Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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Belgian beauties. Yes, they’re worth it. (Have fun, search engines.)

September 15, 2009

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For many years, I claimed to be a strict savory breakfast eater. No pancakes for me. No waffles. No French toast. No funny little Danishes. No, thank you. I’ll take eggs, I’d say. Give me an omelet any day. And more bacon. And sausage.

I stand by my love for the saltier breakfast fare, but I admit that a taste for the sweet has crept in there. And in the case of these Belgian waffles, perhaps more than crept. Maybe more like stormed in with the sound and fury of the first ten minutes of a Michael Bay movie.

It’s important to note that I included the nationality “Belgian” in the description of these waffles. I mean, an ordinary waffle is nothing to stop traffic for. A pancake, unless packed with extra love and ingredients (see the husband’s Orange Ricotta Pancakes), is tasty but not remarkable. French toast is, too often, just some eggy bread. But those Belgians were onto something. They’ve taken an ordinary breakfast bread and, er, waffled it, expanding the possible crispy delectable surface area by multiples. It’s crispy, yet fluffy and soft. It’s caramelly and yet also complex. It’s fragrant and, yes, oh so seductive. Still more fiendishly, it has these generous square cups to hold syrup or trap dainty pieces of fruit or puddles of ice cream in. Is genius too strong a word? I think not.

How did this love affair begin? When we encountered some outstanding Belgian waffles at a local restaurant one evening as a dessert item. Granted, I was nine months pregnant and out for the rare dinner without a two-year-old, so that might have made them extra delicious. But the husband’s reaction was even more mighty (and, let’s face it, predictable). He ran right out and bought himself a Belgian waffle iron (natch) and set to work trying to replicate said waffles. After several batches of subpar waffles – which I managed to force down – this recipe emerged.

Is it worth it? Is it worth wrangling with those yeastie-beasties? Waiting an hour for the batter to “develop flavors”? Worth buying a freakin’ Belgian waffle maker? I can only speak for myself. And the answer is: Yes, indeed, and please pass the waffles.

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And now, the Husband’s take…

I know, you’re thinking, “Waffles are easy.” And if you just whip together commercial pancake mix, then you’re right. These waffles are something else. They’re more like a “gateway drug” to interesting culinary possibilities. You see, these waffles eschew chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder. Instead, they gain their volume and gusto from a combination of whipped egg whites and slower acting yeast.

Wait, wait… I know what you are thinking: Yeast is a microorganism that should be left in the hands of serious bakers. But, think of the potential magic to be unlocked. The yeast provides not only volume, but also delicious taste. It provides the tang of fermentation that makes these waffles serious contenders for glory. While they are a great breakfast/brunch food, they are also great for dessert with a little ice cream or even just nude as a snack.

In addition, if you get hooked on these waffles, you just might find yourself experimenting with other tasty, yeast-oriented projects… like donuts, bagels, country loaves or those crunchy, crusty French baguettes. The possibilities are really endless once you make friends with yeast. You just might become an addict.

Before I go, just a little note. These are not quick-to-make waffles from the back of the box. I typically make them for weekend brunch or as a dessert for a party. The big reason is that you need some time to let the flavor develop. So, either begin the process early in the morning or start the night before, refrigerate the batter and then let it warm back up on the counter an hour or two before you make the waffles. In any case, you will be incredibly well rewarded for a little patience.

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Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups milk (warm or room temperature)
4 egg whites
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Let the milk come to room temperature, or warm it. This is important because the yeast will not be getting the classic bloom you see with bread recipes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt (dry ingredients) and whisk to integrate. In another bowl, combine the milk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla and whisk until homogeneous (wet ingredients). Finally, in a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

3. In the larger bowl, combine the dry and wet ingredients until they just come together. The mass should be relatively dense and very sticky.

4. Fold in the egg white in three stages. In the first stage, you can be a tad bit rougher as the moisture of the whites will make the mixture more workable. In the next two installments, simply work the whites in just enough as to bring the mixture together and ensure there are no large portions of whites. You don’t want to overdo this step. We want the air and moisture to integrate well.

5. Let the batter rest covered on the counter for a minimum of 1 hour. If you take more than 3 hours, move the batter to the refrigerator. The batter should expand significantly (double) and may require a stir to keep form overflowing if the bowl is small.

6. Ensure your waffle maker is as hot as possible before pouring on the batter. Cook until the waffles reach a golden brown. Serve as desired.

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Buy another kitchen tool? Yes, and make Peach-Brown Sugar Sorbet.

August 24, 2009

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Over the years, my husband has accumulated some kitchen tools. Wait, that’s a major understatement. Over the years, my husband has accumulated mass amounts of kitchen tools. Our kitchen (and dining room and garage) is literally littered with tools. A blender hidden under here. A rice cooker over there. A mandolin tucked in there. A tagine on the floor in the dining room. A hand mixer. A stand mixer. A bigger stand mixer. A waffle maker. A Belgian waffle maker. A vacuum sealer. An immersion circulator. Need I say more? (Note that I did not make up the former list. I am not exaggerating. And it could have been a lot longer, but this post is supposed to be about peach sorbet.)

Anyway, I might roll my eyes when I step over the giant pot used for canning that sits on the dining room floor. And I might swear when I stub my toe on the tandoor. But I will never, ever curse the counter space taken up by my husband’s ice cream machine. That, my friends, is a kitchen tool worth having.

