Easier Than You Think

Can we talk about bread crumbs for a sec? Well, more than just a second, but it seems fitting since we just ended an eight day stint with nary a bread crumb in sight. There was a time when I would buy bread crumbs, and the truth is, it’s not the biggest deal if you do. But I’m here to convince you to make your own, and it’s much easier than you think.

Lilli in shades

First thing’s first. Don’t go to the bread section of your market. Walk over to the bakery section. On the side there should be a cart or maybe just a shelf, piled high with yesterday’s goodies. Maybe there will be a bag of muffins, marked down 75% that you should buy and store in your freezer for when you feel like a muffin and you don’t want to turn on the oven or leave the house. Perhaps there’s a German chocolate cake that’s half off. All these items are perfectly delicious, but most stores can’t sell food unless it’s the freshest. (Another time remind me to tell you the story of Rich and my first date. It involved me, a stale cannoli in Quincy Market and a very embarrassed Rich. It all worked out in the end, obviously.)

But yes, on that shelf of day old baked goods should also be a selection of bread loaves. For me, it was a day old French baguette that cost fifty cents. As Rich quipped, with prices that low, John Valjean wouldn’t have had to steal.

If you’re not in a rush, let that cheap day old loaf sit on your counter for another day or two; we’re aiming for stale. When the time is right, get out your food processor, break the loaf into chunks, and pulse away. I’ve found that turning the food processor on and just letting it spin makes the bread crumbs too fine. You can then store your fresh, homemade bread crumbs in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. They’ll be good for months, since they were stale to begin with.

And now that you have bread crumbs, might I suggest this lovely little springtime dish. We had it last night for dinner, and I found myself fingering a bunch of asparagus tonight at the market, wondering if it would be overkill to have it two nights in a row. (I resisted, but no, it is not.) It’s a Melissa Clark recipe, and you know how much I love her stuff. The only thing I would do differently than the original recipe calls for is to make this in a non-stick skillet. I always make a mess of my fried eggs in a regular skillet, as the picture illustrates.

Clark says she got the idea for this dish from the franny’s, an Italian place in Brooklyn that’s on my list of places to check out the next time we’re in NYC. There they serve an asparagus salad of wood oven-roasted stalks covered in vinaigrette, bread crumbs, and minced hard-cooked eggs. I haven’t tried that version, but I love this one here.

A word about asparagus, because I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog. The best way to trim its ends is to hold up a stalk and give it a bend at the end. It will naturally snap off where you should cut it. I take a page from Martha Stewart and use that one stalk as the ruler and cut the rest of the stalks to match it. And yes, that is an asparagus plate in the photo. Rich bought it for me years and years ago for a springtime present.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs, from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tablespoons unseasoned, preferably homemade bread crumbs

1 anchovy fillet , minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

Kosher salt to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and anchovy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are browned and toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and a large pinch of salt and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the lemon zest, then transfer the mixture to a small bowl.

Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat. Add another tablespoon of the oil and then add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally, until the asparagus is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving plate and sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture.

Add the remaining tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and return it to the heat. Crack in the eggs and fry until just set but still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the eggs on top of the asparagus and serve.

Advertisements

L’Chaim!

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is assigned a numeric value. Aleph is one, bet is two, and so on. All words have values too, based on the sum of their letters. One of the big words is chai, which means life, as in “L’chaim!” My Hebrew name is Chaya, which is derived from it. The two letters that spell that spell chai add up to 18, and so it’s traditional for Jews to give charity and gifts in increments of 18: 36, 54, 72 etc.

I’m telling you all this because today I turned 36. Now, for some that might mean I’m on the back end of my 30’s, only a few years from 40. But I am viewing my birthday as double chai, and I feel pretty good about that.

Riding a panda

It’s not that uncommon for my birthday to fall during Passover, which meant growing up I often didn’t have a proper birthday cake. I have many childhood memories of my mom sticking candles in a watermelon and telling me to make a wish. I honestly don’t know if I ever wished for real cake, because I’m actually a huge watermelon fan. But for a few years, a bakery that only opened during Passover (I guess we’d call it a “pop-up” these days) sold these incredible flourless chocolate brownies and an outstanding flourless chocolate cake. It was so extraordinary and beautiful the shop called it “the Robert Redford cake.” Oh, Hubbell.

I have no watermelon in the house right now, but I did have all the ingredients to make myself a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday. So I did.

As you know, I take Passover pretty seriously, so every year my beleaguered Catholic husband lugs an entire set of pots, pans, utensils and dishes up from the cellar. My Passover kitchen is a work in progress, and every year the same thing happens: I go to cook or bake something and realize that I’m missing a certain piece of kitchen equipment. This year I learned I need to buy a whisk and an offset spatula for next year.

