Really simple sautéed zucchini

I got another batch of nice, small, firm zucchini in my CSA basket, this week, so I’m looking forward to making what has become my favorite – and easiest – recipe for them. A 10-minute lunch operation, tasty and filling enough to make a vegetarian meal.

First time I made it was actually a midnight meal, as I was alone at home and took the “I’ll just finish another couple of things before dinner” to rather ridiculous extremes. I needed something fast and filling, and the recipe wound up fitting the bill.

I started by quickly cutting a small red onion into wide slices, while some nice extra virgin olive oil was warming up in a pan over medium-high heat (about 6 out of 10). Throwing in the onions and tossing them around the pan, I quickly added a good spoonful of cumin seeds and a couple of pinches of espelette pepper, as well as a pinch of salt and some freshly ground white pepper, and tossed the onions again to mix them with the spices.

When the onions had melted and Read More »

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Eating local: What’s in your basket?

The contents of this week's CSA basket from La Mauve, a coop in the Bellechasse region, southeast of Quebec City

It was Ruhlman that started it.

Mark Ruhlman is one of my favorite chefs. The book on Charcuterie he wrote with Brian Polcyn is what helped me start making dry-cured ham and other things like bacon and chorizo.

I follow his tweets, and this morning, he started a very civilized game of I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours by asking people to send him pictures of their own CSA basket to compare with his. He’s been reporting on his season of community-supported agriculture baskets for the last dozen weeks, sharing impressions (like his hatred of green peppers), recipes and evaluations, and today, he got into a comparative mode.

I’m glad for his suggestion. I was looking to write a piece about the pleasures of eating locally in the summertime, and this was the little nudge I needed, I guess.

From the picture above, you’ll see that Read More »

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Caramelized peach sorbet – no ice cream machine required

I’d been thinking of this recipe for three years at least. At a restaurant I particularly loved, L’Utopie, which unfortunately closed last year, desserts often featured all sorts of interesting ice creams (including “nature” – i.e., no flavor added, which made you realize that vanilla really is a flavor, not the “default”, neutral variety of ice cream). Talking with the chef, Stéphane Modat, I suddenly got the idea that using caramelized fruit in a sorbet would give it an interesting extra layer of flavor.

Peaches seemed like one of the most interesting candidates, and when I came back from the Niagara region, this week, with the generous gift of a whole box of peaches, the idea of trying to make that caramelized peach sorbet came back to me. So off I went.

I picked five very ripe peaches and Read More »

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Cooking Live: Penne with asparagus, parmesan and lemon

My last variation on this recipe, including some tiny cubes of home cured ham. (Photo from old cell phone, sorry about the image quality).

I discovered this simple recipe last year at Tastecamp, when David Page, of Shinn Vineyards, in Long Island, made it for a group of bloggers attending this blogger meeting. Simple, delicious. I must have gone back for three servings. It was just a great balance of flavors – and it went pretty well with the couple of sauvignon blancs from Macari Vineyards and Jamesport Vineyards that were being served with the meal – along with a barrel sample of the wonderful 2007 Shinn Cabernet Franc, a truly remarkable cuvée.

Anyhow, the recipe was so simple that I managed to adapt it very easily. I’ve prepared it twice over the last year, with little variations each time. The kids and adults around the table always make it disappear in a flash.

First, steam the asparagus until they are still bright green and just al dente. Cool them down immediately in very cold water (adding ice cubes helps), leave them for a few minutes and drain them when they are cool to the touch.

Get some water boiling for the pasta while you Read More »

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The taste of oil

If cooking was a Hollywood movie, oil would be relegated to a very small supporting role. A couple of lines, nothing memorable, nothing to build a career on.

Frankly, with the way most generic vegetable oils taste, that’s a proper casting. Your average corn, canola or sunflower oil doesn’t have have much personality: it may be hard to tell them apart, unless you’re really paying attention. Made that way, oil is pretty much something to avoid food from sticking to the pad or to help prevent spices and herbs from burning, when basted on roasted meat, for instance. But as something to heighten a dish’s flavors?

