Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cooking with Books: The Rest of the Best

Whew! Despite months of reading and recipe testing, I couldn't get to all the cookbooks I wanted to this month. Some have been briefly glanced at and others perused thoroughly with sticky notes pointing the way to new recipes to try. And, yes, there are still classics on the shelves that need revisiting. I'll keep on it and bring you more in the months to come. And who knows...maybe next March will bring a new Cooking with Books Month.

In the meantime, here's a list of books that you should check out as well.

One of my most memorable meals was a lunch at New York's Momofuku Ssam Bar. Steameed Buns with Braised Pork Belly. Long Beans with XO Sauce. (Wondering what the heck XO sauce was...couldn't find it in the Asian section of the supermarket when I got home.) This book came to the rescue. I've actually successfully made both recipes. But this is a book that you can't just excerpt a recipe or two from. You have to immerse yourself in it. Reading chef David Chang's expletive-laden stories of success and failure with his various restaurant endeavors is a kind of meal in itself. Check it out.

Ad Hoc at Home
Another memorable meal was at French Laundry. The experience at Thomas Keller's Yountville foodie mecca was the most expensive...and most delicious...meal I'm likely ever to have. While I haven't bough the cookbook from that restaurant, Keller's recently published tome from his more casual family-style restaurant is wonderful. Lots of great tips and lots of great recipes that even the non-expert cook can try.

Lucinda's Rustic Italian Kitchen
I also have Lucinda Scala Quinn's most recent cookbook Mad Hungry, based on her experience cooking for a houseful of men. Can't wait to try it as well. But this one concentrates on simple, home-style Italian cooking. At the top of the list for me to try are the old standby Fettucine alla Carbonara, Pizza Margherita (It's time to add a pizza crust to my repertoire) and a Caesar Salad. See...told you the recipes were simple. But they look absolutely delicioso.

Mod Mex
This one has photos and a deign as vibrant as the recipes seem to be. Lots of fresh ingredients and interesting techniques lead to dishes that are modern takes on Mexican classics, as well as ways to inject a little Mexican flair into plain old weeknight dinners. Things like Roasted Garlic-Poblano Mashed Potatoes and Mexican Meatball Soup with Chayote and Roasted Corn in Red Chile-Tomato Broth. Olé indeed.

Santa Fe Flavors
Finally, this little yellow compendium of favorite recipes from the great restaurants of Santa Fe. Which should I try first? The Shed's Red Chile Enchiladas? El Farol's Aguacato (Fried Avocado)? Or maybe Maria's Green Chile Stew? OK...maybe all of them at once.

What are your favorite cookbooks? Would love to hear about them so I can add them to my list...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cooking with Books: Lemon Drop Cocktail

Vodka is probably the most versatile liquor I know. (And I've known a lot of them. Thanks...I'll be here all week.) You can infuse it yourself, or buy one of the seemingly hundreds of flavored version that the industry seems to be producing. I find them hit and miss. Yes, Absolut Peppar is delicious in a Bloody Mary. But Skyy Berry is one of the nastiest, over-flavored things I've ever had.

All that said, here's a nice little cocktail recipe book that concentrates on vodka. Viva Vodka. Lots of traditional recipes like the Moscow Mule, Cosmopolitan and Screwdriver. But also some featuring flavored vodkas that look interesting. Like the Metropolitan with black currant vodka and Cointreau. And The Italian Job with grapefruit vodka, Cointreau and Campari. And it will even teach you how to make your own flavored vodkas, like clove, ginger or cucumber.

The recipe I feature here, though, is a classic. I like this version. The addition of orange juice and Cointreau make it tarter and less cloying. Quite refreshing.

Lemon Drop
Makes one cocktail.

1 lemon wedge
Superfine sugar
1 1/2 ounces citron vodka
1 ounce Grand Marnier of Cointreau
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice

Rub the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with the lemon peel and rim with sugar. In a cocktail shaker, shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice. Strain carefully into the prepared glass. Garnish with a spiral of lemon peel.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cooking with Books: Emeril's Banana Cream Pie with Banana Crust and Caramel Drizzles

I bought Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking probably 15 years ago...specifically for this recipe. The book is full of other great recipes like Smoked Salmon Cheesecake with Green Onion Coulis and Pork Cutlets with Onion Applesauce and Couscous Jambalaya. Thankfully, it also seems to be pre-BAM! days. (Emeril has grown to annoy me over the years. I'm hoping Ms. Martha can rein him back in and have him refocus on his obviously strong cooking chops.)

Anyway...this is supposedly his most-requested pie recipe. It appears to have been updated slightly over the years. The one posted below is all over the Internet and adds chocolate sauce to further gild the lily.

Important note: Don't try and make this pie healthier. I though I could and subbed half and half for the whipping cream. Not a good idea. I only managed to salvage things by folding the whipping cream into what could best be described as banana soup. Learn from my mistake. Make the decadent original, have a small piece and then foist the diabetic coma-inducing leftovers on unsuspecting neighbors or office colleagues.

Emeril's Banana Cream Pie with Banana Crust and Caramel Drizzles
Makes one pie (8-10 servings).

5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 to 3 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 pounds of bananas, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup caramel sauce
1 cup chocolate sauce
2 cups heavy cream whipped to stiff peaks with 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
shaved chocolate
powdered sugar

Slowly add the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Be forewarned: the mixture will break. Don't be alarmed! Pour it into a glass bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap down over the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool completely at room temperature.

When cooled, remove the vanilla bean and pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip. Beat at medium-speed to combine the mixture. If it will not combine, warm another 1/2 cup heavy cream and slowly add it to the mixture. Whip until you have a thick and creamy custard.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, the remaining sugar and the mashed banana. Mix thoroughly. Add the butter and mix well. Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake until browned, about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cool, for about 10 minutes.

