Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Time moves slowly when something's ahead. If it's not a law of physics, it ought to be. I can't believe how long today felt, the sun moved across the sky just as slowly as I moved in the muggy San Diego heat. Let me tell you, I didn't move much.
I am going to Guatemala for two weeks on Friday. I am very excited, but also anxious. I love traveling, but I get really nervous. I keep having visions of arriving at the LAX terminal at 3:45am and being turned away because my tickets were forged somehow. Or of sprinting through the Mexico City airport, barreling over small children with my luggage in tow, to barely miss my connecting flight. Or of contracting some rare, tropical illness and being evacuated via helicopter. Or of traveler's diarrhea. Eeesh.
The truth is, I am a homebody at heart. I love my time alone, or shared with family and close friends, relaxing in the safety and familiarity of my home. That's part of the reason I love to cook - cooking can instantly make a place feel more like home and offers me a sense of calm and peace. I travel in part because love the occasional adventure, but also in part because I know it's good for me. I need to force myself to break free of my comfort zone seek new and exciting experiences that allow me grow as an individual. Those experiences are what come to define you and shape your values and beliefs.
I drive up to LA on Thursday night and have been anxious-excited all week. Getting everything together for traveling can be, well, is guaranteed to be extremely stressful. There's the plane tickets, the three ounce containers of every slightly liquid substance you use, packing, vaccinations, traveler's insurance (should I pick the plan that covers loss of limbs at or above the joint or add the $50 dismemberment package?), and of course anticipating as much as possible about a journey you have yet to take. It's a tall order.
Nevertheless, my trip is in as good of shape as it will ever be (aside from the vigorous packing I have yet to begin). I can't wait, and know that a truly life changing experience lies ahead. I am a little sad that I'm missing two weeks of my precious summer produce, but I'll survive (what a spoiled brat I sound like, complaining about a trip to Guatemala!).
I'll leave you with a recipe for a glorious potato salad. Potato salad is as much a quintessential American summertime food as cherry pie. There's about a zillion different versions and recipes, many passed down between generations. This recipe is from Ina Garten. Sorry the pictures are a bit shoddy, I snapped a few photos before racing off to a barbecue, where it rightfully belonged. This potato salad simple. flavorful, and rich in texture. I love the big chunks of potatoes and creamy, mustard dressing. The notes of fresh dill brighten up the whole dish. It's certainly one of my favorite potato salad recipes, and I hope you find time to enjoy it, or a potato salad of your own, while I'm gone. I'm sure to miss the familiarity of these flavors.
Monday, August 3, 2009
If you have ever even considered, remotely thought about, or dreamed of making candy, I have new admiration for you. Never before have I felt so defeated by sugar as when I made these candied almonds. Don't get me wrong, they turned out great, but by the end my kitchen vaguely looked like the final scene of Rocky, where Apollo (played by myself) wins the actual fight but Rocky (played by the caramelized sugar) is the true champion because he goes the distance. And I imagine that Apollo felt just about as baffled and disheartened as I did. Sugar is pretty darn intimidating.
It all started when I was flipping through a paella recipe book. They have a whole section on tapas and I thought I try some of them out. There was a recipe for figs with blue cheese and caramelized almonds that looked intriguing. I have loved the flavor combination of figs with blue cheese since I made a fig and gorgonzola pizza and figured that this wouldn't disappoint.
I have never caramelized anything before but didn't imagine it being to hard. After all, it's just melted sugar we're talking about here. I couldn't have been more misguided.
The recipe said to put each almond in the sugar and coat it one at a time. Being the skeptic that I am, I thought it would be fine to plop 'em all in at once. I ended up with a solid mass of almonds. Take two. I dropped the almonds in one (or two) at a time and fished them out with a fork. The transfer from the skillet to the cookie sheet created wisps of sugar that eventually formed a massive web. My shirtfront was the web's first victim. The fork that I use was so covered in hard candy by the end that I had to boil it off. And little beads of caramel were all over the stove.
Anyways, once paired with the figs and blue cheese, the almonds turned out to be a perfect Spanish lunch (alongside not-so-Spanish crackers). The sweetness of the almonds and figs was the perfect balance to the blue cheese and the textures really complimented each other. I'm not sure it was worth the aggravation, but I know that I'll have to face caramelized sugar again, some day.
Figs, Blue Cheese, and Caramelized Almonds - adapted from Paella
Blue cheese, preferably Spanish
Extra virgin olive oil
A handful of almonds, toasted
1/2 cup sugar
Grease a small cookie sheet with butter. Heat sugar in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is brown a bubbly. Remove from head and drop almonds, one at a time, into sugar. Gently coat with a fork, then remove and place on cookie sheet. Repeat until all almonds are covered, bringing skillet back over the heat if the sugar hardens.
Once almonds are completely cooled, roughly chop. Cut figs into fourths and arrange on a plate. Beside the figs, pile a generous spoonful of blue cheese. Top cheese with almonds and lightly drizzle figs with olive oil. Can be served as an appetizer or as a light lunch.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
I am a total sucker for summer vegetables. They are fresh, colorful, and oh so delicious. When I came home to San Diego a few days ago, I found my parents' garden bursting with herbs, squash, and tomatoes. There was even a baby watermelon. Summer is a beautiful reminder of nature's rich bounty and it is quite impressive.
My parents grew eggplant for the first time this season and had little idea of what to do with it. Sure there's always grilled eggplant, but my dad was searching for something with a little more pizazz. Not to mention the fact that my mom isn't thrilled about the way eggplants taste (however, if this fact emerges in conversation, she's sure to tell you that she loves the way they look). So I was recruited to figure out just how to eat 'em and keep everyone reasonably happy. Piece of cake.
I stumbled upon a recipe for eggplant, tomato, and smoked mozzerella tart. With a few changes, I was able to make it work with what I had. It turned out absolutely delicious. It was simple and each ingredient seemed to enhance the tastes and textures of the others. It was a perfect way to celebrate the flavors of the season.
Eggplant, Tomato, and Smoked Mozzerella Tart - Adapted from Cooking Light - Serves 4
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 Japanese eggplants
4-5 small tomatoes (the ones from our garden were pretty small. Use about the same amount as 2 roma tomatoes).
2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 teaspoons each fresh mint and oregano
4 garlic cloves, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup smoked mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together flour, wheat germ, baking powder, pepper, and salt. Add water and olive oil, stirring to incorporate, until the mixture forms a dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.
Roll our crust onto a lightly floured surface into a large circle (the size depends on your tart pan. As a general rule, add an inch to the diameter of your tart pan. I had an 11 inch pan, so I rolled my dough into about a 12 inch circle). Place dough in a removable bottom tart pan, lightly greased with cooking spray. Pierce the bottom and the sides with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack.
Thinly slice eggplant into rounds and spread over a paper towel. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt over eggplant and let stand 15 minutes (salting eggplant draws out the bitter flavor. It's not as necessary with Japanese eggplants, which are less bitter than larger eggplants, but it couldn't hurt). Transfer eggplant to a greased cookie sheet and lightly brush with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tender. Remove eggplant from oven, transfer to a ceramic plate, and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and let steam for 5 minutes.
Thinly slice tomatoes and chop herbs. In a large skillet, gently saute garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about a minute. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes and herbs.
To arrange the tart, spread half of the mozzarella onto the bottom of the crust. Add eggplant such that it is evenly distributed across the bottom. Add tomato mixture. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and parmesean over the top. Finish with pine nuts. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Cut into eighths and serve.