There is much about food and drink to be learned from nursery rhymes. This is a good thing considering that, with the exception of "The First Thanksgiving," stories of eating and drinking do not generally appear in school books. Nursery rhymes furnished some of my earliest lessons in the significance of food beyond its simple utility as nourishment.
Jack Sprat and his fat wife, those exemplars of marital harmony, taught me the value of meals shared with one's spouse. One's food habits can, however, diminish the prospects of romantic bliss. Georgie Porgie's pudding and pie habit was somehow to blame for his failed amorous advances. Perhaps the remains of his latest indulgence still clinging to his lips caused the girls to cry when he kissed them. Little Jack Horner was fortunate enough to find solace in his pastry. Despite being punished for some unknown offense, he became certain that he was a good boy when he withdrew a plum-laden thumb from the pie he had sneaked to the corner.
I learned to pity baking failures from poor Betty Botter and her bitter butter. Bitter butter makes bitter batter, and there is simply no remedy for it. Peter the pumpkin eater (who having failed to keep his wife, stuffed her in a pumpkin shell) stirred in me an early sense of indignation at the use of food for manipulative purposes. The story goes that he kept her very well in that pumpkin shell. I was never so sure.
Personal food tastes vary, and one should never publicly wrinkle one's nose at a dish being enjoyed by someone whose food preferences seem questionable. Peas porridge hot always sounded delicious to me. Peas porridge cold not as much. But some, I learned, liked their peas porridge in the pot nine days old. To each his own gourmandise.
The baker man with his patty cakes marked with a "B" confirmed for me at an early age the joy of anticipating bread hot from a oven. The simplest sorts of food can bring on this joy, or so I gathered from the little piggy with his roast beef. He seemed somehow content, though less prone to bring on wild giggling, than his neighbor piggy who cried "wee! wee! wee!" all the way home.
Not every nursery rhyme ends happily. There was a hard lesson to be learned from poor Miss Muffet, whom a hairy spider forced to abandon her curds and whey. I could picture her there on her tuffet, just about to enjoy what was no doubt her favorite dish. Then I pictured the tuffet, now empty, and by its side an overturned bowl resting in a white pool of ruined curds. It seemed so unfair. Plum pies, peas porridge, and patty cakes were foreign to my childish culinary experience. They sounded like the sorts of things I might like, but I knew the rare and heady treat of curds and whey. I had once or twice eaten warm curds, freshly fished out of what had just before been a pot of goat's milk boiling on the kitchen stovetop.
Paneer, the fresh cheese that is found in several Indian dishes, is nothing more than packed curds, drained of their whey. This is cheese making in its most simple form.
makes enough for the following saag paneer recipe for 4
1. Line a colander with three layers of muslin cloth. Set colander in sink.
2. Bring one gallon of whole milk to a full boil in a large metal pot. Remove from heat. Add 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and one tablespoon of coarse salt. Slowly stir around the edge of the pot with a wooden spoon, allowing curds to form in the center. Let sit for 2 minutes.
3. Pour curds and whey through muslin lined colander. When cool enough, gather up edges of muslin and tie around the faucet of your sink. Let drain for 20 minutes. Then, set paneer-filled muslin underneath a large pot filled with water to force out remaining liquid, about 1 hour.
Easy Saag Paneer
serves 4, based on a recipe from Every Day Food.
Saag Paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes. This may not be an authentic recipe, but it is very quick, relatively healthy, and surprisingly good. Because of the variations in curries, you'll have to do a fair amount of tasting along the way to make sure your flavors are deep enough.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
coarse salt and ground pepper
1-3 tablespoons curry powder or paste, depending on how hot your curry is
1/2 teaspoon ground or fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spniach, cut into chunks (unthawed)
3/4 to 1 cup reduced fat sour cream
paneer, cut into cubes
cooked basmati rice for serving
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, 3 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes. Add curry powder (or paste), ginger, and cumin. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add spinach and 1 1/2 cups water; bring to a boil, breaking up spinach with a spoon. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally until almost all liquid has evaporated, 10-12 minutes.
3. Stir in sour cream and paneer. Cook until just heated through, 3-5 minutes. Don't boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
There is much about food and drink to be learned from nursery rhymes. This is a good thing considering that, with the exception of "The First Thanksgiving," stories of eating and drinking do not generally appear in school books. Nursery rhymes furnished some of my earliest lessons in the significance of food beyond its simple utility as nourishment.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Ever determined to stay on top of things, I've been making an effort to post recipes on these pages as soon after making and tasting them as I feasibly could. The fact that I write here in order to not write my dissertation has made this effort seem like no effort at all. That was until this week. Feeling emboldened by my last baking success, I managed to convince myself that I could tackle any recipe in Ms. Stewart's Baking Handbook. Hmmmmmm. What would my next success be?
I skipped over the recipes for biscuits, scones, cookies, and tarts, thinking them too elementary for my seasoned baking skills. Cheesecake? Please, I've done that. Bagels? I seriously contemplated it, but I didn't have any barley malt syrup (nor did I even know what it was), so I kept thumbing. I wasn't in the mood for a layer cake. Tarte tatin? Nope. Rhubarb cobbler? Maybe another time. Danishes? I like danishes. Patrick loves danishes. I conjured up the look of bliss that would spread across his face as he took a bite of the flaky golden crust and proclaimed my danishes better than any he had sampled from Carrboro's Weaver Street Market to the streets of Rome. Danishes looked appropriately challenging...I knew that they would require some time, but I had a day to spend at home. I chose danishes. In particular, I chose sugar buns.
I chose sugar buns about a week ago. I have just now recovered my strength enough to write about the experience. Aside from an insane truffle making extravaganza last Christmas, this was the only culinary endeavor that required multiple days for full muscle recovery. And then there was just the sheer exhaustion. Read this now: I am not, nor assume I could ever be, a pastry maker. This realization is slightly depressing because I now esteem pastry makers the most talented, hard working, and under-appreciated cooks in the kitchen. None of the many steps in the process was impossibly difficult, but there were just so many! Well, rolling out the dough, which must be done 5 times in all, was almost impossibly difficult the first few times. I would like to think that if I had a proper marble rolling pin and pastry board instead of a splintering wooden rolling pin and cutting board, I could have fared a bit better, but I just can't.
The sugar buns were good. I achieved that buttery, layered texture that builds all good danishes. The pastry cream filling tasted fine, but I wasn't able to put enough of it in each bun because my dough was not thin enough. The same thickness problem led to pastry cream seepage. Patrick gladly ate them, and even moaned a bit over them, but there was no realization that he had been eating sub-par danishes his whole life. I could call these results encouraging and determine to try again, but I won't.
Once I make a full recovery, I may make a humble effort at croissants, but I'll leave to others:
makes enough for two dozen danishes
It really does take an entire day to make this dough because of the time it needs to chill between turns. I wouldn't advise cutting that time short unless you feel prepared to deal with sticky, butter seeping dough.
1 cup warm milk
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 pound four ounces (about 4 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into tablespoons
2 large whole eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and stir until dissolved. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom, and 4 tablespoons butter. Beat on low speed until butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse corn meal, 3-4 minutes. Pour in the yeast-milk mixture; mix until dough just comes together. Add the eggs and yolk. Mix until just combined, about 2 minutes.
2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface, making sure to include any loose bits left at the bottom of the bowl. Gently knead to form a smooth ball, 30 seconds to a minute. Wrap well with plastic, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight (I would recommend more than two hours.)
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to an 18 by 10 inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Try to keep the corners square. This is not easy. With a short side facing you, evenly distribute the remaining butter over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the unbuttered third over as you would a business letter, followed by the remaining third. This seals in the butter. And yes, your eyes are not deceiving you...this is a lot of butter.
4. Roll out dough again to an 18 by 10 inch rectangle. (Again, this is not easy...my butter started coming out at the seams. The dough becomes easier to roll out each time you do it. Don't worry if you can't quite get it to 18 by 10 inches this first time.) Then, fold dough into thirds as described above; refrigerate for 1 hour. This is the first of 3 turns. Repeat rolling and folding two more times, refrigerating for at least 1 hour between turns.
5. Refrigerate dough, tightly wrapped in plastic, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Dough can also be frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to two weeks. Before using, thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight.
This is what all that rolling out and folding gets you. Beautiful layers of dough and butter:
all purpose flour for dusting
1/2 recipe for Danish Dough
1 1/4 cups Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
sugar for coating
1. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 15 by 12 inch rectangle, about 3/8 inch thick. Using a pizza wheel or pastry cutter, cut dough into twenty 3 inch squares.
2. Transfer Pastry Cream to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip. (I don't have a pastry bag, so I used a large zip lock bag with a hole cut in one of the bottom corners.) Pipe one tablespoon into the center of each square. Do not be tempted to pipe more than this...I succumbed to this temptation and was forced to remove some pastry dough from each square. Brush the edges of each square with the beaten egg. Gather the edges around the Pastry Cream, pinching seams together, making sure the bun is completely sealed. Good luck.
3. On a piece of parchment paper, gently roll each bun with floured hands, keeping it seam side down, to form a compact ball. My buns could not sustain rolling, so they ended up flatter and more oval-shaped. Repeat with remaining dough. Place shaped balls, smooth side up, on the prepared sheet, about 3 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Brush gently with beaten egg. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until buns are golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Do not cover the buns until they are completely cool or you will forfeit flakiness.
5. Brush the butter over the top of the buns. Place sugar in a wide bowl; dip buttered sides of buns into sugar to coat. Serve at room temperature. These buns are best eaten the day they are made.
makes about 2 1/2 cups (i.e. more than you'll need for the sugar buns)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean with seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. Continue adding milk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard vanilla bean.
3. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment. Add butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.
4. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Just before using, beat on low speed until smooth (or whisk by hand).
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
My brother, sisters, and I were fortunate enough to grow up eating homeade bread. Once or twice a week, my mom would turn hot, fragrant bread out of the oven, sometimes rolls but most often long loaves with light crusts and chewy insides. Bread baking was never styled a complicated task or a grand achievement. She baked bread so that we would have something to go along with the spaghetti.
I never saw my mom refer to a bread recipe, so a few years ago when I became determined to make a decent loaf myself, I asked how she made hers, tried my best to convert her estimations (a bowl of water, some yeast, enough flour) into precise measurements, and wrote it all down. When my batch was just about inedible, I asked her again, and having received a slightly different set of instructions this time, I tried, tried again. Still no good. So I turned my back on family tradition and started looking for good bread in books.
