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Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Friday, December 31, 2010

Truffled, Slow-Scrambled Eggs

My cousin, Catherine, stopped by for a visit recently and made us something absolutely sinful: as her brother calls them, "frenchified eggs."  The thing about Catherine, other than that she never learned to draw inside the lines, is that she lives out loud.  If she had a leopard-print scarf and big sunglasses, she'd get a Cary Grant boyfriend with a convertible just so she could drive around a la Audrey Hepburn.

(Wait a minute...she does have the outfit.  Wonder why she's driving a Toyota Rav 4 with Somers?)

Anyhoo, part of living out loud for the cousin is an absolute intolerance for low-fat cooking.  Let's just say her eggs were tasty.

I, on the other hand, have a doctor- and spousal-mandated LOVE for low-fat cooking.  So, when we found ourselves wandering through our crack dealer, and noticed they had fresh truffles on sale, we immediately bought some and went about trying to decide how we should cook them.  After a few quasi-failed attempts (I curdled a truffle and clam cream sauce), I settled on stealing my cousin's eggs...with some modification.

Truffled, Slow-Scrambled Eggs

What You Need

1-2 eggs per person, scrambled
Fresh black truffle (about 1/8 ounce per person), shaved and sliced
1/8 cup finely-chopped Italian parsley
A pinch of sea salt
1 tsp. fat free half & half
1 tsp. butter
Toasted ciabatta slices

What To Do With It

Melt the butter in a pan over LOW heat.  If you're using a gas stove, use the smallest burner possible.  Add the half & half and salt to the eggs and mix. 

Now get ready for your morning calisthenics:  pour the eggs in the skillet and start stirring.  Just keep stirring. For about 20-30 minutes.

Your eggs will slowly begin to curdle, but it will take a while.  Be patient.  You'll know they're ready when you stir them and rather than just moving eggs around in a swirl, you actually almost fold them.  Cook for one minute more, then remove and keep stirring for another minute.

Spoon on top of your toasted bread, sprinkle the truffles and parsley on top and enjoy!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Baked Apples and Steel Cut Oatmeal

Over Christmas, I got a great present: we went to Colorado and it was actually COLD, with (some) SNOW, no less! (To make you jealous, here's a photo of the tree, set up outside on the deck under a full moon.)  

The great thing about crisp, Colorado mornings (as opposed to the bone-chilling, albeit technically warmer ones we have in Dallas), is that they invite you to get up and enjoy the morning at a leisurely pace. 

We were reminded by my father (too late, I might add) that there are, in fact, stores in Colorado. Accordingly, we found ourselves with far too much fruit.  So I decided to take advantage of our leisurely morning and, after about four cups of coffee, cook up some steel-cut oatmeal (that's NOT anywhere close to the Quaker Instant stuff, thank-you-very-much) and bake some apples to go with it.

Baked Apples and Steel Cut Oatmeal

What You Need

1 small apple per person
1 tsp brown sugar per apple
Ground cinnamon
Orange juice
Steel-cut oatmeal (I use McCann's)
1/8 cup buttermilk per person

What To Do With It

You're going to start the apples first, as they take about 30 minutes (the oatmeal takes only about 20 minutes).

Core your apples. Cut off about 1/4"-1/2" from the top and make the bottoms flat (cut off about 1/8"). Place them on a baking sheet lightly coated with butter. Pour just enough orange juice to lightly cover the bottom of the sheet.

Put 1 tsp brown sugar in each apple, and sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or so (cooking times at 9000 feet are always different from anywhere else).

When the apples are done, place one in a bowl, surround with oatmeal, and pour the buttermilk (TRUST ME!) in the center.  There will be some juice in your pan: spoon some of that up, and ladle it around the outside of your apple, directly on the oatmeal.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Killer Apps--Bruschetta, Stuffed Portabella, Ceviche Tostada

In the world of computers, a killer app is something "of such great value or popularity that it assures the success of the technology with which it is associated."

In the world of dinner, a killer app sets the tone for the meal to come, and assures the success of the dinner with which it is associated.  Start off your meal with bagel bites, and I don't care how well-prepared or tasty  the rest of your meal is, it will fall flat.

We recently had a few friends (and by "few" I mean "18") to dinner.  Seeing as our kitchen is in a state of disrepair (but the cabinets are finally in place), we had to use my folks' kitchen.  Cooking in someone else's kitchen is never easy, so we went for the simplest killer appetizers we could think of: bruschetta and ceviche tostada.  We also served stuffed portabellas that night (along with stilton-stuffed pork chops), but as an entree.  While I appreciate the need for some people to eschew meat, I just don't get it.  So I'm posting the mushroom recipe here.

