Search Results for: leeks

Soft Shell Crabs on a Bed of Leeks with Warm Herbed Potato Salad

It amazes me to think I spent more than half of my life not knowing that soft shell crabs existed. Seriously, I didn’t taste my first soft shell, cooked to perfection by my future mother-in-law on her stovetop in Philadelphia, until I was almost 30 years old. Today, Irene’s simple method – sauteeing flour-dredged and salt and generously peppered soft shells in butter – remains my favorite way to enjoy these amazing delicacies. Actually, I don’t cook the soft shells – Mr TBTAM does. His mom taught him, after all.

Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs on a Bed of Leeks

Mr. TBTAM may cook the crabs, but I present them. And tonight, it was on a bed of leeks, with a side of warm herbed potato salad and some sliced tomatoes. We got our crabs from Fairway, where they were so fresh, they wriggled ever so slightly if you touched them. I think these may be the last of this season for us – the shells were just starting to head towards the hard side on the edges. This short season is what makes soft shells so special.

For the leeks
4 large leeks
1 tbsp olive oil (If you can handle the calories, add also a tad of butter..)
Salt and pepper to taste
White wine to deglaze (optional)

Trim off bulb and dark green parts of leeks, then slice longways. Wash thoroughly in a bowl of cold water, rinsing and refreshing several times until all the sand and grit are gone. Drain on paper towels and blot dry. Cut in half again across and then slice very thin. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan till hot. Add leeks and saute over medium high heat until softened, about 10 -15 minutes, adding salt and pepper about halfway through.  Remove leeks from pan to a small bowl. If you want, you can deglaze the pan with 1 tbsp of wine and add to the leeks. Cover with foil to keep warm while sauteeing the crabs.

For the crabs
6 soft shell crabs
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
3-4 tbsp butter

In the same pan, melt 2 tbsp butter. Lightly dredge the crabs in flour and sprinkle one side with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add to the pan (salted side down) and saute about 2 minutes till brown. Sprinkle a little more more salt and pepper on top before turning, then add another 1-2 tbsp butter to the pan. Cook another 2 minutes or so till done. If you do it right, this is what your soft shells will look like –

To serve, divide the leeks among the plates and place a crab atop the bed of leeks. Serve with a side of potato salad and sliced tomatoes. Split the remaining two crabs for second helpings. Serves 4.

Warm Herbed Potato Salad

12 small red potatoes (Not the teeny-tiny ones)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Try 1/8 cup first and that may be enough for you..)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used tarragon, parsley, chives and a tiny bit of mint)
salt and pepper to taste

Clean the potatoes but don’t peel them. Slice into quarters and place in a stock pot, cover with water, add a tsp salt and bring to a boil. turn down heat and simmer till just cooked, but not too soft (about 15 minutes). While they are boiling, chop your herbs and mix them in a small bowl with vinegar and mayo. Drain potatoes, place into serving bowl, pour on dressing and toss gently.  Serve warm.

Gluten-Free Low Fat Spinach, Leek & Mushroom Quiche

GLuten free quiche
This quiche serves 6 at only 235 calories a slice.

If, like me, you find yourself planning to make a lasagna for a friend recovering from surgery, stop for a second and consider, as I did, making something healthier. You just may find some amazing meals out there, including this delicious quiche from Cooking Light.

I was going for something not too high in fat, then realized that this quiche is also gluten-free*. Not that I have a gluten allergy, but any opportunity to replace processed white flour with whole grains is worth taking, as long as the result is edible.  And this is not only edible, it’s delicious!

*Oats and Oat Bran are naturally gluten-free. Cross contamination, however, can occur with gluten-containing products during storage and manufacture.  If you must, be sure to buy brands that are certified gluten-free.  


My recipe is a little different from the original in that I increased the leeks, skipped the dill, added a few sprigs of fresh instead of dried thyme, and also hot pepper flakes and fennel seeds. I skipped rolling out the dough and simply pressed it into a well greased tart pan. As you can see, the crust baked up beautifully (I placed the filled quiche on a baking sheet in the oven), and slipped out of the pan with no fuss at all. Maybe that’s because I used butter instead of cooking spray, so if you do that, add on a few calories. 


