January 21, 2014

Potlikker Noodles with Ham & Kale

I've been trying several new recipes so far this year. While they have all been tasty, most are either not blog-worthy or I just didn't stop to take pictures before eating.

My favorites have been a roasted carrot & red quinoa salad, lentils with red wine & herbs, smoked salmon & edamame salad, spaghetti with fried eggs & breadcrumbs, and tuna, white bean,  & roasted fennel salad.

Tonight, I made pork stock with a shoulder bone I had leftover from making pulled pork. I used the stock to make another new recipe I've had my eye on for a while: a hearty dish of egg noodles, ham, & kale in a flavorful broth...perfect for yet another snow day here in the midwest.

January 14, 2014

Smoked Eggplant Dip

photo by Corey Woodruff
A couple months ago, I was invited to dinner at The Mediterranean Grill in Chesterfield, Missouri. It's a little restaurant located in a strip mall near the airport. It's easy to miss, but I'm glad I had a reason to seek it out. Dinner was pretty spectacular, and the owners are two of the nicest people I've met.

Chef-owner Elie Harir is from Israel and makes nearly everything on the menu from scratch. I got to try a variety of items...including falafel balls, Moroccan cigars (meat-filled phyllo), hummus, carrot salad, beet salad, eggplant spread, tabouleh salad, matbocha (Moroccan salsa), Middle Eastern chopped vegetable salad, stuffed eggplant, and kabobs. [see photos after the jump]

My favorite dish was the eggplant spread, which tastes smokey and much more flavorful than any baba ganoush I've ever had. Elie said he grills the eggplants to get that flavor.

The truth is that I liked everything I sampled that evening, and I'm looking forward to going back for dinner soon.

January 8, 2014

Lemon Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

I've been thinking about a book I read a few years ago: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. The main character, nine-year-old Rose, asks her mother to bake a lemon cake  with chocolate frosting for her birthday. According to the author, "as soon as she bites in, that cake wakes up a certain new capacity in her, where she can taste the unknown feelings of the chef in the food prepared, and what is normally one of the most lovely and innocent parts of childhood comes packed with complication."

That book--and Bender's description of that cake--has stayed with me. Lemon and chocolate seem like a contradiction, like that kind of sour and sweet shouldn't work together. But, since orange and chocolate is a classic combination, I've always thought this cake sounded good:
The room filled with the smell of warming butter and sugar and lemon and eggs, and at five, the timer buzzed and I pulled out the cake and placed it on the stovetop. The house was quiet. The bowl of icing was right there on the counter, ready to go, and cakes are best when just out of the oven, and I really couldn’t possibly wait, so I reached to the side of the cake pan, to the least obvious part, and pulled off a small warm spongy chunk of deep gold. Iced it all over with chocolate. Popped the whole thing into my mouth.
• • •
My birthday cake was her latest project because it was not from a mix but instead built from scratch—the flour, the baking soda, lemon-flavored because at eight that had been my request; I had developed a strong love for sour. We’d looked through several cookbooks together to find just the right one, and the smell in the kitchen was overpoweringly pleasant. To be clear: the bite I ate was delicious. Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar.
But the day was darkening outside, and as I finished that first bite, as that first impression faded, I felt a subtle shift inside, an unexpected reaction. As if a sensor, so far buried deep inside me, raised its scope to scan around, alerting my mouth to some- thing new. Because the goodness of the ingredients—the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons—seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was beginning to push up from the bite. I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis to her comment: I’m just going to lie down. . . . None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness. My mother’s able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it. It so scared me that I took a knife from a drawer and cut out a big slice, ruining the circle, because I had to check again right that second, and I put it on a pink-flowered plate and grabbed a napkin from the napkin drawer. My heart was beating fast. I was hoping I’d imagined it—maybe it was a bad lemon? or old sugar?—although I knew, even as I thought it, that what I’d tasted had nothing to do with ingredients—and I flipped on the light and took the plate in the other room to my favorite chair, the one with the orange-striped pattern, and with each bite, I thought—mmm, so good, the best ever, yum—but in each bite: absence, hunger, spiraling, hollows. This cake that my mother had made just for me, her daughter, whom she loved so much I could see her clench her fists from overflow sometimes when I came home from school, and when she would hug me hello I could feel how inadequate the hug was for how much she wanted to give.
I ate the whole piece, desperate to prove myself wrong.
As I was stuck inside today for a third day due to freezing temperatures and 10+ inches of snow, I was reading an article about mood-enhancing foods. Both lemon and dark chocolate were on that list, and I thought again of Rose's birthday cake. I browsed the internet for recipes and decided that baking a bittersweet cake would be the perfect way to spend my snow day.

January 4, 2014

Mussels with Lemon-Saffron Sauce

Photos by  Corey Woodruff
So far, 2014 is....fairly cold. We are bracing for some serious winter weather here in St. Louis, expecting up to 10 inches of snow and low temps of -9. The high on Monday is predicted to be zero. Brrrr.

I don't mind the arctic temperatures; I just hope my boiler can keep up. It's been fickle lately, refusing to ignite sometimes and letting the temperature in the house drop. A few weeks ago, the boiler was off all night and it was 40 degrees in the house when I woke up. Last night, it was off for several hours but kicked back on in the middle of the night...thankfully. I've had a repair guy out to check it, but it was--of course--working just fine when he was here & he couldn't find anything wrong with it. *sigh*

With such frigid forecasts, people tend to stock up on milk, eggs, and bread. Instead of making French toast, however, I made a big pot of steamed mussels with a piquant lemon-saffron sauce...perfect with crusty bread and a bottle of wine.

I highly suggest making this while you're snowed in tomorrow.