Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Summer Salad

One of my favorite blogs is 101 Cookbooks, where I take a break from reading about politics and economics, and instead delve into one of my favorite pastimes, cooking. This morning was no exception. I decided to browse the recent posts and came across Heidi's shaved fennel recipe.

Fennel is not an ingredient I use in my cooking, but the picture she posted was beautiful enough that I will be stopping by the grocery store on the way home to pick up fresh rockets and fennel. Actually, neither of those are regulars in my cooking, so I'm pleased at the chance to try what looks like a tasty recipe and changing that. No doubt I will not arrange the salad as beautifully as Heidi, but the flavor profile is what I enjoy the most. Presentation matters if trying to persuade others to sample, so I'll work on that only if I like it enough to include in my group dinner recipe repertoire.

Incidentally, I'll also be getting watercress and Roma tomatoes tonight - I will do a second attempt of the stir fried "foreign vegetable" and roasted tomato recipes.

Anyway, a good morning!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cafe Gitane Inspired Dinner and Stir Fried Foreign Vegetable

Last night I had a dinner with a few friends to try out two recipes inspired by my trip last weekend to NYC, where I ate out at Cafe Gitane for lunch one Saturday. The recipes I tried out were the following:

  • Whole wheat sourdough toast with guacamole (avocado, lemon, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt) - I think Gitane did this as deconstructed guacamole
  • Grilled eggplant with olive tapenade, pesto, and buffalo mozzarella on spring greens - Gitane did this with watercress and goat cheese, but everyone wanted the spring greens and I thought buffalo mozzarella would be cooler
  • Roasted tomatoes
  • Tasting array of Oleum Vitae olive oils (wasabi, raf tomato, ginger, pomegranite, and chive)
The first dish, the toast and guacamole, I classify under "guilty pleasure food I would eat when alone," which is why I was amused to see many people eating it at Gitane. The verdict on that from my guests was that it was passable. Personally, I enjoyed it, but it seems that it will remain a guilty pleasure food. Though maybe I'll enhance it with some of the chive olive oil and sauteed onions in the guacamole itself, and include roasted tomatoes as a side option if I serve it again.

As for the eggplant dish, everyone enjoyed that. Personally, I think I will need to tweak it before it is ready for a bigger party (note, I need to take a picture of it!). What I plan to do if serving it again is to make it more of a side dish. Last night I served it on a big bed of greens, which people could season with my spicy cilantro-chile spread or balsamic vinegar. In the future, I think I would cut the greens in half. As for the eggplant, the slices seemed too small, so I will try to do bigger slices so that I can stack them easier like Gitane does.

I enjoyed the roasted Roma tomatoes, as did the others. They thought having them to go with the avocado toast would be best. In my opinion, I think the possibility of having the roasted tomato with an avocado topping, while also sounding like a guilty pleasure dish, is also tantalizing enough that I must test it out. Another thought for the roasted tomatoes would be to top with a little buffalo mozzarella towards the end of the roasting, or shaved Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Since I have a bunch of Roma tomatoes still, I'll be testing that tonight and posting a picture of the result.

Finally, out of the Oleum Vitae oils, everyone liked the chive one the best. In general, I thought the idea of a tasting of infused Spanish olive oils was fantastic. Unfortunately, since I've only been able to locate these oils at Despaña NYC, I just have to keep spare space in my luggage whenever I travel to NYC (or find someone who can buy them for me when they visit NYC...). Also, I need to find a good tray of small serving dishes for when I serve these in the future.

By the way, speaking of that watercress, since no one ate it, I was left with it to use today. I recalled that in World Vegetarian, Madhur Jaffrey had a recipe called "Stir Fried 'Foreign Vegetable'" where the foreign vegetable was the watercress since it was foreign to the Chinese whose recipe this was.

Here's the recipe ingredients:

  • 2 bunches watercress (10 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
  • 2 slices of peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic closed, lightly crushed and peeled but left whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
After trying this out, here are my modifications (I always have modifications when it comes to a Madhur Jaffrey recipe - for some reason the original never quite works out as is):

  • 2 or 3 bunches of watercress
  • Enough olive oil to coat your wok
  • Ginger powder (I prefer sliced ginger, but didn't have any)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced (think this works better)
  • Salt to taste (1/2 a teaspoon is too much)
  • Oleum Vitae wasabi olive oil
The recipe states it is enough for two to three, but when I cooked my two bunches of watercress, it was enough for one, i.e. me. Ah well. I'll have to see if I truly bought 10 ounces of watercress or if Whole Foods' bunches are less 5 ounces per bunch. I prefer olive oil for cooking too, but if I can find coconut oil, I'll use that for the recipe next time. As for ginger powder, I was lazy, but if I have ginger next time, that's what I'll do. With the garlic, I prefer slicing over cooking with whole garlic.

How to make this:

  1. Break the watercress stalks into 3 inch pieces (optional)
  2. Heat the wok over high heat (obviously, you would oil it before doing that, wouldn't you?)
  3. When hot, put the garlic and ginger in, stirring until the garlic turns golden (maybe 1 minute)
  4. Put in the watercress and salt, stirring and cooking it until completely wilted or about 3 minutes
  5. Pour in a little of the wasabi or other flavored olive oil you like
  6. Enjoy.
Next time, I may cook it for a little more than 3 minutes. It was a bit chewy when I ate it for lunch (along with a delicious omelet crepe with smoked paprika, shiitake mushrooms, and red onions). I enjoyed the flavor profile of the watercress with garlic and wasabi olive oil though, so I'll likely be cooking it again later this week or next weekend. Next time I make it, I'll certainly take a picture.

Spun Off


Since you're here, I thought I'd describe a little bit of what I'm doing with this blog. My other blog, Boring but Smart, was intended to be a catchall blog for my interests. However, it quickly became dominated by my thoughts on economics, history, psychological bias, and the idiocy of certain NYT columnists and their idées fixes. Hence, rather than crowd out my other pursuits I wanted to blog about, I've spun those off to this blog.

As a result, I'll probably be writing once a week about a variety of topics that interest me: food and wine; travel; clothing; skiing; tennis; fitness; and whatnot (maybe sailing, if I end up taking it up this year). Will anyone be interested? Who knows? Then again, with my other blog, I had no idea about that too, but I figure there is that possibility. After all, at my other blog, my most popular post was on St Paul de Vence, where I had pictures from my vacation there. Though that could be because those images came up in Google Images (France edition).

Whatever the result and whoever's reading, here I am blogging about my pursuit of happiness, or as I phrased it in my other blog, "savor whatever you're drinking at the moment, because so we commence on whatever I encounter in my odd pursuit of joie de vivre." Allons! 

NB: The background picture is a sailboat on Ullswater in the Lake District, Cumbria, England. I was there for vacation mid-November 2010. Though overcast and cold, I thought it a beautiful day.