To assemble, spread about 1/2 cup of the custard on the bottom of the crust. Arrange about a third of the banana slices, crowding them close together over the custard. Next, spread 1 cup of the custard over the bananas. Arrange another third of the banana slices close together over the custard. Top with 1 cup custard and the remaining banana slices. Top with the remaining custard, covering the bananas completely to prevent them from turning brown.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours.

To serve, cut pie into wedges and drizzle on the caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. Top with the whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Caramel Drizzle Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep caramel color and has the consistency of a thin syrup, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, return the saucepan to the high heat and boil the sauce until it regains the consistency of a thick syrup, about 2 minutes. Cool.

(The sauce can be refrigerated until ready to use. Allow it to reach room temperature before drizzling it over the pie. )

Chocolate Sauce
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, cornstarch and 1 cup of the heavy cream. Whisk to blend well. Set aside. Combine the remaining 2 cups cream, 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, and the vanilla bean in a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, Whisk to dissolve the sugar and bring to a gentle boil, about 10 minutes.

Combine the half-and-half and butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Heat the mixture until a thin paper-like skin appears on the top. Do not boil. Add the chocolate and vanilla and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.

(The sauce can be kept refrigerated for several days, but it must be returned to room temperature before serving. )

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cooking with Books: Curried Vegetable Potpies

How many books has Martha Stewart published by now? Two, three thousand? Suckers like me will keep buying them as quickly as she puts them out, so good for her.

I posted about the new Everyday Food book last week. But here's another. Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home. This one continues Martha's philosophy of good food prepared without fuss. Organized seasonally, it includes 52 meals. Theoretically, one could through the book over a year, preparing a meal a week.

These veggie potpies, with puff pastry crust and rich, curry-infused sauce, are delicious. However, I clearly still don't measure up in the Martha-verse. By the time I chopped and sauteed after a long day at work, I couldn't muster the time or energy to fix the "Butter Lettuce with Brie and Pears" salad or the "Spiced Lemon Cookies" included as accompaniments. Oh, well...maybe next time.

Curried Vegetable Potpies
Makes 4 servings (in 4 ten-ounce baking dishes, ramekins or individual pie plates.)

1 package (17.3 ounces) frozen puff pastry dough, thawed according to package instructions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1/2-inch half-moons, washed well
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk, plus more for brushing
1 russet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 2- by 1/2-inch matchsticks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup frozen peas (unthawed)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut pastry dough into four squares just larger than the ramekins. Make several slits in the dough for steam vents. Chill squares on baking sheet until firm, 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook leek, parsnips and carrots with 1 teaspoon salt, stirring frequently, until slightly soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add flour, cook, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

Whisking constantly, stir in milk, potato, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer very gently until potato is tender, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide cooked vegetable mixture evenly among baking dishes. Stir 1/4 peas into each dish, then top with a square of puff pastry. Brush pastry lightly with milk.

Place on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cooking with Books: Cocktail of the Week- Texas Tea

I've proselytized before of my love for Grady Spears' cowboy cookbooks and have posted a recipe or two. Here's an extra treat: a cocktail recipe from a cookbook that has the same wonderful sense of humor and practical sensibility as the "food" cookbooks.

Cowboy Cocktails includes Mexican-tinged recipes, shots, non-alchoholic drinks, and even a nibble or two. There is still much of it that I need to explore...

This recipe is a Lone Star twist on Long Island Iced Tea...that high-octane favorite. It incorporates two of my favorite Texas-made liquids: Tito's vodka and Dr. Pepper.

Texas Tea
From Cowboy Cocktails.
Makes one drink.

1/2 ounce silver tequila
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1/2 ounce white rum
1/2 ounce Tito's Texas vodka
Splash of Sprite
Splash of Dr. Pepper
2 aspirin, any brand

Fill a highball glass halfway with ice. In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the tequila, Triple Sec, rum and vodka. Shake hard and fast, then immediately strain into the prepared glass. Top with the Sprite and Dr. Pepper. Stir to mix, and serve with the aspirin on the side.

(By the way, the book also suggests what to listen to while you imbibe. According to Spears and co-author Brigit L. Binns, this drink calls for Sunset on the Sage by Commander Cody.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cooking with Books: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

After the economic bite we've taken in the last couple of years, lots of cooking shows and magazines have adopted the trend of telling us what to do with our leftovers. How can you turn that roast chicken into quesadillas the next night and pot pies after that?

Sally Schneider is the queen of this technique and has been since she published The Improvisational Cook. Her technique, however, is a little more refined... less about leftovers and more about how to master a simple technique and then use it to lead to new inspiration. In this great book, after a wonderfully informative introductory section on inspiration, flavor and essential pantry ingredients, the recipes begin.
And they follow a set pattern. After presenting the basic recipe (Homemade Mayonnaise, Panfried Fish Fillets, or Risotto, for example), she gives you some suggested improvisations in detail. Simple Panfried Fish Fillets become "Tuna with Sesame Seeds, Cracked Coriander and Grispy Ginger." Or a "Panfried Fish Sandwich with Bacon Mayonnaise." You get the idea.

It's a great technique. And one I've used before in mastering the art of canapes or my various variations on steamed mussels.

But there's so much more to learn from Ms. Schneider. Like these slow-roasted tomatoes that I turned into her silky and flavorful soup. Still to come are the sauce and tart she also suggests making.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Makes about 60 roasted tomato halves if using plum/2 1/4 cups mashed or pureed
4 pounds ripe or nearly ripe tomatoes, about 30 plum tomatoes or 12 to 16 regular tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
About 1 teaspoon sugar
About 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice, oil and season the tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Slice the plum tomatoes in half lengthwise through the stem; larger tomatoes should be quartered through the stem. in a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil to coat. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and pepper.
Roast the tomatoes for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until they have lost most of their liquid and are just beginning to brown. They should look like dried apricots and hold their shape when moved. If some tomatoes are done before others, remove them with a spatula while you continue cooking the rest. Cool ant room temperature.
To make the soup:
In a small skillet, combine 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots; cover and cook over moderately low heat until the scallions are soft and just beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Combine 1 3/4 Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and the sauteed shallots in a food processor or blender. With the motor running, drizzle in 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth; puree. Strain, if desired, through a coarse strainer.
Pour the soup into a medium saucepan and heat over moderate heat; adjust the seasoning. Ladle the soup into 4 warm soup bowls. Garnish, if desired, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a dollop of creme fraiche or chopped fresh basil.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cooking with Books: Spinach with Red Lentils

There's not a lot to say about today's cookbook Vegetarian Basics. That's because it lives up to its title you some straight-ahead vegetarian recipes and tips for those of us looking to be vegetarians. Or at least a little more healthy.

This is a great light dinner or lunch recipe. Make sure you don't overcook the lentils...they can become a mushy mess. And feel free to experiment a bit. I added some diced red pepper into this as well.

Spinach with Red Lentils
Makes 4 servings.

1 1/2 pounds spinach
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup red lentils
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, canned (drained) or frozen)
salt chili powder
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream

Wash the spinach, drain and chop roughly. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic.

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet (for which you have a lid). Soften the onion and garlic. Add the lentils and stir well. Add the stock, cover, and reduce the heat. Cook the lentils for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft.

Add the corn to the lentils with the spinach. Season with salt and chill, cook covered for a few minutes until the spinach leaves wilt.

Meanwhile, wash the cilantro and shake dry, remove the leaves, and chop finely. Wash the scallions, removing the root ends and the wilted green leaves. Finely slice the onions and the crisp green parts into rings.

Add the cilantro, onion rings, and yogurt or sour cream to the spinach and lentil mixture, and stir in. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.

(Note: I left the sour cream out and ate it over the next couple of days, adding a dollop when it was time for lunch.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cooking with Books: Corner-Store Deviled Eggs

Let me lay out a couple of things about reality shows. I don't care who The Biggest Loser is. Not concerned with who survives Survivor. Nor which of the brainless women The Bachelor chooses. And, quite frankly, I only watch American Idol at the beginning (when they're horrible) and at the very end (when they're at least worth listening to).

With all that in mind, realize that I LOVE TOP CHEF! I love the cooking...both the things I might try and the stuff I would never even consider. I love getting to know the individuals competing. And especially the internecine warfare that gets going when a bunch of egotistical creative types have to live, cook and compete together.

Therefore, today's cookbook is a real trip. Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook (with "Foreword by Padma Lakshmi," dontcha know) is several seasons worth of winning (and runner-up) recipes from my favorite segment of the show.

Sure it's fun to watch the folks compete in Restaurant Wars. Or create a French-inspired menu with only organic ingredients. But, c'mon, you have to admit it's more fun to watch those early short challenges in each episode where they have to make a dessert with Rice-a-Roni (that week's odd sponsor), shuck as many oysters as they can in 60 minutes, or create a dish that sums up their "culinary point of view." (Which intern came up with THAT cliché anyway?)
Or even better, create an amuse-bouche from ingredients found in a vending machine. That's where this recipe came from, courtesy Top Chef 2 winner Ilan Hall. Guess what? It probably deserved to's delicious.

Corner-Store Deviled Eggs

Makes 2 servings.

1 ounce salami, cut into very thin strips
8 CornNuts (use your favorite flavor)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
Grated zest and juice of 1/4 lime

In a small sauté pan, over medium-high heat, fry the salami until crisp. Cover and set aside.

Put the CornNuts in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a mallet or heavy pan.

Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring a small saucepan with 6 inches of cold water to a boil over high heat. Use a spoon to carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil the eggs for 8 minutes. Transfer the eggs to the ice-water bath and allow to cool.

Once cool. peel the eggs and cut them in half. Pop the yolks into a small bowl, reserving the whites. To the yolks add the olive oil, crushed CornNuts, the 1/4 teaspoon paprika, salt to taste, oregano and the lime juice. Divide the mixture among the egg whites, mounding the filling. Garnish with the lime zest, paprika and fried salami.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cooking with Books: Braised Chicken with Shallots

I've often claimed Food & Wine magazine as my favorite cooking source. But, I have to admit, Everyday Food is giving it a run for its money. Each and every month, by the time I've ripped the recipes out that interest me, it's little more than cover and spine.

So I was thrilled to learn that Martha and her minions (and, believe me, I say that with respect and envy) had published Everyday Food: Fresh Flavors Fast. Mind you, I know that most (if not all) of the recipes are ones that I've already ripped out and filed away in my's still fantastic to have them all in the same place.

This particular recipe is an example of the healthy(ish), economical and fairly simple dishes that you'll be able to prepare. And the recipes are truly intended for families. I halved this one and still had plenty for dinner and a couple of leftover lunches.

Braised Chicken with Shallots
Serves 4. (VERY generously!)

8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound small shallots (about 12), peeled and halved
5 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish (optional)

Season chicken with salt and pepper; coat with flour, shaking off excess.

In a Dutch oven or 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium-high. Cook chicken until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove; set aside.

Add shallots and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine; cook until evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in mustard and 1 1/2 cups water; bring to a boil.

Return chicken, bone side down, to pot. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until chicken is tender and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate; loosely tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Add tomatoes to pot; season with salt and pepper. Cook on high until sauce has thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, and return chicken to pot; cook until heated through. Serve, garnished with tarragon, if desired.