Some recipes produced better loaves than others, but none were good. Each had an unforgivable flaw: a pasty crust, a lumpy interior, failure to rise, and the ever-discouraging vague off-taste. I managed to make an okay challah, but challah is not the sort of bread you want to serve with spaghetti or dip into bean stew. Thinking that mechanical precision was what I needed, I even requested and received a bread machine as a wedding gift. After two hope-filled tries produced the worst two loaves of bread I have ever eaten, I unloaded the gadget onto another bright-eyed bread baking novice at a yard sale.
Then, with higher expectations than I normally allow myself, I opened up my brand new Martha Stewart baking cookbook and eyed a photo of a majestic looking loaf of bread. Olive Oil Bread. I baked the bread, readers, and it was good: a substantial enough crust, a moist yellow-hued crumb, dense, with the rich and slightly salty flavor of olive oil.
I should say that the baking experience was not without a few glitches. In order to prepare any readers who might like to bake this bread, I give below the recipe as I found it and the recipe as it happened. Follow whichever version suits you.
Olive Oil Bread
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, makes 1 large loaf
2 cups water, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (about 4 1/2 cups) flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 packets of dry yeast, or 1 ounce fresh yeast
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
almost 1 tablespoon salt
cornmeal for dusting
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the water, flour, yeast, and olive oil; stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
2. Attach bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt, and mix to combine at low speed. Raise the speed to medium, and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still sticky, 2-3 minutes.
3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large oiled bowl. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
4. Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and fold in the following fashion: Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down, and the right and left sides over, tapping off any excess flour, and pressing down to seal. Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let rest for about 15 minutes.
There are two versions of steps five and six: Ms. Stewart's version and mine.
First, Ms. Stewart's version:
5. Dust a large wooden peel with cornmeal; set aside. Transfer dough to a clean work surface. If the dough is sticky, lightly flour the surface. To shape dough, cup it between your rounded palms; roll in a circular motion, pulling down on the surface of the dough to form a tight, smooth round. (The bottom of the dough should "catch" or drag a bit on the table as you roll; this will help it take shape.) Transfer the round of dough to the prepared peel, and drape with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest on the peel until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place a baking stone on the floor of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. With a razor blade, make four slashes on the top of the loaf to form a square. Slide the loaf onto the stone, and bake until the crust is dark golden brown, about 35 minutes. Place bread on wire rack to cool before slicing.
Now, my version:
5. Groan that you do not own a wooden peel. Think to yourself, "perhaps this is why I can't make a decent loaf of bread...I just don't have the right stuff." Think of buying one, look around at your miniscule kitchen, and curse it. Begin to resent Ms. Stewart for even implying that you should have a wooden peel, and bitterly picture her smiling as she stands in her gigantic granite and stainless steel kitchen, admiring her artistically displayed collection of antique wooden peels. Sighing, dust a cutting board with cornmeal; set aside.
Transfer dough to a clean work surface; flour it because your dough is too sticky. To shape the dough, cup it between your rounded palms; roll in a circular motion, pulling down on the surface of the dough. Wonder why your dough is not forming a tight, smooth round. Try to improvise a few of your own dough-shaping maneuvers, being careful not to overwork the dough, as you know that overworking is not a good thing. Resolve that your dough need not form a tight, smooth, round. Remember that you like your baked goods rustic shaped. Transfer the "round" to the corn-meal dusted cutting board, and drape with oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest on the cutting board until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a baking stone on the floor of the oven. Feel glibly satisfied that you own a baking stone. Feel doubtful about setting it directly on the floor of the oven. Cast doubt aside as you recall your many failed attempts at baking decent bread, and put your trust in Ms. Stewart. Assure yourself that this technique will form a beautiful crust on the bottom of your rustic loaf. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Realizing that you do not have a razor blade, sharpen a knife. When you imagine that it has achieved razor blade sharpness, make four slashes on the top of the loaf to form a square. When this seems to work, feel crafty because you are so good at improvising in the kitchen. Open the door of the very hot oven, and attempt to slide the dough from your wooden cutting board onto the baking stone using a spatula. When the dough eventually slips off of the board, but lands only half-way on the stone, lean farther into the blazing hot oven to reposition it and burn the underside of your forearm on the inside edge of the oven. Yell a curse of your choosing. Stubbornly continue to wrestle the dough onto the center of the baking stone. Achieve your goal, and slam shut your oven door. Make a dash for the freezer, pop out an icecube, and hold it to your quickly forming burn blister. Lie down for a few minutes, letting the melted ice dribble onto the couch cushions. Every 20 seconds or so, say out loud, "Man, that really hurts!" Wish that someone could hear you saying this and acknowledge that it really hurts.
Smell something burning. Rush into the kitchen, and discover that the bottom of your bread is beginning to turn black. Yell a curse of your choosing. Being oh-so-careful not to burn yourself again, grab hold of the sides of the dough with oven-mitted hands, and toss it onto the counter. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and place on the center rack of the oven. Feel deceived. Bake bread until the crust is golden brown, about 42 minutes. Place bread on wire rack to cool before slicing. Cease to feel sulky when you see how beautiful the bread turns out. Upon tasting it, think this an excellent bread recipe, worthy to be repeated and shared with others.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Salsa, I think, is one of the greatest gastronomic inventions of humankind. A condiment of all trades, it makes anything on which it is spooned and anything into which it is dipped something altogether better. Spread on a hamburger, dabbed onto grilled fish, smeared on a piece of avocado, or positioned next to a blackened flank steak, salsa works its magic, somehow enhancing the flavors of food with its own fresh flavors. Salsa is a pretty thing, too. Almost any drab dish becomes suddenly more elegant when adorned by a jewel-colored dollop. But for me, and this will always be the case, salsa is at its best and brightest when paired with a chip.
Chips and salsa are hands down my snack of choice. There have, moreover, been several occasions, when the salsa was fresh and bountiful and the chips warm and salty, that chips and salsa were my meal of choice.
When we're deciding where to go out to dinner, I base my decision on whether or not I want chips and salsa. I often do. And so, I've sampled in a fairly comprehensive manner the salsas of the Chapel Hill area. It is actually difficult to concoct a poor salsa, but there are establishments that manage this feat, and that is all I will say about them. The following salsa tour visits the good, excellent, and exquisite salsas within a ten mile radius that I have had the fortune to taste.
Margaret's Cantina serves a pureed tomato-focused salsa with lots of white onions, some of which manage to escape the pureeing and appear as formidable chunks. Before consuming such chunks, make sure your date is eating the salsa too.
Chili's is not a Mexican restaurant at all, but a mediocre "southwestern" styled chain. The chips and salsa are just about the only things I like on the (usually sticky) menu. Their salsa is deep red, thin with a hint of spice. Chili's restaurants can be found in many airports in the US of A, and though perhaps not true contenders for "the best salsas" list, have been a salsa haven for me during munchie-inducing lay overs.
The salsa served up by Cosmic Cantina is a chunky, dry mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, purple onions, shot with a dash of cumin and freshened with an ample addition of cilantro. It's a pretty salsa that is meant to be scooped rather than dipped.
The Flying Burrito offers two types of salsa. The first is said to be "mild," though it is not. It is a deep red, slightly soupy salsa, studded (if memory serves me right) with pickled tomatillos. The other salsa is a killer habanero mixture, heavy on the habanero. I'm not even sure what else is in it because my eyes are always drawn to the chunks of habanero sitting there, looking so enticingly colorful and waiting to be scooped up into an unsuspecting mouth. I assume that my husband enjoys the feeling of his tongue bursting into flames that spread rapidly to his eyes and then into his brain, making any thought impossbile other than the most efficient way to shove chips and beer into his mouth. He always orders the habanero salsa. He puts a respectable, but cautious, dab on his chip and pops it into his mouth. He turns red and cries. And then he does it all over again. Upon his urging, I once took a taste. I've been told that habanero peppers have a nice fruity flavor, but I wasn't able to detect it because my adventurous spirit was rewarded with a taste-bud numbing pain. And I like spicy foods.
The best salsa in town can be found at Carrburritos. Along with excellent Mexican fare, Carrburritos offers no less that six types of salsa, all available free upon request, if in teasingly small containers. My favorites are the chipotle and the frutas. The chipotle salsa is dark, smooth, smoky, and on the spicy side. It is divine on any pork or chicken dish, but I like to dip chips in it. And, I should say, Carrburritos also serves up the best chips in town, a combination of corn and flour tortillas fried right there behind the cafeteria-style counter. The frutas salsa, a must for fish tacos, is full of chunks of pineapple, kicked up with jalapeno and cooled down with cilantro. Again, I dip my chips in it. There is also an excellent salsa verde with tomatillos, and a habanero salsa that is spicy indeed, but not as devastating as the one concocted by Flying Burrito.
Commercial jarred salsa is, if I can be frank, awful. Fresh salsa packed in plastic tubs can be found in the refrigerator section of an increasing number of grocery stores these days. It's good salsa. Better salsa, however, can be made quickly and easily at home. Food processors make homeade salsa a five minute task. Some immersion blenders, like mine, come with a "mini food processor" attachment. With such a contraption, salsa making is easy enough to force El Paso and Pace out of business, and rightfully so.
I made this salsa for the first time yesterday, and I dare say it rivals many of the salsas on the salsa tour. The most important thing to remember about home salsa making is that you can change any recipe to reflect your own tastes. Since I like (okay, love) avocado, I used three large ones. I like spice, and so I tossed in 3/4 of a substantially sized jalapeno, with seeds. Some people hate cilantro, but I can't get enough of it, so I threw in a lot. Simmering the tomatillos cut their acidity a bit, and I will do so again in the future. Do what you will, but just don't keep opening up jars of preservative-laden salsa. Such stuff, I think, is a greater handicap to tastebuds than the habanero chili.
What to drink with chips and salsa? Beer is always a good choice, and so are margaritas if they're good ones (Flying Burrito wins first place here). Sangria, it turns out, is perfect with this particular chip and salsa combination.
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
makes about 3 cups
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 medium jalapeno pepper, with seeds if you're feeling spicy
a pinch or two of cumin
1. Place tomatillos in saucepan, add salted water to cover, and boil for 8-10 minutes. Drain them and transfer them to a bowl to cool.
2. In a food processor or blender puree the tomatillos with the coriander, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, lime juice, and some salt. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
3. Half and pit avocados, chop the flesh, and stir it into the tomatillo mixture. Serve with chicken, fish, or baked tortilla chips.
Baked Tortilla Chips
Although I prefer freshly made tortilla chips, there are a few good brands to be found in grocery stores. Nana's Cocina is one of them. But homeade tortilla chips are easy and actually good for you, if you bake them. You can find a variety of types: flour, corn, wheat, spinach, or spicy (as I have used here) in the refrigerated or freezer section of grocery stores.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Stack tortillas on top of each other and cut them with scissors into wedges, strips, or whatever shape you desire.
