Spring has not quite sprung here in Chicago, and the natives are restless.
We’re all ready for it, and the husband is ready for the plants to go outside. My seedlings—now more like full-fledged plants—are spilling out of their containers, straining toward the windows and begging for fresh air. Despite less-than-balmy temps, I’m willing the warmth to arrive—and maybe some fresh seasonal recipes will help.
I don’t ever cook with them, but these radishes caught my eye last weekend, and just seemed very springy: fresh, dewy, earthy.
I suspected the fatty, creamy richness of avocado might complement the crunchy spice of the radishes, and after paging through my trusty Flavor Bible, I got some affirmation. The resulting recipe would be perfect for a spring picnic, a tea party or an afternoon snack.
Radish, avocado and herbed goat cheese baguette
(Makes about 2 dozen slices)
1 french baguette, sliced thin
8 oz goat cheese
dill, sea salt and pepper to taste
2-3 avocados, sliced thin
Slice radishes paper thin with a sharp knife or madoline.
Spread a baguette slices with a thin layer of goat cheese.
Layer on sliced avocado and top with a generous amount of sliced radish.
Sprinkle with dried or fresh dill, course sea salt and pepper to taste.
The best thing about game-day parties is the excuse to stuff your face and guzzle beer with zero guilt. Don’t show up to your Super Bowl party empty-handed. Seriously, don’t be that guy/gal.
I’ve even taken you half of the way there, with this handy-dandy Super Bowl recipe list:
You can thank me in free game-day betting squares.
Sliders and sammies
Crock Pot faves
Super Bowl sweets
When it comes to odd flavor combinations, this is nothing short of a revelation. Holding a tray of these out to my fellow party-goers on Christmas Eve, reactions ranged from “what the heck is cashew butter?” to “Blech. Figs. I hate figs.” Others just stared, smiling and nodding unconvincingly as I promised that, as weird as it sounded, these would be the best things to ever cross their taste buds.
I set the tray down next to the usual suspects—Spinach dip, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers—sure these melty beauties would go untouched. Fortunately, I was wrong.
“What are these?”
“Is that BACON I taste??”
(no bacon, just cheese, fig and cashew AWESOMENESS)
“Are they all gone?!?”
(no, we hoarded a stash in the basement by the bar)
I have to admit, I can’t take creative credit for this recipe. The flavor combo is courtesy of Hopleaf in Andersonville.
1 jar cashew butter (I made my own by blending one lb. of salted cashews on high until creamy)
1 jar fig jam or “fig butter” (I got the Trader Joe’s Fig Butter and it was perfect)
8 oz cheese (either raclette, morbier, comte or mild gouda—any other quality swiss-type cheese would probably be good too)
1 sourdough baguette
3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
Slice sourdough baguette into crostini-sized slices. Brush generously with melted butter. Toast under broiler until they begin to turn golden—careful, it only takes a couple minutes. Remove and allow to cool enough to spread ingredients on toasts.
Start with a layer of cashew butter, then fig jam, then a small slice of cheese.
Serve hot. Next time, try this combo as a grilled cheese as Hopleaf does. Or on a cracker! Or as a flatbread!! The possibilities are endless.
No offense, Morningstar, but your veggie burgers don’t hold a candle to these babies. While I can’t say they’ll satisfy cravings for a big, juicy hunk of ground beef (but let’s be honest, what veggie burger will?), they’re a ridiculously addictive, filling and flavorful meal option that anyone—even the most meat-and-potato midwesterners in your life—will thoroughly enjoy. Chockfull of fiber and veggies, they’re healthy to boot.
I first encountered these at Atwood Cafe in downtown Chicago—and since spent a few random afternoons reminiscing and searching Google for the recipe. Recently, when the food memory popped into my consciousness, a search yielded the recipe. FINALLY.
They’re as delicious as I remember them, albeit a bit tricky to keep in patty form when cooking. As much as you may be tempted (and I was), don’t try and grill these—unless you do it in a skillet of some sort that sits on the grill.
|Cremini burgers with goat cheese and fig aioli (adapted from Atwood Cafe’s recipe)||
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 cup cooked brown rice (slightly overcooked and sticky)
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
- 1 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- goat cheese for topping
- green onions for topping
- whole wheat buns
- 4 tbsp fig jam or preserves
- 1/3 cup mayonaise
- Cook the rice per the instructions, except stir frequently to build up the starches and make the rice stickier.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until tender.
- Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and the liquid is evaporated.
- Stir in the brown rice and cook for 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in a bowl with oats, cheese, thyme, garlic powder and salt and pepper.
- Cover the mixture and refrigerate until firm, 3 to 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip this step and make the patties immediately, but you’ll still have to refrigerate them for at least an hour or two to solidify them a bit. Otherwise, form patties after 3 to 4 hours and then refrigerate again, covered, for one hour.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat with a little olive oil. Cook burgers, turning carefully with a spatula, until nicely browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side.
- Mix fig jam and mayo for fig aioli. Spread on toasted buns.
- Arrange burgers on buns, top with goat cheese and chopped green onions.
If you like risotto and mushrooms, you’ll LOVE these. And don’t skimp on the toppings—they really put them over the edge.
I’ve told you all before how invaluable The Flavor Bible is to my cooking. But I haven’t yet gone into detail about why this book is such a must-have for novice cooks and culinary masters alike.
Since tomorrow marks a full year of publication, success and praise for The Flavor Bible, I thought today would be an appropriate day to give you my full review.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT DISH?
The first two chapters of the book delve into the “Language of Food,” in other words, what makes food what it is: Taste + Mouthfeel + Aroma + “The X Factor.” We all know that taste and texture are big factors in determining if we’ll enjoy a dish. Our sense of smell and sight, along with our emotions and even our spirituality can also affect how we perceive food, says The Flavor Bible.
By recognizing these factors, it says, we can learn to create outstanding dishes appropriate for any situation. This involves taking into account the seasons, weather and the occasion in order to determine variables such as cooking technique, food temperature, weight and flavor.
These first two chapters are insightful and inspiring, setting the tone for the entire book and offering concrete examples and personal narratives from master chefs.
THE CHEF’S THESAURUS
As a writer, a thesaurus is a tool I use several times a day. The third chapter of the Flavor Bible (consisting of more than 300 pages and making up the bulk of the book) is a sort of cooking Thesaurus, listing all of the possible flavor options recommended when cooking with a certain ingredient. Like a thesaurus or dictionary to a writer, this is a valuable tool for any cook. Rather than offering rigid instructions and guidelines, it provides a loose framework that fosters creativity.
The book not only list the complimentary ingredients and flavor affinities for almost every ingredient imaginable, but is also chock-full of testimonials from internationally known chefs that relate to many of the more common ingredients. Do not skip over these valuable nuggets! As with many cooks, I am inspired by the interesting menu items when eating out, and these excerpts provide a behind-the-scenes journey into the kitchen of some of the most renowned restaurants in the world.
There’s even a few from our good friend Rick:
The Flavor Bible won a James Beard Book Award in 2009, and in my opinion, it’s an absolute must for anyone who is passionate about food and cooking. Click here to buy The Flavor Bible on Amazon.
It’s on sale for 23 bucks—an awesome deal.
This is the great jewish deli tuna melt that I’ve never had. Let’s get right into the good stuff.
Challah Tuna Melt
one can of tuna
1/4 cup mayo
1/8 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped chives
fresh ground pepper
cheddar/american/colby jack cheese
First, mix your tuna. Butter one side of each slice of challah. Place a generous heap of tuna on your challah along with one or two slices of cheese.
Grill, covered, in a skillet on medium heat–about two minutes on each side.
Time to reveal the mystery ingredient:
Ta-da! It’s Eggplant! And this concoction is an eggplant parmesan panini.
I haven’t had eggplant parmesan in a very long time. Perhaps because I tried to make fried eggplant a few years back and it was awful. I blame a bad eggplant.
This beauty, on the other hand, can do no wrong. Aren’t eggplants funny? Dense and spongy, almost like a nerf ball. Cutting into them is so much fun. I digress.
Anyway, I saw this one in the grocery store and thought, what the hell, Eggplant Experimentation Round II, here we go.
Not sure what I did differently, but these fried eggplant slices were delightful.
I tried two methods:
- egg wash, italian-seasoned bread crumbs
- egg wash, flour, egg wash again, italian-seasoned bread crumbs
The second method was the clear winner. Ironically, it’s the uglier one at the bottom of the picture. See? Picture-perfect doesn’t always translate to a yummy dish.
I used store-bought bread crumbs (and the Sandra Lee in me finally comes out!). They’re seasoned, but not seasoned enough, so I added a generous sprinkling of oregano, basil, salt and pepper.069624182X
I beat up a couple of eggs and followed breading-method number two.
I heated up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan on medium high. You can tell when the oil’s ready by flicking a drop of water in the oil. If it snaps, crackles and pops, it’s ready.
I fried the eggplant for about a minute or two on each side, and then transferred them to a paper towel.
Keep in mind that this is a picture of a first-breading-method slice. As I said, the egg-flour-egg-bread-crumb slices looked a little worse for wear.
Then, I went to work constructing my panini. I used an italian loaf (thanks, TJ’s), pasta sauce spread on both slices of bread (I like Newman’s Own—delicious, reasonably priced and the proceeds go to charity), and mozzarella and parmesan cheese. The trick is to sandwich the eggplant between two layers of cheese, sauce and bread.
I heated up my panini pan with a little olive oil and then buttered the outside of the bread on the panini. What? Olive oil and butter go great together—just ask Giada. Besides, everything’s better with butter. You should know that by now.
I don’t have a top for the panini pan, so I improvised:
Here, once again, is the finished product.
And now, the main event. Behold the look of sheer terror on his face. Priceless.
The very tentative first bite.
Hey, wait a minute … I think I like this …
I LIKE EGGPLANT!!!
Please excuse the blurry photo. He was shaking with delight. (OK, it’s actually just the slow shutter speed).
Told you so.
This mouth-watering panini has a secret. It’s harboring a cleverly disguised, rogue vegetable. Dave wouldn’t eat this sandwich if he knew what was nestled between it crispy exterior. Can you guess the sneaky ingredient? I’ll tell you after Dave takes his first bite.