Brunch for one.

1. I get up late (I said brunch not breakfast) and make myself some coffee, french press of course.

2.  I see what I have in the fridge…probably not much because it is Saturday morning and I tend to do my grocery shopping for the week on Saturday afternoon. Maybe I find a zucchini and some mushrooms.

3. I go in search of a cookbook …it is was probably under the couch. I have to clear out 3 pairs of shoes and a couple empty wine glasses to get to it.  This is a good opportunity for clearing away the ring of items that slowly grows in a semi-circle around my couch over the course of the week.

4. So I pick a recipe out, maybe out of Judith Jones, and decide on my substitutions while sipping my coffee…finally I will get started

5. I grate the zucchini, salt it and leave in a strainer over a bowl and then go grab my second cup of coffee which I sip while I sort through the clothes that I piled on that chair all week: laundry hamper, hang back up, or maybe the dry cleaner pile.

6. When that is done I go back in the kitchen and chop up some mushrooms and scallions and set aside, because by now it is time to make another pot of coffee.

7. Then I grab the zucchini, literally, and squeeze as much liquid as out as I can. It is kind of fun.

8. I melt some butter in a skillet (skillet is a fun word) and cook the mushrooms and the scallions a bit. Then add the zucchini and cook that a bit. Add a couple tablespoons of cream

9. When it is almost cooked I put it in a little casserole/gratin dish. I then will realize that I forgot to preheat the oven.

10. I drink more coffee and read a bit more of my bon appetit mag or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire while I wait for it to preheat.

11. Then I go back, make an indent in the zucchini mixture, and break in a couple eggs. I drizzle with a little more cream, season with salt and pepper, grate some parm over it and put it in the oven

12. 15 minutes later, I eat my brunch.  it will probably be about noon by now.

xmas presents in action part 5 – GGma’s Rolling Pin

piece of cheese flamicheI made flamiche with stinky French cheese. Flamiche is a kind of a bready tart or quiche.  It can also be made with leeks… but I could not find any leeks that week.

I used the rolling pin my aunt gave me for xmas, that had been my great grandmother’s rolling pin. Flamiche is common in northern France and Belgium. So I pretend that this is not the first flamiche this rolling pin has made. That great grandma Rose, whose family was Luxembourger, really the same group of people… there where the border moved and meant little to nothing…so I pretend that her mother Anna who was born in Belgium a few miles from the modern Luxembourg and French borders once taught my great grandmother Rose to make the same or a very similar recipe in a kitchen somewhere in New Belgium, Wisconsin. It may have been difficult though, because I have never seen stinky French-style cheese, or leeks or anything like flamiche in Wisconsin. I pretend anyway.

North African food and xmas presents in action – parts 2 & 3

Part 2 – So this was the first recipe made from a cookbook I got for xmas, Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs. The book is called the The Food52 Cookbook with recipes that came from the web site It sounds silly I suppose but I like my real paper cookbooks that I can hold on to and write in and drip grease and chili paste on.

Anyway, for this recipe there are 12 ingredients. 7 of them you will always find in my kitchen, 2 I might have or I may have to pick up, but the last 3: merguez sausage, ras el hanout and harissa, those cannot be found in the city of Chicago. Okay. They probably can but not in the 3 or 4 places that I looked and so I was forced to make them….okay not really ‘forced’, more like ‘happy to’.

  1. Ras El Hanout – Supposedly translates to “top of the shop.” Spice vendors would all make their own super secret blends. I got a very simplified recipe from the North Africa section of my Essential Mediterranean cookbook. I picked it because I basically had all the ingredients and because I like to use my scale to measure things.

    7 g tumeric
    15 g allspice berries ground allspice
    30 g black peppercorns
    1.5 2 smallish whole nutmegs
    1 whole clove
    10 cardamom pods
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
    3 rosebuds 2ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

    So I used what I had:  ground allspice, and although I looked for some edible rosebuds I did not find them so I substituted in a couple of teaspoons of lavender flowers. All went into my spice grinder. I was a little worried about the two nutmegs but I picked small ones and ground in short bursts to take layers off slowly. It is possible the blade on my spice grinder (old coffee grinder, that I believe was a hand-me-down from a college roommate) is ruined. I haven’t really tried to use it since then though.

  2. garlic paprika based spice mix in morter and pestleMerguez Sausage – The web site and cookbook offered possible substitutions and a suggestion for turning some ground lamb into this sausage. I then found this recipe online and I liked it because it uses sumac and I have some sumac. I just used ground lamb. I figured I would be perfectly happy without adding fat, buying a meat grinder or putting it in casing and then taking it back out again. The recipe also called for…
  3. Harissa –  A hot chili paste/sauce which I could not find. I used the recipe from my Suvir Saran cookbook that I have been wanting to try for awhile now. Traditionally it is made with dried piri piri peppers which I did not have. I had guajillos and pasillas. I rejected the pasillas and then went and got another a small bag of guajillos and also used some generically labeled ‘red peppers’ the kind you get in bottle in the spice aisle at the grocery store but don’t really know what type of pepper they are. I stemmed and seeded all the guajillos before weighing and soaking them, the little generic red ones I left all the stems and seeds. This is partially because I like hot but not ‘really hot’ in my food, also partially because I did not strain the chilies.  I can’t seem to find the right kind of strainer for this type of job. I would greatly appreciate suggestions.