Yes, my husband’s ice cream machine churns out desserts that are absolutely divine. This blog has chronicled some masterpieces. Blueberry. Mint. Pistachio. Ginger. What could be next? I’ll tell you: Delicious, fresh, perfect peach-brown sugar sorbet.

I’m a fan of ice cream. Who doesn’t like its creamy, luscious, cold, sweet goodness? But fruit often gets lost in those creamy depths, playing  second fiddle to the sugar and milk. Not so with sorbet. And definitely not so with my husband’s peach sorbet; it preserves this season’s juicy ripe peaches in a frozen matrix of sweet sorbet-ness that transports you to the sun-drenched groves where these peaches must have grown up. It’s that good.

Nothing is better than eating a warm, fuzzy, fresh, fragrant ripe peach… the kind whose juices spill all over your mouth when you sink your teeth into its sweetly yielding orange flesh. For those times, though, when such a peach just isn’t handy, this sorbet is a suitable — and delicious — alternative. It may not be warm and fuzzy, but it is just as satisfying to wipe off your mouth.

Take it from me: Get yourself an ice cream machine — the one essential kitchen tool — and churn yourself up some peach-brown sugar sorbet.

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And now, the husband’s take…

Summer is really moments from over. I know because I was driving down the street past a local elementary school… and there were kids getting off a bus. And my little Jack is just moments from starting pre-school a couple days a week. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to this summer ending. But alas, I’ll have comfort for at least a few more weeks as I stretch the last of the season’s peaches out with this sorbet.

I don’t know about most of you, but here in Northern Virginia I’ve felt we’ve had a pretty good season for peaches. Lots of truly ripe, beautiful and juicy peaches this year seemed to come my way. The result has been lots of time to experiment with them and think of ways to manipulate and extract every delicious ounce of juice from them.

This is probably one of my favorites and one of the most simple. Really, it comes down to this: Peel, blend, cool, churn, and freeze. You are done. And you have an awesome result. So, not much advice here, except to pick the sweetest and juiciest peaches you can find. When you no longer can eat them fresh, dripping, and about to be lost forever to the natural state of things, turn them into sorbet.

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Peach & Brown Sugar Sorbet
Ingredients:
800g/6 medium peaches (pitted, pealed, chopped)
200g/1 ¼ cup sugar
125g/ ½ cup dark brown sugar
125g/ ½ cup water
½ tsp. salt
juice of 1 lime

Directions:
1. To peel the peaches, you can simply use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin on firmer fleshed fruit. However, if the peach is too soft, you can bring a pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Cut an ‘X’ in the base of each peach and then drop them gently in the water for 10 seconds before moving them to an ice bath. The skins should pull up easily. The same technique can be used to peel tomatoes.

2. Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend on high until mixture is homogeneous. Move to small container and refrigerate overnight or move to the freezer for about 2 hours.

3. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions, and then move to the freezer. Let set for two to four hours in the freezer before serving.

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Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

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I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

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And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

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Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

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Perfect Fruit + Ice Cream= Perfect Blueberry Ice Cream

July 30, 2009

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I know bananas have a lock on that saying: “Quite possibly the world’s perfect fruit.” But what about the blueberry? Why does it get shoved aside in favor of “perfect” bananas? Was there a competition for “world’s perfect fruit”? Did the blueberry even enter?

I maintain that the blueberry can slide right in there via the “possibly.” Bananas could possibly by the world’s perfect fruit… if it weren’t for the even more exceptional blueberry. Round, plump, juicy and splendidly colored as no food in nature should be. Blueberries are my perfect fruit. I can eat them by the pintful, and often do.

But how can a “perfect” fruit be improved on? Leave it to my husband to crack that nut…  er, smash that blueberry. He manages it via his fiendish ice cream machine, which churned forth this delicious, delectable, delightful blueberry ice cream. To raw blueberries’ simplistic, seductive (sometimes tartly) sweetness, my husband’s ice cream adds layers of creamy smooth complexity. It is rich, it is sweet, it is indulgent (well, not as low calorie as the blueberries themselves), it has that delightful purple-blue hue — and, bonus, it may even have antioxidents in it.

We’ve already established that blueberries are the world’s perfect fruit, now we can venture that they may also make the world’s perfect dessert. How? Ice cream, darling. Churn, baby, churn.

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And now, the husband’s take…

So my wife really sounds like a fanatic for blueberries, and I hate to admit she is—a little disturbing, right? But don’t mess with the woman and her blueberries. This is why I took my life into my own hands when I came up with this recipe. But with that said, I got the job done. And really, it’s away to extend the peak season if you work it right. So she should stop the threatening looks when I talk about more blueberry recipes. If nothing else, just look at my boy Jack in the photos. That is one happy little guy eating blueberry ice cream. I think that it’s a strong testimonial in my favor.

Before leaving, a couple small technical issues. First, I strained the blueberries after blending. This is all about mouth texture.  Blueberries are almost all skins and seeds. This is hardly noticeable when you eat them raw or whole, but to me ice cream has to have that smoothness in the mouth to be good. I suspect someone will tell me I’ve dulled the flavor by taking all those elements out, but I just didn’t feel right leaving them in. I mean I know it works for red wine to leave the skins etc. to develop greater flavor, but we strive for something more than just flavor.

