Souvenirs from Sicily – Blood Oranges, Capers & Flat Leaf Parsley

April 7th, 2011 / comments 3

I’ve begun gathering souvenirs to bring back to Vermont from Ortigia. Not the usual tee shirt or piece of pottery, rather souvenirs in the form of memories of Sicilian food – some simple, others complex, some easy to recreate and others impossible.

blood orange juice Souvenirs from Sicily   Blood Oranges, Capers & Flat Leaf Parsley

Blood Orange Juice and the Ionian Sea

The glass of blood orange juice that Charles makes for me with four fresh Tarocco oranges is my favorite way to start the day. Tarocco oranges grow in the fertile soil surrounding Mount Etna. They are sweet, less acidic than other oranges and have the highest vitamin C content of any orange variety grown. The juice is orange in name only, it varies in color from peachy pink to rose dore to nearly garnet red. I love it freshly squeezed and thick with pulp. Although there are  blood oranges in the markets in Vermont, I’ll miss watching the sun shimmer on the Ionian sea as I sip the sweet juice.  Unfortunately, blood orange juice at the edge of the Ionian Sea must be put into the impossible to recreate category.

Salt cured capers are sold by weight at the market. They are about the size of lentils and have a sharp and sour taste that is lovely with chicken or fish and are a crucial ingredient in the tomato/potato salad I tasted on a recent trip to Marsala. Although it isn’t easy to find salt-cured capers in Vermont, there are jars of vinegar-cured capers in the pickle aisle of every grocery store. Here’s how I made the tomato/potato salad when we got back to Ortigia. … read more

Potato Leek Soup or Vichyssoise

November 10th, 2010 / comments 5

I stopped to visit my friend Don on my way home from voting and found him in the midst of putting the vegetable garden to bed for the winter. He said that it had been a great summer for everything except peppers.

Pt Stock Pot c egbert 02 Potato Leek Soup or Vichyssoise

He gave me several, freshly pulled, leeks and a handful of fragrant flat leaf parsley. When I got home, I made a cozy dinner in less time than it would take to pick up a pizza. It was cold enough to have a fire in the wood stove and I wanted a steamy bowl of comfort food as I watched the election returns.

Leaks have a long and colorful history. Aristotle credited the clear voices of partridges to their diet of leeks. Perhaps it was the partridges that inspired the Roman Emperor Nero to eat leeks everyday in an effort make his voice stronger. Romans brought leeks to Britain where they, the leeks not the Romans, still flourish because they thrive in the cold and damp. According to Welsh legend, St. David ordered every soldier to wear a leek on his helmet in the battle against the Saxon invaders.

The prospect of watching the outcome of a battle, (the election), and the leeks from Don’s garden inspired me to make a pot creamy potato leek soup. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Curried Sweet Potato Salad and Lazy Day Potato Salad

June 3rd, 2010 / comments 4

Last weekend, I bought red garnet yams at the market and made sweet potato salad for a potluck picnic.

indian motif Curried Sweet Potato Salad and Lazy Day Potato Salad

The purple of the skin and the bright orange of the potato made me think of India and so I added curry powder to the dressing. Here’s how I made it: … read more

Potato Salad Makes a Picnic

June 2nd, 2010 / comments 3

 Potato Salad Makes a PicnicThe warm days and evening sunsets of June usher in the arrival of picnic season. My early picnic memories involve big metal coolers and Tupperware containers with impossible to remove lids. There were charcoal fires smoldering with smoke that burned my eyes or wood fires lit to keep mosquitoes away and, more importantly, as the source of heat for cooking anything that could be wrapped in foil or speared on a long stick. For dessert there were marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers for s’Mores, or bananas wrapped in foil and roasted. Picnics were thirsty affairs and it was a proud moment when I was deemed old enough to control the push button spout on the red and silver drink cooler. These collaborative meals had varied menus, ham or fried chicken, green salad, bean salad or Jell-O salad but it wasn’t a picnic without potato salad.

