Thursday, July 29, 2010

Halibut with leeks and saffron; crispy potato roast

It has turned cool here (relatively speaking; the high for today will be 30°C), which has allowed us to turn the air conditioning off and the oven on. It gave us the perfect chance, midsummer, to try two recipes we've been hanging our noses over for a while now. The first is poached halibut with saffron-stewed leeks, and the second is She Eats Bears' crispy potato roast. The fish is sweet (almost overly so), the leeks tender and bursting with flavor and color, the potatoes truly heavenly (it's the garlic. oh, and the butter), and the vegetables hot and still a touch crisp.

Halibut with saffron-stewed leeks
  • Poach the halibut in dry white wine for ~10 minutes, or until done.
  • Meanwhile, chop up the leeks and stew them, along with two pinches of saffron, in a small quantity of white wine.

Crispy potato roast
  • You'll need potatoes, butter, onion and garlic -- the recipe is here. Roasted in a ring, these potatoes look as good as they taste.

Vegetables sautéed in olive oil
  • Heat a small quantity of olive oil in a wok or frying pan, and add vegetables (in our case, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper and zucchini). Sauté for 5-10 minutes, tossing every once in a while.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Camargue rice salad

While in the south of France last month, we bought some organic Camargue rice -- two packages, one red and one black. Driving through the rice paddies was long and hot (39°C, according to the car thermometer), but full of surprises from wild horses to massive bulls to pink flamingos. Regional food is easily my favorite souvenir of any trip -- albeit a souvenir which is typically consumed in short order. This cold salad, which combines the black rice with red, white and yellow vegetables, puts on quite a show.

What you need (6 servings):

  • 1 cup black rice
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 sweet paprika (or another bell pepper)
  • a handful of black olives
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • olive oil

What you do:
  • Cook the rice as directed with the bay leaf (for Camargue black rice, cook in a large pot of boiling water for 25-30 minutes). Rinse in cold water and drain well.
  • Meanwhile, quarter the cherry tomatoes and chop the rest of the ingredients.

  • Combine all in a salad bowl and toss with olive oil.
This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days, and makes perfect packed lunches.


Or not. Sertes oldalas translates as 'pork side'. They looked like ribs at the butcher, and we cooked them as if they were ribs. Regardless of their exact provenance in the pig's anatomy, they were delicious -- ribs without the bones, full of tender, juicy, flavorful meat.

The recipe we used is a combination of two I have been salivating over for weeks: Sassy Radish's oven barbecue ribs and Pioneer Woman's best oven roasted ribs. I have pared both down to their basics, and recombined into a simple, pleasing and delicious rib recipe. All right -- it still takes a minimum of six hours, but you only have to work for approximately 10 minutes.

What you need:
  • 1 large rack of ribs (or, in my case, a cut of pork which looks remarkably similar to ribs)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons eros (hot) paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tablespoon salt
What you do:
  • Mix together the sugar and spices in a small bowl.
  • Line a roasting pan with aluminium foil. Smear the ribs with mustard, and then coat with the spice mix. Be sure to rub it in well, getting into all the cracks and crevasses. Cover pan and let the flavors develop in the fridge for at least three hours.

  •  Bake at 250° for 2-3 hours, until meat is tender. Let sit for five minutes after removing from the oven before cutting into ribs.

For two people who went years without eating much meat, the past week has been an adventure: pork tenderloin, ribs, and (oh dear) pork sausages. For the foreseeable future, our dinners will revolve around fish, seafood and vegetables. And beans. Don't forget the beans.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Covered fruit pie

This, from Joy of Cooking: "We urge you not to judge your fruit pies against the picture-perfect specimens shown in magazine photographs. Under real home conditions, fruit pies often bubble over during baking, brown unevenly, stick to the pan, and yield somewhat runny slices. And no matter what you do, the undercrust always turns out slightly soft on the side facing the fruit. None of this should deter you. Fruit pies are simple, homey desserts, meant for eating, not display. And they are indeed delicious."

I'd never made a covered fruit pie -- at least not with homemade pastry dough.

I can take a challenge.

The result is very much as Joy of Cooking promises: it bubbled over during baking (which gave us the perfect opportunity to test our self-cleaning oven), it browned unevenly, the slices are somewhat runny, and it looks rustic rather than picture-perfect. But it does not stick to the pan! And, most importantly, it is beyond delicious.

Covered fruit pie pastry

What you need:
  • 250 g butter, frozen
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp very cold water (place cold tap water in the freezer for ~15 minutes)
What you do:
  • Mix dry ingredients in a food processor until well combined.
  • Cut frozen butter into 1/2 inch cubes, and scatter over the dry ingredients. Pulse in two-second bursts until butter lumps are the size of peas.
  • Pour the water evenly over the dough and pulse in five-second bursts until the dough begins to clump into small balls. You will notice a change in the food processor noise as this begins to happen.
  • Press dough with your hands until it coheres. Divide dough in half, form each half into a flat disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour, or up to two days.

Covered fruit pie filling

What you need:
  • 5 cups fruit (I used peaches, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)
  • heaping 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (not from a bottle)
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
What you do:
  • Peel, chop and mix together all the fruit. Do not mix in the other ingredients until required by the recipe.

Covered fruit pie recipe
  • Preheat the oven to 425 and place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. On the rack below, place a large cookie sheet to catch drips.
  • Working with one piece of dough at a time, pat out each go round and roll into a ~10 inch circle. Use as much flour is necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

  • Drape one dough round into a 9 inch glass pie dish. To lift dough from the counter, gently lay it over the rolling pin. Patch any holes with extra bits of dough. Be sure to leave enough overhang to seal the pie crusts together.

  • At this point, mix the filling ingredients together (except for the butter). Let sit for 10-15 minutes (no more). During this time, keep the pie crusts in the fridge.

  • Pour the filling into the pie crust base and dot with the butter. Then place the top crust over, seal the edges, and cut vents. Do this step quickly so that the crust does not become soggy.

  • Bake for 30 minutes at 425, and then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for approximately 30 more minutes, until juices start coming out of the vents. Allow to cool partially before cutting.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Fruit salad. Potica. And a highly disturbing deep purple smoothie.

This is my second attempt at potica. I used the same basic recipe as before, but changed the filling to make it less sweet.

Potica filling 2.0
  • 2 cups ground walnuts
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped candied citrus peel
  • 1/4 cup butter, very soft
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp milk

The verdict? Getting better, but still not quite at the level of these beauties:

Look the swirling! Look at the definition of the layers! Look at the texture, the shape, the elegance! This is the epitome of potica making: the 2010 Slovenian Agriculture and Farm Fair, held in Ptuj's Minorite Monastery in the spring.

And the smoothie? We have them every morning. They are not usually deep purple. It's mildly traumatizing. Crucially, they get us through our mornings without the need for multiple snack breaks. They also make our fingernails grow at alarming rates.

Smoothies For Two

What you need:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups fruit, roughly chopped (bananas, peaches, berries, nectarines, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
What you do:
  • Combine the milk and fruit in a blender, and blend until smooth. Add the yogurt and pulse until just mixed.

Deep Purple Smoothies For Two
  • Fruit: one banana, and 1/2 cup each of blackberries and blueberries

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I've never much liked Mexican food. Until a few years ago, I'd only ever had Mexican food at restaurants in Canada and north of the Mason-Dixon line -- and rarely at that, thank goodness, given the quality. Then I visited my brother in Dallas. Several times. And I discovered the joys of good Mexican food. And good TexMex. And good SalvaTex. And I mean very good Latin American-inspired cuisine. Tamales, bean salsa, chuck steak, ceviche, mole and more. But to make it at home? And, in my case, to make at home in Budapest, where the search for fresh cilantro can take a full day?

Yesterday, I finally gave into the enchilada recipe in my new cookbook. I hit four stores and one market, and came back with all the ingredients except enchilada sauce. Don't ask what I had to pay for cheddar cheese.