The big negative is that it means your yield may not be all that great. So I find this recipe is likely most cost effective using frozen or berries that are just about to be past their prime.

Second, the recipe is composed of two steps. Step 1 of the recipe is simply making a blueberry purée. You could use this resulting liquid to flavor about a million different items.  Steps 2 to 6 are simply the technique of making crème anglaise without the vanilla. This is a classic French technique of making smooth and thick custard that has multiple applications, but I almost always use for my base for ice cream.

If you want to experiment with your own ice cream flavors, I suggest taking this recipe and subtracting step 1, and then add flavors as you see fit. There are lots of great recipes out there, especially on David Lebowitz’s blog and his book Perfect Scoop, but I’m always looking for my own path and this is where I typically start.

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Blueberry Ice Cream
Ingredients:
2 cup heavy cream
2 cup milk
8 eggs yolks
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
300 g sugar (approx. 1 ½ cup)
1 tsp. salt
juice of 1/2 medium lime

Directions:

1. In a blender, blend until smooth the blueberries, the lime juice and 100 grams (1/2 cup) of the sugar until very smooth. Strain the mixture using a fine sieve to remove seeds and skins. You should have about 2 cups of liquid remain. Set aside.

2. Set up a water bath by filling a large bowl with equal part of ice and water about half full. Place a smaller bowl inside.

3. In a heavy pot over medium heat, add 100 grams (1/2) cup of the sugar, the milk, the cream and the salt. Heat slowly. When the milk begins to rapidly boil at the edges, turn down the heat.

4. Whisk together the remaining sugar with the egg yolks. Temper the eggs by slowly adding several ladlefuls (totaling about third) of the hot milk to the sugar and egg mixture while whisking vigorously.

5. Add the new combined mix back to the pot and continue to stir.  Return the heat to medium and continue to stir until it thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour immediately into the empty bowl in the ice bath.

6. Add the strained blueberry purée from step 1 and continue to stir until the mixture reaches slightly cooler then body temperature. (This means it should feel slightly cool if you touch the mix).

7. Move to a covered container and refrigerate overnight or freeze for approximately two hours. Once the mix is sufficiently cold, churn according to ice cream maker instructions.

Recommendation: I prefer to cool the ice cream base and the finished product and wide and shallow containers. I find it makes it quicker to cool and to harden while in those containers. Also find it makes it easier to scoop.

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A bit of pulled pork every day helps keep the recession at bay…

February 12, 2009

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Last week I ate pulled pork every day for lunch (toasted potato roll, Mt. Olive bread and butter pickles, mayo, pork). Yes, every day. Yes, all week.

But before you start pointing fingers and calling me an uncreative glutton (jealous much?), know this… there is a recession on, and I was just eating the most awesome, economical leftovers that we had in our fridge. That, and I’m eight-plus months pregnant.

“Pulled pork every day? Really?” you gasp in wonder. “Can it be true? Can it be healthy? Can it really be that good? And can I please, please have some?”

Yes, you can have some. If you make this recipe, there will be plenty to go around — and trust me, you won’t get tired of eating delicious, fork-tender and succulent pulled pork until it is all finger-lickin’ gone.

My husband has made pulled pork before, but it’s never turned out so damn tasty. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always devoured it — it’s just the speed and duration of my consumption of it that changes.) This pork, lovingly coated with sugar, salt and spices, and sunning itself in a warm oven for nine hours… it just comes out happy. And it spreads its happy joyfulness when you fork in each delicious bite. I knew it was the real deal when I saw my husband brandishing two forks, and I saw the long, pink strands of wonderful porkiness just falling off the bone into a fragrant heap of steaming awesomeness. Yes, it’s that good.

The first night I had it, it was scrumptious in warm flour tortillas, dolloped with fresh salsa and sour cream and sprinkled with cheese. But that’s a bit complex to replicate for lunch. So for its remaining time in our fridge, it got tossed down sandwich style… and sometimes just forked right into the maw.

In any case, I’m eager for you to make it, friends, so you can tell me what other wonderful leftover concoctions can be had from delicious pulled pork. (In fact, I saw a recipe recently for pulled pork served on pitas with tsatsiki sauce…. any takers?)

So now I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. Pulled pork is delicious. This pulled pork is fabulous. Won’t you eat it every day too?

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And now, the husband’s take…

I’m not sure there is anything better than meat cooked for a long time. Two of my favorite recent recipes are a previous pork shoulder braised in Belgian ale and beef short ribs braised in red wine and beef stock. The flavors created by those intense periods spent at low temperatures makes me think my foot probably good after about 5 hours at between 250F-275F. But, I like my foot so that is just silly… right?

Anyway I digress. This recipe is another Sunday stay-at-home special. In my mind, this is the perfect recipe for just a lazy day. The kind where you don’t get out of your pajamas until mid-afternoon, and that’s only to take a shower and put on another set of pajamas — not that I would ever have a day like that.

The best part is that it isn’t a lot of work. Yes, it is a huge time commitment, but not work. Each step takes about ten to fifteen minutes if you work slowly. As a result, you can spend most of your time doing anything else. Even if you don’t baste the shoulder like I suggest in the recipe, it’s not that big of an issue — so you could even do cook this overnight while you sleep. That way it’s great for a noon tip-off or party. In addition, this makes the ultimate leftovers. While we show it with salsa on a tortilla, you pretty much can do anything with it — for example, great, great sandwiches.

