Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hello Mudda, Hello Fava

First date with fava beans last night. They're in season in the spring and summer and I decided it was time to get over the fear of them being too labor-intensive and reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter serving them with a nice chianti ("f-f-f-f-fff!").

They come in large pods. You can grab the stem and peel it back down the pod, almost like you're unzipping it, then split the pod open and pop the beans out. Next step is to drop the beans into boiling water for 1 minute, then shock them in cold water and drain. Now you need to remove each bean from its waxy, pale green casing. I found a pretty simple routine for this. Pinch the 'stem' end of each bean (where the bean was attached to the inside of the pod) between your left thumb and forefinger, holding it the 'flat' way. Then use your right thumb and foreginger to pinch off an opening in the casing on the other end. All you have to do then is squeeze your left thumb and forefinger and the fava bean proper pops out through the opening. (I'm right-handed, so you lefties may want to adjust accordingly.)

You do have to buy quite a few pods to amass a good amount of final product. (Allegedly 1 pound of pods produces approximately a cup of beans.) Sure, it's more work than popping open a can of lima beans or something, but it's not hard work (perfect task to unload on...I mean 'entrust to' one of your younger kid-type kitchen assistants) and the fresh fava is really lovely in appearance, texture and subtle taste. Try tossing them in a summer green salad or pasta.

They also are reported to contain L-dopa, a substance some link to libido and a boost thereof. In the name of privacy, the editor will neither confirm nor deny this claim to the natural Viagra throne.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Show the 'Berg Some Love!

Had a great time assisting my former classmate Deana's 'Extreme Kitchen Makeover' class tonight. She's a talented chef and nutritionist - aside from just being a lovely person. Nutritional point: the more color (green, etc.) in your vegetables, the more valuable nutrients inside. On the down side of the equation: the lowly iceberg lettuce. Probably the ONLY lettuce readily available when I was growing up in the 70s. (Or maybe just all Mom got.)

I'm not going to argue about its nutritional value over Romaine or other lettuces - and it certainly doesn't hold the nouvelle cache of mesclun greens or arugula. But it does, I think, make a nice addition to certain salads (hello, Greek salad!), has a great crunchy texture, and - this is a hunch here - seems to keep in your fridge longer than other lettuces. I can tell you my friend Scott and I get all oogie at the sight of a wedge salad on a restaurant's menu.

The Wedge is retro...and it's yummy; cropping up on many steakhouse and restaurant menus once again. Couldn't be easier to make at home. Cut your head of iceberg into wedges, rinse them in cold water and shake off as much water as possible and dry them off while keeping the wedges intact. Drizzle some blue cheese dressing over them and sprinkle with crispy (real please!) bacon bits. Sprinkle some chopped fresh tomato and/or red onion around it, if you want some color. Try it. You won't be sorry. And do make your own blue cheese dressing. It's easy (most homemade salad dressings are) and will kick any bottled dressing's ass. You can probably find a slew of recipes for blue cheese dressing on the Net or in your cookbooks (but if you can't, let me know and I'll post one).

Nick Stellino of 'Cucina Amore' and 90s PBS cooking show fame, he of the even-then-outré samurai ponytail (where IS he now, anyway??) has a pasta recipe in his Glorious Italian Cooking that has chopped iceberg lettuce added to the sauce (with ham, leeks and mushrooms) and simmered, much like a green. Does the pasta dish scream "Taste of Iceberg!"? No. But it's tasty and it's another way to use any of the head left over from your wedge and I'm sure it provides some nutrional value over, oh, say the actual penne or whatever pasta you're using. I have yet to try this myself, but I have seen people grill a wedge of iceberg quickly to give it a nice smoky flavor and pretty-pretty grill marks, then dress it. Let's see your wimpy mesclun greens stand up to a few minutes on the grill.

Anyway...I'm just saying...iceberg lettuce needn't be relegated to food courts and sub shops. (Cue 'Breakfast Club' sountrack.) Don't you...forget about it...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pancakes In A Pinch

We woke up this morning needing pancakes. (OK, I woke up this morning needing pancakes and inflicted my 'needs' on everyone else.) Only problem, no maple syrup in and no desire to leave the house. Came up with this pancake syrup which did the trick. It makes a lot (two plus cups) so cut it in half if you're not making a holy ton for a crowd.


1 C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar
1 C. Karo (light corn) syrup
1 C. water
2 T. molasses
1/4 - 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a small sauce pan over medium heat until sugars have dissolved. Bring to a very low boil for just a minute or two and remove from heat. Serve it warm, poured over your cakes.

Nice pancake combo too: we had a ripe banana and 'juuuuust-on-their-way-out' strawberries. Sous Chef C mashed up the banana and stirred it into the pancake batter. We sliced the berries, laid them on each pancake after being poured into the pan before the flip. Bueno.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Short and Sweet

OK, we're down on the Cape and I found these gorgeous local sea scallops which I couldn't pass up (even though Mrs. B Home is allergic). There's really nothing so simple and so delicious as fresh scallops seared on both sides with a little salt and pepper. You just don't need anything else.

But, if you do, well...deep fry 'em and hit me with a side of fries and slaw, please.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Le Squid

Decided to give squid a try for the first time since school. You can (mercifully) buy it cleaned at WholeFoods and they even give you the option of just buying the bodies or (for the hardcore squid lovers) the tentacles as well. B loves his fried calamari, but he's never tried the 'low and slow' approach to squid. Anything between super-fast cooking and long cooking times with squid makes for something the consistency of rubber. Based on a recipe I'd read in a recent Bon Appetit, I sauteed some chopped chorizo, red pepper flakes and garlic, then tossed the squid in the pan with a generous cup of red wine, covered the pan and kept it at a low simmer for an hour. After that I left the pan uncovered and threw in a bunch of swiss chard that I'd chopped up and cooked another half hour or so. The dish was tasty (although not terribly pretty) - more on the rustic, peasant-y side of things - but I like that. Served it over some simple mashed potatoes. Could work well over some pasta, I think, too.