Flashback Friday – This Summer I…

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 10 September 2009.

Brugge Self Portrait

I don’t remember ever actually having to write an essay about what I did on my summer vacation.  Do teachers really give that as an assignment or have we collectively just made it up?  Regardless, it’s a good thing I never had to write about my summers.  Because for me, summer vacation from school did not equal going away.  Sure, there was one time that we took a day trip to Ocean City.  All I remember is leaving for the beach before the sun was even up and having to change out of  my sandy bathing suit in the back of the car at the end of the day.  There was also a stop at some restaurant along Rt. 50 for breakfast.  Silver Dollar pancakes, that I remember.

Even as an adult, I haven’t traveled much.  If I had the time, then I didn’t have the money.  When I had the money, I didn’t have the time.  Now, the Mistah and I have talked and talked about taking a trip, pretty much since we’ve been married.  Not like a long weekend away somewhere we could drive to but an honest to god, pack a big suitcase and get your passport stamped vacation.  It only took us five years for all the pieces to come together.

Since it could be quite a while before we ever get back to these places, we crammed as much as we could into the time we had.  I’ll try and condense nine day’s worth of adventure for you:

  • France is closed on Sunday.
  • I can’t find my way out of a (traffic) circle.
  • U2 let us bring 87,998 of our closest friends to see them at Wembley Stadium.
  • Croissants you get here ought to be ashamed of themselves.  They are nothing like croissants you get in France.
  • It’s totally worth the money to splurge on the Eurostar to get from England to mainland Europe.  Just don’t miss the train because you’re waiting for France to get back from lunch so you can return your rental car.
  • Eating at the mall food court in France is exactly like eating at a food court here.  Except that you can get a beer with your le burger and les fries at McDonald’s.
  • Airport security is really serious about not letting liquids larger than 1 ounce in your carryon.  They can also be reluctant to let you keep your fine Belgian chocolates.
  • Did I mention that France is closed on Sunday?
  • Omaha Beach in Normandy has stones that  “bleed”.
  • The $30 food voucher you get when the airline puts you up overnight isn’t enough to buy an order of pasta, a chicken Cesar salad, and two diet cokes at the Best Western.
  • If you set an alarm on your cell phone for 4:45 am so you can get back to the airport by 5:30, because you had to spend the night in Toronto, make sure you reset the clock on the phone so it’s not still running on London time.

If you happen to be visiting London, Bruges, or Normandy, I highly recommend:

Walking the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Ordering either the Chocolate Mousse or Iced Lemon Parfait at Bluebird.

Using the Wembley Park tube stop rather than the Wembley Central stop to get to Wembley Stadium.

The grilled asparagus at Zizzi in Paddington.

Making a reservation to enjoy the stuffed sole at Bistro De Eetkamer.

Visiting the Beer Wall.

Souvenirs from The Chocolate Line.

The view from the top of Mont Saint Michel and walking the sand flats at low tide.

Listening to the audio tour for The Bayeux Tapestry.

Crepes with butter and caramel sauce or french vanilla ice cream at Creperie Insolite.

Pia’s breakfast at Chateau de Lignerolles.

Roel’s full day tour of the D-Day Landing Beaches.

Looking up at the ceiling in the Chapel at the American Cemetery in Colleville.

So that’s what I did on my summer vacation, what about you?

Flashback Friday – Poached

The following post appeared on BAH on 9 September 2009.

After the underwhelming outcome of my egg experiment, I wanted to give it another try. So I tasked my friend Google to see what other recipes were out there. The short answer is a lot. Most of the ones that I found involved baking the eggs in the oven. But there was one from Williams Sonoma that was more like a poached egg. I liked that approach because poaching, as a gentler cooking method, gives me a little more wiggle room before I go from raw to rubber.

Now, if you’ve ever looked at the recipes in the Williams Sonoma catalog, they are basically vehicles to get you to buy their wares. And I’m sure the fancy-schmancy Breakfast Pan that is specified in the Eggs en Cocotte recipe is the bomb, but a little reverse engineering with a large sauce pan and some glass ramekins worked just fine and didn’t cost me $175.

So I made myself a nice water bath on the stove and got cracking. Unlike last time, I was pretty vigilant about checking the progress of my eggs. Since I was using improvised tools, my cooking times were slightly longer than what the folks at WS said to expect. But that’s ok because after about 15 minutes (10 minutes on the heat, 5 minutes off) the whites were perfectly cooked, the yolks were firm but still soft and creamy, and the cheese had melted into the eggs and ham. I tried to get one of the eggs out of the ramekin and onto a plate can state with all certainty that eating it directly out of the ramekin is a much better idea.

Another good idea? Don’t think that this is just for breakfast or brunch. I think Eggs en Cocotte, as WS likes to call them, is a great dinner option especially if you’re cooking for just one person.