Food/Wine Pairing: This is one of those crossover dishes where you should go with red wine with chicken. A fruity Beaujolais would be great. I had a light Pinot Noir and was thrilled with it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cooking with Books: Cheesy Baked Zucchini

I buy quite a few books on the deep discount table at the bookstore. If it passes my "flip open" test (randomly opening the book to three recipes and if at least two are interesting, bingo), I have no problem spending under ten bucks for a new set of recipes to try.

This particular book, The Vegetarian Cookbook, is one of those slightly annoying books that was printed in England and therefore includes metric measures. No worries, though, this one translates it to our traditional measurement system right alongside.

The Vegetarian Cookbook includes a great variety of recipes. Appetizers and Light Meals. Salads. Side Dishes. And Main Courses.

I'm already eying Lattice Tart filled with spinach and cheeses. Stuffed Mushrooms. Even a classic like French Onion Soup (no beef broth in this one). And as a sweet ending to the meal, Baked Apricots with Honey.

Today's featured recipe is a reminder that a vegetarian recipe isn't always plain sauteed vegetables and dried grains. Think about it...vegetarians have to get their protein somehow. So cheese becomes a vital ingredient. But it's still pretty healthy. An Italian-style veggie dish that is hearty enough to stand in as a main course. Or, for us meat-eaters, as a hearty side alongside roast chicken.

Cheesy Baked Zucchini
Makes 4 servings.

4 zucchini
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons fresh basil or oregano, chopped, plus extra leaves to garnish

(Note: You'll see in the photo above that I used slices of cherry tomatoes. I think it looks nice. And I used dried oregano without a problem.)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 4 strips each. Brush each with oil and put in a baking dish.

Bake the zucchini in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until softened but still holding their shape.

Remove from the oven. Arrange the cheese slices on top and sprinkle with the tomatoes and basil. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Serve garnished with fresh herb leaves.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cooking with Books: Shrimp and Deviled-Egg Salad Rolls

Today's report is on the Lee Brothers' (Matt and Ted, for those of you familiar types) second cookbook. I have the first one also and it's an encyclopedia of modern Southern cooking. Gumbos, pickles and juleps, oh my!

This one--Simple Fresh Southern--aims to please (am I drawling yet?) with recipes that are easier and (ostensibly) healthier than the chicken-fried fare of our Southern ancestors.

I've already tried a pickle recipe or two. Delicious. And next on the list are Caesar Salad with Catfish "Croutons" and Black Walnut Ice cream. But I have many more marked to check out.

The brothers talk about the inspiration for this particular recipe in the welcome. THe original idea from a recipe from a 1960's Georgia PTA cookbook. The recipe alternated layers of deviled eggs in a casserole, alternated with cheese sauce dressed up with whole shrimp, ketchup, sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Wow.

While this includes some of the same ingredients, it's a very different final product. Deconstructed, it's spicy boiled shrimp, a bacon and tomato sandwich and deviled eggs. Put back together, it's the perfect Southern riff on a New England lobster roll.

Shrimp and Deviled-Egg Salad Rolls
Makes 4 servings.

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 pound headless large shell-on shrimp (26 to 30 per pound)
6 large eggs
2 ounces slab bacon, or 2 strips thick-cut bacon, finely diced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, such as Hellmann’s or Duke’s
1 tablespoon pepper-vinegar hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
2 vine-ripened red tomatoes, cut into 8 slices total
4 leaves butter lettuce
4 top-loading hot-dog buns
2 scallions (white and green parts), finely sliced

Fill a large stockpot with about 2 quarts water and 2 teaspoons of the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the head, add the shrimp, and cook (off the heat) for 1 to 2 minutes, until the shrimp are pink-orange and slightly firm. Using a slotted spoon or a skimmer, transfer the shrimp to a colander. Rinse them under cold water until they are cool enough to handle.

Return the shrimp water to a boil and then reduce the heat to low so the water simmers calmly. Add the eggs gently, lowering them to the bottom, two at a time, with a large ladle. Let the eggs cook at a simmer for exactly 14 minutes.

While the eggs cook, peel and chop the shrimp and put them in a large bowl. Saute the bacon in a skilled over medium-high heat until it is firm and just turning golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain.

When the eggs are done, transfer them to a strainer and rinse under cold water until they’re cool enough to handle, about 2 minutes. Peel the eggs, and cut them in half lengthwise. Separate the whiles from the yolks. Coarsely chop the egg whites, and add them to the bowl with the chopped shrimp. Press the yolks through a mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise, hot sauce, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to the yolks and whisk until the mixture has the consistency of cake batter, about 1 minute.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the yolk mixture into the shrimp mixture until the shrimp and egg whites are evenly coated with the deviled-egg dressing. Season with salt and pepper, and toss again. (Covered, the shrimp and deviled-egg salad will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days.)

To serve, load 2 slices of tomato and 1 leaf of lettuce into each of the top-loading buns, and spread 3/4 to 1 cup of the shrimp and deviled-egg salad into each roll. Garnish each roll liberally with the reserved diced bacon and the scallions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cooking With Books: Fast Pesto Focaccia

When the cook book is titled The "Blank" Bible, you ought to know what you're going to get. Straight-ahead recipes that are approachable and made with easy-to-find ingredients. That is certainly the case with The Appetizer Bible. Recipes include things like: Zesty Cheese Fondue, Saucy Mini Franks, and 7-Layer Ranch Dip. Not the makings of a gourmet meal, but just the ticket for a summer gathering, Super Bowl party or potluck lunch.

This particular recipe would be great on a casual appetizer buffet, but also serves as an easy accompaniment for a pasta or soup dinner.

Fast Pesto Focaccia
From The Appetizer Bible.
Makes 16 squares.

1 can (10 ounces) refrigerated pizza dough
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
4 sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), drained

Preheat oven to 425° F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan. Unroll pizza dough, fold in half and put in pan. (Note: I spread mine into a pie plate and cut into wedges instead.)

