Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Garbanzo Turkey Burgers

Now that the month of many birthdays is, mercifully, behind us, I'm endeavoring to return to my diet. Getting back to the straight and narrow is often more difficult than starting along that path, but I think I'm doing okay. It's a little easier right now because for large stretches of time, I'm too busy to eat. Also, V. has trotted off to Paris for a week for a vacation. I would like to say "a well-deserved vacation," but it might stick in my throat just now. Certainly, he worked enough years to earn his retired status, but, really, if one feels like taking a vacation, one can just as easily choose from the hundreds of places that one's partner has no desire to visit rather than to choose, say, one's partner's very favorite city in the whole world.

Not that I'm bitter.

Anyway, V.'s absence does have the very slight silver lining of allowing me to make my own dinner, which, in turn, makes dieting easier. Having very little time, however, I have to come up with things that can be prepared quickly. I stopped at the supermarket tonight to pick up bananas and found that ground turkey was on sale. So I also picked up a can of chick peas, and some cilantro, and I threw together these thoroughly delicious turkey burgers. Were I not on record elsewhere on the Internet as saying I never make the same thing twice, then I would certainly be planning to make them again (with the second package of turkey and the second can of chick peas that I also bought tonight). Alas, I cannot, and instead I shall spend a moment thinking about what V. might possibly bring me back from Paris that would make up for having abandoned me for a week to visit my favorite city. I hope he doesn't have any trouble bringing Jérémie Elkaïm through customs.

Anyway, when I put the first round of these burgers in the pan, I realized that I hadn't added any mustard. I thought that this would turn out to be a mistake, but I believe that this particular ground turkey dish is better without the deliciousness of dijon.

I cannot speak for everyone, but ground turkey is not something that I want to eat medium rare (the way I want a beef burger). If you make this mixture into eight patties that are no more than an inch thick (they should be about four inches in diameter) and use medium heat, five minutes on a side should leave them fully cooked without drying them out. They will also be very nicely browned.

Garbanzo Turkey Burgers

Chick peas, one 15-ounce can
Ground turkey, one 20-ounce package, 93% lean
1 t. smoked sweet paprika
1 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
Black pepper, to taste
One egg
1 T. sesame oil
Cilantro, minced, to taste

Drain and rinse the chick peas. Put them in a bowl and mash them. Add the other ingredients. Mix well.

Form into eight patties. Fry over medium heat for five minutes on each side.

I really did measure almost everything this time. I never measure black pepper, and I almost never measure cilantro. I'm not sure if I've just become more accustomed to the taste over time, but it seems to me that the cilantro that was available when fresh cilantro was first readily available was stronger than the cilantro that's generally available now. Though I will say that the bunch I bought today did have a very nice aroma. A quarter cup is probably about right, but you're unlikely to use so much that you harm the burgers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Birthday, Another Cake (with a Side of Pork)

As soon as I saw Le Fondant au Chocolat de Tante Amélie on Chocolate and Zucchini, I knew that I would have to make it for L.'s birthday. L. had not been terribly specific about what sort of birthday cake she wanted, except to say that she didn't want a cheesecake because A. had had a cheesecake for her birthday. She mentioned either an ice cream cake or a cake made with Oreos, and I countered by saying that I could make a chocolate cake and serve it with cookies & cream ice cream. That suggestion satisfied everyone.

The cake that Clothilde passed along is not quite flourless, but it's close. The gold standard of flourless chocolate cakes is the Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible, but the Fondant Amélie looked like it would be almost as good and significantly less trouble. I love taking some trouble with a cake, but I knew there was no way that I'd have time to pull off the COTT. It is something of a production, and it's a little hard on even my nerves, and I'm really not easily rattled in the kitchen.

Just how difficult it is to make me upset when I'm cooking was amply illustrated Friday night when I got home very late and still had to make the FA. I was very, very tired, and my judgment was obviously not what it should have been. I followed the instructions fairly precisely, and everything was fine until I went to turn the cake out of its pan.

I had decided to use a ten-inch cake pan in the hopes of producing a slightly more dramatic cake. I had forgotten, however, that I don't have an unlimited supply of plates that will hold a cake that big, and when I finally located the one I wanted, it was an inch or two wider than was entirely necessary. When I inverted the plate onto the cake pan and then inverted the cake pan (righting the plate) and the cake slid out, it was not centered on the plate.

I am, I assure you, more than experienced enough in baking (I have used a bain marie on countless occasions) to understand that a cake made with little flour is very tender even after it has fully cooled, let alone when it is still quite warm and has just come out of the pan. Again, I must plead exhaustion. In any case, rather than enjoying the asymmetry of the cake on the plate or sticking the cake in the refrigerator and centering it the next day, I put the cake pan back over the cake, turned it back over, shook it, centered the pan on the plate, reversed it again, and removed the cake pan.

I had succeeded in folding the center of the cake so that it now looked something like a football with a big ridge in the center. So I tried the entire process again, and this time the cake ripped into a few pieces.

I will confess, reader, that at this point, I was sufficiently distressed to utter a mild sigh. And then I said, "I guess I'm making another cake tomorrow." Then I got out a spoon and ate a few bites (fabulous), scraped the rest into a bowl, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. (There is nothing quite like opening your refrigerator and realizing that you have about three cups of the thing that fudge only dreams it could be, waiting for you to nibble on it.)

In part, I was undisturbed because I had suspected from the time I scraped the batter into the prepared pan and stuck it in the bain marie that the finished product would not really be a suitable birthday cake for L. The principal problem is size. It is, of course, in the nature of a French cake not to be tall, but the Fondant Am&elie is positively Napoleonic. This complex was only enhanced by my choice of a ten-inch plate. The finished product could not have been more than 3/4 of an inch thick, and while I do not subscribe to the typical American notion that a birthday cake needs to be five or six inches tall, I did want a cake rather than a thin tart.

I also felt, having tasted the cake (fabulous! Vive Bonaparte!) that it was perhaps a bit rich for L.'s tastes, even though I planned to serve it with ice cream. So I decided to use a smaller pan and to increase by half most of the ingredients, with a larger increase in the amount of flour, to provide slightly more structure. The final result? Fabulous. Probably not quite as fabulous as the first, but still terrific, and more appropriate to the intended audience, though it was still so rich that I had to cut very small pieces.

In future, I am likely to use Clothilde's proportions, perhaps with the addition of a tablespoon of liqueur. But I will almost certainly bake it in buttered ramekins and serve individual portions in the ramekins. Perhaps with the addition of some crème chantilly.

