Father’s Day: Food Quirk Edition

Dad's Virtual Dessert

Today is Father’s Day, and my dad will probably be chillin’ and watching the U.S. Open (unless my mother preempts that event for the Phillies game). As I can’t be with him today, I decided to post about him, like I did for my mother on Mother’s Day. (And you have to be careful never to play favorites with your parents!)

The Mother’s Day post was about my mom influences on my sweet tooth and I wanted to write about dad-influenced food thing. Well, there were many food memories, but I’m not sure how influential they were. Things like, how you’d be eating a lunch at the kitchen table and this giant hand would suddenly appear over your right shoulder to snatch a few potato chips off your plate. He’d do this to everyone at the table. Read more

Mariscos en Escabeche for VNA Event!

Pickles and fish, you say? Wipe that look off your face – pickled fish is wonderful anytime, but especially in the summertime because you can make it ahead and let it meld. The Italians do a version of this, but I like the spicy Mexican version offered here. You can use fish or shellfish, but you must fry the fish – or, at least, grill it. This is not ceviche, where citrus juice is used to “cook” the fish.

We like to take this to events – we’re doing it for the Natick Visiting Nurses Association annual Fresh Taste event tonight –  because it’s a great make-ahead dish and people like to try new fish preparation. And next time you’re invited to a barbecue, bring this along. Read more

I Baked a Cake for Mom

My Mother's Day Gift

While visiting my mother a couple of year’s ago, I noticed a cute, funky little chest in her foyer – it looked like an antique telephone cabinet. I opened the doors to peek inside – and it was filled with candy! Boxes of candy bars, bags of kisses and caramels, tins of yummy, nutty things. Stacked and organized, it looked like Willie Wonka’s warehouse, circa October 30. “Oh,” she said casually in response to my gasps, “that’s my just my schleck cabinet.” (Schleck is the PA Dutch word for junk food.) No mere drawer or tiny decorative bowl of sticky Werther’s for my mother – a cabinet. Read more

Our Famous Grain and Nut Salad

Quinoa is the current darling of the grain world. It’s the only grain that’s also a complete protein so vegetarians like it (although it is not protein-dense, making it a healthy grain option but not a protein substitute) . Gluten-free eaters love it, too. We’ve been using it for years and really love it in this salad of ours which is rich in all kinds of good things. We’ve been toting this mixture to events forever; it’s a good introduction to quinoa and people always love it. (Except for one person who I saw discreetly dispose of it and then swigging a can of Coke. Oh, well.) Of course, if you put fresh blueberries in anything, people tend to go nuts. Read more

Egg Sandwich Sermonette

The title of this blog is Cacklefruit – which is diner-speak for eggs, a subject I’m passionate about. (It was almost named Deadeye, which is a poached egg, but I didn’t want to limit myself). And on that note, today’s homily concerns the egg sandwich.

Many moons ago, I came across a little self-published cookbook on the joys of midnight snacking. A great subject but the author blandly stated that the egg sandwich was not an appropriate midnight snack. Blasphemy! As a kid, I can remember waking in the middle of the night, certain that I was dreaming of eggs frying in butter, the smell was so immediate. But a light from the kitchen downstairs revealed the reality: my mother in her fleece bathrobe, frying up an egg sandwich in her little cast-iron skillet. The type of bread escapes me – white toast? – but the beverage of choice (chocolate milk) and the plate she served it on (a folded paper towel) were always part of the ritual. It seemed to be the perfect thing to eat in the middle of the night.

McDonald’s brought the egg sandwich to the world with their Egg McMuffin. I still love them and bet DaVinci would have, too: the Vitruvian Egg, perfectly inscribed in both the square of semi-melted processed cheese food and the round pink meat disc. And nestled between two flabby semi-toasted English muffin halves, all for 99 cents (probably about 20 florins for ol’ Leonardo). The McMuffin is usually hot enough to burn the hell out your mouth, too.

If Micky-D’s is too plebeian for you, there are versions like the one I had the other day at a little vegetarian coffee shop on Salt Spring Island: a folded omelet, local goat cheese, and roasted peppers on an incredible slice of artisan foccacia, all schmooshed together in a panini press. Described on the menu as handcrafted, which is the sort of inane restaurant speak that makes me grind my teeth but is sure to please egg sandwich snobs like you.