Spread pesto evenly over dough. Chop tomatoes or snip with kitchen scissors; sprinkle over pesto. Press tomatoes into dough. Using wooden spoon handle, make indentations in dough every 2 inches.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into 16 squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cooking with Books: Tres Leches Crème Brûlée

The first sentence of the book's inside flap says it best: "Jon Bonnell's Fine Texas Cuisine is an upscale look at the foods of Texas." This interesting tome takes the ingredients that the Lone Star State is used to (for example, tomatoes, pork chops and chiles) and transforms them into dishes perfectly worthy of your next white tablecloth dinner party (White Gazpacho, Smoked Pork Chops with Jack Daniel's and Granny Smith Apple Cider Reduction Sauce, and Chile Relleno with Cilantro Pesto and Goat Cheese). And he's not afraid of introducing you to more exotic ingredients and recipes like Rack of Wild Boar with Pomegranate Rum Sauce, homemade Andouille sausage and Texas Ostrich Fan Fillet with Sherry-Laced Mushrooms. Any aspiring Texas cook worth his or her salt should have this one in their library.

And that brings me to the sample recipe I've selected. It's a crème brûlée, but a truly Texas one that uses the Latin dessert favorite Tres Leches Cake as an inspiration. The final product is decadent...perhaps the richest one around. The other half is a connoisseur of crème brûlées and he gives this one an enthusiastic three thumbs up.

Tres Leches Crème Brûlée
From John Bonnell's Fine Texas Cuisine
Makes 8 servings.

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
6 tablespoons evaporated milk
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white sugar, divided
Berries, for garnish (2-3 each of blueberries, blackberries and strawberries)

In a medium saucepan, heat cream, condensed milk, evaporated milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together remaining brown sugar, salt and egg yolks until smooth. While whisking vigorously, very gradually pour hot ream mixture into bowl with eggs and sugar; begin with just a few drops and then slowly increase the flow of hot cream until it's incorporated. (It's very important to start slowly to keep the eggs from cooking at this point. Be sure to keep whisking while the cream mixture is being poured.) Strain the mixture to ensure no lumps have formed. Pour into 8-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking dish and then fill the dish with water halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a 325° oven for 45-60 minutes, or just until the mixture has set. Once set, refrigerate until cool.

Just prior to serving, sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over the top of each ramekin and spread evenly. Burn the sugar with a blowtorch until the sugar has melted and turned light brown. Top with a few fresh berries for garnish and serve.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cooking from Books: The Manhattan Cocktail

I have a hundred or more cookbooks. But just as importantly I have a dozen or so cocktail books. They are references when I want to make a classic and just can't remember the ratios. Or when I need inspiration with some of the bottles I have on hand.

And Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail is perfect for both purposes. He is old-school enough that he gives you the tried and true favorites like the martini, the daiquiri and sours.

But don't forget the recipes with asterisks. These are Dale Degroff creations like the Caribe Cosmopolitan (Bacardi stands in for vodka), the Gin and Sin, and the Salt-and-Pepper Highball (an amped up Salty Dog).

The resources (tools, brands, garnish and rimming techniques et al) are invaluable as well.
On a personal note, I had the chance to meet Dale at a seminar once and he was great. I had an Oscar party coming up and I asked him for the perfect classic cinema cocktail. He pointed me to the Flame of Love...a vodka martini in a glass coated with fino sherry and garnished with a flamed orange peel. Tres Hollywood.

Here's the classic Manhattan. Buy the book so you'll have the additional twists like the Red Manhattan, the Eastern Manhattan and the Maragato.

Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces blended or straight whiskey
1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Cherry, for garnish

Pour all the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir as you would a Martini. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.

(Ed. note: And these are the kinds of bonus bits you get with this book...)

Variation: If you prefer a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon peel. A Manhattan made with brandy is called a Harvard and with applejack it's called a Star Cocktail.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cooking with Books: Sesame and Miso-Glazed Scallops with Coconut Milk-Braised Baby Bok Choy

I am a fan/disciple/devotee/stalker of Andrea Immer Robinson. One of the first female Master Sommeliers in the world, she has made a career teaching not just about wine, but about wine WITH food. What ingredients make food more wine friendly? (Thyme, coconut milk, tomatoes.) What are natural classic pairings? (Sauternes and foie gras.) And what are value/creative pairings? (Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot with a bacon and tomato sandwich...perhaps my favorite pairing ever.)

You don't see her on TV anymore nearly as much as I think we should. But you can still visit And make sure you go out and buy her cookbooks. Like Great Tastes Made Simple : Extraordinary Food and Wine Pairing for Every Palate. It's a food/wine pairing bible. Matching charts. Matching philosophies. And matching recipes.

Like this one. I served it at one of my infamous wine dinners with a big, ripe California Chardonnay. Andrea says she developed it for her final project in culinary school. I'm betting she passed.

Sesame and Miso-Glazed Scallops with Coconut Milk-Braised Baby Bok Choy
Makes 6 servings.

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 heads baby bok choy, cleaned and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup canned coconut milk
30 sea scallops, muscle removed
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1 cup white miso paste
1/2 cup sake
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil, for cooking scallops
1 tablespoon toasted pure sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 sprig fresh cilantro, chopped

For Bok Choy:
In a large, flat-bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring, until garlic begins to soften, about one minute. Do not allow garlic to color. Raise heat to medium and place baby bok choy cut side down in pan in a single layer.

Allow bok choy to sear slightly, one minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and add coconut milk, seasoning to taste with salt. Allow bok choy to "braise" in the coconut milk until just al dente, about 6 minutes, then remove from heat and keep warm while preparing scallops.

For scallops:
Preheat the broiler. Dry scallops and season lightly on both sides with salt and white pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the mirin and white miso paste. In a small saucepan, heat saké to a simmer; add sugar and stir to dissolve. Combine with miso mixture to form a glaze.

Lightly coat a heavy flat-bottomed skillet with the olive oil and arrange scallops in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Coat tops of scallops with glaze and place under the preheated broiler for 3 minutes, until the glaze begins to bubble and the scallops are partially cooked through. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn scallops glaze-side down in the same pan.

Return the pan to the oven and continue cooking until just cooked through, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and immediately turn the scallops glaze-side up.

To serve, place two branches (one head) bok choy on plate and sprinkle with sesame oil. Place five scallops glaze-side up alongside the bok choy on each plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro and a dollop or two of the miso glaze.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cooking with Books: Cajun Seafood Dip

I know, I know...I've already posted one Cajun/Creole recipe/cookbook, but can you ever really have too much Cajun food? And this recipe includes some of the same ingredients, but much of the cooking of the Bayou is taking the wonderfully fresh seafood available and making it flavorful and spicy with traditional ingredients.

This particular dish comes from Cajun and Creole Cooking with Miss Edie and the Colonel. Edie Hand and William J. Paul take us on a journey though Cajun/Creole technique and Louisiana food history. I can't wait to try classic recipes like Beignets, Dirty Rice and Creole Hollandaise Sauce.

This one is a delicious party dip. Make it a day ahead to let the flavors meld.

Cajun Seafood Dip
From Cajun and Creole Cooking.
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
8 ounces fresh lump crab meat (picked through for bits of shell)
1 /4 pounds fresh cooked shrimp, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend very well. Serve with crackers or sliced vegetables.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Cooking with Books: Steamed Asparagus with Ginger-Hoisin Vinaigrette

Every cookbook library worth its salt has to have a couple of reference books. They include lots of recipes to try, but also valuable information that you come back to over and over again. Perfect Vegetables is just such a tome. It comes from those helpful folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine and is a resource I refer to often.

Yes, I have recipes marked to check out: Roasted Baby Carrots with Rosemary, Thyme and Shallots; Green Beans Braised in Tomatoes; and Sugar Snap Peas with Sesame Seeds. But perhaps even more useful than the recipes are the other things: techniques, storing tips, and even best ingredients with which to pair a particular veggie. It would be a great gift for someone just starting out in the kitchen.

Here's a sample recipe. Typical of others in the book, it explains a best technique (here, two pages worth of kitchen-tested tips on how to steam asparagus) and then a couple of ways to dress up the final product. This one kicks up asparagus with a tangy sweet sauce. You might even throw a some toasted cashews on top for some crunch.

Steamed Asparagus with Ginger-Hoisin Vinaigrette
From Perfect Vegetables.
Makes 4 servings.

Steamed Asparagus
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, preferably thins stalks, with tough ends snapped off
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Place a steamer basket in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water so that the water barely reaches the bottom of the steamer basket. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover and reduce the heat to medium-high. Steam until the asparagus bends slightly when picked up and the stalks yield lightly when squeezed, 4 to 5 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to a platter. Drizzle with olive oil to taste and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 recipe steamed asparagus

Whisk the vinegar, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ginger together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oils until thoroughly combined.

Arrange the steamed asparagus on a platter and drizzle with the dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Cooking with Books: Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms

Chinese food is supposed to be healthy. But the kind we often get here in the United States is usually not. Dredged in flour, deep-fried and drowned in sticky-sweet sauce is not dinner in true Beijing-style.

Fresh Chinese by Wynnie Chan should change all this for you home cooks out there. The informative introduction concentrates on eating for good health, including tips to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in your diet. It also suggests the equipment and pantry ingredients you'll want to have on hand to stir-fry like a pro.

Recipes I have tabbed to try include a healthier version of a favorite of mine, Sesame Shrimp Toasts, Oysters with Black Bean Sauce, Mussels with Basil and Black Bean Sauce, and Rice Noodles with Aromatic Shrimp. Fresh, healthy ingredients cooked up with an Asian flair.

Just like this healthy vegetable side dish. Piled alongside a grilled chicken breast or steamed salmon, it's a meal that will have you licking your chopsticks clean.

Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms
From Fresh Chinese.

1/2 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 pound bok choy, halved lengthwise (I used baby bok choy.)
20 fresh shiitake mushrooms, halved
1 teaspoon shoyu or tamari sauce (These are Japanese soy sauces with less sodium than the regular stuff. It's worth keeping in your pantry.)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
3 tablespoons vegetable stock (or substitute chicken stock or water)
Cornstarch paste: 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Heat the canola oil in a nonstick sauté pan over a high heat until it is piping hot, swirling it around to cover the base of the pan.

Add the bok choy, a handful at a time, stirring occasionally. Cover the pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes, until the bok choy leaves have wilted slightly. Remove to a serving plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the shiitake mushrooms. Stir-fry over a high heat for 30 seconds. Add the shoyu sauce, rice wine and vegetable stock. Stir to mix. Add the cornstarch paste, stirring constantly until the sauce has thickened.

Pour the mushrooms and sauce over the bok choy and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cooking With Books: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato with Pine Nuts in Mustard-Balsamic Vinaigrette

I'll admit that eggplant is not my favorite vegetable. To my mind, it's best fried, and then drenched in marinara sauce and topped with gobs of mozzarella. I don't think that's supposed to be the idea though.

The book that today's recipe comes from is one of my favorite Half Price Books finds. (I've found several great vegetarian/farmers market-type cookbooks there in the last couple of years.) This one, colorfully titled Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables is a collection of recipes (and stories) from a community supported farm in Illinois. The recipes, organized by growing season, are interspersed with stories, philosophies, nature facts, and much more that helps connect you as cook with the food as crop. The best kind of cookbook.

There are also two invaluable charts among the informative appendices: storing methods for most vegetables and a list of herbs and spices that are complementary to different vegetables.

