Thursday, July 21, 2011

What Dish Are You? Me, Today: Snap Pea Salad

What dish would you be on this menu? the woman at a table next to us asked her waitress. I wasn't listening in, but I heard that question and perked up. The waitress took a second but responded confidently- the house-made cavatelli: ricotta dumplings with chicken sausage, wilted greens and sage.

I loved the question and proceeded to think about what dish I would be. Not on that menu, but in life. Beef Bourguignon, the Thomas Keller version I concluded- a recipe that takes no less than a day and a half to make, not including the stock. It is simple but technical, bright but basic, complex but fresh, traditional, but deep. It is sufficiently pretentious in its preparation but at its core just a hearty comforting dish.. I make it, eat it, and identify with it.

Now, here is how my mind works... If I am a dish, this dish, then I interact and match with compatible dishes. Which are, what? And are those around me easily identifiable with those dishes? And what if they are not? Are we doomed? Will those relationships not work for the same reason that beef bourguignon doesn't work with kimche? Some answers came out of this string of questions.

First, this blog is about analogies- food analogies in particular. I have struggled to put my finger on what I am trying to say sometimes but I think I nailed it. In my universe, everything in life has a food analogy. It simply works that way. The stories and recipes blend together like a dish does- sometimes better than others, always trying to achieve the right balance of flavor, texture, and quantity.

As for the dish, I am not just Beef Bourguignon. No, no one is just one dish. If we were, relationships would never work. I love beef bouguignon but feeding it to my husband for the last ten years? And planning to continue the regimen as long as we both shall live? That sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.

I often made excuses for people leaving their partners based on chocolate. The rationale was: you can have the finest truffles from La Maison du Chocolat but every now and then you'll just crave a snickers bar. Are you following? That was my error and I stand corrected. I am not just one dish, or one chocolate. Hopefully no one is just one dish.

And if I were a dish today, I'd be this one!

Snap Pea and Fennel Salad

Ingredients: 1/2 pound snap peas; 1 medium fennel bulb; 1 medium shallot; 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; salt and pepper to taste.

Wash the snap peas. Cut them lengthwise into thin strips, almost thinner than match stix.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt to the water enough to make it taste like the ocean. Put the snap peas into a strainer and dip the strainer into the boiling water, keeping them contained to the strainer. Boil for about a minute and transfer into an ice bath. Strain and place in a bowl.

Shave the fennel thin on the mandolin [watch your fingers!]. Mince the shallot. Mix the fennel and shallots into the bowl holding the snap peas. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and add the olive oil. Mix it together and serve.

It should be bright, crunchy, fresh, and surprising- exactly how I feel now!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fry This, Not That

I know you like it fried. Just own up to it- it's ok. It seems like everyone is frying just about anything. You name it, people fry it. Fried spaghetti, fried snickers bars, fried avocados, fried watermelon, and even fried kale. From the weird to the ridiculous, all seems to go into hot oils of various varieties. I like it fried too - of course.

When I decided to share some favorite fried treats, the freakishly popular Eat This, Not That came to mind. I don't understand the popularity behind that book, but I love to play with words so here is my own trend - Fry This, Not That. It should be at least as popular!

First edition: zucchini pancakes, not potato pancakes.

The potato pancake is a staple of Jewish cooking and a no brainer for frying lovers. Back home in Romania, I grew up with a different version of potato pancakes. Mine were always made of zucchini. Light, airy, fluffy, and still fried. I am not a calorie-counting hound these simply taste better and are better for you. And did I mention they are still fried?

Zucchini Pancakes

Ingredients: 2 medium zucchini, grated; 1 small yellow onion, finely diced; 2 tablespoons flour; 2 eggs; salt and pepper to taste; canola oil for frying.

Grate the zucchini and let them sit for 10 minutes. Drain the water the accumulated and squeeze more water out of them either with your hands or by pressing on them with a large spoon or ladle.

Add the onion, flour, salt and pepper, and the well-beaten egg. Mix it all together.

Coat a large frying pan with canola oil and turn on medium heat. When the oil is hot, spoon the zucchini mixture in and flatten in into a disc of 2 to 3 inches diameter. Adjust the heat if needed.

Let them cook until golden brown and flip them on the other side. Fry until they match the color of the first side.

Serve with a spoonful of Sriracha sauce if you like it hot too!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Time, Raspberry Jam

More than once I wanted to rant on having time. My day has come. With a long weekend ahead, a month since quitting my job, and recent murmurs in my life about who has time and who doesn't, I feel like the moment is ideal.

Time, my friends, is a finite resource. No matter how you spin it, there are still 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. No matter how many activities you try to fit in, there is still a need for sleeping and a necessity to hold a job (for most of us). Time doesn't stretch. It is not elastic, malleable, or flexible. It ticks away in the same 60 beat per minute stroke regardless of how much you try to pack in.

So when it comes to cooking, or writing, or working out, or freaking crochet, nobody really has time and everybody actually has time. The people I am surrounded with have busy lives, each hour packed tightly, no minutes to spare, no time to breathe. There is no time for discretionary activities yet we still engage in them. Funny dilemma. How do we do that? Ready? We make time, the time we have already. We take time away from some things and dedicate it to others. We make time to see our friends and loved one, make time to keep commitments to certain activities, and make quiet time for ourselves to maintain our sanity. I don't have any more time than anyone else. I have the same 24 hours each day. How I use them is where the making time comes in.

I realized that the last month I wrote less on the blog than probably ever before. Did I not have time? Didn't I just make a whole bunch of time by quitting my job? Sure I did. But I didn't make it for this. I made it for other things. I made time to meet Pamela from MyMansBelly in Boulder. I made time to cook a whole lamb for Lulu's third birthday party. I made time to stroll the market with friends and impart each detail of braising beef. I made time for mid-day margaritas with Colorado Foodie Fest and late night drinks at Aspen Food and Wine.

And today, I made time to share with you the best I could come up with color-wise for the upcoming holiday- Raspberry Jam. It is not just the color that made me pick this today, of course. Jams are among those things that stir the flattering but annoying question 'God, how do you have time to do this?' I don't. I make it the time and the jam. So could you. Here's how.

Raspberry Jam, a recipe from an old grumpy aunt in Romania

Ingredients: 4 cups raspberries; 1 cup sugar; 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Wash and paper towel dry the raspberries. Put the raspberries in a saucepan and pour the sugar over them. Mix the sugar into the fruit well as to help them macerate. Let them sit for 1 hour.

Place them over medium heat and stir every couple of minutes to allow the sugar to melt and the raspberries to begin releasing some moisture. Adjust the heat down if necessary and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and keep cooking. If you wondered why there is no pectin, it is because fruit produces pectin naturally and I just despise the use of the powdered stuff. The jam is flawless without it.

The berries will get pretty soupy. Keep stirring and cooking gently over medium heat. Time truly depends on your berries- some are very juicy, some are more dry. The juicy ones will take longer to cook to the consistency you want. Time also depends on your preference for consistency. My test has always been putting a drop of the syrupy part of the jam on a clean plate- if it holds its shape (not hard as a rock, but not too soupy), it is ready.

Place the jam in small sterilized jars. Run a butter knife along the sides of the jar all the way down to remove any air bubbles. Seal the jars and submerge in boiling water (water should cover by at least one inch). Boil for 20 minutes. When cool, push the middle of the can top in. If it comes back up, the jar was not properly sealed, which really just means you should refrigerate the jam. You can also reseal and reboil.

Serve the jam in your favorite way or just slather thin slices of baguette with homemade butter and top with a good generous serving of jam.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.