The notable exception to this is, of course, extra-virgin olive oil, whose varied taste, Read More »

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Cooking Live: parmesan-encrusted chicken breasts with a stovetop paella (of sorts)

In mid-January, the New York Times published an article by Melissa Clark entitled Recapturing the Glory of Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts. The premice to the article was that this piece of chicken, lauded for dietary reason, was also a rather boring, as far as flavor and texture were concerned. With the help of some fine New York chefs, Ms Clark went on to demonstrate that it did not have to be bland and dry.

A couple of weeks after this inspiring read, I ordered some organic, boneless, skinless breasts from my CSA coop, and proceeded to prepare a recipe inspired by those provided alongside Ms Clark’s article.

Except that when I did a quick search for “boneless chicken breast”, what came up first was a blog post by Mark Bittman entitled New Life for Chicken Breasts dating from last spring. There, Bittman reminisced a dish he ate at his buddy Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant:

The chicken on my mind was a dish we ate at Jean Georges. It started with a skinless, boneless breast coaxed into near-constant thickness and near-perfect symmetry. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Like something in the supermarket frozen-food aisle. It wasn’t, of course. It had a golden parmesan crust and two sauces and a little garnish of spinach.

He then proceeded to recount how he’d made a sort of stovetop paella, cooking the chicken breasts over a sort of paella – i.e., flavored rice, with broth, simmering slowly with the meat. That sounded great. Except he didn’t do the parmesan crust, which seemed sooo good.

Steaming the chicken, and then doing the crust seems like a fantastic way to get get a crisp surface while keeping the interior moist and the texture tender. So I decided to go all the way and finish the recipe with a little bit of pan-fried goodness.

About an hour before dinner, I started on the rice. As with risotto, I started with other ingredients, to provide taste, and proceeded to tweet this CookingLive recipe as it went along:

Diced onions, sliced oyster mushrooms. Tossing them in olive oil and butter, with espelette, pepper and thyme. #cookinglive

After the onions and mushrooms had cooked down, Read More »

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L’Oignonnée: simple braising for your roasted leg of lamb

This is kind of a double-layered post. It’s about braising, but only after roasting.

It starts with a roasted leg of lamb, cooked rare, as it should, with a nice coating of herbs, spices and olive oil, with a crispy outside and moist inside.

It continues with the leftover meat, which is Read More »

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Sprucing up leftovers: beef-mushroom stew on Twitter Cooking Live

Some leftovers are particularly tough to deal with. For years I’ve dreaded the extra meat left after a Chinese fondue. That thinly sliced meat is not an easy thing to cook. Boiling it is kind of boring, stewing it leads to a rather mushy result, and frying it is also not as simple as it looks.

So Monday, having a couple of pounds of beef left from an overly ambitious purchase, I decided that Read More »

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A New Year’s resolution for home cooks: stop measuring so much

Julia Child's Pyrex measuring cup, kept at the National Museum of American History

OK, I’ve got a resolution that should be easier to keep than, say, quitting smoking or losing ten pounds. Next time you cook, whether following a recipe or improvising, let go of the measuring implements, and follow your instincts and your senses.

I’m not proposing that we go back to pre-Fannie Farmer, Boston Cookbook days, when everything was “a sufficient amount”, “until desired texture”, and other totally relative descriptors. There is merit to precision in cooking.

The dedication that, say, Julia Child put in making sure Read More »

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Year-old ham, dried bacon and Christmas marvels

All sorts of wonderful treats are on the table at Christmas time. And I’m especially proud of some that we served last night for pre-dinner drinks. A dry-cured ham that had been hanging in my cellar for a little over a year and some delightful air-dried bacon from this fall’s Operation Half-Pig accompanied the just-finished chardonnay that my father-in-law made from pressings I brought back for him from my winemaking adventures in Prince Edward County. All beautiful stuff, made all the more special because we made it ourselves.

The dry-cured ham cut open after a year in the cellar. Note the deep red color it develops over time.

The ham is just ready, after a full year hanging in the cellar. This slow aging Read More »

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