Archive for April, 2012

Key Lime Napoleons

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Regular readers of this blog know that I adore key-lime ANYTHING. Key limes offer a remarkably fresh flavor that is somehow more mellow than any other citrus fruit I know.

Since I don’t live in a tropical climate, I have to make do with bottled key-lime juice from Nellie & Joe’s. It means my recipes don’t include lime zest—but they DO still include that distinctive key-lime flavor.

You may recall my previous recipes for Key-Lime Pie, Key-Lime Chicken, and Key-Lime White Chocolate Chip Cookies, to name a few.

Last week when our cousins Alan and Jane came to dinner I decided to try Key-Lime Napoleons.

I was inspired by a lemon pudding recipe I found at Lehman’s Country Life, the blog for the country-oriented Lehman’s store in Ohio. Lehman’s used lemon juice for its pudding, which was easily transformed into key-lime juice.

The pudding looked to me as though it needed something to go with it, however. I originally intended to use it to stuff cream puffs, using the puff recipe I used when I made cranberry puffs a couple of years ago. I ran out of time to make the cream puffs, however, so I purchased a package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and made the Napoleons instead.

My nephew Michael dubbed the Napoleons “that awesome dessert.”

According to the Food Timeline, Napoleons were probably not actually named for Napoleon Bonaparte, despite their suitability. (They are, after all, short and puffed up.) The Timeline suggests that the name comes from “Napolitain,” indicating that this pastry is based on one from Naples. Wherever they originated, we all loved them.

Feel free to make your own puff pastry if you are good with pastry. I’m not. I have tried—really—but folding the pastry into the requisite 1000 creases is definitely way outside my skill set! If you buy the pastry, you’ll end up with a very simple, very fun dessert. Did I mention that it’s awesome?

Key-Lime Napoleons

Ingredients:

for the key-lime curd:

3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup key-lime juice
1 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the pastry:

4 puff pastry sheets, baked according to the manufacturer’s instructions and cut into 36 more-or-less equal rectangles (it’s hard to get them completely uniform)

for the glaze:

a small amount of key-lime juice (start with 2 tablespoons)
confectioner’s sugar as needed (you will need more than you expect!)
festive sprinkles (optional)

Instructions:

Combine the egg yolks, sugar, and key-lime juice in a 1-1/2-quart nonreactive saucepan. Whisk to combine. Place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, whisking, until the mixture lightens and attains the consistency of a light pudding. Remove from heat, and transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

When this mixture (the key-lime curd) gets to room temperature, whip the cream, adding the sugar and vanilla toward the end of the whipping. If you want to make the curd in advance, refrigerate it until you are ready to whip the cream.

Add a little of the whipped cream to the key-lime curd, then fold the slightly creamy curd mixture into the whipped cream.

Prepare the glaze by mixing the key-lime juice with confectioner’s sugar. It should be thick but spreadable.

Assemble your Napoleons. Each one will take three rectangles of puff pastry. Place one rectangle on a plate, and cover it with a generous helping of the key-lime filling. Cover that with another rectangle, more filling, and a final rectangle. Be gentle!

Drizzle and/or spread a little glaze on top of each Napoleon.

Serve the things quickly before they collapse!

Makes 12 Napoleons.

Cousin Jane contemplates the last Napoleon with an air of amazement (and amusement).

 

Inspired by Holy Smokes Barbecue Pizza

Friday, April 20th, 2012

On the way into the oven.....

I have recently interviewed not one but two restaurateurs who put barbecue on their pizza.

I do a monthly feature for the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Recorder called Blue Plate Special, in which I interview the chef at a local restaurant and ask him or her for a signature recipe.

Last month Lou Ekus of Holy Smokes BBQ Delicatessen in Turners Falls gave me recipes for Tuscan white beans and pickled onions (coming soon to a blog near you!).

Lou also mentioned a dish he makes frequently, one I knew would appeal to my family (who happened to be coming to dinner the evening after I talked to him): pulled-pork pizza.

This month I talked to Craig White of Hillside Pizza, who along with partners runs pizza restaurants in three western Massachusetts towns. He described his mouthwatering chicken barbecue pizza.

Both of these men are passionate about good food so I figured they must be onto a good thing!

I will try Craig’s pizza when I return home to Massachusetts. It uses an almond Asiago pesto only available at his establishments.

Meanwhile, here is my recreation of Lou’s pizza. I’m sure it’s amazing made with his signature barbecue sauce and pulled pork. (The man is a serious smoker!) I’m afraid I just purchased barbecue sauce and pulled pork at Trader Joe’s.

Even with those ingredients, the pizza worked. I love salt so for me the combination of barbecue and blue cheese was a real winner!

I should warn you that my nephew Michael didn’t take to the blue cheese in this recipe. He believes blue cheese belongs only in salads. (We’re working on his culinary education!) So I have listed cheddar as an alternative.

