Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dinner According to Robuchon

Next up in the Christmas line up of celebrity cookbook recipes to try . . . a sampling from Joel Robuchon's The Complete Robuchon.
This one was a little surprise James threw in for me -- I had no idea his highness was paying such close attention as I was drooling over the idea of dinner with Robuchon when he guest judged on this past season's top chef. That episode brought forth a cookbook with the "chef of the century's" ideas for simple everyday meals. Unexpected and very interesting.
Robuchon's everyday meals may be rabbit terrine or lamb's liver but those are tough sells around here, so sizing up the ingredients in our little kitchen I settled on potato leek soup and endive salad with walnut vinaigrette. Simple, easy bistro style dinner. Both good, but once again the star of the night -- even against the chef with the world's most Michelin stars -- was Jim Lahey's no knead stecca flavored with fresh tomato, whole garlic cloves and Sicilian olives.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Next Chef: Mark Peel

I admit it. I am a bit of a restaurant fussbudget. Although I do love to try new places, with few exceptions (judging on a curve as I do), I generally think the food could be tastier, the service more thoughtful, the offerings better selected. And yet -- even after all these years, Campanile is a place that rarely (if ever) disappoints. Their regular menu is tastefully simple, rustic yet refined, and grilled cheese night is well, nothing short of genius and routinely the best dinner out in LA. Even the big man -- who usually greets the idea of eating out with " Why would we go out when the food is better at home" (and then goes anyway) -- is easy to move to Thursday evenings at Campanile. One Christmas a few years back I made a perhaps seasonally inappropriate but totally delicious home version of Campanile's Croque Monsieur with Mornay sauce to rave reviews.
Without my prompting, James presented me with Mark Peel's New Classic Family Dinners on Christmas day. Within a couple hours I was baking the chef's puffy version of Yorkshire pudding and had scoped out my next test recipe -- Spaghetti with Mussels and Peas. Fresh blue-podded peas long ago replaced the summer corn in our little front yard and they (and I) have been waiting for a dinnertime showcase. Peel's simple recipe cooked olive oil, shallots and garlic until soft, added white wine and chicken broth brought to a boil and steamed the mussels for 3-4 minutes. The mollusks are taken from their shells, returned to the cooking broth (along with the strained liquid from the mussels) with chopped marjoram (an herb I rarely use) and butter and kept warm while the pasta cooks. The drained pasta and mussel mixture along with a dollop of olive oil and chopped fresh parsley are added back into the spaghetti cooking pot and given a few turns to mix the flavors before serving garnished with a few mussels in the shells.
In deference to the chef and his new book, I followed a few steps I generally ignore. Aside from shelling the cooked mussels, I purged them before cooking and rinsed lightly after. And, I begrudgingly strained the mussel cooking liquid. Peel, it seems, is religiously anti-sand and his exacting methods resulted in a mild, likable dish that seemed at once familiar and we grew to like better with each bite -- much like Campanile itself.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Cookbook Cauliflower Pizza

After most present giving holidays I have a stack of chef centric cookbooks with a load of new recipes to try. This year, one I really wanted was bread genius Jim Lahey's "My Bread". I've rattled on about Lahey's no-knead bread before, but until this Christmas I only had two choices of Lahey recipes, crusty white rustic Italian bread and pizza dough, although the pizza recipe left out Lahey's method of stretching the dough for a super thin crust and offered none of his topping recipes. It's not just that Lahey's recipes require next to no effort and can make a more than credible baker out of any kitchen novice . . . but they are crusty and delicious and without fail provoke a stupefied, "You made this?' from guests and the big man alike.
Since I hadn't planned for Lahey's usual 18 hour first rise, we started our Christmas cookbook try outs with his unusual cauliflower pizza. The quick mixed dough (3 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 1/2 tsp yeast. 3/4 tsp salt. 3/4 tsp "plus a pinch" sugar, 1 1/3 cup room temperature water) is left to sit for two hours and then half the resulting bubbly dough (it's a two crust recipe) is stretched thinly over an oiled baking sheet and topped.
For this unusual topping I sliced cauliflower on a mandolin (that was a Christmas present a few years back) and mixed in chopped green olives, parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. I layered the vegetable mixture on top of the dough, sprinkled on home-made bread crumbs and baked for 25 minutes at 500º.
The verdict -- pretty darn good. It may not replace my usual pizza stone pies but the crust was thin and crisp (the way his highness likes it) and the topping mild (I might have gone for a bit thinner topping with more cheese and olives) and light. But, the revelation? Cauliflower sliced on the mandolin -- I am seeing a pomme chou-fleur in our near future.
Next up? Lahey's garlic studded Stecca.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009

This year we decided-- sort of by circumstance and sort of by choice -- to be just us for Christmas dinner.
None the less, I like to make holidays feel special. Somewhere I hit on the idea that this was the year for prime rib. Never mind that it was only the two of us I still got a 3 bone roast to make sure each dog had a little Christmas too.
Admittedly James is not such a big meat eater. He'd just as soon have spaghetti with a little meat sauce as a thick steak and always chooses the tender filet over the hard core carnivore chewier but more flavorful cuts. One thing the big man does love is horseradish . . . in cocktail sauce, in butter on steamed clams, in a savory butter for meats. So based on a recipe from John Besh I mixed up an herb flavored butter and rubbed it over the fat the of the roast.
On the side I did a simple yukon gold mashed potatoes (with plenty of cream and butter -- it's a holiday after all). Simple luxury -- I peeled about 5 small yukon golds and cut then into about 2 inch pieces, put the prepared potatoes in a pot covered with salted cold water and brought them to a gentle boil for about 10 minutes until they could be easily pierced with a knife. The drained potatoes went briefly back in the pot to dry and then into the bowl of my electric mixer with a good amount or warm cream -- I actually boiled the cream down a bit and then melted the butter in it for extra richness. A few turns of the mixer and our super smooth creamy potatoes (the heated cream makes all the difference) were ready to serve. For our second side I shredded brussels sprouts on my mandolin, heated a bit of olive oil and cooked some slab bacon lardons over medium heat with a hefty dose of cracked pepper until just heated through and a good bit of fat was rendered out (about 10 minutes) added the shredded sprouts and cooked through -- about 7 minutes more. We like our sprouts with a bit of crunch. Lastly, following another John Besh recipe, a "ragout" of root vegetables and chestnuts which called for boiling each vegetable separately and then combining the just cooked vegetables in a quick sauce of olive oil, butter, onions and stock. Overall I'd say I'll stick with roasting my root vegetables but it was a nice counterpoint to the creamy potatoes.
One of my Christmas morning presents was Mark Peel's "New Classic Family Style Dinners", while flipping through the pages I added a bit of English Christmas to our dinner -- Yorkshire Pudding, a puffy crispy dough baked in heated fat from the roast. Stay tuned for more recipes from my host of Christmas cookbook presents.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Sort Of Keller Christmas Eve

A couple weeks ago James and I went to Thomas Keller's new LA outpost -- Bouchon, where the big man met and fell in love with Frissée Au Lardon. While thumbing through ideas and recipes for our Christmas Eve for two I thought -- why not try the salad at home (James gave me the Bouchon cookbook last year). It's not exactly Revillion, but I settled on a bistro style tasting menu . . . Kathy Cooks Keller.
As a first course a bit of traditional Christmas. Beignets of salt cod brandade, quickly fried in Keller's batter of cake flour, cornstarch, baking powder and beer, served on TK's oven-baked tomato confit. This time of year doesn't bring the best tomatoes but after 5 hours slow cooking (250º) in olive oil and thyme pretty much shoe leather would be sweet and tender. To be honest I cheated a bit -- I had brandade I made (well actually this year my friend Martha made it for me) for our oyster roast (it freezes well). I serve it every year and count on a bit to use on Christmas. Scorecard -- half Keller.
I would think Oyster Stew would be the kind of thing Keller would revel in. It's mostly milk and cream and butter cooked together and called a soup, but his cookbooks barely acknowledge the joy of cooked oysters, so this one I have to credit to my grandmother. I tried to improve on her stew with a recipe form Antoine's in New Orleans (it is a French theme after all). Antoine's poaches the oysters separately and makes a soup base of butter, minced celery, onion, parsley, S&P, and cayenne cooked together for 25 minutes. Milk and cream are added to the soup base and then the oysters and their poaching liquid. Everything is simmered until just hot. Rich, creamy, and good -- yes. An improvement over the pure white Maryland style stew from childhood memories -- maybe not. But, the big man seemed pretty pleased.
Here's the dish that started the idea. And brought me to my very first (and not so beautiful) poached egg. To make the simple dish stand out I ordered slab bacon from Neuske's -- our favorite brand (and because the Hobb's bacon Thomas Keller favors is near impossible to find) and waited in line for the perfect pain de mie (okay I didn't bake it myself) to serve on the side. To make the dressing I cooked the lardons (slab bacon cut in to sticks about 3/4 inch x 3/4 inch) over medium heat for about 10 minutes to render the fat and crisp the meat. I set the bacon aside for a bit and added 5 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat to sherry vinegar (2TB), whole grain (1 TB) and Dijon mustards (2 tsp) to make the dressing. While I re-crisped the bacon and reheated the poached egg I tossed the frisée with finely chopped shallot, parsley, chervil, chives and basil (TK uses tarragon but -- well, we grow basil and there was no tarragon at Whole Foods). I added in the hot lardons and dressing, tossed again and served with the gently (but not so beautifully) poached egg on top. His Highness has declared this salad our new Christmas Eve tradition. So much for the Cioppino of years past.
There was another course but we just couldn't budge. So now the Christmas question is "How well does Thomas Keller's Coquille St Jacques freeze?"
We never got to dessert even. I made this thematic, but not Keller, poached pear tart thinking we'd have fruit tart for Christmas Eve and Gingerbread cake (this is one I do make every year -- always to rave reviews) for Christmas Day. Well, it may be a year without gingerbread, but from now on, Santa brings lardons.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mid-Winter Crab Fest

Merry Christmas To Me!
Today I came home from the first morning screening of Avatar -- but that's a whole other subject -- and found a white box with a bright red "perishable" sticker waiting for me.
Yes it's out of season, yes it's a crazy extravagance, yes it's everything you want a holiday dinner to be . . . that box could only mean one thing -- steamed crabs shipped from my family in Baltimore.
Although my brother -- misguided though he is, refuses to affirm his Maryland birth by cracking into a pile of hardshells he doesn't think twice about rallying the girls (Mikayla, Jordy, Jess (Eric too I assume), and Lex) to ship a box of crustaceans across the country. Something he knows I love and miss. The family braved the inner harbor to gather them up so that James (and I) could share them a few time zones away.
What did James have for dinner? A down home Maryland style crab feast with newspaper on the tables, hot steamed crabs and home made French fries -- courtesy of my shipping family. Delicious Hon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Family Style Spaghetti

Usually when I make spaghetti it's for one or sometimes two servings. I rarely take the time to make an old-time checkered tablecloth red sauce -- the kind of Sunday gravy characters on The Sopranos would eat by the bowlful. But His Highness had a friend coming to dinner and I had to work late so I wanted to be able to walk in and have dinner ready in a jiffy. And, believe it or not, I had a world of leftovers just perfect for a slow cooked sauce.
Instead of my usual pork ribs or neck bones I used chunks of ham and salami left over from our party and sauteed them along with chopped onions and a bit of garlic. I always like to serve preserved tomatoes next to our party cheeses so I had a jar of deep roasted tomatoes to add to the pot. I thought that might be not quite enough sauce (we were going Italian American style here after all) so I thought back to one of the most rustic old-timey sauces I know . . . tomato paste sauce and threw in about 3/4 cup of concentrated tomato paste and 5 cups of water. I've many times made an old-fashioned Naples-style sauce of just pork on the bone, onion, tomato paste and water. It has a rich mouthfeel and deep flavor unlike more modern sauce recipes. But this time I went for a little of both.
I allowed the pot of ingredients to simmer gently for a couple hours. And, because I wasn't going to serve the meat as a second course (and because the meat would have the rich flavor but not the dreamy texture of fresh pork cooked in sauce) I puréed the sauce and set it aside to reheat the next night.
When I got home from work James had the water boiling. As he made a few grilled oysters for appetizers, I popped my already prepared loaf of garlic bread in the oven, cooked the pasta, laid out a platter of roasted fennel and cauliflower (more dip leftovers) as a "salad", and finished the sauce with a dollop of heavy cream.
Dinner for guests, ready any time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sautéed Potatoes

This dinner is out of order for sure -- and probably for most nights wouldn't be considered a real dinner -- more of a side-dish I guess. I whipped it up one night last week when James wasn't very hungry and time was shorter than usual.
Again -- the power of leftovers. I had some boiled tiny potatoes in the fridge along with sliced ham and the ever present salami. I chopped up onion, garlic, ham, salami, and some whole fennel seeds and gave them a turn in the pan in butter and olive oil. Then I added the potatoes along with some chopped parsley, fresh basil and oregano. I sautéed until the potatoes were just starting to crisp, sprinkled with coarse salt and fresh pepper and a one dish dinner was born.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Italian Country Style Celery Soup

I tend to make this dish after I have had a party where I served dip. I always seem to have more celery sticks than anyone eats -- or than I feel like eating ever, so I pull out this recipe for a warm easy leftover (the oyster party lives on) dinner.
First sauté a chopped onion, 3-4 slices chopped bacon, some cracked pepper and a couple cloves of garlic in olive oil. When the onion is soft add in two TBs of tomato paste and 2 bunches of chopped celery. Stir those around for 5 minutes or so, add 1 quart of chicken stock and allow the pot to simmer (covered) for 20 minutes or so. Next uncover the pot and add 1/2 cup uncooked rice and allow to simmer for 15 minutes more or until the rice is cooked. Season with S&P and serve.
Usually I would top this soup with a handful of freshly grated parmesan, but we were low on parmesan and have a fridge full of cheese leftovers so I made a few taleggio toasts and floated them on top.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Savory Bread Pudding

As I was leaving for work, I took a glance around the kitchen and I saw a way to make a ready-to-pop in the oven dinner perfect for a California winter night. I mixed some slightly stale bread cubes with chunks of taleggio cheese (one of those party leftovers I warned you would surface soon), chopped salami (that was down by the Raclette at the party), bits of ham, and sliced endive (I forgot to cut that for the dip). When those ingredients were assembled in the baking dish I poured in 4 eggs whisked with about 2 1/2 cups of milk and cream combined (more leftovers). The finished dish baked, covered in tin foil, for 45 minutes at 375º. Fifteen minutes of assembly and "His Highness" went back for thirds. Not bad

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chicken and Carrot Stew

More adventures in crock pot cooking.
I'm not sure how long I can support this new obsession -- crock pot ideas without cream of something soup are fairly rare . . . and yet I scour the internet and cookbooks for ways to bring the darling of the 70's working woman into our modern food centric household. Based on an idea from Everyday Food (is that the Women's Day of the 2000's?) I mixed up a cut chicken with garlic, cinnamon stick, cumin, S&P, and oddly enough no liquid. I started to doubt but decided to follow Martha's team's instructions and I was right to trust. The chicken came out moist and not soupy as some slow cooked dishes can be. Just before serving I tossed in a handful of golden raisins and let the crock pot simmer for 15 minutes more. To serve, for a different audience, I might have gone for a spiced cous cous -- but, as any regular readers know, when the big man eats pasta he wants spaghetti, so this chicken hit the plate on a bed of steamed brown rice sprinkled with slivered toasted almonds and cilantro leaves.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cacio E Pepe California Style

Pasta cooking water is often referred to as kitchen gold-- well, at least in our house it is. Warm spaghetti, a few sautéed vegetables or aromatics (or even not), a little cheese, a dollop of the starchy liquid and a pasta sauce is born.
Cacio E Pepe in it's purest form is basically olive oil, maybe some garlic, lots of pepper, handfuls of parmesan cheese and pasta cooking water all swirled together with the al dente noodles to make a light, quick sauce.
For our California version I searched through the fridge and came up with a bit of ricotta cheese which I added to the mix along with a sprinkle of crushed red peppers. Creamy warm and comforting -- La Cucina Povera for modern times, a recession proof dinner.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4th Annual Oyster Roast

The second Sunday in December -- a holiday tradition.
Grilled Oysters with Flavored Butters, Jamon Serrano, Artisanal Cheeses, Homemade Sweets.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Laundry Day?

I can't believe it's happened to me, just when I least expected it, I've become a crock pot cook. A product of the 70' s somehow wrapped up in the Women's Day magazines I read as a child -- those were the days before I discovered Gourmet (sigh -- I can't believe it's gone), getting dinner on the table in a timely manner even if I've been at work all day is a daily accomplishment I relish. And, take on as my solemn obligation.
We had some ham trimming in the fridge and I always have dried beans, so I mixed up some sliced onions, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, parsley, S&P, dried chiles and water. Turned the crockpot on low -- set the timer on the rice cooker and drove off into the world confident that dinner would be ready when James was ready.
If I'd had it I would have liked to brown some smoked sausage (it's been a big pork month) on the stove and stir it into the cooked beans . . . but for a workday weeknight . . . I admit, it was no French Laundry but it felt warm and hearty on a rainy night.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best Pizza Ever . . . Again

Pizza is one of our "go-to" options. And James always love its. Since the big man is not such a fan of tomatoes I try to spread around the topping choices -- tonight's effort? Italian salami, red onion, yellow squash, chili flakes, olive oil, mozzarella and for a twist, i the last 5 minutes r so I tossed some shredded radicchio with sweet balsamic vinegar and parmesan and layed it on top to get a bit toasted in the hot oven. Pizza and salad in one. A new favorite.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cauliflower Stew

Okay girls --as they say, you can't win 'em all.
This started off well -- a spicy cauliflower soup from an Alice Water's recipe. It certainly wasn't spicy and I'd venture to say it didn't have much taste at all so I started to doctor -- quickly. I stirred in a bit of tomato paste, extra salt, a few chili flakes . . . still not very exciting. Finally I had to pull out the big guns -- whole wheat bread crumbs sautéed in olive oil with slices of Spanish Chorizo. Once again the humble pig becomes dinnertime's saving grace.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crock Pot Ropa Vieja

Writing a blog is somewhat like being a radio DJ -- or the way I've imagined being a radio DJ must be. Sending slightly vapid thoughts about the minutia of the day out into the universe wondering (I suppose until the Neilsens come out) if anyone is listening or amused -- and yet I feel a compulsion to complete my daily on-line meals. Sigh.
If only I had more time I'd write flowery details and take pictures of every step -- perhaps one day down the road between jobs. But for now I am the picture of 1970's womanhood making friends with the crock pot and making slow cooker meals I can leave going in the morning (or have readied an ask the big man to put in the crock pot at a prescribed (by email -- it is the 2000's after all) time.
The latest creation -- Ropa Vieja -- Spanish for old clothes, is a slow cooked mix of shredded beef and peppers. I layered sirloin tip steak (I would have rather flank or skirt but we had a nice big package of sirloin) in the crock post with sliced red bell peppers, oregano, cumin, 1 sliced onion, and a large can of tomatoes (yes from our garden -- from the summer when I had more time), S&P, and let it cook for about 8 hours on low.
If it had been an energetic night I would have shredded the beef and quickly browned it in some hot oil before serving over rice with some of the tasty broth. that one's for extra credit. Instead I shredded the tender meat, piled the beef and some of the broth over rice and topped with chopped fresh onions, white cheese, cilantro leaves, and lime wedges for squeezing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pork Scallopini

I'm trying to expand my repertoire of 10 minute dinners. By the time I get home from work His Highness is starving and I'm not feeling at my most imaginative. This simple pork scallopini (James won't even think about eating veal) was a small sidestep from the quick pastas that are usually our dinner in a hurry solution -- and a quick way to use up a fairly affordable "managers special"from the butcher counter. I simply dredged the cutlets in seasoned flour and laid them in hot oil for about 2 minutes per side. When the pork was cooked I added a good bit of butter to the skillet and added in equal parts of red wine vinegar and rinsed capers (we buy ours packed in salt) and cooked while scraping up the brown bits form the bottom of the pan. The pork slices went back in to warm in the sauce, and with roasted potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe it was a weeknight dinner without spaghetti -- fairly rare these days.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's A Regular

I'm not sure how it happened. I read all the food magazines, flip through "food porn" cookbooks, search out the finest local and seasonal ingredients -- and still, the most school cafeteria of entrées has made regular rotation on our table.
To be honest, regular for us isn't quite like some families where Tuesday is meatloaf night but if something shows up more than twice a month it's pretty unusual.
It always starts the same . . . olive oil, chopped onion, sometimes sausage sometimes bacon, garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and ground beef. I let the beef brown in the oil and add a few TB of tomato paste and let the whole sauce simmer over low heat until the pasta is done. I toss in the drained pasta, a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water and chopped parsley. Give a couple good turns over medium heat and it's comfort food Italo-American style.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Louisiana Style BBQ Shrimp

Another easy dish that's good enough for company -- well company that doesn't mind getting messy.
For this variation I added a little something extra (lagnappe as they would say down in NO) a bit of smoky bacon. I stared by crisping the chopped bacon in a bit of oil, mixed in butter (and plenty of it) lemon juice, sliced lemons, a couple cloves of garlic, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and some chopped rosemary -- allowed that sauce to meld together and stirred in the uncooked shrimp (normally I would use un-peeled shrimp) and popped the whole dish into a 375º oven for 20 minutes.
Serve with plenty of toasted French bread to sop up the sauce.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Homegrown Eggplant Parmesan

Last night James (well, me too) was so hungry by the time I got home from work, there was no waiting for pictures. So, here is the aftermath of a parmesan made with violet eggplants from our front yard garden (they are still going strong even in November!) and tomatoes we grew and canned over the summer.
The casserole was readied on Sunday to bake for Monday dinner (and Tuesday lunch). I salted the eggplant slices and let them drain/ rest for 30 minutes while I made a quick tomato sauce of olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, chopped shallot, canned tomatoes, and basil -- with S&P of course. Then I floured each eggplant slice, dipped them in beaten egg and then coated in panko and parmesan cheese. The slices were pan fried and layered in the baking dish with the tomato sauce, some ricotta I happened to have in the fridge and shredded mozzarella. On my drive home James popped the dish into the oven. Teamwork makes a weeknight dinner little easier.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Okay, so by now it's nothing surprising that an LA area food blogger -- even one as small as me -- has made it to Bouchon. That I idolize Thomas Keller is no secret among my friends and tonight I finally got the chance to see one of his places in action. The room is friendly yet sophisticated, the yellow roses in the ladies room extravagant, the service attentive without being fawning. All of that is nice . . . but the real fact is, the food is just plain good.
These aren't the intricate and playful food as high art dishes Keller is famous for in Yountville and NY, these are straight-forward classics, perhaps not challenging, but cooked to perfection and beautifully served in casual yet lovely tableware (Staub pots and All-Clad copper gratin pans as dishes).
James had the steak frites for which the bistro is rightfully renown. I had the lamb shank special which was good, but came with what are likely the very best mashed potatoes (pomme purée) I've ever tasted. Even the roast chicken at Bouchon doesn't disappoint. But the real spectacular, I can't make that at home, look-at-me dish? Iles Flottante. A delicate disk of poached meringue in a shallow pool of creme Anglais with a delicious caramel, maple, cinnamon, honestly not sure quite what other than delicious thin caramel colored sauce. Why, oh why is there no recipe for Iles Flottante in the Bouchon Cookbook? Please tell me how you made that disc so perfect Mr. Keller (and friends).
Sign me up -- ardent fan, happy eater, returning guest.
Go soon, go often, order dessert.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Filet with Parmesan Garlic Butter

I guess you can't have spaghetti every night.
Some night's it's just as easy to toss some potatoes in to roast, boil some broccoli (okay then stir it up with a little olive oil and garlic), quickly sear a salt and pepper coated filet and pop it in the oven to finish with the crispy potatoes. I like to heat up an iron pan on the stove and lay the steak in for 2-3 minutes on each side (sometimes I get energetic and do the thin sides also) and let the meat cook through (on the same pan) in the oven (about 6-8 minutes usually does it). To finish, I happened to have a little flavored butter on hand (it's going to be served with roasted oysters at our annual Christmas party next month) which melted nicely on top of the meat. Top with our favorite, Maldon salt, and dinner is served.

Friday, November 27, 2009

White Bean Succotash

Everyone has little kitchen chores he/ she tries to avoid. I admit it -- I don't like to shuck corn.
But, the big man loves it. So, when I see fresh white ears (we never ate yellow corn as a kid -- may Dad called it "horse corn") at the farmer's market I bring it home for James. If I don't cook it that day (James likes it lightly steamed with plenty of fresh butter -- I like it grilled and a little crispy) I inevitably avoid it, passing by the fridge as if I don't see it. Until one day I am not only forced to shuck it but cut the kernels off the cob for a less than just picked corn dish that still pleases.
One of my favorite ways to use that leftover corn is succotash -- usually a sautéed combination of butter beans (or limas), squash, peppers --or whatever is hanging on in the late summer garden. We were low on limas so I decided to substitute canned white beans for a hearty, nearly meat-free dinner (well if you don't count the Canadian bacon I started with).
I sautéed the pork in a little olive oil and added in one chopped red onion, a couple cloves of garlic, fresh thyme, and a chopped red pepper. Next came a good bunch of diced zucchini. I cooked all those vegetables until just about tender and added in the corn kernels, the drained and rinsed white beans, and a good sized knob of butter and cooked until the corn was just cooked and the beans were heated through. I finished the dish with a splash of cream and S&P.
Quick Southern-style vegetable stew over rice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spinach Spaghetti w Mushroom Ragu (Ragout?)

Spaghetti everyday and yet we never get tired of it.
Every now and then I try to do something a little different. The cooler weather has brought a mushroom seller to our local farmer's market -- I spied those brown paper bags in the fridge and another weekday dinner was born.
I crisped up a little pancetta in some olive oil and set it aside. To the same oil (and the rendered fat) I added a mix of chopped mushrooms and about 1 TB of butter. When the mushrooms were soft and slightly browned I tossed in one chopped shallot, 2 chopped cloves garlic, and a bout a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves. When the shallot was softened I added in about 1/4 cup of marsala wine and cooked (scraping up the born bits from the bottom) until the wine was evaporated. Next went in about 3/4 cup of cream with plenty of S&P, and I cooked for a few minutes until the sauce was thickened.
When the spaghetti was just cooked I added the pasta, a bit of the cooking water, and the reserved pancetta back to the pan and gave it a good toss over medium heat to just combine the flavors.
That's the quickest answer to "what's for dinner" I can think of.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Collard Green Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuit Top

By now it's old news that the big man loves bitter greens, what probably isn't as obvious is the effort I make to find new and interesting ways to cook them. While cruising along the internet "tubes" I happened upon a recipe for collard green cobbler -- there's something I hadn't considered.
Of course, there's always room for improvement.
The recipe just didn't seem to do justice to the cornmeal biscuits. So I started out on my own. First I stewed the collards the way I usually do, fatback bacon (in this case the rind from Jamon Serrano at last year's Christmas party, chicken broth, dried red peppers, and sliced onion all stewed together until the collards are tender.
I can't exactly say I was down home on the biscuit topping. I just don't like to cut in butter -- a couple years ago His Highness bought me a beautiful Cusinart as a gift and it has freed me from the kitchen tyranny of pastry blenders and double knives. Now I just toss the flour, salt and baking powder (1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 TB baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt) into the food processor and pulse to mix. In goes 4 TB of butter and I pulse machine again until the butter is cut into coarse grains. Next comes 1/2 cup of milk and I mix until just blended. Lay the dough out on a cutting board, knead few times, pat out to about 1 1/2 inches thick and cut out 3 inch rounds. I like to let the biscuits rest in the fridge at least 30 minutes before baking (that's the great make ahead part -- wrapped up you could probably even do them the night before).
When James was ready for dinner I placed the biscuits on top of the collards in the pot and popped the dish (uncovered) into the oven at 450º for about 20 minutes until the biscuits are brown and the collards are bubbling.
Next time I think I'll brush those biscuits with a little melted butter. They might even find a way -- without the collards -- to our Thanksgiving table.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pizza Again

Late night -- quick and easy dinner.
Yesterday James and I took all of my kitchen knives (mandolin too) to be sharpened. When dinner time came I found myself looking around for something I could cook without a good knife. I had some dough and a shredder so I slivered some red onion and zucchini and mixed in thin bits of fresh garlic -- laid that on top of the thin dough, layered a few slices (pre-sliced) of prosciutto on top, dressed with some olive oil, S&P, and crushed red pepper topped with grated cheese and it's knife- free dinner in 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sicilian Style

Is it just too boring that we eat spaghetti so often? Do we eat more pasta than anyone else in the world? Or is spaghetti just the most versatile, comforting, delicious food ever invented?
His Highness loves fennel, anise, tarragon and all things licoricy. I can't even stand the smell. Vows and rings can't compare, it is my supreme show of love to bring James bags of Dutch black licorice (salted, sweet, gummy -- all kinds) or make a pasta dish like this one.
While the water came to a boil, I sauteed 8 anchovy filets in about 1/2 cup of olive oil, mashing the fish to a paste as they heated. Then I tossed in 1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel, one thinly sliced onion, and a pinch of crushed red pepper and cooked over medium heat until just soft (about 5 minutes). Next went in two chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, and 1/4 cup of golden raisins. The sauce simmered over low heat for about 5 minutes.
Before I drained the pasta I took one cup of the cooking water and added in 1/4 tsp of saffron threads, then added the saffron liquid and the pasta to the sauce and allowed to cook (tossing with tongs) over low heat until the spaghetti was well coated with the fennel mixture. To serve, instead of the usual cheese, I topped the pasta Southern Italian style with toasted bread crumbs for a bit of welcome crunch.
I love you Honey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roast Chicken with Stewed Winter Vegetables and Balsamic Fig Preserves

I'm a sucker for Thomas Keller. I buy his cookbooks (okay . . . James bought them for me), I dream of eating in his restaurants, I cook his recipes at home.
Yesterday while browsing recipes for dinner I came across the great chef's (and his brother's) recipe for stewed winter vegetables. I just happened to have everything I needed right from the farmer's market.
First I peeled shallots (I did about 4), sprinkled them with S&P and wrapped them in tin foil with 1/2 TB of butter. Those I popped into the oven (350º) for 30 minutes.
Carrots and parsnips are peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths (I made sort of batons about 1/2" x 2"). Leeks are split in half, cleaned and cut into 1" lengths. Turnips, quartered. All of these cut vegetables go into a pot with a sprig of thyme, 2 TB of butter, and 2 1/2 cups chicken stock. I brought the vegetables up to a boil, covered and allowed to simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile I boiled some small potatoes until tender, and when the vegetable were just soft added in the drained potatoes and the roasted shallots and seasoned to taste.
On the side -- when a Thomas Keller recipe is on the table everything else is a side-dish -- a quick roast chicken. I simply stuffed the cavity with garlic cloves, lemons and herbs from our garden, trussed, basted with olive oil, sprinkled on S&P and popped it in the oven for an hour and 20 minutes (I basted with more olive oil about 20 minutes into roasting) at 350º -- good company for the roasting shallots.
Thomas Keller was not the only chef on our table last night. Yesterday at work I commented on the delicious balsamic fig preserves served on the grilled chicken breast, and the boys in the truck were kind enough to give me not only the recipe but a little to go container. A little extra autumn flavor complements of our friends at "Off The Shelf."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bitter Greens and Fresh Ricotta

Spaghetti is my everyday fallback position. I can always find something in the house to turn into a credible sauce even if it's just olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and pasta cooking water. A little cheese -- even better.
Half a red onion, garlic, a few slices of prosciutto, and a couple spoonfuls of fresh ricotta turned out a pretty tasty quick dinner.
As the pasta cooked, I sautéed the chopped garlic and onion in olive oil and sprinkled in a bit of crushed red pepper. When the onion was soft I tossed in shreds of prosciutto until just crisped.
I added the drained al dente spaghetti to the sauté pan along with the chopped dandelions, S&P, 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water (kitchen gold!), and plenty of grated Romano cheese and gave it all a quick stir of medium high heat. I thought the greens might still be too bitter on their own so I topped the dish with two quenelles of fresh ricotta and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
I'm not sure any Italian ever made this spaghetti recipe, but it made a fine supper for my hungry Scot.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Early Thanksgiving

The other day while reading food magazines at the gym (I know it's perverse but I do it all the time) I saw an article for roasting a butterflied (it's really called spatchcocked for whatever reason I am not sure) turkey. Even though I have done this in the past (usually it's the second turkey on a big Thanksgiving) I suddenly could think of nothing else but roast turkey for dinner. I was probably pushed on a little by a pair of articles in last week's New York Times debating if turkey or the side were the stars of the Thanksgiving table --
"“If roast turkey is so good . . . I wonder why we don’t we make it at other times?” You’d think people would serve it at dinner parties," Julia Moskin snidely wrote as she lovingly described her host of admittedly tasty-sounding, “show-off” side dishes.
There on the elliptical machine I decided to make my vote for the bird.
As the instructions detailed, and I've managed with chickens and turkeys before, I cut out the backbone (a good strong pair of poultry scissors is handy for that) and opened the bird up. Then I cracked the breastbone so the turkey (12 lb) would lay down flat, tucked the wings under, and my weekday bird was ready to roast. As Martha suggested I went simple and rubbed the bird with olive oil, salt, and pepper and popped it into a 450º oven for an hour and 10 minutes (rotating once while cooking), and out came a glistening brown, crispy- skinned, decidedly not Norman Rockwell early Thanksgiving hero.

But then, as the turkey cooked, I thought maybe Moskin didn’t have it all wrong. While the bird roasted I cut some peeled sweet potatoes into cubes, popped them in a pot of cool water and boiled gently until tender. I mashed those with some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, butter, vanilla extract and cream. The flavored mashed sweet potatoes went into a small casserole dish and I topped the puree with a mixture of chopped pecans, brown sugar, and butter. I let the

potatoes cook through in the oven at 375º for about half an hour (I would have let it go maybe 15 minutes more but we were hungry and the bird was ready to serve).

While the turkey rested I made a quick gravy with pan drippings, flour and white wine instead of the stock or water. I let the gravy, which, dare I say it, James called “exceptional” cook until nicely thick while I put green beans over a pot of boiling water to steam.

Super easy mid-week turkey. Hmm, why don’t people roast turkey more often?

PS: One trick Martha didn’t give her readers was a great way for a quick cooking bird and tasty stuffing. Years ago Cooks Illustrated published a recipe for a butterflied turkey roasted over a pan of stuffing. Prepare the bird as described above, put your favorite stuffing recipe into an oiled roasting pan big enough to support the turkey (CI suggested 12” x 16”) – lay a cooking rack or slotted broiler pan top (I’ve used a wire cooling rack that I use for baked goods) across the pan and place the turkey (skin side up) on the wire rack so he is supported above the stuffing. Brush the turkey with melted butter, S&P, and whatever seasonings you fancy. As your bird roasts the drippings fall down and flavor the stuffing. While the bird rests you pop the stuffing back in to the oven for the crispy edges fans of baked-outside-the-bird stuffing love. The best of both worlds in about an hour and a half.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Risotto Experiment

A couple of you might remember, though I'm not sure why you would, that a few weeks ago I tried a risotto experiment. When I accidentally made risotto for 8 instead of for 4 (that's me, James and lunch the next day) I took half of the half-cooked recipe out of the pan, cooled it on a baking tray, and tossed it in the freezer.
After I gave the rice time to thaw I popped it in a frying pan with about 1/2 a cup of hot broth and I just picked up where I left off. Stirring and adding more broth until the rice was cooked. In a separate pan I sautéed loads of garlic, red onions in olive oil, and added in chopped kale just until wilted. And, when the rice was tender stirred the vegetable mix along with some shredded Romano cheese and a little knob of butter -- risotto experiment one, finished.
Next time I think I will store the rice when it is a little less cooked (in truth it was more than half way) but this isn't a bad plan for a busy night -- 10 minute risotto.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Autumn Scallops

James loves scallops. I love chestnuts. When fall comes around I am constantly looking for an excuse to stir in a few chestnuts. Yes, I usually use vacuum packed chestnuts (except for Christmas eve when I generally try to roast a pan for us to nibble), and yes I could get those any time of year . . . but somehow autumn (into winter) is the only time that seems right. A stab for seasonality in our round the year, ship anything, anytime world.
This simple sauce was just leeks and bacon cooked until soft in a bit of butter, a bit of cognac flamed, vacuum packed chestnuts and chicken broth simmered until soft and pureed in the blender. I added a bit of cream and a hefty dose of S&P. With hot oil in the pan -- before I put the scallops into sear -- I tossed in some fine rosemary leaves (I would have used sage but we didn't have any handy -- I have to remember to plant some) just until crisp and set them aside on a paper towel. I laid the scallops in the hot oil and basted with melted butter as they cooked through. To serve I poured a bit of the warm sauce on the plate, laid the scallops on top and garnished with the rosemary leaves.
James scraped up the leftover sauce with toast -- success!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Salame Pizza

I have a love hate relationship with Trader Joe's. I love how cheap it is. I hate the parking lot. I love the organic maple syrup and stuffed olives. I hate their pizza dough. Mostly because it's (at least) as good as mine. I hate being shown up by the -- what does Michael Pollan call it . . . "the industrial food complex?" . . . "the military industrial complex?" . . . I hate that anybody's pre-packaged anything is as good (at least) as my home made. I used to make batches of dough and package them in the freezer for unexpected pizza moments. These days -- though I am loathe to admit it -- we usually have a package of Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough (white or garlic herb) in the fridge. The shame of it all. Sigh.
In spite of my culinary dishonor I have to admit, dough in the fridge makes for an easy weeknight dinner.
One of my New Year's resolutions for 2009 was to learn to make Salami. There were also a few cheese, education and gym related ones that I more or less lived up to, but the clock is ticking on 2009 salami. So far I'm just eating more of it, and a near forgotten link in the fridge made the surprise topping on this pie.
I piled on thinly sliced potatoes (very thin cut with a mandoline), red onions, garlic, thin rounds of salami (I mean pepperoni is just a salami after all), chopped parsley, and a good dousing of olive oil. I topped it all with sliced mozzarella and popped the assembled pie onto our pizza stone preheated to 500º. After 10 minutes I covered the top with shredded romano cheese and popped it back in the oven for 5 minutes.
Another weeknight quicker than carry-out meal . . . thanks to Trader Joe's (Grr).