This is also a relatively inexpensive cut of meat. If you buy a typical supermarket shoulder, you can get this for about $15 dollars here in DC. You can easily serve a party of eight or more with it. Or have a tremendous amount of leftovers if you make it for your family. This means awesome packed lunches the rest of the week. So this is your very own recession special.

So with time and a little bit of money, you get a truly awesome result… if I don’t say so myself. Now, what about that foot thing?

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Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Ingredients:
7 lbs. pork shoulder (bone in)
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup salt
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. cayenne

Directions:
1. To make the rub, thoroughly mix together the brown sugar, salt, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes and cayenne.

2. Pat dry the pork shoulder and then liberally apply the rub to all sides. Place in a leak-proof container. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 24 hours, or as little as overnight. It will give up a cup or more of liquid so make sure your container is big enough to prevent spillage.

3. Remove the shoulder from refrigerator, brush off any excess or caked on rub. Move to a clean roasting pan with the fat side up.

4. Heat the oven to 275F. Place in the oven and let roast for 9 to 10 hours. Yes, I’m serious about it taking that long. After about 3 hours, there will be enough fat rendered to allow you to baste the shoulder every 1 to 2 hours. With a large spoon simply pour the rendered fat over the shoulder.

5. You will know it’s ready because the outside of the shoulder is extremely dark, nearly burned looking. The pork should pull easily from the bone and the fat/skin on the top should be nearly crispy.

6. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 30 min. Using a pair of forks or very clean hands pull the pork away from the bone. This should be very easy to do.

7. Serve one of several ways. Here we served it on a tortilla and topped with fresh salsa (recipe below). Another favorite for us is on a toasted potato roll and with a couple sweet pickles. This serves great leftovers.

Simple Fresh Salsa
Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes (diced)
1 cup cilantro (diced)
1 jalapeno (diced very fine)
1 lime (juice)
½ large onion (diced)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt

Directions:
1. Combine the  tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and jalapeno in a bowl and mix thoroughly. You can de-seed the jalapeno if you are heat adverse, or substitute a serrano pepper if you like a little more kick.

2. Add the lime juice and olive oil and mix. Salt to taste.

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Turkey & Cheddar Panini (with onion marmalade) to the rescue!

November 20, 2008

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Yesterday, we brought you the secret of our house burger… onion marmalade. Today, we bring you the secret of our favorite sandwich… it is, er, onion marmalade.

Pictured above is the sandwich that makes us happy. Especially on those nights. (You know the ones I mean.) Everyone has them. Especially after you’ve had kids. Those are the nights when you know you need to make dinner. But you look at each other, look at your little ones, and realize that – shock! horror! – you don’t actually  want to cook. Even I have those nights… nights when the wife might grudgingly enter the kitchen, rather than give in to ordering or going out. Those nights are when we turn to this sandwich.

It couldn’t be more simple. A few slices of turkey, some good sharp cheddar, a slice of bacon, and delicious onion marmalade. Place the sandwich in the panini press, and 10 min later… voila!… hot delicious turkey and cheddar panini with onion marmalade. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the guilt of putting out the cardboard pizza box with the garbage, reminding your neighbors that, “No, your kids are not eating 100% organic, locally grown, micro-biotic tofu and sprouts.”

A few little tips. First, the cheese is important. In addition to being tangy and tasty, it’s a binding agent. There are two very thin layers that hold the sandwich together and keep the marmalade from bleeding through the bread. You don’t need a lot of cheese; spread it out and keep it thin. Also, don’t try to slice the sandwich fresh from the heat of the press. If you do, the cheese will still be molten and it will cause the sandwich to shift around. Wait 2 minutes before slicing.

Second, to me, the joy of a panini is the crunch as much as the flavor. After many trials, we know that if you add too much turkey, it becomes just a hot sandwich – not a panini. No more than three thin slices of turkey from the local deli seem to yield the best results.

Finally, the wife wanted me to say that the bacon is 100% optional. If you have no interest in breaking out the pan, you can have something just as delicious without it.

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Turkey and Cheddar Panini with Onion Marmalade
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Ingredients:
8 slices bread
1/2 lb. thin sliced turkey
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
4-6 slices bacon
1/4 cup onion marmalade

Directions:
1. Heat the panini press. Fry the bacon and let drain.

2. Slice the cheese thin and place enough to nearly cover the bottom slice of bread.

3. Break the bacon in bite-sized pieces and stack on the cheese. (Small slices ensure the bacon will remain in the sandwich, and not get yanked out in one big bite!)

4. Add the turkey next, then about a tablespoon of the onion marmalade.

5. Finish off by adding another thin layer of cheese and the top piece of bread.

6. Toast until golden brown. Let cool for 2 to 3 min to allow the cheese to firm before slicing.

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Fresh chorizo and stuffed dates, or as we think about it: rethinking folklore about watching sausage being made.

November 14, 2008

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I’ve seen how sausage is made… And it’s not that bad.

OK, I didn’t go to the “sausage factory,” where, I’ve no doubt, the process is much, much more stomach churning. But watching my husband make chorizo sausage from scratch was in no way traumatic. And the smell of him cooking up little “tester patties” was actually kind of appetizing.

There, I said it. Sausage making can be appetizing.

