Sunday, January 3, 2016

The best black eyed peas

Didn't take photos of the dish but I have some cute toddler pics. 

Jotting down a recipe so I can make this delicious dish again!

Cook 1/2 pound bacon, crumble, set aside
Sauté 1 onion and 3-4 garlic cloves, diced, in 1tbsp bacon fat
Deglaze with apple cider vinegar
Add 10 oz of fresh black eyed peas and some water. 
I added some herbes de Provence (adapted recipe called for thyme)
1 tbsp sugar in there too
Cook the water off, add the bacon, crumbled. 
Salt to taste. The salt is essential. 
And throw in some diced lil smokies if you want even more meaty flavor.

This stuff is irresistible. And I didn't even think I liked black eyed peas. 

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Black eyed peas and rice "hoppin' john"

I've been in Texas most of my life, which means (among many other, awesome things) that every Jan 1 I choke down a spoonful of black eyed peas for good luck in the upcoming year. It's working, for sure, as the past 39 years have been chock full of the best luck. This year, though, I made a discovery that made me actually crave black eyed peas - I just bought a bag of frozen peas at the store and made this recipe for the second time, on Jan 25, without any promise of luck, fortune, or blessings, just unctuous deliciousness.

It's not much to look at, but this BEP hoppin' john variation is easy to prepare and full of flavor. The peas aren't mushy but rather retain their texture and are just a little bit sweet. The rice is toasted first to bring a wonderful element to the mix. I used a recipe from the Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern cookbook. They use English peas, which I'm sure would be delightful, but not particularly lucky. 

This is lighter than a traditional hoppin' john, which is generally prepared with bacon or ham, chopped onion, and lots of fat in addition to rice and peas. 

Toasted rice and black eyed peas "Hoppin' John"

10oz package frozen black eyed peas
1 Tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
1 cup basmati rice (do not rinse)
1/2 tsp crushed dried red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, preferably a fancy finishing one
1/2 tsp flaky finishing salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 

Remove the peas from the freezer.

Set a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the bacon fat or olive oil and heat it for 1 minute. Add the rice, stirring it with a wooden spoon until the grains are all coated and shiny. Toast the rice, stirring it only occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.

Add 2 cups water and stir to evenly distribute the rice in the water. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan with the lid slightly ajar for steam to escape. Simmer the rice for exactly 10 minutes. 

Remove the pan from the heat and add the frozen peas and red pepper flakes, stirring to incorporate and breaking up any large clumps of peas. Cover the pan tightly, and allow it to sit for a full 5 minutes, off the heat, without peeking. 

Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stir once or twice to partially incorporate. Serve immediately. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

White gazpacho

This lovely light soup, white gazpacho or ajo blanco, highlighted in the July/August issue of Cooks Illustrated, caught my eye. Since we had all the ingredients on hand, I was able to prepare it this week and enjoy it for dinner the next night (slightly obvious warning: as gazpacho is served cold, it will need at least 3 hours to chill!).

I stayed pretty true to the recipe as printed (which I think is the best course with Cooks Illustrated recipes) but ran out of good olive oil and had to supplement with some generic grocery-store brand. I didn't drizzle with extra olive oil at the end - a nice fruity olive oil drizzle would have been lovely. Oh, and I didn't have sherry vinegar so I subbed some white wine vinegar. I'm sure my 'don't-want-to-drive-to-the-store' modifications did not improve the recipe but it was still delicious as it was. Surprisingly creamy. Mr Leaven insisted there was cheese in the soup somewhere, and I get it - the almond milk extracted from the ground almonds plus the olive oil really give it a cheesy, unctuous texture. I like the technique for adding just a drop or 2 of almond extract. I love almond extract, but even a hint too much and the soup would taste like almond extract soup.

It's quite filling. The 2 of us had very large portions, probably ~12 ounces each, as our main course, and neither of us came close to finishing our soup.

White Gazpacho
from Cooks Illustrated, July-August 2014
Serves 6 to 8 (6 ounces per serving)

6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup sliced blanched almonds
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vegetable oil
6 oz seedless green grapes, sliced thin (1 cup)

Combine bread and water in a bowl and let soak for 5 minutes. Process 2 1/2 cups almonds in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of food processor as needed.