Here's what came out of the oven: a bubbling, gooey, beautiful mess of ground beef, cheese, tortillas, green onions, black olives, enchilada sauce and cilantro.

These enchiladas are divine, full of all the tastes and flavors of good Mexican cooking. We will make them again. And again and again. (Serve with rice or beans or a bit of salad. Sour cream, too, if you have some and you went overboard with the chili powder.)

The full recipe is at Pioneer Woman. Here are my enchilada sauce and chili powder recipes:

Enchilada sauce

What you need:
  • 2 cups thick tomato purée
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock or white wine
  • 2-3 tbsp homemade chili powder*
What you do:
  • Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until flavors are thoroughly blended.

* Homemade chili powder (~1/2 cup)

What you need:
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
What you do:
  • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Use as required; stored in a cool, dry place, it will keep for months.

Tip: when you go to assemble the enchiladas, make sure you have plenty of counter space. This is always a challenge at our house, in part because of the size of the kitchen and in part because of Richard's espresso paraphernalia. Look at this -- the corner of my counter is populated by no fewer than five espresso-related items (bean grinder, step up/step down transformer, espresso machine + bits, tamper, and tamper box). Don't ask about the transformers. We hide them under furniture and in corners like other people hide dust bunnies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tomato season

Sliced ripe tomatoes, red onion, purple basil, lemon basil, regular basil and a touch of reduced strawberry-balsamic vinegar. Tomatoes that tastes like tomatoes. If only that weren't so rare.

I finally unearthed my carrot pots from beneath the sage bushes which are threatening to take over the rose garden. Under the canopy of sage, I also found basil (one large potted plant), a gardening glove, two rosemary bushes (planted earlier this year), a garden hose adapter, and three pink rose bushes in full bloom.

Speaking of the garden -- last year, we spent hours taking this...

... and doing this

-- but this year, the cherry tree has remained barren. What have we done wrong?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Go-to pasta sauce

There are days when all you want is comfort food -- something homey, hot, full of flavour and requiring only one utensil (preferably a spoon) to eat. Veggie lasagna. Richard's homemade mac 'n cheese. Fish pie. (Oh, fish pie.) Beef barley soup. Kedgeree. My mom's oxtail soup. Fried rice. Hearty pasta sauce.

None of these are great summer dishes. None of them jive with our 38 degree, 95% humidity weather. But the need for comfort food doesn't follow the seasons. And so, tonight, our go-to pasta sauce it is. With a big red wine, it should conquer the thundershowers which have finally -- after a week of threatening -- arrived with a bang.

Ingredients (3-4 servings):
  • a slosh of olive oil
  • 1-2 onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • large tomatoes (6-8)
  • 1-2 bell peppers (any colour) and/or sweet paprikas
  • other vegetables, as available (courgettes are my current favorite)
  • ~1/2 cup orange juice and/or red wine and/or elderflower cordial
  • sausages (optional)
  • pasta
  • Chop all veggies into good size chunks and mince the garlic. 
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sweat the onions and garlic until fragrant. 
  • Add all the chopped vegetables and the liquid. Let simmer vigorously for at least 20 minutes and as long as one hour.
  • Meanwhile, cook the sausages (if you are using them) and cut them into bite sized pieces. Stir them into the sauce. If the bottom of your sausage pan has burned bits, pour a little liquid into the pan and scrape the bits off -- then add to the sauce.

  • Cook pasta al dente and serve with heaping scoops of sauce.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer days

I love summer days like this: days when the laundry dries in just a few hours despite thundershower warnings. Days when the fridge is full of leftover barbeque chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. Days when five minutes of clipping in the garden yields two dozen roses for the dining room table. Days which are perfect for wearing the skirt you just -- just! -- finished. A twirly, flowery skirt, simple to make and great fun to wear. (It's Simplicity pattern 4236/C).

(Even I was impressed my my sandal tan.)

