Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Nana!




My grandmother's birthday is today, a mere two days post-Christmas.  She's never really liked having it so close as people tend to lump the two holidays together (really shabby of them, honestly).  But this year, having her birthday so soon is letting me fix a major Christmas gifting oversight.

You see, my grandmother loves coconut.  And because we all know this, she got coconut scented soaps and lotions and even lip balms for Christmas.  Which is why it broke my heart a little when she said "but, I can't eat any of it".  This is a very fair point.  Determined to fix this injustice in time for her birthday, I headed to Whole Foods to pick up some type of coconut treat.  They had chocolate with hazelnuts, coffee beans, pink peppercorns, ginger, but not a single chocolate+coconut=happiness treat.

So I took matters into my own hands and made her some special coconut birthday treats.  They were super easy and taste delicious, although the chocolate does overpower the coconut a bit.

EASY COCONUT CANDIES
adapted only slightly from Not Enough Cinnamon.  My deepest thanks to her for the recipe.

INGREDIENTS:
1 C unsweetened shredded coconut (I used the dried coconut flakes from Whole Foods) 
  +  extra coconut for toasting
5 oz Ghiradelli 60% Chocolate (Bittersweet) bars
5 T sweetened condensed milk

DIRECTIONS:
Mix the cup of coconut together with the condensed milk.  Prepare a cookie sheet by laying down a sheet of parchment.  Roll small balls of the coconut mixture and place on the cookie sheet.  Not Enough  Cinnamon strongly recommends rinsing your hands every few balls or so and it does a lot to prevent sticking.  Pop the tray into the freezer for about 20 minutes.  I only left them for 15 but you know I'm lazy.  

Toast a few tablespoons of coconut.  I used my toaster oven for 2-3 minutes on toast.  Set aside.

Using a double boiler, or a metal bowl over a pot, heat all but about an ounce of the chocolate.  I chop the chocolate before putting it in the bowl, but your reserved piece should be in just one or two chunks. Heat the chocolate to 105 F, stirring to melt.  Remove it from the heat and keep stirring.  As the chocolate temperature lowers, add the reserved pieces and keep stirring until the temperature drops to 88 F.  Grab the balls from the freezer and using two forks, dip them in chocolate, coating completely and then replace on the tray and sprinkle with the toasted coconut.  Cool in fridge and store in an airtight container (not in fridge) for about 5 days).

Some words of warning/tips - your chocolate will cool FAST once it hits 88 F.  You'll need to speed.  It's hard to sprinkle the coconut before the chocolate has hardened, but also have enough time to toss all the balls in the chocolate before it's too sticky.  Also, if you have any gaps that didn't get fully coated by the chocolate the evaporated milk will leak out these holes making it sticky and less pretty.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Hungry Hippo 2012 Gift Guide

I have made solid progress on the Christmas front.  Enough progress in fact, to give you a list of wonderful things you can buy for me anyone on your list who loves to cook!

So for the first time ever, here's your Hungry Hippo Gift Guide!

1. Adorable Pot Guards from Huset:  At only $7.00 it's easy to tuck a small critter into a stocking. Obviously, my favorite is the hedgehog.




2. A State Cutting Board:  My wish is for Massachusetts, but my family insists they are only practical if you live somewhere squarish like Pennsylvania or Colorado.  Not cheap at $48.00 but original!


                                   

3. Chef Page Flags:  When I get a new cookbook, the first thing Ryan and I do is go through the recipes and mark the ones we want to try with post-its.  Imagine how much better it would look (and how helpful it would be) with these adorable page markers!  At $5.00 they won't break the bank.


4. Protect your Tablet:  Williams-Sonoma has these admittedly pricey protections for your iPad ($15.00 for the protective sheets and $50 for the stand).  But then again, if you're messy in the kitchen, you're really just saving yourself from buying a new iPad.  Right? Not on my wishlist, because I am a luddite with no such technology, but I expect many a chef would love it.



5. Two 6 Inch Cake Pans:  I heard a rumor that if you make 2 layers of a 6" cake, it will use the same amount of batter as half of a standard round layer cake.  Meaning, you can make a cake without worrying about whose going to eat the whole thing.  $13.00 minus whatever coupon you can scrounge at BB&B.

6. A Beary Good Place to Put That Cake:  I currently own 2 cake stands. But, I loooooooove this one.  I need more cabinets because I might cry without it.  $34.00 from West Elm (who is not only offering discounts and coupons every time I open my e-mail but free shipping as well!)


7. Farm Stand Baskets:  In the dead of winter, it's hard to remember those summer days at the farmer's market where you make your purchase and they pour your goodies out of the handy dandy baskets and directly into a paper bag.  But wouldn't it be so nice to restore them to their proper place with an adorable porcelain basket?  On sale for $9.80.  Yellow's probably my favorite color...


8. Canine Coasters:  Just in case the chef is allowed out of the kitchen for a celebratory drink, protective pooches will keep the tables free from rings.  Added bonus, one of the pups looks suspiciously like Dexter. $18 from Furbish.

  
9. Ideal for New Parents:  I couldn't resist adding this cookbook by Debbie who is the very first food blogger I ever followed.  Her book even has some sources naming it one of the best cookbooks of 2012.  I can't vouch for any of the recipes in this book, but I've been delighted with everything I've ever made from her blog.  As a special bonus, Debbie will even sign a bookplate for you. At under $12, it's a steal.


10. If You're Sick of Fishing Stuff Out of Pots: This spice infuser will allow you to have a bouquet garni without having to find string or cheesecloth.  Perfect for the chef that never can find basic kitchen supplies.  Possibly overpriced at $28, but reusable!

BONUS:  Getting Piggy With It:  I CAN'T HELP MYSELF.  IT'S A PIG!! FOR YOUR POTS!!


Any of these items catch your eye?  The ones I'm asking Santa for are #1, #3 and #6, even though most of them would delight me beyond reason.

Any kitchen items you want that aren't on my list?  I especially want to hear if you're yearning for cookbooks because I have none on my list right now and it makes me sad.  We're also tough to buy for because of all the random dietary restrictions, so I kind of have to flip through to see if they're any good.

Also, if you are a company whose product I listed here and you mind that I borrowed your picture and linked your item, please tell me and I will make whatever changes you request.

Happy Shopping!!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comfort Food


It's early yet, but so far, this holiday season is a fail.  The weather here has been wildly swinging between 50-60s and vaguely below freezing, but the precipitation insists on coming only on the warmer days, leaving us with a damp, foggy December.  My best Christmas CDs have mysterious gone missing and not a single decoration graces my home.  Plus, for the first time I no longer have a working VCR so I can't watch Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland dance the Nutcracker.  Bah Humbug.  At least I can have some comforting warming potatoes.  Not nearly as good as having elves come and deal with my shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking and movie viewing situation, but delicious and soothing nonetheless.

SCALLOPED POTATOES

INGREDIENTS:
2 Russett Potatoes, sliced thin (use a mandolin if you're unsure of your knife skills)
1/2 C half and half
1 C whole milk
1/8 t nutmeg
1 t salt
pepper to taste
1 C grated cheese (cheddar is what I used, but jack would be great too!)

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 400 F.  Thoroughly butter an 8 by 8 baking dish.  Arrange the slices of potato in layers in the baking dish.  In a bowl, whisk together the half and half, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Pour this over the potatoes.  Pop in the oven for 20 minutes.  Check. If the milk seems to be evaporating too much you can cover it.  Otherwise, leave it uncovered.  Bake another 30 minutes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top and pop it back in until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

BLT Pizza

When I was growing up my parents were seriously into food.  Most of the time this meant Julia Child level French cuisine.  When I was particularly lucky, it was various cuisines of the world - my birthday picks were usually enchiladas or moo shu pork.  But I think it was impossible for anyone to make it through the eighties unscathed, and my parents were no exception; they certainly owned cookbooks that were dead on trend (Martha Stewart Entertaining, I'm looking at you).  Among the most dated was a book of pizza recipes.  Shot on a black countertop and served up by a man in a bright yellow short-sleeved dress shirt, the pizzas almost always had the ingredients arranged in geometric patterns.  I can't quite imagine how that works from a flavor standpoint...BUT  despite all that, many of the recipes actually look, dare I say it? tasty!

Although I didn't use the recipe at all (true confession: I also didn't really write a real recipe either), my BLT pizza was completely inspired by this book.  And it was completely amazing. I will make this again, and again and again.  And if it is this good with runty little winter cherry tomatoes, just think of how it will be when the real Jersey tomatoes of summer are in.  I can't wait.

Right. So about that recipe...

BLT PIZZA NOT QUITE RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:
dough - buy some or use 1/3 of my usual recipe
mozzarella cheese, shredded (a few cups)
6-8 slices of bacon (or turkey bacon) cooked until crispy
1/2 bag of pre-washed baby spinach
cherry tomatoes (no clue how many)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt
pepper
olive oil

NOT REALLY DIRECTIONS:
Crumble or chop your cooked bacon.  Set it aside in a bowl.  Rinse and halve your cherry tomatoes.  On a baking sheet, toss them with the garlic and a bit of olive oil.  Put in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes.  I'm not sure exactly how long.  You want them nice and roasty.   Roll out the dough and prebake it for 5-7 minutes.  While it's cooking rewash your spinach if you're compulsive like that and saute it up with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Just long enough to wilt it. Pull the dough out cover it with mozzarella.  Then top with the bacon, tomatoes and spinach.  Pop in the oven for another 2-3 minutes until the cheese is melty and delicious.  Enjoy the spoils of the 80s.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Winging It

This year I made the most beautiful Thanksgiving turkey I have ever cooked.  I swear you could have put that bird on the cover of a magazine.  Of course, there's no evidence of this, because even though I packed the camera, I didn't exactly manage to get it out of the suitcase.

You're used to taking my word on how things taste though, so maybe you'll believe me when I claim that not only was the turkey gorgeous, it was delicious.  Nice crispy skin, juicy meat, I couldn't have been more thrilled with the outcome.

Because here is my Thanksgiving truth:  I always wing it.

I have no tried and true Turkey recipe.  I don't swear by Alton and his brining or the siren lure of the deep fryer.  I just kind of make it up as I go along.  Which is usually something I'm pretty comfortable with, but Thanksgiving is different.  First of all, it comes right after the most stressful week in my entire working year, a week of meetings and professional reviews and long hours.  This means I am effectively brain dead by the time I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner.  Secondly, (and most of you know this) I make Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law's house which means I am not responsible for the equipment available or the exact ingredients purchased.  And then there's the fact that it's pretty hard to properly wing a recipe that you only use once a year.

So in the interest of my sanity more than anything else, here's a rough guide to winging your Thanksgiving turkey.

Ingredients:
1 turkey (not 2, unless of course you have 2 ovens) defrosted (seriously, if you haven't defrosted it, I am not your girl)
onions
carrots
celery
lemon
garlic
poultry seasoning
an obscene amount of butter
kosher salt
pepper
maybe one of those packs of fresh herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme
chicken stock (1 box)

Equipment:
1 poultry lacing kit, preferably one that comes with directions printed on it
1 roasting pan large enough to fit your turkey
a turkey baster
a roasting rack
something to lift the turkey out of the pan with later (old oven mitts, actual forks designed for this, be creative if necessary)
a pot on your stove (medium sized)

Directions:
Before you turn on your oven, check out your rack situation.  You may need to remove a rack to fit the turkey in the oven and not have it squished against the top.  It is SO much better to remove this rack before the oven is hot.  Ask me how I know.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Stare at your turkey.  Remove the plastic covering.  Poke at it a bit.  Decide what is what.  Turkeys have 2 cavities.  There are generally things shoved in these cavities.  One of ours had the neck, the other had a paper packet of other turkey innards.  So, toss the neck into that pot on your stove.   Open the paper packet of innards.  The big thing is the liver.  Toss it, unless you actually know what to do with a turkey liver and want to eat it.  Toss the other junk in with the neck.  Poke at the turkey again.  If it has any weird plastic-y things, cut them off (ours had both a stupid pop-up thermometer and a weird thing holding the legs together like some type of twisted turkey chastity belt).

Debate rinsing your turkey.  Pros: You can feel like you rinsed your turkey.  Cons:  You can coat your sink in salmonella.  Which means that really, you should probably use some bleach to clean the sink once you've rinsed the turkey in it.

Definitely pour off any weird liquid lurking in the turkey.

Pop that puppy on top of your roasting rack in your roasting pan.  Commence project stuff things into the turkey holes.  NB: Stuffing is not an acceptable option.  It is a total pain to have to monitor whether or not it's cooked and whether or not the turkey is bleeding raw poultry juices into it thereby turning one of the best parts of dinner into a veritable breeding ground for all things causing food-bourne illness.

Right.  So.  You are going to put things in the holes.  Start with salt and pepper.  Be generous.  Then a healthy dose of poultry seasoning (a few tablespoons, don't skimp).  Have someone else hold up the turkey because it is really hard to lift it and drop things in it simultaneously.  Once you've seasoned the insides, wash your hands.  Prepare your veggies.  You don't need to peel carrots or onions, but at least rinse the carrots.  Chop them into bits that will fit into a turkey cavity.  So, maybe quarter the onions, halve the lemon, chop the carrots and celery in fourths.  Cut the garlic clove so you can see all the little cloves.  Shove this into the bigger cavity, use the onions, carrots celery, half of the lemon, the garlic  Then head to the smaller cavity and shove some of the stuff in there.  Take some of those fresh herbs and pop them in the larger cavity.  Cut a few tablespoons off your log of butter and pop those in too.  (If you weren't washing your hands between each journey into the turkey you should have been).

So he's stuffed.  It's time to do the poultry lacing.  Follow the directions on the package.  Save them for next year if you're that type.  I close the big cavity but not the little one.

Once the bird is stuffed, it's time for his butter massage.  I rub the whole critter down with butter, even getting some under the breast skin.  Then wash your hands and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.  Then it's time for some more poultry seasoning, a few tablespoons probably.  Sprinkle that over the bird too.

Finally it can go in the oven.  I cooked mine at 350, basting and rotating every 20 minutes. Rotating just means that if his feet face right, you turn the whole pan and face the feet left.  Basting also goes easier if you have someone to tip the pan so you can get enough juice.  If you don't have enough liquid to baste with, sub in some chicken stock.  There's no shame in it.  If it gets brown, cover with foil.