This dish combines my dream recipe ingredients of eggplant and tomato, but adds crunchy pine nuts and a tangy vinaigrette in lieu of breading and gooey cheese. I'll take it.

(Other recipes I have tagged to try soon: Soy-Ginger Dressing with Honey, Lemon and Cilantro; Baked Zucchini Halves Stuffed with Wild Rice and Quinoa; and Pungent Green Beans and Tomatoes with Cumin, Garlic and Ginger.)

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato with Pine Nuts in Mustard-Balsamic Vinaigrette
From Farmer John's Cookbook.
Makes 4 servings.

1/4 cup roughly chopped pine nuts or slivered almonds
olive oil
1 pound eggplant (about 1 medium)
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes (about 2 small or 1 large), stems removed, seeds squeezed out, diced
1/4 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons prepared grainy mustard
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Toast the nuts in a dry, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat until they start to brown in spots and become fragrant, about 1 minute. (Be careful not to burn.) Immediately transfer the nuts to a dish to cool.

Brush a baking sheet with a light coating of olive oil. Cut eggplant lengthwise into six or eight slices. (If using a large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise and then again lengthwise into slices.)

Arrange the eggplant slices on the baking sheet. Pile the diced tomatoes around the eggplant. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the eggplant is soft, 30 to 40 minutes.

Mix the juice, balsamic vinegar, parsley, mustard, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl. Slowly pour the olive oil in in a thin stream, whisking constantly, until the dressing is thick and no longer separates.

Remove the vegetables form the oven and flip the eggplant over with tongs. Spoon about two-thirds of the mustard dressing over the cut surfaces. Set the baking sheet aside to let the vegetables cool.

When the eggplant has reached room temperature, transfer several slices to four individual plates. Divide the tomatoes evenly among the plates and drizzle the remaining dressing over the tomatoes to taste. Sprinkle on the toasted nuts and season each serving generously with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cooking with Books: Spinach Salad with Deviled Nuts, Blue Cheese, and Bacon Dressing

I don't usually buy my cookbooks in a Western wear store. Heck, I don't usually set foot in a Western wear store. But while playing wingman for a friend looking for the perfect cowboy belt, I ended up picking up Grady Spears' The Texas Cowboy Kitchen. Boy, am I glad. I might just keep going to Western wear stores and check out their bookshelves.

This one's chock-ful of unusually refined recipes for manly man food. Some examples that I have a hankerin' to try: Barbecues Quail Tamales, Snapper with Ancho-Tomatillo Sauce and, my personal favorite, Dr. Pepper-Marinated Skirt Steak Tostados. Mmmmmm....

This recipe might seem "simpler" than any of those, but it's a perfect example of how Spears takes traditional foods and makes them more interesting and hearty. It's "big" enough that it could be dinner all by itself.

Spinach Salad with Deviled Nuts, Blue Cheese, and Bacon Dressing
From The Texas Cowboy Kitchen.
Makes 8-10 servings. (Clearly, this recipe is for a chuckwagon-full of folks. You can divide it all the way down to two if you need to. I did.)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds bacon, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
2 cups deviled nuts (Spears provides a recipe for pecans spiced with cayenne and brown sugar, but frankly, I like my recipe better.)
1 cup grated caciotta or Monterey Jack cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the bacon and cook until well browned, draining as you go, to make sure the bacon isn't sitting in too much grease. Remove the cooked bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Using the same pan, cook the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until they begin to soften. Add the cider vinegar and brown sugar, and simmer over medium-high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the blue cheese and half of the bacon, mixing well, to form the dressing.

Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl. Pour the warm dressing over the spinach and toss lightly until well coated. season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the warm salad among 6 plates. Finish the salad by dividing the remaining bacon, cherry tomatoes, deviled nuts and grated cheese on top of each salad. Serve warm.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Cooking with Books: Rack of Lamb with a Cumin and Salt Crust, Lemon, and Cilantro

You've probably heard me say that Food & Wine is my favorite foodie magazine. Well, they also come through in the cookbook department. Every year, their editors compile a cookbook with sample recipes from THEIR favorite cookbooks of the year. It's called Best of the Best and is a great way to preview a book or two and decide whether or not you want to buy the whole thing. (And, more often than not, you'll want to.)

This particular recipe is from a cookbook that is itself a compilation. Melissa Clark's Chef, Interrupted takes dishes from some of the nation's best chefs and makes them simpler with easier-to-find ingredients and simpler techniques. This one is a great example. I haven't bought the book yet, but others I have marked to try include a braised Basque chicken and a shredded Brussels sprouts salad.

Lamb chops are wonderful prepared this way. And they are, quite frankly, delicious crusted and roasted without the pan sauce if you're looking for an even easier way out.

Rack of Lamb with a Cumin and Salt Crust, Lemon, and Cilantro
Serves 4-6.

3 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 racks of lamb (1 1/4 pound each)
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 500°F and place a heavy-duty metal roasting pan in the oven to heat up.

In a bowl, combine the cumin seeds, salt and pepper. Rinse the lamb and shake it dry, but don’t dry it completely– you want the seasoning to stick. Put the lamb on a plate and rub it all over with the cumin mixture. Let sit for about 20 minutes while the oven and pan preheat.

Meanwhile, put the garlic in a pan and cover with 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Bring the mixture to a bare simmer and let cook gently until the cloves are very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside.

