Friday, July 30, 2010

Feasting Friday- Free the Pea

First off, I want to thank everyone who entered the contest…hopefully for those of you who did not win, you will still be happy when the book arrives!

And now…the big winner….


Please e-mail me at staceyballisinfo at gmail dot com with your shipping address, including a phone number and your package will go out Monday!

For the rest of you, not to worry…hang on to those e-mailable receipts, as there will be more prizes and giveaways to come. Just stay tuned to the blog!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled posting.

(I would like to take this opportunity to mention that I am very open to requests, so if there are recipes you’d like to see, or specific advice you want on cooking or entertaining, feel free to e-mail or post a comment and I will do my best for you.)

In the meantime, today I want to talk about peas. And I want to talk about peas because of Wednesday’s episode of Top Chef (SPOILER ALERT…stop reading if you care about the outcome of that episode!)

I am not going to recap the whole thing, suffice it to say I have a major issue with Alex (the one who looks like the Muppet Beaker)

winning based on what was CLEARLY (okay, clearly to me and possibly not to everyone) a larcenous abduction and use of Ed’s amazing pea puree. Everyone seems to agree that it is too coincidental that Ed’s pea puree goes missing when Alex, who never mentioned doing a pea puree, and didn’t prep it at all the day before, suddenly magically has an unctuous succulent and fresh pea puree with which to anoint his plate. It was also clear that Art Smith, the judge choosing the winner, was moved to make the choice based in no small part on that STOLEN element.

I am outraged. I cannot wait for Alex to be eliminated. I know that pea Karma is headed his way, and it was very impressive of Ed to not make a fuss.

Team Ed.

I am enormously frustrated that the pea incident was not brought to the attention of the judges, since nothing would have made me happier than watching Tom Colicchio take old Beaker to task. But no mind.  Tom does weigh in on the incident here.

Ed, this post is for you. I am rooting for your continued success, and hope you move beyond this betrayal to simply out-cook him at every turn. Alex, you can suck it.

I love peas, so in honor of Ed, here are some of my favorite pea recipes!

Amazing Pea Dip

3 c frozen peas, thawed

½ c butter, soft

½ c cream

½ c truffle oil (you can substitute a fruity olive oil, but if you can do the truffle oil, it is totally worth it!)

Salt and pepper to taste

Onion Sprouts or chopped chives for garnish

Boil peas until very tender in salted water, about 8-10 minutes. Puree with butter, cream and oil in blender or with immersion blender or in food processor until very smooth. Season to taste. You can leave as is, or push through a fine strainer for an even smoother texture. Serve room temp or slightly warmed sprinkled with onion sprouts or chopped chives. Some good dippers: sesame rice crackers, endive spears, celery, jicama, pita chips, fingers.

Green Pea Hummus with Mint and Feta

1 pound frozen baby sweet peas, thawed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 c chopped fresh mint

2 oz crumbled feta

2 tablespoon juice from one lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Puree peas, olive oil, mint, feta and lemon juice in bowl of food processor until smooth, scraping down sides now and again, about 30 seconds total. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For serving, drizzle with more olive oil, and top with toasted pine nuts or walnuts.

Thai-style Pea Soup

6 cups chicken broth, plus as needed

1 cup onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 teaspoons green curry paste

1 t Thai fish sauce

8 cups peas (thawed if using frozen)

Salt and pepper as needed

1 teaspoon toasted mustard seeds

1/4 cup chopped mint

Add about 1/2 cup of the broth to a soup pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the onions, garlic, fish sauce and curry paste. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the peas, cover the soup, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let the soup cool for at least 10 minutes before pureeing to the desired consistency with a handheld blender. Return the soup to a simmer over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with toasted mustard seeds and chopped mint.

Pea Pesto

12 oz frozen peas, thawed

1-2 large garlic cloves

1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus additional for serving

1/3 cup olive oil

1 T Italian parsley

Put peas in food processor and pulse to chop finely. With food processor running, drop in garlic and finely chop. Turn off motor and add nuts, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then process until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil, blending until totally smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve on pasta, as a sandwich spread, on poached chicken, blend with ricotta or goat cheese for ravioli filling, or drizzle over a Caprese salad instead of basil and balsamic.

Four Pea Salad

8 oz frozen petite sweet peas, thawed

8 oz snow peas, blanched and chilled

8 oz sugar snap peas, blanched and chilled

4 oz pea shoots

2 oz crumbled goat cheese

¼ c toasted sliced almonds

1 head endive

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ c olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut the endive, snow peas and sugar snap peas on the diagonal in bite sized pieces. Toss all peas and endive with lemon juice and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with goat cheese and almonds.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Parlor and the Kitchen- Food Reads

Every now and then someone asks me “How did you learn to cook?”.

The answer is simple. I learned to eat.

Now it is true that, as with so many of my polymathematical endeavors, I immediately excelled in the eating part. Gifted, I was. And am. Slightly too gifted, hence the size (tho diminishing slllllooooooooooooooooooooowly and with great effort) of my tush. But nevertheless, I was always a good, if odd, eater. For my tenth birthday, I requested Duck with Cherry Sauce. Which is almost like the hot dog/pizza/mac and cheese all my other friends were having.

Once I figured out that I liked to eat, cooking was a natural next step. I wanted to be able to do for myself. What I wanted, more than anything, was an Easy Bake Oven. The fact that I never got one is probably related to the Snoopy Sno Cone maker incident, and the fact that after one as-directed use, I skipped the ice completely and just drank all the colored sugar syrup in about two days. I’m sure my parents assumed that the SSC was some sort of gateway toy, and if they fed my habit (and my gullet) with the Easy Bake Oven and all of its light-bulb-baked delicacies they’d soon find me nodding on a street corner snorting Lik-m-aid packets and mainlining Razzles.

But deny a girl an Easy Bake Oven and she will quickly discover that in the kitchen is a REAL oven, and that the possibilities therein are vast and delicious.

My grandmother, Jonnie, is a great cook, and since she lived downstairs for several of my formative years, I could always go hang out at her house and help her cook things. She was a trooper, even letting Little Sister and I have a go at pulling taffy in her Snowbird Miami apartment one winter after I read about it in a Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy book. I think it was the idea of buttering my hands that was really exciting. But the taffy was pretty good, too. Jonnie let me borrow cookbooks to read like novels, and we could always talk recipes. Still can.

I guess it is that perfect storm of reading books with interesting food in them, and reading those first cookbooks that helped me figure out how to cook. The “food books” inspired me, and the cookbooks made me learn technique, proportion, and the way food works. So I thought for this post, I would share some of my favorite food reads, delicious books where food is an extra character. Next week I will share some of my fave cookbooks!


Adventures on the Wine Route, by Kermit Lynch
This one was a gift from Charming Suitor, and I devoured it. Wine and food in France. Delish. And really informative for the newbie wine enthusiast.

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris
Even better than the movie. Chocolate transforms a tiny puritanical French town.

Tender at the Bone/Comfort me With Apples/Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
The former Editor of Gourmet Magazine remembers her own food awakening. Funny and poignant memoirs.

Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jabar
Wonderful novel about a chef, with equal passions for food and love.

French Lessons, by Peter Mayle
Really, anything by Peter Mayle. Provencal and inspiring.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival
Amazing Mexican delicacies and a tender love story.

The Art of Eating, by MFK Fisher
If you buy only one book on this list, you need go no further. Who I am as a cook, an eater and a writer are all steeped in these pages.

Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White
A look at one of the most enimatic of the rock star chefs.

The Soul of a Chef/The Making of a Chef/The Reach of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I can re-read these books over and over. Beautifully written and unbelievably compelling.

Heat by Bill Buford
A fun look behind the scenes with Mario Batali. If all you know is Molto Mario, you don’t know nuthin’!

Toast by Nigel Slater
A coming of age story with food. Hilarious and touching.

The Man Who Ate the World by Jay Rayner
Hilariously funny and honest look at a journey to find the perfect dinner.

The Man Who Ate EverythingIt Must Have Been Something I Ate , and by Jeffrey Steingarten
My favorite food curmudgeon. He snarks better than anyone, but his praise can be equally effusive.

Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
It’s Tony. Full stop.

Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch
A fun look behind the curtain at Per Se.

The Tummy Trilogy, by Calvin Trillin
Simple and fun essays, great read.

I hope you will share your favorites in the comments section, and don’t forget you have until Midnight (CST) Thursday night to enter the fabulous CONTEST!

Pre-order your copy of GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, then forward your confirmation e-mail to me: staceyballisinfo at gmail dot com. (if you already pre-ordered, you can still send in your confirmation e-mail or a screen shot of your account showing the pre-order) Each book you pre-order will serve as one entry. Enter as many times as you like!

The winner will receive:

Moonspoon Wooden Cheese Board with Spreader

A simplehuman Large Sink Mat

A Tupperware Mini-Chopper

Two Skoy Cleaning Cloths

Freshvac LunchPac, cloth lunch carrier with Freshvac container

Salt Traders Sarawak Pepper and Salt Pearls combo for grinders

Steven Raichlen Crème Brulee on the Grill Kit


A limited edition GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT apron!

Contest open till Midnight on Thursday July 29, and the winner will be announced on the blog on Friday July 30. Order early! Order often! Tell your friends!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feasting Friday- Tomato Time

First off, don’t forget that the amazing kitchen gear contest is still going on through next week, so click here for all the details!

It is neighbor’s garden and Farmers Market time, and one of the things that everyone has in abundance is tomatoes. Were I not completely incapable of growing anything, and had I a garden, I would grow tomatoes. And yes, I can hear many of you saying there is no such thing as a black thumb, and of course I could grow things if I wanted.

To you I say the following:

I killed mint.

Yep, that scourge of the garden, practically a weed, everyone I know plants one little piece and end up with something akin to an acre of the stuff.

Still not convinced?


Fake tree. Dead. All the fake leaves fell off of the fake branches like a weird little autumnal scene in my living room, except they didn’t turn colors first. I was left with an odd fake twiggy thing with a few leaves holding on for dear life. I am not exactly sure what happened, but once it gave up the ghost, I knew my plant growing days were over. People who know me well call me The Cooler, and ask me to come over and just touch their more insidious weeds. I buy fresh herbs, and I shamelessly accept piles of garden goodness from my green thumbed friends, and I go to the farmstands in the country and farmer’s markets in the city.

It is a shock to many how much I love to cook with tomatoes, especially great ripe fresh ones, since most people know I cannot stomach a raw tomato.

Ditto tomato juice. Gack. (For the complete embarassing list of everything your odd little foodie Polymath does not eat, check out this post.)

But cooked, in pretty much every fashion, LOVE! You will surely find me picking slices off sandwiches, pushing chunks off of salads, and declining Bloody Mary’s. I am likely to make Caprese Salad with watermelon subbing in for tomato. I like my bruschetta topping cooked and served warm or at room temp, which is why I either make it myself or lean on my good friend John B to work his brushetta magic. All of my gazpachos are white.

However, bring some heat to the party and the tomato is my bestest friend. I love a good red sauce on my pasta. I think of ketchup as a major food group. I adore tomato soups of all warm varieties. I like them confit in olive oil, turned into a flan, baked in tarts.

So, in honor of the height of tomato season, I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to prepare them! After all, you can only eat so many of them raw before you get bored…


Thanks to for the pic

Can be served hot or cold and can easily be turned into a gajillion other recipes.

Approx 4 lbs. fresh tomatoes - I use a mix of plum and cherry for depth of flavor, but use whatever your garden grown…it is only essential they be fresh and very ripe.

1 medium sweet onion or 4 large shallots, diced fine

2 T Herbs de Provence

¼ c Olive Oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Cut tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil to coat, and arrange cut side down on 2 oiled sheet pans. Be sure that the pans have at least a 1 inch rim, otherwise you will have tomato juice all over your oven.

Add the onion or shallot evenly on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the herbs and liberal salt and pepper. Roast approx 1.5 to 2 hours until skins are loose and the flesh is soft.

Peel skins off tomatoes and discard. Dump the contents of the sheet pans into a large bowl, being sure not to lose any juices. You can mash them with a potato masher for an extra chunky texture, but I often use my immersion blender to get a soup that is a good balance between smooth and chunky. Adjust seasonings to your taste.

I serve this hot, room temp, or cold with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream and some chopped fresh mint for grown-ups. Yes, basil is natural, but mint and tomatoes are a really summery combo, and unless I have been to visit, you should have plenty around.

Add alphabet noodles, mini meatballs, or cooked rice for kids. Stir in toasted croutons and drizzle with olive oil and shredded Parmesan for a classic Pappa al Pomodoro. Add fresh basil and garlic and you have a chunky pasta sauce. Add fresh oregano and it becomes pizza sauce. Freezes beautifully, can be canned if you are ambitious, and lasts up to two weeks in fridge.


Thanks to for the pic.

3 sticks unsalted butter

6 T sherry vinegar
6 T tomato water (chop 2 large fresh peeled tomatoes into a large dice and cook over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, then strain in a sieve lined with cheesecloth to just capture the juice. Can substitutes one small can of crushed tomatoes strained)
2 T strained tomatoes (from making the tomato water)

12 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 T chopped shallot

2 t Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until browned but not burned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve, but be sure it does not congeal…should be barely warm, but still liquid to make the vinaigrette.

In a blender (or with your immersion blender), combine the vinegar, tomato water, olive oil, shallot and mustard. Blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the reserved butter and blend until thickened. Season to taste and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve. If you have to put it in the fridge, be sure to bring it back to room temp before serving.

I use this as a salad dressing (regular or pasta salad), but also as a dip for shrimp, skewers of veggies, or cooked chilled cheese tortellini skewered with artichoke hearts for an elegant appetizer.


Thanks to for the pic.

6 slices bread, crusts removed and cubed (I recommend Challah, brioche, or soft white bread for this. NO sourdough, whole wheat or other full flavored breads here!) about 2 ½-3 cups cubes.

¾ c butter, melted

1 1/3 c packed brown sugar

½ t salt

½ c boiling water

20 oz homemade tomato puree (or canned if you do not have a garden full of tomatoes and too much time on your hands)

Scatter the bread cubes evenly over the bottom of a 1 ½ qt buttered casserole dish, and pour the butter over the cubes. Let absorb completely, about 10-15 minutes. Mix tomato puree with water, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Let boil for 5 minutes, then pour over bread. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serve hot.

To serve as a vegetable, leave as is, or drizzle with a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar. To serve as a dessert, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, olive oil gelato, or crème fraîche mixed with a little bit of honey.

Don't forget to enter the contest...this package of fabulous prizes could be yours!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath