Monthly Archives: January 2007

Pears with Cheese and Truffles

Still not completely healed from dental surgery, I’ve been trying to come up with some more creative ways to get food into my system without expending too much effort or getting bored. This whole experience has given me a greater respect for those who cannot have certain foods or have dietary limitations. I have generally been fortunate not to have those.

Because I’m still not supposed to bite into anything at this point and the pears I had bought before having this procedure done were getting so ripe that they dripped juice when I cut into them, I needed to find a way to eat them soon. [Having memories from my childhood of the aroma of fermenting rotting pears (my parents still have a pear tree in their back yard), I am adept at picking up the point at which they become inedible.] Chewing the peel would, at this stage, still be kind of difficult. Baking them seemed to be a good way to work around these two issues.

When I lived in Italy, I had a friend who adored truffles, mushrooms and anything of that variety. He would gather up folks to make a trek outside the town were I lived to this restaurant that specialized in showcasing these foods each fall when they were in peak season. It was here that I first had white creamy cheese studded with black flecks of truffles. The marriage of dairy and fungus was heavenly to my tastebuds and senses, and it just melted in my mouth.

This was an extraordinary food memory I filed away along with others from my time in Europe. Then, a few years ago, at a wine and cheese catch-up evening with a few friends who’d also spent time in Italy, I was reintroduced to this combo. I fell in love all over again.  Fortunately, this time, I was able to get a name and tracked down this particular cheese at a gourmet shop. Sottocenere(meaning under ashes) has a dark, black coating, a white interior, and flecks of truffles embedded throughout. For this dish, I wasn’t able to locate it, so I found a substitute at my local Italian market.My sister-in-law recently shared with me that she can’t eat certain fruits unless they are cooked and peeled. Her body can’t digest the peel. Combined with my own recent mastication challenges, I decided to see if I could create a dish that might bring together two things that are each favorites of mine in their own right, but which, at this point, are difficult for me to enjoy.
Pears with Cheese and Truffles

Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Serving size: 2 people

Ingredients: 
1 ripe Pear, peeled and very thinly sliced (I used a Bartlett)
2 oz. soft Italian cheese with truffles, very thinly sliced (I used cacciota a la tartufoemon)
Sliver of butter
Arugula for serving, optional (in the UK arugula=rocket)
Toasted bread, for serving, optional
Truffle oil, very optional
Assembly:
Very lightly butter bottom of a ceramic baking dish. Arrange one layer of the sliced pears in the dish. Place one layer of the cheese on top of the pears. Continue to alternate layering pears followed by cheese until finished with both, ending with the cheese layer.
Bake in pre-heated 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 2) for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the pears are soft. One sign that the dish is finished is if it is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is slightly golden.
Remove dish from oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve with a salad of arugula and crusty bread. If feeling extra decadent, drizzle the pears & cheese with truffle oil for some additional earthy flavor.

Buon appetito!

Post Dental Surgery – Cauliflower and Gorgonzola Soup

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)
I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

After picking the egg salad off of a breakfast sandwich and tearing a croissant into little pieces to try to melt it in my mouth (see, this is what years of dissolving communion hosts in one’s mouth have done), I was starting to think that this eating thing was getting to be too much of a chore. After a lunch of the same oatmeal-and-banana combo from the dinner the night before, I was sure of that.

With the temperatures finally turning to winter and my inability to really chew my food, I decided to try a recipe recommended on Slashfood (www.slashfood.com) for some culinary respite and relief. Last week they showcased Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup made by Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001549.html).
Here’s my effort at this recipe:
During cooking
Blending it smooth
Uummm….lunch
I definitely used the chicken broth option, so as to get some more protein into my system and provide some defense against the cold. Being a big fan of robust cheeses, I used the full cup of Gorgonzola. The cauliflower just needs something that strong to match its blandness.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
To blend the soup during the final steps, I used probably one of the few pieces of heavy machinery that I own (aside from the ice cream maker and food processor), one of the best inventions ever as a time-saver and water-conserver: my hand blender. If you make soups or sauces that need pureeing, this is the gadget for you.
It saves the time, mess and effort of pouring hot, chunky liquid into blender to make it smooth, only to have to pour it back into the same pot to heat it up for serving. With a little practice and control, you can easily avoid splattering (as with an electric hand mixer). Part of the trick is to remember to allow the ingredients to cool down before blending them.
Buon appetito!