When the roasting pan is very hot, carefully add the remaining 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and place the lamb, fat side down, into the pan. Roast the lamb until nicely browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes, then flip the racks and cook about 5 minutes on the other side for rare (about 120°F on a meat thermometer), or cook it more or less to taste. Transfer the lamb to a carving board and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over high heat. Add the chicken broth and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pass two of the roasted garlic cloves through a garlic press into the sauce or smash them in a bowl and add the paste to the sauce. Add the wine and lemon juice and simmer until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the lamb with the pan sauce, garnished with cilantro leaves.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cooking with Books: Helen Corbitt's Poppy Seed Dressing

We don't cook like our parents or grandparents did. Sure, we often have family favorites we fix regularly. Maybe chili. Spaghetti sauce. That weird holiday Jello mold. But there's lots less margarine, cream of something soup, ground beef, and canned vegetables in my kitchen than there was in my mother's. Not a judgement...that's just the way it is.

However...some of the best cookbooks are vintage ones. They offer a glimpse of times gone by and can be ways to take a time capsule back to a church potluck or Boy Scout dinner.

This one is the perfect example. But it takes things to a new level. Helen Corbitt first worked at the Houston Country Club and then Austin's Driskill Hotel before Stanley Marcus wooed her to become Director of Food Services at the venerable Neiman-Marcus. Included in Helen Corbitt's Cookbook (published in 1957) are recipes for the avocado mousse the Duke of Windsor inquired about, a plethora of sauces for meats and vegetables, and this one. It is simply the best poppy seed dressing I've ever tasted. Better than any other recipe or bottled version I've ever tried. THIS is the reason to hang on to a tattered, dog-eared cookbook or two.

I've included all of Ms. Corbitt's delightful prose. It puts you right in her kitchen as you make it with her.

Poppy-Seed Dressing
From Helen Corbitt's Cookbook.
Makes 3 1/2 cups.

I would like to tell a story of a dressing designed for fruits. Where it originated I have no idea I remember having it served to me in New York so many years ago I hate to recall. Rumors extend hither and yon that I created it; I hasten to deny this; but I did popularize it when I realized that on the best grapefruit in the whole wide world (Texas grapefruit) it was the most delectable dressing imaginable. Today there is hardly a restaurant or home in Texas that does not have some kind of poppy-seed dressing. The recipe I use has been in demand to the point of being ludicrous and, strange as it may seem, the men like it - a few even put it on their potatoes. So here it is!

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons onion juice
2 cups salad oil - but never olive oil (I use Wesson)
3 tablespoons poppy seeds

Mix sugar, mustard, salt, and vinegar. Add onion juice and stir it in thoroughly. Add oil slowly, beating constantly, and continue to beat until thick. Add poppy seeds and beat for a few minutes. Store in a cool place or the refrigerator, but not near the freezing coil.

It is easier to make with an electric mixer or blender, using medium speed, but if your endurance is good you may make it by hand with a rotary blender. The onion juice is obtained by grating a large white onion on the fine side of a grater, or putting in an electric blender, then straining. (Prepare to weep in either case.) If the dressing separates, pour off the clear part and start all over, adding the poppy-seed mixture slowly, but it will not separate unless it becomes too cold or too hot. It is delicious on fruit salads of any kind, but has a special affinity for grapefruit, and in combinations where grapefruit is present. One of my most popular buffet salad bowls at the Houston Country Club, where I was manager, was finely shredded red cabbage, thinly sliced avocado, and halves of fresh grapes with poppy-seed dressing, but then, as I said before, poppy-seed dressing fans like it on anything.

Brava, Helen. Brava.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cooking with Books: Deviled Crab

One of the great things about cookbooks is they allow experts to share their years...even decades...of knowledge with us other lucky saps. That's the case with Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food. Known to radio listeners in The Big Easy for his daily food radio show and readers of his weekly restaurant review column, Fitzmorris has compiled more than 225 recipes gleaned from restaurants and Creole/Cajun tradition, but updated with modern ingredients and home-kitchen-friendly techniques. Lots of recipes for me to try. (Love me some Cajun food.)

This one is a keeper. Fitzmorris says it's a great side dish to pasta or an entree salad. I say give me a big gratin dish of this stuff and I'm happy without another darn thing. Notice that it begins with New Orleans' holy trinity of cooking: yellow onions, bell peppers, and celery.

Deviled Crab
Serves 6-8.

1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 pound fresh jumbo lump crabmeat
3 tablespoons chopped green onion
2 teaspoon salt-free Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 lemons, cut into wedges
White remoulade sauce or tartar sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Melt 1 stick of the butter in a skillet until it bubbles. Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper, and sauté until soft.

Add the wine, lemon juice, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder and bring to a boil, stirring to blend. When the liquid is reduced by half, add the crab, green onion, Creole seasoning and salt. Stir gently, trying not to break up the lumps of crabmeat too much. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the breadcrumbs and gently stir until just mixed.

At this point, you can either put the mixture into clean crab shells or gratin dishes, or make it into cakes or balls. Place whatever you come up with on a buttered baking sheet. Top each piece with about a teaspoon of the remaining butter. Bake until the tops bubble and brown, 10-12 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges and white remoulade sauce or tartar sauce.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cooking with Books: Honey-Mustard Chicken

Happy Reading Month! If I'd had my act together back in October for National Cookbook Month, I would have embarked on this little project then. Oh, well...

Every day this month I will blog about a recipe from one of the dozens of cookbooks I've amassed over the years. Sometimes it will be recipes that are old favorites, and other times I'll use it as an opportunity to explore new cookbooks. Hope you enjoy.

I think it's appropriate to kick the month off with the cookbook that was my Bible right after college. My cooking skills were still quite green so a book like 365 Ways to Cook Chicken sounded perfect. (Looks like it's still out there. Used copies going quite cheaply on Amazon.)

This particular recipe (No. 224 of 365) was my "dinner party" main course for several years...

Honey-Mustard Baked Chicken
From 365 Ways to Cook Chicken
Makes 4 servings.

4 bone-in chicken breasts
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon or whole-grain mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Place chicken breasts in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Combine melted butter, honey and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over chicken.

Place in oven and bake for one hour, basting with pan juices every 15 minutes.