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These Cookbooks Are Pretentious, But With A Purpose

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

I’ll admit it, my first instinct was to laugh. Or at least to scoff.

Two cookbooks crossed my desk recently, and they were, individually and collectively, the most pretentious things I’ve ever seen. It is as if they were competing for some sort of international award for affectation, and they were both tied for first place with nothing else even remotely close.

The first is called Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest. It is a cookbook from the Willows Inn restaurant on Lummi Island, off the coast of Washington State near Canada, about 100 miles and a ferry ride north of Seattle. On the book’s cover is a picture of what appears to be a twig, some seaweed, a few leaves, a crab claw, a clam shell and a dried up, dead fish.

The second book is called Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste. This is the cookbook of a San Francisco restaurant called Atelier Crenn. On the cover is a bird’s nest.

The book explains that the restaurant uses a bird’s nest as its logo “because it symbolizes the juncture of art and nature.” Me, when I see a bird’s nest on a cookbook, I think “I don’t want to eat that.”

The Sea and Smoke book is full of recipes such as A Porridge of Lovage Stems and A Stew of Stinging Nettles. One recipe takes clams, wraps them in halibut skins and then rolls them in powdered seaweed. Another pairs fermented turnips with “very aged duck” (you allow the duck carcass to age for a month, “using a damp towel to wipe off any white mold as it appears”).

These are recipes I am not going to make at home. These are recipes you are not going to make at home. These are recipes no one on earth is going to make at home.

It’s not just that they require ingredients that can be difficult to find, such as woodruff and caraflex cabbage and lamb marrow. Other unlikely ingredients you need to make yourself, such as smelt stock and rhubarb wine.

For me, the final straw is the chef-author’s recommendation that you always use eggs purchased from Riley Starks. Starks turns out to be the owner of the inn where the restaurant is located, so to get the appropriate eggs you would have to fly to Seattle, rent a car, drive more than 100 miles, take a ferry to the island, buy the eggs, take a ferry back to the mainland, drive more than 100 miles back to Seattle, stay overnight and catch a plane back home.

Total cost: About $520 — not counting the cost of the eggs — and that is with great deals on the plane and the car. Those had better be really spectacular eggs.

The other book, Atelier Crenn, is also full of recipes that no one, but no one, is ever going to make.

Take, for instance, the recipe for pintade, which is also known as guinea hen or guinea fowl. The pintade itself is cooked sous vide along with some cabbage chips dusted with nori powder (nori is a type of seaweed). It is served with preserved lemon puree, fermented baby leeks and an umeboshi glaze (umeboshi is a pickled Japanese plum). The recipe requires 32 ingredients and 45 separate steps.

That’s nothing. A recipe for something called Birth — a nest made from corn silk filled with corn “eggs” flavored with duck fat and garnished with dark chocolate branches — requires 38 ingredients and 51 steps.

Atelier Crenn is a bastion of molecular gastronomy, that branch of cooking in which science is used to take familiar foods and turn them into unfamiliar forms. It had a brief spasm of popularity a few years ago, but failed to catch on in most of the world, including St. Louis. When done right, it can be pricey.

At Atelier Crenn, each meal costs $220, plus drinks. And thinking about that is why I changed my mind about both books.

These cookbooks are not meant to be used for cooking. They serve rather as a snapshot of the current state of high cuisine and cooking techniques. They are representative of what the best culinary minds are producing, given unlimited budgets and access to ingredients.

Dominique Crenn, the chef-owner of Atelier Crenn, is a trail-blazing, up-and-coming chef; she was the first woman in North America to earn two Michelin stars. Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn has a couple of James Beard Awards under his youthful belt and has taken the notion of hyperlocal sourcing of foods to its logical extreme.

Their books take us to their restaurants if we can’t go ourselves and show us what the state of the art of cooking is like right now.

©2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Nana B. Agwei (via Flickr)

Chefs Reveal Their Secrets

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

More than half of all chefs say they have found customers making out — at least making out, if you catch my drift — in their restaurant restrooms.

This fact, which fascinates me far more than it really should, comes to us courtesy of the Food Network magazine. In a 2009 story that has recently resurfaced again on the Internet, the magazine surveyed about 100 chefs across the country and came up with a list of 25 things chefs never tell you.

For one, chefs can be picky eaters. Only 15 percent of the ones surveyed say they will eat absolutely anything. The foods they said most frequently that they will not eat are liver, sea urchin, and — this is a surprise, probably because I like them both — eggplant and oysters.

On the other hand, the chefs don’t like it when their customers are picky. You know how some people claim to be allergic to items when they aren’t really allergic to them? Chefs hate that (though it is unexplained how they can distinguish fake allergies from real ones).

And they like their customers to follow their own rules. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t tell them “a little chicken stock is OK.”

One trend made unappetizingly clear from the survey is that restaurant kitchens are less sanitary than we, the dining public, may like to think.

Although 85 percent of the chefs rated their kitchens as very clean (at least an 8 on a scale from 1 to 10), it should come as no particular surprise that 75 percent of them also reported having seen roaches. Roaches go where there is food and water. Restaurants have food and water and kitchen doors that are open much of the time. Restaurants are going to get roaches; the trick lies in getting rid of them as quickly as possible.

Of more concern is the revelation that 25 percent of the chefs say they’ve served food that they had dropped on the floor, and three of them say they have taken uneaten bread out of one bread basket and sent it out to other customers in another bread basket. Health inspectors tend to look at both of these practices with understandable consternation.

Also alarming, at least for vegetarians, is that a minority of the chefs admitted to using meat products in the dishes they claim are vegetarian. About 15 percent of those surveyed said they do that.

Worst of all are the 13 percent of chefs surveyed who said they have seen cooks do terrible things to customers’ food. After one customer sent his steak back twice, a chef reported that “someone” (ahem) ran it through the dishwasher and then sent it back out to him.

Fifteen years ago, chef-turned-writer-turned-celebrity Anthony Bourdain revealed that he never orders fish on a Monday because it is usually several days old. “Several” of the chefs — there is no telling how many that is — agreed, saying they do not get fresh deliveries on Sundays.

Some of the 25 things chefs don’t tell you they don’t have to tell you because you have probably figured them out for yourself.

More than 75 percent, for instance, say they get ideas from other restaurant menus (as the publication puts it, “there’s a reason so many restaurants serve molten chocolate cake”).