Days with a reason to share a glass of good Hungarian chardonnay at lunch. Days when you can quietly think about the most recent quilt you are giving away. I can't keep them long in the house after finishing, or else I would never pry them off my walls and/or bed and into the hands they were made for. This one will be auctioned in the autumn to raise money for CMSF, the organization which opened so many doors for me while putting me through my undergraduate studies. Tomorrow, it will travel to England (well, Heathrow) and on to Dallas. Sometime next week, it will enter its fourth country -- Canada -- and, hopefully, be oohed and aahed over at the CMSF offices.

Here it is carefully draped over the Very Prickly Bush Near the Laundry Line. The same Very Prickly Bush that Richard rolled a bocce ball into the other night -- instigating a painful retrieval process which nearly drove us to try playing on the lower sloped portion of the lawn. The lower, sloped, boggy, mosquito-infested portion of the lawn. Perhaps next time. 

Food? Regular programming will resume shortly. Currently, however, I'm off to twirl my skirt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fruit salad

This is what we are eating, all day, every day: melon, raspberries, peaches, blackberries, bananas and more, with a touch of orange juice and/or elderflower cordial. Summer in a bowl.

You learn to appreciate produce in-season in Budapest: our strawberry season is precisely 2.5 weeks. Ditto melons and peaches. Raspberries last for 10 days, and blackberries even fewer. There are no imported berries at Christmas, no global selection of fruits and vegetables all year round, no hints of summer in the winter-time markets.

(What do we get in the winter? Potatoes. Onions. Kohlrabi. Squash. Parsnips. Celeriac. More onions. Etcetera. It's a 5-month root vegetable fiesta. After two winters here, I am an expert on the use of celeriac. And I love it.)

Must go: I have a fruit salad waiting. It won't last long.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chocolate framboise torte

There is a small bakery in Kingston -- Pan Chancho -- which makes the best breads and pastries in the county. It's the sister of the long-standing Chez Piggy restaurant, begun by the late Zal Yanovsky (also formerly of the Lovin' Spoonful) and Rose Richardson. Their repertoire ranges from oversize lemon currant rolls dripping with sinfully sweet icing to olive-rosemary sourdough puckered with crisp pockets to creamy pumpkin pie with tiny marzipan pumpkins. And it includes the most divine -- rich -- decadent -- delicious chocolate framboise torte. I never thought of it as something which could come out of a home kitchen, but last week we tried the recipe from the Chez Piggy cookbook. It was perfect. Rich and chocolatey, and sweet with raspberry purée. It's fit for a king and surprisingly easy to make.

Oh, and it takes 12 eggs. Incredible.

Chocolate framboise torte with fresh raspberry purée (mildly adapted from The Chez Piggy Cookbook, page 223)

  • 2 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau, Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
  • 1 cup strong hot coffee
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 eggs plus 6 egg yolks (at room temperature)
  • Preheat the oven to 325 F and fully line an 8 inch springform with parchment paper.
  • Melt all the chocolate in a double boiler. Remove from heat.
  • In a large, heavy pot (I used my Le Creuset), melt the butter with the sugar. Remove from heat, and add the liqueur, coffee, melted chocolate, and half of the raspberries. Stir until mixture is smooth.
  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the egg yolks until frothy. Whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture until it thickens. 
  • Pour batter into pan, and place the pan on a cookie sheet to catch leaks. Bake for one hour. After removing it from the oven, let cool for 20-30 minutes before taking it out of the pan in order to let the torte set in the center. Refrigerate until completely cool.

  • Purée the remainder of the raspberries and spread over the torte. Be sure to keep in the fridge and serve small slices -- chocolate overload is entirely possible.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Between our recent trips to Paris and Provence, we tried our hand -- for the first time -- at making tuiles. Unfortunately, we did so on a whim, beginning after sunset -- and so the photos are quite awful. But, by the third batch, the cookies were a great success. The learning curve for tuiles is steep: it's a two-person job, with critical set-up required, and needs both deft and patience. The result? A beautifully curved cookie, paper thin, crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, infused with the taste of almonds.

