Sunday, August 30, 2009

Easier French Fries

Who would have guessed there was something new to do with French fries? I always make mine the same way . . . peel cut and soak in cold water, dry and fry at a low temperature until just cooked, remove from oil, allow to cool and fry again at 350º until crispy. That is until today.
While browsing through Cooks Illustrated's web site I found a recipe they call Easier French Fries. I'm not generally the kind of cook who makes the same thing over and over again until a recipe is perfected but this improved method was intriguing. CI suggested starting the cut potatoes (2 1/2 lbs) in just 6 cups of room temperature oil. Place potatoes in oil in a high sided pot, turn burner on high and allow to cook (oil will come to a rolling boil) for about 20 minutes without stirring. Potatoes will begin to cook but still be limp. After 20 minutes give a good stir and pry loose any that are stuck and cook (stirring occasionally) until crisp, another 5 - 1o minutes. Drain on paper bags or paper towels, salt generously and serve immediately.
"You could serve these at a party and people would go crazy," James said. He also claimed they were as good as the fries at his beloved Oinkster -- high praise, but also the kind of sweet suppertime lie that makes for happy cooks and longtime dinner companions.
Since we were having kebabs (beef marinated in lime, onion juice, garlic, yogurt and saffron) I made a quick garlic tahini sauce for dipping the fries (equal parts tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and water plus garlic and S&P to taste). Serve anything you want along side -- when these potatoes are on the table, it's all about the fries.

Hot Summer Supper

With the weather so hot it's been hard to think about anything in the kitchen: eating (well not really -- there's always ice cream), cooking, and certainly not preserving (or cleaning for that matter). And yet, dinner time seems to roll around everyday. So I went rummaging for an idea.
I'm not sure if I like okra or the idea of okra better, but every summer I grow several plants, and when our crop is small (or I forget to harvest the pods while they are still reasonably tender size) I buy it at the farmer's market. I've roasted it, fried it, and stirred it into gumbos and Indian fiery hot stews. Last night I looked around at what was left in our kitchen and vegetable drawers and came up with this version of Louisiana's vegetable stew, Maque Choux. A Cajun style dish, Maque Choux is also thought to have roots among The Bayou State's Native American tribes. The current name is generally thought to be a Louisiana French adaptation of an American Indian moniker -- much like succotash in other parts of the South.
For your own homemade Maque Choux sauté aromatics (onions or shallots, celery, bell peppers, a jalapeño or two, thyme, a bit of garlic, and a pinch of cayenne -- some cooks use a little Louisiana Tasso ham) in bacon fat and or butter (save the crisped bacon for a topping) until just soft and starting to brown. Add chopped tomatoes (if it's tomato season) and allow to cook down (many cooks skip this step preferring to give the stew a creamier texture by scraping the corn cobs -- after the kernels have been cut off -- and adding the "corn milk" as a liquid -- but we grow tomatoes and had some slightly soft ones around). Then stir in corn kernels and sliced okra. Cook until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes or so -- you may need to add water or chicken broth as it cooks), season with S&P, a bit more cayenne or chile powder, hot sauce to taste, and a couple pats of butter.
Serve on steamed rice, sprinkled with reserved bacon or topped with spiced broiled shrimp.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Late night, home from work, car trouble, towing, Thousand Oaks adventure pasta dinner. I had some sautéed shallots (left over from the sliders), so I cooked those up with some shredded prosciutto, garlic and crushed red chiles -- when the pasta (a mish-mash of unfinished bags -- added in stages so they all cooked fully) was just cooked I tossed it in the sauté pan with some slices of fresh goat cheese and a bit of the pasta water and stirred it all together with some chopped parsley. Done!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekend Update

Two days, two sets of guests, and a perfect summer cake.
Saturday night we had some friends for dinner (What Deb and Leslie Had For Dinner?) --- Bucatini with Sorrel Pesto, Olive Oil Fried Egg (Thanks Girls!) and Roasted Tomatoes, Pan Roasted Wild Salmon and Broccoli Rabe and Rosemary Anchovy Sauce, Frisée Radicchio and Raw Artichoke Salad, Brown Butter Raspberry tart for dessert.
Sunday was more of a family event. House specialty Sliders and Crispy Onion Rings, Sour Slaw (Not pictured), Watermelon Salad (champagne vinegar, mint, ricotta salata, olive oil, chili, S&P), Corn on the Cob, BBQ'ed Drumsticks, Root Beer Floats, Nectarine Raspberry Pie (not pictured) and what may be my new go to summer cake -- layers of yellow sponge filled with lemon curd and "frosted" with a soft meringue -- Lemon Meringue Cake.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stove Top Clam Bake

Another fast summer supper. All I did was layer corn and andouille sausage with fresh manilla clams on top, poured in about a cup of water, a couple TBs of butter, and sprinkled on oregano, crushed red peppers, and a little Old Bay -- covered the pot over high heat and waited about 13 minutes once I saw the steam (our clams were pretty small so I took them out after 8 and let the corn cook a little longer). Serve in a nice dip bowl with plenty of bread for dipping. As Gordon Ramsey would say . . . Stovetop Clambake with Fresh Corn and Sausage -- Done!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Delivered in 30 Minutes Or Less Or . . .