The method is really the same as Clothilde's except that because I was adding liqueur, I had to put it in sometime. So I whisked it in at the end of the five-minute chocolate-cooling period (i.e., before whisking in the eggs and flour). Otherwise, follow her instructions, but be sure to use a nine-inch pan and the following ingredients:

9 ounces water
9 ounces sugar
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces butter
2 T. Grand Marnier*
3 eggs
5 ounces all purpose flour

The cake will take about fifty minutes in the bain marie to achieve a dense but moist and fully cooked texture on the sides and a gooey center. The center of the finished cake was somewhat gooier than is traditional with, say, a reine de saba, but I prefer mine that way. You can cook it a bit longer, if you like, but if you leave it in the oven until the center is perfectly dry, the outside will be overcooked, and, really, who doesn't like gooey chocolate?

Because I started the second cake at 4 pm on Saturday and L.'s birthday dinner was for 7 pm, I used a springform pan (I wrapped it in heavy aluminum foil so water wouldn't get in) and, after letting it cool for half an hour, I covered the cake with foil and refrigerated it. Then shortly before serving it, I made and poured on some apricot glaze. I put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes then applied the icing from a plastic tube. Oh, the humanity.

*What I really wanted here was Chambord, but I somehow couldn't find the Chambord. The most likely explanation is that I've run out of it, but it seems unfathomable to me that I could inhabit a house without Chambord. The liqueur is fully optional; its presence is very subtle here, and many wouldn't miss it. Frangelico would also be nice here.

It's hard for me to believe that I've not previously posted a recipe for smothered pork chops, but apparently I haven't. It's really one of my favorite main courses. I love pork chops, and when you've made this recipe, you end up with about two quarts of gravy, which cannot help being a good thing. For L.'s birthday, I went with a less ambitious menu than I had for A.'s birthday, but I'm sure that no one felt cheated. (To the best of my knowledge, no guest has ever left my home hungry.) Smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes, and broccoli. I knew that L.'s kid-attended birthday party would have ended only two or three hours before we'd be eating, and aside from V. and I, everyone else at the table would have been at the party.

One really ought not rush the preparation of smothered pork chops. In fact, the preparation ought to occur over two days. I did not have this luxury, and as a result, the dinner pork chops, while flavorful, were just slightly tough. The leftover pork chops (I got a package of twelve at Costco) that I chopped up and reheated with the leftover gravy and poured over the potato pancakes that I made from the leftover mashed potatoes, however, were out of this world. So if you're going to make this dish for a dinner party (and you should because it's wonderful and no one expects it at a dinner party), you really should plan on browning the chops and cooking them for a couple of hours on one day, then refrigerating the chops overnight, then finishing the sauce the second day, and then slowly reheating the chops in the sauce. Alternatively, you could start in the morning, use a slow cooker, and cook the chops the whole day. Then you could just pull out the chops, discard the bones, chop the meat (think of pot roast you can eat with a spoon), finish the sauce, and return the meat to the sauce. It's a very informal presentation, but this is the sort of dish that you can only serve to your best friends, anyway. No one else really deserves it.

Smothered Pork Chops

1 T. Olive oil, plus additional for browning the chops
2 medium onions, chopped
1 celery heart, chopped
5 cloves garlic, whole
2 c. chopped carrots or baby carrots
1 14-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes
1 t. dried thyme
2 cups red wine
2 cans beef broth
12 one-inch thick pork chops
2 T. butter
2 T. flour

Put a stockpot on a medium low flame and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions, stir, cover, and cook for five minutes on low heat. Don't let the onions brown.

Add the celery, garlic, and carrots, stir, cover, and cook for one minute. Add the tomatoes and thyme, 1.5 cups of the red wine, and the 2 cans of beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Put a large skillet over medium heat. Spray with a small amount of olive oil. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown the pork chops for five minutes on each side (you will have to do this in three or four batches, depending on the size of your skillet) and then put them in the simmering liquid. When the chops have all been browned, deglaze the pan with the remaining red wine and pour the deglazing liquid and any brown bits into the stock pot on top of the pork chops. Cover the pot.

Simmer the pork chops, covered, for approximately two hours, or until the chops appear to be losing their attachment to the bones. Remove the chops from the liquid and let cool. Use your immersion blender to puree the sauce. Remove from heat and let cool. Refrigerate the chops and the sauce, separately.

A half hour or so before you intend to serve the pork chops, return the sauce to a large pan and bring to a boil. Knead together the butter and flour (you are making a beurre manié) until they are well combined, then drop the mixture, in several pieces, into the boiling stock. Whisk well, then simmer for a few minutes. Return the chops to the sauce. Cook at a low simmer for about fifteen minutes. Serve the chops coated with the sauce, and pass more sauce on the side. You'll have lots.

Use more or less beurre manié as necessary. Because of the large amount of vegetable matter in this sauce, you could probably get by without any thickener, but a small amount does improve the sauce significantly.

Because A. objects strenuously to the inclusion of mushrooms, I didn't put any in this time. The sauce was thoroughly delicious without them, but there is no arguing that it would be thoroughly deliciouser with the addition of either cultivated or wild mushrooms. Given the long cooking time and the puree, dried mushrooms (some shiitakes, perhaps) would work splendidly.

I will not give my recipe for mashed potatoes here. Everyone has his or her own favorite way of making mashed potatoes, and while I'm quite certain that mine are better than yours (or, really, anybody's), I recognize that you might not agree. I will say that I bake rather than boil the potatoes that I subsequently mash. I will also acknowledge that I use garlic, but that I do so subtly. And that I use entirely unhealthy amounts of both butter and heavy cream.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Today, readers, we begin with a bit of pedantry. You may well think, "How does that differ from any other day?" but I beg you to remember that while I am frequently pedantic, I am even more frequently circumlocutory so that while I am often caught picking nits, it usually takes me a while to start.

Anyway. The title of today's post and today's cookie is an acronym. It is also an abbreviation, because all acronyms are abbreviations. The inverse, however, is not true. Sadly, there are people (horrible, horrible, bad, awful, naughty, evil, wicked people) in this world who use the terms as though they were interchangeable. Which, I must again aver, they are not. For an abbreviation to be an acronym, it must be pronounceable as a word. I might go so far as to say that it must be pronounceable with relative ease, but I would be on less than solid ground there, so I won't.

By way of example, if one abbreviates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as NASA, one has an acronym (as well as an abbreviation), because people generally will say "nassa" rather than "en ay ess ay." Contrariwise, if one abbreviates the Concorde supersonic transport as SST, one has an abbreviation (but not an acronym) because people will generally say "ess ess tee" rather then "sisst." I apologize for the inelegance of my transliteration, but it sort of proves my point. I also apologize for the probability that "transliteration" is the wrong word here, but I'm very tired.


