Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pie Dough

Like all dishes this one starts with a story - and a little known secret. First the secret. Cartons of 18 eggs (in the US) are usually fresher than 12s - at least in my local supermarket. Yesterday was no exception. A whole week fresher.
So, with convenient storage for 12, a carton of 18 looked to be inconvenient. Then it hit me. Quiche would take care of the rest. But I needed a pie crust. Not to worry, Milk Street came through. Erika Bruce took ideas from a variety of places to come up with the genius recipe below.


2t Corn Starch
3T cold water
1 Cup + 2T  All purpose flour
pinch salt
10 oz butter, cut into 1/2" cubes and chilled (If using unsalted, up the amount of salt to 4 pinches)
2T Full Fat sour cream


Whisk together the corn starch and water. Microwave on high for 30-45 seconds. Until a clear gel is formed. Chill the cornstarch/water gel.
Measure the flour into the food processor. Add the salt and run the food processor to incorporate and aerate. Add the cornstarch gel. Pulse 5 or 6 times (1 second pulses) to incorporate.
Add the butter and sour cream. Run the food processor continuously until the dough mass forms a mass,
Remove the dough mass from the bowl, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
To use the dough, roll it out as normal. Not the dough is smooth, but not elastic.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Roasted Vegetable Salad

Eggplant, Fairy Tale Hybrid, , large

We had visited a local farmers' market last weekend. One of the farmers had these really cute fairy tale eggplants. These are small, variegated eggplants - about 2 -3 inches in length. Very tender and delicious, with none of the bitterness associated with the more conventional Italian eggplants. They are best cooked roasted in a hot oven with some good oil and shallots. We also roasted cherry tomatoes and shishito peppers from the garden. At the same farmers' market, there was a stall selling interesting salad greens. So we bought some Mizuna for the salad. A lemon juice/rice wine vinegar based vinaigrette, grilled bread (home made that day, of course) and there was dinner. Yup it did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade, so I was pretty happy with the result.


2 1/2 lbs fairy tale eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved pole to pole
1 large shallot, finely minced (divided use)
1 1/2 cups olive oil (divided use)
30 shishito peppers
1t dry mustard (e.g. Coleman's)
1/2t freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
1 head mizuna
2 slices country bread, brushed with olive oil and grilled
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar


Pre-heat the oven to 350 (fan assisted) or 375(conventional). Add 1/2 the chopped shallots to 1/4 cup of olive oil. Swirl to coat. Add the eggplants and shishitos. Place the tomatoes, eggplant (cut side up) and shishitos on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Make sure that all of the oil/shallot mixture is spread over the eggplants. Roast in the oven for 15-20  minutes until the eggplants are softened and slightly brown. The shishitos will cook slightly before the eggplants, so watch them carefully. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile make a vinaigrette, combining the mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, remaining shallots, and remaining oil.

Spread the mizuna in a serving bowl and pile on the roasted vegetables. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the warmed vegetables  (you will use maybe 1/4 of the made up vinaigrette - save the rest for other salads). Hand the grilled bread separately.  Serve with a crisp white wine (in my case the "On the White Keys" from Arietta. Madame had a South African Sauvignon Blanc from Spier. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Salads for the arayes

In this post, I described the amazing Lebanese sandwiches - arayes. To go with them we made a couple of salads. Water melons, tomatoes and local feta seemed to be the way to go. Home made yogurt, home grown mint made a good tzatziki. All in all pretty tasty. The dishes were:

Watermelon, watercress, feta and pistachio salad
Cucumber, tomato and onion salad

The tzatziki quantities are approximate. Also, the tzatziki needs at least 2 hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to combine.

Ingredients - Watermelon salad

3 cups cubed watermelon (cubed like this)
1 bunch watercress
5 oz feta chopped into 1/4" cubes
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
6T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best finishing oil you have)
Coarse salt to taste


Combine everything except the salt. Add the coarse salt just before serving, so that the juices don't run out of the melon.

Ingredients - Cucumber, onion, tomato salad

A few lettuce leaves 
3 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded, 14" pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 slice of white onion, 14" thick chopped finely
juice of 1/2 lemon
4T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (again the best that you have)
Coarse sea salt added just before serving.


Line a salad bowl with the lettuce leaves. Combine tomatoes, cucumber, onion in a bowl, add the lemon juice. Just before serving, toss in some coarse salt and stir. Add to the serving bowl that has the lettuce leaves liner.

Ingredients - Tzatziki

3 cloves garlic - mashed to a paste
1 1/2 cups strained (Greek) yogurt
Handful of mint leaves chopped finely
3T white wine vinegar
1t tahini
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best you have)
salt to taste


Mix the garlic into the yogurt. Add the mint leaves, vinegar, tahini and oil. Stir throughly and check the seasoning. You may need to add a little salt. Chill for at least 2 hours.

arayes - aka lamb-a-dillas

We saw a recipe for arayes in Cooks Illustrated this week. The idea looked so good that we just had to try it. When I described it to a dinner companion (a Texas Boy) on Friday evening, he said that just like quesadillas only with lamb. Hence the name.
The result is a really crispy, slightly smoky sandwich which can be eaten out of hand.  But it also makes a substantial meal. Because the recipe makes quite a few of these, we needed some victims (aka volunteers) to try them out. They came, they ate (and, I think, they liked). If not there was always the MacDonald's on the way home. Even though they are Kiwis, they are far too polite to tell me if they had to stop on the way.
We served them with a couple of salads and some tzatziki. They turned out ( the arayes, not the guests) as well as expected. And there are left overs!
The salads will be described in another post. Suffice it to say that the Coppell Farmers' Market was a source. And especially the la-ti-da farms feta.


1 large white onion cut into pieces
1 cup oregano (leaves and stalks)
1/2 cup lemon thyme (leaves and stalks)
zest and juice of one lemon
1T whole cumin seeds
1T whole coriander seeds
2t black pepper corns,
2t coarse sea salt
1t red pepper flakes
1/2" cinnamon stick
1/4 cup good (but not best) olive oil
1 T smokey paprika
2 lbs lamb leg, cut into 3/4" cubes. Chilled in the freezer for 30+ minutes.
6 x 6" pitas


Pulse the onion, oregano and lemon time in the food processor until the onion is quite small. 8 or so pulses. You may need to scrape it down. Turn out into a bowl.
Grind the spices finely in the spice grinder, adding the coarse salt as that helps to grind them. Add the ground mixture, paprika, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil to the onion/herb mixture.
Mince (grind for my American friends) the lamb twice using the coarse die. You need to do it twice because the lamb fat is unevenly distributed. The second grinding distributes it better.  I added a couple of table spoonfuls of the onion mixture to the grinder at the end to encourage all of the meat to come through.
Mix the lamb with the onion mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Use hands (mine are now really soft) or a silicone spatula.
Chill the lamb mixture for a while (at least an hour)
2 hours before cooking, slice the pitas in half (I use a serrated knife for this) horizontally. So for each pita you have two 6" disks of pita.
Mound the lamb mixture in the center of a pizza half, spread almost to the edge and top with the other half of the same pita.

Squeeze flat and wrap in cling wrap, refrigerate for a couple of hours. 
When ready to cook, fire up the grill (I used the Primo) with so that the coals have a nice ash coating. Grill the sandwiches directly over the coals until the pitas a crispy. Turn the pitas over and grill on the second side.  Time on the grill is about 7 minutes per side 

Remove from, slice into quarters and serve immediately.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We can serve this to chefdave

While on vacation with Dave Gilbert and friends this summer, he made a vegetable curry using Thai red curry paste. It was outstanding. Even better it was easy enough to add some kind of protein or filler to it and have a substantial meal. It was easy to do, so I thought a reprise would be in order.

Little did I know that there was an accolade from Madame that is even higher than "We can serve this to people". This dish garnered a "We can serve this to Chef Dave". So I figured it should be added here so I remember what we did.

Ingredients - Curry Base

1 can coconut cream (No, not sweetened coconut cream a la Coco Lopez)
2 small cans of Thai red curry paste
1 white onion, cut into spoon sized pieces pole to pole
2 cilantro bunches (stalks and leaves separate)
2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced very thinly
4 kaffir lime leaves sliced in to thin strips
1 can coconut milk
3T Fish sauce
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3" cubes
2 lbs carrots cut into 1/3" cubes
2 large egg plants , peeled and diced into 1/3" cubes. Also dice the peeled trimmings into a very fine dice, they will thicken the dish.

