the house razed.

The ground was levelled, and leftover bricks were used to make plots on the land. Hey presto, community garden.

I did a little work, clearing some of the land, and shifting some soil from plot to plot.

I'm not a natural gardner, but it's heartening to see the fruits of my labor appear: pea shoots, cilantro and spinach leaves. Susan added basil and other herbs and tomatoes.

I'm looking forward to reaping our first bounty. Photos to come.

Smoked Trout Salad

Here's a quick and easy lunch:

Boil 1 egg*
Open bag of arugula
Open can (that's "tin" to you, Lorraine) smoked trout

Toss bowl of arugula with enough vinagraitte to moisten leaves.

Add some smoked trout.

Plate. Decorate with slices of boiled egg. Eat.

* simplest way to boil an egg: pierce "fat" end of egg with tip of knife. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. When boiling, turn off heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and place egg in cold water to cool. When cool, roll egg to crack shell, then peel under cold running water.


Leftover Mussels

Mussels for lunch today.

Saute chopped shallot and garlic in oil, butter or duck fat. Add mussels. Add a glass of wine and some chopped parsley and lemon rind. Add a handful of spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add a couple of tablespoons of butter to the sauce and swirl to melt.

Serve with buttered toast or baguette to soak up the juice.

Sea bass with green curry and mussels

We had the good fortune of hosting our friends Kitty and John (with little Fiona in tow) and Kyle and Daniel last night for dinner. A funnier foursome I can't imagine. Kitty and John have hosted us for many splendid dinners- they're both inventive cooks who make delicious meals. Kyle and Daniel hosted us and Susan's mom for a ridiculously good Thanksgiving meal, punctuated at times by their parrot's loud screeches. They also have two dogs and two rats. Kyle is an elephant handler at the zoo and his love of animals is legendary.

I first thought of doing a seafood mixed grill, but backed off as it seemed fussy and would keep me prepping most of the day.

After I suggested fish with curry sauce, Susan suggested I do goi an for a first course, substituting duck confit (which I'd made a day earlier) for the chicken. Presto: a southeast Asian themed meal.

Sea Bass with Green Curry and Mussels

In a wok, saute some chopped carrots for a minute; add some sauteed chopped shallots for another minute; finally add some grated, shredded or chopped ginger and finely chopped garlic.

Add to this a spice mix of cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric, and cardamom powder (I buy the seeds-- not the pods-- and crush a dozen or so with a mortar and pestle). Add a teaspoon of green curry paste (or substitute red, which is much milder) and sautee an additional 30 seconds.

Add to this a pint of fish stock (or veg, or chicken) and cook down for a few minutes over high heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Add scrubbed mussels to pot and allow them to cook for a few minutes.

Add half a can of coconut milk (the creamy bit from the top), and, just prior to serving, a couple of tablespoons of some chopped cilantro and thai basil, maybe a bit of mint if it's on hand.

For the fish, heat a pan and oil liberally and add a hunk of butter and melt til it foams. Add seasons fish steaks: any firm white fish would work well. Sear well for 2-5 minutes on one side (depending on thickness of fish), then turn the fish and place the pan in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes, until just cooked through.

Mound some jasmine rice on a plate, placing fish on top. Place 3 mussels around each piece of fish, then drizzle curry sauce around.

Top fish with a "salad" of chopped herbs (I used parsley, cilantro, thai basil, mint, green onion) you've tossed with grated lemon and lime rind, a little lemon and lime juice, olive oil and sesame oil.


I bought my fish at Pittsburgh Fish Market in the Strip District. They were filleting a large striped bass and gave me not just the carcass but the roe as well.

I made stock from the carcass that produced enough for the evening's meal with leftovers for soup. After it cooled, I also picked 6 oz. of meat from the carcass.

I froze the roe. Chef Derek of Eleven suggests treating it like Shad roe: poach gently, dry, then saute, spreading the cooked roe on toast with lemon.


Foie Gras Dinner

I wish I could say I cooked this meal, but all I did were a few humble (if crucial) tasks assisting the chef. Here's what we ate at Rod and Donna's house on Sunday:

Toasted brioche w/ marmalade and foie gras mousse:

Warm crispy duck and foie rillette (too busy eating to photograph) nuggets

Shaved Foie sandwiches on foie gras scone with membrillo and apple

Mini foie gras raviolis, chestnut pasta, duck jus with very carefully plucked thyme leaves:
Foie sliders on brioche buns (Get in my belly! Where's the camera? Shit, too late.)

Torchon of foie gras with candied beets, aged sherry vinegar, pomegranites, and vanilla (WAY too busy eating to photograph)

Seared Slab of foie, with pearl onions, carefully sliced apricots, endives, crystallized sage and Vin santo (had to pause the eating a little, got a good shot of this one).

Foie Stuffed PA chicken with truffled chicken noodle broth (here in their raw form; you can see the slabs of foie under the skin):

Pan perdu, foie ice cream, maple gastrique and very carefully sectioned blood orange

Rod and Donna sure are good cooks, but even better friends.


Black and Gold Chili

With apologies to my friend Laura V., I've renamed a favorite dish of hers. She loved my chicken and black bean chili so much I dubbed it Chili Vinchesi. However, owing to the distinctive black and gold hue of the dish, I've temporarily renamed the dish in honor of the Steelers' return to the big game.

Black and Gold Chili:

Chicken Breast
Dried Chilis: your favorite, based on heat tolerance
2 Cans black beans
1 Can corn
Some cumin, smoked paprika, tumeric, cayenne

Garnishes: cheese, yogurt, sour cream, salsa, crackers...

1. Saute 2-3 strips of bacon til crisp. Remove.

2. Cut up chicken breasts. Season well with salt and pepper and saute in bacon fat until cooked through. Remove.

3. Saute chopped onion in same pan. (Saute optional chopped green and/or red peppers if desired.)

4. Toast dried peppers in dry iron skillet. Remove to bowl. Cover with boiling water for 15 minutes.

5. Remove peppers. Open them up and remove the seeds. Place peppers in food processer with a couple of cloves of garlic, some salt and pepper, and enough of the soaking water to process it into a loose paste.

6. Return chicken to pan with onions. Season with about 2 tablespoons of cumin, a teaspoon each of paprika and turmeric (OK, the turmeric is optional, but it's good for your joints) and cayenne to taste.

7. Add the processed chili paste; stir to coat.

8. Add the drained and rinsed beans and corn. Add bacon.

9. Add water to cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer 'til thickened, 1-2 hours. Best made a day ahead. Unless you're Laura, garnish with chopped cilantro.