Saturday, March 14, 2009

Better food regulation on the way

Finally, food safety is moving front and center, where it belongs. It's going to cost a lot, but the assurance that what we eat won't sicken or kill us is priceless. 

Read about Obama's weekly address on the subject here.

Garlic chives on the cheap

Garlic can overwhelm many delicate foods such as eggs or potatoes. To get just a hint of garlic flavor, many cooks turn the garlic chives in their herb garden. But what if you live in a condo or apartment with no garden to call your own?

You don't need to plant a clump of chives to get that teaspoon or so of flavor. If you've let your garlic go a little too long in the refrigerator and it has started to sprout, put a clove or two in some potting soil in a little pot on a sunny window sill. Or if your sill is full of houseplants already, nestle a clove in each pot. 

Soon those sprouts will send up slender spears of deep green. When the straws (the leaves are so named because like chives, they are hollow) are about 4" long, trim them down to about an inch above the clove, and snip them into your egg dish or on top of baked potatoes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spice grinder cleanup

For grinding spices, nothing beats an old electric whirl coffee grinder. But if you have only one coffee grinder, here's how to make it do double duty: Before using it to grind spices, run a few chunks of day old bread or pita through it and dump it out (compost or scatter it for birds). The bread crumbs will pick up the finely ground particles, making it easier to wipe out the interior with a paper towel. Before going back to coffee use, do the bread whirl again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Indian spice

After writing about potato curry, someone asked about my garam masala. It is indeed a mixture that varies from kitchen to kitchen (and one of the reasons trying out new Indian restaurants is such an adventure), but here is one I like. (The photo to the right shows black peppercorns, but I don't use them in my garam masala, because they tend to overwhelm the other spices when stored. It's easy enough to add freshly ground pepper as you're cooking.)

Garam Masala
Makes about 4 tablespoons

1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (black cumin if you can find it)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander seeds
1 piece star anise
1 long bay leaf

Roast all the spices lightly on low-flame for about 2 minutes. Grind them to a powder in a clean, dry spice grinder. Store in an airtight glass jar in a dark, cool, dry place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fruit pigs out

Pork and fruit are a natural pairing, and I've enjoyed many such pairings: ham and pineapple, pork roast with prunes, pork loin stuffed with apricots and my grandmother's favorite, pork chops and applesauce. But until I was looking for a way to use up some grapes that had gotten shoved to the back of the fruit bin, I had never thought of using fresh grapes with pork. I simmered them whole, since the recipe didn't specify that anything needed to be done with them, but for company, I think I would halve the grapes. The original recipe is from a book called "Fruit" (I was actually looking for a dessert that would use the grapes), but I cut out the step of serving the tenderloin on toasted brioche.

Pork tenderloin with grapes
Serves 4

1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 cups grapes, cut in half

Cut the tenderloin in 1/2-inch slices and season with salt and pepper. Lightly flatten each medallion with a mallet. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and cook the medallions for 3 minutes each side. Turn the heat to medium, remove the medallions to a heat-proof platter and  keep warm.
Deglaze the skillet with the wine and stock, then add the grapes and cook until they soften, 3-5 minutes. Pour the fruit and sauce over the meat and serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trout on the line

Virginia contains over 2,800 miles of trout streams. I love to fish and hope to get out soon, but in the meantime, we're very lucky in Charlottesville to have fish markets that carry freshly caught trout.

Last night, I took the two trout fillets I picked up at West Main Market, dredged them in whole wheat flour, wetted them in a wash of milk and an egg white, then breaded them with the mixture below. Two minutes each side in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a dash of sesame oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat for trout No. 1, who then went into a 170-degree oven to keep warm while I repeated the process, with one minute more each side for trout No. 2. I served them with a sauce made of 2 tablespoons of low-fat mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons of peach puree (OK, it was peach baby food) and a half teaspoon of habanero pepper sauce. What a delight of crunchy and tender, a perfect white fish (when cooked; it was a delicate pink when raw) with a coating and sauce that packed a punch.

Spicy, crusty trout for two

1/2 cup of whole wheat croissant crumbs (or panko crumbs, or corn flakes)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 cup dry roasted almonds
1 heaping teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Whirl in food processor until fine. Enough to bread two trout.

Adapted from a recipe in "Cooking Fearlessly" by Jeff Blank, Jay Moore and Deborah Harter.