Educating the blogosphere about all matters culinary is a tireless and thankless task, so it is perhaps not entirely surprising that I have as yet failed to eliminate all ignorance about certain culinary terms. (I am no longer on about acronyms. I am on about something else now. That last "anyway" was a sort of abrupt transition.) You probably already know, for example, that when one appends florentine to the name of a savory dish, one means that the dish is cooked with spinach. As it happens, sagwala has the same meaning, spinach being a food that is far too good to be claimed by only one culinary tradition.

There are many such terms, especially in the lexicon of haute cuisine, and some of them are quite well known. Others, sadly, remain obscure, including today's term: Whore of Babylon. In classic contemporary cooking, a dish is described as "whore of Babylon" if it appears to be out of control or to have too much going on.

Whore of Babylon is, as you may know, a Biblical term. It appears in the Revelations where the whore (as she is affectionately known to her friends) is described as
the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
Um. Yeah. Well, perhaps you see why if one is making a whore of Babylon dish for one's child to take to her fifth grade class so that the class might celebrate her eleventh birthday, one might wish to abbreviate whore of Babylon to "WOB" in order to avoid unpleasant questions and explanations. (As a side note, I was raised in the Southern Baptist church until I was eighteen or so, and I don't believe I ever heard any minister quote any verse that contained the word "fornication." Proving, yet again, that there is always something to be grateful for.)

As it happens, though, WOB (in case you're wondering, I believe that the French equivalent is grand guignol) foods generally (and these cookies in particular) are ideally suited for children, who appreciate delicious excess and colorful foods more than their adult counterparts do. Or at least the kids are more willing to admit it. Accordingly, my whore of Babylon oatmeal cookies (WOBOCs) have just about everything that I could think of to put in them, and they're terrific. If I were totally unrestrained, I might also have thrown in a half cup or so of peanut butter, but one learns early in these parts not to send to school any food that has ever been accused of consorting with peanuts. The only thing that I would really have liked to have done differently is to have used miniature m&ms instead of regular, plain m&ms. Alas, no minis were available, though it appears that they are now making some sort of mega m&m. (I do not approve. I also don't approve of peanut m&ms. I approve of mini m&ms only in recipes or when mixed into ice cream. Peanut butter m&ms are an abomination. I object on principle to almond m&ms, but you would be well advised not to come between me and a bowl of them.)

What the WOBOCs don't have is raisins. Don't blame me. When L. called me last evening to see why I wasn't home yet (during busy season, V. picks up the girls, and I make a huge effort to leave the office at 7 pm on the nights they're over; I have to sneak out of the office to accomplish this, and sometimes I get caught) and to ask what we'd be baking for her to take to school, and I told her that we'd be making some special oatmeal cookies, she said, "Without raisins, right?" and I said, "Yes, sweetie, I've already made my shopping list, and there are no raisins on it." I do believe, however, that a cup of craisins would be a felicitous addition here. Just don't try to serve them to L.

These cookies tend to retain more of their dome shape and spread out less than usual oatmeal cookies do. I added the water in the recipe to help them spread out a bit more, but it only made a small difference, and the shape they end up with is really fine. If you form them in a different shape or use a smaller cookie scoop, you will need to adjust the baking time. I used a large (1.75", I believe) cookie scoop, and I got 56 cookies. The thickness does mean that they're excellent with a cold glass of milk (or something similar). And pretty deadly without it. You have been warned.


1/2 lb. butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. water
1.5 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
3.5 c. rolled oats
1 c. unsalted roasted cashews
1.5 c. toasted coconut
1 c. miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. m&ms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter in the bowl of your mixer. Add the sugars and cream again. Add, mixing well after each addition, the eggs, vanilla, water, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and rolled oats. Either mix or fold in the remaining ingredients until they are well distributed throughout the dough.

Using a large cookie scoop, place mounds of the cookie dough on lined baking sheets. They will spread some but not too much: on a half-sheet pan, you should be able to fit five rows of four cookies each.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes, or until done. Cool on the pans for about ten minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Feed to children or eat them yourself when you are sure that no one is looking.

Update: I asked L. how the WOBOCs (she wanted to call them Everything Cookies, but I insisted) had gone over at school, and she said that the kids were initially a bit put off by the list of ingredients (which, of course, you have to send along witht he cookies in case someone is allergic to something), so she told them to smell the cookies, and then demand increased sharply, and, after having eaten the WOBOCs, many of the kids wanted the recipe. L. told them that they couldn't have it because it's a family recipe. Smart kid.

We ate the last of the WOBOCs today, four days after they were baked. They were even better today: the coconut was asserting itself a bit more. I can't wait to make them at Christmas, with red and green m&ms.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ends and Odds

Tax season being what it is, these days I'm mostly about either cooking things that are quick and easy (Last night when I stumbled home at 9:00, I got out a pot, put in six cups of water, a bag of red lentils, and a packet of onion soup mix, and brought it to a simmer; forty minutes later, I added some canned beef broth, a cup of salsa, and some salt and pepper: lunch for the week. It's very good, too.) or thinking about things that I desperately want to make but can't.

At the head of that last class would be sunflower seed tuiles. Longsuffering-time readers of this blog may remember that nearly a year ago, I ate at a restaurant in Baltimore and experienced a revelation that I attempted to recreate (with mixed results) here and here. As much as I loved the little cookies/flatbreads that started the meal at Pazo, I had nonetheless let the quest for them slip from my consciousness.

But then, out of nowhere, I received an email from a mysterious stranger. (If I ever write a novel, I really must begin it "Out of nowhere, anapestic received an e-mail from a mysterious stranger." This fact alone would explain why no one will ever offer me a book deal.) Actually, I'm not sure that the stranger is in any way mysterious. He did, after all, sign his name to his email, but he and I don't know each other, so I like to think that he's a sort of culinary Lone Ranger, coming to the aid of cooks in distress everywhere. Hi ho, Colander, away!

Anyway, this very kind person who may or may not be mysterious and who may or may not ride a horse named after kitchen equipment (And who may or may not have a sidekick: he didn't say. I hate to look a gift horse, so to speak, in the mouth, but who sends an email without even mentioning whether he has a sidekick? Those of you who have corresponded with me will confirm that all of my emails contain the text "I'm anapestic: I approve this email, and I have no sidekick. Alas.") recently ate at Pazo and came away determined to discover the same recipe that I had been (and then wasn't) determined to find. So he went to Pazo's web site, and there it was. In defense of my normally superior search skills, I must say that I also checked Pazo's web site last May, so I think that they have posted the recipe since then, probably just to make me look bad. In any case, the recipe's there, and it's pretty much nothing like what I made last year. I intend to try it at my earliest opportunity. Which will likely be May. (Alas.)