Killer Appetizers
(Bruschetta, Ceviche Tostada, Stuffed Portabellas)

What You Need


1 baguette
1 cup eggplant (peeled)
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1 tbsp  finely-chopped oregano
1/2 cup red onion or shallot (depending on your onion taste level)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, chopped & deseeded
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp parmesean cheese (shredded)
1-2 tsp salt

(Ceviche Tostada)

3 filets tilapia, sliced thin and cut into 1/4" pieces
1 sweet potato, cut into french-fry sized strips
14 corn tortillas
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
Juice of 8-10 limes (enough to cover your fish)
Hot oil
Hot sauce (such as Cholula)

(Stuffed Portabellas)

6 portabella mushrooms (or alternatively, you could use about 18-20 of the "baby portabellas" aka crimini mushrooms

1/3 lb roquefort
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I made my own, but you can use store-bought if you have enough on your plate already)
1/4 cup minced shallots

What To Do With It


Slice your baguette into 1/4-1/2 inch wide slices. Using a pastry brush, brush each side with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 5-8 minutes per side.  You can add a little parmesean after you flip them, if you want.

Add the olives, cheese, 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, eggplant and onions together.  Stick in a food processor and blend.  Nuke this (or heat over medium-low heat) until it's heated throughout.  Now you have an olive tapanade.

Put your tomatoes, oregano, salt and about 1/4 cup olive oil in a bowl, mix and let sit for an hour.

(Ceviche Tostada)

Place the onions in salt water and set aside for about 3 hours.

Cover the tilapia with lime juice in a bowl. Stir occasionally (this will take about 3 hours to cook).

Using a cookie cutter, cut your tortillas into 1-1/2" to 2" rounds.  Drop these in hot oil until brown. Remove and drain.

Drop your sweet potato fries in the oil for about 3 minutes--you're just blanching them, not frying.  For both, you'll have to do multiple batches.

Place a slice of potato on a tortilla round, cover with about 1 tbsp of fish, put an onion slice on top (alternatively, mince your onions, and sprinkle minced onion on top), and add a little hot sauce on top.

(Stuffed Mushrooms)
Wash, then dry your mushrooms. Lightly brush the outsides with olive oil. Cut out the stems.

Mix together the roquefort and walnuts.  Place that mixture in the center of your mushroom, leaving about 1/2 inch rim (if using crimini, go ahead a
nd fill). Sprinkle a little salt around the edges, spinkle some shallots (enough to lightly cover your cheese) and cover the whole mushroom with bread crumbs.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Smoked Sea Salt

So, I've officially met middle age.  I am now no longer allowed to have unlimited double cheeseburgers. 

Now I have to cut down on my fat intake.

Hand me a gun.  I just want to get it over with.

Well, they say that necessity is the mother of invention. And I necessarily need something smoky in a lot of my food.  Bacon, apparently, is right out.  That means smoky goodness is right out.  Unless you want to have chipotles or smoked salt.

Chipotles are good (mine are awesome), but don't always go with what you're making.  Smoked salt runs about $30+/pound, which I am just too cheap to buy.

But what if you could buy your salt at about $9.00 a pound...or less?

I made a trip to World Market, bought some grey sea salt for about $8, and after my annual chipotle smoke, had almost a pound of smoked salt.

Smoked Sea Salt

What You Need:

Salt (coarse grind)
Smoke (about 30 hours worth)
Aluminum trays with small holes in the bottom

What To Do With It:

I did this while smoking jalapenos. For fun, I added (i) a sliced jalapeno to one pan, (ii) a whole jalapeno to a second and (iii) a sprig of fresh rosemary to a third. 

First, poke small holes in the bottoms of your pans. If you've got coarse salt, you shouldn't have any (or much) falling through. 

Next, add whatever herbs/spices you think might taste good.  I found that I could taste just a bit of extra heat from the sliced jalapeno tray.  The rosemary added just a hint of the spice when ground with the salt.

Place your trays according to the heat you're using: 150 degrees and less, place on the top rack.  More, place on the bottom rack. You don't want too much heat, as the resin will cook away. After my initial heating, I dropped my temp to about 125, and moved the trays up to the top rack, by the chimney (away from the fire box).

Don't do this if you're smoking ribs, for instance, as your salt will pick up the flavors of whatever moisture is floating around.  Jalapenos add a small amount of flavor, and so are great for this.