Quicker, cheaper and better than delivery, with a ball of dough waiting in the fridge or freezer homemade pizza is just 20 - 30 minutes away. Okay so I do pre-heat the oven and let the dough rest for a bit . . . but from rolling dough to on the table in 30 minutes isn't bad -- and it's a great way to use leftovers -- prosciutto, steamed potatoes, tomato sauce, herbs and cheeses for this one. Our hearthkit oven insert makes a terrific crispy crust (not to mention chewy breads) for a favorite round meal in 30 minutes or less -- those guys with the boxes better watch out!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fresh Black-Eyed Peas

A late summer delight, fresh back eyed peas ready to shell and eat. For this simple supper I cooked up the peas in water (brought to a boil and then simmered) , bay leaf, onion, and carrot for about 40 minutes, until tender. Drained -- and reserved about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and mixed that with 1 cup beans, a pinch of za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix that's a favorite flavoring around here), cumin, crushed chili peppers, and S&P. I dusted the shrimp in cumin and za'atar and quickly sautéed them. And, while keeping the shrimp warm, heated up some oil and garlic and gave thinly sliced (chiffonade) chard leaves a turn in the pan. Once the beans are cooked (I did that the day before and re-heated them while cooking the shrimp) it's 10 minutes to a simple light summer supper.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's Good To Be Home

The cover of September's Bon Appetit Magazine looks so good I couldn't wait to make it -- chicken dinner on a Tuesday . . . Why not? Turns out it's their simple oven ready recipe for Pollo Al Mattone. Usually cooked on a grill, this Italian style flattened chicken is weighted (traditionally with a brick -- mattone in Italian) and pressed flat for extra crispy skin and quick cooking.
From your whole chicken remove the backbone (save it for stock -- don't discard it the way the BA recipe advised) and lay it flat -- cracking the breastbone to make the bird as flat as possible (that used to be called spatchcocking) and increasing the surface area touching the hot pan. Marinate for 24 hours in lemon juice (2 TB), olive oil (2TB), chopped rosemary (1 TB) and garlic (2 cloves, minced). Our poultry CSA sends several birds at once. A recipe like this is perfect to freeze in the marinade for a future dinner that marinates while it thaws in the fridge (in that case I might thaw for 48 hours for extra flavor).
When you're ready to cook, pre-heat your oven to 400º. Remove the chicken from marinade and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an iron skillet over medium high heat and lay the marinated chicken, skin side down, in the hot oil for 7 minutes to brown. The BA instructions say to wrap a brick in tin foil or maybe use a second iron skillet. I used a second skillet and cooked up a batch of roasted potatoes in it (homegrown potatoes, oregano, S&P, chile flakes, olive oil) while the chicken sizzled. However you decide to weight your bird -- after browning on the stovetop, place in the oven and (with a piece of foil in between) lay the second skillet right on top. Cook skin side down for 30 minutes, turn chicken skin side up and cook 15 minutes more for a crispy, lemony, comforting dinner.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Homestyle Fast Food

Home again. We made it in from Toronto and, of course, the cupboard seemed bare. Food from nothing, that's my favorite game! About 20 minutes after "the big man" announced he was hungry I casually produced a bowl of spaghetti with velvety, rich tomato paste sauce thanks to Arthur Schwartz's old-fashioned rustic recipe and a double batch of sauce lovingly simmered for 3 hours back during the colder months.
Most modern Italian cookbooks ignore paste sauces or dismiss them as relics of the once impoverished countryside . . . but I have a soft spot for these decidedly un-hip dishes. Warm, comforting, and ready to feed a family for very little cash. Frozen in serving size containers for just this kind of mother Hubbard emergency, it's the kind of fast food I can appreciate.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head? Bad Advice!

While surfing and searching for food options in Toronto I came across a picture (well, actually it was linked by my friend Sha) of this dish -- Vancouver (Dungeness) Crab Steamed in Lotus Leaf over Seafood Fried Rice. The delicate meat stays tender and sweet while the fat from the crab adds flavor to the rice. The LA area has some of the best Chinese food in North America. But I've never seen anything like this. Lo and behold Xam Yu was walking distance from our hotel and steamed crab along with tender sautéed pea greens became Saturday lunch.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Take That Rachel Ray!

Tonight's dinner was simply a tribute to good shopping. We raced in the house after an afternoon of "cash for clunkers" negotiations at a local car dealer (they've worked on Ford commercials -- give them the "partner" price . . . what price would get to to close the deal right now . . . buy American, it means so much -- yada yada yada). Straight in the door I stared heating a cast iron pan and turned the oven to 450º. James put the "girls" up and I fed the dogs and our wonder cat, Scout. By then the pan was piping hot and I poured in a little olive oil and in went the seasoned steaks. I seared them for about 2 minutes on all sides (edges too), while the first side seared I trimmed the asparagus and tossed it with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet and popped it into the heating oven. Next, potatoes went into the microwave (shudder I do sometimes use the microwave, melting chocolate, baking potatoes . . . ) to cook through. Back to the steaks -- I added a pat of butter to the pan and a couple handfuls of chopped mushrooms. A dash of chicken broth as steaks were turned to their last side and the iron pan -- steaks mushrooms and all -- went into the oven with the asparagus to cook through -- for us it was about 10 minutes. After 5 minutes I placed the sliced potatoes -- cut side down -- next to the steak and finished it off in the oven.
And there it is, the 30 minute steak dinner: Pan Roasted Filet Mignon with Sautéed Mushrooms, Marinated Baby Artichokes (I cooked and marinated those on Sunday), Crisped Fingerling Potatoes, and Roasted Asparagus.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Broccoli Rabe Risotto

His Highness loves broccoli rabe. I've steamed it, baked it, grilled it, tossed it in pasta, sautéed it with sausage, stir-fried it with oyster sauce, scrambled it with eggs -- and still I keep buying it.
I'm not sure if any Italian every cooked broccoli rabe into a risotto -- or if they even have quite the taste for bitter greens James does, but I figured it was worth a try. I cut the florets and tender leaves and cooked them in simmering chicken broth (mixed with water), a little lemon juice and lemon zest until tender. Then I cooked the stems -- finely cut -- and puréed them in the blender for extra broccoli flavor and proceeded with risotto as usual.
Sauté onion and garlic and olive oil, add the rice and give it a good toast, stir in the purée (that's where I would normally add the wine) mix through and keep adding simmering broth and stirring now and again until the rice is plump and fully cooked. For a touch of richness mix in some butter and a dash of heavy cream (if I had mascarpone or fresh ricotta I might have used that instead). To finish stir in the cooked broccoli florets and parmesan (as Mario Batali would say -- "the undisputed king of cheese") and dinner is served.

Chiles Rellenos Con Carne de Res

Friday evenings I try to use whatever may be left from the week's farmer's marketing. Usually it' s the "I'll think of something to do with that" purchase. This week a collection of leftovers made a pretty popular "new" dish. Based on a Food and Wine recipe I found but tweaked for what we had in-house -- I roasted and peeled Poblano chiles -- made a stuffing with ground beef (1lb) (the beef --Hearst Ranch grass-fed, of course -- I hadn't used on last week's pizza topping) onion (1/2 diced), capers (1 1/2TB), minced green olives (1/2 cup) (got rid of that jar in the fridge), golden raisins (1TB) and a good dose (rounded 1/2 TB) of cumin sautéed in olive oil -- and simmered a sauce from onions (1/2 diced), leftover roasted tomatoes (about 3 cups plus a few fresh for volume -- you could use a large can of tomatoes instead), front yard sweet peppers (3 0r 4 - what was in the fridge), garlic, and dried chiles --puréed and simmered 'til thick. To assemble, mix about a 1/3 cup of sauce into the cooled stuffing mix. Lay the rest of the sauce in your baking dish. Peel the Poblanos and carefully cut a slit in the side of each to remove seeds, stuff with meat mixture and bake covered with tin foil for 15 minutes at 400º. After 15 minutes remove the tin foil, sprinkle with shredded cheese ( I used fresh ranchero) and return to oven until cheese just melts. It would be more traditional to serve these with crema and sprinkled with cilantro (I didn't have any handy), but the big man rears away from sour cream so I used the cheese to cool them down a bit. Add side dishes of colache ( Mexican style sautéed summer squash) and a quick rice cooker Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice) and it's a Friday night summer dinner.