Indeed, I’ll go further. You should try to make sausage, too. Why? Well, I’ll give you three good reasons: Delicious southwestern-style fritatas, hearty corn bread and chorizo stuffing, and to-die-for chorizo stuffed dates. All of these tasty, tasty items are drastically improved when you bring your own homemade chorizo sausage to the party.

Consider: Rather than ripping open the shrink-wrapped styrofoam package of pallid, speckled links, you could make — in your own kitchen — fragrant, delicious, crispy, and spicy pork sausage. The smell of fresh cinnamon and the bite of potent spices could cause your nose to twitch. The sound of pork fat hitting pan could cause your stomach to growl. And the smell of the chorizo sausage browning in the pan could cause your mouth to water.

The best part? Not only is making chorizo sausage not gruesome, it’s also not hard. Grind and combine, baby. Plus, none of these recipes call for linked sausage, meaning you can forgo wrestling with slimy intestinal lining or other equally slippery casing alternatives.

Sound good? Don’t forgot to cook me up a tester patty. I’m willing to be your guinea pig!

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And now, the husband’s take…

The first time I had fresh sausage was as a kid. My father’s family were farm folk in eastern North Carolina and grew the regions staples—pigs and tobacco. This meant, at least once a year, my father got fresh sausage from the farm. And, no offense to Jimmy Dean and Bob Evans,but to be honest, there really was nothing better. There was something about the quality or perhaps the novelty that made such a positive impression.

So fast forward a few decades, the first thing you learn when you get serious about cooking is controlling quality. The reason the great restaurants produce the greatest food is that every ingredient is high quality. And every step thereafter, from making stock to plating, is about enhancing the underlying quality. If you take this to the level of Thomas Keller at the French Laundry or Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington, then it becomes obsessions that leads to legendary greatest. Or if you are me, it’s why you make chicken stock a couple times a month, go to various farmers markets around town or make my own sausage then write a post about it.

The chorizo is great. You could eat sausage alone, but it isn’t a hot dog or bratwurst. To me, it’s a component and taking control to build a better result. As my wife pointed out, there are at least two other posts on the blog where chorizo is used. Today, I add another recipe here, a cocktail party classic—chorizo stuffed dates. So while, “making sausage” has it’s negative connotations, if you have the inkling, do it yourself. It’s actually fun.

Before I quit writing, some technical information about the recipe. First, this is fresh chorizo. Aficionados of chorizo can do dissertations on the subject. In some regions, it’s a dried sausage like salami or pepperoni. In others, it’s a loose sausage. It can or can’t be smoked. In general, I’m not remotely claiming this as a definitive or authentic recipe. This is simply my recipe which tends to be a bit on the spicy side.

Second, I got into sausage making right about the time I started culinary school. It began with Brian Polclyn and Michael Ruhlman’s great book, Charcuterie. While this recipe is significantly different then the one that can be found in their book, it would be a lie if I didn’t acknowledge their influence. If you enjoy this sort of thing, I would highly recommend their book. My copy is getting beat up from going on and off the shelf so much.

Third, this makes quite a bit of chorizo. It keeps easily for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. I don’t put mine in cases to make links, but Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend hog casings if you want to follow their lead.

Finally, you need to work clean and cold when you grind meat. This means I clean my grinding equipment before and after every use. It also means that everything gets placed in either the freezer or refrigerator between steps including the meat, the grinder, and the bowl that catches the meat. If you don’t keep things cold, you risk the fat rendering out and loosing flavor.

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Fresh Chorizo
Ingredients:
3 lbs pork shoulder (diced to fit grinder)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. tequila

Spice Mix:
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika (hot)
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake

Directions:

1. Toss together diced pork, spice mix, salt and minced garlic making sure that everything is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

2. Clean grinding equipment and bowl. Place equipment in the freezer (or keep cold) until ready to grind.

3. Grind the meat being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to catch any straggling spice mix or garlic. When using the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment, I use the small die (the screen in front of the grinding blade) on low speed for best results. If the meat is no longer cold, cover and refrigerate before proceeding.

4. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the ground meat and tequila to the bowl. Mix on medium speed until the meat is a pâté consistency. This should take about 1 minute.

5. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, place a small, quarter-sized patty of the sausage. Brown on both sides. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

6. Once done, move to a clean container, cover tightly and refrigerate. Should keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or can be divided up and part placed in the freezer for later use.

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Chorizo Stuffed Dates w/Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
24 pitted dates
1/4 lbs fresh chorizo
6-8 slices bacon
4 oz. goat cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Slice each date along one side using a paring knife.

3. Taking a pinch of chorizo, press into the pocket formed by opening the date.

4. Stretch each slice of bacon out on a cutting board. This is the key as it avoids the need for toothpicks. The bacon should be about 1/3 larger then when pulled from the rest of the slices.

5. Roll the date until date is covered and the bacon comes around about 1 1/2 times. Cut from the slice. You should get 3 to 4 dates per slice of bacon.

6. Place on baking sheet with a rack. Bake for 30 min or until the bacon is golden and fat rendered. Rotate halfway through cooking. It’s important your baking sheet has a lip on all sides as there will be a good pool of fat on the bottom of the sheet.

7. Plate, sprinkle over with goat cheese. Serve warm.

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‘nilla wafer puddin’: so good, it’s scary

October 30, 2008

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It isn’t right to torment your husband.

I know this, and yet, when it comes to Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding (‘nilla wafer puddin’ for short), I can’t help myself. It’s just so good.

Yes, my husband has had months of professional French-style culinary training. Yes, he can braise, glaze and flam-baze with the best of them. But when it comes to old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs, lick the spoon, go for third-helpings kind of deliciousness, this clip-from-the-back-of-the-box recipe still takes the cake (er, pudding).

It is a crowd pleaser. Everybody loves it. Everybody comments on it. Everybody wants the recipe. Everybody goes back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths, until finally you come upon a guest surreptitiously running his finger along the rim of the empty bowl and making satisfied sucking sounds until said bowl is forcibly removed from his hands.

It’s that good, people.

Now my husband grumps, and moans, and bellyaches about that “darn ‘nilla wafer puddin.” But he makes it, and then begrudgingly laps up the accompanying praise and glory.

But let’s be honest. I do the work here, people. I am the one who flatters, badgers and goads until the husband ponies up the delicious homemade vanilla pudding. And then I am the one who lovingly assembles the whole concoction into a thing of beauty. Yes, I — the wife — make the whip cream, cut up the bananas and lovingly stack the Nilla wafers into a towering trifle of dessert deliciousness.

That’s right: Don’t believe the husband, he’s not the ‘nilla wafer puddin’ martyr he’d have you believe.

But you can believe one thing: This Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding is really that good. It’s totally worth tormenting your husband for. Enjoy it! And Happy Halloween!

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And now, the husband’s take…

I hate this recipe. No, actually, I don’t really HATE this recipe. It’s just that I don’t get it. I think it’s a good recipe. I really like what it makes. But… well… despite culinary school, despite all the cool techniques, despite my growing knowledge of food, this very simple recipe is the one I’m asked for the most.

I get emails from family members saying, “I’ve looked everywhere on the blog, but can’t find it.” I get calls asking for it. My wife even has a slightly obnoxious chant she does when she wants me to make it, and I’m quite certain my 19 month old is going to start joining her any day now. I’m pretty much obligated to make this for every family gathering or to bring it to any social gathering where you are expected to provide a dish. Because of this demand, I’m putting it up to share.

Finally, I appreciate this recipe is most associated with summer and childhood. But, honestly, its perfect for tomorrow if you are having a party. This recipe can easily serve 12 very hungry folks and I suspect even more of the smaller guys. It keeps well if you refrigerate it. It’s actually better if you make it the day before as the flavors of the banana spread around and the cookies absorb the liquid and get a more cake-like consistency. So, Happy Halloween and enjoy! Just don’t ask me for the recipe later.

Click here for the recipe for ‘Nilla Wafer Pudding.

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Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding
Ingredients:
1/2 box Nilla wafers
5 bananas
Vanilla pudding (recipe below)
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Make and cool the pudding according to the directions below.

2. Just before starting construction, use a mixer (preferably hand or stand) and whip together the heavy cream, vanilla, salt and sugar until you see stiff peaks. Set aside. (How do you know when you’ve achieved stiff peaks? When you can turn the whisk upside down and the peak of mount whipped cream stays pointy.)

3. Slice the bananas about a quarter inch thick.

4. Layer the dish as follows: Pudding, wafers, whip cream, bananas.

5. This is best done the day before serving, but is still good if made several hours before serving. The goal is to have the pudding — with all its fat — pick up the flavors from the banana, and for the wafers to soften when sandwiched between the liquids.

6. Refrigerate when done. Serve cold.

Vanilla Pudding
Ingredients:
6 cups milk
3/4 cup corn starch
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Take 1 cup of milk and add to the starch. Whisk until dissolved. It should have the consistency of heavy cream. Set aside.

2. Combine the remaining milk, salt and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.

Note: You can use a whole vanilla bean. If you wish to use one, slice in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the bean now while warming. Also, remember this is milk boiling, do not walk away from it. It will overflow and cause a mess if left unwatched.

3. Turn heat to medium. While whisking consistently, add the slurry of milk and corn starch.

4. Temper the egg yolks. Do this by ladling in some of the hot liquid into a bowl containing the egg yolks while constantly whisking. This will slowly warm the yolks and prevent them from curdling when you add them to the hot liquid. Add the tempered egg yolks to the milk mixture.

5. Continue to whisk regularly while the mixture begins to heat up. It should start to thicken as it approaches a boil.

6. Once thick, pour into a second container and cool. You can place this in the fridge and let cool for a couple hours. Or you can set up an ice bath by placing a bowl inside another bowl of equal parts ice and water, then whisk the pudding until cool. Add the vanilla extract once it’s no longer hot.

Note: If using a vanilla bean, remove the bean’s shell at this point.

7. Refrigerate until ready to use. If the pudding is stiff when you remove it from the refrigerator, simply whip it for about 30 seconds with a hand or stand mixer. It should smooth out quickly, and be easy to pour.

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Braised beef short rib defies definition

October 28, 2008

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Braise (tr.v. braised, brais*ing, brais*es): To cook by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container.

Seldom has a definition been so inadequate. Shouldn’t the definition of braise include words like “sublime,” “transcendent,” “gorgeous,” “silky,” or just plain “delicious”? Clearly dictionary writers have not eaten braised meats, or they wouldn’t be so adjectively-challenged.