You have also probably realized that waiters are told to try to sell you on certain dishes (95 percent of the chefs say they tell the wait staff to do that), and it certainly cannot be a surprise that restaurants typically charge 2 1/2 times what a bottle of wine would cost at a retail store.

Nearly 60 percent of the responding chefs say they would like to have their own cooking show — a bigger surprise is that more than 40 percent claim they don’t — and they hate working on New Year’s Eve more than any other holiday. Valentine’s Day is a close second, though 54 percent acknowledged they like it when couples get engaged in their restaurant.

Half of the chefs say they come into work when they’re sick — remember, they’re preparing food, or are at least around food when it is prepared — and many stay through their inevitable injuries. Nearly every surveyed chef said he has been injured in some way, with several missing fingers or parts of fingers.

For this dangerous and hard work — most of them work 60 to 80 hours a week, including holidays — 65 percent of them reported making less than $75,000 a year. When they go out to dinner, they typically leave about a 20 percent tip, unless they feel the service has been inadequate.

But what about when they go to a restaurant that has no tipping? What about fast food? Where do the chefs go most often when they want something fast and bad for them?

Survey says: Wendy’s.

©2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Choo Yut Shing via Flickr

 

Make A Meal … In A Toaster Oven

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

Maybe your oven is on the fritz. Maybe you don’t even have an oven. Maybe you’re trying to conserve energy. Maybe you just like a challenge.

In any case, you don’t need an oven to cook. You don’t even need one to cook food that is ordinarily cooked in an oven. All you need is an appliance you already own.

If you’re like me, you tend to forget about the oven part of a toaster oven. You use it for toast, or maybe a bagel. But while a toaster oven does not necessarily make the best toast, it does make for a marvelously efficient oven.

Obviously, a toaster oven does have certain limitations. You can’t use it to cook a whole turkey, for instance. But anything that is small enough to fit in a toaster oven can be cooked in one. You can use it to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

You can even use one to hard-cook an egg.

I know. I’d never heard of that either. But it truly works. You get a perfect, hard-boiled egg without having to boil it. There may be no reason why you would ever actually want to do this, but you have to admit it is pretty cool.

For breakfast, I made a frittata. But I didn’t want any old frittata, so I made a Greek frittata.

A Greek frittata is just any old frittata with spinach and Feta cheese added. But these two simple ingredients, along with halves of grape tomatoes, provide plenty of extra pop.

The ingredients also help to create pockets amid the eggs, so the dish is tantalizingly light and not dense. It’s just right for breakfast or brunch.

For lunch, I used the toaster oven to make a salmon sandwich. The genius of this dish is that the salmon is sliced thin before it is laid on a piece of flatbread or naan. The thin slices allow it to cook in just 3 minutes under the broiler.

The other bit of genius in this dish is the amount of herbs and spices it requires. For a single sandwich, the recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of dried sumac and a tablespoon of chopped green onion.

I felt certain that would be far too much seasoning for just 3 ounces of fish, but I tried it as written, anyway. And, to my surprise, it was just right. Even if it had been a little strong, the flavors would have been tempered by a final dollop of yogurt and cucumber, which gives a nice breezy freshness to the whole sandwich.

For dinner, I went with kebabs, Moroccan-spiced pork kebabs.

No, they don’t generally eat pork in Morocco, but the spices work great with the slightly sweet meat.

This recipe has an easy answer to the time-honored question asked by kebabbers everywhere: How do you get the meat and the vegetables done at the same time? When the meat is ready to be eaten, the onion and other vegetables are still almost raw. If you cook them until the vegetables are done, the meat has become chunks of crispy cinders.

The solution is obvious, though for some reason I had never thought of it before. Put the meat on some skewers and the veggies on the others. Start cooking the vegetables first. Then, after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, add the meat skewers.

And yes, this is easily done in a toaster oven, though to make a full-sized meal for a family you’ll have to do it in a couple of batches.

Dessert, naturally, came last. I made a simple apple crisp. I tossed chopped apples with lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon, topped it with more brown sugar, cinnamon and oats, then dotted the top with butter.

It turned out fine. It may not be the best dessert you’ll ever make, but you can make it in a toaster oven. That has to count for something.

Go to next page for recipes.

AMY’S TOASTER-OVEN APPLE CRISP

Yield: 4 servings

4 medium apples

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup oats

2 teaspoons water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Preheat toaster oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and chop apples. Toss with lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar.

3. Mix remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar along with the flour and oats. Spread apples in a baking dish that fits inside the toaster oven. Spread topping on top.

4. Sprinkle water over crisp, then dot with small pieces of butter. Bake until top is browned and apples are soft, about 45 minutes.

Per serving: 183 calories; 4 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 8 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 39 g carbohydrate; 24 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 20 mg sodium; 35 mg calcium.

Adapted from a recipe by Amy Johanna, via Calorie Count.

MOROCCAN-STYLE PORK KEBABS

Yield: 4 servings

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided

1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks, see note

1 small eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 small red onion, cut into 8 wedges

Pita bread or flatbread, for serving

1/2 pint store-bought tzatziki, optional

1/2 small cucumber

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Note: This dish would also work well with lamb, and would be more authentically Moroccan. If using wooden skewers, be sure to soak in water for at least 30 minutes.

1. Preheat toaster oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the orange juice, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. Add the pork or lamb and toss. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the eggplant, onion and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place the vegetables on skewers, alternating eggplant and onion.

4. Transfer the vegetable skewers to a foil-lined baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the vegetables.

5. Place the pork on skewers and add them to the tray. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the pork is cooked through, turning pork and vegetables once, about 25 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, wrap the bread in foil and place on top of the pork during the last 5 minutes. Transfer the skewers and bread to individual plates. Spoon the tzatziki, if using, on the side and sprinkle with cucumber and mint.

Per serving: 399 calories; 25 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 90 mg cholesterol; 32 g protein; 13 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 791 mg sodium; 43 mg calcium.

Recipe from Real Simple, by Frank Mentesana.

TEN-MINUTE ROLLED SALMON SANDWICH

Yield: 1 serving

1 (3-ounce) salmon fillet

1 piece of flatbread or naan

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

1/4 teaspoon dried sumac, see note

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon plain yogurt

1/4 English cucumber, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon fresh mint, optional

Note: Sumac is a spice popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is available at international grocery stores.