Method - Curry Base

Skim the thickest cream from the can of coconut cream into a large Dutch oven. Heat over low heat until it breaks down and becomes oily. Immediately add the curry paste from the cans and stir while frying the paste. Add the onion, cilantro stalks, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves and sweat for about 10 minutes - until the onion has softened. add the remainder of the coconut cream can and all the coconut milk + the fish sauce. Stir until combined. Add the potatoes and the carrots and enough water just to cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes - until the potatoes are nearly cooked.
Meanwhile prepare the egg plant. After 10 minutes add the egg plant to the pot, stir to mix and simmer with the lid on for a few minutes (until the eggplant is cooked and the potatoes are soft, but not mushy). Some of the egg plant will disappear and thicken the liquid, while some will maintain integrity.


Once the base is made,m it can be used to cook a variety of proteins. In the Bahamas, we used some of the fish that the guys caught in the afternoon. Also possible to use chicken, or if you want the full vegetarian experience, some soaked chick peas (garbanzo beans).
It is a matter of slicing the fish or chicken (about 4 oz per person) very thinly and immersing in the hot curry. The fish/chicken are cooked, by simmering in a matter of minutes.  If using chickpeas, the same approach is adopted, but no slicing. They take a little longer, especially if they are a bit firm to start with. No quantity is given here, but for 2 people, one small (14oz) can would work for 2 people.

Serve with a squeeze of lime juice and finely minced cilantro leaves.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The 40th Birthday Pig

A group of friends were in Spanish Wells (Bahamas) to celebrate one of the party's 40th birthday. The birthday dinner was to be a hog, cooked in a china box. The hog and the box were shipped up a couple of days before on a ferry from Nassau. Even though there were several chefs and a couple of of wannabees (myself included in the wannabees), I was the only person with any kind of experience of a china box. I have a friend in Dallas who has one, so asked him for advice once all the piece parts had arrived. He injects his with a flavorful liquid - we didn't have that luxury. We decided to brine ourfs - after all we had a giant brine source right outside the back door. The house was on the beach.

We didn't have all of the required apparatus, so there were some interesting "make do" activities. The first question was how to get the thing flavorful since we were fresh out of injection tools. Then how to manage the china box, acquire charcoal, etc.

Because the meat is not directly over the coals, it is OK to use match light or lighter fluid. The nasty petroleum fumes don't get into the meat. Since I couldn't locate a chimney, we used match light. Of course having to make sure we didn't lose eyebrows, arm hairs, local vegetation while working with it. I don't think that the headline, "Man sets fire to Spanish Wells while using a china box" would have been ideal.


For the brine

4 large white onions roughly chopped, skin and all
6 large carrots unpeeled, roughly chopped
6" piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red pepper flakes
2 gallons tap water
2 gallons sea water
50 lbs ice
5 lbs salt (3 Morton's table salt tubs at 1lb 10 oz each)

For the hog

1 ~40 lb hog, dressed with liver, heart, lungs, kidneys removed and split. In a cooler with 20 lbs of ice to keep it cool while the brine is being made.
8 small cans of Thai red curry paste
1 cup oil (we had olive, but any neutral oil will do.
4 cups Carolina mustard mop sauce


The Brine

Note that there is no sugar in this brine since that will tend to burn in the china box.
Put the onions, carrots, red pepper flakes, ginger and tap water into a large sauce pot. Bring to a simmer and add the salt. Stir to dissolve. This will make a very concentrated brine. Add the sea water. stir and allow to cool.
In a cooler, add 30 lb of ice - to cover the hog. Then pour over the cooled brine. This will dissolve a considerable amount of the ice (especially as it was pretty warm outside). As the ice melts, it dilutes the brine, but if the cooler is effective enough it doesn't hurt. In fact with a long brining time like this, it does no harm to become a little more diluted.
Leave the hog in the brine for 15 - 18 hours. It becomes a battle of allowing it to come to air temperature and dry out a bit prior to cooking vs the flies. We ended up sealing the china box with the hog inside and then checking periodically to shoo away the flies. Also put some of the offal out for the flies to discover - an old trick I learned in Malaysia, growing up where refrigeration was less advanced than it is now.

The Hog

Combine the Thai red curry paste with the olive oil and mix thoroughly. With a few hours to go before cooking, remove the hog from the brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub the skin and the interior with any flavorants you want. We used the Thai curry on one half and the Carolina mop sauce on the other.

Place the hog in the box, and cover with foil to keep the flies off it. Do not put the lid on the box yet - not until it is hot. About 3 1/2 hours before time to eat, pile up 14 lbs of charcoal onto the lid of the China box (still not placed onto the box) and light the charcoal. We used match light so it became quite the conflagration.
Once the flames have died down, spread the coals with a metal spatula, so they become even. We didn't have a spatula, so I used a large saucepan lid.