Eggs en Cocotte

Adapted from williams-sonoma.com

I easily made two individual servings in a 4 quart sauce pan on the stove. If I were cooking more than four ramekins, I would probably put the whole thing in a large roasting pan, filled with simmering water to reach halfway up the ramekins, and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

  • 1/4 cup cooked bacon or ham (I used canadian bacon), diced
  • 1/4 cup, plus 4 teaspoons, shredded cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 teaspoons heavy cream (I used half and half)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh chives or other herb

Fill a large sauce pan with water (I put my ramekins in the pan, added enough water to reach halfway up them, and then removed the ramekins). Cover the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low.

Lightly coat ramekins with olive oil or butter. Put 1 tablespoon diced bacon or ham in the bottom of each and top with 1 tablespoon of cheese. Break one egg into each ramekin and top with 2 teaspoons cream and 1 additional teaspoon cheese.

Place the ramekins in the simmering water. Cover and cook until whites and yolks are set. The recipe said 6 to 7 minutes for runny yolks and 9 to 10 minutes for firmer ones. Don’t be afraid to test the whites with a fork because after 10 minutes the whites were not cooked. So I let the pan sit, covered, off the heat for another five minutes or so until the whites had cooked and the yolks were soft set.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan, season with salt, pepper, and herbs.   Serve immediately.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – Undecided

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 2 September 2009.

I can’t decide if I like this recipe or not. Maybe it needs a different cheese because the smoked Gouda seemed to overwhelm everything else. Other than a cheese substitution, would you make any other changes?

Ziti Baked with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Smoked Gouda

Cooking Light Pasta

  • 8 ounces uncooked ziti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14.5 ounces canned diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, with juices
  • 10 ounces canned Italian seasoned diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded smoked Gouda, divided

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well.

Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add spinach to pan and cook 30 seconds or until spinach wilts, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Add pasta and 3/4 cup cheese to tomato mixture.  Toss well to combine.

Spoon pasta mixture in 5 individual, or 1 large, casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – From the Files

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 31 August 2009.

Orange Roughy

I’ve been making an effort to go through my old recipes, the ones that I’ve already tried out and decided are keepers, and post them. My goal is to turn my home files into a printed record of what you see here at BAH. Today’s tidbit is from the pages of Cooking Light.

Sauteed Tilapia with Lemon Peppercorn Pan Sauce

Cooking Light

BAH Note: I didn’t have Tilapia on hand that last time I made this so I used Orange Roughy. Any firm, white fish would probably work. Just make sure that it’s a thin fillet. I find that the pan sauce is a little piquant even with rinsing the capers, which I used instead of brined peppercorns. When you add the butter into the pan sauce, remember that even softened solids going into liquids will cause a splash. I didn’t, and ended up with sauce everywhere.

  • 3/4 cup chicken broth (I like the low sodium version)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons drained, brine packed green peppercorns, lightly crushed (I used rinsed capers)
  • 3 teaspoons butter, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 Tilapia fillets (I used Orange Roughy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Combine broth, lemon juice, and peppercorns (or capers) in a small bowl.

Melt 1 teaspoon butter with vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat. While butter melts, sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dredge fillets in flour and shake off excess.

Increase heat to medium-high until butter begins to turn golden brown. Add fillets to pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from the pan and cover to keep warm.

Add broth mixture to pan, scraping up any loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil cook about 3 minutes or until reduced to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and stir in last 2 teaspoons butter with a whisk.

Spoon sauce over fillets and garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – Muscle

The following post was originally published on BAH on 28 August 2009.

A good amount of the disk space on our Tivo gets taken up with cooking shows. Food Network, PBS, I like to mix it all up. When I watch them, I frequently experience kitchen envy. Seriously, have you seen Paula Deen’s or Ina Garten’s kitchen? Dreamy. Multiple cooktops, deep fryers, and refrigerator drawers. Best of all are those professional stoves. 48 to 60 inches of high btu muscle with double ovens. They are the kitchen equivalent of the Ford Mustang in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. High revving, rubber burning, wild horses. I so wish I could have one of those. My kitchen, in comparison, is more like a Honda Accord. It’s reliable for getting you where you need to go but would never win in a drag race.

Not that having fancy, expensive equipment means anything when it comes to serving up good food. Deb, who I heart, from Smitten Kitchen turns out the best food from a teeny, tiny New York City apartment kitchen. Think your kitchen is small? Try working in a 24 square foot space. That’s smaller than my closet. And yet, without the aid of fancy equipment, she turns out all sorts of baked, fried, and roasted goodness.

Like anything else, your equipment is a tool that either you know how to use or you don’t. That 48 inch Viking isn’t going to magically transform a bad dish into a good one. So work with what you have, find its muscle, and make it work for you. Your kitchen may not burn rubber like Steve McQueen’s Mustang, but it won’t need new tires as quickly either.

Oven Roasted Salmon

Cook’s Illustrated

I added paprika and chili powder, not original to the CI recipe.

  • 1 skin on salmon fillet, 1 3/4 – 2 pounds (I used two individual skinless fillets)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Salt

Place a sheet pan on an oven rack in the lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees. If your salmon has skin, make 4 or 5 shallow slashes about an inch apart along the skin side of each piece.  Do not cut into the flesh.

Dry salmon with a paper towel, rub with oil and season with salt, paprika, and chili powder. Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees and remove the HOT baking sheet. Carefully place salmon (skin side down) on your sheet pan. Roast until salmon is still translucent in the thickest part of fillets when cut into with paring knife or when an instant read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the fillets registers 125 degrees, 9 to 13 minutes. Transfer fillets to individual plates or platter.

{Printable Recipe}

Pineapple Avocado Salsa

The Washington Post

  • 4 ounces fresh or canned pineapple, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice (1/2 cup)
  • Flesh of half a medium avocado, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (2 to 3 teaspoons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes (1 tablespoon)

Combine the pineapple, avocado, scallion, salt, and lime juice in a mixing bowl. Toss to combine.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – Lost in Translation

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 26 August 2009.

Soup's On

Some families have recipes that they pass down like heirlooms. These treasures connect generations and keep traditions alive. Other families mostly just have the memories of dishes that used to be, like Grandma’s fried chicken or Auntie’s pound cake. That would be my family.

I had all of my grandparents alive growing up. I even had great grandparents. To keep the great grandparents straight, we called them by the name of the street that they used to live on way before I was born…at least that’s the story I was given. So we had Michigan Grandma and Grandpa and Kilbourne Grandma. The great grandparents were already senior citizens by the time I can first remember them. Michigan Grandpa, for example, was born in the late 1800′s. So by the late 1970′s, he had already seen the world change around him. Seriously, he came to America on a boat after the turn of the century. He didn’t speak a word of English and, as the story goes, had a note pinned to his coat with instructions to get him on a train and out to his father who had already moved to this country. Upon arriving at the train station, my great great grandfather was called to let him know his son had arrived. My great grandfather had never seen a telephone before and thought the box through which his father’s voice was coming was the devil. Or so I was told.

I was also told how good the cold cucumber soup was that Michigan Grandma used to make. My aunts and uncles would get together and eventually someone would bring up Michigan Grandma’s cucumber soup, or potato pancakes, or Michigan Grandpa’s homemade booze. As we like to say today, good times. I never got to try the soup or potato pancakes. But we did run across a bottle of Michigan Grandpa’s booze in the cellar after he died. That was one recipe that definitely would not make for a good heirloom.

Now, as an adult, I wanted to try and recreate the cold cucumber soup. My parents were coming up for a visit and I thought it would be great to surprise my dad with it. He had said that my uncle had the recipe. So I asked for it. I was expecting something that resembled an actual recipe. What I got instead was a cryptic shopping list. No quantities. No instructions. It looked like this:

  • cucumbers, grated or chopped
  • salt
  • dill
  • onion, chopped fine
  • sour cream
  • stir ice in really well
  • hard boiled eggs
  • vinegar, if desired

Well now, what was I supposed to do with that? Since I’d never had the original soup, I had no idea what I was working towards. So, I decided to come up with my own interpretation of this family classic. After my dad finished his second bowl of soup, he said it was just as good as Grandma’s. While I may have lost something in the translation, I think this definitely gets filed away under family treasures.

Cold Cucumber Soup

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Fresh dill to taste
  • 1/2 shallot diced
  • 1 cup sour cream, plus more to taste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Place cucumbers, shallot, salt, and dill in a food processor. Pulse until cucumbers are nearly pureed. Add sour cream and pulse until creamy and smooth. Add vinegar and additional sour cream to taste and pulse to mix.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – Habit

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 24 August 2009.

Steaming

Just because I am a creature of habit, doesn’t mean I won’t try a new way of doing things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it works but I like my way better.

This recipe falls into that last category.

Restaurant Style Asparagus

Washington Post

Asparagus can be parcooked 1 to 2 hours in advance; refrigerate, then saute just before serving.

  • big pinch kosher salt
  • 1 pund asparagus, woodey ends discarded
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • lemon zest

Fill a large skillet with 1 or 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Have a clean, dry towel ready.

Add the asparagus, adding water if necessary to  make sure the vegetables are covered. Cook until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes for thin spears or 6 to 10 minutes for thicker spears. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to the towel. and pat dry.

Use just enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet and heat over medium-high. When hot, add the asparagus and salt and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until they start to brown a little. Garnish with lemon zest and serve hot.

{Printable Recipe}