1. Cut the salmon on a 45-degree angle into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Lay the slices flat toward the center of the bread. Add a pinch of salt.

2. Sprinkle the salmon evenly with the green onion, sumac and thyme, finishing with the sesame seeds. Turn the toaster oven to the broil setting and allow it to get hot. Place the bread in the toaster oven and broil 3 minutes or until salmon is cooked to the desired temperature (3 minutes will yield a pink salmon). While salmon is cooking, combine yogurt and cucumber.

3. Carefully remove bread from the oven and lay on a plate. Spoon the yogurt and cucumber mixture evenly across the salmon and sprinkle with the mint. Roll into a sandwich or eat open face.

Per serving: 315 calories; 10 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 56 mg cholesterol; 25 g protein; 30 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 477 mg sodium; 68 mg calcium.

Recipe by Jeffrey Saad, via The Dr. Oz Show.

TOASTER-OVEN ‘HARD-BOILED’ EGGS

Yield: 1 serving per egg

Large eggs

1. Preheat toaster oven to 350 degrees. Fill a bowl with ice water and set aside. Place eggs directly on the toaster-oven rack; if they are parallel to the grate they won’t roll around. Don’t cook too many at once; leave plenty of room around the eggs. Bake about 25 minutes.

2. Remove eggs from oven and immediately immerse in the ice water. Leave them until cold, about 15 minutes.

Recipe by Ashley DIY.

GREEK FRITTATA

Yield: 5 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 large eggs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

5 ounces baby spinach

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

4 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat toaster oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add the oil to a 2-quart casserole (make sure it fits) and transfer to toaster oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the spinach, tomatoes and scallions.

3. Remove casserole from oven and pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle feta over top. Bake until the frittata is browned around the edges and slightly puffed, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Per serving: 280 calories; 20 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 392 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 637 mg sodium; 203 mg calcium.

Adapted from a recipe in Real Simple by Frank Mentesana.

©2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Salmon Sandwich prepared in a toaster oven on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Disapatch/TNS)

Grownup Treats For Leftover Halloween Candy

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

In all good conscience, I cannot really recommend that anyone try the recipes in this story. They may sound delicious — and believe me, they are — but they are the kind of food that a person could happily go his entire life without eating.

I’m talking about dishes made with leftover Halloween candy.

Any normal person takes candy that was not distributed to neighborhood ghosts and goblins and Kardashians and furtively devours it right out of the bag in the day or two after Halloween. But some people, those blessed with a specific kind of inspiration, look at the candy in its wrappers and see a blank culinary canvas.

“Snickers bars just don’t have enough calories on their own,” I imagine them saying. “How can I make them even more fattening?”

The answer, I am heartily sorry to say, is to add Cool Whip. And cream cheese. And powdered sugar.

Mix it all together, add chopped Granny Smith apples for tartness, and you have what is laughingly called a Snickers salad.

It’s good for you because it is a salad, right? Besides, it’s got those apples.

How does it taste? It tastes great. Of course it tastes great. It is totally evil and it was probably invented by some kind of evil genius, and anything so evil is almost certain to taste great.

But I was just getting started. I wanted more. Something even more decadent.

And thus it was that I was skating across the Internet when I ran smack dab into Milky Way vodka.

There it was: Something more decadent than a Snickers salad.

Milky Way vodka is what happens when you melt a bunch of Milky Ways and add them to vodka. The process is a little bit time consuming, but the whole thing, start to finish, only took me about a half-hour. And when it was over I had a bottle of Milky Way vodka.

Melting Milky Way bars is a little trickier than it sounds. You need to chop them up for speedier melting, and then stir them in a double boiler until they are thoroughly melted. They don’t turn into a liquid when they melt, they are stringy and sticky instead, but don’t worry. They liquefy with the addition of the vodka.

If that process is too much trouble, there is an easier way. Slice the Milky Way bars thin enough to fit in the neck of a bottle, and put them in a bottle of vodka. Tightly close the bottle and then run it through the dishwasher.

Seriously. The dishwasher cycle is hot enough to melt the candy bars in the bottle. Well, you may have to run it through twice. But it works. And again, when it is over you have a bottle of Milky Way vodka. A clean bottle.

Even easier, but admittedly less spectacular, is Halloween candy bark, though this recipe is not without a little spark of evil of its own.

You take chocolate. You melt it. Then you add chopped-up bits of leftover Halloween candy into that. What you end up with is chocolate, with chocolate stuck to it.

It is helpful to have different textures and colors in the Halloween candy you are adding; otherwise you end up with an unappetizing (but still delicious) blob of chocolate. Candies with nuts and crispy bits, and the colored shells of M&Ms, make a big difference.

Yes, it is sort of a mishmash. But in keeping with the spirit of the season, you can think of it as a monster mishmash.

Finally, I completely went over to the dark side (dark being the general hue of most candy bars) and made that highly popular fair food, fried candy bars.

Fried candy bars must have been invented by a cardiologist with a lot of payments still to make on his boat. There are those who will say the very thought of them is enough to close your arteries. There are others who will say it is totally worth it.

And fried Halloween candy bars are even better (and therefore worse) than regular ones because they are smaller. The smaller the bar, the larger the proportion of surface to be battered and fried.

If it helps, think of fried candy bars as chocolate tempura. The candy is dunked into a beer batter that fries up light and crispy while the chocolate inside starts to melt. When you bite into it, you get a delicate crunch followed by a gooey middle.

It’s ridiculously excessive, of course, but so is the whole concept of Halloween candy.

The recipe I used, incidentally, suggests serving them warm with vanilla ice cream. That’s ice cream calories on top of fried batter calories on top of chocolate calories.

In all good conscience, I can’t recommend that.

See next page for recipes.

©2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Halloween Candy Bark. (Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

HALLOWEEN CANDY BARK

Yield: 10 servings

20 ounces milk chocolate

15 pieces or packs of assorted Halloween candy, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, smoothing out any creases. Cut the candy bars into pieces. Set aside.

2. Create a double boiler by suspending a glass or metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add milk chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Do not overheat the chocolate.

3. Remove the bowl from the pan. Pour the melted chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet, using an offset or rubber spatula to spread it into a 10-by-12-inch oblong, about 1/4-inch thick. Press the candy pieces into the chocolate, arranging them so each bite has a mix of flavors, colors and textures. Refrigerate the chocolate for 1 hour to completely set before breaking it into large pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks.