Ina Garten claimed a 10-12 lb bird needs to cook for 2 - 2 1/2 hours.  Something else said to add 15 minutes for each additional pound.  So, for an 18 lb bird (which is what I had) it should have taken 2 1/2 plus 6 x 15 minutes.  Which according to my resident math-smart person is 4 hours total. We put the bird in at 10:30 and pulled it at 1:45 which is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Which just goes to show you that there is no percentage in planning a dinner time.  Just get people over early enough, feed them apps and alcohol and go with the flow.

Your bird should be close to 170 when you pull it (it will increase a bit as it sits).  Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.  If anything is still too rare, pop it back in the pan and serve what is cooked.

Most of all, try not to worry too much.  Everyone else should just be grateful that they didn't cook.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Save the Pudding (and also, maybe New York and New Jersey)


In the hours right before Sandy made its direct hit, I was in the kitchen, working at a whirlwind pace trying to make things ready.  I had the eggs on to hard boil at the exact same time as I was mixing up pudding.  Now if you've ever tried to make pudding before, you know there's a slightly dicey step where you have to heat the eggs and milk enough to cook/kill it, but not so much that you make scrambled eggs.  I'd substituted low fat milk (it was all I had on hand) for cream and was in the process of panicking that it would never thicken when the egg timer went off.  I grabbed the eggs, drained them and turned back to a lovely pot full of chocolate flavored scrambled eggs.  I know.  SO gross.  After a few desperate phone calls (to my mother and Stella Carolyn) I had a plan.  With nothing left to lose, I threw the whole mess into my food processor (a blender would be superior, but I don't own one).  And I processed the heck out of it.  And sure enough, smooth creamy pudding!!  So don't despair if you have a lumpy pudding. It can be easily saved.

I wish I could say the same for the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Over the past week I've tried very hard to get comfortable with the idea of having electricity and heat and normal access to things like food and gas.  I'm still a bit on edge.  Until today I couldn't even bring myself to purchase more groceries, I was so scared it would all go out again.  But we've been extremely lucky.  Despite a midweek snowstorm with high winds, we've been safe, dry and well-fed.  But we are absolutely without a doubt, some of the luckiest of the affected.

Last week I asked you to consider donating to relief efforts if you are able.

Charity Navigator is a service that rates the effectiveness of different relief organizations and they have a list up of their ratings for those working in the areas devastated by Sandy.

You can see their list here.

As a teacher and book lover, I am heartbroken at the loss of libraries in both New York and New Jersey.  The Queens Library Foundation is not only working hard to help residents in their area, but suffered damage to five branches, two of which will need to replace their whole collections.

The New Jersey Libraries Association is working to help all affected libraries in New Jersey.

While it will take a lot more work to fix the damage wrought by the hurricane than it would to save a curdled pudding, it can still be done.  Especially if they have some help.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Day the Lights Went Out


Monday afternoon at 4:30 Hurricane Sandy turned out the lights in our part of New Jersey.  A power outage in our current home means there is no light, no heat, no phone and no way to cook food.  The first night, with the storm raging around us and the rain falling in sheets, was undeniably the easiest.  Out of our fast failing fridge we rescued some vegetables, the hard-boiled eggs and two chocolate puddings I'd mixed up before we were hard hit.  We ate our salads by candlelight then moved to the sofa for a game of scrabble.  On Monday, it was not yet freezing cold, so we enjoyed our quiet game before retiring for the night.

                                         

For the rest of the week, we moved around in the darkness, guided alternately by candles and flashlights.  We sat in our car, listening to the radio and charging our nearly useless cell phones (evidently the generators powering the towers went, cutting off all communications except text messaging).  Each night we brought something from our fridge or freezer to my mother's house where a gas stove and grill made cooking hot food an actuality.  Upon returning home, we would immediately take to the bed, the down comforter I'd bought to survive Boston winters saving us from turning into little blocks of ice.  A fleet of out-of-state power company trucks hunkered down in the local mall's parking lot, assembling a make-shift home base complete with stacks of poles and rolls of wire and finally grey transformer boxes.  I am beyond grateful to those who came to assist us in this time of need.    Our power was restored yesterday, nearly a week sooner than the estimates originally provided.  

For those of you not in the affected area, please know that the devastation is much worse than what you imagine.  The images you are seeing are completely real, but they also focus on the most dramatic and hardest hit areas.  The truth is, New Jersey is crippled not only along the shore, but from Mercer county northward.  While much of the state was spared the visually arresting destruction that you see on the news, the impact was still great.  Many are still without power.  Gas rationing has begun in many counties.  So many roads are blocked that only a knowledge of the area will allow you to navigate.  A GPS will give up and start insisting you turn around.  Anyone who has been out and around to affected areas will not be at all shocked by the power restoration estimates because the sheer scope of the outages and damages is so extensive.  

If you have it in your means to make donations or volunteer time to help those affected by the hurricane, please consider it.  With only 4 days in the cold and dark we were among the luckiest people in the state.  




Monday, October 29, 2012

Last Potato Standing

Evidently, potatoes are the hot food of natural disaster.  This is something I honestly did not know.  I'm pretty new to the stockpiling frenzy, having lived in a city for 8 years that generally did not play the "buy out the grocery store" game.  I don't know if it's the proximity to food (walking distance rather than driving), or what, but I never saw the shelves cleared.  The closest I ever got was during a massive blizzard I was picking up a few things while two guys in chef's whites cleared the potato bin.  Their restaurant had a delivery cancelled and they were buying on a major scale.

I suppose that should have been foreshadowing for the great potato shortage of '12 but I really just didn't expect it.  I was pretty blown away to find that our biggest grocery store was out of baking potatoes, boiling potatoes, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes... pretty much everything.  All that remained were a few very sad looking shrink wrapped bakers advertising that they wanted to be microwaved and two full bins of red creamers.

What do people have against red creamers?  Why were they the wallflowers of the potato party?  I have no idea.  What I do know is how to make them delicious.

Ina Garten's Parmesan Smashed Potatoes.  Ridiculously easy and tasty (also, sub greek yogurt or regular yogurt for the sour cream if you have none on hand). You will not be sorry, even if you did end up with pickings from the bottom of the potato bin.

Also, I may have been a bit traumatized and overpurchased the next time I saw potatoes (um, the following morning at a small family owned store).  I now have baking potatoes, boiling potatoes and sweet potatoes.


Any theories on why potatoes were such a big seller?  I'd like to think everyone's planning on doing them camping style in their fireplaces when the power goes out, but I somehow doubt that's the case.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Batten Down the Hatches



Storm's a-coming.  Or at least that's what every news outlet and government official in the area would have you believe.  I have been granted a four day weekend, which means that as long as I have power, I shall be only mildly inconvenienced but possibly very bored.

Pre-storm preparations in these parts have been somewhere around the intersection of laissez-faire and half-assed.  Mainly, I figured it would be totally okay to stop by the grocery store last night around 9:30.  My thinking:  I don't want to be there with the madding crowd.  The reality:  Arrival after the madding crowd means that there may not actually be any food remaining.

Evidently the only potatoes left in NJ (TM) were red creamers.  I bought them in self-defense, but also, I know how to make them and they are delicious.  Check in later for more advice on that front.  Bread was also in short supply so I did what I had to do.  Mixed up a few loaves of white bread.  Not too hard and very delicious.

What should you cook before you lose all power?

1. Make the focaccia.  With pepperoni and cheese it is a filling snack with protein, but you don't need to keep it in the fridge.  It's perfect for tiding people over.  It's also pretty versatile and can use pantry items, so be creative if need be.

2. Sugar cookies! If you are going to be housebound with older children, bake the cookies while you still have the chance.  Decorating them will occupy plenty of time.  Make them Halloweeny to perk up small people who worry that their holiday trick or treating will be ruined.  Whip your royal icing in advance unless you have arms of steel.  Whipping could be done without power, but you'd feel it in the morning.

3. Pumpkin cake/loaf/muffins - again, I recommend investing in refrigerator free snack items.  This versatile recipe can be a cake, a loaf or muffins depending on what you think will go over with your audience.

I also elected to hard boil some of my eggs.  I figure they'll last longer than raw eggs if I do lose power and they work for multiple meals - deviled, as egg salad (you'll have to use your mayo ASAP if the power goes), or sliced on salad.

On an entirely non-cooking note, did you think to...

1. Shower.  
2. Do Laundry.
3. Run the dishwasher.
4. If at some point we're without water, you'll be grateful you did.
5. Move a flashlight to your bedside table just in case you lose power over night and need to see.
6. Fill up some ziploc baggies with water and pop them in your freezer - your freezer will stay cold longer if it's full.  
7. Charge all of your devices - including iPods, Kindles, etc.  It's easy to remember your cell phone because you need it.  But what about all the things you'll want?

What are you cooking or doing to prepare for the storm?  Or are you a lucky bastard who's not on the East Coast?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hamburger Hybrid


When I went to high school in the early nineties, it was enormously on trend to be vegetarian.  Always one for half-measures, I did not join my friends in this, but went for the far more conservative "no red meat" stance.  Of course, when I went away to college, land of the inedible food, this was something of a liability.  For the first few months of school I subsisted entirely on a diet of hot buttered rice and apple jacks.  The food offerings of the few dining halls that served Freshman were as far from my mother's gourmet kitchen as you could possibly conceive.  At one point a group of boys in my dorm even got me a pizza from the outside because they were so concerned I might starve.  Slowly, slowly I began to introduce more foods:  chicken nuggets from the kosher kitchen downstairs, baked ziti from the mostly vegetarian cafe, salads from (urban legend has it) the longest salad bar in the state, and my dear dear friend the grilled cheese on white bread.  But midway through freshman year there was an exciting announcement! We were getting turkey burgers!  I cannot even begin to explain to you how revolutionary this was.  They were these little brown lumps on soft soft buns and you would have to wait to get a nice fresh one that a) didn't have time to get condensation on the plate, because you don't want a soggy bun and b) came with melted cheese. With that mouth-watering description I'm sure you'll have a hard time understanding why, during my sophomore year, I started eating red meat again.  As bleak as Freshman food options may have been, those available to the rest of the school were bountiful.  My friends and I favored a place that sold chicken wings (entirely too messy for any college girl to risk eating in public), grilled chicken sandwiches and beautiful, juicy burgers.  I remember staring at the menu full of pathos and longing when a friend said "Seriously, just GET one."  I was nothing if not a pushover, so I ordered a bacon cheese burger.  It quickly became a staple of my sophomore year diet.  These days I don't get much red meat anymore, but there's no reason for my turkey burgers to be sad specimens like the ones offered by my freshman dining hall.  Now they're juicy, flavorful and topped with bacon and cheddar.  I kept the nice soft roll though.  It is just a turkey burger after all.


BACON CHEDDAR TURKEY BURGER

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb ground turkey
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t salt
more than 1 t black pepper
2 t ketchup
2 T shredded onion
1 strip of (turkey) bacon per burger
cheddar cheese (or whatever you like!)
butter

DIRECTIONS:
In a non-stick pan, melt a tablespoon of butter.  Cook the bacon until crispy.  I used medium-high heat and did 3 minutes on one side, and 1 minute on the other side.  Then set aside the bacon.  Ideally, I'd do the burgers in a cast iron pan, but mine was dirty, so I used the non-stick but I didn't wipe out the bacon grease.  Because the burgers are tastier that way.

So you need to mix up the burger mixture.  Turkey burgers require extra things in order to be tasty, so don't skip the add ins.  Add the Worcesterhire, the salt, the pepper (be generous, especially if you like pepper), the ketchup and the shredded onion.  You should shred the onion on a regular grater. A microplane results in just mush. Shredding is better than chopping because it adds flavor and moisture with no weird chunks in the burgers.  Gently mix the meat, don't handle too much.  Form into 4 patties. Heat the pan to medium high and cook for 4 minutes on the first side.  Flip the burgers and cook for 2 minutes on the second side.  Then top with the cheese and cover (I used a standard metal bowl - the steaming is perfect) so that the cheese melts.  Cook for 2 more minutes.  Serve on toasted buns.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mr. Postman

Last summer, after an artichoke boiling session, a kitchen tragedy occurred.  I noticed a small chip in the creamy enamel that coats the inside of my treasured Le Creuset.  At this point, I began wailing "Noooooooooo" and then whining pathetically to Ryan "But, I love my Le Creuset."  And then I did what any good procrastinator in denial does and I put it back into the cabinet.  Periodically I would gaze at it hoping it had miraculously mended, but sadly the chip remained.  Luckily I am occasionally seized with fits of productivity and deep in the grips of one such fit I did a little research.  Evidently, if you have a damaged Le Creuset product you can call them and get a Returned Merchandise Authorization number.  Then you take that number, write a pathetic but highly praising letter, pack that poor sad pot up in the leftover wrappings of your last William-Sonoma purchase (more info on that another time) and head to the post office.  You pay for your own shipping, but Le Creuset will either replace the product (if they think it's their fault) or give you a discount towards a new one (if it's your fault).  I figured either choice was better than keeping a pot that made my heart break anew each time I opened the cabinet.  I was eagerly anticipating my discount card (because if you know me, you know that 90% of problems occurring around me are my own fault) when I heard a knock at the door.  And there, on my doorstep was a little square box.  And in that little square box well...


Isn't he cute?  So yellow and shiny and enameled!  I love it when the postman brings me presents.  He's already had one good run, making the white turkey chili for the freezer, but he's got a place of honor in my cabinet and of course, on my stove.  See? You can admire him in his natural habitat.  


Moral of the story:  Some companies actually do honor their Lifetime Warranty.  This will only make you love your beloved product more.  And your postman.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Staying Afloat


Almost every person I know in my current profession is seriously treading water right about now.  The ones with blogs are running up white flags of surrender with promises that they will return if you can just hang on a leeeetle bit longer.  Usually I start to feel more settled right now, but honestly micromanaging my life is the only thing that is getting me through with any of my sanity.  I wish I were kidding.  My planner currently tells me what I need to do, what temperature it is supposed to be and what I'm going to cook for dinner.  I cannot even get dressed in the morning without it as it also tells me what I will be wearing.  I left it in the wrong office last night and ended up missing a scheduled appointment this morning. It is my life preserver right now.

So how am I staying afloat at all?  In the cooking department at least, I have 3 current strategies:

1. PLAN - this is not an option for me at this point.  It is a requirement.  I must know what I'm making and where the ingredients are coming from or we are not going to eat.  Stealing a trick from my dear friend Stella Carolyn I look up the weather for the week and record it. Then I plan meals that make sense considering the weather, my schedule and of course, what we actually have in the pantry.

2. FREEZER - I am being freezer aggressive right now.  I cleaned the whole thing out a few weeks ago and have been carefully laying in supplies ever since.  But more important, I've been using up the supplies and replenishing them.  That's the way to really make the freezer work.  You have to actually take things out and eat them on night you don't want to cook.  And then you need to put things back.

So what's in my freezer and how did it get there?

I roasted a chicken for dinner one night. I served four people dinner from the chicken, but the leftovers went to:  
  • another meal of individual pot pies.  We ate two of the four and two are in the freezer.
  • On a Sunday morning I made and froze white turkey chili  in 2 batches, to make 2 meals.
  • I used the broth it cooked in to make a butternut squash soup which is a side dish portion in the freezer.
  • I made stock with the carcass, yielding 2 quarts for the freezer for future soups.
When I made cauliflower mac and cheese I doubled the pasta and held off on adding the cauliflower and "deviling" spices until the end.  I got two side dish portions for the freezer and a hearty dinner with leftovers for that night.

I made calzones on a Sunday and popped the two extra in the freezer for another day. 

The calzones bring me up to point three...
3. MAKE WHAT YOU KNOW AND RELY ON FORMULAS
When you are tired, crabby, under a lot of stress, is not the right time to try something new.  It's the time to make a recipe you don't need to look up or one you know will come together quickly.  Simply the thought of tackling something new can send me grumbling to the couch because I just can't take another thing.  There's been plenty of breaded chicken in these parts.  I feel no shame.  It's home cooked and it's done  That's all I'm responsible for.  

But when I do try something new?  Like the calzones?  I'm really just relying on a formula.


I didn't find a recipe for calzones and execute it.  I thought to myself, hey, what can  I throw in that thing?  The fridge offered up some pepperoni and sausage, we grabbed some ricotta and provolone and mozzarella when we went to the store and I mixed up some dough (no shame in buying the dough.  None.  It was a weekend.  I had the time).  Calzones don't require though.  I looked up the recipes I have for calzones and just faked it from there.  Make the dough, cut it in four, rolled them each out into a circle.  I laid down a piece or two of provolone on each, topped it with pepperoni and some browned sausage.  I mixed up some ricotta with salt and pepper and smoothed that on top.  Added a bit of mozzarella to the top.  Folded it all up and popped it in the oven for 15 minutes.  Done.  Not doing anything new, just using a tried and true recipe + the stuff I had on hand to come up with something new. 

Other formula friendly, requiring less brain input ideas:
Quiche.  If you have a crust + custard recipe, the filling is infinitely flexible.
Pizza.  Buy the dough if it's a week night.  Top it with stuff.  Done.
Big Salad.  If you have veggies, you have dinner.  Stove and oven optional.
Soup.  Oh this is for advanced users, but honestly, onion + carrot + stock + other stuff = dinner.

If all else fails you have my permission to order take out.  Some days are like that. Even in Australia.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Worthy of the Barley Neck Inn, circa 1983

When I was a very little girl, Cape Cod was a lot less built up than it is today.  In particular, nice restaurants (as opposed to tiny fried fish and clam shacks) were often quite far from my grandmother's home in quiet Falmouth. But the Barley Neck Inn* wasn't just a "nice" restaurant.  It was truly fine dining, in a quintessential New England setting, a sea captain's house built in the late 1800s.  Back in those days, you used to dress up for this sort of thing, and the Barley Neck was formal.  I can still hear my grandfather complaining bitterly about wearing a tie, while my Nana would tell him to stop fussing with it.  We would drive a solid hour out to Orleans; it was an occasion and I loved it.  Going out to a fancy dinner was just about one of my favorite things.  In truth, I was a precocious brat who would have been insulted if a place had a kid's menu, much less invited me to select from one. I don't remember too much about the specifics of the menu probably because when I was little I was a creature of habit, more even than I am now and I likely ordered the same thing every time.  My favorite appetizer was artichoke hearts au gratin which came in its own little casserole dish and was completely heavenly.  I'm fairly sure that the piece de resistance was Beef Wellington (sweet heavens how I love Beef Wellington).  It was that kind of restaurant.  Classic dishes, New England dishes, but never banal, the chef clearly knew how to innovate. (e.g. my grandfather's favorite was a cauliflower and clam chowder).  While I could never tell you if they featured a shrimp (more likely lobster, considering New England's seafood supply) pot pie, it's certainly the kind of dish that would have fit in perfectly: elegant, rich, well-executed and with a classic Cape Cod spirit.

*Don't bother looking it up, the horror show currently bearing the name has no resemblance to the fine old institution.

SHRIMP POT PIE
This makes two hearty main dish portions.

INGREDIENTS:
puff pastry (I needed 1/3 of a sheet) - thawed
1 lb shrimp, cleaned, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 C white or yellow onion chopped fine
1/2 C mushrooms (I used baby bella) chopped
2 t Old Bay Seasoning
2 T vermouth or dry white wine
1/3 C milk
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with foil and placing the two oven safe dishes you plan on using on top of it.  It will be much easier to pull a pan out of the oven instead of two smallish dishes.  I used these Pyrex baking dishes of my Nana's that are marked 12 oz.  They're smaller than a bowl, but bigger than a ramekin.

In a large skillet, melt your butter over low heat.  Add the flour and whisk to make a thick paste.  Allow this (the roux) to cook for 3-4 minutes until a nice warm goldeny-brown color.  Add the onions and mushrooms and stir to incorporate them with the roux.  Cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until they are soft. Add the shrimp and toss with the Old Bay Seasoning. Increase the heat for medium high.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.  When the shrimp have lost their translucence (honestly, you're going to bake them later, they'll be cooked, don't worry about it) add the vermouth and continue to stir or whisk until the liquid is sort of absorbed to make a sauce.  Then add the milk and continue stirring a bit.  Give it a few minutes to thicken.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper accordingly (mine needed quite a bit of salt).

On a well floured surface, roll out the puff pastry and cut two pieces that will fit the top of your baking dishes. Spoon your thickened pot pie mixture into the bowls, top with the puff pastry and place in the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  You want the top to be golden brown and puffed up.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tasting Fall

I can't help it.  When the weather finally starts to turn and there's a chill in the air, I immediately think of  New England.  In my mind they are almost synonymous, so that when I think of fall, I picture the warm  coppers and fiery oranges of the foliage in Connecticut. I can practically smell the leaves burning in Massachusetts yards.  I can taste the crisp apples from Lyman Orchards*, the tart freshness of cranberries from the Cape Cod bogs.  But if there's one flavor that New England has exclusive rights to, it might be maple walnut.  No where else in the country does the maple have so much depth and richness.  It's not the cloying bland impostor known as "pancake syrup", it's not a faint background sugary-ness.  And the walnuts are never sad little bland bits of crunch.  They are substantial with an earthy smoothness behind the chew.  Now usually the combination is the star in cool, velvety ice cream, but these cookies will deliver all of the deliciousness in a form compatible with brisk evenings and warm cups of tea.

*More on Lyman Orchards in upcoming posts!

MAPLE WALNUT COOKIES
adapted from Cooking Light
Makes between 2-3 dozen small cookies

NB: If you're interested in baking with maple syrup you might want to invest in some Grade B syrup which is darker in color and deeper in flavor.  It will stand up better in recipes than it's lighter pancake loving Grade A counterpart.

INGREDIENTS:

COOKIES
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/8 t ground nutmeg
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C softened butter
3 T maple syrup (if you use Grade B, you might get away with 2 T)
1 large egg

FROSTING
1 C powdered sugar
3 T maple syrup
1 T milk
2 T butter, softened

TOPPING
1/2 C chopped walnuts, toasted (toast by popping them on a sheet pan in a toaster oven or oven set to 350 for about 5 minute)

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat your oven to 350 F.  In a stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the maple syrup and the egg and mix until combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and (which you can skip if you use salted butter), nutmeg. Stir well to combine thoroughly.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and set the mixer on low until it comes together.

Use a spoon to help form small balls.  I found that these are rather puffy if left in ball shape which makes them harder to glaze and top with walnuts.  I sort of gently pressed down the tops once I placed them on the baking sheet to encourage a flatter shape.  Arrange balls on the baking sheet, leaving space between (as I mentioned, mine didn't spread a ton, but you know, better safe than sorry).  Bake at 350 until lightly browned.  I started checking mine around 10 minutes.  It averaged 10-12 minutes although the original recipe said 14, so know your oven.  I was able to transfer them to a cooling rack pretty quickly.

Mix together the frosting by combining the maple syrup, milk and butter and then adding the powdered sugar.  You can whisk or stir until smooth.  Mine was a bit liquidy which resulted in the sort of rustic poured look you see above.  The magazine had sort of perfectly round frosting spread on each cookie.  That was not happening in my world.  One you've frosted, press the walnuts on top quickly so they stick.

Enjoy autumn!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bad Wife


Ryan went to get his cholesterol checked last week and yesterday his numbers came back.  They are all still borderline high.  I feel terrible for him because he exercises and generally eats healthy food and has never smoked anything and yet he has this hanging over him.  And what kind of wife am I?  Do I cook healthy meals out of great concern for his well-being?  Do make sure we have tons of vegetables and whatever else is good for your cholesterol?  Do I even know what is good for your cholesterol?  No.  I do none of those things.  I just fry up some chicken and pop it on a plate with some carbs.  What can I say?  Korean Fried Chicken just tastes good!  It's light and crispy and spicy and savory.  Next week I'll make something that won't kill him.

(Confidential to Dr. Who fans - Bad Wife?  Bad Wolf?  Am I leaving myself a message to remind myself to save my husband?)



KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS
Package of 5-6 chicken drumsticks
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 t powdered ginger
2 T soy sauce
2 T gojujang (Korean chile paste)
1 T rice vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T honey
1/3 C cornstarch

vegetable oil for frying

DIRECTIONS:
In a food processor, combine the garlic, ginger powder, soy, gojujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey.  Blend until fully combined.  Taste it.  It is spicy, right?  Not spicy enough?  Add some more gojujang. Too spicy?  Balance with a bit more honey.  When you have it just right, pour it into a large bowl.  You're going to toss the fried wings in the sauce, so make it a bowl that will let you do that.

In a large heavy bottomed pot, pour 1-2" of oil.  Heat the oil to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Take your drumsticks and coat them in cornstarch, shaking off the excess.  You can certainly use flour or a mix of cornstarch and flour.  Cornstarch makes a very light coating, not a heavy crispy one.  More of a light crackly one.  When your drumsticks are coated, pop 2-3 at a time into the oil (how many you can fit depends on the size of your pot, don't overcrowd).  Watch your oil temperature closely, you want to maintain around 350.  Fry the drumsticks for 4 minutes on the first side, then using metal tongs, flip them and fry for another 4 minutes.  Have a tray covered in paper towels waiting and when they're done, pull them out.  Keep at it until all your drumsticks are fried. I checked to see if they're done by using a meat thermometer.  You want an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees fahrenheit for poultry.  Try to stick the thermometer into the meatiest part of the drumstick.  My temperature was okay after the first frying, but when I put the probe into the chicken and pulled it out, red blood burbled out of the thing like something out of a horror movie.  I'm not kidding.  If you know why this is, PLEASE reveal in the comments.  Anyway, the red blood creeped me right out so I threw those suckers right back into the oil and fried them for another 3 minutes per side.  This time the temperature was way over 165, but there was no scary blood.  Give them a minute or two to drain their oil onto paper towels and then toss them in the sauce until they are well coated.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer's Last Hurrah


I have wasted an hour an a half trying to come up with something interesting to say here.  I've typed something and then read some gossip sites.  I've deleted it, typed something else and then taken out the trash.  I've stared at it, turned off the air conditioning, opened all the windows in a bid to make the still vaguely-weird-possibly-smokey smell leave my apartment.  I've deleted what I've written again.

I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.  I have to work on Tuesday.  This is my last actual day of vacation.  The last day when everyone else is working but I'm on summer break.  I need to be reading trashy novels, using up summer sale coupons that expire on the last day of August, watching HGTV and endlessly snacking.  I cannot spend my time trying to find the exact right way to wax poetic on the subject of heirloom tomatoes.

And let's not even get into how the tomatoes deserve better than my paltry prose.  Heirlooms are the crown jewels of summer.  To heck with those perfectly round, perfectly red globes that try to convince you that they taste as good as they look (usually, with the exception of a Jersey summer tomato, they don't).  Heirlooms may be lumpy and misshapen and have weird gray blemish looking cracks on them, but they are where the flavor is.  One of my favorite little local farmer's markets, Sansone's, usually sets out an amazing tasting tray.  There are tiny chunks of tomatoes, sweet juicy yellows, deep flavorful reds that are nearly purple, green striped tangy ones.  Tomato stops being a single flavor and becomes a whole world of nuanced variety.

Heirlooms don't need recipes.  Most of the time, you just drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and you're done.  But everyone once in awhile, you may find yourself with a bounty of heirlooms or you may need to whip up a vegetarian dish for a Labor Day celebration.  This heirloom tomato tart will fit the bill.  The tomatoes aren't cooked, so they'll still be juicy and the cheese is delicate and won't overpower the real star of the dish.  So you go ahead and put together something delicious to eat for summer's last hurrah. I'll be here on the sofa reveling in my last day off.


HEIRLOOM TOMATO TART
inspired by epicurious and Food52

INGREDIENTS FOR BLACK PEPPER PARMESAN CRUST:
1 1/2 C flour
1 stick of butter (8 T) - chopped into small cubes and kept very cold
1/4 t black pepper
3 T parmesan
ice water

DIRECTIONS FOR THE CRUST:
In a food processor (I use a stand mixer because I don't have a big food processor, so you can do it in a stand mixer or by hand if you like), combine the flour and black pepper and parm.  Then add the butter and mix until it's a sort of sandy consistency.  Once it's reached that consistency, begin adding ice water about a tablespoon at a time.  You want the dough to hold together but not get too wet.  When you can form it into a ball, you're done.  I shape it into a flattened disk and refrigerate it for awhile so it will be easier to work with later.  I think I chilled it about a half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out the dough on a well floured surface.  I used a 10 1/2" pie dish for this pie.  When the dough is large enough, drape it over the pie plate and press it into place.    Then lay a piece of foil over it and add pie weights or dried beans or pennies to the center.  You will be blind baking the pie.  If you don't know what blind baking is, check out the Pie Maven's explanation.  Bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool.  You're going to have a very damp filling, so if you want to try Pie Maven's tip for moisture proofing, that might be a good idea.  I am definitely going to try it next summer.  You just remove the pie weights and foil about 5 minutes before the end of baking and using a pastry brush, apply an egg wash to the bottom and a bit up the sides.  An egg wash is simply an egg beaten with a bit of milk or water (usually around 1-2 t of the liquid per egg).  Then you return the pie to the oven for the last 5 minutes of baking.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING:
heirloom tomatoes (1 used 1 1/2 large ones), sliced thinly
1 1/2 C mascarpone cheese
1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
fresh mozzarella (I used half of a small ball)
salt and pepper
lemon
1 t balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS FOR THE FILLING:
Slice the tomatoes around a half hour to hour in advance and set them on a rack (like you use to cool cookies).  Under the rack, lay a few layers of paper towels (I usually put the paper towels and the rack all on top of a cookie sheet with an edge (sometimes called a jelly-roll pan) so that the liquid won't go anywhere).  Anyway, your goal is to dry out those tomatoes a bit  Feel free to remove the seeds and sprinkle them with salt before you let them sit.  Then right before you use them, pat them dry.

Prepare your mascarpone.  Take the cheese and mix in the parm plus some salt and pepper, a good pinch of each and some lemon.  I didn't have a lemon, but I wished I did. Start with a teaspoon or so of freshly squeezed juice and then taste it.  Mascarpone is creamy and delicate. You don't want to overpower it, but nor do you want it to be bland.  It should taste yummy.  Feel free to adjust the salt, pepper and parm as you see fit.

Slice your mozzarella very thin as well.

Time to assemble!  Use around a third of the mascarpone to cover the bottom of the pie crush.  Smooth it into an even layer.  Lay down a layer of heirloom tomato slices, use the ugliest ones, these are getting buried.  Seriously, ignore all those pictures online of beautiful tomato tarts.  Real heirlooms are lumpy and bumpy and you'll be lucky if you get attractive slices at all.  I used a combination of yellow and red heirlooms for mine, so my first layer was yellows.  Then lay down a layer of mozzarella and drizzle over the balsamic vinegar.  Then lay down a layer of red heirlooms.  Then smooth down the rest of the mascarpone (I didn't quite have enough, so I increased the amount of mascarpone for this recipe so that you WILL have enough).  Finally, using the prettiest tomato slices, create your top layer.  Serve this soon!  The sooner the better!  The tomatoes will try to moisten up everything else, so just go for it.  We had a lot left over, and it was fine, not too mushy and certainly not gross, but it wasn't all that pretty to look at.




Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Which I Nearly Burn Down the House...

It wasn't a particularly great day yesterday, but I was really trying to turn things around.  I had made it through a phone call I was dreading and figured I could at least get dinner out of the way.  The chicken was cooked, the buns were ready to toast, the dishes were washed, the glaze was made and the red onions were caramelized.  I just needed to take Dexter for a walk before Ryan got home.  I turned off the heat under the onions and out we went.  It was a nice evening, so we made it a leisurely stroll and even ran into Ryan on the way back in.  As we got closer to the building, I could hear an alarm.  I assumed it was the neighbors burglar alarm at first, but as we walked up the stairs, I broke into a run.  When I threw open the door of our apartment, I knew.  The air was dark and cloudy with smoke.  The alarms shrieked.  On the stove, bits of charred onion smoked heavily in the bottom of a pan whose handle was on fire.

Unlike the gas stoves I've always cooked on, electric stoves have knobs that can be turned either way.  So in flicking it off, I must have over flicked and ended up on temperature 9, maximum heat.  I blew on the handle which sort of shockingly stopped the fire and then rushed the pan outside.  Ryan threw open the windows.  Dexter barked desperately thinking we were idiots for staying anywhere that was bleeping so loudly.  When the smoke cleared out enough the alarms finally stopped, the dog quieted down and I started making another batch of (highly supervised) onions.

The sandwich was delicious.  The apartment still smells of smoke.  I still feel like an idiot.  I blame the stove.

I give you the recipe in good faith that you will watch your onions, but also that you will share with me, in the comments, any tips you may have about un-smoke-smelling my apartment.  Please.

CHICKEN SANDWICHES WITH BALSAMIC GLAZE AND NOT BURNT RED ONIONS
adapted from Cooking Light
Warning:  This recipe requires multi-tasking.  If you cannot multi-task, you should adapt the recipe so that you will not set anything on fire.


INGREDIENTS:
for two sandwiches

1 boneless skinless chicken breast
2 rolls (I used buns because it's what I had, but you might like a real roll)
1/2 a small red onion
goat cheese
lettuce (you can use anything, fancy mixed greens, spicy arugula.  I used half  of a large romaine leaf)
tomato (a thin slice for each sandwich)
olive oil
salt and pepper

for the glaze:
1/4 C + 1/8 C balsamic vinegar
1 t worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar

DIRECTIONS:
You need two pans and a pot.  A small pot for the glaze, a small pan for the onions and a large pan for the chicken.  Set them all on the stove.  In the small pot, combine the balsamic, worcestershire and brown sugar.  Turn this on medium low and stir periodically (you may want to whisk it a bit to make sure the sugar all incorporates properly).  You want the glaze thick enough that it will coat a spoon (or you know, your chicken breasts) and not just pour all over your plate.  Slice your red onion nice and thin.  Add a bit of olive oil to the small pan.  Again, your heat should be medium low to low.  Put the onion in the pan and add a small sprinkle of salt.  You'll want to watch your onions.  You want them to cook to caramelized, so while you want them to cook down, you are not looking for crispy.  Any sizzling noises are to be carefully monitored.  This will take the longest time, between 15-20 minutes.  Then prepare your chicken breast (you only need 1 breast for 2 sandwiches).  Trim the breast of any fat or icky bits and salt and pepper both sides.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the large pan and turn the heat to high.  You want the oil to sizzle a bit if you add a drop of water.  Once the pan is hot, add the chicken.  It will take about 4 minutes a side, a bit less for thin breasts, a bit more for super fat ones.  Because you'll be slicing the chicken eventually this is a great recipe for beginners. You can cut into the breast to check for doneness, a nice slice through the fattest part.  Chicken should be white and sort of opaque, not pink.  You still want it too be moist.  When your chicken is done, you can cover it with foil and let it rest while you finish up anything you may not have timed correctly.  When you are ready to serve, slice the chicken breast on an angle.  Assemble your sandwiches.  I toasted the buns, and smeared goat cheese liberally on the top bun.  Then on the bottom I placed my lettuce leaf, then my tomato.  Then on top of the tomato I layered the chicken, drizzled the glaze on top and added the caramelized onions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Gene Kelly!




Earlier this month, my dearest friend had a dinner in honor of the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birth.   You can read all about her celebration and her family's special relationship with Julia over at My Family Table.  Probably unsurprisingly, I couldn't get my act together to whip up a fancy french dinner in the heat of August.

But today is another hundredth birthday - that of one of my favorite childhood movie stars, Gene Kelly.  While everyone else my age was building up a common knowledge of popular 80's culture, I was watching old musicals.  One of my very favorites has always been On the Town, starring Gene Kelly.  The combination of sailors on shore leave and girls in amazing costumes taking in the sights of New York City made it irresistible to me.  (True confession: I currently own two dresses I love primarily because they remind me of the costumes in the movie. a gorgeous full skirted black and white plaid that looks like the trim on Ann Miller's costume and a black dress with a coral underskirt that makes me think of the stunning crinolines under Vera Ellen and Betty Garret's dresses.)  While it's probably not Kelly's best exhibition of dancing (except for a dream ballet sequence, he doesn't get to truly show his abilities), it's really worth watching if you at all go in for this kind of thing.  If nothing else, you'll get to see Frank Sinatra at the height of his popularity acting sheepish and awkward around girls.

In honor of Kelly's birthday, TCM is running his films all day, with On the Town showing at 6:15.  So why not make it dinner and a movie?  I'll admit, the meal comes solely from my imagination as the movie is almost entirely without food.  Sure, there are few mentions briefly in song, but despite the movie running through a full 24 hours, the only eating shown is when the boys manage to grab a few apples from a fruit stand.  So what would I serve sailors on leave?  Most certainly something they could not afford, a beautiful juicy steak.

It's a perfect New York treat for a perfect New York movie.

New York Strip Steak

INGREDIENTS:
A New York strip steak
salt and pepper
olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
Selecting the steak:  You want to buy a steak that is about 1.5 to 1.75 inches thick and has a nice amount of marbling throughout (marbling is the strands of fat that run through the meat which make it flavorful and delicious).  The thickness of the steak is recommended so that you have a good ration of nice juicy middle to crispy outside.  In my world you want a nice thin outside with a pink center, not a thin strip of pink between two chewy crusts.  Choose USDA prime for the best quality.

Equipment: You need a cast-iron pan.

Preparation:  Take the steak out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to cook it so that it can warm up.  Salt and pepper it generously (don't coat it or anything, just a nice sprinkling on each side).  With a few minutes to go, heat up your cast-iron pan.  Use a paper towel and pour a bit of olive oil on the towel.  Use tongs to press the oiled towel all over the cooking surface of the pan.  You want a nice even coating, but you don't want to just pour oil in there and make a pool.

Your pan should be over medium high heat and it will be ready for the steak when a drop of water placed in the pan sizzles.  Place the steak in the pan and cook it for 4-5 minutes.  Do not poke it or press it or anything once you put it down.  Just leave it alone.  After 4-5 minutes, turn it over and let it go for 3 more minutes.  You should have a beautifully cooked side facing up at you once you flip it.  Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at both ends of the steak (I know, I know the juice will run out, be delicate, don't maul the things and when you get better at it maybe you won't need a thermometer).  You can pull the steak between 115 degrees and 118 degrees for medium-rare.  When you take it out of the pan, cover it with foil and let it sit a few minutes.  The temperature will go up a smidge more which is probably good and the juices will be less likely to pour out all over the place.

Serve your perfectly cooked steak with a good red wine (or if you're playing sailor, a mug of good beer) and don't forget to toast one of the greatest dancers of all time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What's Your Point of View?

If you watch any Food Network show, you'll know that having a point of view is a big deal to the network.  Recently, a friend made an audition tape for Chopped and of course, we needed to discuss, in depth, what her point of view would be.  As a food blogger who is ready pretty much only by family and close friends, I never particularly worried about what my point of view was.  It's always been pretty obvious that I just don't have one.

This last season of Food Network star featured a contestant who felt he didn't need one.  He was so good that he just should be allowed to cook and to heck with having a point of view.  It did not work out well for him at all.  But another contestant's point of view interested me far more than this man's utter lack of one.

Her concept was a show called "My New England," in which she would share her love of New England through cooking.  The network worried a bit that it would be to narrow, and on camera at least, she was unable to really convince them that New England was more than a series of lighthouses, beach houses and fishing boats.  I was not so secretly jealous.  My New England.  Now that is a point of view I could get behind.

My New England is Cape Cod where I spent weeks on end visiting my grandparents each summer, following every fried haddock dinner with a quest for the best ginger ice cream (my father's favorite).  My New England is Connecticut's orchards nestled deep in the country surrounding my college town, hot lobster sandwiches along its shorelines and the Howard Johnson's in Mystic that always kept Peppermint Stick Ice Cream in stock because it was the manager's favorite.  It's Newport, RI, both the restaurants and bars along the water catering to tourists and sailors and the Newport of a century ago.  Not the mansions and elegance of the rich, but the house where my Portuguese great-grandmother raised 13 children with a backyard housing a goat and chickens, where my great-aunts fried malasadas at the stove.  My New England is my Nana's French-Canadian mother making pork pie from leftover roasts and potatoes without ever touching a recipe.  It's my walk through Boston's Italian North End to my first after college boyfriend's apartment, the air perfumed by tomato sauce, the windows festooned with fresh pasta.  It is the tiny restaurant in Inman Square where I could find the tiny custard tarts I fell in love with when I visited Lisbon. My New England is my best friend's Passover table where she shares her grandmother's traditional recipes. I have so many recipes that are influenced by my years living in New England and my own family heritage.  I have so many stories about how the food of that region has been important in my life.

How dare they think this part of the country couldn't carry a show!  Southern cooking has long been considered worthy of its own programs and recipe books.  New England certainly has a rich enough heritage to warrant a show.  And in my imaginary world where I have a cooking show, that program would be all mine.

What's your culinary point of view?  Do you have one?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pressing Pickle Update


Take a look at that.  Bread and butter pickles in their natural habitat: atop a burger.  I can't say that I've ever eaten pickles on a burger before last night, but evidently I've been missing out.  Because those pickles LOVE being on a burger.  I LOVE those pickles being on a burger.  We have a very happy situation here people.  I already broke down and made a second batch of them, you know you should probably get started on your first.

I'm not even the only one schilling pickles on the internet these days.  Evidently, refrigerator pickles are hot right now.  Lady Gouda's making bread and butters.  Emily Style is making dills.  Clearly this means that they are the new, hot, in, thing.  I'm never on trend.  This might be a first.  I shall revel in it.

Also, remember the poor forgettable loser in the pickle playoffs?  The poor asian pickles?  They know their audience.  Understanding my natural procrastination instincts are especially strong when it comes to throwing out food, they lurked in the batch of my fridge for a week.  I thought they were just peeking around the condiments feeling sorry for themselves, but really, they were gathering spice.  Ryan was on a snack-seeking mission and poking around the back of the fridge and there they were.  I don't know if it was desperation or optimism, but he popped a pickle.  It was nice and fiery.  Happy pickle.  He finished the jar in a single sitting.  I still wouldn't say they were the best pickle option, but if you like things hot, let a batch sit awhile, you won't be sorry.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails