Awakening Taste

October 3rd, 2011

When I was a little girl. living in Brooklyn, and it was a perfect, warm day, or we were watching something beautiful, like a scarlet sunset over the city skyline, my mother would say to me, “Close your eyes, breathe it in, and hold this moment in your mind, so you may remember it with all your senses.” This is a short story about an evening I would hold in my memory as my mother taught me, and the impetus of my love of food.

As a single woman in my early 20s, I had been invited to a dinner party by a guy whose date invitations I had rejected for some time. He seemed very intelligent and perfectly nice, which I suppose is why I hadn’t gone out with him, as I tended to lean toward the brooding artist type. But I felt sorry for him when he told me none of his friends could make it for his birthday that evening. Could I possibly join him, his parents, and a family friend for dinner?

His parent’s apartment was high up in a handsome pre-war building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with gorgeous views of the city. It was a reader’s oasis. Well-worn furniture in dark wood, fabric upholstered chairs one could cradle in with a cat (they had two) on their lap for hours, and books everywhere the eye could see. Even the dining room had bookshelves, with thick histories and paperback mysteries tucked in among many cookbooks.

His father, a native Frenchman, and his mother, an American of German and Italian decent,  served dinner in the European style: appetizer, main, salad, cheese, and dessert. I don’t remember what was served for the appetizer and main course, though I remember the meal feeling homey, like warm soup and roast chicken. A simple green salad followed, which was new to me, having always been served salad first, which I found revived my palate for what was to come: The cheese plate.

Up until this time I wasn’t very knowledgeable about food, though my parents were excellent cooks, and my grandparents took me to some of the finest restaurants in New York. I wasn’t aware of the just-launched Food Network, and though I had watched Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet, I had been living contentedly in a world of stews and roasts. Pizza, fast food, and Chinese delivery, or grilled cheese and spaghetti with tomato sauce from a jar in leaner times, were my meals when I started living on my own. In general, I didn’t stop to smell food, or appreciate its appearance and texture. I mostly ingested, chewed, and swallowed.

The only cheese products I was familiar with were Kraft’s American slices and grated Parmigiano in the green shaker can, Velveeta, and Boursin spreadable cheese with herbs, which seemed exotic at the time. My parents sometimes ate bleu cheese dressing on iceberg lettuce, which I abhorred for the dressing’s sour flavor and lumpy texture. The only brie I had was served ice-cold at a friend’s Superbowl party, where we spread the stiffened innards on crackers, leaving the rind behind.

I was a little wary of the cheese served that night, but I enjoyed both the soft goat, similar to the Boursin I was used to, and the mild bleu, surprised to find it not at all offensive. The last was a cheese that looked like a rectangle of hard, straw-colored cheddar. Taking a small slice of this, the birthday boy held it up to my lips and said, “Taste this, it’s incredible.”

I took the bit of cheese into my mouth, and the company, the conversation, the lovely surroundings, all faded into the background while I held it for a moment on my tongue. As it warmed I found the texture creamy, like butter, surprising for something that looked so hard, and it held tiny crunchy bits throughout, like salt on a soft pretzel. The flavor was bold. Tangy like lemons, and savory-sweet like hazelnut coffee. Looking back, my best guess is that it may have been something similar to Piave, but at the time I was too overwhelmed, and perhaps a bit ashamed of my ignorance, to ask.

I finally looked up to find the guy leaning back to look at me, staring at me questioningly. “Um,” I said stupidly, “this is GOOD.” He smiled and nodded slowly, as if he had shared a secret. I remember thinking there might be something about this boy after all.

A plum and apricot fruit tart with a birthday candle was brought from the kitchen, and we sang Happy Birthday. The tart, Calvados, and strong coffee were bringing me back to Earth. But why, I wondered, was anyone not noticing the distinct aroma of cat feces? The fragrance had been permeating the dining room for quite a while, and I had been peeking under the table to find the source of the odor, thinking for certain I’d find the cat had left a gift, when the guy’s mother begged, “Could someone please take the cheese into the kitchen?” It was taken away, and with it the unpleasant smell, when it dawned on me, it was that delicious cheese!

I often take this memory out, as my mother taught me, recalling the moment, how it awakened my senses, and how much I’ve learned about the cuisine of different cultures since. I no longer think of food with funky aromas as something to avoid, but something to explore.

Because of that meal, I no longer wanted to eat alone over the kitchen sink, but wanted to share food and talk about it with others. I went to cooking school. I took wine classes. I visited farms to buy local produce. I educated myself about sustainable and organic agriculture. I started a food blog, and I came to love “the wedge:” a quarter slice of iceberg slathered in the formerly abominable bleu cheese dressing, with bacon bits strewn on top.

I dated the guy for a few years. I shared many wonderful meals with him, his family and their friends, and became bold enough to scour markets to bring new foods for them to try. Though ultimately our mutual love of food could not overcome our differences and we eventually parted ways, I will always appreciate how he, and his family, opened up the world for me to taste.

Tomato Season

July 20th, 2011

My husband and I bought our first house this year, and we moved during of one of the snowiest winters the Mid-Atlantic has seen in decades. I thought I’d be back in full swing with the cooking and blogging by now. Everything in the kitchen was ship-shape quite some time ago. But then there were the boxes of things I hadn’t found a place for that were stacked in the bedroom, the family room, and the dining room. Then there was a garden to plant and a lawn to seed. Not to mention the responsibility of a day job and commute that was leaving me wiped out by the time I got home. The next thing I knew, months had flown by and I hadn’t cooked much or written anything worthwhile. But now everything is finally in its place, and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Dozens of tomatoes; possibly hundreds.

I have a deep love of homegrown and locally farmed tomatoes. Each summer I had grown a few varieties in containers on the asphalt out back of our rented house. Our kids learned early the difference between the insipid tomatoes purchased in the off season at the supermarket, and the luscious sweet-tart taste of a sun-warmed, freshly harvested tomato. So, for the first time equipped with a garden in which I could plant anything my heart desired, I went to the garden center and bought some tomato plants. Apparently I got a little carried away. I now have approximately 15 large tomato plants, representing five varieties, bearing fruit.

One may imagine my delight when some of the cherry tomatoes started to turn red. And then the anxiety set in when I realized I was going to have a few dozen plum tomatoes ripening at the same time that I would have to can quickly. I’m also working on a plan to use a few plants’ worth of green, purple, and red slicing tomatoes, which involves a number of salads and sandwiches, and a lot of happy co-workers who will be receiving some of the harvest. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the abundance of fruit – it has been a nearly perfect tomato-growing season so far – it’s just that I had lost my cooking mojo. What a way to get it back!

Tomatoland

But if anything convinced me that growing my own tomatoes and canning them for the winter is an absolute must, it’s Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland. A bone-chilling account of the mistreatment of tomato pickers by tomato growers in Florida, and the incredible disregard the growers have for the public by providing a product that is not only terrible tasting, but, in my opinion, possibly not safe to consume.

While I’ve been conscious for years about factory farmed meat, making an effort to purchase meat and dairy from farms that provide humane conditions for animals, I have given barely a thought to who has grown and picked our vegetables and fruits. When I’m buying produce, I might look for organic when I know that particular fruit is prone to being heavily treated with pesticides, or I will buy our vegetables from farmers market when in season. But never had I thought about the treatment of the workers in the fields, or offices for that matter, until now. “Slavery is alive and well in America” is not a quip.

“When I asked [Douglas Molloy, chief assistant United States attorney] if it was safe to assume that a consumer who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store, fast food restaurant, or food-service company in the winter has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave, he corrected my choice of words. “It’s not an assumption. It is a fact.” (Read an excerpt here.)

Mr. Estabrook shows the perspective of the Florida tomato industry from all sides - from the pickers to the distributors, from the grocers and fast food chains to Congress – revealing a poisonous and inhumane culture one would expect to see only in movies. Tomatoland is fascinating, well-written, and scary as Hell. I had no idea how many tomatoes my husband and I consume in a typical week, but this book made me notice tomatoes are in the majority of our meals. Even a slice of pizza has me looking crosseyed.

I believe Tomatoland may have the same impact on the produce industry that Omnivore’s Dilemma and similar books have had on the cattle and poultry industry. By opening eyes to how backwards and unjust our industrial farming culture can be, as well as how progressive some farms are becoming, the public will be put significant pressure on commercial produce buyers and growers to lessen their use of harmful pesticides and prove they are treating (and paying) their workers fairly. The cost will surely trickle down to the consumers, but it’s a price worth paying.

While there is no immediate answer, for now I’ll be enjoying the fruits of my own labor, and putting renewed effort into paying serious attention to the source of the food we buy.

Warwick Valley Winery’s Black Currant Cordial and Doc’s Hard Cider

March 13th, 2011

I attended the Whisky Classic in Morristown, NJ, hosted by the Whisky Guild. I am not sure how many styles of whisky were on hand for tasting, but I would not be overestimating if I guessed somewhere around 100. I tasted some truly spectacular whisky, bourbon, and rye, and am already looking forward to next year’s Whisky Classic. It is a very impressive event, and I encourage anyone to go to a tasting if there is one in your city.

Tucked into a tiny corner of this event, there were a smattering of things to sample that were not whisky. I was pleased to see the producer of Doc’s cider, Warwick Winery. I tend to lean toward cider that is extremely tart and dry, so Doc’s hard apple cider is a little too sweet for my taste. However, I am very fond of their hard pear cider. Jason Grizzanti, director of Warwick Winery, was pouring samples of cordials and liqueurs from their American Fruits Distillery. It was my introduction to this product line.

First was a delicious sweet pear liqueur, that was very much like drinking pear nectar, then a vibrant sour cherry cordial. But then there was my favorite, the black currant cordial. To me, there is something quaint about the word “cordial.” It makes me think of white-gloved ladies passing time sharing their latest news, or the snake-oil salesman’s potion that one would take a nip of now and then to relieve whatever ailment one might be suffering. The black current cordial is all that in a bottle; tart, herbacious and organic.

But Jason wasn’t done with me. “Taste this,” he said as he poured some hard apple cider into my glass of black currant cordial. “This” was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The sweetness of Doc’s cider is the perfect foil for the tartness of the cordial. It’s not as bubbly as sparkling wine, so there’s none of the nose-tickle. It is simple and straightforward and tastes of orchards and warm weather. This is what we’ll be sharing with our friends when we’re sitting on the deck this summer, passing time.

Chef’s Table at elements – Princeton, NJ

August 29th, 2010

Last week was the first anniversary of the launch of taetopia, as well as the night my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by dining at the chef’s table at elements in Princeton, NJ. This was apropos since a dinner at elements one year ago was what inspired me to launch my blog. Sous Chef Joe Sparatta was in charge of this incredibly luxurious nine-course meal. Here’s a photo journal of our dinner. I recommend clicking on the photos to get the full view of these plates of art (once you view a photo, use your browser’s “back” button to return to the post). Many thanks to everyone at elements who made our anniversary so special, and for continuing to inspire me.

Jonathan Waxman’s Warm Sweet Onion Tart

August 9th, 2010
Warm Sweet Onion Tart Slice

Warm Sweet Onion Tart

Jonathan Waxman is one of my favorite chefs. Credited with bringing California cuisine to New York City, he was a celebrity chef in the pre-Food Network era, little known to those outside the food industry and restaurant aficionados. Thanks to an exceptional run as a contestant on Season 2 of Top Chef Masters, he is finally getting some well-deserved renown from the general public.

On a recent summer evening, the roll-up doors to his West Village restaurant, Barbuto, were wide open and conviviality virtually poured out onto the sidewalk. Chef Waxman was overseeing the dining room and kitchen, a particularly refreshing sight at a time when several star chefs seem to have little to do with their establishments. While the space has an unfinished feel about it, it is quite deliberate and puts a spotlight on the rustic and beautifully crafted cuisine.

My friend Anne introduced me to his cookbook, and it’s a page- turner. It perfectly expresses my ideal culinary philosophy: Use few ingredients of the freshest and finest quality to create soul-satisfying food.

We had friends over for a late lunch on a particularly sweltering day. I wanted to serve something substantial but not hot, and so chose this tart. I prepared it in the cool of the morning and then served it room temperature with a salad. It is sweet, savory, tangy, and rich, and tastes awfully complicated for something that has only seven ingredients.

Warm Sweet Onion Tart
by Jonathan Waxman
from: A Great American Cook: Recipes from the Home Kitchen of One of Our Most Influential Chefs
© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007

Serves 6 (or four as a main course with a salad -t)

- 2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound puff pastry, preferably an all-butter brand such as Dufour (or 1 sheet pastry from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- A few thyme blossoms or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Slice the onions crosswise as thin as possible. Place a large skillet over very low heat. Add the butter and when it melts, stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and deep golden brown.

Add the vinegar to the onions and cook until it has reduced and slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry 1/4 inch thick. Using a pot lid or a plate as a guide, cut the pastry into a 10-inch round. Fit the pastry into an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the edges of the pastry if necessary and prick it all over with a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. (Don’t be afraid that the tart shell will burn later when it is baked again – the filling will prevent that from happening). Take the tart shell out of the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes.

Whisk the eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Add the cream and thyme and blend well, then season with salt and pepper. Spread the onions evenly in the tart shell. Pour the egg mixture over the onions and stir gently with a fork so the custard mixture spreads evenly in the tart shell.

Bake the tart for 25 minutes, or until just set. Remove and let cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Sweet Onion Tart

Warm Sweet Onion Tart. Not as pretty as Chef Waxman would make it, I'm sure.

Lessons from Cooking at Home and My Eating Well Challenge (Preparation is the Key!)

July 14th, 2010

For four weeks I cooked at least three nights a week, using recipes from EatingWell’s cookbooks. There were several reasons for this challenge, the most important being that I wanted to:

  • Eat consciously and locally. With full-time jobs, kids, and other obligations, too often we rely on convenience foods and take-out, not paying attention to where the food came from.
  • Eat healthfully. By preparing meals myself, I could control what ingredients went into the foods we ate.
  • Cook regularly at home, for pleasure. By challenging myself to cook at home, it had to be made interesting, fun, and satisfying, rather than a chore.
  • Cook from recipes in cookbooks I own. I own bookshelves full of cookbooks but usually wing it, or find recipes on the internet at the last minute.

I certainly achieved these goals, but some of the lessons I learned enlightened me about the further benefits of cooking at home:

Let your meals plan your cravings, not the other way around.

In order to stick to my plan, I had to make a list and go to the market on Sunday to purchase ingredients for the week. The only thing I did not purchase in advance were meats that needed to be cooked later in the week, as I didn’t them to spoil. The upside to this is that I had all my ingredients and recipes ahead of time. Before I would let our cravings guide our meals, and be running around shopping and getting food on the table late, if I cooked at all. My meals were now guiding my cravings. I looked forward to dinner, knowing what was on the menu.

Your pantry is personal and will build itself.

We’ve all seen those articles in newspapers and magazines, or chapters in cookbooks, that list “what every pantry should have.” They are written to make our lives easier by giving us the basic ingredients for meals. But what if you don’t like some of those ingredients or don’t eat them often? By challenging myself, I selected recipes I knew we would like, and by Week Two of the challenge, my shopping list was cut in half, simply because our tastes were reflected in my pantry by what I had purchased for our weekly meals. I also took this as an opportunity to discard or give away some one-time use ingredients that I knew I wouldn’t use, but had hung on to like fine heirlooms, providing me with more shelf space for necessary ingredients.

It doesn’t cost as much as you think.

Once our pantry began to build, the shopping costs decreased dramatically. Our main purchases became vegetables and proteins. Had I shopped using coupons and supermarket circulars, I would have saved more, but I was not planning with budget in mind, and I was buying premium ingredients; particularly local or sustainably raised meat, which can be expensive, but supporting our local farms is important to me. I’m sure even this cost will decrease as I find in-season deals for produce and meat that can be frozen for the winter months, and “shop” in my own freezer for ingredients I already have on hand.

Cooking can become a part of the routine.

I cannot begin to tell you how tired I am when I get home. Just about everyone I know feels the same way. By planning ahead, I was able to choose easy meals, have all the ingredients on hand, and have a cooking plan. I was mentally prepared not to sit on the couch when I got home. As with the weeknight chicken from January, my plan might involve turning on the oven to pre-heat, or begin a marinade before I changed my clothes. Many recipes don’t need much attention. If I was really on my game, I’d chop my vegetables on Sunday when I brought them home from the market, but let’s not get carried away.

Feel better instantly.

The best advantage to cooking at home is this: You will feel better instantly. I don’t think we realize how much our eating habits change us, until we change them. I enjoyed feeding my family more often. I felt proud that I was accomplishing a goal. My skin was clearer and I was walking taller. Do I still want chocolate chip cookies? Of course! But I am more likely to make them myself and share them than to purchase ones that have a biblical shelf life.

Don’t limit yourself.

There was really only one downside to my challenge, which was cooking from the same series of books. Although the EatingWell series casts a wide culinary net, when recipes come from the same place they tend to have a common theme, whether it is the ingredients, textures, or flavors. I must admit I gained a little more respect for people who tackle making every recipe from the Joy of Cooking or The Art of French Cooking. While the lessons from this practice were invaluable, I’ll be cooking from several different sources from now on.

It saddens and perplexes me that Americans, and apparently people over the better part of the planet, have gotten away from home cooking and real food. I’m glad there are people like Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman championing the cause, but real change can only be made by doing the work yourself. I know I’ll be happily cooking at home more often. I’ll never give up restaurants or take-out, but they should be a treat, not the larger part of our diets. My family may not be 100% there yet, but we’re working on it.

Click here for the original challenge and a list of recipes.

EatingWell’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

June 21st, 2010

EatingWell's Baked Mac & Cheese

Week 4, day 3 of My Eating Well Challenge.

EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy cookbook has redeemed itself with this version of mac and cheese. It may have simply been the luck of the draw that the two other recipes I chose from this book were lackluster. I was beginning to feel that EatingWell’s definition of comfort food meant gluey sauces, but this recipe is a winner.

I was very concerned about this recipe, as I dislike cottage cheese, but most of that has to do with its texture. It is used in this recipe to lighten the fat, and does not make the sauce curdy in the least. Even so it should be noted that this is not a low fat recipe. However, by using whole wheat pasta and adding spinach, it is a high-fiber recipe, and I found that a smaller portion is very filling. I inadvertently used hot paprika in the breadcrumb mixture; a happy accident as it wasn’t spicy at all, but gave the dish an added punch.

The sauce is wonderfully cheesy, and the spinach makes the flavor reminiscent of Ina Garten’s incredibly luscious spinach gratin. This is a delicious baked mac and cheese.

Baked Mac & Cheese
From EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy
View the recipe and nutritional information at EatingWell.com

3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs, (see Tip)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

2/ Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.

3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.

5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Tip: To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about 1/3 cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs. We like Ian’s brand labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.

Baked Mac & Cheese with a Spinach Layer

Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

June 21st, 2010

Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

Week 4, day 2 of My Eating Well Challenge.

Well, it had to happen sometime. Most of the EatingWell recipes have been very good, but this Stroganoff was very disappointing.

First, there is too much dried thyme, which can be acrid. Second, three tablespoons of flour is way too much thickener. As with the gravy for the chicken fried steak, I found myself skimming lumps of flour that simply would not dissolve, and the sauce was like glue. Third, the cut of meat seemed off. Flank steak is not tender and has a very pronounced flavor. Each bite of beef yelled “beef!” instead of being an integral component of the dish. Lastly, the clearest indication for me of a successful recipe, as I can be overly picky, is my family going back for seconds, which they did not.

If you wish to read more about the recipe or try it yourself, it may be found here. I am reluctant to post a recipe that I would not recommend.

Chicken “Fried” Steak & Gravy

June 14th, 2010

Chicken Fried Steak

Week 4, day 1 of My Eating Well Challenge. As a rainy, overcast week, I decided this weeks’ recipes would come from EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy.

I’ve eaten chicken fried steak twice. The first time as kind of a lark when I found it on a menu in New York City, having never seen the dish before. The second time was in Texas when a friend’s mother made it for dinner. It was delicious both times, but it did not become one of my favorites, probably because it is phenomenally heavy. One cannot deny that it qualifies as great comfort food. Could it be made with less fat and still taste as good?

I’m pleased to say that I liked the crust of the EatingWell version better than the others. Rather than just seasoned flour, this recipe uses cornmeal, which adds crunch as well as great flavor. The texture is really outstanding. But I had a terrible time with the gravy. The creaminess of the half-and-half didn’t really come through, and I found the beef stock a little overwhelming; I’d be inclined to use chicken stock if I ever make this again. Lastly, even though I whisked it in, the cornstarch became lumpy and I found there was just too much of the slurry (easily resolved by straining the sauce). That being said, cornstarch is my nemesis. I find sauces made with cornstarch to be a little too gluey. If you’ve got nothing against cornstarch, this gravy will be right up your alley (just use a couple of teaspoons rather than a full tablespoon). My family went back for seconds.

Chicken-Fried Steak & Gravy
From EatingWell’s Comfort Foods Made Healthy
View the recipe and nutritional information at EatingWell.com.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound cube steak, cut into 4 portions
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Place all-purpose flour on a large plate. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Whisk cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch and paprika in another shallow dish. Season both sides of steak with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dredge the steak in the flour, shaking off excess; dip in the egg whites, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add 2 pieces of the steak; cook until browned on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the steak to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pieces of steak. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, add broth to the pan and boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk water and the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in half-and-half; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve the steak topped with the gravy.

Ham & Swiss Rosti

June 8th, 2010

Ham & Swiss Rosti in the Pan

Week 3, day 3 of My Eating Well Challenge.

Rösti, at its simplest, is shredded potatoes which are pressed into a layer in a saute pan, and fried with some type of fat to make a potato cake that is crispy on the outside, and is generally served as a side to an entree. By adding ham and cheese and serving it with a vegetable or salad, the dish becomes hearty enough for dinner.

I found the rosemary a bit distracting, as it has a particularly aggressive flavor that nearly overwhelmed the cheese and ham. I’d be inclined to leave it out, or cut the amount in half. Otherwise, all the flavors and textures of great comfort food are there, and I’d never have guessed that this rosti is low calorie. You can even forgive yourself for having two pieces if the mood struck you. This would likely be very tasty (and pretty) served for breakfast with a sunny side egg on top, which is what I’ll try next time…and there will definitely be a next time.

Ham & Swiss Rosti
From The EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook
View the recipe and nutritional information at EatingWell.com.

1 large egg
1 cup diced ham, (about 5 ounces)
1 cup shredded part-skim Jarlsberg, or Swiss cheese, divided
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1. Beat egg in a large bowl. Stir in ham, 1/2 cup cheese, shallot, rosemary, pepper and salt. Add frozen potatoes and stir to combine.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pat the potato mixture into an even round in the pan. Cover and cook until browned and crispy on the bottom, 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Place a rimless baking sheet on top. Wearing oven mitts, grasp the pan and baking sheet together and carefully invert, unmolding the rösti onto the baking sheet. Wipe out any browned bits from the pan. Return it to the heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Slide the rösti back into the pan. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese, cover and cook the second side until crispy and browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Slide onto a platter, cut into wedges and serve.

Ham & Swiss Rosti