Keep firmly in mind that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, reader, when I tell you that a few days ago, I felt like I absolutely, positively had to bake a cake. I will, of course, be baking another cake this weekend for L.'s 11th birthday. And I will probably be baking brownies or something like that this evening, so that L. can take some baked goods to school to celebrate her birthday, but I had a particular cake in mind.

Come with me, if you will, to the dark reaches of the past: last week. I was trying to assemble something quick for dinner, and V. handed me half an avocado. (This is not some sort of bizarre ritual that we have for demonstrating affection. He had just used the other half in a salad.) I decided that the best thing to do with this avocado was to eat it with a bit of relatively nice balsamic vinegar. And I had, in the pantry, a one-liter bottle of the most expensive balsamic vinegar that Costco sells.

I am aware that many people believe that balsamic vinegar has become far too prevalent in the U.S. these days. These people feel, perhaps with much justification, that what used to be an expensive and rare and wonderful thing is now copied, poorly, in large factories in Modena. These people fear that balsamic vinegar is becoming the new ketchup. I have no dog in this fight. I am happy to agree that cheap balsamic vinegar is really not all that, though I would say the same thing about cheap vinegar generally. (I do think that even with cheap balsamic, you can make a pretty good vinaigrette, if you work hard enough.) And frankly, I have no idea how good or authentic the pricier Costco balsamic is. One presumes that at about $10 a liter, it has not been sitting in anyone's grandmother's attic for twenty-five years. But I really don't care if they take distilled white vinegar and add peat moss and high fructose corn syrup and slap a fancy label on it because it tastes really great. I poured about a tablespoon of it into the hole left by the avocado's pit, sprinkled on a little sea salt, and happily ate the avocado with a spoon.

Right after "mmmmm," my first thought was, "you know, I bet this would be good in a cake." Sure, it's tangy, but it's also fruity and delicious and complex.

I figured that the way to go would be to slightly modify one of my other excellent prune cake recipes. Regular readers may well be tired of seeing me write about prune cake, but I apparently can't say frequently enough just how good this sort of prune cake really is.

And the balsamic vinegar prune cake was no exception. So, so good. Tragically, I had been to the supermarket over the weekend and had not found any cocoa powder, so I was unable to add the two tablespoons of cocoa powder that I wanted to add to the batter (I did add a significant amount of semisweet chocolate, but I like to have both ingredients in the cake). I will add the cocoa powder in the future, and I suspect that the cake will be even better, but even without it, the cake is addictively delicious. It is a cake where chocolate is a strong presence without taking over and turning it into a chocolate cake. It is also a terrible strain on my diet, but I try to console myself with the fact that it's been in the kitchen for over two days, and I've eaten only half of it. That's more self-control than I can usually expect of myself. Especially because the cake is so very good. But it's also the sort of cake that ages well, and I'm curious as to how good it will taste in two more days.

The balsamic vinegar is a noticeable, but subtle, presence. (Try not to panic while the cake's baking: at that point, the vinegar will be much more obvious.) One of the last tastes that you get from a bite of this cake is a clear but subdued tang that only intensifies the deliciousness. I usually don't care whether anyone tries any of my recipes, but I hope that some of you give this one a go. If you do, let me know. Make sure that you use a decent balsamic vinegar. Trader Joe's has sort of mid-level balsamics at a reasonable price.

I'm sorry for not taking a picture. The cake doesn't really look like anything special. You could, of course, pour a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache over it, and then it would be very festive indeed.

Another Prune Cake

10 ounces prunes, chopped fine
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
8 T. butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine

Put the prunes and balsamic vinegar in a nonreactive bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9" springform pan or deep cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices in the bowl of your mixer. With the whisk attachment, mix together for two minutes.

With the mixer running, whisk in the softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. With the mixer still running, whisk in the eggs -- one at a time -- and the vanilla extract.

Turn off the mixer, and scrape the sides with a rubber spatula. Fold in the semisweet chocolate and the prunes and vinegar.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until done.

Cool in the pan for ten minutes or so, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

This recipe makes a pretty thick batter. This turns out to be a good thing because it makes it easier to spread the batter in the pan so that the batter is thicker near the edge than it is at the center. That, in turn, means that when the cake rises in the oven, it will be more nearly level. In addition to looking better, it will also bake more evenly that way so that the edges will not be overdone when the center is still gooey. Because of the ingredients, this is a very moist cake, even when it's fully cooked, and it should stay moist for several days, as long as you remember to wrap it after it's cooled.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I got home late the other night (quelle surprise), and V. had, sensibly, already eaten dinner. I wanted something quick and not too heavy, the diet having taken serious (but not fatal) injuries over the past week. I had two portobello mushrooms left in the refrigerator, and I had some cheese and bread crumbs left from the weekend. There is almost always an open bottle of red wine in the house.

How moist or dry one likes one's large mushroom caps is a matter of personal taste. I should probably have cooked mine a bit longer because I like them a bit dryer than they were. I have reflected that preference in the recipe. What I ended up eating was decidedly juicy, though delicious. Juiciness, to my palate, is fine when the mushrooms are still hot.

The portobellos came from Costco, where a 20-ounce package typically contains four portobello caps. If you look carefully, though, you can usually find a package with six caps. I prefer a slightly smaller portobello when I'm serving it whole, but this recipe would work with any size mushroom. You could easily make it with a dozen or so large white mushrooms, but I do like the portobellos better, and I can pretty much always get them for a very reasonable price at Costco.

The cheddar I used was a sharp Vermont cheddar, and it was very assertive, which is how I like my cheddars. You could certainly make the mushrooms with a milder cheese, such as whatever you use for your onion soup, and that would also be tasty. You could also do a lot more with the braising liquid. And you could pour it off when it was mostly evaporated and make a sauce, especially if you're not getting home at 9 pm and feeling the need to eat RIGHT NOW. I put my mushrooms under the broiler before the liquid was gone and then drizzled the liquid -- straight from the pan -- over the finished product as a nod to saucemakers everywhere, but I don't really think any sauce is necessary.