I seldom find egg sandwiches that are awful; there are so many good ones out there and it’s hard to pick a favorite but my mom’s Three-Decker Club is a winner. It’s composed of omelet, deli ham, American cheese, bacon, iceberg lettuce, and sliced tomato, on toasted white with mayo. It’s a stack of heaven that erases the line between madness and genius.

The egg-cholesterol thing was something I ignored for years, thanks to my mother. (And my cholesterol level is fine, thanks for asking.) Now eggs are back in vogue and appearing everywhere. Egg sandwiches! I love ’em hot, cold, plain, and fancy. They’re appearing on hamburgers and on veal schnitzel, in burrito wrappers, with or without cheese, fried or scrambled. You can even hard-cook them and make a sliced egg sandwich, although egg salad itself doesn’t truly classify as an egg sandwich, midnight-version. Oh, and egg-whites? Well, no, but if that’s your thing…

Recently, the fried egg sandwich became my go-to meal of choice when working late. It’s fast, cheap, proteiny, and easy to do. Mine consists of an over-easy egg, lotsa pepper, two slices bacon (optional), a slice of Hoffmans’s Sharp cheddar (non-negotiable), a schmear of Hellman’s Light, and three dashes of Choula’s Hot Sauce – all on a bulkie. Once assembled, the bulkie is flattened as much as possible with the flat of the hand (handcrafted, no?). The bulkie is critical; where I’m from, it’s called a Kaiser roll and forget the whole wheat version – that’s too sweet for this kind of sandwich. (Kaiser rolls are also essential for a Philly surf ‘n turf – a hot dog and deep-fried crab cake together on a roll. Are you drooling? Or reaching for the Pepto?).

So, I say unto you, yea verily, eat more eggs. Eat them often, nay, daily, in the form of an egg sandwich (if it’s after 9:00 PM wherever you are). Eat them in all their infinite varieties and cease to worry about nutrition – the Devil can quote cholesterol ratios for his purpose! Go forth and indulge yourself in some eggy goodness – Mom and Leonardo would be proud.

Quick Sweet Pickles

People love the idea of canning but the reality means standing over a boiling kettle – usually when the temperature is in the triple digits. But there are alternatives, modern cooks!

Quick pickles are a snap, especially if you have a microwave handy (and you can make them on the stovetop if you don’t). Cucumbers are classic, but we like thinly-sliced zucchini and summer squash with a few slices of red pepper for color. And daikon-carrot is a big favorite. You can also use caulk-florets, green and wax bean pieces, wedges of cabbage, corn – almost any end-of-summer veggie you have lying around.

These must be refrigerated; if you want to can them, you can do so, but they must be done in a sterilized jars (and lilds) in a water-bath for 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes after the water’s come to a full boil – usually when your spectacles start steaming up. The point at which you’re wondering why? Why are you doing this? Try the quick pickles – they’re cool in more ways than one.

Quick Pickles
(1 pint)

1 Cup apple-cider vinegar
1/2 Cup of white sugar
2 teaspoons mixed pickling spices
2 teaspooons kosher salt
2 Cups thinly-sliced cucumber (or other thinly sliced or julienned veggies)
1 thinly-sliced onion (a small one)

Combine the vinegar, sugar, spices, and salt in a 1-quart microwaveable bowl. Cook on HIGH for 1 minute; stir to dissolve sugar.

Add the veggies and onion and stir everything together well. Microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes; stir well, then cook on HIGH again for 3-4 minutes. Stir and let stand 15 minutes.

Cover and chill until ready to serve. They’re even better the next day!

Ugly But Good

Every cuisine has colorful and descriptive names for food, but the Italians have elevated it to poetry. A fine example is their meringue-and-nut drop cookie called brutti ma buoni – “ugly but good”. Yes, and yes! These cookies are lumpy, brown, and nondescript on the plate, but pop one in your mouth and you immediately close your eyes and sigh. Sensuality distilled into three little words that capture the experience so succinctly.