After an hour add another 6 lbs of charcoal - remember this was match light. I treasure my eyebrows, so adding match light charcoal to an already very hot lid was an advanced maneuver. The trusty saucepan lid came into play.

After another 30 minutes remove the lid and turn the hog over. Rub the interior with your chosen rubs. By this time the skin was nearly done. But the inside was still pretty raw. Then after another hour, repeat the charcoal addition procedure. This time it didn't catch, so we needed to improvise a long taper (rolled up paper towel) to light it from a suitable distance. The small cigarette lighter would have been much to close for comfort.

After one more hour, we tuned the hog over one more time to dry off the skin some more and to crisp it up. 

We didn't have a thermometer at hand, so had to rely on the old, "How loose are the joints, and what does a piece of meat cut off the haunches taste like? method".

She was done, so with much ceremony she was transferred inside and this was the result.The assembled company found her much to their liking.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This was one of those warm Texas evenings, a bottle of rosé , pita chips and the great outdoors kinds of recipes. We had a few red peppers, some pine nuts, olives, capers, anchovies and "secret ingredient" lying around. So of course a dip was the answer. Served with an Argentinian rosé (Pinot Noir).  Bagel chips as an accompaniment and we had very happy tummies.
It turns out that there are quite a lot of ingredients in this. But we happened to have them all to hand.


3 Red Peppers - roasted and cut into pieces
1/2 cup pine nuts - toasted
2T olive oil (not extra virgin - it becomes bitter with the use of the immersion blender)
1 salt packed anchovy
6 Niçoise olives, pitted
1T capers rinsed and drained
1t Habanero vodka (aka secret ingredient). May substitute any hot pepper sauce, but if vinegared, reduce vinegar in overall recipe
2T Sherry vinegar
Salt to taste


Place all the ingredients except the vinegar and salt into the immersion blender's beaker and pulse until almost smooth. Crunchy peanut butter texture is what you are aiming for.
Taste once the desired texture is attained. Add salt (if necessary) and sherry vinegar to taste.
Chill and serve with pita chips

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One Dish Asparagus

Asparagus and Mushrooms - A Light Dinner

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course
Time 15 minutes
Skill Easy

This dish came about because asparagus is so good this time of year - and we wanted a quick and easy one dish meal. Mushrooms and asparagus are a match made in heaven. Some shallots and a couple of eggs, oh my!

You can use plain white button mushrooms, creminis, shiitakes, or any other exotic mushrooms for this. Be careful of the woody stems of shiitake mushrooms though.

The clever bit of this recipe is that the liquid from the mushrooms steams the asparagus and the eggs. If using white mushrooms you probably won't have to add any water.

You can, of course add any herbs/spices that interest you. I think a little nutmeg would be nice. Could also see thyme (a natural complement to mushrooms) being a nice addition.


1 T neutral (I used olive) oil
1 Medium shallot diced very finely
12 oz Mushrooms (sliced) - 1/4" (5 mm) thick slices. Use the stems too, but see caution above
1/4 t cayenne pepper (optional)
2T Dry sherry or white vermouth
3 T water (if necessary)
1 lb Fresh asparagus 1 1/2" (3 cm) pieces cut on the bias
2 - 4 whole chicken eggs
Salt/pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a medium (8") skillet. I prefer not to use non-stick, but that is a preference. Add the shallots and sweat for a minute or 2 until they are translucent.
Add the mushrooms to the skillet and sprinkle a little salt over them to encourage them to release their liquid. cook briefly (3 or 4 mor minutes) until the mushrooms have wilted and given up some of their liquid.  Add the cayenne (if using) and stir to incorporate. Add the sherry or vermouth.
Place the asparagus stalks on top of the mushroom/shallot mixture and put a tight fitting lid onto the pan. Steam for 30 seconds. Add the asparagus tips and, again, place the lid on and steam for a further minute. Check the liquid and if the pan is looking dry, add up to 3T water.
Break the eggs and individually place the eggs on top of the asparagus. Keep the eggs well separated, The recipe will accept up to 4 eggs, but you may not want to do that many.
Place the lid back on the skillet and allow the contents to steam for 3 1/2 more minutes - until the egg whites are set and the yolks are the consistency you want. The asparagus will be just cooked
Remove the lid adjust the seasoning to your taste. Serve immediately, making sure that any juices in the bottom of the pan are scooped up and drizzled over the dish.