Braised Portobellos

2 Portobello mushroom caps, whole
Olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/3 cup beef broth
Black pepper
1 ounce grated cheddar
2 T. bread crumbs

Put a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Spray the pan and both sides of the mushrooms lightly with the olive oil. Saute gill-side down for three minutes, covered. Turn over and saute, uncovered, for another three minutes.

Pour in the red wine and beef broth, cover, and cook for about five minutes. Remove cover, and let cook until liquid has evaporated.

Put the cooked mushroom caps in an ovenproof dish, with the gill side up. Sprinkle half of the grated cheddar on each mushroom, then top with the bread crumbs. Broil for 3 - 5 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crumbs are brown.

I didn't post anything on Valentine's Day, and I have to confess that I find it a silly holiday. V. and I are on the same wavelength here, as in most areas. Originally, the girls were to have been over, as they are every Wednesday night, but due to the recent snow and the protracted school closings, I left them at their mother's house and had them Thursday night instead. This left me free to work late(r). I rightly assumed that V. would eat on his own and would not have made any provision for V-Day. As I was leaving the office, though, it struck me that the day would make a good excuse to serve a festive dessert, so I stopped at Trader Joe's and a wine store on the way home and picked up a pint of lemon sorbet and a bottle of prosecco, respectively. Then when I got home, I got out a couple of large martini glasses, put a scoop of the sorbet in each, and topped them off with the prosecco. We kept going until half of the sorbet and all of the prosecco were gone, leaving me mildly and pleasantly inebriated. V-Day is a notoriously bad day for eating out, and I have no intention of supporting the greeting card, florist, or chocolate industries on February 14th, but the sorbet cocktail (which you can eat with a spoon or sip or eat with a spoon and sip) was a good way to celebrate.

It would also be a good way to celebrate Groundhog Day, Arbor Day, and National Manatee Awareness Day, though in some of those cases, obviously, you'd want to go with a different flavor of sorbet to be more seasonally appropriate.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Salsa Verde

I'm doing some clean up with this post. I made this recipe about two months ago for our holiday party, and I wrote it down then, but I forgot to post it, partly because I didn't have a picture. (I still don't have a picture, but oh well.) It was, I think, a major improvement over my first attempt at salsa verde, and it was a big hit among the spice lovers at the party.

As with almost everything that I cook (as opposed to the things I bake), the recipe is more of a suggestion than a directive. I was fairly accurate in the description, but mixing up the amount of each vegetable isn't going to kill the sauce. Nor is adding more oil, though I liked this just fine with the tiny amount of oil that I used here. The roasting is very important, obviously.

I mostly dipped cold shrimp into this salsa, and it was very good with them, but it's also good with crudités or corn chips. Or lots of other things. It was very, very green.

Salsa Verde

12 ounces tomatillos
One medium onion
2 cloves garlic
2 jalapenos
Olive oil
One avocado
2 limes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare the vegetables: halve the tomatillos; peel and quarter the onion; peel and halve the garlic; halve the jalapenos and remove the seeds. Toss all the vegetables with a teaspoon of olive oil and put them in a small baking dish. (Or put them in the baking dish and spray them with olive oil.)

Cover the pan with foil and bake for twenty minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the vegetables cool.

Put the vegetables and any collected juices in the blender. Add a handful of cilantro and the juice of the limes and blend until smooth. Add the flesh of the avocado and blend again, until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The End of an Era

Reader, I hope you're sitting down.1

I have been struggling. And I don't mean struggling with work (it's always a struggle at this time of year, and I'm resigned to that) or struggling with family (everyone's doing pretty well) or struggling with blogging 2 or even (for the most part and this weekend aside) struggling with my diet. No, I have been locked in a month-long battle of wills with this woman.

While I was on vacation in January, I happened to spend a bit of time chatting with a nice young man who also happened to be on vacation. He was carrying a copy of Bleak House, and I happened to mention that it was very likely my second favorite Dickens novel, and from there the conversation meandered off on a path through much of Victorian literature that came to an end when our boat arrived at the reef. In the course of that conversation, he innocently (or so I thought!) mentioned that a friend of his from the Internet had suggested that he read Villette as a companion piece to Bleak House.

I have not read a great deal of Charlotte Bronte. In fact, it is likely that my exposure to this particular Bronte Sister3 had been limited to two readings of Jane Eyre. But I had relatively fond, if vague, memories of that novel, and I figured that if another Currer Bell novel was normally considered illuminative of Bleak House, then I would be well advised to read it.

And it is certainly true that Villette is a bleak affair. I will be the first to admit that I am likely writing out of turn, insofar as I have completed only two of the novel's three volumes. And Mr. Bell/Ms. Bronte is not entirely to blame for the slowness of my progress: the novel has many words, and I have little time. I typically pick it up after I am in bed for the evening and read only until I am exhausted (generally about a page and a half later) by either fatigue or, more likely, the prose. But if one reads two-thirds of a way through the novel and has yet to discern more than a ghost of a plot, then one ought rightly be able to assume that no strong plot is forthcoming. Similarly, if one finds the language overwrought in the first chapter and then again in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second, twenty-third, twenty-fourth, twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, and twenty-seventh chapters, it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume that there is a significant probability of additional overwrought language to come. And while it is certainly true that one has a slightly better understanding of the narrator's character at the end of the second volume than one had before beginning the first, it is equally true -- alas -- that the narrator is not significanly more likable than a character about whom one has never read.

Careful readers may well note a certain, shall we say, hypocrisy in my writing that someone else's language is overwrought. (Pot, kettle, black?) Well, yes. And, frankly, I am occasionally almost envious of Ms. Bronte's linguistic excess. More to the point, I believe that I understand its source. I think it is safe to say that Charlotte Bronte lived a life that was not marred by excessive joy. And if Villette is wildly successful in anything, it is in ruthlessly creating a visceral understanding of just how difficult it must have been to be an intelligent woman of limited means in Victorian England. There is inescapable oppression on every page, and part of the problem, I'll admit, with reading the book is that it's just such a downer. Clearly, Charlotte Bronte must have been a woman of a passionate nature with no means, in her everyday life, of expressing that passion. What was left to her must have been a passion for language. A passion for words. It is all enough to make me feel very, very sorry for her, but it is still very depressing. And a very tough read.

But I will finish, eventually. I am generally not one to continue in an abusive reading relationship. If I find that a book has no merit, then I have no trouble casting it aside and seeking a restraining order. But Villette is not a meritless book: it is just hard. And Victorian fiction is often (but by no means always) hard. Persevering in the face of this difficulty has often rewarded me with great enjoyment and sometimes not (I'm looking at you, William Makepeace Thackeray), but I have always gotten some value. If nothing else, then every other bit of Victorian fiction one reads adds to the context which allows one to experience Middlemarch, the single most valuable book ever written.