This leads to xmas presents in action part 3 (see photo above); One of my new mortar and pestles smashing up the harissa, spices, and seeds with the garlic for the sausage.

Lamb sausage ragout with poached eggFinal product: It was a lot more meaty then the picture in the cookbook which may be that there is less grease because of the leaner meat… I guess. I also I struggled with poaching of the egg, most of the yolk was cooked. It was quite spicy and delicious and I now have extra merguez sausage in my freezer, a couple small jars of harissa in my fridge (I put some in John Ash’s Grandmother’s Bean Soup leftovers the other day… brilliant!) and a jar of ras el hanout in my spice cabinet. It is going to be an everything-North-African-flavored winter!

savory bread pudding for xmas eve

pan of spinach artichoke bread puddingOkay, so I was going to make lamb shanks but the lamb shanks that I found at the grocery in my hometown in Wisconsin (not a place where lamb is a particularly popular meat) turned out to be inedible once removed from the shrink wrap and weird sticky bandage-like-wrapping-stuff. They were returned. Have you ever returned meat? Not fun.

Then my mother said that my aunt who was coming to dinner was a vegetarian, (Turns out she actually isn’t any longer.) but I found a recipe online from Emeril, (Not usually my favorite, as you can tell from my Emeril-less cookbook collection.) but all the ingredients would be available and fresh at the local grocery store and I thought it was non-controversial (I was wrong. Savory bread pudding, kind of like savory cheese cake or flan, disturbs people.) but everyone said they liked this, a kind of like spinach-artichoke dip with the bread (and lots of brie) already in it. It was rich and yummy and the leftovers were great.  Mid-westerners seem to turn their noses up a bit at the idea of eggs for dinner, at least a holiday dinner. For those of you that agree…we did have a side of steak.

I also made some mushroom latkes and onion-applesauce which were tasty but not very pretty and I didn’t have a good picture for the blog.  The recipe you will see calls for celery root. Again one of those things you take for granted in Chicago but that does not seem to be popular in Wisconsin, yet.  I finally found some squishy-moldy ones… I substituted with good old fashioned potatoes.

Soft corn polenta, tomato salad and poached eggs

polenta n eggsJust when you thought I couldn’t eat any more eggs….but of course I can always eat more eggs.

I’m ambivalent about this recipe. John Ash often surprises me with recipes that I start out being a little leery of and then proceed to love extravagantly. I can’t say that poached eggs and polenta with a tomato basil salad is one of those.

Although, full disclosure, I have been eating variations of leftover polenta and eggs for a week.  It ends tomorrow though because I am down to 1 shallot and some expired milk.

savory flan

aparagus flanThis savory flan thing seems to throw people, they can’t get beyond that caramel dessert flan they serve in Spanish and Mexican restaurants. So when I say asparagus and bacon they tend to make a face.

It is just like quiche which is really just like fancy scrambled eggs, right? I only had skim milk and half&half, and one less egg yolk because I had a couple egg whites leftover from another recipe that I needed to use, so it was relatively healthy. I mean compared to whole milk, heavy cream and extra egg yolks. Also with flan there is no crust. I just cooked and chopped some asparagus and bacon and put them in a pie plate, mixed up the eggs, half&half  and milk with some herbs and salt and pepper, pour into the pie plate and baked. No grocery shopping required and baked eggs with bacon and asparagus is delicious.

I had a hard sell on that smoked salmon cheesecake I made last year too. It was really good…again cream cheese and smoked salmon combo, duh.

I get it some words trigger memories and ideas of  “sweet” immediately, so coupled with asparagus or salmon…   But really that makes a flan is the baked eggs or a cheesecake, the baked [cream] cheese, not the sugar.

My only trouble with this flan is that it was a little ‘watery’ or  ‘juicy’ in the bottom of the pie plate. I assume some of the liquid was from the eggs, some from the skim milk and some from the steamed asparagus.  But I just drained it off the plate and ate with a salad. Yummo

How do you keep your tart from leaking?

vidaliaonionquicheDoes that sound dirty? but you see…ALL THE CUSTARD JUST LEAKED OUT THE BOTTOM OF MY TART SHELL!! I was making an onion tart. I cooked up some Vidalia Onion Confit and blind baked a the pastry shell. It says to put the onion confit in the tart shell and then pour the custard over (milk, cream, eggs, parsley) but of course, duh the pastry had holes in it, isn’t waterproof and I have a removable bottom on the tart pan. Disaster!! all over the stove top. So I quick put it on a sheet pan and into the oven. I waited for a few minutes to get it to cook a little and then poured the remaining custard on top…there has to be a secret. What is the secret?? Did I just make a crappy tart shell?

It may have made a mess but it is very delicious. One of those way better than restaurant food moments.

I also made onion soup this week and froze it because it was the first time I’ve seen Vidalia onions at the store. I bought too many of them and they don’t keep well.