A braise done right is a thing of beauty and joy to devour. And to eat my husband’s braised beef short ribs is to consume comfort and deliciousness in a bowl. It’s the kind of meal that assaults your senses and your memories… conjuring up the sounds of your grandmother’s kitchen, or the feeling of swinging your legs under the dining room chair when you were seven, or the first time you ever had mashed potatoes. If there were a movie about eating these braised short ribs, it would include a montage of your most favorite childhood memories. Seriously, they’re that good.

The ingenious braising process not only yields fork-tender strands of juicy, flavorful meat, it also produces the most heavenly dark and rich sauce to pour over it (and over the starch of your choice). With subtle hints of the generous veg, wine and of course, meat, that combined forces for hours over low heat, the sauce alone is good enough to lick off the back of your spoon — repeatedly and joyfully.

Still not convinced? Well, if my words aren’t enough to persuade you, perhaps you can feast your eyes on the photographs… Yes, it really is as good as it looks.

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And now the husband’s take…

While I do love to braise, and braise often, there are even better reasons to make this recipe. First, is its versatility. There are really a half dozen ways you can use the short rib you’ve prepared; here I show you two. One, you can simply remove the bone and serve the short rib, as is, covered with sauce. The is classic: Put your protein on a plate, serve with starch (I like spaetzle) and some vegetables, and you are good to go. Or, two, you can shred the short rib and serve it in its sauce over pasta for a one-plate dish. Another way, not shown here, is to serve the short rib on toast or a roll for a truly decadent sandwich. (This is frequently the fate of our leftovers!)

The second thing I love about this recipe is what I think of as its “watch the game” benefits. Sure, this recipe does take time. But it really is a series of 10 minute bursts. The night before you take 10 minutes to start it marinating, and then you forget it. The next day you brown things, add some liquid, put it in the pot, and go “watch the game.” When the game is over, you strain and work for 10 to 15 minutes. An hour or so later, you have one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten. This is huge. While I’m often in the kitchen, I’ve got plenty of time to do other things.

Finally, I’ve attached my recipe for pasta dough. I’ve been playing with it and have never quite been pleased with my results until recently. The biggest change is a shift in mindset. I’ve started to think of it more like a pie crust, meaning, I need just enough moisture to bring it together and then I need to let it rest. Once I began to imagine it this way, I found my pasta was all the better. After I add the eggs, I look for the dough to be a bit like wet sand and not more. I shape it, then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Everyone agrees the pasta is even better now.

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Braised Beef Short Rib
Ingredients:
5 lbs. beef short ribs (bone in)
1 large onion (rough chop)
2 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 ribs celery (rough chop)
5 sprigs thyme
1 bunch stems of parsley (just stems)
2 bay leaves
salt
pepper

Marinade:
1 qt. beef stock
2 cups red wine (rec. cabernet sauvignon/shiraz)
1 large onion (rough chop)
3 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 large ribs celery (rough chop)
4 cloves garlic
6 stems fresh parsley
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 peppercorns

Directions:
1. In a large container, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add the short ribs, making sure they are fully submerged. Refrigerate overnight or for no more than 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 250F.

3. Remove the short ribs from the marinade, pat dry and set aside. Stain the liquid and reserve both the vegetables and the liquids for later use.

4. Place a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the oil shimmers and before it smokes, add the short ribs being careful not to overcrowd. They should sizzle softly. You may need to work in batches. Brown the meat on all sides.

5. Add both the reserved vegetables and new. Scrape the bottom of the pot to remove the fond (the caramelized bits stuck to the pan). Continue to cook over medium to medium high heat until the onions begin to take on a golden color.

6. Add the reserved liquid from the marinade. Once again, scrape the bottom to remove all the fond. Add the bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, and meat. If the meat is not covered add just enough water to cover.

7. Place in oven for 4 1/2 hours or until the meat falls from the bone.

8. Remove meat, cover in aluminum foil, place in a warm oven and strain liquid.

9. Place liquid over medium to medium high heat and reduce about 75% or until it forms a viscous sauce. It should coat the back of the spoon easily. At this point, you can serve the short rib with the sauce over it, or add shredded meat to the sauce and serve over pasta. If over pasta, I recommend topping with pecorino or parmesan cheese.

Fresh Pasta
Ingredients:
2 large eggs (beaten)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tbsp. water

Directions:
1. Place the flour in a food processor and run. Slowly add the beaten eggs. Once integrated stop. Add the water and pulse 5-6 times.

2. The flour should feel/look like wet sand and come together if pressed in the palm of your hand. If it doesn’t, add a small bit of water and pulse again. It should not come together easily.

3. Turn the dough out into a bowl and press into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. If it has rested longer, let it sit out still wrapped for about 10 minutes or until you can work with it more easily.

4. Cut into four pieces and roll out using a pasta machine. Start at the lowest setting and follow your machine’s instructions. You can hand cut to papperadell or tagatali or use machine’s cutting attachments.

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A refreshing rhubarb-grapefruit salad for a sizzling summer day

June 10, 2008

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It’s hot here. Brutally hot. The kind of hot where the scorching seat of your car can inflict third-degree burns and the sidewalk can literally cook eggs. It’s too hot to venture outside. It’s too hot to move. It’s almost — dare I say it — too hot to eat.

Wait. It’s never too hot to eat.

