Thursday, January 20, 2011

Turning Up the Heat

Because I stubbornly refuse to turn the heat up, I bake. I suppose when it’s chicken it’s called roasting, though at least in my home oven there’s no difference. And because I’m in search of internal as well as external heat, I keep thinking of spicy things to add in to Renée’s general rule of “more garlic, more cilantro, and more black pepper.”

Mexican Roast Chicken

Serves 4

1 whole chicken
1 lime
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 T coarse salt
1 T peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 dried Asian hot red pepper
2 onions
4 medium potatoes

Crack the peppercorns. If you have a mortar and pestle, do it in that, then add the cilantro and garlic and salt and pepper and grind together for about 30 seconds. Otherwise, crack the peppercorns by wrapping them in a dish cloth and rolling over it with a rolling pin, then mix together with other ingredients. Cut lime in half and place both halves in the cavity of the chicken. Rub with the cilantro mixture. Place in a baking pan. Quarter the onions and lay them along with the potatoes around the chicken. Bake at 400 1 ½ -2 hours.

The memory of warmth at least remains in the green beans I blanched and froze at the end of the summer. And this dish has all the colors of those long gone days.

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Capers
serves 4

1 bag frozen green beans
1 T olive oil
1 onion
¼ cup sundried or roasted tomatoes in olive oil, cut into strips
2 T capers

Cut the onion into quarters, toss it in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Heat the olive oil. Toss the green beans in the pan until warmed through. Add the other ingredients and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Another way to get warm, of course, is to drink heavily. The invention of Renée’s has the added benefit of organ-warming ginger and ginseng.

Gin Ger

Serves 2

3 oz gin
2 oz cointreau
Dash lime juice
1 oz canton (a French liqueur made from cognac, ginger, and ginseng)
Dash cranberry juice concentrate

Shake with ice and serve with cherries.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on a Cold Winter's Night

The dead of winter is not a great time to hit a dry spell in original recipe creations. There are no strange vegetables coming into the CSA or farmers' market. You are stuck with meat and roots and frozen veggies for inspiration. We have a fun, new, winter farmers' market in Somerville, which is just another reason I adore my town. The first two weeks there have been lines 20 to 30 minutes long for the root veggie stands. They had the best sweet potatoes I have ever eaten the first week; the second, if they had them, they were hidden, and I wasn't going to wait half an hour to find out for sure.

So, besides attempting to perfect my ginger-lemongrass cocktail and digging into my old favorite cookbooks for comfort food, I have not done much delving into the Brand New Creation arena. And I'm okay with that. I like following my nose or some other recipe; it's a nice change.

I will say, however, that should you want one sentence that sums up my feelings on cooking, it is this: add more garlic, more cilantro, more black pepper. You will be glad.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Filo Meat Pie

Filo dough is difficult to work with. But not as totally impossible as I thought, and the results are so beautiful and delicious, it’s one of those kitchen feats that’s worth the effort. A key step in any filo creation is the painting on of melted butter or olive oil, which it turns out is an ideal task for little hands. I’m not sure if it’s because he can, because it comes out so pretty, or just because it’s so perfectly delicious, but my picky five-year-old gobbles this up and asks for seconds!

Once, I tried to make filo dough from scratch. That was not worth it. Buy a package of filo dough. Remember to leave time for thawing if you get it frozen. While the dough comes to room temperature, prepare the filling.


1 lb. ground lamb
1 large onion
6-8 oz. feta cheese
1 large bunch of spinach
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 T olive oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Saute the onions in olive oil until they begin to brown. Add the ground lamb, salt, pepper, oregano and thyme and sauté, stirring frequently, until browned. Meanwhile, blanche the spinach, drain very well, and chop finely (or defrost a package of chopped blanched spinach that you blanched prepared over the summer!). Mix together the meat and the spinach. When it’s cooled to about room temperature, mix in the eggs and 2/3 of the feta. Set aside.

Filo Crust

Melt 4 T butter or put 4 T olive oil in a bowl and pull out a pastry brush. Pull off four sheets of filo dough. If they won’t quite peel off in single layers or if they peel off with lots of holes and tears, don’t worry. This is a particularly forgiving crust. Lay the filo sheets flat on a table and cover with tin foil. Lay one sheet over a deep pie pan, with a lot hanging over the edge. Brush with olive oil or melted butter. Give the pan a ¼ turn and lay a second sheet over it, letting it hang out over another side. Brush with olive oil or melted butter. Repeat with the remaining two sheets.

Dump the meat mixture into the crust. Crumble the remaining feta cheese over the top. Fold the filo dough over the top, covering the meat mixture completely, and leaving a rough sort of unkempt set of layers. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, until the top turns a nice golden brown.

If you end up with a bunch of left over filo bits, try this delicious dessert:

Line a cupcake tin with 1-4 layers of filo dough, leaving any extra pieces sticking straight up. Brush with melted butter. Place 1 dollop of jam in the bottom of each one. Then set 4-6 raspberries (frozen work perfectly; do not thaw in advance) into each one, and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until the filo dough begins to turn golden brown. As soon as you remove it from the oven, drop 1-2 small chocolate nibs, squares, or chips into each one and allow to melt before serving. Very nice with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


For so many of us, our all-time favorite flavors are the ones that simmer on our parents’ stoves and rise out of the backs of ovens of our childhood.  I grew up in a house in the Northern California woods heated only by a fireplace upstairs and downstairs the big wood-burning stove that divides the kitchen from the dining room.  So the winter meals of my memory always have a slightly smokey flavor, and the deep warmth of hours simmering over uneven heat.  My mom didn’t start making Moroccan food until I was a teenager, and really has only developed her signature tagines over the past decade or so as I and other friends have built her a collection of Moroccan cookbooks and implements, but Moroccan tagines fit so perfectly with that vague and general memory of the meals of my childhood that I’m slowly reconstructing my memory to have them always having been there.  A tagine is traditionally made in a beautiful red clay deep flat dish with a conical top that is ideal for wood-burning stoves, but it can be cooked in any large pan with a good lid.  On a trip to Morocco a few years ago, I picked up Liliane Otal’s Connaître la cuisine marocaine, and her tagine recipes have proved to be the best both because their flavor is exquisite and because their preparation is extremely simple and relies on ingredients that can be readily found in the US.  Here’s my translation—including a few modifications—of one of her simplest and best: Poulet au miel  (Chicken with Honey)

Chicken with Honey
Serves 4

1 chicken (or the equivalent in your favorite combination of legs and breasts)
2 large onions, thinly sliced or roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp. pepper

Cut the chicken into pieces (separating thigh and drumsticks, breasts and wings) and brown in olive oil in a tagine or large pan.  When the chicken is browned, add the onion.  Stir well and let cook a few minutes over low heat, until the onions soften and begin to become translucent.  Pour two cups of water over the chicken and onions.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cinnamon, letting the seasoning sit on top of the chicken rather than stirring it in.  Cover and simmer for at least 45 minutes and up to 1 ½ hours.  Remove lid, stir in the honey, and simmer, uncovered so that the sauce reduces, at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.  Serve with couscous. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ginger-Lemongrass Cocktail

I haven't posted in a while, and while I'd love to blame the Holidays, the reality is, it's hard to come up with more new recipes. However, a few weeks ago I had a vision: a gingery, lemongrassy cocktail. I get these visions about food once in a while, and usually I am able to recreate it fairly closely to how my brain's taste buds envisioned it. However, this one stumped me. Maybe it is because, while I enjoy cocktails immensely, I do not make them very often, having a husband who is an excellent mixologist. Maybe I was just unlucky this time. Anyway, after many, many revisions (Keja posted an early one a few weeks ago) and consultations with Bartender Dave, my sister, and Adam from the Boston Shaker, I came up with the following:

A few days prior to mixing the drink, add a 1/4 cup or so chopped ginger and 1 stalk lemongrass to 2 cups vodka. Gently mix it a few times over a few days.

Ginger-Lemongrass Cocktail

makes 2 drinks

In a shaker add ice and the following:

8 TBSP ginger-lemongrass vodka
1 TBSP cointreau

Stir or shake until bitterly cold and pour into 2 cocktail glasses. Garnish with a cherry.

Over the holidays I had the good fortune to be introduced to Canton, a gingery, ginseng-y liquer. I have some on order, and am going to try soaking lemongrass in that. Stay tuned.