Per serving: 420 calories; 22 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 51 g carbohydrate; 42 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 97 mg sodium; 126 mg calcium.

Recipe by Michelle Buffardi, via Cooking Channel

MILKY WAY VODKA

Yield: About 13 (2-ounce) servings

1 (750 ml) bottle vodka

1/2 (11-ounce) bag fun-size Milky Way bars, about 10, or 5 regular size bars

1. Pour out about 20 percent of the vodka from the bottle and save for future use. Slice the fun-size candy bars in half or cut up the regular-size bars into several pieces. Put a double boiler on to simmer, or create your own by placing a glass or metal bowl over the water, but not touching it.

2. Add the candy to the double boiler and stir. As the candy is melting, stir in a little bit of the vodka at a time. Keep mixing until everything becomes a smooth blend.

3. Pour the mixture back into the bottle and store in the freezer. The vodka will not freeze.

Alternatively:

1. Pour out about 25 percent of the vodka from the bottle and save for future use. Cut up the candy bars until they can fit into the neck of the bottle. Add the candy to the bottle of vodka. Seal tightly.

2. Run the bottle through the dishwasher cycle. When done, shake the bottle to combine. If necessary, run the bottle through the cycle again.

3. Store in the freezer. The vodka will not freeze.

Per serving: 154 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 1 mg cholesterol; no protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; no fiber; 20 mg sodium; 12 mg calcium.

Recipe adapted from wikihow.com

FRIED CANDY BARS

Yield: 4 servings

Oil, for frying

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1 (12-ounce) bottle beer

8 Halloween-size candy bars (I used Snickers, Reese’s, Milky Way and Hershey’s bars)

1. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 375 degrees, or in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour enough oil to fill the pan a few inches deep. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer reaches 375 degrees or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 3 minutes.

2. Add flour and salt to a mixing bowl and whisk in the beer. Dip the candy bars into the batter, being careful to completely cover the chocolate. Drop the candy bars into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Serve warm.

Per serving: 315 calories; 10 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 3 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 45 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 45 mg sodium; 31 mg calcium.

Recipe adapted from Chuck Hughes, via Cooking Channel

SNICKERS SALAD

Yield: 10 servings

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

12 ounces frozen whipped topping, such as Cool Whip, thawed

1 (11.18 ounce bag) fun-size Snickers bars, about 19

2 Granny Smith apples

1. Using an electric mixer, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until thoroughly blended. Fold in thawed whipped topping. Cut Snickers bars into bite-size chunks and add to mixture. Chop the apples into bite-size chunks; stir into mixture.

2. Chill at least 1 hour before serving. Chilling several hours, such as overnight, will lead to some liquid separating from the salad.

Per serving: 399 calories; 21 g fat; 14 g saturated fat; 28 mg cholesterol; 4 g protein; 47 g carbohydrate; 36 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 133 mg sodium; 55 mg calcium.

Adapted from a recipe by food.com

Do You Know What It Means To Eat New Orleans?

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

In the time-honored tradition of returning schoolchildren everywhere, I’d like to tell you how I spent my summer vacation.

It was actually a September vacation because we were celebrating a nice, round-number anniversary of our wedding. For such a momentous occasion, we decided to go someplace we had never been to before.

We went to New Orleans. I know, I know. How can anyone who claims to be at all interested in food not have been to New Orleans? Especially when that person used to live relatively near in east Texas?

It was an omission that needed to be rectified, and rectify it we did. I realize everyone who goes there says the same thing, but we ate our way across New Orleans. For our actual anniversary meal we went to the famous Commander’s Palace, after being duly assured by friends that it is not just a tourist trap. The friends were right: This was one of the best meals of my life.

I started with an appetizer of foie gras coffeecake, an improbable but unbelievably sumptuous combination of seared foie gras and a decadently sweet coffee cake, topped off with a little glass of coffee frappé made with a hint of foie gras fat. It is the kind of food that would leave you happy if it were the last thing you ever ate.

But if it had been my last bite, I never would have had the turtle soup, which came next. It was the finest example of turtle soup I have ever had, and as I ate it I imagined a line of turtles happily sacrificing themselves by diving into great vats of veal stock for our pleasure. I think the veal stock made all the difference, along with the happiness of the turtles.

Barbecued New Orleans shrimp over brie grits was awfully good, but I think my wife’s mushroom risotto was better. And while my dessert of pecan pie was sublime, my wife’s creole bread pudding soufflé was even sublimer.

For lunch one day, we stumbled unknowingly onto Bon Ton Café. We were drawn first by the crowds of satisfied local residents who were leaving; then, when we peeked through the windows, the red-checkered tablecloth and cast-iron chandeliers made it seem irresistible.

This was a real find, an old-school restaurant with old-school service and exceptional food. I began with turtle soup (this was before I had the ne plus ultra soup at Commander’s Palace) and moved on to the fish of the day, a delicious grilled drum served with some truly amazing onion rings. I have no idea how they made the rings so crispy. Meanwhile, my wife had an extraordinary seafood salad piled high with lump crab meat, shrimp and asparagus.

The charbroiled oysters at Drago’s were everything they were reputed to be, and considerably more rich. Unfortunately, the shrimp etouffée consisted of six tiny shrimp, maybe a half-cup of rice and the roux/trinity sauce that is part of so many New Orleans dishes. I was still hungry after I ate it, so we stopped off for dinner at a Popeye’s fried chicken joint.

Don’t laugh. They’re based in New Orleans. Besides, it was cheap and good. At Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, I had Eggs Hussarde, which are ultra-sophisticated steak-and-eggs, served with a couple of fried oysters. It was the kind of meal I dream about, and I have been dreaming about it ever since. At Broussard’s bar (we went on a whim and were not dressed well enough for the dining room), we had a stellar appetizer of glazed shrimp — a little spicy, a little sweet — on toast. At Joey K’s, we had red beans and rice that finally revealed what all the other red beans and rice I’d ever had were trying to be.

And at Hermes’ Bar in the legendary Antoine’s, we soaked up the atmosphere and a couple of drinks. They even had Suntory Hibiki whiskey, a highly regarded — and for good reason — Japanese brand that can be difficult to find.

But not everything was paradise in the Crescent City. The town’s famous beignets, for instance, were a disappointment.

We first got them at Café Beignet, which you might expect to have pretty good beignets (and which did have a good blueberry-stuffed croissant). Perhaps because we were the last patrons of the night, the beignets were horrible; leaden and heavy and full of dough. Basically, they were the opposite of beignets.

We had somewhat more success at the famous Café du Monde, though we had to endure a long line for beignets that were, at best, indifferent. Our next stop was the nearby Presbytère museum to see their exhibit on Hurricane Katrina, and we asked the woman behind the desk if we could use their restroom to wash the powdered sugar off our hands.

“Oh, you had the beignets?” she asked.

“Yes, and frankly I have made better beignets myself,” I said.

“Me too,” she said.

Image via Wikimedia

The Thrill Of The Dill

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

To my mind, dill is the forgotten herb.

I mean that literally. Whenever we plant it in the garden, I forget all about it until it bolts and has to be cut down.

I don’t know why this is. I like dill. That’s why we plant it. I like its unique, sharp, unmistakable taste. I like the way it goes with salmon. I like what it does to lemon, and what lemon does to it. I like the way Eastern Europeans sprinkle it over basically all their soups.

And yet, I can go weeks without once thinking of dill. Months, maybe.

So to remind myself of what it is about dill that makes it so alluring, I decided to use it in an assortment of dishes. One, obviously, is salmon; the fish and the herb were absolutely meant for each other. Another is one of those Eastern European soups, though in this one dill actually comprises the main flavor. A third is a chicken dish, because I don’t usually think about dill going with chicken (when I think about dill at all which, as we have seen, is rare).

And the fourth is potatoes. And cream. And dill.

We’ve probably all had potato salad with dill; as the potato luxuriates in the creamy mayonnaise, the dill asserts itself as a fragrant culinary counterpoint. It’s good stuff, but it can’t compare to creamy dill potatoes.

Creamy dill potatoes (I took the liberty of changing the name from “comforting dill potato recipe”) transcend the ordinary pleasures of a dill-flavored potato salad because of one basic, indisputable fact: mayonnaise is good, but cream is better.

First, you boil baby potatoes or small red potatoes until they are fully cooked. As they are simmering away, you saute a sweet onion in a lot of butter and then you add some cream. Good, thick, heavy cream. You could use light cream or half-and-half if you wanted to, I suppose, but why bother? The whole dish is made by the way the heavy cream decadently blends with the onions.

The dill that is added only makes the flavors pop even more. And when this sauce coats the potatoes, it is superb.

Next up was the salmon, perhaps the most natural pairing that exists for dill. In general, dill cuts through the silken richness of salmon while the two flavors play merrily off each other.

But the version I made adds a couple of other ingredients that effortlessly complement the combination. Foremost of these is sour cream. The extravagance of the sour cream is then tempered with a few mildly astringent ingredients: shallot or onion, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and the dill.

Part of this mixture is spread over the salmon before baking, with the rest of it served on the side. But you may want to hold off on using it all with the fish because it has another excellent use _ it makes an incredible dip for potato chips. Seriously. The blended flavors perk up even more when introduced to fried thin potato slices and salt. You could use it for crudites, too.

For my chicken dish, I chose a recipe for lemon and dill chicken from EatingWell magazine. The dish employs what I like to think of as a culinary syllogism.

Chicken goes well with lemon. Lemon goes well with dill. Therefore, chicken goes well with lemon and dill.

I’m not certain that method of thinking is completely accurate for all situations (cinnamon goes well with toast, toast goes well with bacon, therefore cinnamon goes well with bacon?). But it certainly works in this particular case.

The secret is the sauce. Onion and garlic are sauteed in the same pan you used to sear the chicken breasts. Add chicken broth thickened a bit with flour, and stir in the dill and lemon juice. Continue cooking the chicken in the sauce, garnish with more dill (of course) and you have a delicious dinner.

Finally, I made a zupa koperkowa, a dill soup from Poland. This is a flavorful but thin soup made richer by sour cream and embellished with batter dumplings.

The soup is awfully good by itself (I made it with a mixture of veal and chicken stocks, but the next time I’ll just use chicken), and this is the only dish in which the dill gets a chance to shine by itself. But what really makes this soup sing are the batter dumplings.

You simply whip together an egg, some flour and some salt and drizzle it into the simmering soup. In one minute, you have delicious dumplings that are remarkably easy to make.

The soup can also be made with potatoes or hard-boiled eggs. I added a couple of baby potatoes left over from making the creamy dill potatoes, and they were great. I’m sure the egg would be equally delicious.

But make the dumplings. They are so good, and they are so perfect with the soup, that you will find yourself remembering always to use dill.

LEMON AND DILL CHICKEN
Yield: 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 to 1 { pounds total)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
{ cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear until well-browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with foil. Do not clean skillet.
2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring for 1 minute. In a separate bowl, whisk together broth, flour, 2 tablespoons of the dill and lemon juice and add to pan. Cook, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
3. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan; reduce heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a warmed platter. Remove the garlic cloves. Season sauce with salt and pepper and spoon over the chicken. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon chopped dill.
Per serving: 172 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 63 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 4 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 288 mg sodium; 22 mg calcium.
Adapted from a recipe from EatingWell
CREAMY DILL POTATOES
Yield: 5 servings
2 pounds new baby potatoes or small red potatoes, the largest ones cut in half
2 \ teaspoons salt, divided
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
{ cup whipping cream
[ teaspoon black pepper
{ cup (or }-ounce package) dill fronds, chopped
1. Put potatoes in a large saucepan and just cover with water. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt, and stir. Over high heat, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, stir, and partially cover the pot. Simmer potatoes until they are fork-tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and the remaining \ teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Bring the cream to a boil, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from the heat and add the dill. Drain the potatoes and add them to the skillet, turning them over in the cream sauce until covered.
Per serving: 280 calories; 16 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 51 mg cholesterol; 4 g protein; 32 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 277 mg sodium; 43 mg calcium.
Adapted from cookthestory.com

