Monday, February 28, 2011

Lamb Roast, Green Beans, Roesti, Caesar Salad, and Carrot Cake

For two cold and sunny days after a recent ice storm, all the trees down to the smallest branches were encased in glistening transparent ice. For miles around, the landscape was transformed. It was very much like moving through a bejeweled zone, where diamonds shone in the trees, brighter and more numerous than a bright night sky. I brought out my paints and tried to capture the glowing tree outside my kitchen window, but the result looked more like spring buds or tiny lights, rather than diamonds. It would be wonderful to find the trick to get that glow. And it made me think of Frost’s metaphors in “Fire and Ice,” though without the world-ending sentiments: fire from the bright sun and ice covering all the trees and bushes – a wondrous confluence. Our octogenarian neighbor, born and raised a Clevelander, said she had never seen anything quite like it (“like something out of Doctor Zhivago”). The photographs below capture only a bit of the magic.

Now, on to the food. February’s otherwise endless snow has made it (not April) the cruelest month. But there have been the highpoints of two family birthdays – one a 40th, the other a 4th, and of course the jeweled trees brought joy. For our son’s 40th birthday (making Mama feel a bit old), the menu requested was: lamb roast, green beans sautéed with garlic, roesti, and carrot cake for dessert. And we added Papa Metafora’s salmonella-free Caesar salad.
Lamb Roast: There are basic (and quite similar) recipes in every general cookbook, whether Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food, or the Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition , or either Joy of Cooking - Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006 or The 1997 Joy of Cooking; we stud  the roast with garlic and also smear it with crushed garlic, and sprinkle salt and much black pepper over it. Serve on the rare side. It’s rather odd that, though Papa and I rarely eat meat, when we do it must be carnivorously rare (or at least medium rare).
Roesti (or Rösti ): Our first experience with this wonderful potato dish was on our “European Grand Tour” – student version – in 1967, a mythical year in which on could tour Europe “on $5 a day.” We flew to Paris and back from London on a Cal Charter for $150 each (before too much envy takes over, remember the cost of living and the worth of the dollar in those days). We ordered Roesti at a little restaurant in Zurich, and it was amazing: a giant “latke” but much creamier and not so crispy. It is great as a side dish with beef, chicken, or pork.
Here is the version Papa Metafora makes. Ingredients: 2 pounds of Idaho potatoes, boiled for a quarter of an hour, then cooled, peeled, and coarsely grated; 1 small onion coarsely grated; 1 teaspoon of salt; ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper; 2 tablespoons sweet butter, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix the potato, onion, salt and pepper together in a bowl. In a large seasoned skillet, heat two-thirds of the butter and olive oil to medium high heat, so that the potato mixture sizzles when it is ladled into it. Toss the potato shreds in the hot oil and butter, and then quickly press the potatoes neatly to form a cake covering the pan’s surface. Cook for twenty minutes on medium-low heat, remove from the heat for a minute, place a large enough plate on the potato pancake, and holding the plate in place, turn the large pancake onto the plate; heat the remaining butter and olive oil in the now medium-hot pan until sizzling, and slip the large pancake back into the pan. Cook on medium-low until the bottom is as golden as the top, and serve immediately. This delicious crunchy Roesti, creamy within, can be served with dollops of sour cream or with Gruyère cheese grated and melting on the top.
For the Green Beans, see our recipe for sautéed carrots in my first post on the blog.
Caesar Salad: I miss those days of using raw eggs: Goodbye to old fashioned chocolate mouse. Goodbye homemade mayo and alioli. Goodbye to our original Caesar Salad. But Papa Metafora has developed a delicious alternative, using mayonnaise (for the best flavor, use only Hellman’s in the east, or Best Foods in the west). Apparently, also, anchovies were not included in chef Caesar Cardini’s original creation in 1924 at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico; however, you can of course add minced anchovies to the dressing if you know all your guests will like them (or you could pass a plate of anchovies around for people to help themselves).
Here’s Papa’s current recipe. Ingredients: ½ cup mayonnaise; juice of ½ large lemon (about 2 tablespoons); 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil; 2 medium-sized cloves of garlic, boiled for 45 seconds, cooled and crushed; 2/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese; 1 avocado cut into pieces; one head of Romaine lettuce, washed and dried, and torn into edible pieces; ½ baguette cut into 1” or smaller cubes, plus extra oil,1 large clove of crushed (unboiled) garlic, and coarse salt; salt and pepper to taste. Before baking the bread croutons, mix the unboiled crushed garlic with two tablespoons of olive oil, and then drizzle the mixture over the croutons as you toss them in a bowl; bake them on a foil covered cookie sheet for ten minutes in a 375 degree oven; remove and reserve them. For the dressing itself, mix together until smooth the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and olive oil, and then mix in the crushed garlic; add the avocado to the mixture, turning gently to cover the pieces. Pour the dressing over the lettuce and toss thoroughly, and then keep tossing as you add the Parmesan and the delicious garlicky croutons.
Carrot Cake is the favorite dessert of the birthday man, and this year I tried a new recipe, which oddly was disappointingly dry (the recipe had me strain the carrots in a colander, and I think too much carrot juice was removed!). Also, the cake’s ingredients can add up to quite a bit, so a good bakery’s carrot cake would have been okay, but then our son and the rest of the family would have been disappointed. However, the new lighter frosting I made was more wonderful than ever (perhaps due to a smaller amount of butter than usual), so I will include the frosting recipe here. Once finished, the frosting must be refrigerated, of course. Also, beautiful marzipan carrots were made by our grandchildren to decorate the birthday cake.
Here is the recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting: This recipe will frost either a 9” by 13” pan cake or an 8” or 9” layer cake; the frosting would be delicious also on other spicy cakes, pumpkin bread, or gingerbread. Ingredients: 16 ounces cream cheese (softened); 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened); 2 cups confectioner’s sugar; 2 tablespoons sour cream. First beat the softened cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on low speed, until homogeneous – 3 to 4 minutes. Next add the confectioners’ sugar and sour cream, and beat until well blended – 2 or more minutes. To frost the cake, place one layer on a cake plate, anchoring it with a small dab of frosting, and frost the top of the layer. Add the second layer on top of the first, and frost the top and then the sides.
Winter’s Cabin Fever (especially during this, the snowiest winter I remember) brings on childhood cravings, Proustian in their power. This winter it was Lavash, the Armenian flatbread from my youth in California. A couple of years ago, we bought enough Lavash for our family here in the east, about $20 worth, though it was in cracker form (normally Lavash is a large circle of bread, two feet in diameter – it can be moistened and softened in a tea towel, if you like); but shipping cost us $40, and it arrived the worse for wear, mostly crumbled. What to do: make it myself. Even though it is a flatbread, it contains yeast and so there are bubbles. It is great with cheese: Bring on the manchego cheese for a great fusion snack, lunch, or appetizer.
Spring is just three weeks away! All the best, Mama and Papa Metafora
Our next post will offer Mama Metafora’s and our son’s Lavash recipe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mama Metafora's Salad Dressing, Armenian Potato Salad, and wonderful Volcano Cake


I’m not sure why everyone asks for this dressing after eating one of our tossed green salads – it’s a version of my Mother's wonderful dressing! - using a simple basically Mediterranean recipe: For a salad serving four, use juice from half a lemon and/or half a lime adding up to a tablespoon, add a half a teaspoon or so of vinegar (apple or wine vinegar, for flavor); mix in a half teaspoon of salt (and if you’d like a split garlic clove, to be removed before pouring over the salad); then add four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. The proportion, in other words, is one to four, for us, or if you would like a more acidic dressing, one to three. Our salad consists of two or three types of lettuce, arugula if available, tomatoes (when good), torn basil, and if you wish, avocado, some chopped parsley (and sometimes chopped fresh basil and/or mint) and sliced cucumber.


This is a very simple potato salad, consisting of only potatoes, a lemony dressing, and parsley. Made without mayo, it is extremely picnic-/warm weather-friendly. I am always amazed at how popular this simple recipe is – great with bar-b-cued chicken or lamb or spareribs. There is a secret to the preparation, which I’ll tell you before you start. As soon as you drain the potatoes, you put the dressing on; that way the flavor is absorbed by the hot potatoes – this means that the dressing must be made while the potatoes are cooking.

INGREDIENTS, part one: 9 to 10 medium waxy new potatoes (thoroughly washed, skin left on) – approximately three pounds; and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut potatoes in 1 ½ by ½ inch thick pieces. Bring water to boil, add potatoes and the teaspoon salt, bring to simmer, and partially cover (I use a large frying pan). This takes about 15 minutes, mixing around gently from time to time. Meanwhile mix the dressing.

INGREDIENTS, part two: Juice of one medium lemon (strained, almost a quarter of a cup); 1 teaspoon apple cider or wine vinegar (optional); 1 ½ teaspoons salt, dissolved in lemon juice; freshly ground pepper to taste; add to mixture a quarter of a cup of extra-virgin olive oil. When potatoes are fork tender, drain and place them in a shallow bowl. Immediately pour the dressing over the potatoes, mixing gently. Taste for salt. Let cool (chill if serving half a day later). At serving time, mix gently into the salad ½ cup finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley. Serve at room temperature.


We first had this cake with our very dear friends at JoJo’s, one of the wonderful (and more affordable) restaurants of the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I would say it is probably the best chocolate dessert I’ve ever eaten. I’ve read that it might be because of the warmth of the chocolate. Something happens to chocolate when it is very warm that makes it taste even better than usual. Since then a version has been in practically every restaurant menu I’ve been to, but never as good as the first version. Soon after we ate it at JoJo’s Chef Jean-Georges happened to be on Martha Stewart’s TV show, and coincidentally he happened to make the chocolate cake we had recently eaten at his restaurant. If you want an excellent version of this dessert, I would advise you to make it yourself, with just three caveats:

1. Use GOOD quality chocolate (I use Callebaut, and Valrhona is also great; do not use chocolate chips, unless of remarkable quality).

2. Use sweet butter.

3. Watch the baking time, pulling the cakes from the oven when a quarter-size wet spot remains on top.

The recipe can be made in the morning and chilled before baking – just add a couple of minutes to the bake time. The best way to tell it is done (and still oozy in the center) is making sure the small moist spot the size of a quarter shows in the center.

INGREDIENTS: 8 tablespoons (i.e., one stick) unsalted butter – plus more for buttering the molds; 4 ounces of good dark (bittersweet) chocolate; 2 large whole eggs plus 2 large egg yolks; punch of salt; 2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the molds; ¼ cup granulated sugar.

ONE: Preheat oven to 450 degrees (hot!). Butter and lightly flour four 4 ounce molds or ramekins (I use brioche molds). Tap out excess flour. TWO: Place butter and chocolate in top of double boiler, and heat until chocolate has almost completely melted. Or microwave in 40 second increments, stirring after each time. THREE: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand), beat together the eggs, salt, yolks, and sugar until light and thick. FOUR: Add the melted chocolate mixture, and beat to combine. Quickly beat in the flour until just combined. Divide batter evenly among the molds. FIVE: Place filled molds on a rimmed cookie sheet, and put it in the oven preheated to 450, and bake until the sides have set, but centers remain soft with wet spot visible on top – about six to seven minutes. SIX: Invert each mold onto a plate, and let rest ten seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold using tongs; the cake will release onto the plate. Serve immediately. In restaurants, the cake is served with vanilla ice cream. These are called volcano cakes because, when eaten, some of the hot chocolate in the middle oozes out. It’s heavenly!

Ribollita Soup and Light Oatmeal Cookies

Here are two new recipes from Mama Metafora. The following one for Ribolitta Soup reminds me of the wonderful cooking of Tuscany and of summers spent visiting Italy. However, this Tuscan bread soup is a great winter meal with a good salad.
Ingredients: Olive oil; 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped; 2 stalks celery, minced; 1 carrot, scraped and minced; 6 cloves minced garlic (2 tablespoons); 2 small russet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped; 1 can (appx. 15 ounces) of tomatoes, undrained, or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes; 6 cups water; 1 bunch kale, spinach or other dark leafy vegetable chopped; ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley; ¼ cup basil leaves, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dry); ½ teaspoon dry thyme; ½ teaspoon dry rosemary; salt and pepper to taste; 1 can (appx. 15 ounces) Great Northern beans, drained (or you can cook your own dry beans); 4 ounces day old Tuscan or other dense country-style bread or baguette, cut into bite-sized pieces; 1/3 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy casserole dish (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat and sauté onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and potato until onion begins slightly to brown and caramelize. Add tomatoes, water, kale, parsley, basil, thyme, and rosemary; bring to boil, then reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and if desired, red pepper flakes; stir in beans. In your oven-safe tureen, layer bread and soup (2 layers each works well). Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes; let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Drizzle with additional olive oil to finish this richly satisfying Italian soup.
Light Oatmeal Cookies:
Ingredients: 1 cup rolled oats; ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour; ¼ teaspoon baking soda; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and if desired, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg or cloves; ¼ teaspoon salt; 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled; 1 large egg; 1 tablespoon vanilla; ¾ cup dark brown sugar; ½ cup raisins.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk oats, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and if desired, nutmeg (or even cloves) in a bowl, and set aside. In a larger bowl, stir the butter, egg, and vanilla together. Next stir in the brown sugar until the mixture is smooth. Then stir in the oat mixture and the raisins until thoroughly mixed. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (one level tablespoon each) – if the dough is too soft, refrigerate it for ten minutes. Place the balls on two parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until the edges are golden and the centers are just set, about 12 minutes, turning the tray around halfway through the baking. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes, then serve them warm or put them on a wire rack to cool completely (while you're cooking the second tray). Instead of raisins, you can substitute dried cranberries or cherries in these delicious cookies.
In my next post, Mama Metafora will offer some of our Armenian and eastern Mediterranean recipes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mama Metafora's first post

Hi and welcome to Mama Metafora’s Market!
This site is mostly about food – food as a metaphor: for health and love, for hospitality and comfort and much much more. The negative aspects – junk food, bad food, etc. – won’t be engaged here. Other goodies will appear, since this is a “market:” some book and film reviews and whatever seems interestingly strange or beautiful.
Papa Metafora and I (pictured above in 1965 and 2010) hope to include here a collective lifetime of cooking experiences, how over the years our tastes have simplified to a healthier and increasingly more vegetable-based cuisine than we ate at the beginning of our marriage, over 45 years ago.
I have been a chef, a pastry chef, a caterer, and the creator, chief chef, and bottle-washer of a Biscotti company in the 1980s and 1990s. “Mama Metafora” is the copyrighted name for that biscotti company, which made those wonderful twice-baked, long Italian cookies (with no butter), made for dipping in coffee or wine (or milk, too). I’ll start with my original recipe, made with lots of almonds or other nuts – Warning: these biscotti will be quite crispy, not like American “nabiscotti” as I call them. Every week, we hope to offer a post with new recipes, etc.
All my best from J.M., Mama Metafora

This recipe yields about 36 biscotti. Ingredients: 2 cups flour; 2/3 cup sugar; ½ teaspoon baking soda; 1/8 teaspoon salt; 3 large eggs; 1 cup whole roasted almonds (with skin). [To roast almonds, place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until aroma is released, basically 10 or more minutes – be sure to check them, for nuts burn easily. Let cool a bit before using.]
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet (or use parchment or silpat). In a mixing bowl, whisk to mix dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs and mix with a wooden spoon or hands; then, mix in the nuts. Divide the dough in half, and shape into two logs approximately 10” long by 3 1/2” wide. Bake for 20 minutes, turning cooking sheet after 10 minutes. Cool slightly, and then slice each loaf into 18 slices. Place slices upright (bottom of the cookie down) leaving at least half an inch between slices (this eliminates the unnecessary step of turning the cookies over half way through the baking process). Bake for 20 minutes, again turning around the cookie sheet after the first ten minutes in order to ensure even baking. Biscotti – meaning “twice baked” – can vary in the time of this second baking (according to taste and elevation). Probably the most difficult part of biscotti is the judgment call about when it is done. I like mine crisp, others softer; you will want to do a bit of testing for best results. Cool on rack.
Here is a simple tasty dish to enhance any meal – a SAUTÉD CARROTS recipe:
We first tasted these deliciously simple carrots when we lived in England for a year and visited friends the Hagopians in Branbury Cross near Oxford; the recipe stems from their teaching days near Paris in the decade after World War II. Green beans are also excellent cooked in this way.
Ingredients: 1 pound fresh carrots, peeled, halves or quartered long-ways (depending on size of carrots), and cut into 2 or 3 inch lengths; 2 cloves of garlic, squeezed or minced; 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
Steam the cut carrots for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how firm or tender you would like them. When done, heat oil and garlic together in a frying pan, under high heat. Add the carrots and stir fry until the edges of the carrots show small signs of browning, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.
IN MY NEXT POST, I’ll offer recipes for a wonderful Ribolitta Soup and for great Light Oatmeal Cookies.