  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 2 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • heaping 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • scant 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • Preheat oven to 350 F, cover several cookie sheets with parchment paper, and position some rolling pins and/or wine bottles such that they won't roll (see second photo below). I wedged mine between bags of flour, my empty butter dish, and a box of Carr's cheese crackers.
  • Melt the butter slowly over low heat (do not let boil).
  • Whisk the egg whites, salt, sugar and vanilla until very frothy. Gradually whisk in the flour, followed by the melted butter, until the dough is smooth.
  • Drop scant tablespoonfuls of batter onto cookie sheets, spacing them well apart. Spread each with an icing spatula until 3-4 inches in diameter. They will be very thin -- you will be able to see the parchment paper through the batter! Sprinkle with slivered almonds and bake 6-10 minutes, until the cookies are rimmed with golden brown.

  • Immediately, lift the cookies off the sheet with a very thin, sharp spatula or blade. Curve them gently over the rolling pins/bottles. They made need some encouragement; be gentle but quick. If the cookies cool too much, pop them back in the oven for a moment. Remove to a rack once firm.

These keep well for over a week in an airtight container. But beware: the finished tuiles are delicate!

Grilled corn salad

Inspired by Katie's Roasted Corn Salad, this recipe is summer in a bowl: grilled sweet corn, bell peppers, red onion, summer squash, and tomatoes, tossed in an olive oil-balsamic-basil dressing.

Ingredients (4 servings):
  • 2-3 ears of sweet corn, husks removed
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 large summer squash
  • a handful of tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • Grill all vegetables until done but not overly soft (the corn and red onion will need the longest; the tomatoes only need a few moments).
  • Scrape the corn kernels off the cobs with the edge of a sharp knife, and chop all other vegetables.
  • Mix dressing, and serve at once. On its own, or with homemade tortillas.
It's best finished the same day.

And then spend the rest of the day making chicken stock. I am completely prepared for winter (and it's only July!): the freezer has three types of stock (chicken, game and fish) and 20 lbs. strawberries.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

She Eats Bears

Well, I haven't. At least not yet. I do eat deer and wild boar, etc. And I love the She Eats Bears blog (it's bilingual! I haven't read the back of a Canadian cereal box in two years!). It's chock full of fresh ideas, and everything I've tried from it works like a charm.

This is her chicken burger, with some alterations. (Banana peppers? Oh, how I wish I could get banana peppers here!) The chicken is marinaded all day in maple syrup, good mustard and hot pepper (i.e., a fresh eros paprika, or chili pepper, chopped up). It is then grilled, along with the red onion, red pepper and kaiser rolls, on the barbie. Finish with thick slices of tomato and some lettuce -- no sauce is needed, since the chicken is so juicy and flavorful. These are wonderfully tasty and wonderfully messy.

And this gooey mess of melted butter and strawberries is her upside down cake, pre-baking. Yes, I put the fruit in the wrong way up. This is exactly why I don't drive. Everything looks dandy, and then you've turned into the wrong lane. Or carefully placed every berry upside down. Same thing. Luckily berry directionality doesn't affect taste -- and this cake is scrumptious. One warning: it doesn't keep well. Eat within two days of making -- not hard to do!

The last, lonely piece, about to be put out of its misery...


A few weeks ago, we had a long weekend in Paris -- and over our 6th wedding anniversary, to boot. I had been invited to give a talk at ENS Cachan, and we were given a terrific hotel right next to the Jardin du Luxembourg. And we ate. We ate very well, from charcuteries to croissants and from veal cheek to oysters.

Oysters at the Galleries LaFayette...

...and at dinner on our anniversary

Spices and rubs...

...and salt from all corners of the world

Treats at Foucher...

...and at La Cure Gourmande

We hadn't been to Paris for nearly five years -- we were last there on leave from Yaounde, passing back from Tunis -- but my impression was much the same: rain; busy, smelly streets; decrepit public transit; a lack of time. But the food! Oh, the food is excellent.