3. Arrange cut tortilla pieces on baking sheets, and bake until golden and crispy, 10-15 minutes.
from Gourmet July 2005 at epicurious.com, makes 8 drinks
1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 unpeeled lemon, sliced
1/2 unpeeled large navel orange, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur
Put wine, juice, and fruit slices in a heatproof pitcher. Bring sugar, water, brandy, and Cointreau just to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then pour into pitcher. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 24. Serve over ice.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Originally, this was to be a plum galette, but, in the end, clingstone is a much more appropriate appellation. These plums gave no sign of what lay ahead when I spotted them...cool, sweet, yet dignified in their deep purple. And, as they were offered at $1.44 per pound, I couldn't resist. Visions of plum tart fairies began to dance in my head. So I settled myself down for an evening of easy baking. High falutin as they may sound, galettes are a mediocre baker's dream. No finicky tart pans, no precisely measured dough, the crust -- in this recipe at least--doesn't even need to be lifted from the surface on which it was rolled. Galettes have always attracted me because they look like baking disasters, the sort of thing an exasperated chef might stuff in the oven after a pastry-making debacle, thinking it unpresentable but possibly still good tasting. But baking disasters they are not. They are rustic. And in their scrappy bubbling-over splendor, they remind me that attractive pastries need not always be delicate, ornate, or even symmetrical.
Imagine, then, my consternation when I picked up my first pretty plum and set to "pitting and slicing" as the recipe so innocently requested. Plums, it turns out, are not as simple and sweet as they seem. They are needy. They cling. Little did I know it, but those fruit I happily piled into my cart, were clingstones. And this name, let it be known, sounds precisely like what it is. My efforts to extract the pit ended with the the loss of nearly all but the skin of my plum. Trying to brush aside disappointing visions of a skinny plum-skin galette, I did what any cranky mediocre baker would do. I took a deep breath, wiped the plum juice from my hands, and googled.
The search, "how to pit a plum" turned up several informative sites. Not all plums are clingy, I learned. Freestone plums eagerly part from their pits. Plums like mine grip onto theirs with all their might. I found a few tips. Some advised me to slice from top to bottom, grab each half and twist them in opposite directions. Others suggested quartering, and then prying the plum apart with my fingers. Neither of these tips worked very well. My clingstones, I think, were a little on the ripe side for such stuff. I ended up with plum mush, which, as I am just now realizing, would not have been a problem for the writers of these tips because their plum-wrestling had plum jam as its ultimate goal. A plum jam galette sounded somehow better than a plum-skin galette, and so half-resigned to this fate, I clicked over to one more site. It was there that I discovered the "quarter and cut" technique which advised cutting the plum around from top to bottom, then all the way around the middle, briefly performing the aforementioned twisting in opposition maneuver to loosen the flesh a bit, and then inserting a small knife through one of the cuts, running it down the side of the pit while sparing as much flesh as possible. At this point the quarter plum falls neatly away where it can be sliced into the desired number of pieces. Repeat with other three quarters. Repeat with other pound and a half of plums. Here is where I whine that I was making two plum galettes, requiring me to repeat with other three pounds of plums. This technique worked for even the ripe and slightly mushy specimens, and the many steps it required went more quickly than I had imagined.
The "galette" part of this plum galette was indeed easy baking. But the plums, those light-hearted sounding fruit, were not. This is, then, a recipe for Clingstone Galette, and it is well worth the pitting and slicing.
Rustic Plum Galette
Serves 6. From Everyday Food, July- August 2006.
For Galette Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 cup fine yellow conrmeal
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1. In a food processor, pulse flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt several times to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces still remaining. Add 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed. If needed, add up to 2 tablespoons more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Try not to overmix, but if you do, fret not: the galette will still taste very good.
2. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a couple of times. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate at least one hour.
3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Flour a large (about 16 inches long) piece of parchment paper. Place dough on paper. Using your knuckles, press around edge of dough too keep it from cracking during rolling. (Mine always still cracks). Lightly flour top of dough to prevent sticking and roll out to a 14 inch round. Transfer dough (still on parchment) to prepared baking sheet. Now you know what the parchment paper is for -- no tricky dough transportation.
For the Filling and Baking:
1 1/2 pounds red plums, "pitted and sliced" 1/4 inch thick: good luck!
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together plums, sugar, and flour. Mound plum mixture in center of prepared crust, leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold border over fruit in a pleated pattern (or as haphazardly as you like). Brush dough with egg wash.
2. Bake tart until crust is brown and filling is bubbling (It will bubble out of tiny holes in the crust, but don't worry. It's supposed to do that, and you have wisely set the whole thing on aluminum foil which means no messy clean up for you. Baking should take about 45 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a rack, and let cool for 20 minutes. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature with or without a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
It's no secret that good food has just as much to do with color and texture as with taste. Perhaps, I might venture to say, good food has most to do with color and texture. The taste buds may be fooled by the prettiness of a plate, but it's no small feat to talk one's palate into enjoying a dish that looks depressing, and for good reason. It probably tastes depressing, too.
Those perennially unpopular foods -- liver, cottage cheese, canned peas, sardines (this last, however, a favorite of mine) -- will never woo a doubter with their looks. And, should they make the leap from plate to mouth, are less likely to please with their consistencies, be they chalky, slimy, pasty, or full of tiny bones.