Let me know if you come across any barbecue pizza yourselves, readers! And if you haven’t seen it but would like to, try this one……

Inspired by Holy Smokes Barbecue Pizza

Ingredients:

1 pizza crust, homemade or store bought
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
butter as needed for sautéing
a small amount of barbecue sauce (1/4 cup or less)
1-1/2 cups prepared pulled pork
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese or grated Cheddar (use a little more if you’re a cheese lover, but don’t overwhelm the pork!)

Instructions:

Bring the pizza dough to room temperature and preheat the oven as indicated in your dough instructions.

Sauté the onion slices in a little butter, starting with high heat and then reducing it to low. Stir occasionally and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the onions have caramelized.

Roll and/or stretch the pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.

Spray your pan lightly with cooking spray and oil it even more lightly. Place the dough on the pan. Spread a very thin film of olive oil on top.

Spread the barbecue sauce on top of the crust, and sprinkle the pieces of pork around evenly on top of that. Arrange the caramelized onion slices over all, and top with little chunks of cheese.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven this took about 20 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6.

Anna and Caity’s Chocolate-Chip Scones

Friday, April 13th, 2012
Caity (left) and Anna

Stu Cosby is one of the most warm-hearted people I know. He loves being a father. He has two terrific kids of his own who have now grown up and made him a proud grandfather. When he married sweet Cathy a few years ago he happily acquired stepchildren.

At the time of their mother’s marriage to Stu, Caity and Anna were small, but they are now growing into lovely young ladies. (The photo above was taken at their confirmation in March.)

The two can be a little shy—but once they get to know you they show their smart and loving nature. They are also EXTREMELY tactful: when Anna sent me the confirmation photo she gently labeled it so that I would know which of the twins was which. (I’m learning; really, I am!)

One thing I know for sure is that these girls are getting to be great cooks. I salivated when I saw a photo of the scones on Facebook so Anna kindly sent me the recipe. I had never actually made chocolate-chip scones because, frankly, they are not precisely the sort of thing one needs. A scone has plenty of sugar and fat without chocolate.

Nevertheless, the mini-chocolate chips in this recipe don’t overwhelm the scones or their eater’s waistline. And Anna and Caity inform me that if one wishes to be truly virtuous one can substitute raisins or currants. I didn’t. I DID cut a couple of smaller scones, however, so that I could try the things with less guilt!

Caity and Anna’s scones looked a little nicer than mine. I couldn’t find my pastry brush so my egg wash got a little messy. And cutting dough has never been my specialty. My scones tasted just fine, however.

The Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional sugar for topping off (I used sprinkles for the latter.)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter (cold), cut into small pieces
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla (I added this)
1 egg yolk for glaze (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with a silicone mat.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With knives or a pastry blender cut in the butter. Stir in the chocolate chips.

In a small bowl or measuring cup whisk together the sour cream, whole egg, and vanilla. Using a fork, stir this mixture into the dry ingredients until large clumps of dough form. Do not over mix.

Use your hands to press the dough into a rough ball. (This is a little tricky, but as you press the dough will come together!)

Place the dough on a lightly floured cutting board. Pat it into a 7- or 8-inch circle (about 3/4 inch thick). If you wish to use the egg wash, beat the egg yolk briefly and then paint it onto the circle with a pastry brush. Top with additional sugar for crunch.

Use a serrated knife to cut the circle of dough into 8 triangles. Place them on the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. If they seem too crowded, use a second cookie sheet.

Bake the scones until they are golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool them for 5 minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 scones.

“Seinfeld” and the Soup Nazi

Friday, April 6th, 2012

If I had to pick one series to represent American network television in the 1990s, it would probably be Seinfeld.

I personally only watched two episodes of this comedy program during its network run. Nevertheless, I was aware from dinner-table conversations in communities with populations that ranged from the hundreds to the millions that the show revolved in quasi-autobiographical fashion around the stand-up comedy of an upper-west-side New Yorker, Jerry Seinfeld, and his onscreen friends: explosive ex-girlfriend Elaine, neurotic best friend George, and so-weird-he-might-have-been-from-Mars neighbor Kramer.

The program debuted slowly, starting with the pilot’s airing as filler in the summer of 1989. It grew in time to enchant critics and then millions of viewers before it went off the air with great brouhaha in 1998.

In Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute (not that there’s anything wrong with that), David Wild of Rolling Stone enthuses, “’Seinfeld’ is one of those rare redeemers of popular culture; like Sinatra, pasta or the Beatles, ‘Seinfeld’ shows that sometimes the masses get things exactly right.”

Episodes became instant classics among baby boomers, rapidly gaining the sort of status previously enjoyed only by favorite segments of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners.

I heard immediately after they aired, for example, about the controversial subject matter of “The Contest” (an episode, for anyone who missed the discussion, in which the principal characters compete to discover who can refrain the longest from masturbation) and the biting culinary humor of “The Soup Nazi.”

Naturally, the latter, which aired in November 1995, speaks to me. Like many episodes of Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi” contradicts the popular conception that nothing happens in this series. In fact, Seinfeld is very much of its era in that it often features multiple, intersecting plots.

In this episode, one subplot revolves around the Nazi of the title and his soup emporium. Another involves George’s attempts to persuade Jerry to desist from displays of affection with his latest girlfriend. The last features the efforts of Elaine to acquire an armoire for her apartment.

Perhaps the program’s “nothing” reputation stems from the fact that plot in Seinfeld is less important than the absurd conversations of its characters. Perhaps it stems from this situation comedy’s tendency, inherited from the stand-up comedy form of its star, to jump from one plot point to another in non-sequitur fashion, making the trajectory of the plot(s) hard to trace. In any case, the narrative soup here is quite deliciously thick.

The main plot of “The Soup Nazi” features the efforts of the program’s principal characters to place successful orders with the fierce owner of a small take-out establishment that sells ambrosial soup. Jerry tells George and Elaine, “You can’t eat this soup standing up. Your knees buckle.”

Unfortunately, he warns them, the highly temperamental chef, “secretly referred to as ‘the Soup Nazi,’” does not allow customers to deviate from his strict ordering procedure.

As most fans know, the character of the Soup Nazi was based on a real New York chef notorious for his delectable soup but less than delectable kettle-side manner.

As it does in the program, the line of potential customers regularly extends around the block from Al Yeganeh’s soup store. In fact, my sister-in-law lived two blocks from this establishment, the Soup Kitchen International, for years and never tried Yeganeh’s soup because she never had time to wait in the line!

Yeganeh apparently detested the Seinfeld tribute (if that’s the right word) to his reputation.

He told People in 1998, “The show really destroyed my personal life and my emotional and physical well-being. Because of this TV show, customers think I’m going to kill them and they panic. But the line must be kept moving!”

Typically, the “Soup Nazi” episode uses Yeganeh’s alter-ego more to shed light on the personalities of the regular cast members than to make any statement about the vagaries of New York restaurateurs.

Jerry, the only character with a successful career, masters the tense ritual of ordering from the Soup Nazi quickly and emerges victorious from the store with a bowl of crab bisque.

George is less fortunate. His bleating requests for bread to accompany his soup force the Nazi first to raise the price of George’s lunch and then to utter the dreaded words “No soup for you.”

Elaine, ever the free spirit, appears to view the establishment’s stringent rules as a challenge. She dawdles over her order so obnoxiously that the Soup Nazi banishes her from his kitchen for a full year—and I for one don’t blame him.

Interestingly, Kramer, who generally seems to operate on a different plane from the other characters, is the only person in the group to whom the Soup Nazi warms up—mostly because Kramer is just weird enough to understand the Nazi’s attitude toward the ordering process.

He views the chef’s desire for “perfection” in his customers as a natural extension of his quest for perfection in his cooking. “You suffer for your soup,” Kramer says sympathetically. Clearly, Kramer’s heart as well as his taste buds will suffer at the episode’s end, when the Soup Nazi announces that in light of Elaine’s threats to reveal his recipes to the world he plans to decamp for Argentina.

Over the course of the episode, the viewer is introduced to a number of soups on the Nazi’s menu, including turkey chili, jambalaya, gazpacho, cold cucumber, corn and crab chowder, and wild mushroom. I have chosen to make mulligatawny, the favorite flavor of Kramer, who calls the Soup Nazi “one of the great artisans of the modern era.”

Soup Nazi Mulligatawny

Make sure your spices are fresh and pungent for this soup. I recommend curry powder and cumin seeds from Kalustyan’s (or Foods of India in New York, two stores at which the Soup Nazi might well have shopped.

If you want a vegetarian mulligatawny, feel free to omit the chicken and to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. You’ll still have a lovely, warming concoction.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, mashed in a mortar and pestle just enough to release flavors
1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder (or more you love curry)
1 cup lentils, washed and drained
6 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tomato, cut up
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
cooked rice to taste (optional)
cream to taste (optional)
fresh, chopped coriander (optional)

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the onion turns a light golden color. Stir in the cumin and curry powder and heat for a minute as a paste, adding a bit of the chicken stock if it threatens to dry out completely. Quickly stir in the lentils; then add the stock, salt, lemon juice, and tomato.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken, and simmer for another half hour partly covered, stirring frequently.

Cool the mixture for at least a half hour, and then puree it in batches in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate the soup for several hours (overnight if possible) to let the flavors meld. Then heat the mixture in a large saucepan until warm, stirring constantly to keep the thick soup from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Your soup may be served plain or with cooked rice. Some people prefer to add a bit of cream to their bowls, and many like a hint of coriander sprinkled over each bowl just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Larry Thomas, who portrayed the Soup Nazi, still sells personally signed "No Soup for You" photos on eBay.

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