Sunday, October 31, 2010

We're not beer drinkers. In fact we're really not drinkers at all -- I know, not very epicurean of me, but true. So some left over beer we bought for a dinner party a little ways back was really clogging our shelves. I had to find a way to use that up. Tonight we are going to a friend's house for dinner. She asked us to bring the bread so I used up a few of those bottles making some quick rye bread loaves. I stirred together 2 cups of flour, 1 1/4 cup of rye flour, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1 TB baking powder. In a separate bowl I mixed 2 TB of molasses, 12 oz of room temperature beer, and about 2 B of water. I added the liquid to the dry ingredients, gave it all a good stir and put it in a greased dutch oven to bake for about and hour and 15 minutes at 325º.
Bread for dinner and more room in the fridge.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pork Roast in Disguise

Halloween isn't until tomorrow but out left over pork roast came dressed and ready for dinner. Instead of a re-hash of Tuesday's dinner I chopped the meat and sautéed it, along with good dashes of chili powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, in some olive oil (and left over pork fat) until the meat was crispy and just a bit spicy. Layered into warm tortillas and sprinkled with chopped red onion, cilantro and crumbly dry cotija cheese, this easy dinner was all treat -- no tricks here. Boo!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Remains Of The Dinner

James was so hungry (and I was still at work), there was no time for a pre-dinner photo of the chicken pot pie I left in the freezer for him to bake.
Needing to find a use for the poached chicken left from making stock over the weekend I whipped up a bit of dough in the food processor (3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup butter, pinch of salt and 2 TB ice water) and popped that in the fridge to chill while I made the filling.
I sautéed half an onion, 2 peeled and thinly sliced carrots, 1 sliced celery stalk, and small cubes of slab bacon in 3 TB butter for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent but not browned. I stirred in about 1/4 cup of flour, let it cook for just a minute and added about 1 tsp of dried thyme, 1 1/4 cups of chicken stock and about 1 cup of whole milk and let the mixture simmer over low heat, stirring often, for another 10 minutes until creamy and thickened. Then I stirred in the chopped chicken meat (about 1 1/2 cups), chopped parsley, a splash of marsala wine, and the kernels cut from two ears of corn and seasoned with salt and pepper. I let everything simmer for a minute of two more and then poured the filling mixture into a baking dish ( a 2-3 serving kitchen bowl), rolled out the crust, lad the crust on the filling, crimped the dough's edges with a fork, cut a vent in the center and wrapped it up -- with baking instructions -- to wait in the freezer for James to bake.
New life for leftover chicken.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crock Pot Cuban

The days are getting shorter and the hours at work seem to be getting longer. There's a chill in the air. It's the perfect time to bring the crock pot out of summer retirement.
I left everything assembled in the insert for James put in and turn to low for a day of slow cooking.
Today's effort, a Cuban style pork roast. I marinated a bone in shoulder roast (about 4 pounds) in 1/2 cup lime juice, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1 tsp of dried oregano, 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds, 3 cloves of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper for about 24 hours (I think even 4 would have been fine). I added two sliced onions, 3 peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves to the crock pot insert and laid the meat (and all of the marinade) on top. After 10 hours cooking we had our slow cooked pork with white rice and one of James' favorite salads -- sliced avocado and red onion with a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.
"Mmmm,: was all I heard James say.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Artichokes, and Smoked Mozzarella

Having good ingredients makes a quick dinner better and easier. While I was driving home from work James started the water boiling. All I had to do was sauté the asparagus in olive oil with chopped pancetta and garlic, add in some roasted artichokes, chili flakes, and a squeeze of lemon juice and wait for the pasta to cook. I drained the pasta and added the sauté mix along with a good sized handful of parmesan cheese, a knob of butter, and about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. I stirred until the parmesan and the water (along with salt and pepper) made a creamy sauce, tossed in some cubes of smoked mozzarella and called James to the table.
Maybe it's cooking, maybe it's combining, but for us it's a late dinner in a hurry on work night Monday.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finally, A House Specialty