I have mentioned elsewhere my cravings for crunch in almost whatever form I can acquire it: popcorn with salt and pepper, chips and homeade salsa, toasted bread rubbed with garlic and set beneath any number of toppings, and, yes, even raw carrots and cauliflower when the pantry has been cleared of carbohydrates. Despite my relatively recent adventure in deep frying, this craving has not abated. I found myself again hovering over a skillet of sputtering peanut oil, and watching with watering mouth as breadcrumb-coated disks of eggplant crisped and turned golden brown. When topped with glob of mozzarella, a tangy roasted tomato, and a wee piece of salty olive, I dare say they made perfect little packages of color and texture, moist eggplant flesh wrapped in crunch.
But my longing for crunchiness is not without an almost as deep, but much less fervent, longing for foodstuffs on the smooth and creamy end of the texture spectrum. You could say that the crunch yin must be balanced by the soothing yang of freshly whipped cream, milkshakes, slightly warm camembert, and smooth soups. I might even slip a glass of mellow red wine into the category of yang. Now, it is my opinion that smooth and creamy can go very wrong, whereas crunchy runs almost no risk at all. A too-generous hand with mayonnaise has pushed many a smooth and creamy dish beyond the bounds of good looks and good taste. Cold, smooth, and creamy, sweets excepted, is a combination challenging to some, but this is just the combination I am offering here. If you or the ones you love find cold soups such as this doubtful, here are some guidelines, suggestions, and efforts in arm-twisting that may alleviate your texture concerns.
First, this soup is a hot weather soup. Cold, smooth, and creamy is not a lovable combination on a gray and rainy day. Second, the jalapenos make the magic. At first you taste the coolness of the cucumber and cilantro, then the rich avocado, then the hint of cumin, and then a little jolt of jalapeno. It's enough spice to make you want to take another soothing bite, which will, of course, be followed by more spice, and the process continues until you're scraping your bowl. Finally, you should by all means tinker with the amounts of sour cream, lime juice, and water until the texture seems right to you. Next time I will add more water, as the version I made was a little thick for my taste. But the perfect consistency, I must add, for dipping tortilla chips in the leftovers.
Properly speaking, this is a recipe for h'ors d'oeuvres from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook (which just so happens to be one of my recently acquired Christmas-in-June presents). This recipe makes about a dozen little eggplant crisps, intended, I imagine, by Ms. Stewart to be passed on platters at cocktail parties. But I like to eat these sorts of flavor tid-bits more often than I manage to procure an invitation to a cocktail party, so I make them myself. This is a beautiful cookbook, by the way, even if you aren't in the habit of hosting such hors d'oeuvres-filled affairs. I've made a few changes to the recipe.
8 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 quart peanut oil for frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups japanese breadcrumbs (panko): these breadcrumbs really fry up lighter and airier than regular breadcrumbs, and they're not that hard to find in run of the mill grocery stores these days.
2 medium japanese, or other smallish eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices: I used graffiti eggplant, which I gather is from Holland, and is light purple with streaks of white
12 small cherry tomatoes, oven dried: you can dry your own tomatoes by tossing them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasting them in a 275 degree oven for 30 minutes or so. I used store-bought roasted tomatoes which were nice because they were marinated in garlic oil. If you prefer, sundried tomatoes packed in oil would also work here.
6 oil-cured olives, or the black olives of your choice, cut in half
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1. Cut mozzarella into small pieces. If using fresh mozzarella, place on a paper towel to drain.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with the rack in the center. Heat peanut oil in medium-sized deep skillet until the temperature on a frying thermometer readers 360 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, don't fret. Just get the oil nice and hot. Place flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and eggs in two separate shallow bowls. Place the breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl. Dredge each eggplant slice in the flour, then dip into the beaten eggs, and finally into the breadcrumbs. I like a lot of crumbs, so I sort of mash them on both sides of the eggplant, then gently shake off the excess.
3. Fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown, turning them if necessary for even browning, 4-6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
4. Arrange the fried eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Top each slice with a piece or two of mozzarella, a tomato, and half an olive. (The crisps may be prepared up to this point and left at room temperature up to 3 hours: good news if you're throwing a party). Bake in the oven until cheese melts, 5-7 minutes. Top each with oregano, and a bit more salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Spicy Cucumber and Avocado Soup
From Gourmet July 2000, with modifications. Serves 4.
2 firm, but ripe avocados
2 cucumbers, seeded if they are seedy, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 (8 oz.) container low-fat sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 (or more) teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon (or more) chopped jalapeno chili with seeds
a few dashes of cumin
cold water, to achieve desired texture
garnish: diced avocado and chopped chives
Peel and pit the avocados. Blend all of ingredients in a blender (0r, if you are so fortunate as to have one, with an immersion blender) until very smooth. Add cold water until the soup achieves the texture you desire. Chill, covered with plastic wrap pressed down onto surface of soup. Serve garnished with diced avocado and chives. This is flavorful eating friendly to the skin-baring days of summer. Each serving has about 100 calories and 2 grams of fat.
at 12:09 PM
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Generally speaking, when dinner guests arrive at the little red house, the garlic has been chopped, the lemons have been squeezed, the arugula has been soaked, the wine has been corked, and, as the case may be, the dough has successfully completed its first rise. Having all this done in advance makes for less frantic entertaining, but I like having everything washed, measured, chopped, and lined up in little dishes on my counter, period. This is, as the French might put it, mise en place for the sake of mise en place. There is a certain joy to be found in being alone with a sharp knife, a cutting board, and a pile of vegetables -- a quiet, slice, slice, kind of joy, a white ramekin filled with slivered scallions kind of joy. Well, the mise en place was not en place when the guests arrived, nor even after the first round of drinks were drunk. My onions weren't carmelizing. My tart dough sat un-kneadable as a brick on the counter. The oven in my miniscule kitchen was smoking like the devil.
And, as if some strange pathetic fallacy were at work, there were relatives in the emergency room, on the phone, and waiting patiently in the dining room.
I over-toasted the pine nuts, and under-seasoned the onions. I tossed the ruined dough into the trash where it landed with a thud. It was getting hot in the kitchen. But I didn't break out into a full blown sweat until I reached for the flour canister. Not enough flour. A desperate search in the freezer turned up no flour, but it did turn up some cornmeal. Cornmeal onion tartlets, it would be. A few reassuring calls from my family and a cold beer later, things were looking almost en place. The cornmeal dough was puffing up, the onions were starting to color, and I was chopping my way through a pile of olives.
By the end of the evening, the smoking hot kitchen had become a distant memory, dog breeds had been discussed, cornmeal tartlets had been praised, Spanish had been spoken, Father's day plans had been arranged, one sister had been startled by a wild-eyed rabbit, the other sister had benefited from some very good pain killers, and, despite the fact that we are approaching mid-June, I had received several lovely Christmas gifts: two new cookbooks and some shiny new knives. I foresee some zen-like mise en place-ing in the near future.
The toppings on these tartlets are similar to the Nicoise pissaladiere. This evening, I was obliged to omit a certain flat fish with eyes, but it was not terribly missed.
From Williams and Sonoma, Hors d'Oeuvres. Serves 4-6.
tartlet dough: recipe to follow
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced and cut into slivers
15 black olives, pitted and slivered
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out tartlet dough to 1/4 inch thickness. With a round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can. Roll these rounds out again with a rolling pin until they are quite thin. Lay rounds on a nonstick baking sheet.
4. In a pan over medium-high heat, combine oil and water. Add sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and add the onions. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring every now and then, until the onions are golden and the water has evaporated, 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat. Add olives and pine nuts to onions and mix well.
5. Divide filling evenly among dough rounds. Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake until the filling and the edges of the pastry are golden, about 15 minutes. Season with some salt and pepper, if you like. Serve warm or room temperature.
Cornmeal Tartlet Dough
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (the amount I happened to have)
1 cup cornmeal
1. Stir together yeast, water, and sugar in a large bowl, and let stand about five minutes. Stir in salt, flour, cornmeal, and oil until combined.
2. Turn out dough onto a slightly floured surface, and knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large, oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm spot for about 20 minutes.
Arugula and Frisee Salad with Fried Shallots and Prunes
From Gourmet magazine, on epicurious.com. Serves 4.
1 cup olive oil
about 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallots
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup packed pitted prunes. finely chopped
1-2 heads frisee
couple of bunches of arugula (I used escarole, but I think arugula would have been better)
1. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Fry shallots, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown, 4-6 minutes. Transfer browned shallots with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. They will become crisper as they cool. Transfer 4 tablespoons shallot oil from pan to a cup for dressing.
2. Whisk together lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl, then add shallot oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Add prunes, arugula, frisee, and salt to taste. Toss well to coat. Sprinkle fried shallots on top.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I've not often thought fondly of vats of smoking, popping oil. Yes, there was a heady, but brief, deep-frying episode some months back during which perfectly golden onion rings emerged from my kitchen, set like crowns on arugula salads. Then I ruined a perfectly good batch of calamari by tossing it into peanut oil and looking on in dismay as what I fantasized would become its crunchy coating sifted down to the bottom of the skillet like fish flakes in a tank. Deep-frying, that culinary technique perfected by state fairs, has since inspired in me not much more than adolescent memories of corn dogs, followed by gravity defying fair rides, followed by powder sugared funnel cakes, followed by tours through prize-winning livestock stalls.
But then there were springrolls. See how the name, Spring....rolls, lends a certain freshness, a bright crispness, to what might otherwise conjure up thoughts of deep-fried candy bars. Springrolls say, "why don't you throw a vat of oil on the stove and fry up a nice, light dinner? " Well, dear deep-frying doubters, I heeded their call, and springrolls don't lie. Paired with a platter of the most fragrant hills of green, white, and yellow, these springrolls are more like somersaults in a blooming meadow than dizzying back flips on The Zipper.
These recipes are from Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a stunning cookbook to be kept at a safe distance from seething vats of oil.
Vietnamese Table Sauce (nuoc cham)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bird or serrano chili, minced
several shreds of carrot
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar completely. Serve in small condiment bowls. Can be stored in sealed container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Vietnamese Herb and Salad Plate (xalach dia)
Some or all of the following:
asian or sweet basil leaves
bibb lettuce, separated into leaves
several scallions, cut lengthwise and then into two inch pieces
bird or serrano chilis, sliced
cucumber, cut into largish cubes
cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, drained, and rinsed in cold water
Set out ingredients of your choice onto one or more platters. Combine ingredients in whatever way you wish, rolling them in a leaf of bibb lettuce, and dipping it in the sauce, if you like. It is especially nice to take alternating nibbles of a springroll and a little roll of salad.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (cha gio), Serves 4
1/2 pound ground pork
about 12 peeled and deveined medium shrimp, rinsed and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 shallots, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1 ounce cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, drained, and cut into 1 inch lengths with scissors
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
about 10 round rice papers (8-inches across)
peanut oil for deep frying
1. Place pork in a medium bowl, add all the other filling ingredients, and mix well. Set aside or refrigerate in sealed container for up to 12 hours.
