Sunday, November 20, 2005

Carnival Split Pea Soup

I bought a bunch of squash and pumpkins last week, mostly for decoration around the house, but also to eat. So I decided to combine them all into an assorted squash soup. You can basically use whatever squash you have around, or pick out some of your favorites. Stick to one type of squash if you want a discernable taste, or mix and match them. The split peas add a great color and consistency to the soup, either blended or as is. Experiment with spices to change the flavours of this soup as you wish. This recipe makes a HUGE amount of soup...so invite your friends, cut this recipe in half, or have plenty of freezer space available!

1 lb split peas
3 or 4 squashes (I used 1 sugar pumpkin, 1 butternut, 1 carnival, and 1 spaghetti)
Vegetable Stock (or Chicken)
2 cans chopped green chiles
3-4 onions
4-5 garlic cloves
Kosher salt
1/2 stick butter
1/4 tsp ground cumin*~
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg*
1/2 tsp ground ginger*

Rinse the peas and combine with 2 quarts of hot water and plenty of kosher salt. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes and set aside to soak for an hour or so. While peas are soaking, cut squash in half, scrape seeds and fiber and discard. Place on baking sheet in 400 degree oven until soft (about as long as the peas need to soak.)

Over medium heat saute chopped onions and garlic, sprinkle with kosher salt. Add 2 quarts of stock and bring to a boil. Rinse peas and scrape flesh of squashes from their rinds. (I like to then boil the rinds separately in plain water and use stock to thin out soup if necessary.) Reduce heat and let soup simmer, stirring occassionally. Add spices* and green chiles and cover. Let simmer until peas are soft, 2-3 hours. Check soup occasionally and add simmering squash stock as needed. The peas will soak up alot of water throughout the cooking process so make sure they have plenty of liquid to absorp. Once peas are soft enough, moderately blend soup. Remove soup from heat and let soup sit for 1/2 hour or so until temperature is right for eating. Mmmmm....squash soup! Top with sour cream, if desired, and serve with tortilla chips or a hearty bread.

*I find that cumin, ginger and nutmeg go nicely together in an autumn squash soup, but it's also great with cloves, chile powder, crushed red pepper, or just kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. The idea is to just have a hint of spices in the soup...the flavor of the peas and squash should be the main flavor here, not the spices.

~be careful with the cumin. I love this spice but it can overpower soup easily. Start out with a very small amount and add more if necessary.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Eric Estrada Last Day Fritatta

This recipe is very similar to the previous recipe, The Last Day Fritatta, but was born just last year as a variation on the traditional last day fritatta that we have every year on the last morning of vacation. We found ourselves without many leftover veggies and meats and cheeses to make a substantial last day fritatta. Luckily we had about 4 loaves of crusty old italian bread (authentic italian bread from New Jersey). Too old to eat but too good to throw away, we decided to make the Last Day Estrada instead. The bread made up for the lack of veggies and turned into a wonderful last day breakfast.

A dozen eggs
whatever veggies you have on hand
whatever meats and cheeses you have on hand
(any leftover meal that has meat, cheese, or veggies will do as well)
1/2 stick of butter or moremilk or cream, about 1/3 cup
stale italian bread broken into bite sized pieces
kosher salt
garlic

Beat eggs and some milk together with a sprinkle of salt until well blended and add italian bread, soak while you saute garlic, veggies and meats together in some butter. Melt butter in oven-safe skillet over medium high heat. Add egg mixture; do not stir. Cook until eggs start to firm and sides and bottom begin to brown, lifting sides occasionally to let uncooked egg run underneath, about 5 minutes. While egg is still runny on top, add veggies, meats and sprinkle cheeses on top and transfer to broiler. Broil until eggs are puffy and bread pieces start to brown. Transfer to plate, sprinkle with more salt and slice into wedges.

The Last Day Fritatta

This recipe was born during a beach vacation in Delaware. While staying at the Flying Dutchman, our Bethany Beach house, for a week every summer, my surrogate Italian family and I always end up with a lot of leftovers by the end of the week. Instead of tossing out the extra veggies, meats, and cheeses, we clean out the fridge by piling everything into a fritatta to eat on the last day of vacation, before abandoning our cosy beach house for an uncomfortable slice of reality. However, this dish also comes in handy for cleaning out your fridge at the end of any week, beach vacation or no beach vacation.