When people find out you like to cook they always want to know what you cook or your "specialty." I went years without having an answer. "Dinner" I'd say, or something like, "I make a lot of Italian." Living with James has changed all that -- just tonight at dinner we confirmed that clams, clams are my specialty.
Clams are easy, cheap, quick and delicious. Mostly delicious. I didn't grow up cooking or eating clams -- unless you count my Dad's white clam sauce spaghetti that relied heavily on canned clams and an olive oil based garlicky sauce. But, since James and I had our first batch of Manilla clams for dinner, my version of spaghetti and clam sauce (I first made it for a birthday dinner for James and he has been requesting it ever since), clams have made a regular appearance at our dinner table. I like to try new recipes so instead of spaghetti every time I am building a repertoire of steamed clam specialties. Tonight I started with lardons of slab bacon rendered over medium low heat until just crisp. To the bacon I aded a couple TB of butter, 3 leeks (white and light green parts only) cut into strips, 2 chopped shallots, a pinch of crushed red chili peppers, 1 sprig of fresh thyme, 1 sprig of fresh oregano, 1 bay leaf and let that mixture cook until the shallots and leeks were soft but not colored -- about 10 minutes. I poured in a cup of clam juice, 1/2 cup of Marsala wine (that's all we had handy -- I would have used more if we'd had white wine) and 1/2 cup of water. I brought the liquid to a boil over high heat and added the nearly 3 lbs of mussels and clams (along with another knob of butter for good measure) which I had purged in the fridge (I put the shellfish in a bowl of water -- about 2 quarts -- with 2 tsp of salt and a handful of cornmeal and let them sit in the fridge for an hour). The cover went on the pot and in about 7 minutes the shells were open and dinner was served. Steamed clams and mussels with sourdough garlic toasts.
"Next time someone comes to dinner I am going to make clams, " I declared as James was scooping some cooking liquid with one last piece of toast. Could be you, Ron.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Vegetable Stew

"A little sausage makes everything taste better," James said biting into our Italian sausage and vegetable stew. And he's right.
Our dinner was a simple -- almost slow cooked, medley of favorite root vegetables -- another recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living. I can't help it, it looked good in the magazine.
First I browned chunks of sausage in olive oil, then I set the sausage aside and browned peeled cipollini onions for about 5 minutes. To the browned onions I added chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and a nice sized bunch of fresh oregano and rosemary. That simmered over medium heat for about 25 minutes. Next came celery (the recipe called for fennel but I just don't like it --too licoricey for me), carrots, parsnips, cubes of butternut squash, and because I was short on butternut a peeled and cubed sweet potato. I wouldn't add sweet potato if I made this recipe again -- it's delicious but doesn't hold it's shape when cooked and gave a bit more mush to the texture than I wanted. I let that mixture simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or so and then added trimmed and halved brussels sprouts, then covered and cooked for 5 minutes more. To finish the stew I uncovered the pot and let the sauce cook down, simmering for about 15 more minutes, swirled in a pat of butter, and served with a plate of crispy cheese toasts.
A perfect fall dinner.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Waiting For Weekends

A week of late nights at work and poor James is eating left overs. Not ideal. I had to use a little weekend time to be prepare for the coming week's long hours. First up, butternut squash cannelloni with fried sage. Though I shudder to admit it, a recipe from Martha Stewart Living that went over pretty darn well around here.
I half boiled lasagna noodles (I didn't have the extra wide ones Martha recommends. I fished the noodles out of the pot and boiled 1" cubes of butternut quash in the same water for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile I sautéed 2 chopped shallots in olive oil until nice and soft but not browned. When the squash was I mashed the squash, the shallots, and a splash of milk into a chunky paste flavored with chopped sage, S&P, and a hint of nutmeg. I divided the paste between the lasagna noodles and rolled each up and place it in the baking dish. When all the rolls were placed in the dish I mixed one large container (15 oz) of ricotta cheese, about 1/2 cup shredded parmesan, with 1/4 cup of milk, salt and pepper, and spread the mixture over the waiting cannelloni. I topped the dish with a good quantity of shredded parmesan. After 25 minutes in a 350º oven the cannelloni when were warmed, and after a few minutes with the oven on broil to get a bit of extra color on the dish, ready to be topped with the fresh sage leaves I quickly fried as a garnish.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick And Tasty

Not too pretty and certainly not gourmet.
After working late I whipped up a super fast taco dinner. I combined fresh chorizo sausage (removed from the casings) with boiled potatoes, dried oregano, chopped chipotle chiles, minced garlic, sweet paprika, chopped cilantro and a drizzle of cider vinegar into a chunky mix (kind of a chorizo hash mixture). I fried the mixture in hot oil in a skillet -- letting the meat mixture get crispy on the bottom before turning. The seasoned meat went into warm tortillas with slices of fresh onion and avocado.
Not too pretty, but pretty delicious.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shrimp With Chorizo And Garbanzo Beans

Simple and delicious this a classic Spanish flavor combination. I went ahead and followed a recipe I saw on Food and Wine's web site except that I used fresh chorizo -- that's what we had, instead of the dry cured Spanish style so I added a good pinch of Pimentón (Spanish roasted paprika) while I sautéed the bits if sausage (1 link removed from the casing) in olive oil over medium high heat. Next I tossed in 2 chopped scallions, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1 cup of cooked chick peas, about 1/2 pound shelled shrimp, and 2 tsp of tomato paste. I gave that all a good stir for about 1 minute and then poured in 1/2 cup of white wine and cooked over low heat until the shrimp were just cooked through. I finished the dish with a pat of butter melted into the sauce and served with crusty bread and rice to soak up the sauce.
All James said was, "Mmmmmmmm."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Baked Eggs

James loves potatoes. He loves ham. He loves béchamel sauce -- although I'm not sure he knows that.
We have a steady supply of eggs. I put all those things together in a French style egg gratin.
I sautéed some onions in butter and then laid them in the bottom of my baking dish. Next I took parboiled potatoes, sliced them and popped them in a pan with plenty of butter until they were cooked through and laid them on top of the onions -- dotting the pan with bits of prosciutto as I layered. The next level was thick slices of hard boiled eggs. I covered it all with a creamy white béchamel sauce (equal parts butter and flour, thinned with milk and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg). I guess I should call it Mornay sauce since I added in a good sized handful of grated Gruyère cheese but by any name it's a rich, creamy, delicious white sauce. I sprinkled the top with a bit more grated cheese and popped the casserole into a 400º oven until bubbling (about 10 minutes) then I switched to the broiler for about 5 minutes until the top was bubbly and browned.
Not exactly a lo-cal dinner, but hearty and warm and perfect for dipping with crisp toasts.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Steak For Dinner

James likes filet mignon. I always make it the same way. I coat the steak in olive oil and then rub cracked peppercorns and coarse salt over the meat to make a nice peppery crust. I heat a cast iron pan on the stove (dry) for about 5 minutes until it is super hot and sear the steak for about 2 minutes a side (thin sides included about 10 minutes total) or until browned and crisped. I top the steak with a pat of flavored butter (or even plain salted butter) and the pan and the steak go into a pre-heated 450º oven to finish cooking through -- usually about 6-7 minutes total.
Steak for dinner, the perfect way to start a weekend.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chicken Stew

Something warm and comforting for a rainy day. Something Easy.
I browned some chicken breast in olive oil and set them aside. I added cubed potatoes,bell peppers, celery, onion and two minced cloves of garlic to the skillet along with a couple chopped strips of bacon and let them sauté until just barely browned. I tossed in a few TBs of flour and stirred for a few minutes to lose the flour taste and then poured in about 3/4 cup of white wine and let that cook down for about 3 minutes. Then I added in a few cups of stock, a bay leaf and a couple sprigs of thyme, returned the chicken to the pot and let the stew simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, added the kernels from two ears of corn, recovered the pot and cooked 5 minutes more until the chicken ( I cut the breasts in half) was cooked through.
As a last touch I stirred just a bit of milk into the sauce before serving.
Something warm for a rainy day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Crispy Polenta Cakes and Mushroom Ragout