The potato salad of those early picnics was white – peeled white potatoes, diced white onions, celery and mayo. I loved it. I skipped the shriveled hotdogs blistered by the fire and the dry, overcooked hamburgers slathered with catsup. I piled potato salad into the largest section of my divided paper plate, put a small scoop of baked beans into one of the two small sections and filled the other section with bread and butter pickles. It was an extra special meal if there was bright pink, purple, orange or green Kool-Aid in one of the drink coolers.

The monochromatic potato salad, transported on ice to every picnic was the point of departure for my expedition into potato salad country. I wasn’t always a painter but color has always been important to me. When I made my first bowl of potato salad, I though of potatoes as the white canvas, the carrots, red peppers and onions and green herbs as the paints and the dressing as the glue that held it all together. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Three Hors d’Oeuvre – It’s a Party!

April 6th, 2010 / comments 2

Conversation and music make a party fun but sharing favorite foods, new recipes, foreign flavors and comfort food can make a party memorable.

Food Juggler c egbert Three Hors dOeuvre   Its a Party!

Although traditionally served before a meal, an assortment of sweet and savory hors d’oeuvres that includes vegetables and fruit, meat, fish and cheeses can be dinner. Whether there are waiters passing trays, platters strategically placed around the room, or a buffet brimming with savory finger food, an hors d’oeuvre party makes it possible to entertain more friends that I can seat at my dining room table.

Was the apple that Eve offered to Adam the first appetizer? Perhaps not, but translating the names gives culinary insight. Hors d’oeuvre means “apart from the main work” it is less important than what is to come.

settee 01 c egbert1 Three Hors dOeuvre   Its a Party!Canape in both French and Spanish means couch or settee, maybe a nod to the cracker or piece of bread that the caviar or foie gras is sitting on. French chefs offer a selection of amuse-bouche, morsels to “amuse the mouth”, while diners await the main course.

Antipasto means “before the meal” and like a platter of cold cuts, consists of cured meats, pickled vegetables, olives, and cheeses. Crudités, French for crude, used to mean an artfully arranged platter of carefully carved raw vegetables for dipping. Unfortunately, now it usually means a bowl of “baby” carrots with or without a container of ranch dressing beside it.

In Istanbul, my favorite dinner was an assortment of seven meze. There was no menu. I choose small plates of prepared vegetables, meat and fish from a large tray that a waiter brought to the table. Even though I was unable to identify all of the dishes, the small portions made me more willing to try unfamiliar things and I was rarely disappointed.

There are endless combinations possible when creating hors d’oeuvres. Maybe it was the excitement of creating new dishes in the 1950’s, after the hardship of rationing, that led to hors d’oeuvres with names like: Hollywood Dunk, Apple and Salami Porcupines, Pineapple Fingers, Fisherman’s Find, Herb Ring-a-Round, Ruby Red Franks, Pearl of the Sea Mousse and Sardine SURPRISE!

Was it peace or Yankee ingenuity that lead to the creation of combo’s like Potato Chip Snappies – bleu cheese and minced onion thinly spread onto potato chips, watermelon pickles wrapped in bacon, or Cocktail Kabobs – button mushrooms and cocktail franks cut in half and marinated in French dressing? Perhaps it was battle fatigue.

The minimum structural requirement for an hors d’oeuvre is that it must be able to be moved a minimum of 40 cm, from platter to mouth, without exploding, dripping or collapsing. With so much history, it comes as no surprise that there are a few rules to consider: 1 Don’t chase a waiter who is carrying a tray. 2 Never put anything back on the tray. 3 No double dipping. 4 If “Surprise” is in the name, walk away. 5 If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. 6 If the waiter doesn’t know what it is, don’t eat anything.