A dozen eggs
whatever veggies you have on hand
whatever meats and cheeses you have on hand
(any leftover meal that has meat, cheese, or veggies will do as well)
1/2 stick of butter or more
milk or cream, about 1/3 cup
kosher salt
garlic

This recipe is very simple. Saute your veggies and garlic with some butter over medium heat. Add meat once veggies start to soften. Beat eggs and some milk together with a sprinkle of salt until well blended. Melt butter in oven-safe skillet over medium high heat. Add egg mixture; do not stir. Cook until eggs start to firm and sides and bottom begin to brown, lifting sides occasionally to let uncooked egg run underneath, about 5 minutes. While egg is still runny on top, add veggies, meats and sprinkle cheeses on top and transfer to broiler. Broil until eggs are puffy and start to brown. Transfer to plate, sprinkle with more salt and slice into wedges.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Buk's Hummus Melt

This recipe is a recreation of a menu item from one of my favourite watering holes in Boston. My friend Mary was the main chef and creative specialist for the joint until she got married and moved on. It was a sad day and the food hasn't been the same since, so I started making this dish, one of my all-time faves, at home instead.

1 loaf of crusty delicious bread
Hummus
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Fresh Basil
Vine Ripened Tomatoes
Crushed Red Pepper Relish
Kosher Salt
1 Fresh Lemon

Slice bread and toast once. Spread with thick layer of hummus, then add chopped tomatoes, generous amount of chopped basil and a layer of cheddar cheese. Toast again until cheese is very well melted and starting to brown on top. Spread thin layer of relish and sprinkle with salt. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Lucille's Eggplant Parmesan

This recipe comes initially from my surrogate Italian Mother, Lucille. Before tonight, I'd only ever helped her make it. So this recipe is entirely from memory. I'm working on getting the marinara recipe verbatim. This dish is usually served as an appetizer at the Surrogate Italian Family Thanksgiving Dinner.

1 Big Heavy Simmering Pot of Lucille's Marinara Sauce, (recipe coming soon - in the meantime just use your own or Paul Newman's or something)

1 Med-Lg Eggplant, peeled

Italian Bread Crumbs
Parmesan Cheese
Onion Powder
Garlic Salt
Dried Basil
Crushed Red Peppers
Kosher Salt

Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (none of that part-skim or reduced fat crap)
Shredded mozzarella Cheese
2-3 well beaten eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice peeled eggplant into very thin slices, set aside. Heat a skillet of vegetable oil.

In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, a generous amount of parmesan cheese, a dash of onion powder, garlic salt and kosher salt, a sprinkle of basil and crushed red pepper. Mix well. Dip slices of eggplant into egg and then drop into bowl of crumbs. Coat well and fry until golden brown. Set aside on paper towels to drain excess oil.

Using a large deep baking pan, spread a thin amount of heated sauce in bottom. Spread one layer of eggplant, more sauce, and another layer of eggplant. Add more sauce and then blot with ricotta cheese (not too much) and sprinkle thin layer of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Repeat until baking dish is filled. Pour extra sauce over eggplant until covered well. Blot with ricotta and top with layer of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Place baking dish in oven (it is wise to put a baking dish underneath in case it bubbles over, which it will if you made it right) and bake at 375 degrees for an hour or so until it is piping hot, cheese is melted and top is crusty and delicious.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Raisin Bread with Basil Butter

Loaf of Raisin Bread, Pumpkin Bread (or other delicious heavy bread)

1 Stick Salted Butter (none of that margarine or 'buttery spread' crap - just real butter)
10-12 large fresh basil leaves, chopped coarsley
[Homemade] Apricot Jam

Toast raisin bread. While toasting, take stick of butter and add chopped basil leaves. Blend well with fork or knife until butter is soft and speckled with fresh basil. Spread layer of basil butter onto warm bread. Add thin layer of apricot jam and top with leftover chopped basil.

Pair this morning snack with a hot mug of Fair Trade coffee (black and bitter) and some videos on VH1 and you've got yourself one kick ass Saturday morning.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mushroom and Penne with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Ingredients:

(Pesto)
Cilantro
Pumpkin Seeds
Fresh Pumpkin Puree
Garlic
Olive Oil
Scallions
Lemon Juice
Water
Kosher Salt

(Mushroom Sauce)
Butter
Olive Oil
Garlic
Kosher Salt
Fresh Mushrooms
Freshmade Vegetable Stock

Penne or other dried pasta
Shredded Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Flat Leaf Parsley

Pumpkin Seed Pesto:
Take a couple handfuls of dried pumpkin seeds and saute with about 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil until seeds start to brown and pop. Cool completely. Combine a few cloves of garlic with 5 coarsley chopped scallions, a large bunch of cilantro (also coarsley chopped), less that half a cup of pumpkin, 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil, and a quarter cup of water in a large bowl. Add cooled pumpkin seeds and process until mostly smooth. Mixture will be very thick and chunky from the seeds. Add a quarter cup of lemon juice and stir together. Set aside. (Pesto can be refrigerated until needed. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.)

Mushroom Sauce:
Sautee a large amount of sliced mushrooms (any or multiple varieties) in a pan of minced garlic that has been cooked in butter and olive oil. Coat mushrooms and simmer at a high heat while stirring occasionally. Add a small amount of vegetable broth and a good amount of pesto and stir until well blended. Reduce heat slightly and cover. Simmer about 10 minutes.

Place a small amount of cheddar cheese in bottom of serving bowls. Toss penne with chopped parsley and remaining pesto while pasta is still hot and until lightly coated. Pour pasta into bowls and top lightly with cheddar cheese. Top with mushroom sauce, sprinkle with more parsley and serve.

Accompany this dish by splitting a 40 of Miller Light. This light cheap beer pairs nicely with the fibrous and rich pasta dish. Serves 2 generously.

Introduction

I used to cook alot. Some of my earliest memories are of me and my cousin concocting some of the strangest items and forcing our younger siblings to eat them. Things like peanut butter suprise and frozen cocktail bars to cheese gum and something involving a worm were created in our mothers' kitchens. After testing them on the younger ones we'd eat the good ones and clean up the messes before Mom got home.

I was obsessed with gourmet things in high school. I got my own subscription to the Gevalia Coffee of the Month Club (that I became extremely embarassed about later in life after finding out they are owned by Philip Morris). I kept a small coffee maker in my room and would wake up to the aroma of Hazelnut This and Vanilla That. I later recognized that flavoured coffees are gay and the only way to go is with a nice dark roast, black and bitter. I've come a long way.

Early in college I was one of the rare kids that actually cooked meals. I used my oven more than I used my microwave (an utterly useless kitchen appliance that I haven't used since) and began to experiment with cooking from taste rather than recipe. My early childhood days of crazy creations and as a dedicated viewer of the Graham Kerr Show really paid off. Until I lost my passion for cooking for nearly 6 years. And all because of her.

You see, I used to be a Sarah Mclachlan fan. A pretty big one. I hadn't crossed the country to see her in concert or anything like I would for Joan Osborne or did for Aerosmith once, but I listened to her albums relentlessly and even categorised one as being in my Personal Top Ten Albums of All-Time list. It was this album, Fumbling Towards Ecstacy, that eventually drove a wedge between not only Sarah and me, but between me and my kitchen as well.

For some reason, she decided it would be a good idea to publish a cookbook called Plenty essentially turning a track on the album mentioned above into a PR stunt in the form of a vegetarian cookbook. If that weren't bad enough, she continued to mock and bastardize her brilliant album by taking the name of other songs from it and turning them into titles of recipes. Imagine going from Good Enough to Good Enough Apple Pie; or from Mary to Mary's Altantic Cod Stew. I was appauled. I felt cheated on. Used. Taken advantage of. And I stopped listening to her right then and there. As a side effect of Sarah's betrayal, I also stopped cooking, unable to face the pain of hearing those cheapened songs, every time i cooked a meal. Even if only in my head.

Years passed. This year I joined a CSA. Every Wednesday from June thru November, I would ride my bike after work to pick up my farm share and bike home. It was so great biking through the city of Boston with a backpack full of fresh farm veggies, all dirty and fresh from the earth. Upon getting home I started ceremoniously washing and preparing my bags of produce. I began to experiment with different vegetables, many that I had never eaten before and even some that I had never seen before. This lead me to start cooking again. Developing spontaneous vegetarian feasts using leeks, sugar pumpkins, beets and turnips, baby bok choy and mustard greens. I have never been one to write recipes down and tend to rely on what is left of my memory as my cookbook.

The road to recovery has been a long one. But here I am, writing my first ever cookbook. I'd like thank all those that inspired me to cook again. From Steve the farmer who provides my CSA to my roommates, friends, and coworkers who eat my food. And of course, thanks to Sarah, for showing me that practically anyone can come out with their own cookbook (even if all of the recipes were creations of her personal chef, not her own.) Nice try.

I've included in this cookbook recipes of my own creation as well as recipes that I have grown up with and some that are inspirations from the neighborhood pub. I don't use exact measurements in my cooking, and therefore exact amounts are not part of the recipes included here. I tend to trust my own sense of flavor and food and hope that you will afford yourself that same freedom--to add and subtract from these recipes according to your tastes. When in doubt, just add more salt. And always cook while drinking a beer or sipping a glass of wine. It's more fun that way.

Dedication

This recipe book is dedicated to small family farmers everywhere who have inspired me to not only eat vegetables, but to try new things and start cooking again.