I had two big portobello mushrooms taking up space in the fridge and need to put together something warming and cozy for another rainy day. But I really didn't fell up to endless stirring or babying something on the stove. Besides, I'm trying to be back on the diet plan so who wants to make stew for one? I decided on a rich mushroom ragout. I sautéed pancetta and a few small cubes from the end of a chorizo I found in the drawer, added in a chopped onion and sauteed until it was soft. Next came the thinly sliced mushrooms which cooked for 10 minutes or so, until they gave up a bit of liquid. Then I added a good dollop of tomato paste, about 1/2 cup (maybe more ) of white wine (there was an open bottle in the fridge), and about a tsp of dried thyme and let the skillet bubble until the wine was cooked off. I finished the ragout with a good sized knob of butter and a splash of whole milk (no cream in the fridge). I served the ragout over polenta cakes -- cold polenta cut and fried in olive oil.
Okay probably not a dinner James will brag about or bring up later like last week's Italian fried chicken, but I did notice a pretty clean plate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Broccoli Soup with Whole Wheat Croutons

All of a sudden it's gone from blisteringly hot to cool days with drizzly rain (and some real showers) here in LA. I couldn't be happier. Perfect soup weather. The change in seasons sort of took me by surprise so I figured a dinner soup from what we happened to have in the house. I sautéed a chopped onion and several stalks of celery in some olive oil and then added in the roughly chopped stems from a few heads of broccoli. I covered the pan and let it sit on low (along with about a teaspoon of salt) for about 15 minutes until the stems were starting to get tender. Next I added about 6 cups of chicken broth, the florets from the broccoli and a pinch of red chile flakes and brought everything up to a boil. After the soup simmered for about 10 minutes I puréed it in the blender, poured it back into the cleaned pot and added a splash of milk -- about 3/4 cup, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and more salt to taste.
Those pan fried croutons I tried last week have become a pretty popular garnish around here so I tossed up some cubes of whole wheat bread with a bit of salt, thyme , and olive oil for a tasty topper.
Weather that calls for soup for dinner. Finally fall.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Old Reliable Pizza

Ready in a flash.
Onion, prosciutto, olive oil, dried oregano, mozzarella and parmesan on a garlic herb crust.
"This is really good, honey"

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Italian Fried Chicken

Giada De Laurentiis brings out the secret, hidden Anthony Bourdain (culinary bad boy, demon seed, professional hater -- take your pick) in me. She seems like a perfectly nice woman and yet everything about her irritates me. I cannot stand to watch her show (any of them) or hear her voice, am annoyed by her Italian style made in China cookware, and think her recipes are pedestrian at best -- except for one. Without knowing where it came from I tried a recipe for Italian fried chicken which became an immediate hit around here. And it's so simple. I marinate a cut up chicken in 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1 1/2 tsp salt. I let that sit in the fridge for at least a couple hours if not a whole day. Then I sprinkle the chicken with pepper, dredge it in flour and fry it in hot olive oil until it is golden brown and superbly crisp. Fried in hot olive oil, crispy delicious, lemony, and I got the idea from Giada. The shame of it all.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pasta Alla Norma

A drawer full of eggplant and a lazy saturday afternoon means pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian specialty of eggplant, rich tomato sauce, and usually ricotta salata (we don't have any so looks like ricotta with salt and parmesan mixed in tonight) named to honor Vincenzo Bellini's opera Norma. The title role is one of the most difficult parts in the genre, only the greatest sopranos ever sing it.
I love eggplant. I don't think many people feel a passion for eggplant but I search it out on menus and try to cook it as often as possible when farmers markets are brimming with the purple beauties.
To start tonight's dinner I chopped one red onion and 4 cloves of garlic and let them sauté in hot olive oil. Next I added in the chopped eggplant and, stirring, let it cook until lightly browned -- about 10 minutes. Then I added in about 3 cups of chopped tomatoes -- I usually use canned for this recipe but our front yard is, finally, bursting with scads of bright red tomatoes (our cool summer brought a slow and late harvest this year) so I ground up several to use in the sauce. it makes the dish a bit pinker than when I use canned tomatoes but the fresh flavor is undeniable. In with the tomatoes goes a couple sprigs of basil and a spring of thyme along with a pinch of dried chili peppers. I bring it all up to a boil and let the mixture cook down for about 15 minutes.
When the pasta is drained I add it to the sauce along with a handful of chopped parsley, mint, basil, and a knob of butter. I stir the spaghetti in the sauce and serve topped with dollops of fresh ricotta (mixed with salt, parmesan, and oregano), a sprinkle of parsley and mint, and a dash of chili peppers.
A dinner to sing about.