DILL SOUP WITH DUMPLINGS (ZUPA KOPERKOWA)
Yield: 4 servings
2 tablespoons butter, divided
} cup finely chopped dill, divided
6 cups of stock: chicken, veal, beef or vegetable
6 { tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
{ cup cold water
1 large egg
[ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
{ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: Along with the dumplings, this soup can also be served with boiled potatoes or hard-boiled eggs cut into wedges
1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet, add \ cup dill and saute gently over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. In a large pot, heat stock to boiling and add the dill and butter mixture. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of the flour in the cold water and add to the stock. Bring the stock back to a simmer.
2. To make the dumplings, combine the egg, the remaining 3 { tablespoons of flour and the salt, and beat with a whisk or fork for 2 minutes until smooth. Drizzle batter slowly into simmering stock from a spoon or fork and cook for 1 minute. Keep the soup at a simmer to avoid disintegrating the dumplings.
3. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, place in a small bowl and beat in the egg yolk. Gradually add 1 cup of the boiling stock and stir well. Stir in the sour cream until the mixture is smooth. Return this mixture to the soup pot and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, but do not boil.
4. Turn off the heat, add the remaining { cup dill, stir, cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Per serving: 305 calories; 17 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 131 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 24 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; no fiber; 629 mg sodium; 58 mg calcium.
Recipe by Laura and Peter Zelanski of polishclassiccooking.com

BAKED SALMON WITH MUSTARD-DILL SAUCE
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Juice of { lemon
1 { pounds center-cut salmon fillet with skin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Whisk sour cream, dill, shallot or onion, mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl to blend. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Place salmon, skin-side down, on prepared sheet. Sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper; spread with 1/3 cup sauce. Bake salmon until just opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Serve with remaining sauce (or use sauce as a dip for potato chips or crudites).
Per serving (based on 6): 220 calories; 11 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 70 mg cholesterol; 25 g protein; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 233 mg sodium; 47 mg calcium.
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit

(c)2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Creamy Dill Potatoes. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Are You A Pie Person Or A Cake Person? You Can’t Be Both

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

I always thought Simon got a raw deal.

Here he was, minding his own business, on his way to a fair. He encounters a man selling pies–tempting, delicious pies. Naturally, he asks for a sample. Who wouldn’t?

But the pie man, whose name has apparently been lost to history, was having none of it. He wanted to charge Simon for a sample, unlike so many of today’s grocery stores that offer samples for free. Simon did not have a penny to spare–fairs aren’t cheap–so the pie man sent him on his way, hungry and forlorn.

And for this, Simon has universally come to be known as Simple. Obviously, Mother Goose was a cake person.

There are two kinds of people in this world, pie people and cake people. You’re either one or the other. Never have I heard anyone say, “I like cakes and pies equally,” and I’ll bet neither have you.

Personally, I’m in Simple Simon’s camp. It’s pies all the way. Just think of it: A buttery crust baked to a golden brown and filled with toasted pecans suspended in a sweet amber nectar. Or sweet cherries balanced by just the right amount of tartness. Or smooth and silken chocolate topped with a decadent dollop of whipped cream.

On the other hand, you have cake. It’s just cake. Pedestrian, ordinary, sponge-like, bland cake.

And cakes often come out of a box. Even the ones that don’t come out of a box sometimes taste like they came out of a box. Sometimes they taste like the box.
Yes, the frosting is good. I’m all in favor of frosting. If only you could put it on something that wasn’t cake.

Pies are always festive and special; they are a party unto themselves. But you can buy a cake in a sheet.

Newsrooms are particularly fond of sheet cakes; in some respects, newsrooms are a sheet cake’s natural habitat. This particular newsroom has ordered so many sheet cakes from Federhofer’s Bakery that some people here use “federhofer” as a verb, as in “We’ll be federhofering Joe in the front of the newsroom at 4 p.m.”

Any occasion at all becomes an occasion for a sheet cake. You’re having a birthday? Have some sheet cake. You’re retiring early so that other employees won’t be laid off? That’s remarkably selfless and generous of you. Thank you so much. Have some sheet cake.

Sheet cakes just don’t seem terribly celebratory anymore. Maybe it’s the repetition, but I think it is more that they are just cakes. Meanwhile, Federhofer’s also makes sheet pies, in case anyone was wondering.
Even in their smaller versions, pies win out every time. Mini tarts? Great. Cupcakes? Overpriced trendy treats.

The greatest non-pie expression of pies is chicken pot pie, so creamy, delicious and flaky that, when made right, it can actually have more calories than a real pie.

In contrast, the greatest non-cake expression of cakes is a pancake. Admittedly, pancakes are wonderful. Even pie people love pancakes. Call it a wash.

Oh, wait. Pizza also comes in a pie. Advantage, pie.

I’m sure some cake people are perfectly nice. A little bland, perhaps, but nice. They are probably well-intentioned. Their hearts are likely in the right place.

But pie people are where it’s at. We’re exciting, dynamic, vibrant. We don’t need to call cake people “Simple” just to feel better about ourselves.

Photo by Jirka Matousek via Flickr

The World Of Cilantro

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

In the Bible, the manna that fell from heaven to feed the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt was described as being like coriander seeds.

Or to put it another way, the seeds of the cilantro plant.

One plant. Two names.

What is commonly known as cilantro are the leaves and stems of the plant; the seeds, which have a completely different taste, are called coriander.

But that’s just in America. Throughout Europe, the whole plant is generally referred to by some variation on coriander (koriandr in Czech, coriandolo in Italian). But it’s cilantro in Mexico and Spain.

In Mandarin Chinese, it’s yuen sui and in Vietnamese it’s ngo. Which proves the worldwide popularity of this plant.

And yet, it was little known in America just 40 years ago.

Cilantro closely resembles Italian flat-leaf parsley in appearance but has a much brighter, fresher taste and an intoxicating aroma (though some people, for genetic reasons, can’t stand it). It can be used in any kind of savory dish, from soups to salads to entrees–while the seed, coriander, is even good in baked goods and desserts.

There is really only one rule to remember when cooking with cilantro: It loses its potent flavor quickly when exposed to heat, so it is always best to add it in the last few minutes of cooking.

I made three different dishes featuring cilantro, and not one of them involved adding cilantro in the last few minutes of cooking. Call me a rebel.

One of the dishes uses cilantro only as part of an uncooked sauce, adding its vibrant green color as well as its clean taste. The cilantro is the primary ingredient in a chimichurri, a South American sauce usually made instead with parsley.

Try it with the cilantro. When blended with garlic, peppers, lime juice, vinegar and olive oil, it becomes a multi-purpose, one-size-fits-all sauce that goes with many other dishes (rice, pasta, potatoes) beyond the traditional grilled meat.

I used it with grilled meat. Call me a traditionalist–one of those rebel traditionalists you hear so much about these days.

Besides, the meat I used was kind of untraditional. I made lamb chops that I marinated in a Chinese marinade and rubbed with a spice mix drawing elements from India or Mexico.

It was delicious. The simple marinade brought out the natural flavor of the lamb, which was then accented by the heady spice mix. The full-flavored sauce exponentially increased the pleasure, kicking the dish into the stratosphere.

I thought cilantro couldn’t get any better than that, but I was wrong.

I made a cilantro and ginger hummus that was so addictive that one co-worker accused me of making crack. Another co-worker, who fancies herself the definitive expert on hummus, explained in no uncertain terms that what she was eating was not, in fact, hummus, because it tasted of cilantro and ginger.

Mind you, she couldn’t get enough of it.

And this hummus (or cilantro-flavored chickpea spread, as the expert insisted it be called) is deceptively easy to make. You just throw a handful of ingredients into a food processor and whip it together until done.

I added one preparation that made it as smooth as silk, and it probably took less than 15 extra minutes _ though that is more time than it took to make the rest of it: I peeled the chickpeas.

They were canned, so it was easy (I’ve also peeled them when I cooked them myself, but that is much more work). The beans pop right out of their clear skins, and it makes a world of difference in the final product.

On the other hand, the best hummus I’ve ever had is made at a Lebanese restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, and I asked the owner if he peels the chickpea skins. He said no.

Finally, I made a chicken dish that may actually be my favorite of the three, though that is stiff competition. It takes more time and effort than the other two, but I’m sure you will agree that the results are well worth it.

A mole is a thick sauce popular in Mexico, and the kinds that are most familiar in this country, from the Mexican states of Oaxaca or Puebla, tend to be highly complex and take forever to make. They also tend to be enriched with ground nuts.

This version, however, is from the state of Zacatecas, which is farther north. It’s a green mole, made with fresh tomatillos along with the cilantro, and it is lighter in concept than the others, though just as flavorful.

This sauce is made partly from a cilantro broth that is used to simmer the chicken. One especially enticing byproduct of the dish is that you end up with about two quarts of this incredible chicken-cilantro broth.
The mole is superb; it is mind-blowingly superb, it is unlike anything you have ever tasted.

But now I can’t wait to use that broth.

ZACATECAS-STYLE GREEN MOLE WITH CHICKEN

Yield: 4 servings

For the chicken

1 (3 to 4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup cilantro stems
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
1 large yellow onions, chopped
1 bay leaf

For the green mole

8 ounces tomatillos, preferably fresh, peeled and chopped
2 jalapenos, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (8-inch) flour tortillas, toasted, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons canola or corn oil

1. To cook the chicken: Place chicken, cilantro stems, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, peppercorns, whole (or crushed) garlic, bay leaf and 12 cups water in a 6-quart saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce to medium low and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Remove chicken from saucepan and strain liquid through a fine strainer; reserve 4 cups and save remaining liquid for another use (it makes a delicious broth). Set chicken and liquid aside.

3. To make the sauce: Heat tomatillos and jalapenos in a saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until darkened and thick, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender with cilantro leaves, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, chopped garlic, tortillas and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Puree.

4. Heat oil in a 6-quart saucepan over medium-high heat; add tomatillo sauce and fry, stirring constantly, until it thickens into a paste, about 5 minutes. Whisk in remaining 3 cups cooking liquid and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until reduced and thickened, about 30 minutes.

5. Add chicken pieces and cook until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve with Mexican rice and tortillas.

Per serving: 527 calories; 30 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 131 mg cholesterol; 44 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,725 mg sodium; 64 mg calcium.

Recipe by Saveur magazine

SICHUAN LAMB CHOPS WITH CILANTRO CHIMICHURRI

Yield: 4 servings

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons sherry
5 garlic cloves, divided, minced
8 lamb chops or 1 rack, frenched
4 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons salt
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes plus optional \ teaspoon
1 cup cilantro
1/2 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons jalapeno, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Mix soy sauce, oil, sherry and 4 of the minced garlic cloves. Add lamb chops (cut into 4 pieces if using a rack of lamb) and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

2. Toast cumin and coriander seeds by placing them in a hot skillet over medium-high heat; shake the pan frequently until the seeds are aromatic, about 1 minute. Pour out the seeds and add peppercorns to the pan; toast in the same manner until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Grind all the seeds in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add salt and optional crushed red pepper flakes and sprinkle liberally over lamb.

3. Heat grill or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook lamb until done, an internal temperature of 140 degrees for medium rare. Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving with the cilantro chimichurri sauce.

4. To make the chimichurri sauce, place in a blender the cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, rice vinegar, remaining 1 minced clove garlic and remaining pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and blend. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil. Season to taste with salt.

Per serving: 654 calories; 54 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 108 mg cholesterol; 31 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 4,833 mg sodium; 107 mg calcium.
Recipe from food52.com

CILANTRO AND GINGER HUMMUS

Yield: About 12 servings

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water

1. If desired, peel the chickpeas (if the beans have been canned, the peels will pop right off). This step is not necessary, but it makes a much smoother hummus.

2. Blend chickpeas in a food processor until coarse. Add tahini, garlic, ginger, cilantro, lemon juice and salt. Process for a full 1 to 2 minutes. With the processor running, drizzle in the oil and then the water. For a smoother, thinner consistency, add more water.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 152 calories; 11 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 11 g carbohydrate; no sugar; 1 g fiber; 273 mg sodium; 31 mg calcium.
Recipe from abeautifulmess.com

Photo by Qfamily via Flickr

Savory Ways To Use Summer’s Perfect Fruit

By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

You bite into a ripe peach. A drop of delicious juice spills over your lips and traces a wet, sticky trail down your chin.

Now that’s summer.

Few experiences in this world are more mind-blowingly sensual than eating a ripe peach bursting with flavor.

But that’s a fresh peach, consumed au naturel. What about cooking with peaches? What about using them in savory dishes? Are they still as amazing then?

Of course they are. Peaches are still peaches, even when placed on top of a pizza.

So I put peaches on top of a pizza, where they more than held their own. The secret was my grill.

Using a recipe by Martha Stewart (and I’m not embarrassed to admit that), I grilled the sliced peaches before using them as a flatbread topping. I knew that would caramelize the fruit, making it sweeter, but what I did not anticipate was how just a couple of minutes on the grill would give the peach a smoky flavor.

That extra blast of smoke (more prominent, actually, than the added sweetness) was the perfect accompaniment to a thin layer of salty, smoky prosciutto. A sprinkling of fresh basil added a heady bite, which nicely cut a rich and creamy layer of mozzarella.

And all of this goodness was perched on top of a grilled pizza crust, or at least it would have been if I’d followed Ms. Stewart’s recommendation. I wanted something slimmer so the other flavors would stand out more. I wanted to use a grilled flatbread, but just at the critical moment I couldn’t find a suitable version at the store.

So I settled on a naan, a thicker-than-flatbread flatbread that is popular in India. I bought three (they come in a three-pack), grilled them and topped them with the peaches, prosciutto, basil and cheese.

They were great. The distinct taste of the naan added one more complementary taste to the toppings, but to be perfectly honest a pizza crust would be just as good, or a flatbread, or even a pita.

I wasn’t through with savory uses for peaches. If peaches are one of the ultimate expressions of summer, then tomatoes are another. Put them together, and you’ve got a peach-and-tomato gazpacho.

Ordinarily, peaches and tomatoes do not play well together. Peaches are sweet, tomatoes are acidic, and the flavors do not meld with ease. But a simple secret brings them together in culinary harmony: Just add salt.

Salt brings out the sweetness and tempers the acid in many foods including tomatoes (and even peaches). Just a bit or two of salt turns these two competing fruits into the best of friends.
It’s even better when you add a dollop of Greek yogurt that has been mixed with diced cucumber, chives and a minced clove of garlic. It all tastes as great as it sounds.

Naturally, I wanted to use peaches in a dessert, too; dessert is the natural medium for a peach. But I didn’t want to make a pie (too ordinary) or a tart (too commonplace) or even a galette (too much like a pie or a tart).

And that is when I saw a recipe for a fresh peach cake. The recipe is by Ina Garten, and no, I’m not embarrassed about that, either.

This recipe is more of a coffee cake than a cake cake. The batter has sour cream in it _ I could just eat the batter all day–along with all the other ingredients that make cake so delectable: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Then it is topped off by a combination of cinnamon, sugar and pecans.

But it is the peaches that raise the cake from ordinary to extraordinary. In the middle, adding their sweet moistness, lies a layer of thin-sliced peaches topped with more of the cinnamon and sugar. And on the top is the same.

Try it with a cup of coffee. Try it with a glass of milk. But try not to eat the whole thing at once by yourself.

Finally, I decided to take advantage of one of those classic flavor combinations that are not too well known. Peaches go with bourbon. Bourbon goes with peaches. A slice of peach muddled in a glass of bourbon brings out a new and wonderful set of flavors.

If one slice of peach and one shot of bourbon is good, how much better would it be to slice up three or four entire peaches and let them steep in a bottle of bourbon for a week or so?

A not overwhelming amount of sugar, two tablespoons, helped to mellow out the bourbon, and a couple of cloves and allspice berries added their own festive notes.

While it is superb on its own or with a few cubes of ice, this lighter, friendlier version of bourbon also makes exceptional mixed drinks.

There is nothing like a drop of peach-infused bourbon spilling over your lips and down your chin.

FRESH PEACH CAKE

Yield: 12 servings

1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1.5 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. If you use a smaller pan the batter will overflow it while it cooks, so place it on top of a baking sheet with a rim or a larger pan.

2. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon.

4. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

5. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 335 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 63 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 47 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 253 mg sodium; 59 mg calcium.
Recipe by Ina Garten, via Food Network

PEACH-AND-TOMATO GAZPACHO WITH CUCUMBER YOGURT

Yield: About 8 (1-cup) servings

5 large peaches, peeled and divided
3 large tomatoes, cored and divided
1/2 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup finely diced English cucumbers
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Cut 4 of the peaches and 2 of the tomatoes into quarters and put in a food processor or blender. Add the sweet onion and vinegar and process until smooth.

2. Chop remaining peach and tomato. Stir into pureed mixture. Season with salt (if it tastes bitter, the salt will add sweetness) and white pepper to taste. Chill 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, combine cucumber, yogurt and the 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours (chilling can dull the seasoning, so you may need to add more salt and pepper before serving).

4. Ladle gazpacho into bowls. Spoon cucumber mixture over gazpacho. Drizzle each serving with about 1 teaspoon olive oil and serve immediately.

Per serving: 112 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 7 mg sodium; 25 mg calcium.
Recipe from Southern Living magazine

GRILLED PEACH PIZZAS WITH PROSCIUTTO

Yield: 3 (9-inch pizza) servings
3 pizza dough crusts, or flatbreads, pita or naan
2 peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
12 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half
1/3 cup fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. Heat a grill or grill pan on high heat and grill pizza crusts, flatbreads, pita or naan until grill marks are dark. Set aside and grill peach wedges until caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, or lower grill temperature to medium. Spread cheese on grilled pizza crusts. Bake or grill (covered with a lid) directly on grates until cheese melts and is bubbling, about 8 minutes (time may vary slightly if grilling). Remove from oven or grill. Top with peaches, prosciutto and basil. Drizzle with oil.

Per serving: 841 calories; 49 g fat; 24 g saturated fat; 167 mg cholesterol; 45 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 15 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,828 mg sodium; 15 mg calcium.
Recipe from Martha Stewart

FRESH GEORGIA PEACH BOURBON

Yield: 17 (1 ounce) servings

3 to 4 fresh peaches
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 (750 ml) bottle good-quality bourbon

1. Wash the peaches and cut in half to remove the pit. Slice each half into two equal wedges and place in the bottom of a large glass jar. Add sugar, cloves and allspice before adding the bourbon. Seal tightly.

2. Place out of direct sunlight and let steep for 7 to 10 days. Once infused, strain the bourbon and discard the peaches and spices. Finished bourbon will keep indefinitely in an airtight decanter or jar.

Per serving: 103 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; no fiber; no sodium; no calcium.
Recipe from thepeachtruck.com

Photo by Ted Drake via Flickr