Friday, February 26, 2010

Ask a Muse: How to Cook Plantains

Dear Muses,

I recently discovered plantains. I've only had them fried. How else can I prepare them besides drowning them in hot oil?

-Scrapbook C

Dear Scrapbook C --

Ah, the plantain - that African/Caribbean delight of a food. It may look like a green banana, but it's actually a starchier and more savory version of its cousin. I think of a plantain as the potato of the tropical world. Anything you can do with a potato, you can pretty much do with a plantain - you can mash it, bake it, roast it, boil it, grill it or, as you mentioned, fry it. Fried plantains are pretty typical in Caribbean/Latin establishments, and most people have experienced the plantain in this way.
Included below are two different (and new to you!) preparations for the plantain. Granted, these are the result of a quick Google search, so we cannot endorse these recipes as tried and true. However, that's what the Muses are here for: we are hunters and gatherers of the information you need. Aren't we just the prettiest hunters you ever did see?

It got quiet in here. Ahem. On to the recipes.

Mashed Plantains -- Mangu in the Dominican Republic, Fufu in Cuba - this is a slightly modified (and slightly snootier) version of the mashed plantain. Thanks,!

2 green plantains (1 1/2 pound total)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 lb bacon, chopped (6 slices)
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Using a sharp large heavy knife, cut ends off plantains and slit through peel lengthwise from end to end. Soak in a large bowl filled with 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt 5 minutes. (This makes peel easier to remove.) Remove tough outer peel, using a paring knife if necessary, and cut plantains into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cook, covered, in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan of boiling, salted water until tender, about 20 minutes.

While plantains cook, cook bacon in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 4 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of mixture for garnish, then add milk, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt (mixture may appear curdled). Remove from heat and keep warm, covered.

Drain plantains in a colander and return to saucepan.

Reheat milk mixture and mash plantains with a potato masher, adding hot milk mixture and butter.

Sprinkle reserved bacon and onion on top.
Muse Suggestion: try pancetta rather than bacon; same effect without that hickory-smoked flavor.

Grilled Plantains -- because the two feet of snow outside have us dreaming of grilling out on a deck in bare feet with a cold beer and warm weather. Who else to turn to but the grill master, Bobby Flay!

2 cups dark rum
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 very ripe plantains (should be almost black), peeled and sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/4 cup canola oil

Heat grill to high. Place rum, brown sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and cook until the sugar has melted and the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Stir in butter until melted. Remove from the heat.

Brush plantains with oil on both sides and grill until golden brown and caramelized, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Brush with the glaze during the last few minutes of grilling. Remove from the grill and brush with more of the glaze before serving.

Muse Suggestion: try sticking the plantains on skewers, like seen below. Such a pretty presentation, and one would think it allows the plantains to cook more consistently.

What are you waiting for? Get to cooking - and let us know how it turns out!


The Muses

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Raiding the Pantry

Some days, this little muse is excited about her lover's aspirations. Other days, when left alone while he writes briefs in the library, I wish he was OK not making a better life for us or following his dreams. Scratch that...I don't like crushing dreams and I'm hoping for that Subaru Forester in 3 years. Regardless, I wish he were home.

On days like this, I don't really feel like cooking for one. Why spend an hour making lunch to be eaten alone? And how many recipes really make one serving? Normally, this sort of thinking results in a lunch of marshmallows, pita chips with hummus, and a couple crackers with peanut butter on them. Not so today.

Today, a few tomatoes were starring out from the fruit (or vegetable, as it were) bowl and there was a little left over feta sitting in the fridge. This called for a raid-the-pantry/throw-it-all-in delicious lunch.

Warm Tomato Feta Salad

  • 1 Heirloom Tomato
  • 3-4 tablespoons feta
  • 3 tablespoons combined mozzarella and fontina
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • arugula
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
Cut the tomato into 3-4 slices and clean out the seeds (this keeps the salad from getting too watery). Place the tomato slices onto an oiled cookie sheet. Crumble the feta over the tomato slices and then top with mozzarella and fontina. Season with a pinch of pepper.

Combine butter, bread crumbs, and thyme. Sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes and cheese. Place in an oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden and the cheese is melted.

Place arugula on a plate and dress with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When the tomatoes are warm and melty, place them over the arugula and enjoy.

Could at get any easier, ladies? 1-2-3 lunch using up ingredients that are laying around the house. Almost good enough to ease the pain of eating it by yourself - wine is better for kicking that feeling.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ask-a-Muse: Meeting the Parents!

My boyfriend and I have been dating for 6 months, and things are pretty serious. Next weekend I'm going to have dinner with his parents! Here's the catch: this isn't the first time I've met them, since they're actually friends with my parents. So a potentially
awkward dinner is made more awkward by the fact that they've watched me grow up...and now I'm dating their son.

Anyway, I want to take a gift over to their house when I arrive, but I'm not quite sure what to bring. Flowers for his mom? A bottle of wine? I'm on a budget so I can't do too much. Help!

Sincerely yours,

Awkward in Alexandria

Dear Awkward -

First of all, stop with the negative nomenclature; we're going to call you "AWESOME in Alexandria" because you're going to rock this dinner like a star.

We think your plan for flowers and wine is a great idea! Even if you're out around $30 for both, consider that this is an investment in the future.

But - if you have to choose one or the other, opt for the bottle of wine and tie a sweet bow around it. We think it's cuter than a potentially cheesey wine bag, and you can incorporate a little of your personality
into it depending on which color and style you choose.

Now if you feel clueless and clumsy in the wine section at your local
grocery store, hold on tight to your purse, don't touch anything you could potentially knock over and remember: you can always ask for help. At Whole Foods for example, a sommelier is always on duty and they're eager to help. If you go to an actual wine store (an enoteca, or wine cellar) keep in mind that you may end up spending a little more,
but you can be sure that you'll find a gloriously classy bottle of vino.

In case you're short on time, we've collected a few labels here that you can consult. It's OK if you just pick it because the label is pretty - it could even be a conversation piece to help break the ice a little.

Don't like what you see here? Again, ask your local sommelier and they would love to assist you and help fill in some of the gaps.

We hope to have helped - and, good luck! Be the fabulous girl that you are and they can't help but follow the lead of their son and fall in love with you, too.

Your Muses


Big House White

Yalumba Pinot Grigo

Albarino's (from Spain)

Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc


Casa Cabernet Sauvignon

Green Point Shiraz

Hahn Pinot Noir

The Kitchen Sink

The Show

McManis Cabernet

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love Language #8: Acts of Service

According to Gary Chapman, the guy who came up with all of this stuff in the first place,

"Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an 'Acts of Service' person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: 'Let me do that for you.' Laziness, broken commitments and making more work for them tell speakers of this language that their feelings don't matter."

We arrive at the end of our [modified] list of love languages on the eve of Valentine's Day. If you know that your beau is a speaker of this language and you've been waiting anxiously for this post, the good news is that this love language requires no last-minute purchasing of gifts. Chances are, if you decide to do something within this realm as a Valentine's Day gift for your significant other/beloved/beau/whatever he is, it can be done the day of - or even better, throughout the year when least expected (which is generally most appreciated as well).

Granted, this love language truly depends on the personality and responsibilities of the person who speaks this language. And extra points if both you and the other person speak this language - this will be somewhat intuitive for you. But here are a few ideas from your lovely muses, just in case you need a nudge in the right direction.

Washing/cleaning out his car
There are some men who will kick, scream and declare mutiny if you move anything that belongs to them (my father included). So proceed with caution if this is the case. But chances are, the back seat of his car may be a veritable train wreck - scattered papers and notes, old take-out bags, a shoe here or there, gym clothes, extra batteries, a can of Coke that rolls underneath the seat and goes "clunk" every time he comes to a full and complete get the idea. Do him a favor by returning these items to their rightful place, or just moving them aside while you give the car a scrub. You can do the work yourself - or take it to a detailing shop. There's a reason the car got this dirty, and if he had more time he would have done it himself by now. Spare him the trouble and let him know you not only noticed, but did something about it.

Figure out the deets
Maybe it's a movie that both of you have wanted to see for awhile; or a museum that you'd like to visit; or even a trip you've been wanting to make. Don't wait for him to figure it all out - if the burden of responsibility in planning usually falls on him, take the reins and do it yourself. You'll reel him right in when all he has to do is enjoy the experience.

Make the call
Maybe your husband has a personal goal to contact his parents/grandparents/siblings on a regular basis - but some weeks go by when it's so busy that even making a phone call seems like a chore. If your relations with your in-laws are favorable, give them a call or drop a note to them in the mail. You just bought him another week - and he'll be touched by your thoughtfulness and initiative.

Shovel out the car
Perhaps this is fresh on the east coast muse's mind due to the huge dumping of snow this winter. But the other day there was a girl on our street shoveling out the car - and she was doing it for her boyfriend as Valentine's Day gift! Anyone who has ever done any kind of shoveling of snow knows that this is a big deal - particularly if aforementioned vehicle is stuck underneath two feet of the packed-in stuff. Now granted, she had my husband to help her. But the bottom line is that she recognized one of her beau's burdens, and she took care of it for him. That's love if I ever saw it.

We're certain that there are a dozen other little tasks that you can come up with that would give the object of your affection relief if you did it for him; this smattering of ideas is just to get your ideas flowing.

Happy, Happy Valentine's Day from your lovely muses - and please, feel free to post a comment or send us an e-mail letting us know how you were able to use the ideas listed in this Love Languages Series. We had fun with this, and hope you did too!

The Muses

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Language # 7: Needs Fulfilled

aka Boobs

What does one call a muse's husband? Can muses have husbands? Maybe they just have passionate, inspiring flings with artists. For our purposes we'll use the word "lover" (that sounds artistic and passionate, doesn't it?)

So one sweet little muse's lover started taking the love language test but quit 2 questions in when he felt pigeon holed to choose things he didn't really care about. Which to choose? Which to choose?
  • I love when my wife compliments my appearance.
  • I still get excited when unwrapping a gift given to me by my wife.

We understand that for someone whose love language is acts of service, this would be a difficult choice...but what if there were a third choice?

  • I still get excited when my wife puts on something a little sexy.

Boobs. Ok, we know they aren't really a love language but men love when you dress them up.

The muses suggest something a little sassy and a little us.

Let's be honest, searching for lingerie on the internet can be slightly frightening so try these websites that are Muse Approved.

Victoria's Secret (of course!)
Dolce V
HotMilk (Maternity Lingerie - Creepy Name. Brilliant Concept.)
Made by Niki
Ayten Gasson
Fig Leaves

Go on! Even if you’re a little reserved, do something daring and buy a little sexy item. Though they might not come out and say it, most men share the common love language of boobs.

Say it with...Words

This love language is almost too easy. Maybe we just say that because we are words people.

Do you feel like you stumble with words? Do you choke when saying important things? The best thing you can do is write it out. This little muses’ fabulous lover doesn’t really like words. He feels like he gets tongue tied or forgets to say crucial things. So when he proposed, instead of saying a bunch of sweet things, he wrote a letter professing his love in great detail. It is one of my most cherished things from him still.

This is too simple if you are doing it for Valentine’s Day.

Write a poem
It doesn’t have to be Wordsworth; it just needs to be sincere.

Give a card
Don’t just say “I love you”. For words of affirmation people, it is key to know why you love them. Think about it; what make you love him differently than other men you know? Then write it down.

Go on a date
And while you are on said date, don’t just talk about life and what you’re up to. Take some time to tell your man the reasons you respect who he is.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Food - the lost Love Language

According to Gary Chapman food is not a love language. I know two little muses who vehemently disagree. While dating, there is no easier way to hook a man than to start cooking for him regularly. Using this strategy you will successfully snag the man and then can spend your Valentine's Days cooking special meals.

Well, maybe he'll just end up fat and happy and you'll end up alone. But let's think positively.

In any case, Valentine's Day is a great time to pick out one of your man's favorite meals and make it for him. Pull out all the stops - perhaps spend a little extra and make that super complicated dessert if you know your man perceives love through food (note: if he doesn't really like dessert, then opt for a great cut of meat instead Do something HE appreciates).

This muse partnership is made up of one rabid meat eater and a convinced vegetarian (who only once broke her meat fast for an Easter leg of lamb...and paid for it big time!) Here are two great dishes to try for your man, whether he's a devoted carnivore or prefers to leave fluffy animals in their element.

Steak Au Poivre
adapted from The Complete Robuchon

  • 2 steaks, 1/2 pound
  • Crushed pepper—black, gray, or green
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (Monsieur Robuchon suggest veal stock - I don't know about ya'll but I don't have veal bones laying around to make stock from)
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Remove the steaks from the refrigerator 20 minutes in advance.

Cover the steaks on both sides with crushed pepper. Pat it on firmly so that it sticks into the flesh. Salt the steaks on both sides. (Be sure to pepper and then salt, or the pepper will not stick to the steaks.)

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon butter. Rotate the pan as the butter melts, and when it begins to foam, lower the heat to medium. Lay the steaks in the pan and cook for 4 minutes, rotating them in the pan and spooning the cooking juices over them. Flip them with tongs or a spatula and cook 4 minutes on the other side, rotating and basting as before. Stand the steaks on their sides, using tongs to help, and cook them 2 minutes on their edges. Remove the steaks to a plate and tent them loosely with aluminum foil.

Pour the wine into the sauté pan and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula until the wine is syrupy.

Dice the rest of the butter, which should be well chilled. Add the stock to the pan and boil for 2 minutes. If you are using the crème fraîche, stir it in. Then stir in the diced butter bit by bit. Put this sauce through a fine strainer into a warmed sauceboat. If you are using the mustard, stir it in now. Stir vigorously as the mustard can get a little clumpy. Taste for salt and pepper.

Put the steaks on the warmed serving platter, coat them with sauce, and serve the rest of the sauce on the side.

And now for our sweet veggie friends...

Roasted Winter Vegetable Baklava
from Gourmet, December 2008

  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts (2 ounces),
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, reserving fronds, bulbs halved and sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
  • 3/4 pound parsnips (3 medium), sliced diagonally 1/3 inch thick
  • 1/2 pound carrots (3 medium), sliced diagonally 1/3 inch thick
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup chopped dill
  • 8 (17-by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Pulse walnuts with bread crumbs in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped (not ground).

Peel potatoes and slice 1/4 inch thick. Divide all vegetables between 2 large 4-sided sheet pans and toss each pan of vegetables with 3 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Roast vegetables, stirring and switching position of pans halfway through, until softened and golden brown in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Leave oven on with 1 rack in middle.

Add 1/3 cup water to each pan of vegetables and stir and scrape up brown bits from bottom. Chop 1/4 cup fennel fronds. Combine all vegetables in 1 pan and toss with fennel fronds and dill.

Brush baking dish with some of remaining olive oil. Cover stack of phyllo sheets with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keeping remaining phyllo covered and working quickly, place 1 sheet on a work surface, then gently brush with some oil and sprinkle with 2 rounded tablespoon walnut mixture. Place another phyllo sheet on top and repeat brushing and sprinkling. Top with a third sheet and brush with oil.

Drape phyllo stack into one half of baking dish, gently pressing it into bottom and up side and leaving an overhang. Make another stack with 3 more phyllo sheets, more oil, and remaining walnut mixture. Drape into other half of dish (phyllo will overlap in center of dish).

Spoon vegetables into phyllo shell. Fold overhang toward center over filling (it will not cover vegetables) and brush edge with oil. Brush remaining 2 sheets of phyllo with remaining oil, tear in half, crumple, and arrange on top of filling.

Bake until phyllo is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.