Key Lime & Coconut

My adventures in the world of food & wine

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where's the Beef?

I don't normally eat a lot of beef when I'm trying to eat healthily. (Me + a week in Philadelphia = sweet baby Jesus, I need to go on a diet.) Also, beef is not the most environmentally friendly food. Sometimes, though, I make an exception, like yesterday, when I went to my local butcher and saw a gorgeous little piece of sirloin that I absolutely couldn't live without. To balance out the fact that I was eating a hunk of red meat (although, to be fair, one of the least fatty varieties), I decided to grill it - rare, of course - and put it on a salad with a light Asian-inspired dressing. Fresh, yummy, relatively healthy. Not bad for a Monday night.

Beef Salad with Mint
serves one
  • one 4-5 ounce sirloin or filet mignon
  • 2 c. salad greens, your choice (I prefer romaine)
  • 1/4 c. minced fresh mint
  • 1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a small cucumber, thinly sliced
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • pinch cayenne, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar (or Splenda)
Preheat the grill or your broiler. (I used a grill pan on top of the stove.) Grill or broil the steak until rare or medium-rare about 8 to 12 minutes. Set it aside to cool. Toss the lettuce with the mint, onion, and cucumber. Combine all remaining ingredients, and toss the greens with this mixture, reserving about 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Slice the beef thinly, reserving its juice. Lay the slices over the salad. Mix the juice and reserved dressing, drizzle over the beef, and serve.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Sweet Like Victory

Welcome to my first entry in the monthly Daring Bakers challenge, in which hundreds of food bloggers prepare the same elaborate recipe and post about it on the same day. It's mighty coincidental that the selected posting day this month is the day after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series - and that the chosen recipe is for a dessert modeled after Boston Cream Pie.

Meet the Bostini Cream Pie. Whereas the traditional Boston Cream has two layers of vanilla sponge cake filled with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate ganache, the Bostini begins with a thick vanilla custard in a bowl, throws a mini orange chiffon cake on top and drizzles the whole thing with warm chocolate glaze. Needless to say, it's delicious, although so rich that I'm pretty sure it took at least a week off of my life - the custard alone called for 10 egg yolks, not to mention the rest of the heavy cream, butter, sugar, and chocolate that went into the entire production.

Although the Daring Bakers are instructed to follow the recipe to the letter, we were allowed to reduce the recipe this time because of the massive portions of dessert it was designed to produce. I halved mine, and it still turned out beautifully. I made it while Joe was here visiting earlier this month, and he was the best sous-chef any girl could ask for. (I hope he forgives my baseball-related gloating; he's not exactly a Sox fan.)

To see hundreds of other Bostini Cream Pies, presented and plated in all kinds of creative ways, visit the Daring Bakers blog roll starting today. If you're feeling daring yourself, you can check out the recipe over at Alpineberry, whose creator, Mary, is this month's host and selected our delicious recipe.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Life of Pie

Well, I'm back in Boston after an amazing week in Philadelphia with Joe. It was so relaxing, and I got quite a bit of satisfaction out of feeding Joe and his roommate. While I was in town I baked them not one but two delicious pies - pecan and apple. See, I really wanted to make a pie, but Joe didn't have a rolling pin. He ended up buying me one to keep in his apartment in exchange for my promise to bake him a pie every time I come visit. Of course I will gladly oblige. I even overcompensated this time by making more than one.

I used the same crust recipe for both pies because it turned out so very well the first time. It's flaky and buttery and everything a pie crust should be. The trick is to cut the butter into the dry ingredients the old-fashioned way, with a pastry blender. You could use a food processor, but I think that just creates more mess than it's worth, and really it's the uneven results of the handmade method that make the crust so good - the pockets of unincorporated butter in the dough are what create the flakiness. The other key thing to remember is to use very cold butter and to give the dough enough time to chill in the fridge before you roll it out and then again before you put the filling into it.

Both pies turned out spectacularly. The only other thing I should note is that no matter how badly you want to eat it right away, you have to let the pecan pie sit and cool for a few hours before you serve it. Otherwise, hot pie juice will gush out at you when you cut into it. It still tastes good, but no one wants liquid pie.