Donuts, Hot Chocolate & Religion – Making Churros

Why put these three things together? You may ask. Well, in the suburban, ordered world in which I grew up, donuts (specifically, plain Krispy Kremes, which were then solely available in the South) and hot chocolate were what we had each Sunday after Mass and before religion class. Years of this routine – go to church, trudge reluctantly to the senior school with the pack of other kids, munch on this snack, and sit through an hour or so of learning about the Catholic faith – instilled this ritual as part of my spiritual development.
I didn’t realize how much this combination might also be stored in the memories of my siblings, until one of them called me a few weeks ago to mention that she’d had hot chocolate and a donut (not Krispy Kreme, though, as she readily admitted) after church. She instantly drew us both into visions of Sundays when we were growing up, nothing more needed to be said. I’m not really sure who came up with the idea of selling these things to us for 25 cents apiece, hyping us up on sugar just prior to herding us into classes that none of us wanted to take but were forced to by our parents in the hopes that maybe we would absorb some catechism.
The scorchingly hot, watery, chocolately liquid searing down my gullet, chased with a light, fluffy, sweet morsel. I can still remember it vividly, even more so than any of the lessons that we were taught – sorry Sisters. With this rather dubious food memory in mind, you would have thought that it had put me off of hot chocolate forever.

Quite the contrary is true. Each year, finding the quintessential hot chocolate is a mini-mission. I’ve ordered it at some of the of-the-moment bakeries, local cafés, and other places reputed to be the one to have it in the city. The one and only place, however, where I have had a hot chocolate nirvana, so to speak, was in Italy in a non-descript local café-bar.

It was advertised as cioccolata con panna (hot chocolate with cream). What is was was nothing short of a soothing cup of heaven. The smooth, velvety, warm chocolate was almost like eating a melting candy bar. The cream slowly dissolved into the chocolate adding a light touch to something that could have been almost too heavy. Served with a crisp cookie, it was the perfect snack to have on one of those damp, biting winter days that just eat into one’s bones.
So, I wanted to try to reproduce the same feeling in my own kitchen, despite the fact that this winter hasn’t been anywhere near cold enough to need this refresher. The February 2007 issue of Food & Wine magazine has a recipe for “Warm Churros and Hot Chocolate.” Thinking that this might come close to my childhood Sunday memories, I decided to tackle it this holiday weekend. Here is the result:
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right size pastry bag tip so these came out a bit more like funnel cakes. I’ll keep the recipe in the event I get the inspiration to try to make this again. The chocolate needed to be, well, a bit more chocolately for my taste, but it was still good. I think, however, that the next time I really want to traipse down the lane of days gone by, I might pop into my neighborhood Krispy Kreme and see if I can boil up a cup of Swiss Miss. Then, it’s off to church!
Buon appetito!

New Year, New Cafeteria Aggro

Ah,…the start of a new year. New resolutions, a fresh start on those dietary and exercise goals, more promises to myself to stay away from the candy machine when the mid-afternoon slump hits. What?! What’s this? They took our holiday break to redo the company cafeteria and institute pricing changes that effectively jack up the cost of our subsidized lunches? There is something really wrong about that.
I’ve worked in quite a few places that didn’t have an on-site facility for meals so to me having a quick, cheap place to grab breakfast, lunch and/or snack is a bit of a luxury item, if it can be called that. I know, I know, they usually carry the same old boring standard fare. Most of you who’ve had access to them could recite the menu without ever having set foot in the one that I patronize most days between the hours of 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.
The folks who run this particular establishment, however, actually have tried to liven up the usual salad bar-sandwich bar-hamburger/grill-pizza/pasta station format. There’s theme days (although I’ve been to some of those countries and never seen what is served here), an Asian stir-fry stand, and one that rotates tacos, chilis, Mediterranean, and noodles. The real treat is the so-called “Chef’s Table” which bi-weekly has a sushi chef come to visit. On that day, the line is so long, you’d think that some major giveaway like free open gym membership, luxury apartments and speedboats for everyone had happened.
But it was the change in how they priced the food by the pound – it’s now by the ounce – and the fact that the set price for a hot entrée and 2 sides went from $5.00 to by-the-ounce and became self-serve in the process that has people talking. You’d have thought that they’d asked us to travel to the moon, or at least to Jersey, to purchase our lunch, which we’d have to pay for in Euros and then convert our change back into dollars [not to pick on the Euro-regions but you get the point]. We’d been living in our subsidized-lunch bliss world for too long.
Still, we are resilient. We will overcome these pricing changes. We will most likely still continue to grumble while at the same time continuing to eat there (although I really hope that the guy who sits in the group next to mine cools off on this topic soon as he’s been obsessing about it every day this week). And, I still have hope that somehow, I’ll find something more interesting to eat for lunch each day….
Buon appetito!

Resolving Some Things for the New Year

Yes, ‘tis that time of year again, the period in which some of us sit down and make lists of things we’d like to change in our lives. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I decided to narrow the field of my resolutions for 2007 to culinary-oriented ones.

1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
I really need to spend the next rainy weekend on this!
3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like this:
Sorry to pick on you, Mom, but no one can remember when McCormick spices were 69 cents
Even McCormick suggests throwing things away after a certain point

4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)

This is just a tiny sub-set of how many I own
5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while

I really need to start crossing places off of my list
7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
8. Work on my food photography skills
9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
It’s a long list, but I think it might be doable. I’m a little hesitant about #10, as those of you who read my post about that adventure will understand. If I get one thing accomplished this year, and that is it, I think that 2007 will have been a success.
Buon appetito!