Smoke your salt, uncovered, for about 24-36 hours, stirring about every 4 hours. Put it in a grinder and use in place of bacon for flavoring (such as in potato-leek soup).

Couscous al Barco

I like couscous. I particularlly like the little, traditional-style, Moroccan couscous.

I don't know why, but some (most) of my friends find my liking of couscous a source of amusement--I now own a shirt that says "One Flew Over the Couscous Nest."  When I wear that to Central Market, I get mad props.  Everyone else just looks at me as if I've lost my mind.

Nobody would find it amusing if I ate spaghetti, or macaroni salad, or baked ziti...but mention couscous, and the laughing starts.

If you plan ahead and make too much couscous for dinner, the next day you can have it in a salad.  We did that recently when we chartered a boat down in the BVI. We were going from Cooper Island over to the Baths on Virgin Gorda for the day.  It was blowing somewhere between 17 and 22 knots (that's fairly strong and choppy), so we really didn't want to have anything overly-involved for lunch.

Hence, the salad.

Couscous al Barco

What You Need:

2 cups cooked moroccan couscous
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 mango, chopped
1/2 tsp ginger, minced
Salt to taste

What To Do With It:

Mix all ingredients, mix, and let stand for 3 hours for best results. Salt to taste and serve with a nice caribbean lager such as Red Stripe or Caribe.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gently Smoked Tilapia

For reasons I won't go into (because I'm not old enough to bitch about my health problems, yet), I have recently gone on an ultra low-fat, low fiber diet.  So, I get 3 tsp. (o.O) of oil and 6 ounces of lean meat a day. Other than that, it's all about carbo loading.

The unfortunate thing is that a typical serving of pasta has 210 calories.  Considering that I need about 2000 calories per day, and that I typically eat a double serving of pasta, that's 5 large bowlfuls of pasta per day.

That's boring.

And just what the creative juices needed to get boiling again.

So, I was smoking jalapenos this weekend for chipotles, and just about the time they were ready to come off the smoker, it was getting to be dinner time. We had a bit of tilapia in the freezer, and I had just made some tomatillo salsa the day before.

A little broccoli, some tomatoes, and a cup of rice later, and we had a good meal.

Gently Smoked Tilapia

What You Need

2 tilapia filets, room temperature
1 tbsp grapeseed oil (because of its high smoke point)
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 broccoli head
1 tbsp cilantro
1 lime
1/2 cup tomatillo salsa (room temperature)
1 tomato

What to do with it.

Place oil on and heat a cast-iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet) over medium-high heat until the oil pools in the center. Place your filets on the skillet and immediately remove from heat. Cover each filet with 1/4 cup salsa, then transfer to a smoker at about 150-175 degrees (I placed my skillet right where the firebox joins the smoker to maximize the heat).  Start your rice, squirt about half a lime on your broccoli and add the cilantro to it. Cook this about 5 minutes prior to your rice being done.

After about 20 minutes, pull up your rice, add the other 1/2 lime juice to that & fluff. Remove the tilapia from the grill, plate it all with 2-3 slices of tomato.

We served this with Liberty School chardonnay.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Scallop Mango Salad

I've been in a bit of a slump, I must confess.  Not that I haven't been cooking, mind you: I just haven't been cooking exciting stuff.

I blame my wife, of course.

Her schedule has been a bit crazy as of late, which means getting home around 9:00.  Couple that with getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work out, and we're a little pressed for time. So it's all been about variations on a theme (or repeats).  And spaghetti. Lots of spaghetti.

Now, slowly, her schedule is evening out, and I'm getting back into the swing of things. Still couldn't shake the noodle thing, though...

Scallop Mango Salad

What You Need

1 lb. scallops (about 1/2 dollar-sized), room temperature
1 tsp. butter
1 tsp. minced ginger
3/4 cups shitake mushrooms, quartered
3 campari tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado, diced
1 mango, chopped
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 shallot, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups chenin blanc
2 tsp. green curry powder.
2 tbsp. plain yogurt
1 tsp. milk
Rice noodles
Salt to taste

What To Do With It

Prep everything ahead of time; this goes quickly once you get started.

Start boiling your water for the rice noodles.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and gently sautee to awaken the ginger (about 5 minutes).  Then, add the mushrooms and sautee until they begin to soften. Remove and set aside.

While you're sauteeing the mushrooms, begin prepping your dressing by mixing together the yogurt, milk and curry powder, along with a pinch of salt.

