Sunday, February 21, 2010

Let the good times roll

If you observe lent, you might be missing your favorite vice right now. I know people who have given up fast food, chocolate, or beer. And those who have added things - like regular exercise or more vegetables. One year, I gave up the snooze button for lent. Leading up to lent is the celebration of Mardi Gras. Lent is about self control and Mardi Gras is about indulgence. I love Mardi Gras. Twice I have visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Both years I thought I would get sick with all the fatty food and sweets, the consistent cocktails and lack of sleep. But I didn't. My body embraced the spirit and let me go without any healthy eating for an entire week.

A favorite NOLA treat is the muffuletta sandwich. We got a huge tray of these at a deli and snacked on them for days during Mardi Gras week. This sandwich is a meal. A soft Italian roll encases layered meats and cheeses, including salami and provolone. The key ingredient is the olive salad, spread onto the bread. Mixed chopped olives are marinated with celery, carrots, and cauliflower. I like to make a chopped muffuletta spread to eat with baguette.

Another Mardi Gras favorite is King Cake. King Cake is a ring of bread dough, similar to brioche, topped with icing and colored sugar - usually green, gold, and purple. Sometimes there is a filling, like sweetened cream cheese or pecan praline. Typically there is a hidden figurine, bean, or nut inside the cake. The person who gets the figurine is the host of the next Mardi Gras party.

I streamlined the muffuletta spread by using an olive tapenade. I also minimized the other ingredients by using only salami, celery, provolone and mozzarella. Some shredded carrot would fit in nicely. And if you have leftovers, mix with some cooked pasta for a unique pasta salad. As far as king cake goes, the flavor of Emeril Lagasse's recipe is nice. I omitted the citron. And I would also recommend that you closely watch the baking time. I baked it nearly 20 minutes, rather than the listed 30. At 20, it was slightly overdone. Do enjoy yourself, whether you indulge now or wait until next Mardi Gras!

Muffuletta Spread

1 10 oz. jar olive tapenade
1/2 cup chopped provolone
1/2 cup chopped mozzarella
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped salami
~ 2 tbs. olive oil to bind

Mix and serve with baguette or seeded Italian bread.

King Cake recipe:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

new to me

I haven't been cooking much lately. And when I do, it's been pretty quick and run-of-the-mill stuff. This doesn't mean I've been going without. I've had some amazing meals the last month or so - cooked by other people.

My friend Kristina (from the Portland Poncho blog) cooked up some of her family recipes for our book club. Her menu featured a variety of mushrooms, some of which were new to me. Kristina told me that China is the biggest fungi producer and consumption market. After our meal, I realized I had been missing out. Enoki mushrooms. Delicious.

Kristina made Bell Peppers, stuffed with a seasoned fish and shrimp paste; the light and subtle Tofu and Mushrooms, with both enoki and king mushrooms and egg tofu; Snow Peapods and Black Fungi; and Almond Jello for dessert.

After the dinner, Kristina gave me her recipes. And I made a shopping list. And then I became intimidated. I want to put them to use... but I also don't want to ruin the image of this meal in my mind. So I will have to schedule a time when she can hold my hand through the delicate Tofu and Mushrooms. And in the meantime, I made raviolis, some with mushrooms.

Using square won ton wraps, I made two kinds of ravioli. One filled with a mashed pea/parmesan/garlic mix and the other filled with crimini mushroom/ground hazelnut/ricotta/garlic mix. I drizzled olive oil with basil over the pea ravioli and brown butter with grated parmesan over the mushroom ravioli. Easy and satisfying.