  • 1 cup regular oats
  • 1/3 cup oat bran
  • 2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • Butter or cooking spray for the pan


  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded Gruyêre cheese

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a 9 inch tart pan with butter (or spray with cooking spray), being sure to get it into all the side grooves.

Combine oats and oat bran in a medium sized bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water; stir. Press mixture gently into greased pan – it will seem like you won’t have enough, but you will, so just be patient, keep pressing it around and it will cover. Bake crust at 375° for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool; leave oven on.

To prepare the filling, brush a cast iron skillet or saute pan lightly with olive oil (or spray with cooking spray), heat and add leeks. Saute for a few minutes till soft then add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, thyme and fennel and saute till the mushrooms start to release their liquid but are still plump and juicy. Spoon veggies into a large bowl and let cool.

Combine milk, Parmesan cheese and eggs in a blender and process until smooth. Add the spinach and pulse a few times to mix well.  Add to leek-mushroom mixture, and stir well. Pour into prepared crust (best to put the tart pan on a cooking sheet first, as it may leak a bit when you pour in the filling) and sprinkle with Gruyêre cheese. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes, then remove pie from tart pan. Serve warm.

Feed Your Brain – Chilled Avocado Vichyssoise

avocado vichyssoise

This is wonderful chilled soup combines my favorite comfort food – potatoes – with one of the best all around brain foods out there – avocado.

That’s right – avocado is good for your brain. And your mood.  And your heart. And your weight.

According to Drew Ramsey, MD , a NYC psychiatrist who has started an amazing conversation about the role of diet in mood and brain function,  avocados are rich in oleic acid –

Oleic acid …. is strongly linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and depression. It improves insulin sensitivity. Oleic acid is used by the body to create oleoylethanolamide, which enhances memory, induces fat burning, promotes weight loss, and reduces appetite.

Dr Ramsey has begun asking the question – Can you eat for a healthier brain? He has written a book called the Happiness Diet – a way of eating that eliminates processed foods and reintroduces us to the nutrients and foodstuffs that support a healthy mind. It’s a dietary message similar to that we’ve been hearing from food gurus like Michael Pollen and Mark Bittman, but focused on how the modern American diet has impacted our brain and our mood, and how getting back to foods like whole grains, grass fed meat, and  fruits and vegetables can support and even enhance interventions to improve mood.

“Your brain is made of fat”, he says, and he is right, because fats form the precursors for neurotransmitters.  Read Ramsey’s book, and you begin to understand why fat – the right kind of fat – is good for you.  

Of course, the amount of research on this approach is limited, but suggests that Ramsey is on the right track. As a physician, I see dietary interventions as supportive of, but not necessarily replacing, psychiatric intervention, whether it be psychotherapy, or if needed, medication.  I also see no harm in making the kind of dietary changes Ramsey recommends as a first step, along with exercise and talk therapy, when addressing milder forms of mood disorders that don’t require medication.

I’ve written before about the good fats found in whole sheep’s milk yogurt.  Now I’ve added avocado to the list of good-fat foods in my diet.

Avocados are an incredibly satisfying food, not to mention delicious. Add some to your salad. Have a few slices as a side with your lunch or dinner. Grab a spoon and scoop some out for a quick satiating snack.

Or make this marvelous soup.


Avocado Vichyssoise

Modified from a Recipe from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, one of twelve recipes for cold soups in an article entitled “Soup, Hold the Heat”.   Bittman calls for 1-2 avocados – I used 1 1/2, but that made for a pretty thick soup that required about 1/4 cup water to thin it. Next time I will just use one avocado and see how that tastes. (This was delicious). Don’t skip the cilantro – it is more than just a garnish, it’s essential for the flavor.   

2 tbsp butter
3 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 avocados, peeled and coarsely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a soup pot. Add potatoes and leeks. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until softened. Add 4 cups stock. Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the avocado and puree (I use an immersion blender). Refrigerate till cold, then serve garnished generously with chopped cilantro.

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup

When I was a very little girl, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating mashed potatoes, and my mother turned to our neighbor, who was visiting at the time, and said, “She’d eat mashed potatoes till the cows came home”.

I’d say that still holds true.

Except sometimes I eat my mashed potatoes in a soup.

This is an exceedingly simple soup that is  lighter in calories than mashed potatoes, but just as satisfying for this half Irish girl who is still wondering where she’ll put those cows if they ever show up on her doorstep.

Postato Leek Soup

This recipe is from Richard Olney’s cookbook Simple French Food,  via one of my new favorite blogs, A Serious Bunburyist. There is no cream in this – it does not need it. But that butter at the end? C-est manifique!


  • 2 quarts salted boiling water
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, sliced (we used Yukon golds)
  • 1 pound leeks, tough green parts removed, cleaned, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper to taste


Olney has you add the vegetables to the salted boiling water and cook till the potatoes are soft and mashable. I was dying to saute those leeks up first in the butter and then add the water (or maybe chicken stock) and the potatoes, and then maybe a bouquet garni, but I really had no say in the matter as I was still at work when Mr TBTAM started cooking. By the time I arrived home, the leeks and potatoes were done,  so I just got out the old immersion blender and went to town.  Maybe someday I’ll try a fancier version, but this was pretty close to perfect as far as I’m concerned.

Serve hot or cold with a generous sprinkling of sea salt and pepper to finish.

Tarragon-Cream Turkey Pot Pie

I awoke late today, feeling a bit melancholy. Eldest daughter left very early to go back to school, younger daughter is heading off with a friend to a museum, and the hubbub of the Thanksgiving holiday is over. As one who thrives on hubbub, I am a bit thrown by the quiet.  Although I had been counting on this free day to get quite a few things done, I find myself uninterested in doing anything, and since it is too cold for a bike ride, I instead waste the morning in front of the computer, allegedly handling email but in reality accomplishing nothing.

My husband, the math teacher, appears unfazed and is preparing math contest problems for his class. He brings a particular difficult one to me for help in solving, and though I remember little about geometry I do find his error – a simple math mistake. I decide that he too must be having trouble today as our little family once again rearranges itself from a quadrilateral to a triangle.

This realization reassures me somehow, and I am jolted back into activity. In short order, I shower, make the bed, eat breakfast, finish last week’s open encounters and lab result reviews online, write a few checks and finish a few odds and ends I’d been putting off doing. I then head out for a much needed mani-pedi, during which I start on my book club’s monthly selection (Age of Miracles, OMG you have to read it) and then come home to tackle dinner, which of course means the turkey leftovers.

Inspired by this recipe from Ina Garten, and remembering this delicious preparation for chicken breasts, I decide to make a pot pie using plenty of tarragon. This will also allow me to finish up that herb’s harvest before frost takes what’s left. (It did not survive last winter…)

Unfortunately, my younger daughter arrives home too hungry to wait for me to make the pies, so instead we compromise and serve half the filling over penne tonight (delicious), with the rest in small individual pies that cook while we eat dinner.  They finish baking just as we finish the dishes, and they are gorgeous. We’ll serve them tomorrow night, but of course I take a small taste – yep, this recipe is a keeper.

And so was this day.

Tarragon-Cream Turkey Pot Pie

The tarragon gives a light feel to what could otherwise be a heavy dish. (Much the same way adding lemon can lighten a dish). I made individual pies, but you can make one large pie if you prefer. If you don’t have time for a pie, make the filling and toss it with some penne pasta (pass the Parmesan when serving it).

  • 1 double recipe Pate Brisee
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large leeks, rinsed and into large dice
  • 3 large stalks celery, cut into large dice
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
  • 10 ounces Crimini mushrooms,stemmed and cut into quarters
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 4-5 cups leftover turkey, shredded or cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup cream or half and half
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Beurre manie  -1 tbsp flour mixed with 1 tbsp soft butter in a small bowl (optional)
  • Egg wash – 1 egg whisked with 1 tsp water

Prepare pastry and roll out half to line individual tart pans. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.

Heat olive oil and butter is a large skillet. Saute leeks, celery and carrots till they start to soften. Add mushrooms and cook till they just give off their liquid Add garlic and saute another minute. Add turkey, tarragon, thyme, chicken broth, cream and wine and heat to boiling, then turn down heat to low and thicken with flour-butter mixture (if necessary). Cool slightly and pour into tart pans. Roll out top pastry and cover tarts, crimping the edges to close the pastry. Cut three small slites in the top of each tart. Brush with an egg wash. Place on baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, till crust is brown and sauce is bubbling.