Of course, at times like these you do have to be very discerning about what you eat. That’s why my husband has cooked up — all caps, here – a REFRESHING salad that reminds the eater that no, it won’t always be 100 degrees outside, it will get better… and why don’t you go to the pool or something.

Yes, his rhubarb-grapefruit salad does speak that eloquently to me. It is light and (it bears repeating) refreshing, with a delightful sweetness from the cooling grapefruit and crunchy rhubarb and a wonderful twang from the zesty vinagrette. Plus, that beautiful heap of greens hides shredded mint to further cool your taste buds… and the whole thing is just plain gorgeous.

Sure, it’s hot outside — but at least the salad I’m eating is cool.

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And now the husband’s take…

Well, the wife is right about the heat.

When I got in my car today, I saw something I didn’t think was even possible. I looked down at the dashboard where it displays the temperature and saw three numbers: a 1 and a 0 and another 0. That’s right: One hundred degrees here in the US capitol.

It was the empirical evidence of what the last four days have been — HOT. A stifling hot. The kind that, unless you have been trained in Arizona for several years, you are unlikely to survive if you go outside. The kind that makes you sit in your air conditioned house and not want to move for fear that any slight twitch of friction might cause the trees outside your window to ignite.

But even with triple-digit heat, you still get hungry. The solution? Cold recipes. Something refreshing to keep the minions happy. This salad is all about being cool. While there is a stove component, you can do even those parts over a grill. Or you can bear 10 minutes of high heat.

Now to the brass tax on this recipe — there are a lot of little things going on. First, you have the poached rhubarb. It is cooked lightly in a sweet syrup of sugar and grenadine. Second, the grapefruit. It becomes the backbone of the salad through the tartness of its flesh, and its acidity in making a vinaigrette. Third, the greens. They are a combination of spring greens and herbs to give brightness. Fourth, syrups. Simple syrup is used to keep the grapefruit from becoming too tart, and a ginger syrup adds a bit of zing. Finally, there is a little bit of pecan to give you that deeper flavor and savory sensation that would traditionally be associated with a cheese (which has been omitted since dairy and 100 degree temperatures don’t mix).

Finally, I want to suggest a pair of perfect drinks for this. When we came back, my wife mentioned my growing love affair with beer. And the past few days, I’ve had reason to enjoy the pleasures of beer. So my suggestions to pair with this are two fruit-influenced beers. First is Abita’s strawberry harvest lager. Enough subtle strawberry to match with the grapefruit and rhubarb that you get a nice fruit flavor. Second is Unibroque’s Ephémère. This beer is fermented with apple juice and then flavored with classic orange peel, coriander and allowed to develop slightly bready character by being bottled with its yeast. Both these beers are delicious and dry (meaning not sweet…).

By the way, let’s not go into the fact I chose such light, delicate beers as my first recommendations. It’s hot enough without my manhood being questioned… just wait until the red meats and I’ll show you!
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Poached Rhubarb & Grapefruit Herb Salad

Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2-inch piece of ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 large ruby red grape fruit
1 cup spring greens
1/2 medium head frisee lettuce
12 leaves mint (chiffonade/thin ribbons)
20 leaves flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pecan (toasted/crushed)
rhubarb batons (see recipe below)
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Prepare the rhubarb according to recipe below.

2. Prepare the syrup. In a medium-size sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once the sugar has melted completely, pour half out and set aside. Return the other half to the heat and add the chopped ginger. Bring the sugar water to a boil until it starts to form tight bubbles and thicken into a syrup. You are looking for something the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, let cool. Once cool, strain the ginger out, and cover or place syrup in a bottle. The ginger syrup should keep refrigerated nearly indefinitely. Both this and the rhubarb can be done a day in advance easily.

3. Supreme the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom of the grapefruit off just until you reach the flesh of the fruit. Slicing along the shape of the fruit remove the pith and skin of the fruit. This should leave you with just the juicy flesh. Working over a bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane, removing the grapefruit segments. Allow the juices to collect in the bowl and place the segments in the unflavored sugar syrup you set aside earlier. Once all the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining fruit over the bowl to extract the last of the juice.

4. Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And salt and pepper to taste.

5. Wash and dry all the herbs and lettuce. Toss together. Then toss gently in a little of the grapefruit vinaigrette. Place on a plate. Make sure you have a decent amount of frisee, this is what will give your lettuce height. Layer with some grapefruit segments, rhubarb batons, pecans, and then gently drizzle the ginger syrup lightly over the salad.

Rhubarb Batons

Ingredients:
2 stalks rhubarb
500 ml water
100 ml grenadine
200 g white sugar

Note: This is based on a recipe by Heston Blumenthal. You can find it printed in the Times here. Furthermore, this recipe makes more rhubarb than is needed for this recipe. However, I found them a delicious sweet/tart snack, so I didn’t make any alterations to the amounts in this recipe.

Directions:
1. Clean the rhubarb and cut stalks into 2-inch segments. Make sure you discard any leaves of the rhubarb. They are poisonous and can give you a nasty stomachache.

2. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water, sugar and grenadine. Bring the water to 65C/150F. Add the rhubarb, shut off heat, and let sit for 15 min.

3. Pour rhubarb and liquid into container and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Once cool — and when you are ready to make the salad –slice the rhubarb into thin strips along the length, creating planks of rhubarb, then cut the planks lengthwise again to create batons. (Note: A sharp knife is your friend even though these will be soft.)