Sunday, November 27, 2005

what to do with leftover turkey

I posted the picture of this beautiful pumpkin flan I made purely for the aesthetic value-- it was not a big hit at the Thanksgiving table. From this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, the pumpkin flan had a spicy pumpkin seed topping (which would make a great appetizer on its own), but the final product tasted suspiciously like pumpkin pie filling without the crust. Oh well. I'd wanted to try one challenging new thing, alongside the requisite turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. But although it turned out perfectly well, it wasn't a flavor any of us were crazy about. The picture merely documents the labor-intensive work involved in making this.

Also labor intensive, but well worth the effort, and something you could also do with leftover chicken, is this recipe for turkey croquettes. Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, the consistency of Spanish salty cod croquettes. I think you have to deep fry them, as there's no comparable healthy shortcut. Made with considerable help last night from Nour, who has more skills with deep frying and also did a nice job preparing the final product for its photo shoot.

Turkey Croquettes
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons grated onion
1/8 tsp. or more of spicy red pepper
Dash of pepper, paprika, and nutmeg
Salt to taste
4 cups minced leftover turkey
1 cup or more fine bread crumbs
1 beaten egg plus 2 tablespoons water (I had to use double this amount)

In a saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Add milk and chicken broth, simmer until thick. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, parsley, onion, and spices. Adjust to taste. Place in a large bowl with 4 cups turkey. Cool in refrigerator for one hour.

With wet hands, form croquettes into little balls. Roll in breadcrumbs. Roll into a cone shape, dip in egg, and dip again in breadcrumbs. You may need extra egg or breadcrumbs as necessary. Place on a plate. When ready for frying, heat up enough oil to cover the croquettes. When it's ready, deep fry without crowding, about three minutes each. Drain in a colander and keep warm in the oven.

two novels about friendship

Just finished Anita Brookner's novel The Rules of Engagement. Didn't love it, although it was well-written and flowed nicely. The entire story is told from the first person perspective of a woman who has lived a timid and rather bleak existence. Most of the story focuses on her lifelong friendship with another woman whose experiences of life are less measured and more adventuresome, but nonetheless the unreliable narrator pities her. Classic case of the camel that can't see its own hump, but it is never clear the camel sees anything at all, which I found both annoying and depressing.

A much better book that I also read over this vacation week, and really enjoyed, was Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. Also told from the perspective of a first person narrator, and also the story about a friendship, Veronica is a novel about beauty and ugliness, and the most unlikely places to find them. This narrator, Alison, in contrast to the Brookner narrator, embraces life to the point of self-destruction, and when the book begins she is already at rock bottom, a former model fallen victim to hepatitis who now cleans houses for a living. How she got there, and the story of a friendship experienced years before that still haunts her (with an AIDS sufferer), is the novel's story. Equal measures of beauty and ugliness, redemption and despair, this was a book that was easy to get lost in, with some particularly stunning moments of writing to alight on for a second before flying on.

Monday, November 21, 2005

swordfish, orzo & chocolate souffles

I am still "learning" to like fish, something I disliked immensely as a child (with the exception, I'm embarrassed to say, of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks). In college I started liking sushi of all kinds, but I still had issues with cooked fish. Now in addition to sushi, I love shrimp, tuna, salmon, particularly when well prepared. There's a baked Moroccan fish tagine with chermoula marinade, potatoes and peppers that is out-of-this world. But my efforts to prepare fish recipes that rely on the unadulterated flavor of the fish itself never seem to amount to much. I always feel like I'm dutifully eating the final product-- last night, a lackluster swordfish with orzo. I've had wonderful swordfish before, but I can't remember where. I'm wondering if it's the condition I buy the fish in. At the grocery store the swordfish was just sitting there in the case looking kind of pathetic, along with the other bottom dwellers, the obligatory tilapia, and the frozen shrimp. It's all been pre-frozen, even though we live an hour from the ocean. I've been told of a real fish market in town, which I hope to check out, but I haven't been happy with what's on offer at the grocery stores.

At any rate, I baked this with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Eh. The accompaniment was really nice-- I cooked some orzo, sauteed garlic and a few cups of spinach, mixing it with the orzo, some halved cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and olives. Spicy red pepper to taste. Feeling deprived, I decided to make a chocolate souffle with pistachios, a lightened version that is good if you're trying to be good and not eat too much (Nice with new "lowfat" Haagen Dazs, which is actually delicious). This was on my old website when The Barbecue was at a different address. Now, back by popular demand...

Chocolate Souffles with Pistachios
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 ounce semisweet chocolate
4 1/2 teaspoons butter
2 Tblsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tblsp. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup lowfat milk
3 large egg whites
4 teaspoons chopped pistachios

Spray 4 ramekins with cooking spray and scatter a teaspoon of sugar over it lightly. Melt butter and semisweet chocolate over low heat, adding three tablespoons sugar until dissolved. Whisk in cocoa, flour and salt, then add milk little by little until thick, about three minutes, stirring all the time. Remove from heat and cool. I do this by putting the mixture in a metal pan and sticking it in the freezer briefly.

Beat eggwhites over high speed in a mixer until foamy. Add three remaining tablespoons of sugar one by one and beat until eggs form stiff peaks. Fold egg white mixture into chocolate mixture in four equal additions, being careful to blend it without losing the air. Then divide souffles between ramekins, sprinkling pistachios on top. In a 375 degree preheated oven, cook for 20 minutes and remove. Serve with ice cream.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


My aunt was in town for a conference, down in the "resort area," the area around Disney World/Universal Studios that often seems a world away from where I live a half-hour north. I hadn't seen my aunt in a few years, so it was nice to catch up and hear about how her family was doing. She was staying at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, a huge hotel with a very elaborate network of interconnected swimming pools set into artificial "caves," with cascading waterfalls and jacuzzis tucked away in little nooks. On the other side of the hotel was a lake with a little beach, and if you landed there in a helicopter you would never guess that you were less than a mile away from a sea of neon signs, fast food, and Florida souvenir emporiums. I was very impressed with the hotel, even more impressed at how the tourist industry creates these pockets of unreality.

What was really a treat was that my aunt took us out to dinner in the hotel at one of Orlando's top restaurants, Hemingway's. I would never have been able to go there on my own, and I enjoyed every minute of our dinner. I had a seared tuna entree that was out-of-this-world, accompanied with savory mashed potatoes baked with a crust on top. Seared tuna! Barely done on the outside, rare yet warm on the inside, dipped in a soy-wasabi sauce... mmmm. Nour tried their coconut shrimp, and my aunt had crab cakes. For dessert, we shared an excellent key lime pie with a baked meringue topping.

Living in a general state of American isolation, adrift on a peninsula with no relatives within eight hours of us, it was also nice just to be reminded that I have a family.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Persian Spinach & Yogurt Dip

It was a particularly good weekend for spinach, which is tied with orange squashes for my favorite good-for-you vegetable. Last night I decided to make an Indian vegetarian dinner, and I tried another Bittman recipe, this time for saag paneer, spinach with cheese. Bittman recommends using tofu in place of the cheese, and since I had some on hand, I followed his advice. I bought some whole milk yogurt at the Indian grocery store that was amazingly good, and this was one of the principal ingredients, along with spices and half-and-half. Really, really good. I also made channa masala, a tomato-chickpea curry, from this Indian-themed food website. I went on a wild goose chase for the channa masala spice, finding it not at the Trinidadian Indian grocery store but at another Indian grocery store that also had the aforementioned succulent yogurt.

Today I made Persian Spinach and Yogurt Dip, from this month's issue of Cooking Light, which has a motherlode of good recipes this month (I have already made the date bars, Lyonnais potatoes, and Chicago-style steak with mushroom sauce, all of which were excellent). Ali Baba, a Middle Eastern/Persian restaurant in Orlando, has a similar spinach dip that I like very much, so I was excited when this recipe yielded similar results.

I need to figure out how to archive recipes by category on Blogger, anybody out there know how?

Persian Spinach and Yogurt Dip
1 10 ounce package fresh spinach, chopped
2 tsp. butter
1/3 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plain, fat-free organic yogurt (I went with the full-fat natural yogurt version)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cook chopped spinach for one minute, then drain well, squeezing out excess water. In a skillet, melt butter, saute onions and garlic until translucent. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and salt, and cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix spinach mixture with yogurt, pepper and cinnamon. Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving, chill afterward. Serve with pita bread, carrots, etc.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


B'stilla is a Moroccan savory-sweet chicken pie. It was once made with pigeon, and my husband claims it as a dish that originated in his hometown of Fes. It is a dish fit for royalty-- crisp layers of phyllo dough, savory chicken slow-cooked in broth and spices and shredded, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar.

In one of the classes I teach about the Middle East, my students wanted to do a potluck supper/movie watching session. Understandably for a class involving food, it was one of the most successful classes all term. The students went all out-- they made feta cheese dip, Middle Eastern carrot cake, tabbouleh, cauliflower-potato curry, hummus and chips, and one student brought samosas and a huge box of baklava. (Not all the dishes were strictly Middle Eastern, but that didn't matter much). We stuffed ourselves and watched a Tunisian film, "A Summer in La Goulette."

For my contribution, I spent the entire evening before making a vegetarian harira (spicy lentil soup) and this chicken b'stilla. I started out following Mark Bittman's version in The Best Recipes in the World, but aside from following the quantities I abandoned much of his technique, since it was different from what my in-laws do. Nour helped me put it all together, because phyllo isn't the easiest thing to work with.

2 Tblsp. canola oil
2 minced garlic cloves
1 finely chopped onion
2 lbs. boneless, skinless thighs (although you can use regular thighs and just de-bone them after they cook-- then use maybe 3 pounds)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ginger
3 cups chicken stock
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup skinless almonds
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-2 Tblsp. sugar
1/2 pound phyllo (12 sheets)
8 Tblsp. (1 stick) melted butter
Confectioner's sugar

Defrost your phyllo dough. Read the box instructions for how to do this.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Cook garlic and onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add chicken, parsley, turmeric, saffron, ginger, and stock. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove chicken from the pot to cool.

While stirring the stock, pour the eggs in slowly. (They will cook, but if you keep stirring they stay pretty separate, which is what you want). Simmer the stock, uncovered, until reduced by half (about 10 minutes). Shred chicken and return to stock, keep simmering until there is no more liquid. Remove from heat.

Here's where Bittman and I part ways. Toast the almonds in hot oil until they turn golden brown, remove to paper towels to drain. Grind in a coffee grinder but leave some chunky almond bits for consistency. Mix with cinnamon and regular sugar. Try one tablespoon first and taste. If you like it sweeter, add another tablespoon.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Get out the phyllo dough, making sure you followed the box instructions for defrosting, otherwise it will crack easily. Unroll phyllo dough carefully and have a damp towel ready to place on top. In a 9" pie pan using a pastry brush, brush butter on the bottom and sides of the pan. Place one sheet of phyllo dough in the pan, brush quickly with a little butter, place another on top, brush again, etc. Dough will be hanging over the sides, brush the sides too. Do 4-5 sheets this way. Cover the extra dough with cloth. Then add the chicken mixture. Cover chicken with the almond-sugar mixture (see photo). Fold the dough layers that were hanging over the side over the top and add a few more sheets, each brushed with butter, if you like. You may have extra butter or dough left at the end. An egg yolk brushed over the top is also optional. Bake 20-30 minutes, keeping an eye on the pie to see when it turns golden brown.

Remove from pan if you like, or if you're concerned about keeping it in one piece, leave it in there. When finished, sift a generous layer of powdered sugar over the top. Tap out cinnamon in a criss-cross pattern, as shown. Slice it up and enjoy. It's very elaborate but it's my favorite Moroccan dish-- very unusual and complex, served generally as a first course at weddings. My students loved it. Colleagues who tried a piece said they'd never tasted anything like it.

Another big success at the potluck class session was the Feta cheese dip some of my students made. I believe the source might be Middle East food expert Claudia Roden. Take 1/2 pound feta, the juice of one lemon, 2 Tblsp. vegetable oil, and 1 Tblsp. olive oil. Mash the feta with everything else using a fork until smooth. I asked for the recipe and will definitely make this dip again as well.

Tasting your way into another culture is one of the best ways to experience it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Pasta with Winter Squash

I tried two more recipes from Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. Pad Thai and Penne with Pumpkin or Squash.

Before I made the Pad Thai, my father was asking me why I liked to attempt ethnic dishes that involve paying for a lot of ingredients you never use again. I disagreed, saying that once you build a repertoire of spices, if you're interested in cooking these types of dishes you'll keep using the ingredients. Things like fish sauce, green curry paste, or cardamom pods, for example. I make some type of curry dish at least once a week, and Bittman is right, once you have the spices (which you can buy cheaply in small quantities at grocery stores like Whole Foods), making almost any Indian dish is usually simple. I also told my father that if the recipes are from a good source, you can guarantee good results most of the time.

Well, although I still stand by this assertion, this didn't happen for me with Bittman's Pad Thai. I have tried countless recipes for Pad Thai and never been able to make it taste like it does in a Thai restaurant. For this one, I bought fish sauce (nam pla), which was no great expense-- a little more than a dollar. I couldn't find the rice noodles at the grocery store. I went home, thought about using fettucine, then actually called up an Asian market several miles away and drove there to buy rice noodles. They were still the wrong shape, but I took them home, only to discover a little later that the bag was filled with insects. Grr... I then drove to Whole Foods and found the right kind of noodles there, but things continued to go downhill. I had every single ingredient required for the dish, but it still lacked those flavors I wanted to recreate. It was good, but it was something else. Won't be making that again.

I have a weakness for any squash with orange flesh. Pumpkins, butternut, acorn, you name it. Last year I discovered my dear friend Amy shared the same obsession for orange foods. We did many a lunch exchange at work of butternut squash lasagnas, soups, etc. Today, thinking of Amy, who no longer lives in Orlando, I decided to try Bittman's "Penne with Pumpkin or Squash" in her honor. I used only the finest ingredients, hoping to convince my husband of the subtle yet undeniable delight one derives from the consumption of orange foods. I grated fresh nutmeg, had a new wedge of Pecorino Romano (the recipe called for Parmesan), and cooked down the butternut squash into a textured, clinging sauce. It was awesome. Nour partook of seconds.

Preparation was very simple. I had a butternut squash that weighed a couple pounds, so I chopped it in half and peeled it, using only a pound of the squash. Then I cut up that one pound of squash in chunks and gave it a workout in the food processor until it looked grated. I put some water on to boil. In a frying pan, I placed a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and when the butter melted, I added a minced garlic clove and the squash mixture, stirring it around for a second before adding 1/2 cup water. I cooked it on medium heat for about 10 minutes, continuing to add water as the mixture got dry. I didn't want it to get too watery. In the meantime, I also boiled about 12 ounces of penne pasta.

At the end of the cooking time, I added 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg, a generous dash of cayenne pepper to make it spicy, and salt to taste. I reserved a half cup of water from the pasta water and drained the rest, then dumped the pasta in with the orange sauce, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to make it just slightly saucy and not too dry (I love that culinary trick). I mixed it all with 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, and man, was it good. Only differences from Bittman were the cheese and the addition of a minced garlic clove, but I think I managed to convince my husband of the superiority of orange foods. If only Amy were here!

With the other half of my squash, I think I will try a recipe I found here for habanero squash soup...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pollo con Salsa Verde

Ramadan ended Wednesday night, so to celebrate I prepared a somewhat unorthodox Mexican dinner of Pollo con Salsa Verde (Chicken in Green Sauce), Mexican rice, and refried beans, all of it from scratch. I was most excited to prepare this because it involved using my new cookbook, Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World, which I'd been eagerly awaiting from Amazon. I am a huge fan of Bittman's Minimalist column in the NY Times, which I've read religiously for years, and his How to Cook Everything, which is an extremely useful cookbook. But this new cookbook promised to be even more thrilling, especially since it has lots of Moroccan recipes and recipes from many of my favorite ethnic cuisines-- Indian, Thai, Japanese, and even old standbys like French and Italian. I trust Bittman implicitly-- I've probably made several hundred of his recipes, 90% of which have turned out to be dishes I'll make again.

So the aforementioned Mexican dinner came entirely from the new cookbook. It involved making refried beans from scratch, doing a quick soak of small red beans and then preparing them with epazote, a Mexican spice that thankfully is sold at a local vegetable stand about a half a mile from my house. Also sold at the local vegetable stand are hulled pumpkin seeds and tomatillos, two essential ingredients in the Mexican chicken dish. The rice involved frying dry rice in oil and then cooking it with broth and a mixture of pureed tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It was pretty delicious too-- had a texture I wasn't used to with rice, but I liked it fine. And the Chicken in Green Sauce was terrific.

I will never forget the first time I had green enchiladas-- in a Mexican restaurant in Madrid called El Cuchi, back in 1995. (The restaurant was very theatrical-- waitresses served tequila shots accompanied by a hard hat to be placed on the customer's head and rapped on after the customer kicked back a shot while the waitress also rang a hand-held siren.) But I loved the enchiladas. The tomatillo-cilantro flavor was so unlike anything I'd ever had before, and it's one of my favorite things to order at Mexican restaurants. Mark Bittman's recipe is more complex and nuanced than any green chicken I've made before, partially because of the addition of pumpkin seeds and scallion. I would definitely make this again, and I plan to continue making and reporting on lots of new recipes from this cookbook.

Pollo con Salsa Verde
1/3 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped scallion
1 cup husked, cored, and sliced tomatillos
1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
Chicken stock
3 Tblsp. lard or neutral oil (I used canola)
2.5-3 lbs. chicken parts, trimmed of fat (I used legs)
salt & pepper

Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown and pop (less than 5 minutes). In a blender, puree them with cilantro, scallion, tomatillos, and enough stock to make a thin paste.

In a skillet or casserole, brown the chicken in oil on all sides, turning occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.

Add salsa verde to the pan with another 1/2 cup of stock, the pieces may not be quite covered and the mixture will be soupy. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes, turning pieces occasionally, making sure sauce reduces and thickens somewhat. Serve with rice and beans.