Pie Crust
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 c. ice water
Mix together the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the dough chunks are the size of peas. Sprinkle on the ice water and blend just until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn the pastry onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 13-inch round. Ease the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate and trim the overhang to a half-inch. Crimp the edges decoratively. Refrigerate until firm.

Georgia Pecan Pie
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. dark corn syrup
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 5 oz. pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350. Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and salt. Whisk in the light and dark corn syrups, butter and vanilla until combined. Stir in the pecans. Pour the filling into the pie shell and arrange the pecans in a decorative pattern. Cover the rim of the pie with foil strips and bake the pie for 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed but still slightly jiggly. Remove the foil strips and let the pie cool completely before serving.

Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie

Filling ingredients:
  • about a half-dozen Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
Topping ingredients:
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. golden brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
  • vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 400. Mix all filling ingredients in large bowl to coat apples. Blend first 5 topping ingredients in processor. Add chilled butter cubes; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles wet sand. (You could also do this manually with a pastry blender.) Toss filling to redistribute juices; transfer to crust, mounding in center. Pack topping over and around apples. Bake pie on baking sheet until topping is golden, about 40 minutes (cover top with foil if browning too quickly). Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until apples in center are tender when pierced and filling is bubbling thickly at edges, about 45 minutes longer. Cool until warm, about 1 hour. Serve with ice cream.

P.S. Just to prove that I didn't make ONLY junk food this week, a picture of Tuesday night's dinner - beef rib-eye and vegetable stew with homemade buttermilk biscuits.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cupcake Hero to the Rescue

Greetings from the City of Brotherly Love! I'm in Philadelphia for the week, and my boyfriend Joe and I have been having a blast eating out at various spots in the city. Tonight we're taking a break from that and I'm cooking a delicious Southern meal for him and his roommate. Needless to say, I enjoy feeding him. In that vein, I baked a batch of cupcakes on Friday night and brought a bunch of them with me when I flew down on Saturday, just as a kind of thank-you present for letting me crash with him on my week off.

These cupcakes are my entry for the October edition of the Cupcake Hero challenge. The theme ingredient this month is cloves, those delicious ground-up dried flower buds. Cloves are pungent, sweet, and strong; you have to be careful not to go overboard with them. I worked up a recipe from a spice cake recipe in the classic Joy of Cooking that balances out the cloves with some other spices, and threw in a handful of chopped-up figs for good measure. Chocolate butter frosting serves as the perfect creamy topping to these crumbly bundles of autumnal goodness.

Velvet Spice Cupcakes with Figs

  • 2-1/2 c. sifted cake flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground or grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 c. sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs, divided into yolks and whites
  • 3/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
  • 6-8 fresh black mission figs, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350. Grease or place paper liners into cupcake pans. Whisk together first seven ingredients (flour through salt) until thoroughly blended. Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add 1-1/4 c. sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes. Beat in the 3 egg yolks, one at a time. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the yogurt in 2 parts, beating until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Stir in the figs. Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 c. sugar and beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites. Spoon the batter into the cupcake pans so that each cup is about two-thirds full. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool, remove from pans, and frost.

Dark Chocolate Butter Icing
  • 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. warm milk
  • 1-1/3 c. confectioners sugar
  • pinch cinnamon and ground cloves
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in milk. Add spices, then gradually add confectioners sugar, beating on medium speed until spreadable.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Pork Fat Rules

Having company over for dinner is something I haven't done enough of this year. There's not much in the world that I find more gratifying than feeding people. Well, even more gratifying is feeding people while watching the Red Sox win Game 5 of the ALCS. Especially if I'm feeding them slow-cooked pork shoulder, white beans with sage, and sweet potato oven fries. With lots of red wine.

So I bought this giant 7.5 pound pork shoulder at my local butcher on Wednesday with the intention of cooking it last night for my guests, my friends Jackie and Stephanie. The only problem was that it was so large that it wouldn't fit in my slow cooker. I ended up cutting off and freezing about a third of it, but even still, we had more meat than we could finish. I've never made pork shoulder before, and boy, that is a fatty piece of meat. Fatty and delicious. We were remarking last night how odd it is that pigs get fat in their shoulders. Not that I'm complaining - as Emeril would say, pork fat rules.

I don't really have recipes for what I made; I was just winging it left and right. Fortunately everything turned out great. Here's the play-by-play:

For the
pork shoulder, the night before I wanted to cook it, I roasted 3 big bulbs of garlic for a half hour in a 400-degree oven, then peeled it and put it in a blender with about 2 T each of salt, coriander, and dried rosemary; 1 T each of mustard powder and dried thyme; and about a teaspoon of ground black pepper. After blending it into a paste, I rubbed it all over the pork and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Before I went to class the next morning, I threw it in the slow cooker with just a bit of water in the bottom (1/4 c. maybe) and let it go about 8 hours on low.

For the
white beans, I just soaked a half-pound of them overnight, then cooked them with 3 cups of water, a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and about a tablespoon of chopped fresh sage.

For the
sweet potato oven fries, I peeled 3 yams and then cut them into french-fry-sized pieces. I tossed them in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then baked them in a 500-degree oven for 30 minutes. When I served them, I sprinkled some fresh thyme on top.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Black Beans and Baseball

It's officially autumn, and that for me means two things: baseball playoffs and soup. Tonight, along with some nice crisp weather, I'm getting to enjoy both of those fall classics. (Although to be honest, I'm enjoying the baseball a bit less right now; my Red Sox are losing 2-0 as I write this.)

I've made my fair share of black bean soup in my time, and I've tried a bunch of different recipes. I'm always on the lookout for a new one. Tonight, since I've been going through Mark Bittman's fantastic culinary compendium
How to Cook Everything, I tested out his recipe. Pluses: it was fast and easy, it had great flavor (good and spicy), and it was versatile enough that I would feel comfortable using it as a base for some future tinkering. Minuses: it's a little thinner than I was expecting. After it was done, I put a bunch of garnishes on top, and they kept sinking into the soup. Which would have been 100% fine if I hadn't been trying to take a picture of it.

Overall, a delicious, satisfying soup. Now if only the Red Sox would perform as well as this recipe...

Black Bean Soup
Serves 3-4
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable/canola oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 3 c. drained cooked black beans
  • 4 c. chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • sour cream
  • optional (but recommended) garnishes: cilantro, chopped scallions, grated cheddar cheese, chopped tomato, chopped avocado
Place the oil in a large, deep saucepan or casserole and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring, another minute. Add the beans and stock and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the soup just to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Puree half the contents of the pot in a food processor or blender (or just mash the contents with a potato masher or large fork). Add the lime juice and stir; taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve, topped with any or all of the optional garnishes.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

No Vampires

Have you ever butchered a chicken? You know, taken a whole chicken and hacked at it with a large knife to dismember it? I did yesterday for the first time. It was not pleasant. Actually, that's an understatement - it was kind of awful. It made me want to become a vegetarian immediately. I'll spare you the gory details, but it involved breaking bones. Ugh. I guess it was a good experience, though, because now I know how to do it. If you're ever faced with cutting up a whole chicken, there's a pretty good explanation with diagrams and stuff on p.368 of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, or you can look here.

Anyway, the butchering was worth it because this
chicken with 40 cloves of garlic is amazing. This recipe really just screams "autumn" to me. Between the roasting garlic and the cinnamon, the smell it emanates as the chicken is cooking is one of the most delicious aromas ever to grace my olfactory organs. My apartment has never smelled better than it did for an hour last night when I had this chicken on the stove.

Added bonus: all this garlic is a pretty potent vampire repellent.

