Going Green

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Kiwi Lime TartHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Here in D.C., where we are celebrating another snow day (6 inches, sigh), we are going green with a cool and tangy kiwi-lime tart. It will complete our tribute to the Celts, aka dinner, which will feature a glorious fabada asturiana–the Spanish cassoulet that hails from Spain’s northern and very Celtic region of Asturias. Rebecca scored some actual Spanish faba beans in New York, and we have a jamón bone, sawed into three pieces, to throw into the soup pot this afternoon. Photos to come!

How’s About a (Meat) Pie, Dearie?

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Chicken pot pie

I’ve been thinking a lot about meat pies lately, brought on, no doubt, by my involvement with a recent production of Sweeney Todd. The grislier aspects of that bit of musical theater, aside, it seems I’m not the only one with meat pies on the brain. The March issue of Bon Appetit features Short Rib Pot Pie on the cover, and a recent wedding in Yorkshire was disrupted by a brawl over pork pies.

Truth is that, like dumplings, every culture has a form of meat pie: Jamaican meat patties, South American empanadas of all stripes, Australian pie floaters (a meat pie overturned in a bowl of pea soup, topped with tomato sauce), South Asian samosas, the French-Canadian tourtière. The only distinction might be how one defines a meat pie: baked in a dish and topped with a pastry crust, or a hand-held patty? Maybe encased in bread dough, as in Kate’s favorite bierocks. And then, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, there is shepherd’s pie, where the crust is abandoned for creamy mashed potatoes.

No matter. When it comes to meat pies, we’re all pretty much related; recipes from one country to the next overlap to such a degree that it’s a bit like following a trail on Ancestry.com. The Nigerian meat pie, with its dash of curry or cayenne, is reflected in Caribbean meat pies, with their addition of local Scotch bonnet peppers, as well as in the Natchitoches meat pie (an official state food of Louisiana), which swaps in bell pepper.  Kate jazzes up her mom’s traditional chicken pot pie (pictured above) with a hit of turmeric.The influence of the Ottoman Empire is apparent in the phyllo-wrapped meat pies found through the Middle East, Greece, North Africa, and the Balkans.

Thus we land on the Burek, a meat pie common in the former states of Yugoslavia, including my family’s homeland of Croatia. It’s made from a paper-thin flaky dough stuffed with ground meat and spices,  served with a yogurt sauce on the side. This particular recipe encases the pie in phyllo and wraps it all up neatly with a topping of Greek-style yogurt and eggs that bakes into a non-drippy custard with just the right tang to enhance the filling.

Phyllo can sound frightening to work with, but it’s really not difficult at all if you take a little time to gather the right tools to keep the thin sheets of dough from drying out (a damp kitchen towel, some plastic wrap, melted butter or olive oil, and a pastry brush are essential.) Or you can go all out and try making the dough from scratch.  You be the judge.

A "Sweeney Todd" prop.
A “Sweeney Todd” prop.

Smokin’ Soulful Soup

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(Photo by Post Punk Kitchen)
(Photo by Post Punk Kitchen)

The clocks have leapt forward. the sun is shining, the birds are twittering ’round the yard, and that classic spring break flick, “Where the Boys Are,” is playing on cable. We can almost see spring on the horizon.

Alas, the forecasts tell us that fickle March is not done with us yet, and because there’s nothing better after a long day at work than an invite to share a soul-satisfying bowl of soup, here’s two new recipe finds:

Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup with Spinach and Olives packs an unusual warmth, thanks to a generous dose of smoked paprika, and an ingredient I’d never though of tossing in — Kalamata olives. They add a richness and saltiness that enhances rather than overpowers. It’s a vegan recipe without even trying, and a good clean-out-the-fridge soup, courtesy of the Post Punk Kitchen site.

Kale, Bean and Italian Sausage Soup. The aromatic punch lent by fresh fennel is so enticing that my cosmic twin, Julianne, relates that the first time she made it the landlord came upstairs to ask, “Excuse me, but what is that you’re cooking? It smells so good!

King Me

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King cake It’s Mardi Gras season! Sadly, I am in shivery Washington instead of rollicking my way through New Orleans. At least the oven works here, and I have colorful sugar in the cupboard. My solace for today: Cinnamon-laden, almond-glazed King Cake, warm and sweet and sober.

Morning Glory

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apricot cake with pistachio sticky toffee[1]One can rationalize from here until next Sunday brunch, but there is no denying that coffee cake is a not-so-sly excuse to have one’s dessert and breakfast too. And what a wonderful pretense it is. Its homey simplicity—a one-layered presentation, quick to make and barely adorned—only adds to its allure, making it difficult to justify not whipping up a coffee cake or two for breakfast… or for the next time a little sweet is in order.

This winter I have been keeping the oven warm for favorite coffee cakes and finally delving into the stack of recipes I have collected or flagged over the years. I tried one of them recently when my Bangkok-based friend, Scott, stopped by for brunch, and I decided to bake according to what I had on hand. My only regret was that I had not made King Arthur Flour’s Apricot Almond-Butter Cake sooner. The cake—a basic butter confection laced with apricot jam—is crowned with caramelly, nut-studded (pistachios, not the prescribed almonds, in my case) sticky toffee. What’s not to love? It is even better the next day, giving the apricot, overshadowed when first served, time to shine.

I am still getting rave reviews on this one. Make it now. Then, once inspired, try this other new favorite of the season:

Cranberry Upside-Down Coffee Cake. This Los Angeles Times recipe is better, in my opinion, with a teaspoon of almond flavoring in the cranberry topping added before it goes into the pan. It is also amazing the second day.

Upside-Down Sides

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Everyone’s always on the lookout for holiday side dishes with a twist. Quite by accident, this year’s Thanksgiving table included sides that turned assumptions about certain ingredients upside down, offering savory  bites where sweet was expected, sweet where savory is  usually a given. It began with the cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Salsa “What is this? I’ve never had anything like it,” asked one dinner guest. This simple-to-prepare alternative to the usual sweet, forgettable cranberry sauce combines bright flavors: cranberries, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, jalapeno, green onion and line juice. It tastes fresh, not hot, works well with a variety of menus, and there’s no cooking required beyond some toasting of pumpkin seeds. Mix it up.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle — “These sweet potatoes are great. They’re not sweet,” said another diner. The Three Points cooks have long wondered why most recipes take an inherently sweet vegetable and douse it with even more sugar/maple syrup/marshmallows. A touch of chopped, canned chipotles in adobo adds a smoky undertone to mashed sweet potatoes. There’s no real recipe needed here; chipotles are added to taste. But do proceed with  caution, as the chipotle chilies are deceptively hot.

Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Pecans — Who would have guessed that a bit of sweetness would turn up in the brussels sprouts? Shredding the sprouts makes the stovetop preparation quick and easy and maintains the color.

Marinated Beets with Horseradish — A vibrant dish that’s actually best made in advance. Oven-roasted beets (easy to cook, easy to peel) are dressed with olive oil, dijon mustard and horseradish.

Pumpkin-Thyme Dinner Rolls — And where’s the pumpkin? Why in the dinner rolls.  (Also great for appetizers with a blue cheese spread.)

These gorgeous, jewel-toned dishes surrounded the centerpiece:

Roast Turkey with Pancetta-Sage Gravy —  liberal application of a pancetta-butter blend with sage and Parmesan (or as we like to call it, bacon-and-cheese butter) infused the turkey with a slightly porky, umami essence. The wonderfully moist bird produced gravy so lip-smackingly rich that guests drained every last drop from the serving dish, thankful, each and every one, for the opportunity.

Thanks also to Chez Kate for the Unruly Cellars house red, from Spanish grapes blended with Spanish expertise.

menu

The Boss

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Padron peppers with chorizo

After a slow start, the padrón peppers on my deck are producing–and then some. Twice we have cooked up a tasty pepper tapa for a fresh summer dinner, and it looks like we are in for a few more rounds.

Pimientos de padrón are not “boss” peppers, as their name would imply. Rather the hail from the town of the same name in Galicia, Spain. Brought back to the old country from the Americas, the pepper went mild. Mostly. The trick with Padron plantthese babies is, while the vast majority are nearly bell-pepper sweet, some bite back. Indeed, the fun of sharing a plate of peppers (along with an icy beer) is that someone is likely to get a mouthful of fire. Folks have called it Spanish roulette.

To prepare in the traditional manner, simply quick-fry the whole peppers in a bit of good, Spanish olive oil, allowing the peppers to char a bit. Remove from the oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Or, fry with a bit of chorizo and a healthy dose of crushed garlic. Sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with thin slices of baguette, and you will have a winning tapa or a lovely summer side.