Using your hands, remove bread from water, squeeze it lightly, and transfer to blender with almonds. Measure 3 cups soaking water and set aside; transfer remaining soaking water to food processor.

Add garlic, vinegar, 1 1/4 tsp salt, and cayenne to food processor and process until mixture has consistency of cake batter, 30 to 45 seconds. With blender running, add olive oil in thin, steady stream, about 30 seconds. Add reserved soaking water and process for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl, pressing on solids to extract liquid. Discard solids.

Measure 1 Tbsp of soup into second bowl and stir in almond extract. Return 1 tsp of extract mixture to soup; discard remainder. Chill for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Heat vegetable oil in 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until oil begins to shimmer. Add remaining 1/3 cup almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer to bowl and stir in 1/4 tsp salt.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls. Mound an equal amount of grapes in center of each bowl. Sprinkle cooled almonds over soup and drizzle with extra olive oil. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Grilled corn ice cream

Fifteen years ago I spent a week in Shenyang, China, and lots of cool stuff happened but one of the things I recall most clearly was a corn ice cream Popsicle I picked up at a convenience store down the corner from our dorm. Actually, it's funny, some of my best memories from the trip (a medical mission trip) were some fantastic local foods - sweet potatoes covered in syrupy sugar that pulled off in long strands as you take each piece, incredible Peking duck prepared in front of us (and about $6 a person for a feast), this unforgettable tomato seafood soup at a restaurant run by Korean missionaries. But I digress - the corn Popsicle. I went back two or three times for repeat Popsicles. And when I vacationed with my family in Beijing 10 years ago I searched futilely for more corn ice cream. Our tour guide had never heard of them, and I finally found something similar but it did not live up to my memory.

I've searched in Asian markets in Houston and LA to no avail. 

Yes, I am serious about corn ice cream. Google search turned up a couple of ideas, but for some reason I never quite got around to attempting it. Until this weekend.

We grilled 6 ears of corn and cut off the kernels for street corn (oh so so delicious, by the way). I took the ears and steeped them in hot milk/cream, then added some sugar, made a custard with egg yolks, added a pinch of salt, and chilled then made ice cream. 

And it was good. No idea how it compares to that glorious 15-year-old corn Popsicle but compared to every corn ice cream I've eaten in the past 10 years it was amazing. So corny (hee hee) and the pinch of salt made it taste like hot buttered corn. Ice cream. 

Grilled corn ice cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4-6 corn cobs
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
3 egg yolks

Heat milk/cream in medium pot. Add corn cobs to warmed milk and transfer to bowl or freezer bag, then chill 4 hours or more (overnight is cool). Put 3 egg yolks in a small bowl. Reheat corn-milk mixture with 1/2 cup sugar and pinch of salt till dissolved. While warming, transfer the cobs to a fine mesh strainer over a bowl in an ice bath. Squeeze from the cobs as much of the milk as possible. Remove cobs. When milk is warm, ladle small amount of milk into egg yolk bowl and whisk (temper the eggs). Continue to add ~1/2 cup milk. Add the egg mixture to the milk and stir continuously with a heat-proof spatula until mixture thickens. Pour custard through strainer. Stir over ice bath till cooled. 

Prepare in an ice cream machine per machine instructions. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cauliflower frittata

Another winner from Ottolenghi's Plenty.

We used our lovely cauliflower and chives fresh from the CSA, eggs from our nanny's sister's farm, and cheese from our Yankee Hollow Cheese of the Month box in a delicious frittata.

You parboil the cauliflower, then caramelize it for a few minutes before adding the custard, cooking stovetop a few more minutes and then finish it in the oven. I like this method. The caramelized cauliflower mingles with the browning custard and forms a lovely crust.

I only had half a cauliflower head so I added a carrot (a ginormous CSA carrot). It was good but not very pretty.

The recipe calls for smoked scamorza (apparently in the mozzarella family) which I did not have. I used some baby Swiss and a wonderful coffee-rubbed cheddar (?) which definitely contributed smokiness to the dish.

Cauliflower frittata
adapted from Ottolenghi's Plenty

1 small cauliflower, cut into medium florets (or 1/2 a large cauliflower and a huge carrot cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
6 eggs
4 Tbsp nonfat Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
3 Tbsp finely chopped chives
5 oz smoked scamorza (or coffee-rubbed maybe cheddar), grated
2 oz mature Cheddar (or baby Swiss), grated
salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

Simmer the cauliflower in a large pot of boiling salted water for only 4-5 minutes, or until semi-cooked. Drain and dry.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Break the eggs into a large bowl, Add the yogurt, mustard and paprika and whisk well, making sure the eggs and yogurt are thoroughly blended. Stir in the chives and 3/4 of the cheeses, and season well with salt and pepper.

Heat up the olive oil in a 12" cast iron skillet. Fry the cauliflower for about 5 minutes or until golden brown on one side. Pour over the egg mixture and use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Scatter the remaining cheeses on top, then carefully transfer the pan to the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the frittata is set.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 2-3 minutes before cutting into wedges. Eat immediately.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tabbouleh-ish with roasted vegetables

We got to try for cheap this week. It's a service where you choose a menu and they mail to you all the ingredients so you can assemble the meal yourself. They sent 4 meals for $20 - usually it's around $50 for 4 meals. 

The first meal we tried was pretty blah. Poached haddock with vermicelli stir fry. 

Tonight's meal was a winner, though. And it was the one Mr Leaven was prepared to hate, as he disclosed (after cleaning his plate) that he hates tabbouleh. Well, this was a very Americanized tabbouleh, basically just quinoa with cucumber, parsley, tomato, and lemon juice, and it was excellent. The roasted vegetable accompaniment was also delicious. We will make this again - though next time I'll just pick up the veggies at the grocery store all by myself. 

Quinoa tabbouleh with spring vegetables
Adapted from

Serves 2

1/2 bunch scallions, trimmed and  cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 pint cremini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1/4 bunch parsley, leaves roughly chopped
1 lemon
2/3 cup quinoa
1 Tbsp tahini paste
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Toss the scallions, asparagus, mushrooms, and 1/2 the tomatoes with 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast for 12 minutes. 

Combine quinoa, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt in a medium pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat to a simmer for 10 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Remove from heat. 

In a small bowl whisk together tahini, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and 2 Tbsp warm water. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

In a large bowl combine quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, and parsley. Squeeze over juice of 1 lemon and add 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Divide the tabbouleh onto 2 plates. Top with roasted vegetables and drizzle tahini over both. 

Brown butter sage cream sauce

Every time I go to the local grocery store I glance at the Bertolli ravioli section to see if maybe they've added a butternut squash ravioli to the lineup. Lo and behold, last month it happened! Tonight I finally got around to preparing them and I was pleased.

My go-to sauce for butternut squash ravioli is brown butter sage with a little sun-dried tomato tossed on top and sometimes a sprinkle of Parmesan. Tonight I thought I'd experiment with cream and Mr Leaven enjoyed it so much he asked that I write down the recipe - so here I am, writing it down! But really, how can you go wrong adding cream to brown butter? This was a freebie. Honestly, the sauce was flavorful enough that it almost overpowered the butternut squash so it might be good just over farfalle or capellini. It's just good.  

I threw in some caramelized onions Mr Leaven had just prepared and they really added a nice sweetness but they aren't essential. 

Brown butter sage sauce

1/2 stick butter (I used salted because I knew I would be adding a lot of salt anyway)
10 sage leaves, coarsest chopped
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (didn't have any packed in oil so I used Bella Sun Luci Zesty Pepper sun-dried tomatoes)
Splash of white wine (I used cava)
2/3 c heavy cream
1/4 c caramelized onions

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add sage leaves and sun-dried tomatoes and cook till butter is brown. Turn up the heat, add wine and cook off for a minute or two. Turn heat to low and add cream and onions. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until cream is reduced to a thick sauce. Add salt to taste. Great over butternut squash ravioli or any other pasta.