2. Wet a tea towel well, ring out, and lay on work surface. Fill a wide baking dish with warm water.
3. Wet 1 rice paper thoroughly until softened (about 10 seconds), then place on the damp tea towel. Place 2 tablespoons filling in a line about 5 inches long across the wrapper, well below the midline, leaving a 3/4 inch border at either end of the line. Fold the edge nearest you over the filling, fold over the two sides on the ends, and roll up tightly. Place on a tray, cover with a damp cloth, and repeat with other rice papers. This is not as tricky as it sounds. (Rolls can be assembled up to 3 hours ahead and stored, well-sealed in the refrigerator).
4. When ready to fry rolls, set out a cookie sheet or a few large plates covered with several layers of paper towels. Place one or two heavy skillets over medium-high heat. (If you use only one skillet, you'll just have to do a few batches).
5. Add peanut oil to a depth of about 1 inch in the skillets. Test the temperature by dropping a piece of moistened rice paper into the oil. It should sink and then immediately rise back up slowly, without becoming too dark. Slip the rolls into the oil one at a time, but only as many as you can fit without having them touch. Cook rolls in oil until golden all over, turning occasionally with a spatula or tongs, 9-12 minutes. Transfer cooked rolls to the prepared paper towels. Repeat with remaining rolls. Serve with Vietnamese table sauce.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
If we are to take the description of the magnificent and horrific dinner hosted by Trimalchio in Petronius' Satyricon as any indication of what it was like to dine at the home of an eccentric food connoisseur in Rome at the turn of the millennium, then we would assume that extravagant Roman dinner parties were exercises in the art of gastronomic deception. Such transformations of fiction into historical evidence, though perhaps in bad taste for purists, provide endless entertainment for Latinist foodies, one of whom just happens to be the writer of this very blog. Let' s picture the moment when Trimalchio has a huge hog brought out to his dinner guests, and discovers--to his horror--that his cook has neglected to gut it. This cook, I will divulge, is in the know about Trimalchio's dinner shenanigans, as he has probably performed this bit at last week's banquet and the one before that, too. He is summoned from the kitchen, insulted by the mock-irate host, and commanded to gut the pig right there on the mammoth serving platter. The cook, feigning shame, brandishes his carving knife as the reclining guests recoil in expectation of spattering blood, slices into the swollen belly of the hog, and frees from it steaming-hot mounds of cooked sausages and meat puddings. No matter that the bellies of Trimalchio's guests are themselves stuffed by now, this being only the most recent of countless such dishes to be paraded from the kitchen. No matter that their heads, at this hour, are surely swimming in red wine. One cannot, Trimalchio might have reasoned, be glutted on artifice. The eyes can always make room for more feasting.
I cannot claim to be entirely innocent of deceptive dinner measures, especially when the addition of a little flat fish, so needlessly loathed by otherwise generous palates, is demanded by a weakish dish. But here, I am honest. This recipe, described by the Roman cook, Apicius, as a "patina of anchovy without anchovy," harbors no hidden savories. I will be blunt: it is a custard of smoked trout. Apicius' recipe has been adapted and gathered with other likewise adventurous but updated ancient recipes in a cookbook given to me by a keen gift-giver who, as she recently told me, has been spending her days in "food geekdom." Tonight's endeavors to recreate Classical cuisine could be likewise described. Apicius' original recipe called for fillets of boiled fish seasoned with pepper and garum (that most fame worthy Roman condiment: fermented fish sauce), to which eggs and jellyfish are added. Loyal to the deceptive food fashions of his day, or perhaps doubtful of the appeal of egg and jellyfish combinations, Apicius mischievously closes his recipe with the words, "At table, no one will know what he is eating."
You, reader, will know. For the benefit of modern palates, the garum has been omitted, as well as the jellyfish. There are potent flavors enough, here. Be not deceived...this is ancient fare fit for your table.
Smoked Trout Custard with Chives
adapted from The Philosopher's Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook. Serves 4.
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 cup half and half
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon dry, grainy mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
a good amount of freshly ground pepper
6 ounces smoked trout, skin removed and finely flaked
pumpernickel toast points
capers, cornichons, minced shallots, chives, and mustard for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Put four 1/2 cup ramekins into a casserole dish and set aside.
3. Whisk together the yolks, eggs, half and half, lemon juice, chopped chives, mustard, salt and pepper in a large glass measuring cup with a spout (if you have one; otherwise, in a bowl)
4. Divide the trout among the ramekins. Pour custard mixture evenly into each ramekin. Fill the casserole dish with hot water halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
5. Bake on the center rack of the oven until set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool. Chill them, if you like.
6. When ready to serve, dip the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water, run a sharp knife around the edge of each ramekin and invert onto a serving plate. Turn over again with a spatula. Garnish with chives. Serve with capers, cornichons, shallots, mustard and toast points.
Here are some more of Apicius' recipes.