A glimpse into the pot:

And on the plate:

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Adapted from
How to Cook Everything (Mark Bittman)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut up, trimmed of fat, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • at least 2 heads garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
  • 1/2 c. minced fresh parsley leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. white wine or chicken stock
Place the chicken, oil, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and cinnamon in the bottom of a large saucepan, casserole, or Dutch oven. Pour the wine/stock over all and mix together. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Cook, undisturbed, for about an hour, until the chicken and garlic are very tender. Eat the softened garlic cloves spread onto good crusty bread.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gettin' Figgy With It

(I'm sorry about the title of this post. Really. Sometimes I just cannot control myself.)

Fig season is pretty much over, which is always a sad occurrence for me every year. Fresh figs are my absolute favorite fruit (rivaled perhaps only by Rainier cherries), and their growing season always seems so short. They're such a tease. But I love them anyway, despite their coquettish ways. Imagine my joy when I discovered that my local grocer still has a precious few left in stock!

This weekend Joe was in town visiting from Philadelphia. I usually try to cook for him, since he evidently never does so for himself and I worry about him wasting away into nothingness (Joe, EAT SOMETHING), but this weekend for some reason all we ended up making were desserts. Sunday afternoon was devoted to the Daring Bakers challenge, coming to a blog near you at the end of October. Saturday night, though, while he watched the Purdue/Ohio State game, I made ice cream out of the fresh figs that still seem to be hanging on into autumn.

Of course, my first instinct was to turn to David Lebovitz, he of the most incredible ice cream recipes known to man. (Maybe a slight exaggeration. But they're always good.) His fig ice cream has surprisingly little cream in it. In fact, it's so overwhelmingly composed of fig that you can leave it out of the freezer and it won't exactly melt, it just kind of sits there. The plus side of that is that it doesn't freeze rock hard, but stays nice and soft. And because you can keep it in your freezer for as long as you like, your figginess doesn't have to end with the close of summer, but can last all year long. No more teasing.

Fresh Fig Ice Cream
  • 2 lbs fresh figs (about 20)
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 c. of sugar
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Remove the hard stem ends from the figs, then cut each fig into 8 pieces. Put the figs in a medium, nonreactive suacepan with the water, and zest the lemon directly into the saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8-1o minutes until the figs are tender. Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook until it reaches a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Blend together with cream and lemon juice, chill in the fridge and then put in your ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

A Sustainable Seafood Stew

This week is crazy busy for me for some reason. Tons of reading for class, work for my internship, errands to run and events to attend. Somehow (not sure exactly how) I found time to make a pretty delicious meal tonight. Fortunately I have leftovers, so if I'm too busy to cook tomorrow, I won't have to starve.

Spanish Fish Stew with Peppers, Almonds and Saffron is really quite healthy. I'm on phase 2 of South Beach, so I served it on top of some brown rice to make a really filling and awesome meal. I try to be really conscious about what seafood I eat; this summer I worked for an environmental non-profit organization called Oceana that does a lot of marine conservation, and I learned a lot about unsustainable fisheries and the damage to the oceans that a lot of fishing practices can do. Fortunately there are some kinds of seafood that aren't so terrible to eat, and those are what I put into my stew. Farmed clams are one of those OK seafoods - they don't have to be dredged off the ocean floor to be eaten. (Dredging kills everything that lives on the sea floor, like coral reefs and turtles.) Pacific halibut is also a fish you can eat with a clean conscience, because that's a fishery that's responsibly managed and not in huge danger of overexploitation. For a complete guide to ocean friendly seafood, Oceana publishes a great list and you can find it here.

Spanish Fish Stew with Peppers, Almonds and Saffron
Serves 4
  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-1/2 c. dry white wine
  • one 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads, crumbled into 2 Tbsp. hot water
  • 1/4 c. salted roasted almonds
  • 1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 1-1/4 lbs. Pacific halibut, meat cut into 1-inch pieces
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy casserole. Add the onion, bell pepper strips and garlic and season with salt and black pepper. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, paprika, and bay leaf and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water and saffron and bring to a boil. Cover the casserole and cook over medium high for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Stir in the almonds into the stew and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the clams, cover and cook until most of them open, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the fish and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the fish is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Transfer to bowls; serve over brown rice if desired.

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