Friday, February 27, 2009

Dinner, Slowly

This was not my date at last night's Slow Food Miami's dinner at Creek 28.  This is a Galapagos Tortoise and for the sake the of this post, a visual pun -- slow, get it?  Of course you do, you clever soul.
None of us were tortoises but many of us were strangers when the evening began.  We smiled, we mingled, we made polite social chitchat, we checked our watches.  Then it rained.  
The 60 guests did not want to cede the open-air courtyard, but Creek 28's chef Kira Volz overrode us all, staff hustled away tables and chairs, china and cutlery, and herded us all into the lobby for dinner.   
The change in venue must have been a pain in the ass for the hotel, but it changed the vibe for the diners.  It created instant intimacy.  I began talking with the woman on my right, a perfumer with a sense of smell so acute, she could outsniff a spaniel.  To my left sat a science teacher who owns a pet chicken.  A disparate bunch to be sure, but we're all passionate about food and are united by the belief that it's both pleasure and responsibility.  Kira, who gets her herbs from her own garden and much of her produce from Paradise Farm in Homestead, feels the same way, and the pleasure and responsibility comes through in her cooking, the flavors are clean and intense.
Over Spanish wines and heirloom tomato salad, roast pork and braised rabbit for the others and a lovely hominy stew for me, the token vegan, we shared details of local treasures -- farmers markets, gardeners and other delights.   By the end of the evening, as we finished up macerated berries and cardamon shortbread with lemon-thyme ice cream, the rain had stopped and a table of strangers became friends.  Just goes to show you, miracles can happen.  It just takes time. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's MY Recipe

Some people (and you know who you are) do not share recipes.   It's time to give, darlings. Wouldn't you rather be known as a big-hearted person who shares the wealth?   And even if you write out your prized recipe in painstaking detail, your friend's version will come out different.  Different stove, different cookware, differerent cook.  We each make recipes our own.
Yesterday, I made black-eyed peas with fennel and kale, guiltily sure I'd pinched the recipe from the excellent Paula Wolfert. With my fragrant stew simmering, I checked her book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and found my version, which I've made dozens of times, has almost nothing in common with hers.  I couldn't believe it -- where was the garlic in her recipe?  And the jalapeno?  And the anisette?  I was sure her recipe had tomato paste.  Mine sure does.  
Suit the recipe to your taste.  Make it your own.   If you're jalapeno-wary, it'll be fine without it.  No anisette?  
Use wine.  Go with whatever greens you have at hand.  I've given my recipe to a friend who's evolved it by adding a pound of sausage.  You can, too, but I don't need to know about it.

Lovely for Lent Black-Eyed Peas With Fennel and Kale

1-1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 jalapeno
4 gloves garlic
1 fennel bulb, chopped into bite-sized pieces, fronds and stalks saved for another use
10 ounces kale, collards, spinach or the greens of your dreams, rinsed well and patted dry
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup anisette (this may seem like a lot.  So?)
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

*The bean bit needs to be started the day before.   Soak them overnight in water.  Then rinse.  Pour beans into a large soup pot, cover with water.  I usually add a few bay leaves, pepper cloves, even a star anise, which really brings out the fennel taste in the stew.   Bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat to low, place lid on pot and let beans cook for an hour or so until tender.  Drain and cool. Alternately, if you want to circumvent all this nonsense, you can use frozen beans, that's fine, too.  Just don't use canned, they're nasty.

Pour olive oil into the now vacated soup pot.   Chop onion, garlic, jalapeno and fennel.  Heat oil over medium-high, and add chopped vegetables.  Stir to coat and reduce heat to medium.  Saute vegetables, stirring occasionally, until soft, golden and fragrant, about 15 minutes.  

Slice greens into ribbons and add to soup pot.  Stir until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato paste and anisette.   Cover pot, reduce heat to low, let everything get happy together for about 15 minutes.  Add the black-eyed peas and season generously to taste.   

It's nice with crusty bread or quinoa.  

Serves 6-8, keeps several days in the fridge (it's even freeze-able) and flavor improves over time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Still Life With Food

I always liked the idea of ceviche, fresh-as-hell seafood that "cooks" in its citrus marinade.  It's the fish part that lost me.  Creating veggie ceviche had a bonus -- a still life shot that had nothing to do with the photographer and everything to do with produce's intrinsic beauty. 
Lovely round purple onion, green jalapeno, bright red peppers, lemons, limes, oranges, ripe tomatoes, feathery green cilantro and parsley, it's  a visual winner and a flavor knock-out.   Hearts of palm give the look of squid without the essential squidness -- you know, the chew, the fish taste.  Hearts of palm and button mushrooms are mild, but sitting in a citrus-chili bath, they go wild.
Here's what else I like about ceviche -- it's a great hangover recipe.  Don't ask me how I know this.  However, in the event you've failed to show restraint and are feeling the worse for wear, a bowl of ceviche is bracing and refreshing and restorative.  If that doesn't fix you up, try a B supplement and few glasses of water.  You'll be better in no time.

Vegetable Ceviche

1 red onion, chopped fine
1 red pepper, chopped fine
1 jalapeno, chopped fine
3 ripe plum tomaoes, peeled and chopped
juice of 8 limes
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 3 oranges
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped fine, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped fine
2 cans sliced hearts of palm, rinsed, drained and sliced into squidlike rings
16 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Place chopped onion, red pepper and jalapeno in a large bowl.  Add chopped tomatoes, juices from limes, lemons and oranges.  Stir together well, season to taste.  Add cilantro, parsley, hearts of palm and mushrooms.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, as time, jalapeno and citrus work their magic.
Stir and taste again.  Garnish with extra cilantro if desired.    

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cupid, Psyche and Homemade Granola

Cooking is easy, blogs are hard, at least for me. Not the writing part, the making pretty part, the layout part, the getting text and images to work within the confines of the stupidass template part. A blog muddle yesterday put me into meltdown. Undoing the mess seemed impossible and not even worth trying. And somewhere during my blackest moment, I remembered Cupid and Psyche.
According to Roman myth, Cupid, the god of love, was the extremely gorgeous son of the extremely gorgeous Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Now, you'd think being hot and having a hunky son would make for Venus a pretty fine life. Alas, she was as jealous as she was beautiful -- your basic hardass mother-in-law.
Along comes Psyche, a mere mortal but sweet and lovely and Cupid fell for her, what can you do. He wooed her, but had to do it covertly. He explained that in accordance with the Roman gods' policy, he could not reveal himself to her as his godly splendor would overwhelm her. Trust me, I'm a god, he says, and she buys it.
They have sex in the dark and it is awesome. So awesome, Psyche couldn't keep the good news to herself. She ran to dish with her sisters.
If Venus was jealous, so were Psyche's sisters. But rather than come out and say they, too, wanted fantastic sex, they sowed those wretched seeds of doubt. If this guy is so hot, they said, how come he won't let you see him? He's probably a Gorgon and he totally lied to you.
This did not sit well with Psyche. So the next night with Cupid, right after the sex, he fell asleep as usual (gods, men, they're all alike), and rather than snuggle up with him as she'd done in the past, Psyce lit a candle, the better with which to view him. The light showed him to be more lovely than anything she could imagine. She went into some kind of rapture, during which time a drop of candle wax melted, splattering onto Cupid's shoulder and waking him up.
He let out a godly yelp, waking his mother. Bad news. She comes in, catches Cupid and this girl and freaks out. She can't get mad at her adorable son for skanking around, but she sure can take it out on Psyche. She dumps the girl into a basement piled high with grains, all different kinds in one massive pile -- wheat, oats, millet, rice, barley, whathaveyou, all mixed up.
Venus says, here, bitch. You wanna see loverboy again? Sort these out. By morning.
Well, that seemed a bit harsh, but Venus was a goddess, Psyche hadn't trusted Cupid as she'd promised to do, she didn't have a lot of leverage. The impossibility of ordering these teensy little grains on top of all the trauma she'd already experienced quite undid Psyche. She did what I did yesterday during my blog crisis. She cried.
She cried to break your heart -- even the ants (where there are grains, there are ants) took pity on her. So they crept out in a nice little line and sorted the grains into nice orderly piles.
Oddly, the myth does not say if Psyche was grateful and vowed never to kill an ant again, but it does say Venus showed up the next morning, and instead of seeing Psyche hysterical, found her happy and smiling, task completed. Venus had to suck it up. Cupid and Psyche were reunited, got married, lived happily ever after, that sort of thing.
I wish I could tell you some sympathetic insects helped sort me out yesterday. If only. But coming back to it fresh today, I found a way to fix what had been so hopelessly muddled, and that seemed magical enough for me.
Looking for a food tie-in? Here it is -- granola, that amalgamation of grains and fruits and nuts. They do not need to be separated into piles, they're much happier together.
For a really happy-making experience, make your own granola. It's cheaper than the commercially-made stuff, has even more flavor, less fat and sugar and all the goodness of oats' cholesterol-busting beta-glucan plus love.

DIY Granola

This is a basic blend. Once you see how it is to make, go wild. Cut back on the coconut and add afew tablespoons of wheat germ, flaxeeds meal, pumpkin or sunflower seeds for extra goodness. Substitute other dried fruits for the raisins and cranberries, add walnuts, pistachios or pecans instead of the almonds, combine at will.

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup almonds, coarely chopped
1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup honey
1/3 vegetable oil
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 250. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Moisten foil or parchment with a spray of oil.

In a large bowl, toss together oats, coconut, nuts and cinnamon. Pour in oil and honey and toss well to coat.

Place mixture on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Stir with a spatula. Continue cooking for another hour, turning mixture every half hour, until granola is golden brown, toasty and crunchy. Remove from oven and stir in dried fruit and salt. Let cool completely.

Makes about 10 cups. Store in airtight containers. Keeps for 1 month