Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vegetable casserole (again)

With my new dietary requirements, vegetables playe a much larger part than even before. So we have taken to making a lot of vegetarian dishes. This one is a very pretty casserole with sweet potatoes, leeks, mushrooms, cauliflower, and tomatoes. The trouble with these kinds of casseroles is that the vegetation all cooks at different rates and releases liquids unpredictably. Soggy, tasteless liquid in the bottom of a casserole full of improperly cooked piece parts. Yuk. So this was our attempt to fix that. It got the, "we can serve this to people" accolade, so it must have worked! The saucy flavoring was made from a bechamel - a bit thicker than normal, but plenty tasty. And of course there was cheese - after all cauliflower and cheese are a great combo.

Ingredients - Vegetables

4T vegetable oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed - 1/2" cubes
3 leeks (white and light green, rinsed and shopped fine)
6 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 head of cauliflower
12 cherry tomatoes
1oz unsalted butter
8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped and microwaved to extract liquid
1 Recipe cheese sauce (below)
6 T breadcrumbs
salt/pepper - to taste

Method - Vegetables

Pre-heat the milk/onion/cove misxture as described in the cheese sauce.
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Oil a large casserole dish, stir in the sweet potatoes and carrots. Place in the casserole dish in the oven. After about 10 minutes add the leeks and toss together to coat. Leave to cook/dry in the oven for about 35 minutes. 
After 35 minutes, slice the cauliflower (florets only), and toss lightly in oil. Nest the tomatoes in among the vegetables, turn up the oven temperature to 425, sprinkle salt/pepper onto the vegetables. Replace the casserole into the oven. Chop the mushrooms roughly, and put in a microwave safe bow with the butter. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes. Spoon out the mushrooms (leaving any liquid behind) into the casserole and return to the oven. Start making the cheese sauce (based on a bechamel sauce). As soon as the cheese sauce is made, pour over the vegetables, spread out the sauce, top with breadcrumbs and return to the hot oven for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the oven when the breadcrumbs are brown and crunchy. Allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving - perhaps with crusty bread....

Ingredients - Cheese Sauce

1 Medium onion, peeled and left whole
24 cloves
1 US Quart whole milk
2oz unsalted butter
3oz All purpose flour
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
12 oz grated cheddar cheese

Method - Cheese sauce
Put milk, onion in a saucepan and heat slowly until bubbles form on the surface. Turn heat off, cover and leave to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, melt the butter over medium heat, and when foaming has stopped, add the flour and cook, stirring vigorously for 3 minutes to cook out the floury taste and make a blonde roux. Do not let the butter flour mixture brown.
Strain the hot milk mixture into the roux while whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Discard the onion from the strainer. Add the nutmeg.
Bring the roux/milk mixture slowly to the boil allowing it to thicken. Boil gently for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Off heat, add the grated cheese and stir in thoroughly.

A sort of screwdriver

Photo: This evening's cocktail. A kind of screwdriver. Blood orange, Meyer lemon, few drops of habanero vodka, a little ginger syrup and absolute citron....

I am allowed to drink alcohol again. We had a modest celebration yesterday with a cocktail. In the house we had some blood oranges, Meyer lemons and the usual array of pantry staples. So, to create an interesting cocktail. Madame is quite the cocktail lover (her favorite of course being, "The Last Word'), but I digress.


4 oz Absolut Citron
Juice of 2 blood oranges
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1t habanero vodka
1T Ginger syrup (see this recipe here)


Put plenty of ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well until chilled (30 or so shakes). Pour into martini glasses and enjoy. You can garnish with a lemon twist if so desired.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Superbowl Nachos

This is a recipe that is more assembly than cooking. We were invited to a super bowl party and needed something appetizer like and suitable for the occasion. I had made these before (or some variant of them), so was able to recreate fairly easily. The nice thing is that there are some parts you can simply buy, and then just cook the bits that make a difference.