Okay, that introduction was to prepare you for the following recipe, spuma di tonno, or tuna mousse. Spuma is the Italian word for foam, which sounds a lot more poetic than mousse. But “tuna foam” doesn’t really roll off the tongue in a good way, does it? However, this spread is almost as light as foam and it’s very delicious. There are those who don’t like tuna or believe that white albacore tuna packed in spring water is good. It is not. Italian tuna packed in olive oil is the real thing and it’s worth seeking out a good brand, paying a little more for it, and keeping it on the pantry shelf for making this quick appetizer. Since there are always crackers in the cupboard or baguettes in the freezer, this is one of those last-minute appetizers we always have on hand.
Of course, the spuma looks truly brutti. The capers on top don’t help much in the looks department. But one bite and you’ll discover how rich and bold and lemony it is, and you’ll wonder what you thought you were eating when you were eating all that dried-out albacore.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with the poem Italian Food by the late Shel Silverstein from his collection, Everthing On It:

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Crostini di Spuma di Tonno (Tuna Mousse)
(4-6 servings)

7-ounce can Italian tuna in oil, drained
1 Tablespoon softened butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted baguette slices or crackers
Drained capers, for a garnish

In bowl of food processor, pulse all the ingredients until smooth. Taste it carefully: could it use a little more lemon juice? Salt is probably not necessary.
Spread thinly sliced, toasted bread with pate; sprinkle tops with a few capers.  Serve immediately.

Diabetic Support Group Recipes

On Wednesday, Lori gave a standing-room-only talk with benefits (samples of healthy dishes) for the Diabetic Support Group at Marlborough Hospital. She talked about adapting old recipes in healthy ways; new ingredients like quinoa and edamame; and old favorites that have always been healthy.

Here are a couple of recipes from that talk; culinary Underground students may recognize them:

Culinary Underground’s Grain & Nut Salad
(4-6 servings)

2 Cups cooked quinoa
2 Cups cooked millet
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1/4 Cup chopped fresh mint
Salt and pepper
1 Cup fresh blueberries
1 Cup chopped cashews

Cook the grains separately; spread cooked grains on a baking sheets immediately and cool for 10 minutes. Whisk together dressing ingredients; toss grain with dressing while still warm. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add berries and nuts. Chill.

  • Try other grains like barley, farro, or brown rice.
  • Substitute dried cranberries, fresh pineapples, raisins, peanuts, etc., or any combination of fruit and nuts that you like.

Peanut Butter “Truffles”
(36 treats

2 Cups natural unsweetened peanut butter
1/3 Cup wheat germ
1/2 Cup dried skim milk
1/3 Cup honey
1/4 Cup currants
¼ Cup sunflower seeds
¾ Cups unsweetened coconut or sesame seeds

Mix wheat germ, milk, sugar, currants, sunflower seeds, and salt. Add enough peanut butter to make the mix firm but not crumbly. Roll into balls, then roll in coconut or sesame seeds.  Will keep for several weeks stored airtight and refrigerated.

Brooklyn Vanilla (also known as Bronx Vanilla)

We think Date Nights here at Culinary Underground are the best. Everyone is relaxed and out for a good time. Canoodling over the cooking pots adds a different flavor to the menu.
So we’re always looking for good date night ideas. Lori came up with the improbable name, Brooklyn Vanilla. “What’s that?” everyone asked. “Some new kind of dessert?” Cause who doesn’t love vanilla?
Turns out that Brooklyn Vanilla is diner slang for garlic. (Actually, it’s Bronx Vanilla, but Lori likes to do things a bit differently.) And who doesn’t love garlic?
We made Fried Calamari with Skordalia, which is the Greek garlic sauce served with fried foods; smoked garlic and goat cheese soufflés (we smoked the garlic on the stove top – isn’t that cool?); celery root salad with Korean pickled garlic vinaigrette (never let it be said that we don’t travel in our kitchen!); and Gilroy Garlic Bread. As one student said, “I’m famous for my garlic bread. Why have I never thought of using mayonnaise?”
Here’s the recipe:
Gilroy Garlic Bread
 (6 servings)
1/2 loaf French bread
3-4 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste with a little salt
1/4 Cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh parsley, chopped
Mix together mayo and garlic; add pepper to taste. Let stand 15 minutes. Trim ends of bread; slice in half lengthwise; toast lightly. Spread cut halves of bread with mayo-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.  Place on cookie sheet and top-brown until the broiler until lightly brown and bubbly, and cheese is melted.  Cool slightly and cut into small pieces to serve.
We’ll leave you with a Brooklyn/Bronx style joke:
“Three nickels will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”