Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Storm Moussaka

As promised, we had a bit of storm last night. When I returned from a cookie exchange yesterday and the only thing falling from the sky was rain, I had my doubts. But as promised, a few hours later when I looked out the window, the rain had turned to snow.

This was the moment I had been thinking about last summer when, in a bit of a panic, I had begun squirreling away my CSA harvest. At the time I imagined rewarding myself with something hot from the oven after a hard day shoveling the snow away outside.

Lucky for me, I hired someone to do my snow removal, which adds even more joy to the fact that I can enjoy the fresh taste of summer on such a blustery day. With most of the labor of chopping and preparing done this past in July, I had plenty of free time to camp out on the couch and catch up on a few movies and some reading while my frozen moussaka cooked.

I took the frozen casserole out of the freezer yesterday and left it to thaw out in the refrigerator. After its day in waiting I could make out the ingredients, and it looked as if the eggplant had done well in the freezer, as had the meat and tomato mixture beneath.

The only thing left to do was to make the béchamel sauce for the top. I had combined the best of two moussaka recipes when I originally prepared it last summer and pulled them out again today for the cream sauce recipe.

I was missing one key ingredient from the first version (ricotta) and one from the second (eggs). My driveway hadn’t been cleared yet, so I decided to again combine the two recipes, and make due with whatever I had on hand. The final recipe included butter, flour, skim milk, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, which one of the recipes said could substitute for kefalotyri cheese.

After cooking the sauce into a very thickened state that resembled mayonnaise, I poured it on top of the waiting casserole and topped with some more Parmesan, before heading back to the couch. If I had spent the afternoon shoveling it might have reminded me of the snow outside, but since I hadn’t seen the snow close up yet, I slipped it in the oven without a second thought. As it cooked, it steamed up my windows filling my house with a beautiful warm comforting smell and erasing the winter landscape outside.

When it was done, it looked so pretty that I had a hard time believing I had made it myself. After thanking my July self for thinking ahead I ate up and found it tasted as good as it looked. I was worried the eggplant wouldn’t taste very good or get mushy in the freezer, but it was the right consistency and freezing it had taken some of the pungency away. The eggplant matched well with the cinnamon-tomato meat sauce and will go on my list of eggplant-approved recipes, which require that I can’t taste to much eggplant.

Since it’s only December, I’m glad to say I still have a stockpile waiting for me in the freezer. When I pulled out the moussaka, I found some more pesto, along with a pan of lasagna, some beet burgers and what’s left of the preserved 10 pounds of tomatoes. With winter sure to keep throwing snow at me, all I have to do is make sure I have enough movies and reading materials on hand to enjoy it while my bounty cooks.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tortilla Española

I’ve never been very good at making omelets. Instead of looking like a fancy folded egg, mine always look more scrambled. After a little experiment this morning I know why. I’ve been stingy on the oil.

After returning from a Thanksgiving trip to Spain and wanting to recreate some of the dishes I had there, I knew the Tortilla Española was the one to start with. Similar to a frittata, not the flour or corn tortillas used in Mexican cooking, it was made of eggs and potatoes, two ingredients I had on hand this snowy morning.

I’ve been hoarding the last few items of my fall CSA deliveries and am down to two bags of potatoes, a few carrots, two onions, a head of garlic, and some Brussels sprouts that need to be eaten pronto. I will be making those later today to help them avoid the fate of the final two beets and one daikon radish that ended up in the compost bin yesterday. Somehow over the course of November they simultaneously dried up on the outside and grown soft inside.

I had three Spanish omelets during my short stay on the Costa del Sol of Spain. Two were identical copies of one another, perfect 6-inch round golden pancakes of egg and potato about an inch and half thick. The third, served as part of a meal of tapas, was about double the thickness of the other two and sliced out of a larger version, like a piece of pie. It was runnier than the other two, and my least favorite, so I set out to reproduce the other smaller version.

I peeled and thinly sliced a large Yukon gold before adding it to a pan that had been heated with some olive oil. In truth, quite a bit of olive oil. I usually try to skimp a bit on oil, using non-stick spray instead, but I wanted to give this my best shot and knew I would need a lot of oil to do it right. My mouth began to water at the sight of the potatoes somehow frying and boiling simultaneously. When they were done I slid them into a colander as the recipe had suggested to drain some of the oil. I set it on a plate with the hope of reusing some of the oil in the next step, but ended up with only a few drops.

I added the potatoes to two beaten eggs and mixed it all together carefully. Meanwhile, I added a bit more oil to the pan and let it cook over medium-high heat. The recipe said this was the most important step, otherwise the eggs would stick and I wouldn’t be able to flip it over – the key step in making a tortilla.

As it was, I probably let the oil get too hot. When I poured the egg mixture into the pan it sizzled on the spot. I waited a full minute before turning the burner down as the recipe stated, again to keep it from sticking, which was probably too long. By the time I turned the heat down to medium, the whole tortilla was nearly cooked and ready to be flipped.

Because I used so much oil, I had no trouble flipping the tortilla out of the pan and onto a plate and sliding it back into the pan to cook through on the other side. Once it was back in the pan it only took a few seconds before it was done. It was much easier than my past attempts at flipping omelets.

In addition to plenty of olive oil, the potatoes seem to make the tortilla easy to work with. Even with an omelet with plenty of filling inside, it rarely takes on as much heft as the potatoes seemed to in my tortilla. And the ratio of egg to filling is much different than a standard omelet. It was more like I was flipping over a stack of potatoes with a few eggs in it, than an egg dish with some filling inside.

After it was done, I patiently waited a few minutes to let it set before taking my first bite. It looked like a pretty close copy of the tortillas I had eaten in Spain, and tasted pretty close too. The only difference was that mine was a little more well done and had a higher concentration of olive oil. I’ll definitely make it again, using less oil and watching the heat. I also have some new tricks for standard omelets. Next time I’ll splurge and use some extra olive oil to make it easier to work with. But I just may stick to tortillas from now on.