About the time the mushrooms come up, your water should be boiling, so add the noodles. At the same time, pour the wine into the same pan you used for the ginger & mushrooms, and turn the heat to high. Once the wine is boiling, drop in the scallops and poach for 1 minute per side. DON'T OVER-COOK.

Remove the scallops and reduce the remaining broth to about 1/3. Rinse your rice noodles under cold water for about 30 seconds.

Once the broth is reduced, add 1-2 tsp of it to the yogurt. Combine everything except the noodles in a bowl and toss.

Put some noodles on a plate, then top with the salad and add a pinch of kosher salt to each plate.

Serve with a sweetish wine. We used a gewurtz, although a  prosecco would also work.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Halibut "Toscano"--Just for the helluvit


We have a lack of willpower chez nous. Every time we go grocery shopping, we give ourselves a little pep talk about how we're not going to spend a lot of money.

And then we go to our crack dealer, Central Market.

We'd be much better at this game if we only shopped at Fiesta. Nothing wrong with Fiesta, mind you. I'm just sayin'...

But, we went to CM this weekend, and they had halibut on sale. Who can resist? Figuring out how to cook it on short notice presented a bit of a problem. Fortunately, they also had fresh sun-dried tomatoes, and my sister in-law had just bought us some Texas-grown olives. From there, the meal pretty much cooked itself.

Halibut "Toscano"

What you need:

2 tsp olive oil
1 lb. halibut
1 tbsp italian parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp oregeno (minced, if fresh)
1/2 roma tomato, sliced thin
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 cup cannelini beans
1/8 tsp salt

1 cup israeli couscous
1/8 cup calamata olives, minced
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped and with about 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/8 cup fresh basil, chopped (or chiffonade)
salt to taste

What to do with it:

Preheat an oven to 425. Mix together the parsely, salt, garlic and oregano. Add the olive oil to the sun dried tomatoes and let them sit.

Place about 2 cups water, some salt and a dash of olive oil in a pot, and start the water boiling. (Once the water starts boiling, throw in your couscous, but don't wait to start cooking the halibut.)

While waiting for the water for the couscous to boil, put 2 tsp olive oil in a pan and turn the pan up to medium-high.

At the point when the oil begins to recede from the center of the pan (just before it starts smoking), put the halibut in, skin side up for 4 minutes.

Take the halibut up, put it skin side down on some aluminum foil. Cover with the parsley mixture, squeeze half the lemon juice on top. Put the tomatoes on top, and surround with the beans. Squeeze the remainder of the lemon on the beans, the fold up the edges of the foil to create a packet, and place in the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, once the couscous gets to al dente (about 11 minutes after you put it in, drain, place in a bowl, and mix in the sun dried tomatoes, basil and olives. Mix, and salt to taste.

Pull out your halibut, plate with beans and couscous. Enjoy with a chardonnay, or maybe even a chianti!

Oh, and you should check out! Someone other than my mother thinks I've got something interesting to say!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tamales, Vato!

If you're from Texas, you know that tamales are considered one of the important food groups, right behind Bar-B-Que. For those of you that aren't from Texas, tamales are traditional south-american fare, often made with beans or pork. They are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Unlike former President Ford, it is not recommended that you eat the husk.

The holidays, especially, find all the Gringos out searching for their dozen or so Christmas tamales from the most authentic tamaleria (tamale store) they can find. Or if they're lucky, from the person you know that makes them at home. Home-made tamales are made during a tamalada, or tamale-making party.

Although I myself am a Gringo, I also live in Texas, so tamales are muy importante to my diet. This year, I decided to make my own tamales. So far, I've made three batches. I don't see how people can make money selling a dozen tamales for $10, but they are a lot of fun, and you get a certain satisfaction from rolling your own.

What You Need

Something in which to steam the tamales (e.g., something that lets you put water on the bottom and the tamales on some surface above the water). A tamale pot (a tamalera) can hold hundreds of tamales, while a lobster pot can hold about 45 tamales.
Corn husks

4 cups masa harina (it is different from corn meal, so make certain your masa has been treated with lime)
5 cups lukewarm water
1 cup manteca (that's lard)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


Queso Quesedilla
Jalapenos or minced chipotles

Rice (lightly seasoned with sugar and cinnamon)

Chicken (prepared with 2 tsp cumin and a can of Ro-Tel)

What To Do with It

Soak the corn husks in warm water beginning about 1 hour before you're ready to start spreading masa.

Start your fillings. If you're doing the chicken, add a couple of chicken breasts to the Ro-Tel and cumin, add enough water to cover the chicken, boil, then simmer rapidly until about 95% of the liquid has evaporated and the chicken shreds with a fork.

For the rice, make some white rice (about 2 servings). Add a few sprinkles of cinnamon, 1/3 cup of raisins and 2 tsp sugar.

For the pepper/cheese filling, slice the jalapenos into quarter strips and de-seed. Cut the cheese into 1/4" strips, each about as long as your jalapeno slices. Mince some chipotles (about 1/4 cup).
Mix your dry ingredients. Add the water and, using your hands, knead until all the dry ingredients are wet. Separately, whip the lard until fluffy.

Combine the masa and lard, and mix (using a dough hook, if you have it) until slightly spongy.

Start your water on medium-high heat. If you're not using a tamale pot, make certain that your pot has an insert that will allow you to place the tamales above the water.

Take a couple of husks and pull apart until you have several corn threads (about 40 for starters). These should be long and thin to use as ties later.

Get some kitchen shears and cut the other husks to about 7-8" long (cut the pointy ends).

Start spreading masa. Ideally, your husks should be about 4-5" wide, and you should use 2-3 tbsp masa. Feel free to use a knife to trim the husks to the correct width. You want to go from side to side with the masa, and leave about one inch on each end. Place your ingredients toward one edge and roll. Tie the ends with your husk threads.

Once you have about 12 (or double the amount that will fit on one layer) tamales done, place 1/2 in your pot, leaving space between them, and begin steaming. After five minutes, add another layer, let steam 5 minutes, add another layer, etc. Once your final layer has been added, steam for 45 minutes (depending on thickness: my tamales are about as big round as a quarter).

Pull them out, let them rest for 15 minutes to firm up, and serve!

Roasted Cornish Game Hens

Sometimes, we get a wild hare up our you-know-whats and feel a sudden, inexplicable need to cook an involved dinner. This happened to us Friday on the way home from work, so we called some friends and invited them to dinner Saturday.

The thing that was burning a hole in our ovens was a package of cornish game hens we had bought stupid cheap a few weeks earlier. Interesting thing about cornish game hens: they're not game birds, and they're not necessarily hens, either. It's a breed of chicken, developed in Connecticut in the 1950s, that is ready for processing in 2/3 the time of a normal chicken. It is similar to a poussin, except that it must be from a "cornish chicken or the progeny of a cornish chicken," or at least so says the USDA.

So, in chicken terms, it's a teenager from back east. As good a reason as any to kill it and eat it, I suppose.

Before you begin, a couple of safety tips: First, taking the birds out of the freezer and leaving them on the counter for 9 hours may not be sufficient time for them to thaw. If they're not thawed, run warm water over and through them until the meat is room temperature. Secondly, soup is hot, and I do not recommend coating your hand in it.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens

What You Need

2 birds
2 slices of lemon
1/2 cup of Beaujolais (not the nouveau variety)
1/8 tsp minced rosemary
2 cloves minced garlic

What To Do with It

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

Kosher the birds. Well, not a full-on kosher, but rub some kosher salt on the skins and set them aside. This will remove some of the moisture from the skins and help them brown up.

Combine the other ingredients in a roasting pan. You want enough wine to just barely cover the bottom (1/8" or so). Squeeze in the lemon slices. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Wipe off the salt from the birds using first a paper towel, and then your hands. This probably goes without saying, but since the object is to dry out the skins, don't use water in this process. Rub each bird with olive oil (about 2 tsp each).

Truss the birds: tie the legs together in the back, and tie a string around the bodies to keep the wings in tight. Place the birds in your roasting pan. I did mine breast side down because I didn't want to baste them to keep the meat moist. Cooking them breast up will give you crispy skin over the breast, but you'll need to baste the birds about every 15 minutes.

Cook at 475 for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 for about 45 minutes. Cook until they're 180 degrees on the inside. If they don't get quite brown enough, you can bump up your temperature at the end for a couple of minutes, and then pass the hens under a broiler for about 2 minutes.

Remove the hens and let them rest for 10 minutes. Empty the remaining liquid into a flat-bottomed pan and reduce to about 1/3 volume for a sauce. Cut each bird in half (just press down with a chef's knife in the middle of the back), plate and serve.

We drank the wine we cooked with, and served with white asparagus with a beurre blanc sauce, wild rice, and a very thick and hot potato leek soup.