Makes 8 individual or one large pie.


Leek, Spinach and Courgette Kugel (aka Persian Kuku)

I know. You’re wondering what a courgette is. I’ll give you a hint. It’s long, green, has seeds and can grow to enormous sizes. And no, it’s not a male frog’s body part, get your mind out of the gutter, will you?

Courgette is the French word for zucchini.

Courgette = Zucchini (French)

Speaking of words, although this dish, which hails from the Sephardic Jewish Jews of Turkey and Persia, is called a kugel, it is actually almost identical to the Persian egg-vegetable dish called a Kuku.

Remarkably similar words, similar ingredients, but, it seems, completely different etymology. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the word “Kugel” is derived from the German/Yiddish for Kugeltopf – a ball shaped ceramic jar in which puddings were cooked on the stove – while the word “Kuku” is believed to stem from  the Farsi word for fowl, which either makes a noise like the word or lays the eggs from which the dish is derived.


Another recipe from Martha Spieler’s Jewish Cooking. This is one of the healthiest, most delicious ways to use the spring harvest, and is chock full of veggies, with the egg serving as more of a binder for the veggies than a main player.  Yet another reminder of what makes the Mediterranean cuisine so good for you. 

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds spinach, washed
  • 1 courgette (zucchini), coarsely grated
  • 1 baking potato, coarsely grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 pinches ground turmeric
  • 3 tbsp matzo meal
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat half the oil in a large saute pan. Add leeks and saute till just tender. Remove leeks to a large bowl and set aside.

Add the spinach to the pan with just the water that clings to it after washing. Place the cover on (it will seem like a lot of spinach, but don’t worry – it cooks way down) and saute over med high heat till just softened, using tongs to distribute and toss the spinach as it cooks down. (This step only takes a few minutes) Drain really well (use technique below if needed) , and when cool, chop roughly.

Meanwhile, grate the courgette and the potato, then drain and either squeeze in your hands to remove the excess liquid, or wrap in a clear dish towel and wring  to accomplish the same.

Add zucchini, potato and spinach to leeks, along with scallions, garlic, turmeric and salt and pepper to taste. Add the matzo meal. Stir the dill into the eggs and add to the vegetable mixture.

Pour the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil into a lasagna-type baking pan and heat in the oven for about 5 minutes. Carefully and quickly remove the pan to the top of the stove, and spoon the vegetable mixture evenly into the pan, allowing the hot oil to bubble up over the ides and onto the top of the veggie mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake another 15-20 minutes till firm to the touch, golden brown and fluffy.

Sprinkle with chopped dill for garnish ad serve warm with lemon wedges to squeeze over the kugel.


My mother-in-law Irene, the Best Home Cook in the World, modified the recipe as follows –

One leek instead of two. 1/2 chopped red pepper in with the leek. One 10 oz. bag spinach instead of 1-1/2 lbs. 2 tbsps. matzo meal instead of 3. 2 scallions instead of 3. I stirred in about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese to the finished mixture before baking it. Had some home-made spicy tomato sauce in the fridge and smeared about 1/4 cup on top, halfway thru the baking. Thanks, a great recipe and will be wonderful at Passover.

Just tasted her version and it is even better than the one I made.  She made hers in a 7 by 12 by 2.5 inch oval ceramic pan, which gave hers more height.

April in London (Part 2) – Where We Ate

We did not eat here –  The Churchill War Rooms Kitchen

On my last visit to London, I was overruled by my kids whenever I tried to plan a meal at a special restaurant – they insisted we allow serendipity to rule when choosing where to eat. This time, with Irene on my side, and half the child contingent at home (sadly, but in this case…), I actually planned a few meals ahead of time, letting the restaurant location drive what else we did that day.  Thanks ever so much to pastry chef and blogger Shuna Fish Lydon, whose London fave restaurant list served as our personal Zagat guide to the city.  I’m hoping this post will serve as helpful to my readers as her post was for me.

St John’s Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street, London E1 6LZ.

Our first dip into Shuna’s list yielded the best meal of our trip – Lunch at St John’s Bread and Wine on a rainy Thursday mid-afternoon.  St Johns specializes in what is called “nose to toes” eating, a traditional British way to use all of the animal, which is why the menu was rife with offal dishes, offal being the word used to describe organ meats such as kidney, tongue and liver, which despite what you may think, do not necessarily taste awful. (Sorry, I just had to do the obvious…)

We played it safe just in case and started with the salted beef broth with dumplings. Irene, who readers know is the best home cook in the world, declared it the best soup she’d ever eaten. (Anyone who has ever tasted Irene’s chicken soup will appreciate just how stellar this beef broth was…)

I think I agree. Next up was the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten – Fois Gras and Duck Liver Toast with a side of cornichons.

If you have any doubts as to how good this really was, just look at this bread.

Irene insisted that we guild the lily, and while I only did this for one bite, that bite was such stuff as dreams are made of…

Finally, a salad that I plan to replicate at home very very soon – cauliflower, leeks and chickpeas with capers and a light horseradish dressing.

The crowd at St Johns that late afternoon was mostly hip bald British chef-types and young male foodies with an occasional woman thrown in for color. The owner of the place was holding court at a table near us and there was lots of wine flowing. I felt a bit like I had crashed a private party, but we were treated quite well despite being the only non-locals in the place.

St Johns is worth making a special trip. Go on a Thursday and combine it with a visit to Spitalfields Antique Market just across the street, which is what we did.

Olivelli Ristorante Paradisio
35 Store St, London WCiE 7BS

This unassuming restaurant on Store Street in Bloomsbury was around the corner from our hotel, and we popped in for lunch on Friday after my daughter’s final performance at RADA (Did I mention she was wonderful?….).The service was excellent, and while the pasta and risotto were quite fine though not especially memorable, the mussels were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. On the smaller side, which I like, perfectly cooked and seasoned and teeming with garlic. If you’re looking for a good meal in Bloomsbury, this place is a sure bet.

Chez Marcelle
34 Blythe Road, London W14 0HA

My sister-in-law Nancy, who frequently visits London for work, recommended this lovely restaurant in Olympia for delicious, well-priced Lebanese food.  It was our first meal in London, and set the tone for what was a great trip food-wise. The #10 bus took us practically there from our hotel in Bloomsbury, making it not as out of the way as one might think.

Chez Marcelle is a one woman show starring Marcelle herself, who hosts, cooks, hosts and serves, along with only one assistant the night we ate there. We arrived on the early side, about 6:30 pm, and had Marcelle’s undivided attention until the place began to fill up, afer which we had to share her with the other diners. That meant we had to wait until she was finished preparing our neighbor’s meal before she could write out our check, but that was fine with us. This is not haute cuisine, but home cooked authentic Lebanese food, every dish freshly prepared by Marcelle and every dish delicious. Here are some examples from our meal –

  • Bazinjan Rahib  – Grilled aubergine peppers, onions, tomatoes and parsley dressed w/ lemon, olive oil & garlic. Like baba ganoush, but better, and added to my list of things to learn to make.

  •  Grllled Halloumih Cheese

  • Jawaneh – Grilled chicken wings with garlic and lemon juice

  • Kebbe Maklieh

If you love Lebanese food, Zagat has compiled their top 5 London Lebanese restaurants, but they don’t list Chez Marcelle. Someone needs to let them know about this special place.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK)

Okay, I admit this restaurant is part of a chain, but the burgers,”made from 100% West Country beef”, are fabulous, the price is right and there’s a branch on Maiden Lane, making it a perfect place to grab a quick bite pre or post theater.  The service on Maiden Lane was not as good as at the Putney branch, where we ate the last time we visited London.  But the atmosphere was lively, our fellow diners friendly and talkative, and the burgers tasted just as good, if not better than the ones we ate at the more sedate Putney branch. Great fries and milk shakes, too. With branches all around London, GBK is a one place to keep in mind when you need a reliably good meal fast. Or just crave a fabulous burger.

The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John’s Square, London EC1V
4JJ 020 7553 9210

The Modern Pantry was another recommendation from Shuna that I wish I could say I loved as much as she did, but…

Any menu that takes a paragraph to list the title of a single dish is probably making cooking more complex than it need be.  Other than a delicious scallop on a bed of parsnip puree, I found the food overly fussy, with competing flavors and no rhyme or reason as to why certain ingredients were paired.  I know this is called fusion cooking, but it seemed more like mishmash cooking to me – almost as if I had filled my plate with several different dishes from a buffet rather than ordered a single dish. For example –

  • Confit duck leg, sweetcorn, black beans, sugar snaps & coriander, plum & Bramley apple relish
  • Fig, apple & raspberry oat crumble, goats curd sorbet, runny cream

That said, the service was fabulous, the wine absolutely incredible (such legs!…), the atmosphere warm and inviting and the location on St John’s Square – perfect.  So if fusion cooking is your thing, you’ll love The Modern Pantry. The place was packed, so you won’t be alone. Tell them I sent you.

Tea at the Tate Modern Level 7
Bankside, London SE1 9TG

The Food at the Tate is well-priced, with views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the city that alone are worth the visit, and more than made up for the lack of decent art on display downstairs on the day we visited. (Don’t get me started on Damien Hirst..)

The scones with clotted cream were surprisingly and unnecessarily large – but they were moist and delicious and the tea was lovely, served in little tea-press pots. My cheese platter was a bit disappointing – nothing special about the cheeses they chose to feature. The tea sandwiches and baguette were fine. But the views – I could have sat there forever.

Store Street Espresso
40 Store Street, WC1E 7DB

Best place for coffee in Bloomsbury, according to my barista-trained daughter. My one cup of takeaway cappuccino was perfect, so I’d agree. Not to mention great atmosphere, free wi-fi, decent food and a book exchange.

More London Restaurant Reviews 

Up next – Old Spitalfields Antique Market 

Farmers’Market Foray – Or What to do with Ramps and Fennel

I find the challenge for us as a busy family is incorporating local foods into a busy lifestyle. Our neighborhood Farmer’s market is only open on Saturdays, and we don’t live near enough to Union Square to go there on a regular basis during the week.

And then, of course, there is the fact that Mr TBTAM likes to go to Fairway on the way home from work to see what’s there to inspire tonight’s dinner. So it was a bit of a tussle between us on Saturday as I convinced him to change it up a bit – see what’s at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday when we have time to go together, and plan the week’s menus around that.

We decided to start small. Really small. With a bunch of lovely garlic ramps and some baby anise from the Union Square market.

Our first dinner tonight with Victor, who is with us for two weeks from Barcelona on an exchange student visit, provided the perfect opportunity to use these ingredients in a meal that would show him some traditional American cuisine – Chicken and potatoes. “Ramped up” a bit, of course.

Ramps n’ Taters

Ramps, or wild leeks, are quintessentially American. Appalachian to be more specific. Native to North America and growing wild in the woods, they provide spring sustenance for early Native Americans and mountain folk for generations. Ramps with potatoes and bacon is a traditional Appalachian dish. We cut back significantly on the bacon, but traditional recipes will use up to a pound of it. Add eggs at the end to make it a complete meal.

3 slices Bacon
1 bunch of garlic ramps, thoroughly washed
6 potatoes, washed and cut into bit sized pieces
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste

Wash the ramps well. Cut off the tip of the root and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. Spin or towel dry

Fry the bacon in a skillet till crisp and remove to a paper towel to drain.

Add the potatoes to the bacon fat and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the ramps and fry till done. Crumble and toss in the previously fried bacon and serve.

Sauteed Chicken with Fennel and Rosemary

This is a modification of a recipe from Food and Wine. I know it is probably a bit more Mediterranean than American in flavor, but we used the Farmer’s Market fennel and that made me proud. This dish has a very light and delicious sauce.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bunches baby fennel, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 organic chicken legs, split into thighs and drumsticks
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil is a large saute pan over moderately high heat. Add the fennel, 1 tbsp rosemary, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fennel is golden brown and almost done. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until the fennel is tender. Remove the fennel and the cooking liquid from the pan.

Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over moderate heat. Season the chicken with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Add the chicken to the pan with the remaining 1 tbsp of rosemary and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Turn and cook until almost done, about 3 minutes longer. Add the garlic; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the fennel and its cooking liquid and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and remove from the heat. Let steam 5 minutes. Serve, scattering parsley atop the plate.

London 5 – New Year’s Eve Dinner

We celebrated with a dinner and terrace firework watching at our apartment in London (Thanks again, Val – Don’t forget to come to our place soon!). We picked up provisions earlier that day at the Borough Market. The fact that we were going straight from the market to the theater limited our purchases to non-perishables, so we chose to make a mushroom risotto the main course, with assorted cheeses and dried meats for appetizers. I think we did pretty well under the circumstances.

Appetizers from Borough Market

The cheeses are Spenwood, a goats mild cheese made by Anne and Andy Wigmore in Eisely, and  a Gorwydd Caerphilly made by the Trethowan Family in Wales, both purchased at Neal’s Yard Dairy. (Click the cheese names for more info about the cheese makers.) The wonderful Balsamic Fig Sauce comes from Apulia Blend. I don’t know the name of the stall where I bought the salamis, but they were delicious.

And how about those cheesticks? They’re called “Red Leicester Cheese Straws” and they’re from the Flour Power City Bakery stall at the Borough Market. Like air they are. Look how light – What I’d give for that recipe…

Mushroom Risotto with Thyme

For this entree, I used mushrooms and herbs bought at the Wild Mushroom Company in Borough Market. The recipe is a basic risotto, with a few additions such as thyme and mushroom stock.

4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb assorted mushrooms, sliced thin (I used chantarelles, cepes from South Africa and button mushrooms from France)
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped fresh tyhme
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups risotto rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup mushroom broth (I used a dried mushroom stock cube, but you can make your own from dried porcinis, straining the stock before using and chopping the porcinis to add to the mushrooms)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaved parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the broths and heat to boiling, then turn down to a low heat to keep warm.

In a large heavy pot (I use a le Cruset French Oven), melt 1 tbsp butter with the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute till soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme and saute, stirring frequently, till the mushrooms give off their water and just start to brown. (About 10 minutes).Add the rice and stir, cooking for 2-3 minutes till it is opaque. Add the wine and stir till evaporated (about a minute).

Now turn down the heat a tad and begin adding the hot stock to the rice, a laedful or two, and stir. Continue stirring and adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more, until the rice is tender and creamy yet still a little al dente.

Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining butter, then the parsley and parmesan cheese. Season with lots of fresh ground pepper and a little salt. Serve with a side green salad and sauteed root veggies (recipe follows).

Sauteed Root Vegetables with Salsify

I discovered Black Salsify at the Wild Mushroom Company at Borough Market. The propietor suggested I treat it like a root vegetable, so that’s what I did, combining it with a few gorgeous carrots, leeks and fennel I found at the same place.

Salsify is sometimes called “Goat’s Beard”, which I suppose describes what the small roots look like coming off the end of the stalk. (This is black salsify – there are other types as well.) Salsify is also called  Oyster Plant because of it’s flavor when cooked. In this dish, that flavor did not come through, probably because of the stronger flavors of the carrots and fennel that accompany it. I’ve seen recipes for sauteed salsify with apple, and if I ever find salsify again,  that’s the recipe I will try.

You need to peel salsify before cooking it, after which you keep it in water with a little lemon juice to prevent it from turning color before cooking it.

1/2 lemon
Large bowl of cold water
3 salsify roots, peeled and julieened
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1 large leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed, sliced again lenghtwise and the into 2-3 inch strips
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced into thin strips 2-3 inches long

Squeeze the lemon into the cold water. Peel the salsify, then julienne. Keep in cold water till ready to cook, then drain and blot dry before cooking .

Slice the leek lengthwise and rinse well in cold water. Drain. Cut across the length, and then again lengthwise. so you have strips about 2-3 inches long.

Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add carrots, fennel and salsify, and saute over medium high heat till just softened. Add leeks and continue to saute till soft and veggies start to brown. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Soupe au Pistou

Once again, vegetarian dinner guests have challenged my culinary creativity. This time, rather than turning to the Moosewood or other veggie tome, I decided to cull a meatless dinner from a more classic source – Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This Provencal vegetable bean soup has everything one could ask for in a meal. Add a sourdough baguette and a salad and it’s more than enough for dinner for eight.

Soupe au Pistou

3 quarts water
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced leeks
2 cups diced potatoes
(I also added about 1/2 bulb fennel, diced )
1 tbsp salt
2 cups canned white cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained.
1/3 cup broken spaghetti or vermicelli
2 cups diced green beans
1 slice stale white bread, processed in the food processor to make crumbs (I used a stale pita)
pinch of saffron (I used turmeric)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (my addition)

For the Pistou
4 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 t 1/2 cup fruit olive oil
4 tbsp tomato paste or 6 tbsp fresh tomato puree

I used 3/4 cup prepared pesto (without pine nuts) instead of the first 4 ingredients and just blended in the tomato paste by hand.

Add potatoes, leeks, and carrots to 3 qt cold water with 1 tbsp salt in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes.

Twenty minutes before serving, so the green vegetables retain their freshness, add the beans, spaghetti or vermicelli, bread and seasoning to the simmering soup. Simmer another 15 minutes or until the green beans are just cooked. Correct seasonings.

Prepare the pistou while the soup is cooking. Blend garlic, tomato puree or paste, basil and cheese either by hand or in the food processor till smooth. Add the olive oil gradually. (If using prepared pesto, just blend in the tomato paste to the pesto). Place in the bottom of the soup tureen. When the soup is ready for serving, beat a cup gradually into the pistou. Pour in the rest of the soup. Serve with hot french bread or with hard-toasted bread rounds basted with olive oil

Makes 6-8 servings.

Kiddush Quiche (say that 5 times fast….)

The Hebrew word Kiddush means a prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or holiday, but can also refer to a reception held just after services, often in conjunction with a Bar Mitzvah. Food at a Kiddush tends to be light or sweet fare – salads, fish, bagels, wine, cakes.

We hosted a Kiddush at our home last month for our friend’s son on the night before his Bar Mitzvah. In this process I discovered that hosting a friend’s party is much less stressful that hosting your own, especially when they bring most of the food, which in this case included a varity of cakes and fruit, the most amazing of which was the chocolate flourless cake from the Silver Moon Bakery. Because the timing of services made me worried that some of the guests may not have eaten dinner, I added cheese to the menu of sweets and decided to make a quiche.

It was a good decision – the group pretty much devoured everything. And what a great group it was – the kids all got along well, and we adults re-connected with old friends and made some new friends, too.

Thanks to our dear friends for allowing us to play such a special part in this important event.

Leek, Red Pepper and (chicken) Sausage Quiche

I modified a recipe for leek quiche I found in the Professional Chef, and used my own pie crust recipe. Obviously, our friends are not Kosher, but if you are, skip the meat in this quiche.

1 recipe Pate Brisee
2 large leeks or 4 small ones, thinly sliced
1 red pepper
1 clove garlic
butter or oil
cayenne pepper
1 1/4 cup half and half
3 eggs
4 oz grated cheese (I used Fontina, you could also use Jarlsberg)
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 sausages (I used Applegate Farms organic pre-cooked chicken-apple sausages), diced

Prepare the crust

Make the Pate Brisee dough, roll it out and fit into a 10-inch tart pan. Partially cook it by either lining it with foil and adding pie weights, or setting a slightly smaller pie pan inside it. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes till set. Then remove the foil and weights or smaller pie pan, prick the bottom with a fork and and bake another 5 minutes. Take out and let cool before filling

Make the Filling

Heat a small amount butter or oil in a saute pan. Add sausages and saute quickly over high heat to brown. Remove from pan to paper towels to drain. Lower heat to medium high and saute leeks, peppers and 1 tbsp thyme until leeks start to soften. Add garlic and saute a few minutes more. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Remove from heat to cool.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk eggs and cream together. Stir in the grated cheese and the second tbsp thyme, season with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Assemble and Bake

Spoon the filling mixture into the tart crust. Add the egg mixture gradually, stirring carefully with a fork to distribute the filling ingredients evenly.

Set the quiche on a sheet pan and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-45 minutes until set ( a knife blade inserted into the center comes out clean) and lightly browned.

Serve warm or at room temp.