Category Archives: Food

Shakshuka Splendor

When browsing the Asian Supermarket the other day, I came upon a quartet of duck eggs that I quickly snatched up and put into Andy’s shopping basket. (Hey, I did my part in carrying the 25-lb bag of jasmine rice, thank you.) Since happening upon a dish that utilized a fried duck egg, I’ve been on a subconscious hunt for them. Their richness is intoxicating, their yolks the stuff of sunny golden legend. They’re also a bit bigger than the average chicken egg, which surprises some people. Personally, I’ve never compared a chicken to a duck, and I have no plans to do so in the near or far future. I’m just glad I found a few of the unfertilized quackers for this culinary experiment.

  

 

When one needs inspiration on how best to make use of an ingredient, one cannot do any better than taking the advice of the guy who runs dp: an American Brasserie in Albany. It’s one of our favorite restaurants, so when Dominick suggested I make a Shakshuka with the duck eggs, I thrilled at the idea, then promptly looked it up online. I’m incredibly thankful I did.

 

Opting for this version from the New York Times (but omitting the feta cheese because I wanted my first time to be more simple), I assembled the simple recipe starting with an onion and green pepper. It seems that one of the tricks is to sauté them for a good 15 to 20 minutes, until they just begin to brown, and not stirring them much. A little burn on the veggies only adds to the flavor that will later be brought out by some of the spices (and another recipe I found suggests a heavier browning on all sides). Before things got too crazy, I parted the veggies and let the garlic do a quick mellowing in a hot spot. To this, I added the spices – (using smoked paprika instead of sweet), cumin, and cayenne pepper. This trio is key to the whole affair – that smoked paprika really brings out the browning. Once things were nicely blended, and the aroma turned heavenly, I added a can of tomatoes and simmered for another fifteen minutes until everything thickened.

 

Carving out pockets in the sauce for their placement, I added the duck eggs (and a standard chicken egg or two to compare and contrast) and let them simmer a bit before putting into the oven to finish up. They firmed up perfectly, with just enough runniness left in the yolks to spill out later on – my favorite part of any egg dish. Topped with freshly-chopped parsley, cilantro and mint (the latter lending it exquisite vibrancy), it was ready to be served. I took a bite with a bit of bread and my tongue had an instant orgasm. Try it and see.

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Rainy Dinner: Sushi at Shabumaru

It’s one of those places I pass en route somewhere else, in the go-through walkways linking Copley Place Mall with the Westin Hotel. When planned correctly, it’s possible to walk a great length in such covered fashion – a gift in the colder months of the year (and the hotter ones too). On this day that bled into evening, it was a way of escaping the rain and storms, which came hard and heavy in my last hours in Boston.

We’d had a filling lunch on Newbury earlier, so I just wanted something light, and I recalled a little place where they served Japanese hotpot dishes, but also some sushi. As the rain pounded down upon the windows, I sidled up to the bar and ordered two rolls – a Spicy Tuna and a Golden Lotus. I don’t even remember what the latter was about, only that it tasted good.

A rainy dinner, secluded from the bustle of the city, safe from the driving wind and wet, was the perfect ending to a brief Boston stay.

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Hot Tomatoes

This simple summer dish has a secret ingredient that more people need to know about: white balsamic vinegar. Coupled with a drizzle of olive oil (extra virgin, no sluts), some freshly ground pepper, a bit of sea salt, and topped with some lightly-toasted almond slices, it’s a glorious taste of the season. I garnished the plate with some herbs from the garden, but used them for scent and sight only: the vinegar, oil and tomatoes deserve to stand alone.

Summer demands such simple pleasures, and this one involves little to no work. My kind of dish.

 

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Halibut & Citrus

A simple sumer dinner on the grill can be had if you find a good piece of halibut and slice up some citrus. Here we have a grapefruit and orange salsa of sorts, with some cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and fresh basil. Slicing off the bitter peel and dividing membrane is what makes this extra sweet, balanced by the tart, savory edge of the vinegar.

As for the halibut, I’m told the trick is not to overcook it – four minutes on one side and three and a half on the other was ample, and the result was a delicate and juicy piece of fish. A simple quick marinade of grapefruit juice, olive oil, fresh basil and salt and pepper (too long and the citrus can wreak havoc with the halibut) was all that it took to make a perfect meal.

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Fruit Salad

I am coming back around to the fruit salad, especially since eating healthier is one of today’s goals. It’s always been a favorite of mine, particularly in the summer months when so many things are ripe and fresh, but I rarely make one because I can’t face all that cutting and chopping. There is just so much cutting and chopping, so much sticky juice going all over cutting boards and counters, and blah, chop, blah, chop, blah… I’m over it before I even began.

If someone else wants to do it, however, and hollow out a watermelon with a melon-baller, I’m all in.

I just love a fruit salad.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 6

After our wedding ceremony seven years ago, our dear family friend Elaine took us out to the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons for a wedding lunch. The meal was divine (they are known for some impeccable burgers) but what took it into stratospheric heights was a sky-high/mile-high/heaven-high chocolate cake. It was a multi-layered decadent experience that must have required its own course for how to slice it – so high did it rise. It was more than enough to feed every member of our party.

Ever since that moment, when we each took a piece of this decadent chocolate goodness, we’ve been seeking out such sweet salvation, but everything has proven elusively out of reach. Andy has come close a couple of times, but nothing could match the towering magnificence of that cake. It has remained a delicious memory all this time.

For our anniversary lunch, I settled in for an oceanic-slanted treat, beginning with the raw oysters you see here, and following it up with a lovely lobster roll (and truffle parmesan fries). We were slated to have a meaty dinner at Boston Chops later that evening, so I stayed seaside for my selection. Andy went with a spicy chicken offering for his choice. We looked out over Boylston to the Boston Public Garden. The rain had started up again, and our timing worked out perfectly. Not so much for the couple that was also trying to get married. Their party stood huddled beneath a makeshift white tent. (I will always be grateful for the beautiful day we were lucky enough to have had.)

As we were putting aside our napkins, our server appeared with the towering delight you see here. Someone had gotten wind of how much we had enjoyed this cake the first time around, and had been good enough to send out a new one for our anniversary. The Four Seasons has some fiercely impressive customer service, and I have to put out this public note of thanks and gratitude for such gracious and thoughtful gift. (I also sent them a traditional hand-written thank-you note because that’s my style, and it was the least I could do for such a wonderful treat.) We are not worthy, but we will spread word of this goodness as far and wide as we can.

It was a highlight of our wedding weekend, and it was a highlight of our 7th anniversary. Boston has always made us feel loved.

Our stomachs more than satiated, we walked back to the condo to prepare for our evening: an early showing of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, followed by cocktails in the South End, then dinner at Boston Chops. The perfect Saturday plan…

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Stuffing the Cabbage

Galumpki, Halupki, whatever-you-want-to-call-itpki – this is stuffed cabbage, and it’s one of those dishes that I tried as a youngster but didn’t instantly enjoy. I put it from my mind until a co-worker brought some in and I tasted it as an adult. What a difference. I enjoyed it so much I promptly went home and made some myself. (She used bacon in hers, which gave her the edge on taste; I was just happy mine stayed together.)

The hardest part (aside from sticking my bare hands into a bowl full of raw meat, eggs, and cooked rice) was getting the leaves off of the cabbage, though once I got the hang of it, things went smoothly. (The trick, after boiling/steaming a cored cabbage head, was to use a large carving fork and hold the cabbage on that while you delicately peel the steaming leaves off one by one. When they stop coming off easily, boil/steam for a few more minutes, following this process until you’re down to the inner part where they’re too small and crumpled to use.)

There are tons of variations on this dish, which makes messing up difficult to do. Those are the kinds of recipes I enjoy most: the ones with lots of room for error. As I mentioned, my co-worker put bacon in and on top of hers – and I will try that next time. For my first attempt, I wanted to focus on technique and simplicity.

They rolled up better than I anticipated, and the recipe I used called for the tomato/vinegar/sugar mixture to be poured on top of the rolled meat packages (I guess some people mix this into the meat mixture too).

They actually turned out decent. The biggest pain was the cabbage leaves, but with a little practice that should be simpler in the future. I’ll wait until fall to try them again, however, as they feel more like a comfort food.

Besides, with all the steaming and baking and twirling a cabbage head on the end of fork, I was sweating when it was finally done. Not the sort of scene for a coming summer.

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Fry Me A River

My parents gifted Andy and I with a deep fryer this past Christmas, and the past few weeks have been occupied with almost incessant frying expeditions – mostly of the potato sort. The main purpose of requesting this additional kitchen item (which we really don’t need) was to make French fries, and I think I have it down.

There are several tips and tricks gleaned from online looking that helped me out: the first step is to cut the potatoes as you like (but however you slice them be sure they’re a uniform shape and size for even frying), then soak them in water for at least half an hour beforehand. Dry them thoroughly then put them into a fryer heated to 275 degrees. Fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Drain and place on paper towels, then do another batch. (Smaller batches also ensure that the oil stays true to temperature (though this fryer automatically adjusts to maintain it). After allowing to cool, raise the oil temperature to 350 degrees and repeat, with another five minute coking time. Drain, place on paper towels, and immediately sprinkle with sea salt and preferred seasoning.

I served them with a choice of garlic aioli or balsamic vinegar ketchup. Each was divine. It’s the double frying step that seems to make all the difference. Andy got a little fancier, executing a delicious panko-encrusted fried turkey parmesan dish, as well as the eggplant parmesan pictured here. While this deep fryer is doing nothing to help my summer pool body, it’s more than merrily brought joy to my dining options. My next challenge may be one of the greatest: lumpia. It’s my party and I’ll fry if I want to.

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Southwestern Fare Flare

Though they were all over my TripAdvisor account, I neglected putting food stories up during my desert postings, so here’s a quick visual feast for anyone needing a dose of goodies. Needless to say, as one can easily see here, I ate quite well during my desert sojourn, and will bring some inspiration back for a couple of May meals. After all, May is for margaritas.

 

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Italian Winner

Andy pounded out a few turkey breasts and breaded them with panko before dropping them into our new deep fryer. They cooked up perfectly, and formed the decadent homestyle topping for a bed of pasta and Andy’s own marinara sauce. I made a side of rappini in olive oil and garlic, with some extra fennel thrown in for good measure, and the slight bitterness of the greens was a glorious counterpart to the pasta and breaded turkey. It was a simple meal, but substantial and filling – the very best thing to have at this seasonal crux in the year.

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Fry Some, Eat One

Mom and Dad gifted us with a deep-fryer this past Christmas, and during this week’s snowstorm I finally had an opportunity to try it out. I’ve been frying things over the years, to mostly disastrous results. I never used a thermometer to check the temperature, so it was either too cold or way too hot. The trick, from what I read, is to make sure that food items get cooked quickly enough to get a crunchy exterior, while not taking in too much oil. That largely happens when you have the temperature and the timing correct. (I can still remember the night I almost burned the Boston condo down trying my hand at fried chicken. I thought the trickiest part would be the paper bag shake, but it was really how to navigate the spattering oil and thick smoke that had the smoke detector exhausted by the time it was all over. The worst part was that the chicken, even with its perfect buttermilk dressing, was burnt on the outside and bloody on the inside.)

The deep fryer fixed all those flaws, maintaining its temperature and still staying spatter-free. The potatoes I’d cut up went in and started bubbling like you see on the cooking shows, and after a few minutes they came out perfectly golden (or as Gram liked to say, good and brown). It was a rare culinary success, and I hurriedly sprinkled them with sea salt before they cooled. Served with an aioli and ketchup, they were reminiscent of the fries I’ve had at Five Guys, so I’d say I pulled it off. Next adventure: fried artichoke hearts. Wish me luck.

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A Meal for for Lent

For those of you who still do fish on Fridays, this simple dinner plan is perfect. Steam some rice, sauté some Swiss chard in olive oil, garlic and a couple pats of butter, and roast a piece of sea bass in a little pool of olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, salt & pepper. That’s it. If you use a rice cooker, that’s the longest part of this process. In other words, it’s quick and easy, simple and delicious – just the sort of thing we need for these wintry days of Lent.

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Lentils are Delicious

It turns out that lentils are more than just a fairy tale footnote, and this recipe for a lentil soup is absolute proof of that. As long as winter hangs on, and the chilly first days of spring retain a frigid core, there will be a need for soup and similar comfort food. The rustic ingredients magically transform into a soup that is a hearty and filling as it is tasty. The broth turns an inky midnight/violet shade as the lentils cook – a delicious hue that is tempered once the red tomatoes go in. While every ingredients counts here, it is perhaps the fresh parsley and grated parmesan that makes the big difference in the end. (Those two bay leaves are a necessity to work their magic as well.) If you’re looking for a way to make the end of winter just a little more bearable, this is my secret weapon. Wield it well. (It comes from a wonderful cookbook, ‘Good Cooking’ by Jill Duplex.)

Abruzzese Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups small green lentils
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced finely
  • 2 celery stalks, finely sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 14-oz can chickpeas, drained
  • Sea salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Rinse lentils, then place in pan with garlic, bay leaves and 6 cups cold water. Cook until almost tender (about 30 minutes), skimming occasionally. Finely slice onion and celery, and dice the carrots. Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook, stirring often, for ten minutes.

Add vegetables and tomatoes to lentils and stir well. Simmer until nice and soupy, about 20 minutes. Add chickpeas, sea salt and pepper, and simmer for at least 10 minutes longer, adding extra water as necessary. Stir in chopped parsley and ladle into warm soup bowls. Served with grated Parmesan on top.

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The Forgiving Frittata

If you’re looking for an exact recipe for a frittata, look elsewhere. The whole point of a frittata is that it is a very forgiving dish – it bends and yields to whatever is in the fridge, and however you prefer to make it. I’ve made this a coupe of time – each one different – and each one delicious. I prefer it to an omelet, as there’s no tricky flip or roll involved. (Of course, if Andy’s going to be making it, I’ll take the omelet.)

For the frittata, you can fill it with whatever you like. If you’re using a meat (I’ve tried sausage and bacon to great effect), you can chop it up and render the fat directly in a 12-inch pan (oven-safe and non-stick) to be used for the final dish. For any vegetables you want to use, I’d saute them in a separate pan (you don’t want all that moisture going into the frittata) until they’re relatively soft.

In another bowl, I whisked 8 eggs and about half a cup of heavy cream. (The fat’s important, so don’t go skim.) To this, I added salt and pepper, and any fresh herbs that work for you. When the meat’s finished cooking, and still on medium heat, add the eggs and vegetables and stir everything gently together. As the edges pull away from the pan and the eggs start to set, put the whole thing into a 350-degree oven until it’s set to your liking. (About 8 to 10 minutes for a firm frittata.)

Let it rest for a bit before cutting, then top with more fresh herbs.

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Scintillating Scallions

Scallions, more commonly referred to as green onions, don’t seem to enjoy as much popularity as they deserve. I love where they fall on the onion spectrum, somewhere between a traditional onion and the chive. I also love how much color they add to any dish (it’s best to use a decent amount of the foliage for precisely this reason). Their flavor is delicate, but important. They add an onion-like touch without the harshness of the real thing. I enjoy them with eggs, and fresh dill and parsley for a bright omelet – or as a topping on kimchi fried rice or a pungent pho. Such a garnish may seem optional, but it provides an integral flavor, texture, and freshness to any savory dish. The lesson here is that the scallion should never be underestimated. A good lesson for all of our stalwart ingredients, and a testament to the power of fresh ingredients.

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