Wine c egbert 01 Three Hors dOeuvre   Its a Party!There were ten guests at my most recent hors d’oeuvres party. Charles served wine, sparkling water and fruit spritzers. I served olives, roasted peppers and artichokes from the market, and a cheese platter. I made three hors d’oeuvres as well. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Hello Garlic – Bon Jour Ail

April 1st, 2010 / comments 4

It was a snail that introduced me to garlic. My mother was from England and my father was from Slovakia so spice and punch came in the form of mustard, black pepper or sauerkraut. Olives, capers and anchovies never appeared on our table.

garlic scape c egbert blg Hello Garlic   Bon Jour Ail

When I was nineteen, I moved to an apartment on the second floor of a converted town house in Washington, DC. The French Market, a boutique grocery store, was on the ground floor. It had become a successful business when John Kennedy was president and all things French became fashionable. By my third visit, I realized that my gastronomic education had begun.

The owner, Georges, was from Nice, in the south of France. He always had time to answer questions, share recipes or offer tastes. He never looked at his twelve-inch chef’s knife as he minced garlic, parsley and almonds to make snail butter and gossiped with market regulars. After he put a cooked snail into each shell he sealed the opening with a knob of the seasoned butter. When he suggested that I try the snails for dinner, I bought a dozen, a baguette and two sets of snail-eating equipment. He explained how to heat the snails in dimpled metal plates and how to use the tool that looked an eyelash curler to hold the hot shell while fishing them out with a small snail fork.

The snails were interesting, a bit chewy, but the apartment smelled wonderful! The chunks of bread soaked in the hot garlic butter were divine. It was the beginning of a new friendship, “Bonjour Garlic!”

Since that introduction, garlic has been a permanent resident in my pantry. It appears so frequently in my recipes that I use garlic scapes, the immature flower stalks of hard neck garlic, as my logo. The best way to store garlic is at room temperature, in a porous container. I have a ceramic garlic pot with a lid that keeps out the light and holes in the sides that allow air to circulate, preventing garlic from becoming moldy.

Georges showed me how to add zip to salads by rubbing the inside of a wooden salad bowl with a clove of garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Occasionally, he had cooked artichokes next to mushroom, fennel and green bean salads. A small container of mayonnaise mixed with mince garlic, lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper and an artichoke made a lunch that was tres chic.

The pate Georges made was perfumed with garlic and it inspired me to use garlic to season meatloaf. When Georges prepared chickens for roasting, he pushed a mixture of butter, garlic and thyme under the skin of the bird.

V Rosemary 01 Hello Garlic   Bon Jour Ail

He seasoned legs of lamb with garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme before deftly forming each roast into the shape of a duck with the end of a bone as the duck’s head. I’ve never tried the fancy butchering but I do use the same herb and garlic mixture to season lamb.

I don’t remember who introduced me to the complex, sweet and earthy flavors of roasted garlic. I make it often by cutting off the top of plump garlic bulbs, drizzling them with olive oil, wrapping the bottoms of the bulbs in aluminum foil and roasting them. After half an hour in a 350-degree oven, the golden paste can be spread onto crusty bread to make appetizers that I serve with red wine.

v barley salad Q Hello Garlic   Bon Jour Ail

Fifteen years later, my friend Gwen served a salad made with blanched garlic. She said that it was easier to digest and that it added flavor with less bite. She claimed that blanching eliminated volatile sulfur compounds that cause garlic breath and indigestion. Gwen simmered garlic in boiling water for a minute before peeling it and blending into salad dressing. Blanching garlic in the microwave by zapping unpeeled garlic cloves in a half-cup of water in a partially covered container for 30 seconds seems simpler to me. I use blanched garlic in barley or bean salads that will not be served within and hour.

Garlic is called the stinky rose and blamed for causing bad breath but its presence is recognized in cuisines around the world as the promise of a tasty meal. The pan of garlic roasted root vegetables I served on Saturday delivered on that promise when Jim and Anne joined us for dinner.

turnip Hello Garlic   Bon Jour Ail

Along with the roasted turnips, carrots and potatoes roasted, a can of cranberry sauce mixed with a couple of tablespoons of horseradish and a roasted chicken from the market were all I needed for our impromptu dinner party. The scent of the roasting vegetables made it seem as if I had spent the entire day, rather than half an hour, cooking. I started the vegetables in the microwave and they finished roasting while I set the table, and cut up the chicken. Here’s how I did it. … read more

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