It turns out, though, that I don’t need to buy a cake pan. I just used my go-to, glass-lidded non-stick Passover pan, which has been with me as long as I’ve been cooking on my own. It’s deep enough to cook 2 cups of quinoa, and has a metal handle that can go in the oven (ideal for fritatta making). It’s not quite the Jews wandering in the desert, but making do with only a few kitchen tools does evoke the spirit of the holiday for me.

So, whisk-less, I mixed this simple batter with a fork, poured it into my trusty pan and stuck that into the oven. Because the pan is a little larger than the 8-inch pan the recipe called for, I reduced the baking time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. Instead of fancy chocolate, I used kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips. There was a half an orange in the fridge leftover from Lilli’s breakfast, so I had Rich zest it. (For some reason, I have a Passover zester but not a whisk. Go figure.) I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover sifter, so I just stirred the cocoa powder with a fork and carried on.

We ate this tonight with dollops of fresh whipped cream, or schlag as my German mother would call it. It now occurs to me that I could have used the hand mixer I used to whip the cream for the batter, but no matter. There’s always next year. L’chaim!

Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted, ever so slightly, from Gourmet, November 1997

Ingredients

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (which I did not do)

1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of buttered wax paper (I used parchment paper).

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift ½ cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir in the orange zest.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Not necessary step: Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet or whipped cream if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container.)

Go Fish

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine suggested we buy a membership to Costco, to help defray the cost of things like diapers. We snorted at the time, because we planned on using cloth. But three months of daily loads of laundry had us questioning both environmental and practical benefits of that decision.

salmon and cantaloupe

So we got a Costco membership, over Rich’s objections. He just didn’t see the point of having to pay to shop somewhere. I kept on insisting we’d find a use for it, and I like the fact that the company pays a living wage. I also like that I don’t have to make us lunch or dinner when we hit it up on a weekend because of all the free samples, and I know he likes any opportunity to eat pork, even if it’s just on the end of a toothpick. He finally relented when, after our microwave gave up the ghost, he discovered that the difference in price between a new one at Costco and elsewhere more than covered the cost of membership.

But other than the occasional small appliance, I keep going back to Costco for a relatively short list of items: bulk hazelnuts, bulk frozen fish, bulk brown rice and produce in the wintertime. I’ve never been bashful about my love of fish; that’s why I call this blog “mostly vegetarian.” And it turns out that Lilli adores salmon as much as her mommy. So I often grab a few frozen filets the night before and toss them in a bowl in the fridge to defrost during the day. I rub a little olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt on the pieces, and simply roast them in a hot toaster oven for less than 10 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner. I cook up a huge pot of brown rice in my rice cooker once a week, and enjoy that on the side.

Elton John

Fish? Did you say fish?

But when I saw this recipe for salmon with cantaloupe and fried shallots in my 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, I knew we had a keeper. Lilli not only loves salmon, but she also eats cantaloupe at nearly every meal. And when I told Rich I found a recipe that called for both salmon and cantaloupe he noted that there is a slurry of that in her bib after almost every dinner. The fact that this had a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, my own favorite trinity, was icing on the cake.

I actually had everything in the house for this dish, so it is a pantry dish, at least in my world. I eliminated the horseradish from my version, simply because I despise the taste, but I’ll leave it in parenthesis in case that’s up your alley. I also left out the celery leaves because I never have celery in the house. Buttermilk seems to always linger next to the milk in our fridge.

Fried Shallots, Round 2

Fried shallots, round 2.

I would suggest zesting the lime before you juice it; I wish the printed recipe would have said that. I didn’t scoop the cantaloupe, but used the small pieces I serve Lilli, which turned out to be just about a ¼ of an inch in size.

I’d never fried shallots before and overdid the first batch. Set a timer for four minutes and don’t think they need to be any darker when the timer beeps, because they don’t.

The salmon from Costco is skinless, but I followed the directions on the recipe and it worked beautifully.

This dish is fantastic. As Rich put it, “wow, this was like eating in a fancy restaurant!” Costco, people. Costco.

Salmon with Cantaloupe and Fried Shallots from the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

(2 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish)

Juice of 1 fresh lime (remember to zest the lime first!)

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

Cornstarch, for dusting

Salt

Salmon and garnishes

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets with skin (or, four pieces of frozen salmon from Costco you will have defrosted the night before)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 small cantaloupe, scooped into small balls or cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

(Freshly grated horseradish)

(1/4 cup celery leaves)

Directions

  1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the horseradish if you’re using it, lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the fried shallots: In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Put the shallot rings in a colander and dust heavily with cornstarch, shaking to coat them well. Add the shallots to the hot oil in an even layer and fry over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried shallots to paper towels to drain. Season the shallots lightly with salt.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 400F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about three minutes. Turn the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for about three minutes, or until the salmon fillets are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, divide the cantaloupe among four shallow bowls. Drizzle with the buttermilk and season lightly with salt. Lay the salmon on the cantaloupe and spoon the vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with the lime zest and grated horseradish. Scatter the celery leaves and fried shallots over the salmon and serve right away.

The vinaigrette and fried shallots cane be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.