I suggest that the most difficult lesson that many of us have to learn is to not take ourselves too seriously and to focus on what is truly imporant in our lives4. And I submit that the easiest way to learn this lesson is to consider poor Mr. Casaubon. Whenever I find myself becoming too ponderous (say, by means of a wild example, thinking about just what's wrong with contemporary society and by what means it might be fixed; but, of course, you might well suppose that ponderous is not much of a leap for me) or getting involved in an earnest discussion about something not involving my personal welfare or the welfare of a family member or close friend, I try to take a step back and say to myself, "Oh yes. Keep on this line and perhaps you'll have The Key to All Mythologies in another hour or so." And then I laugh at myself and think that perhaps my time might be better spent enjoying the company of my daughters in the last few months before A. heads off to college. I owe my very sanity to George Eliot.5

Speaking of A., I attribute my rather more loquacious than usual mood6 in part to the fact that just yesterday we celebrated her eighteenth birthday. There is no point here in trying to describe just how proud of her I am or just what a wonderful person she is: there are not words. But I will relate that within the last month she has been accepted to her second and first choice colleges (Antioch and Marlboro), and that she's very happy about that and about most things.

As it happens, my parents had to be up in the area (they now reside in Florida and summer in Southwestern Pennsylvania) for medical visits and were staying with some cousins of my father, so in addition to the usual suspects, the annual birthday dinner included my parents and two more of my relatives, none of whom had met V. I find that the best way to deal with stress and abject horror is to cook like a madman, so despite having to work on Saturday and not being able to be home until about 4:45, I had planned to serve a large dinner for ten at 7:00. This turned out to be a wise decision as it forced me to plan ahead and to spend about two hours in that Zen state one reaches when one is cooking all out.

As it happens (and as expected, really), everyone was very cordial and seemed to have a very good time. More to the point: the food was, without exception, totally kick ass7. I had very much wanted to make Bakerina's spiced beef for this very special occasion. The annual family dinner, however, always includes the ex-wife, and the ex-wife has decided that neither she nor, really, anyone else should consume beef because American protections against bovine spongiform encephalopathy are horribly inadequate. Clearly, this view is not one to which I subscribe, but I really did not want to witness, let alone cause, the scene that was sure to occur if beef appeared on the table, so I went with something else. (The ex also doesn't eat eggplant or zucchini or any other form of squash. I'm just saying8.)

Although I reluctantly decided to reserve the spiced beef for another occasion, I did make a pair of dishes from two of my favorite food bloggers, the mother-daughter team9 of Lindy and Redfox. (FYI, the links are to the particular recipes.) Apparently, the fennel gratin comes originally from Elizabeth David; I believe that the broccoli with pine nuts is redfox' own invention. Not surprisingly, both dishes were knockouts. The fennel garnered more praise, probably because it is not something that my family normally eats (I don't believe I was ever served it as a child). I actually thought the broccoli was slightly better, but that was just because I did a better job making it. If you make the fennel (and you really should), remember, as I did not, that the only chance you get to salt the inner reaches of the fennel is during the boiling, so be sure to add enough salt to your water. But if you don't, it will still be awesome.

But back to the protein. I have been wanting for some time to make a pork shoulder roast. I was listening to The Splendid Table a while back and heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper suggest to a chef that he make a slow roasted pork shoulder seasoned with basil and garlic. Then, a bit later, I read over on Serious Eats a totally different pork shoulder treatment, and it watered the seed that had already been planted. I looked in a couple of stores, and I didn't see any pork shoulders, but when I was at Costco, I found some giant (> 10 pounds) pork loin roasts, so I decided to give them the same treatment.

Just to be nice, I'm pretending that I measured stuff. Measuring is really irrelevant here, but I'm pretty sure these measurements would work out. In practice, you dump the basil in a food processor, process , add the garlic, process some more, drizzle in olive oil -- while processing -- until the mixture is somewhat liquid, and add some salt and pepper.

Roast Pork Loin

A pork loin roast
Large bunch of basil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

Wash your pork loin and pat it dry. Put it on a large cutting board or a sheet pan. With a sharp paring knife, cut slits (about one inch wide and almost all the way through) about every two inches on one side of the roast. Cut similar slits on the other side of the roast, also about every two inches, so that they fall between the slits on the first side of the roast (in other words, if you connected the centers of the slits, you'd have a zigzag).

Using the food processor as directed above, combine the other ingredients into a thin paste. Spoon or otherwise insert the mixture into the slits. Rub some or all of the remaining paste all over the roast. At this point, you can wrap the roast well and refrigerate it for a day or two. Or you can proceed directly; the basil is not the sort of marinade that will or needs to get all the way through the meat.

Roast at 325 degrees, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Let sit for 25-30 minutes before slicing.

It should take about an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes for your roast to be done, but ovens vary. If it's done early and has to sit a few minutes longer, it won't hurt anything. It retains its heat pretty well while it's sitting.

I knew going in that A.'s birthday meal was going to be the sort of feast that's incompatible with a diet, so I decided to give myself the day off entirely. It's hard for me to think of a food that is more nutritionally indefensible than macaroni and cheese made the way I make it. My recipe is based on James Beard's recipe from Beard on Pasta, but I have made some significant changes, hopefully for the better. Mr. Beard instructs you to use a very sharp cheddar and not to skimp on the hot sauce (which serves only to bring out the flavor of the cheddar), and he is correct. His recipe (which I doubled as well as changed) says that it serves 4 to 6. I believe that he means as a main course. As a side dish, what I made would easily serve twenty. This was a problem on in that there are now leftovers in the frig, and this mac and cheese is so good that to resist its call is practically impossible, given that I can't easily have myself bound to a ship's mast. This is a very white mac and cheese, and you can change that by using an orange cheese, but I used a very fine aged Vermont cheddar, and that was a very good choice. You can add more color generally by adding all sorts of things to the basic recipe, but I like it fine the way it is. Besides, there was plenty of other color on the plate.

Macaroni and Cheese

4 ounces butter
3 large shallots, minced
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups milk
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. hot sauce
1/2 c. heavy cream
1.75 pounds sharp cheddar, grated

1 lb. elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large baking dish. Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. Call your mother.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, cover, and cook over low heat until well softened but not browned, about five minutes.

Meanwhile, either in another saucepan or in the microwave, scald the milk or at least make it hot.

