You know in the cartoons, when Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck has some genius idea, and a light bulb goes off in the corner of the screen? I may not have a tail or whiskers or feathers or be drawn in marker, but I swear that exact thing happened to me when I thought about mixing melted Camembert and pasta.
The method behind this easier-than-easy mac ‘n’ cheese comes from fondue. Sometimes, for a lazy fondue, I buy a small round wheel of brie. Wheels of brie come in little wooden boxes, and if you wrap those wooden boxes tightly in foil, nestle the brie in, and bake it for an hour, you have a seriously good fondue with no effort. Just cut away a little hole in the rind, and dip in your bread and apples like a man going ice fishing.
For this recipe, I shove some garlic and herbs down into a wheel of pungent Camembert and let the whole thing melt together in the little foil box. Then, I scoop out the inside of the cheese and put it in the blender with some starchy cooking water from the fusilli. The result is a perfectly creamy sauce, that tastes of roasted garlic, thyme, and that pungent Camembert flavor that gets stuck in the twists and turns of the al dente corkscrew pasta. It is so different, and addictive, and works as a big vegetarian bowl or as a side to a hearty meatloaf or roast chicken. It’s familiar, but that extra kick of the Camembert makes it different and special and really, really good.
It may not be reinventing the wheel. But it’s making damn good use of one.
Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.
Oh-So-Easy Baked Camembert Corkscrews
8 ounces Camembert (the round one in the wooden box)
2 cloves garlic, halved
The leaves from 4 stems thyme
Salt and pepper
1 pound fusilli pasta
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Take the camembert out of the box, and cut the very top white rind off only the top of the cheese (leave the sides and bottom intact). Wrap the box the cheese came in completely and tightly in foil. Place the cheese cut side up back in its box. Season with salt and pepper. Top with the garlic and thyme. Close the box, place it on a small rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 1 hour.
Boil the pasta until al dente is salted water. Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking liquid. Add ¼ cup pasta cooking water to the blender, and scoop the melted cheese, leaving the white rind behind, into the blender as well. Purée until smooth, and return to the pasta pot.
Add the pasta back in, and toss to coat. Use the remaining pasta water to thin out the sauce if necessary. Serve right away.
I am obsessed with tuna burgers. They have that whole burger thing going on, with the bun, and the toppings, and the casualness of it all. I love that familiarity and simplicity. But I feel so much better after I eat tuna burgers than when I devour a bacon cheeseburger. And while tuna burgers may seem to be the exclusive domain of restaurants, they are actually even easier to make at home, by far, than the regular beef version.
This tuna burger is home-ground, and flavored with a sprinkle of soy sauce. I sear it, and serve it on a brioche roll with wasabi mayo, butter lettuce, and pickled ginger. It’s like a tuna roll on a bun. I leave the inside nice and rare, but the great thing about tuna burgers is that you can serve them exactly how you like them. They take five minutes to make, stretch a dollar, and double as both gourmet and comforting. I promise, these will be entering your regular rotation starting tonight. (And I’ll be eating them with you!)
Rare Japanese Tuna Burger with Wasabi Mayo and Pickled Ginger
Rare Japanese Tuna Burgers with Wasabi Mayo and Pickled Ginger
4 slider buns, halved horizontally
¾ pound fresh sushi-grade tuna steak
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon wasabi
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
Butter or Boston or Bibb lettuce
Preheat a large nonstick skillet on high heat, and place the buns, cut-side-down in the pan to lightly toast. Remove them when they are golden brown.
While the buns are toasting, cut the tuna into chunks. Put the chunks in a food processor with the soy sauce and a pinch of salt and pulse until the tuna has the same texture as ground beef. Take the tuna out of the food processor, and form into 4 patties.
Make the wasabi mayonnaise by whisking together the wasabi and the mayonnaise.
Make the burgers. With the pan on high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan and immediately put the tuna burgers in. I cook them 30 to 60 seconds on each side, because I like them super rare. Use a slotted spatula to flip them over. Take the pan off the heat when you are done cooking the burgers.
Spread some wasabi mayo on each bun. Top the burger with some lettuce (I forgot it in the video, but you should use it!) and pickled ginger. Serve with cucumber salad on the side (I toss chunks of cucumbers with soy sauce and sesame seeds). You’re done!
There is a restaurant in Miami called Mercadito that has the most amazing guacamoles. There are about seven, in all different flavors. But my favorite is the chipotle. The smoky vinegariness is the kind of stuff I dream about, cutting through that fatty avocado. It just works.
This is my version, spicy, smoky, rich, and delicious. I usually pair it with hot black beans and stuff ungodly amounts of the stuff into warm corn tortillas. Extra cilantro never hurts.
Ras-el-hanout is a traditional Moroccan spice blend, one my great grandfather used to sell in Casablanca long before I was born. It translates to “head of the shop,” and every shop and household and grandmother has its own version which, in true Moroccan fashion, they all swear is the absolute best, most superior, unsurpassed in heaven or on earth. Its value stems from the use of sweet spices in a savory application, and it is traditionally used to season couscous. I, however, have been using it nonstop on seafood, adding it to calamari batter and sprinkling it on fish skin before searing. There’s an inherent sweetness and savoriness to seafood as well, and the match, well, unsurpassed in heaven or on earth.
With this simple, but special, rare seared tuna, I coat the tuna in ras-el-hanout, and let it marinate for hours, for the spices really penetrate the outer flesh of the fish. Then, I give it a quick sear, slice it up, and serve it with spicy harissa instead of wasabi, and lemon wedges instead of soy sauce. It’s like, my French Moroccan interpretation of tuna tataki.
Coat the outside of all the tuna with the ras-el-hanot. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat a skillet over high heat. Season the fish with salt, and add the canola oil to the pot. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the tuna to the pan. Sear 1 minute on the first side, and 1 minute on the second. Allow to rest 10 minutes, then slice. Serve with harissa and lemon wedges on the side.
I’m about to board a plane for London, where I currently live, thinking about things that go together in unlikely circumstances. My mother always says that when two things find each other that go together well, they should never be apart. True to her command, I live in London because that is where my heart is, but it is a VERY unlikely circumstance.
My mother would similarly advise that brie and avocado shouldn’t be apart. Whatever it takes, they must be together. Mild in flavor, richer than Richie Rich, they are two sides of the same buttery coin. Together they form this simple gooey mess that manages to feel light and fresh. Deceiving, but delicious, and I’ll take it.
Wrapping brie and avocado together in an eggroll blanket, and deep frying them, may appear to be an unlikely circumstance, but once you see the way the brie and the avocado melt into each other in the hot oil, in contrast to that crisp, crackling, salty eggroll shell, you’ll know I’m on to something. A touch of freshness comes from the lemon and parsley. The inside is steaming and hot and oozing and bright, and satisfying in a way that only a grilled cheese meeting guacamole can be. My mom was so right. Things that go together this well should never, ever be apart.
Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.
Fill a cast iron skillet with 1 inch of oil, and heat it to 360°F.
While the oil comes up to temperature, assemble the eggrolls. Divide the avocado, brie, and parsley among the 8 eggroll wrappers. Spritz the contents with fresh lemon juice and season with salt. Dip your finger in water, and dampen the eggs of the eggroll wrapper. Roll up the eggrolls, pinching to seal the edges.
Fry the eggrolls for 2 minutes, turning once. Drain on a paper towel, and season with salt. Eat hot.
Ribs. When I think about them, my eyes roll back, and my mouth starts to water. The way the meat falls off the bone; so sweet, so savory, so smoky. Few things are as simple but complex as the well-cooked rib.
So discovering that I can make ribs at home was a revelation. It’s a simple technique. Marinating, followed by a couple of hours covered in a low oven, and then just a few more minutes uncovered to get those burnt edges. And they are tender, and delicious, and you made them all yourself without so much as a barbecue.
Chipotles are the perfect secret ingredient in the ultimate rib barbecue sauce because they themselves are already smoky. So, if you love the smoky flavor of barbecue, but want to make ribs in your kitchen, this is the recipe for you. I make a simple barbecue sauce from ketchup, onions, garlic, chipotles, and the adobo sauce in which they are packed. When you first taste the sauce, it’ll seem far too hot. But after the ribs soak in it overnight, and once the sauce roasts and cooks down, it is only mildly hot, smoky, tangy, sticky. The meat falls off the bone. The edges are black and crisp. This recipe is a keeper.
Heat the oil on medium-high, and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the ribs, turn heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Put the ribs and the sauce in a large plastic sealable bag, and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Arrange the ribs on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, season with salt, and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, bring the barbecue sauce to a boil in a pot on the stove. Boil for 3 minutes, and set aside.
Uncover the ribs, turn them over, and bake an additional 30 minutes. Brush with barbecue sauce on both sides, and serve hot.
Soft-Shell Crab Meunière, with brown butter and lemon
Sole Meunière is one of the giants of deliciousness in French cuisine. I think it’s the dish that Merrill Streep moons over rapturously in Julie and Julia. And for good reason. Thin, slightly crisped fillets of sole soaked in lemony brown butter. What could be better?
Maybe, just maybe, soft-shell crabs can. When I saw them at the store this week, and thought of how my mom always sautés them up in butter, I wonder if I couldn’t hybrid the two, and prepare the crabs à la Meunière. Plunged in milk, lightly dredged in flour, seared, and then bathed in that brown butter with just a hint of lemon. Nothing goes better with seafood than melted butter. Lemon brown butter is just that bit more special.
I think I might finally have maman trumped!
Soft-Shell Crab Meunière
serves 2 to 4
4 jumbo soft-shell crabs, prepared by your fishmonger
1/2 cup milk
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 5/8-inch slice of lemon
Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Place the crabs in a bowl of milk. Season the flour with the salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the crabs in the seasoned flour.
In a wide skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Place the other two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepot over medium-low heat. Melt the butter, and then continue to gently cook it until the butter solids turn golden brown. Add in the lemon slice and remove from the heat.
Place the crabs in the skillet with the butter and sauté until golden brown, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Arrange on a platter, and pour the lemony butter sauce over the crabs. Garnish with parsley and/or extra lemon wedges.