Whew! What a week! I have been at the stove a lot this week, which is a good thing if you’ve come here in search of new recipes. Below, I offer a few. But you know how I am – I like to take these opportunities to regale you with my unsolicited opinion on all sorts of things. If you just want the recipes, you know what to do – scroll away!
Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast
I had three cooking events at the store this week, with three completely different menus. Tuesday, we did a little Mexi-Cali Winter Feast, which featured a hearty, low-fat Winter Icebox Salad for a first course. Yesterday, I took some inspiration from Spain and France to create a menu I called “The New South,” using common Southern ingredients in some new and interesting ways. Finally, last night we served as the first stop of a Progressive Dinner hosted by Liz Biro, who is a freelance writer, tour guide, and all around woman-to-know on the culinary scene here in Wilmington. If you visit Wilmington, check out her Culinary Adventures and grab a tour – it’s a great way to get familiar with the who’s who of the food world in the Port City while eating (and drinking) your way around town.
So while I was doing all of this cooking, I was thinking about the merits of cooking on a gas stove. I am often asked about the performance of the two cooktops in our store – one gas, one magnetic induction – and how they compare with electric, which is what seems to be in most of the homes in Wilmington, especially the newer ones. Those of you who are suffering through cooking with an electric stove know that there is really no comparison – it’s like apples and oranges. I can say this only because I, too, suffered with an electric cooktop for most of my adult life. Once you know your stove’s response time, you can cook anything you want on an electric stove, but it ain’t always easy. The responsiveness of a gas stove is what most cooks with an electric stove long for the most. You turn down the flame, and the heat diminishes pretty quickly. You turn it up, it gets hot quickly. With an electric stove, there is time to take a potty break while you await the temperature changes. Preheating the pan for your morning eggs takes 5 minutes. “I’m sorry I’m late, Boss; I was waiting on my stove.” Really, who has that kind of time?
My crappy little tree house apartment has a gas stove. It is half the size of the electric stove in my beloved and much-missed home that I sold last year, but it performs twice as well. Aside from the abundance of windows, it may be the best feature of this dump. The windows, as it turns out, are as much curse as they are blessing. It is light, bright, and just a bit too airy in here. Airy, as in breezy, as in much like not having windows at all. I have had to shrink wrap my windows to keep the wind from blowing through, which reduced my electric bill from $129 to $29 per month (no kidding). I wish I could say that this was the price you pay for living in a charming historic home like my friend Roberta’s house, but I cannot. This place is a little rickety building behind another house; there is nothing charming or historic about it. The lack of landscaping combined with a canopy of trees means that not much is growing around here but weeds; this means that the building (I can’t bring myself to call it a house) is sitting on the equivalent of a sand dune that is eroding like crazy. I am certain that there are termites hard at work eating the guts of this place and fear that any day it may fall down; I am hoping that Buddy and I are not home when it happens. Every time I step into the much-too-heavy-for-this-house-of-cards claw foot tub to take a shower, I hear the floor creak and wonder if I will land, naked, in the middle of my downstairs neighbor’s kitchen. If the fall didn’t kill me, the embarrassment would. The good news is that it’s just him and I back here, so no one else would hear us screaming – me from humiliation, him from sheer horror at the sight of me. I could probably wrap myself in the shower curtain before anyone else showed up. But I digress.
So we can all agree that gas is preferred over electric as a cooking medium. But have you tried magnetic induction? It has been popular in Europe for quite some time, or so I am told by the appliance gurus at Atlantic Appliance. It has only become all the rage in my corner of the universe in the last few years. I really like cooking on induction. If it is possible for you to imagine, I find it even more responsive than gas to temperature changes. It also does everything faster, rather like convection ovens do when baking. The concept is that the magnets react to the pan that is placed on the “burner” and, through some sort of technology that is beyond my understanding, heats only the pan where it is in contact with the reactive surface of the cooktop. This means that aluminum does not work on this cooktop, though cast iron, stainless steel, copper, and any other cookware that attracts magnets works just fine. My experience has been that pans that have reactive metal layers all the way up the sides of the pan work best; those with magnetically reactive disc bottoms and aluminum sides just don’t perform as well on this cooktop; the heat doesn’t transfer up the sides of the pan. Copper, or pans with a copper layer in them, really do the best job on induction. I don’t understand the science of it all, but that’s what I have seen through my own cooking experience. You can’t flambé on induction without the aid of a match, but otherwise it is a highly functional and responsive cooking medium. So as long as you have access to matches when making Cherries Jubilee, I think induction is a really great choice. If you don’t have natural gas where you live, it is a lot more economical to put an induction stove in your kitchen then to install a propane tank for a gas stove. There are more attributes of cooking with gas and induction that I could discuss here, but I’ve had enough, haven’t you? Anymore of it would be white noise. Stop in for a demo and I’ll chat you up about it then.
Back to the food. Among the other dishes I made this week, there seemed to be a fruit tart theme going on. I made two different fruit tarts: a rustic tart with fresh pineapple and mangoes, and another using a tart pan and jarred peaches and pears. In both cases, I glazed the tarts with apricot preserves. Almost every recipe I have found for this sort of tart calls for apricot preserves as a glaze. Why apricot, I wonder? I have some peach preserves in the store – I’m sure that would be equally good. I understand why you would maybe not want to use blackberry preserves on a pineapple-mango tart, but it would be great with any kind of berry tart. The preserves serve as a simple glaze to keep the tart moist and to aid in browning to a golden color. Armed with that knowledge, use any preserves you would like to glaze your tart.
I think I’ve said all I have to say at the moment. It’s my day off and I am going to spend it being a slug, watching a week’s worth of shows from my DVR. Right now, “Must Love Dogs” is on…almost makes me want to sign onto one of those dating websites and roll the dice. Or maybe not.
Until next time, try out these recipes. The icebox salad will hold up for a week in the fridge, making it a great salad to tote along to work for lunches along with a bowl of the White Bean & Ham Stew. You might want to chop the cabbage a little finer than I did so you don’t need a knife to eat it. I’m just sayin’.
I am glad to be back at the stoves cookin’ with gas…it’s been a while!
Crunchy Winter Icebox Salad
3 cups fat-free Plain Greek Yogurt
½ cup Skim Milk
1 small clove Garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
½ cup Chives, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon Mint, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh Lime Juice
1 tablespoon Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Hass avocado, thinly sliced
8 cups Green Cabbage, finely shredded (about a two-pound head)
8 Radishes, halved then thinly sliced
2 cups peeled Jicama, julienned
3 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup Celery, thinly sliced
4 ounces Cotija Cheese, crumbled
¼ cup Pepitas (pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted)
13” x 9” Glass or Ceramic Baking Dish
In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, milk, garlic, cayenne pepper, chives, cilantro, mint, and 3 tablespoons of lime juice. Add the salt and pepper; set aside.
In a small bowl or dish, toss the avocado with the lime juice
In the baking dish, spread the cabbage in an even layer. Top with layers of radishes, jicama, scallions, celery, and avocado, then sprinkle with the cheese. Spread the dressing over the top evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, sprinkle with pepitas, if desired.
White Bean & Ham Stew
This gorgeous winter stew, called “Garbure” in southwestern France, is inspired by a recipe from the French master Chef Jacques Pépin, who says that it is traditional to add some red wine to the last few spoonfuls of broth and sip it right from the bowl.
4 meaty Ham Hocks, about 3.5 lbs
½ lb dried Cannellini Beans, picked over and rinsed
3 quarts Water
2 medium Red Skinned Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large Leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large Celery Rib, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 large Parsnip, cut into ½ inch pieces
½ pound Savoy Cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Eight ¼ inch thick slices of Peasant Bread, lightly toasted
2 cups shredded Gruyere or Comte Cheese
In a large pot, combine the ham hocks, cannellini beans, and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Add the potatoes, leek, celery, parsnip, cabbage, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover the stew and simmer over low heat for 1 hour more, stirring occasionally.
Transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Simmer the stew uncovered over moderate heat until thickened and the beasn and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the ham hocks and discard them. Chop the meat into bite-size pieces and add to the stew. Season the stew with pepper.
Preheat the broiler. Ladle the stew into oven-proof crocks or ramekins and place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Top each ramekin with the bread and spread the cheese on top. Broil on the top rack, 4 inches from the heat, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Serve right away.
Note: If, like Chef Jacques, you would like to enjoy the last of the broth in your bowl with some red wine, try a few tablespoons of Beaujolais or pinot noir.
Easy Peachy Pear Tart
This is the perfect dessert for the winter – made from luscious jarred fruit, you can toss it together in 30 minutes whenever company calls.
1 sheet of Prepared Pie Dough
½ quart Pear Halves, sliced
½ quart Peach Halves, sliced
¼ cup Apricot Preserves, heated in the microwave, for brushing the tart
For the Streusel Topping:
½ cup Brown Sugar, packed, plus 2 tablespoons
½ cup salted Pecans or Walnuts, chopped
4 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted
Arrange the prepared pie dough in a tart pan or spring form pan with a removable bottom. “Dock” or pierce the dough all over with the tines of a fork. If desired, weight the pie crust down with pie weights or dried beans to prevent bubbles. Place in preheated 400oF oven and bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, drain and slice the fruit about ¼” thick. Toss the streusel ingredients together in a bowl until well combined; set aside.
Arrange the sliced fruit decoratively in a single layer, overlapping, in the baked tart shell. Brush the fruit and exposed crust with the apricot preserve. Top with streusel topping and return to oven to bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
Remove from oven, cool, and unmold from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.