Whisk the flour into the butter-and-shallot mixture and continue whisking over medium heat for three minutes. Gradually whisk in the hot milk.

At some point here, you want to start cooking your macaroni. The idea is for the macaroni to be done at the same time as the sauce, but if you are off by a few minutes, it is no big deal. When the macaroni is cooked, drain it. If the sauce isn't done yet, pour it into a big bowl, add a tablespoon of butter, and stir well to melt the butter and coat the macaroni.

Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce comes to a boil. Whisk in the wine, mustard, hot sauce, and cream. Return to a boil. At this point you will probably want to switch to a spoon.

Reserve about a quarter pound of the grated cheddar. Stir the rest of the cheddar into the sauce, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste the sauce and add something if you feel like it's a good idea.

Combine the cooked macaroni and the sauce in a large bowl. Stir thoroughly. Turn into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top.

Bake at 350 for about thirty minutes.

I like to cook my m&c until there are some brown spots on the top, but not until it's brown and crusty all over. But cook yours for as long as you like. If you're looking for a nice crusty top, you can also sprinkle on bread crumbs after you've sprinkled on the cheese. I kind of wished I'd done that, but mostly just because I had bread crumbs left over from the fennel.

A. requested that her birthday cake be a cheesecake, so I made one. This is not my recipe. It is very slightly adapted from Lori, who used to make cheesecakes professionally and who also has some other cheesecake recipes on her site. She says that it's the best cheesecake ever, and I certainly can't think of a counterexample. It's also very simple to make. I don't really entirely agree with her philosophy on cheesecake crusts, so my recipe makes a slightly thinner crust than hers does. Also, in the future, I think I'd put this cheesecake in a slightly smaller pan: I'd like mine to be just a shade taller.

But, really, Lori's cheesecake recipe is amazing. Because of the topping I used, I decided to skip the lemon juice and use amaretto instead, and when I was eating my piece, it occurred to me that a small touch of acid would really have been a very nice thing. So next time, I might go with two teaspoons of lemon or lime juice. But the cheesecake I ended up with was nothing short of amazing, and the almond flavor is also very nice.


1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 T. butter, melted
2 T. sugar

1 lb. cream cheese, preferably at room temperature
A 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
1 T. amaretto
Cherry sauce (entirely optional, but yummy; recipe elsewhere on page10)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine the first three ingredients and pour the resulting mixture into a nine-inch springform pan. Press the crumbs about halfway up the edge and evenly across the bottom. Bake at 300 for ten minutes. Remove and cool.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Slowly beat in the condensed milk. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat to combine. Turn off the mixer, lift the paddle, and run a spatula around the inside of the bowl to make sure that everything is getting well mixed together. Then mix in the amaretto, again making sure that the entire mixture is uniform.

Pour the batter into the cooled (or semi-cooled) shell and bake at 300 degrees for about 55 minutes, or until the edges are set but the center is still slightly wobbly. If you start to see cracks around the edges, remove the cake from the oven immediately.

Let cool in the pan for an hour, then wrap the pan well and refrigerate for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.

Remove from the pan, top with cherry (or other) sauce if desired, and serve.

Cherry Sauce

A jar of sour cherries in light syrup
2 T. sugar
2 t. cornstarch suspended in 2 T. water
1 T. amaretto

Drain the syrup into a saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil and whisk in the sugar. Whisk in as much of the cornstarch/water mixture as you feel you need. Return to the boil and whisk for a minute. Remove from heat and whisk in the amaretto. Reunite the mixture with the cherries. Cover and refrigerate.

I had originally intended to make my syrup thick enough so that I could decorate the edges of the cheesecake using the syrup in a squeeze bottle. If you're going to do that, you'll obviously need to put a few tablespoons of the syrup in a squeeze bottle and refrigerate that separately. As it happened, my syrup ended up not being that thick, so when I tried to decorate with it, it all eventually ran together. But the thinner syrup probably made a better cherry sauce, and no one (even me) really missed the extra decoration.

In fact, I had originally planned a more elaborate decoration in the middle of the cheesecake, but I overbaked the cake by a few minutes, and I got a fairly substantial crack in the middle, so I dumped some of the refrigerated cherries and syrup in the middle of the cake to cover the crack. Slightly overbaking the cake did nothing at all to harm the texture, or at least the texture was already so wonderful that I couldn't really imagine it being even better if I'd baked it slightly less.

Make sure that you taste the syrup before adding the additional sugar the recipe calls for. I was surprised to need it since the cherries had been packed in light syrup, and it is usually the nature of light syrup to be at least sweet enough. In this case, however, the cherries had passed on a good deal of sour to the syrup, and I needed the additional sugar to get a sauce that was delicious without being too sweet.

It is truly not easy to accept that your little girl is not a child any more. A. is a young woman of uncommon maturity, so it is something I have been learning to accept for some time, but an eighteenth birthday pretty much destroys any deniability that I had left. I'm not sure that cooking, or serving, a terrific meal makes the transition any easier for me, but it might, and I am sure that A. deserves at least the best food I can make. And, really, eating very well is always a lot better than eating something mediocre.

1Not for any particular reason. I just think it's silly to read an Internet post while standing. Especially seeing how I do have a tendency to go on a bit. Oh, and if you're reading the footnotes before the rest of the main text: don't worry; there will be recipes. Eventually.

2I kinda just threw that in as a way to make fun of people who struggle with blogging. I've actually read people writing about how they're struggling with their blogs. Surely "struggling" is the wrong word in that context. Isn't Jacob said to have struggled -- all night, yet -- with an angel and gotten a nasty hip injury in the process? Can you imagine Jacob finally prevailing in that fight only to become despondent because he wasn't sure exactly what he'd say about it on his blog?

3Readers who believe that I have erroneously capitalized "Sisters" will be displaying their unfortunate, though completely understandable, ignorance of musical history. The Bronte Sisters were, in fact, one of the earliest examples of the girl group phenomenon. They specialized in close harmonies and unusual time signatures and were wildly popular on the Haworth Parlor Circuit in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Sadly, the Misses Bronte had near-constant artistic differences, and the group broke up in 1843, reportedly because Charlotte refused ever to let Emily sing lead (most knowledgable scholars believe that events from the career of the Bronte Sisters provided the inspiration for Dreamgirls). Rumors of a reunion were rampant, but probably overstated, and Ann's death in 1848 effectively killed (as it were) such prospects.

4I beg you to take my word that this is, in fact, one lesson rather than two. I firmly believe that the two halves of this lesson are inextricably linked, but a discussion of why I believe that contention is beyond the scope of this post.

5There are, in fact, other ways to learn this lesson. By way of example, one can learn to let the nature of the universe worry about itself and instead focus on what's really important by going through a vicious divorce and custody battle. But if you are ever offered the choice of spending a great deal of time in the company of attorneys or reading Middlemarch, I respectfully suggest that you choose the latter.

6I fear, however, that the real answer to "Why are you going on about this on a cooking blog?" is mostly "Because I can." I'd be more sorry about that if I weren't also giving you three recipes.

7I know what you're thinking, and, no, I did not steal the term "totally kick ass" from George Eliot.

8Again, I know what you're thinking, and (issues of sexual orientation aside) while it is unthinkable that I should spend thirteen years with someone so culinarily incompatible, yes: reader, I married her.

9To the best of my knowledge, the two have never joined forces in a professional wrestling context, but I aver that if such a thing were to happen, it would be unwise to bet against them.

10Née "follows"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black Bean Patties

There's not much originality left around these parts, readers. I'm into the six-days-a-week part of busy season (that's as opposed to the six-long-days-a-week part that starts in another week or two), and simplicity is the name of the day. Simplicity, and shamelessly stealing recipes. I was reading redfox the other day, and she had linked to several very good ideas, most of which seemed pretty simple. Delicious though her oatmeal upma sounds, I decided that the black bean cakes would scratch the particular itch that I have at the moment.

The original recipe (which you can see here) is not at all difficult, but I figured it could be simpler still. I agree with redfox that quinoa might be the grain of choice for this recipe, but I had no quinoa on hand, and there was plenty of barley in the pantry, so I made up a batch of barley one evening this week, plopped it in the refrigerator, and used some of it today to make the black bean patties.

As must be obvious to regular readers, I am not a vegan. Nor am I a vegetarian of any sort, though I have great respect for the vegetarians and, of course, for vegetables. Because I wanted my patties to hold together well, I took redfox' advice and added an egg.

Trust me when I say that patty integrity is really not worth worrying about. I believe that an egg is a happy addition, but if you really want a patty that will stay together, you need two eggs, twice as much cornflake, and a slightly longer cooking time than is ideal. The patties you make with the extra ingredients and cooking time will still be delicious, but they will not be as good as the mush that you get if you stick to a single egg, one cup of cornflakes, and enough time to cook the mush and brown the egg, but not enough to give a dark crust. On the other hand, I was cooking with only the tiniest sprays of olive oil on my nonstick pan, and you might easily get better patties by using more oil for frying. You might also get firmer patties by using either couscous or quinoa (or something else) in place of the barley, but I very much like the taste of the barley. Also, the way I cook barley (bring a quart of water and three bouillon cubes to a boil, add 1/2 tsp. each of turmeric and smoked paprika, add 1 cup of barley, and simmer for about forty minutes, or until tender) makes it yellow, so you get a nice visual contrast with the black beans.

In any case, the black bean patties are terrific, highly satisfying, and very easy indeed. For those who care, it's qualifies as a Core recipe on Weight Watchers, provided that you don't eat more than two thirds of it in one day. And you won't. This recipe would easily serve six as a starter or four as a main course.

Black Bean Patties

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked barley
1 cup salsa
2 cups cornflakes
1 T. olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 eggs

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl and have at them with a potato masher until the black beans and the cornflakes are well mashed. Taste for seasoning and add pepper and salt (if you need any). Add the eggs and combine well.

Put a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using a large spoon, place dollops of the mixture in the pan and smooth out into disc shapes. Cook for about 2.5 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for another two minutes or so on the other side.

It is key here to use a salsa that you really like, but of course why would you have a salsa that you didn't like in your refrigerator? I am very fond of the refrigerated salsa that Costco carries. It's medium hot and flavorful. It's reasonably thick but not in the way that bottled salsa are thick. It's equally delicious as an ingredient and on chips.

Speaking of chips, I've started making my own, sort of. I find most baked chips nearly inedible, and while fried tortilla chips are almost unspeakably delicious, they're very high in both fat and calories, and if I eat a couple, I'll eat a whole bag. And not a little bag, either: the giant economy sized bag. Especially if the chips are flavored with lime. Time comes to a standstill when I'm eating those things.

But you can bake your own chips and get something that's pretty good. Just don't think of it as a substitute for fried tortilla chips because it's not. Think of it more as a kind of corn cracker that you use to shovel salsa into your mouth. It's nearly impossible to eat more salsa than is good for you.

Baked Corn Chips

6 (or however many) corn tortillas
Olive oil
The juice of half a lime
Kosher salt
One or more of:
Ancho chile powder
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder
Black pepper, ground

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using an oil sprayer, lightly spray both sides of the tortillas with the olive oil. Brush both sides of each tortilla quickly with lime juice. Stack the tortillas and cut them into six or eight wedges. Put the wedges on baking sheets.

Mix together the salt and whichever of the spices you want to use. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the tortillas.

Bake for about twenty minutes. Serve warm.

You need to watch the chips pretty carefully towards the end of the baking. There is a window of only a couple of minutes when they're just right: crisp and lightly browned but not overdone. If you pull them out before that, they'll be hard but not really crisp, and if you wait longer, the texture will also be not right, and the lime flavor will lose something. If you're using two pans, the pan on the bottom rack will likely be done as much as five minutes before the pan on the top rack, at least in my oven. When I started making these, I would flip the chips over halfway through the cooking. That was a tedious process. Fortunately, I forgot to make the flip one time, and the chips were just as good unflipped.

They are not, however, just as good cold. I suppose you could reheat them, but you're really better off just making as many as will be eaten in one sitting. It's a very easy recipe, so you don't gain much by making a larger batch.

Corn tortillas vary somewhat in composition. The tortillas that I use are the ones that have no fat and a lot of fiber, just because I like the flavor of those best. They are more corny, somehow. If you don't have an olive oil sprayer, then I think you could make a small amount of lime vinaigrette and brush that onto the tortillas. If you did that, you could just add the spices directly to the vinaigrette. That may, in fact, be a superior method, and I should really try it next time.

Both of these recipes are highly susceptible to innovation. The black bean patties are so simple that I'm not tempted to fuss with them much, but if I happened to have some tapenade sitting around, I would certainly use a couple of tablespoons of that and leave out some or all of the olive oil. The salsa is meant to substitute for a number of other flavors, and it does that admirably, but if you like more of a particular flavor, say cilantro, then by all means add it.

Similarly, add whatever you like to the chips. They would probably be terrific with a bit of cumin into the mix. But they are also nice with just salt and pepper.