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.