8 oz skirt steak
2T vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion - diced
1 can refried beans
1/2 cup finely grated Mexican cheese mix
3 pickled jalapenos, sliced thinly (I used Goya brand).
35 Tostito "scoops"


24 hours ahead of time, rub the steak with the spice rub, wrap tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate. An hour before cooking, bring the steak out of the refrigerator, unwrap it, and rewrap into paper towels to dry out.
Saute the onions over just until the edges begin to brown. Remove the onions to a small bowl. Turn the heat up a bit, and add the skirt steak - making certain that the surface was dry.

Cook the meat for about 4 minutes each side - testing doneness as you go. It wants to be cooked to medium.
Once the meat is cooked, take off the heat and allow to rest. Meanwhile start assembling the nachos.
Into each scoop, place 2 pieces of onion, 1/2 tsp of refried beans. 
When the meat has rested, cut it into 1/4" cubes. Place 2 cubes on top of the refried beans in each scoop. Ad a few strands of grated Mexican cheese. Top with a thinly sliced jalapeno round.

Bake in a 350F oven for 8 minutes - or until the cheese is properly melted.

Serve with drained salsa, sour cream and avocados on the side.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Clams are so versatile

Saturday was a chapter of accidents - I missed a hair appointment, so had to go later. That messed up dinner plans. The French beat the English at Rugby, so I have to have a jeering barrage of French co-workers on Monday. So dinner went from being a nice leisurely affair to an, "How can I do something quick and delicious?" - and something warm because of the weather, fish/seafood based because Madame wanted it...
So the old standby of clams came to the rescue. A trip to my fantastic local fish monger (TJ's on Oak Lawn in Dallas), some minor arm twisting from Jon Alexis there (razor clams and littlenecks), some discussion about fennel and I was off to the races. Jon told me that the razor clams cook quicker than the littlenecks, and to put them in a bit after the littlenecks. I figured that 90 seconds would do the trick - and so it did. Fresh pasta (bought,  this time),  green beans, fennel, shallots tomatoes, white wine..... Oh my. And yes it did get the "We can serve this to people" accolade from Madame.

Ingredients - for the clams

1T vegetable oil
2 shallots, minced fine
1 fennel bulb halved and sliced very thinly (mandoline helps here)   
1 - 1 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a South African Chenin Blanc called Secateur, procured from Veritas)
1 star anise
1/2 dried cayenne pepper, chopped into flakes (more or less to taste)
6 red cherry tomatoes - halved
6 yellow cherry tomatoes - halved
12 littleneck clams
4 razor clams
salt/pepper to taste


Heat the oil until just shimmering in a large saute pan(choose a pan that has straight sides and a well fitting lid if possible.) Add the shallots and fennel, cook gently until translucent. Add the white wine, dried cayenne, and star anise and simmer uncovered until some of the alcohol has boiled off. There will always be some left. Add the halved tomatoes, cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes (until the fennel is tender). Remove the star anise.
Add the littleneck clams and cover. Cook for 90 seconds, then add the razor clams. Cook until all clams are open.
Serve with fresh linguine - cooked al dente, and green beans. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Ingredients - green beans

24 green beans cut into 2" pieces.
1T unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
salt/pepper to taste


Heat the butter over medium heat until it stops foaming. Add the beans, toss to coat. Continue to cook until the butter just starts to turn brown. Stop the butter from burning by adding the water and immediately cover the pot and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Uncover and allow the steam to dissipate. Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kombucha "Ginger Beer"

Ginger beer has been one of my favorite drinks for as long as I can remember. It requires this mysterious "plant" that you feed with ginger and sugar - somehow it magically transforms these simple ingredients into a delicious drink. Since I started making kombucha, I figured that the SCOBY looked a bit like I imagined a ginger beer plant to look. I say imagined because I never actually got one to work.
My thought was, make the kombucha, draw some off, mix with ginger syrup, bottle with 2 cloves per bottle and age for a week to get the secondary fermentation going.
I tried it and it was outstanding. Now the only flavor I make.


1 gallon of kombucha made as in linked recipe
2 pints ginger simple syrup
10 cloves


Mix the kombucha with the ginger syrup. To each of 10 Grolsch style beer bottles add 2 cloves. Top up the bottles with the kombucha/ginger mixture. Seal the bottles, and leave to ferment for at least a week.
To serve, pour the mixture into a large glass. You may want to strain out the cloves.