Category Archives: cooking

Peppered Corn Meal

Preparing the perfect polenta sounds easy enough, but around my kitchen, it takes added patience to work with the grainy flour ground from white or yellow corn.

When simmering the flour in water to transform the fine grain into the consistency of porridge, I’ve stirred up thin batches and a few lumpy variations. Lately, a pre-cooked version makes a convenient heat-and-eat substitute. The packaged polenta is firm and ready to slice, as if a pan of my wishfully smooth porridge had cooled and set.

Adding fresh ingredients to the packaged product diminishes a bit of the guilt of not preparing the basic polenta from scratch. For this stovetop take on skillet polenta, shishito peppers make up for any shortfall with the grainy foundation. They boost the flavor and complement the dense cornmeal texture. Any mild peppers will do, but if you see these beauties at the farmers’ market, scoop up a few dozen. (I purchased mine from a farmer lady who guaranteed their great taste.)Minimized peppered polenta

A 24-ounce tube of the starchy ground corn costs little (under $3 at some local markets) and can be sliced, grilled, baked, fried or crumbled and mixed into a skillet. This easy working starch offers a change from the trite potatoes-rice-pasta routine. Polenta lovers in Italy have known for generations that the finely ground corn serves as a hearty filler, eaten alone as a creamy dish or enhanced with everything from tomatoes to cheese.

Minimized blistered shishito peppersShishito peppers blistered on high heat add a taste of sweet char without overpowering the cornmeal base. A cousin to Spanish Padrón peppers, Japanese shishitos taste sweet with a mild heat unit on the pepper measurement scale, nowhere near the fire of peppers like the habanero or serrano. Resisting the temptation to devour the slender green shishito pods may pose the primary challenge in reserving the blistered peppers for the medley. Combine sundried tomatoes or fresh mushrooms with shishitos and polenta to further satiate hungry dining partners. If eggs agree with you and your guests, make room for their protein-rich addition. Once ingredients warm through, crack eggs into the skillet and let them cook for a few minutes. Our family prefers cooking the egg to a soft-boiled consistency. With eggs, peppers and mushrooms mixed in, the polenta almost carries enough weight to stand alone as the meal. Finish the dish with a layer of grated Parmesan or your favorite cheese. To get the most from these grains, eat peppered polenta while it’s still hot.

Peppered Polenta

12 shishito peppers

1 small shallot, diced

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

extra virgin olive oil

24 ounces pre-cooked polenta, crumbled

5 eggs

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

sea salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. In dry cast-iron skillet, cook peppers over high heat until skins blister and brown. Drizzle with olive oil and season with course salt. Remove from pan. Cool and cut into small pieces. Set aside.
  2. Add shallots and mushrooms to pan and sauté in olive oil. Mix in crumbled polenta and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook 10 minutes on high heat, stirring. Mix in peppers. Lower heat and make 5 wells in the polenta mixture. Crack eggs into wells. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Check eggs for doneness.
  3. Finish with shredded or grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Pepper Note: For a mild peppery snack platter aside from the polenta, prepare shishito peppers following the blistering directions but leave peppers whole with stems intact. Pass the platter and hope that it comes back with a taste for the host.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

Advertisements

Pisco and pastries south of the world

Some people naturally throw parties where the food, company and spirits are all good.

Over the last two years during a stay in the Hudson Valley, friends from Chile repeatedly shared their party flair.

It started at Andrea and Rodrigo’s baby shower, where guests sampled a beverage featuring pisco, colorless brandy with an alcohol content that can range above 40 percent. The hosts served piscola, a chilled blend of cola and pisco (primarily produced in regions of Chile and Peru), as the shower’s signature cocktail. One tall slender piscola tasted just right (had I not been driving home later, two may have tasted better).

When Andrea and Rodrigo marked their son’s first birthday, we toasted again with pisco. Inspired to mix South American drinks, my husband and I asked Rodrigo where he purchased pisco (Payless Wine & Liquor in Newburgh) and we started experimenting to perfect pisco sours, a full-bodied Chilean cocktail.Minimized juicing the lemons

Pisco—a luxury spirit made from several varieties of grapes and distilled to proof—anchors the pisco sour, but freshly squeezed citrus juice turns the beverage into a lemony libation.

Last month, before the couple returned to Chile with their young son and another baby on the way, Rodrigo made the splashy cocktail while Andrea taught a group of friends how to create traditional empanadas.

“In Chile,” she said, “you always can find empanadas. It’s very typical and we eat a lot of them, out for lunch, at the beach, at home. I’m no excellent cook but I do know a good empanada.”

Her variation, which she credits to her mother Maria, stands up boldly to the savory sort sold at Rincon Argentino in Cold Spring and the flavorful Mexi-Cali-inspired empanadas stuffed with everything from chipotle chicken to kale and sweet potato at Beacon’s Tito Santana Taqueria.

For an empanada like her mother’s, Andrea cooks a spicy filling of beef, onion, garlic and cumin, prepared a day ahead to let the mixture rest.

“This part, the filling, is the most important part of the empanada,” Andrea insisted. “You don’t want too much onion or we say ‘this is no good.’ You taste and taste and taste the filling as you’re cooking and stirring, adding the cumin and some salt, until you find a good flavor and that’s it.”

These empanadas, empanadas de pino, include spicy beef filling as well as raisins, black olives and hard-boiled egg. The fillers are wrapped with dough made from scratch or purchased in prepared form. For the group assembly, Andrea provided ready-made “discos” packaged by Goya.Minimized filling the empanadas

To change up your party repertoire, prep empanada ingredients and invite all to join in the pastry assembly while sampling pisco sours. Icy-cold lemon drinks without pisco can be something special even for those who prefer booze-free beverages, so you can never have too many lemons on hand. The beauty of this south-of-the-world tasting brings guests together all in good spirits.

Pisco Sours

Yield: 1 serving

3 measures pisco

1 measure freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 measure simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar. In small saucepan, bring to boil. Stir, dissolve sugar, simmer and remove from heat. Cool.)

1 egg white

bitters

ice

Shake pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into glass and add a swirl of bitters on top of the foam. Serve immediately.

Empanadas

Yield: 1 dozen

Dough

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter

1 egg yolk

8 tablespoons cold water or milk

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in mixing bowl. Cut in the butter, mixing evenly. Mix in egg yolk. Gradually add liquid. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Separate dough into 12 balls. Roll into 5-inch circles.

Filling

2 tablespoons canola oil

½ yellow onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound ground or finely chopped beef

½ cup white wine

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Stuffing

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into 6 lengths

1 cup raisins

2 dozen black olives

1 egg, whisked (set aside)

  1. Over medium heat, cook onion, garlic and cumin in oil until softened. Add meat and wine. Cook until browned, seasoning with cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Place dough rounds on floured surface. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to center. Top with egg slices, raisins and olives. Moisten dough perimeter with water. Fold pastry in half and crimp edges. Turn ends into middle.
  3. Brush sealed empanadas with egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until golden.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

 

 

 

Day-old bread panzanella

With your best extra virgin olive oil and a loaf of day-old crusty bread, add a few juicy tomatoes and toss up panzanella. Try this amazing and simple take on the Tuscan salad in my Cook On food column. Minimized panzanella

Korean hot pepper paste kicks up sauce

Street food in South Korea gives the study of culture through cuisine an intense reception. A deep red hot pepper paste, gochujang, serves as the fiery base of Korean specialties and the essential ingredient stocked throughout Korean kitchens may surprise the most daring global diners with a lesson in heat.

Gochujang hot pepper pasteGochujang adds sweet and spicy flavor to traditional Korean recipes and as Cold Spring’s Clayton Smith explores the land and language, he’s acquiring street food vocabulary and a love for fermented hot sauce.

Clayton is finishing up his junior year at SUNY Geneseo. He’s immersed not only in academics on a study abroad semester, but sampling Korean staples as any student might—from a stream of food trucks and snack carts along bustling South Korean streets.

While receiving exchange credit for coursework at Sogang University, the communication-digital media/journalism major enjoys studying Seoul’s urban food scene.

“Korean cuisine is definitely a perk of being here,” Clayton says. “ There are a lot of great options to choose from, and I find myself eating out a lot because often times the food is quite cheap.”

Korean barbecue, where dining patrons cook meat servings on table-top grills, remains a favorite. Clayton has sampled pork barbecue and he’s experienced Korea’s culture in bulgogi, thinly sliced tender beef marinated in a sweet soy sauce. Classic foods of the country along with global street fare like Turkish kebabs keep up nourishment, but he often orders tteokbokki or ddukboki [dock-bo-kee].

Clayton describes tteokbokki as stir-fried rice cakes prepared in spicy sauce.

“It’s definitely the most popular street food here, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve heard it described as the ‘the Korean mac and cheese,’ which might be a way to describe the popularity of the dish, but it is hardly comparable. The rice cakes are in the form of thick noodles, making for a really chewy, unusual texture.”

Hearing Clayton’s description of the spicy tteokbokki, I set out to make it. I asked my friend Sung, who puts a gourmet spin on Korean home cooking, to recommend a Korean food market. She sent me to wander among aisles of fine products at Woo-Ri Mart in Northvale, N.J. Not only did I come away with suggestions from supermarket employees on preparing tteokbokki, I even picked up a prepared serving of Clayton’s #1 street food served up at Woo-Ri Mart’s food court. The portion was so generous that I split it with my husband who loves Korean cooking (he lived in Korea before we were married). With every bite, I could appreciate the heat that Clayton savors in ultra spicy meals.

“From what I’ve seen, there is not a choice of sauces. There is one sauce that the dish is cooked in and most would agree that it is very hot,” Clayton said, “although I personally enjoy it.”

I requested help in replicating the sauce from the encouraging merchants at Woo-Ri Mart who directed me to a supply of gochujang. Knowing that the customary 3 kilos would be more than enough to spice up my sauce, I settled for 1 pound of the hot pepper paste packaged in bright red tubs. As I searched for the cylindrical rice cakes, a staffer also directed me to a selection of fish cakes used in tteokbokki, and suggested dried anchovies to flavor the cooking broth for the rice cakes. I opted out of the super-sized box of tiny briny fish and substituted an anchovy-based sauce.Minimized Korean tteokbokki copy

Photo by Clayton Smith

The fishy addition helped cut the peppery pasty sauce and I served the tteokbokki with quail eggs, following Clayton’s recommendation. A cool egg calms a kick while spicy soaked rice cakes make tteokbokki a novel reprieve from typical American food snacks.

Clayton likes the hot flavor and chewy texture of the rice noodles because they’re so different from anything he’s ever eaten. Before returning to the Hudson Valley in July, he’ll take his curiosity and appetite to Thailand and Myanmar, but in the weeks ahead, he’ll practice his vocabulary ordering Korea’s best street food.

 

Tteokbokki

Serves 4

3 cups Korean rice cake sticks

3 cups water

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/3 cup gochujang Korean hot pepper paste

½ teaspoon spicy hot pepper flakes

2 tablespoons sugar

1 pound fish cake strips

6 scallions, sliced

4 fresh quail eggs, hard-boiled

  1. In a shallow pan, heat half of the water and add rice cakes. Soak and simmer over low heat 10 minutes.
  2. In a small skillet, make a quick stock of remaining water and fish sauce. Boil and reduce to low heat. Add gochujang, hot pepper flakes and sugar. Mix well, bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat. Add drained rice cakes and fish cakes to sauce. Cook over low heat 5 minutes.
  3. Spoon mixture onto serving plate, top with scallions and serve with egg.

By Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

 

Share Some Luck with Spinach Pie

By Mary Ann Ebner

There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.

The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.

Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.

As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.

The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.

Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.

Potluck Spinach Pie

16 servings

3 eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
sea salt
black pepper

Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.

Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.

After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.

First published at The Highlands Current

Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm, text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

World Culture Across the Table

Leonora Burton of The Country Goose in Cold Spring brought her own tastes from Wales to New York’s Hudson Valley, but she caters to a wide range of food preferences. Find your world market and explore culture through cooking.Minimized world of tastes copy

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner