Monday, August 30, 2010

Mexican rice is nice

Mary, of One Perfect Bite, posted Mexican rice recently. I’ve been trying to slot room for it ever since. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I got my mojo together and made it. There are a few little tweaks due to stuff I had around, but essentially it’s her recipe. Didn’t take too long for the mise en place, then onto the stove with it, off to cocktails and some pre-dinner TV.

This is an extremely fine recipe. I recommend it to one and all. Naturally it could be made without chorizo and thus be vegetarian. There is a little bit of work involved. However, I just got all the chopping done early in the afternoon, assembled everything on the kitchen counter and went to town. The cooking time of 20 minutes after the pot has come up to a boil was spot on.

A word about the side dish: it's slow-cooked green beans from the garden. I'll sum that up after the rice.

Mexican rice is nice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup chorizo, finely chopped
½ cup onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 dried red chiles, seeds removed
2 poblano peppers (skin and seeds removed)
1 cup long grain white rice
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
½ tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, green and white parts chopped

Combine the dried chiles with some of the broth and puree with an immersion blender. Or, if you don’t have one, just soak the chiles for a while and mince with a sharp knife.

Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat (4 on my 1-10 dial). Add chorizo. Saute until cooked through (unless using fully cooked chorizo, in which case just cook 1 minute). Add onion, green pepper, garlic, chiles, poblanos. Cook 3-4 minutes until onion and green pepper are softened. Add rice and tomato and stir to coat. Add broth and water, salt, pepper, turmeric and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender and all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Add cilantro and scallion and fluff with a fork. Serve.

Slow-cooked green beans

Saute the beans in some butter and olive oil for 5 minutes, tossing frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add some veggie juice (or V-8 or tomato juice). Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook very slowly for an hour, tossing the beans every 10 minutes or so.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meatball "uglies" with creamed corn

Two dilemmas presented themselves to me yesterday. First, my dear friend and fellow blogger (and a favorite to many of you), Jenn, “Tagged me” with a challenge to answer 8 questions of her invention. I did so and, according to the “Tag” rules, made up my own 8 questions. However, I’ve been torn about publicly challenging my followers to answer them and continue the chain. I’m pretty sure Jenn will not be miffed by the fact that I am going to present the challenge in a different. If you choose to, upon reading this posting, I will be amused if you pick 1, 2 or all of the questions and answer them via a comment. Then it’s up to you whether or not you want to write up questions and “Tag” others. Fortunately there were no dire predictions for breaking the chain such as “Your hair will fall out!”; or “You’ll become impotent!” So, be my guest and follow your muse. The “Tag” game follows my recipes.

The second dilemma had to do with what to make for dinner. We discussed making burgers out of some pretty good-looking chuck steak I got on special. But as I kept thinking about that I began drifting toward a “conceptual” meal that was part nostalgia and part “nouvelle” nonsense. That’s what I went with. The creamed corn is pretty traditional, except perhaps for the inclusion of sour cream (just because there was a bit left over in the fridge). The beef part harks back to spaghetti and meatballs, but not quite. The sauce became merely incidental to the final product, more a decoration than a prominent theme. Also, it wasn’t to be served with pasta. And the leftovers become sort of sloppy Joe’s tomorrow. Here goes:

Ugly meatballs and creamed corn
The Meatballs:
1 lb. beef chuck
1 ½ tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
½ medium onion, sliced into half moons
salt and pepper to taste
oregano to taste
4 oz. tomato sauce
2 heaping tbsp tomato paste
8 oz. chicken broth

The Creamed Corn:
4 ears fresh sweet corn, steamed and kernels stripped from the cobs
2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 heaping tbsp sour cream
½ cup heavy cream, more or less
½ tsp smoked paprika

Meatball “uglies”:
Use ground meat if that’s what you have. I had whole steaks which I ground with my handy-dandy attachment for my stand mixer. I double ground it, fat and all (although I would have trimmed out and gristly bits had there been any).

Scoop up about 2 golf balls worth of meat in your hand and squeeze it into a sausage-like shape, the more irregular the better. Set these aside.

Using a large sauté pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Sprinkle a bit of salt, pepper and oregano onto the surface of the oil. Add the meat “uglies”, scatter the onions around them, and leave alone for 2 minutes. During this time, sprinkle another pinch each of salt, pepper and oregano on top. Turn the meat and leave alone for 2 more minutes. Turn one more time to get browning on most of the surfaces. Don’t worry about being to anal with this, it’s going to cook for a while. Stir in and around the onions a bit too.

Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced and thickened to whatever consistency you are happy with. This will take about 30-40 minutes (I didn’t watch the clock too closely).

In the meantime, Creamed Corn:
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the corn. Saute, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. You’re done.

Now for the fun: Jenn’s questions, my answers, my questions, and (hopefully) some of your answers.

1. If you could be someone/anyone for 1 day, who would it be and why?
President Obama. I’d stay up for 24 hours straight and do stuff like issue an executive order ceasing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in it’s tracks.
2. Who or what inspires you the most?
Total strangers I see in the news who have done something so generous and/or selfless as to bring me to tears.
3. If you had only one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Taurus (‘nuff said).
4. What is your favorite dessert?
The Gobi … or maybe the Sahara. Oh, not “desert,” dessert. “Never mind”, (in the voice of Emily Litella of SNL). Actually it would be a plate of exotic cheeses.
5. What is the first thing you notice about people when you meet them?
Their eyes.
6. What is your favorite season and why?
Oct. through Dec. because of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then New Year’s Eve when Peter and I have lobster for dinner.
7. If you knew today was your last day on Earth, how would you spend it?
8. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?
According to Scooper (my dog) it’s 212. I’ve never lick ‘em, I gnaw on ‘em.

Have some fun with this:
1. What is the bravest (or stupidest) thing you have ever done?

2. What is the funniest joke you ever heard?

3. What is one thing about yourself that you wish everyone in the world would accept and embrace?

4. What is the most exotic location you’ve ever visited?

5. What is something you ate for the first time, thinking you would hate, but actually loved?

6. Who are your most favorite and least favorite TV chefs?

7. What is your favorite alcoholic beverage? (Don’t drink? Then a soft beverage.)

8. If there are no dogs in heaven, would you still want to go there?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tomato tart with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto

Peter made his annual tomato tart last night. It is so good I just had to invite him to post this guest recipe.
This is one of my favorite recipes to make when our homegrown plum tomatoes and basil are reaching bumper crop abundance, and I wait all year for the arrival of August to make it at least once. It is really a hybrid of my favorite pizza (available on this very blog) and the classic “Caprese” salad of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. While this tart would work okay with supermarket tomatoes, I suppose, I personally wouldn’t bother: at the least, you should use native field plum tomatoes (i.e., not hothouse or hydroponic), since the tomatoes are the stars here, and should really shine. Served with a chilled glass of dry wine, and a salad (since we also have a ton of kale in the garden, I’d made a recipe for “Massaged Kale Salad” with mangoes and pepitas earlier in the day to serve with our tart, inspired by the new program “Aarti Party” on the Food Network), this makes for a light supper or lunch on a hot, late summer’s night that evokes the scents and flavors of the Mediterranean, or the south of France.

The layers of grated Romano and Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and grated scamorza cheese on the bottom layer of the puff pastry tart shell not only add richness and complexity to enhance the tomatoes’ balance of sweetness and acidity; they serve the equally important purpose of providing muliple barrier dams that allow the shell to remain perfectly crisp instead of becoming soggy from the tomatoes’ juices. Salting and blotting the tomatoes between double layers of paper towels provides added insurance against the dreaded sogginess (and I use this same technique whenever I use tomatoes to top a pizza).

Concerning the puff pastry, the two brands that seem most readily available in Denver are Dufour, which I can find at Whole Foods, and Pepperidge Farm, available at Safeway and King Soopers. Dufour may have the tiniest of advantages in that it comes in a single sheet, which saves a bit of work: Pepperidge Farm’s product comes two sheets to a package, so you have to overlap them with an egg wash, and use a rolling pin to seal them together to form one piece. To my way of thinking, this really isn’t such a hassle, and the quality of both products is so consistently good that I’d personally choose Pepperidge Farm given its considerably lower price.
If you’re unfamiliar with puff pastry, it’s a good idea to work with it as quickly as possible while it’s still nice and cold once you haul it out of your fridge: as it warms, it becomes more and more elastic and gooey, just like Dali’s watches. The firmer it remains, the easier it is to handle.

This may be due to Denver’s altitude, but I always find that the bottom, cheese-dusted layer of the tart sheel rises and puffs up substantially no matter how thoroughly I prick it with a fork before its first baking. No problem: I know now to expect this, and simply press down firmly with a broad metal spatula to deflate and even out the bottom layer as soon as I remove it from the oven.

Tomato tart with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto
--1 package of frozen puff pastry (Dufour or Pepperidge Farm), thawed in the refrigerator overnight).;
--Four, for dusting
--1 large egg, beaten
--1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano Romano cheese;
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese;
--3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
--6 oz grated smoked mozzarella cheese (scamorza);
--1 lb Roma tomatoes
--1 tsp. kosher salt
--2 generous Tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
--2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
==Freshly ground black pepper to taste
--Fresh basil leaves, enough to stack, roll tightly, and slice into thin ribbons equally 2 tablespoons

1.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the lower-middle position. Lightly flour a large, flat, wide work surface. If using Dufour puff pastry, roll the sheet out to a rectangle about 9” x 18”. If using Pepperidge Farm, brush one end of one sheet with about a 1” band of egg wash, over-lap the second sheet on top, and, using a rolling pin, roll and press to even out the seam. You should then have a 9” x 18” rectangle of dough. If not, roll in length and width slightly until you do.

2.) Using a very sharp knife, cut a 1” strip of dough evenly alongside the long side of the rectangle of dough, setting the strip alongside on a long piece of foil, parchment, or paper towel. Cut a second 1” strip from the long side of the dough rectangle, and place it with the first strip. Cut a 1” strip of dough from the short side of the rectangle of dough, and place with the longer strips. Cut a second 1” strip of dough from the short side. Brush all four strips of reserved puff pastry dough one by one with egg wash, placing one long strip each as evenly as possible on top of the left and right-hand sides of the dough rectangle, egg side down. Repeat with the short strips, placing them egg side down on top of the short (top and bottom) ends of the dough rectangle. Brush the unbaked tart shell evenly with egg wash, and sprinkle bottom layer of tart evenly with a blend of the grated Romano and Parmesan cheeses. Prick the bottom layer evenly all over with a fork to prevent excessive puffing.

3.) Transfer the shell to an unrimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silicone mat. Bake for 14 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake 14 more minutes. Remove puff pastry shell from oven, and allow to cool completely on a wire rack (if bottom has puffed, press down evenly to flatten it with a metal spatula. Shell can be baked several hours in advance. Before proceeding to step 4 below, return oven to 425 degrees).

4.) Evenly arrange thin layers of prosciutto over bottom of tart shell to cover as completely as possible. Sprinkle smoked mozzarella evenly over prosciutto. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, and black pepper well. Set aside.

5.) Thinly slice tomatoes, place them in a single layer on a double thickness of paper towels, and sprinkle evenly with salt. After ½ hour, tomatoes should have extruded excess liquid. Using another double thickness of paper towels, press the tomatoes gently but firmly to blot them as dry as possible.

6. In rows, overlap tomato slices in scallop patterns until all tomato slices are used up. Using abrush, dab the surface of tomatoes evenly with olive oil/garlic/black pepper mixture.

7. Bake tomato tart for 15-16 minutes. As you remove it from oven, sprinkle tart evenly with chiffonade of basil leaves. Let cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Slice and serve hot or warm.

(Will serve 4 to 6 as a light supper or lunch entrée, 6 to 8 as an hors d’oeuvre).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chicken breast skewers

In my haste to get to the dinner table I postponed taking a photo til after the dishes were done. The above is what was left after we chowed down.

Having seen a number of posting involving skewers recently, I had been waiting for just the right thing to come along. Then it happened. Strips of chicken breast on sale. I had no idea exactly what I was going to do, but just got to work. First I needed to come up with a marinade – did so. I wanted to use up some bell pepper – did so. I wanted something that would go with the angel hair pasta (leftovers) in the fridge – did so. I wanted fun food – got it! I wanted to use my stovetop grill – did so.

Chicken breast skewers
10 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced in strips
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
pinch of red pepper flakes
½ tsp black pepper
1 green bell pepper, cut into ¼’s
pinches each of salt and black peppeer

Put first 4 ingredients into a Ziploc freezer bag and refrigerate for an hour or considerably more.

Preheat stovetop grill over medium high heat. (This requires a bit of explanation. The left burners on our electric stove are hotter than the ones on the right – on purpose I think. The rear burner is smaller than the front. Therefore the setting for this – given that the grill covers both burners – was 6 for the front and 7 for the back.)

Rub the pepper pieces with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put them on the back of the grill with a tent of foil over them. Let them go for 5 minutes before continuing. Skewer the chicken strips and lay them on the grill. It will take only a couple of minutes per side for them to cook through.

When the chicken is done, set it aside and tent with foil. Turn the peppers frequently until tender. Then cut into strips to garnish the chicken. Serve this over something: rice, noodles, etc.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My brand of brandade

This concoction is one of the more astounding things I’ve discovered recently. Given that there is potato involved, we expected something kind of dense. These cakes were like clouds, approaching cotton candy in their airiness. As I understand it, brandade is a combination of salt cod and potato, and can be a dip, a fritter, or, as in my case, a cake (a la crab cake).

I saw brandade cakes (potato with salt cod) being made on Cooking Channel recently. I’d been wondering what to do with the last of the frozen shrimp in the freezer. There wasn’t quite enough to stand alone for dinner, but I make “cakes” with shrimp and catfish from time to time. However, a recent great experience with frozen cod led me to the idea of a sort of brandade with potato, shrimp and cod.

As the TV cook said, I don’t think the exact proportions are terribly important – the cakes just need to hold together. So, below is what I threw together. I use frozen cod because I’ve had so many bad experiences with fresh cod. It seems to get a little stinky awfully quickly and once I’ve gotten that scent in my head it kind of spoils the whole thing for me. Frozen cod isn’t all that great if you treat it like fresh, i.e. sautéing or steaming, but for frying it works and I knew it would work in the brandade. The amounts of potato, shrimp and cod below are pretty arbitrary, but the cakes held together and that was the goal.

Brandade of potato, cod, and shrimp with onion and pepper strips

½ onion, cut into strips
½ red or green bell pepper, cut into strips
¼ tsp smoked paprika
8 oz. russet potato
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tbsp butter, divided
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
6 oz. frozen shrimp (31-40’s), thawed and peeled
7 oz. frozen cod, thawed, rinsed and dried
salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp paprika
bread crumbs – Panko is great; homemade is better; Italian seasoned is bad
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the onion and bell pepper strips on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside.

Slice the potatoes into 1/2” slices. Put the potatoes into a pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove to a sieve with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water, mash with ¼ cup heavy cream and 1 tbsp butter and set aside.

Make a court bouillon: To the potato water add 1 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp white vinegar and the 2 garlic cloves. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer covered for 15 minutes.

While the court bouillon heats, cut the cod into 2” pieces. (If using larger shrimp, cut them in half) After simmering the court bouillon, add the cod and shrimp to it and remove the pan from the heat. After 2 minutes, remove the shrimp and put them in a food processor. After 5 minutes, remove the cod and add to food processor. Save ½ cup of the court bouillon and discard the rest. Add the garlic to the food processor too if you wish. I did.

Pulse until roughly chopped and combined. Don’t puree it. Transfer fish to the bowl with the potatoes, add some salt and pepper, and mix together with your hands (wet them with cold water first). Form into cakes. These amounts of ingredients made 7 cakes. If needed, add a bit of the reserved court bouillon. The cakes should hold together well if you handle them with care. Sprinkle them on both sides with a bit of salt, pepper and paprika. Dredge in breadcrumbs.

Heat a large skillet over medium high (6 on my 1-10 dial). Add the cakes and sauté until golden brown, turning once – about 3 minutes per side. Be very careful when turning them and they won’t break.
While the cakes sauté, microwave the pepper and onion strips to re-warm them. Serve the cakes over a pile of these strips. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the cakes and serve.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Macho gazpacho

Ok, this is going to be somewhat vague. In the past when I’ve made gazpacho I’ve made a big batch. This time I wanted it to serve us a solid dinner and be gone. I almost succeeded. No gazpacho is ever quite the same. There are so many things that can go into it. So I just make do with what I think is important.

All the tomatoes (from our garden) were cherry size, so I did not bother to remove the skins. Besides, I’m sure there’s nutrients in there, not to mention fiber. (But I did mention fiber.) The beans are from a can labeled “Navy beans.” That conjures up something bigger than what these were. They’re petit little white beans. Any beans will do. And they can be eliminated. Here goes:

Macho gazpacho
2 cups or so little tomatoes
¼ cup tomato sauce
1 – 1 ½ cups veggie juice or V8, low sodium is probably a good idea
1 tsp garlic powder, or fresh garlic – I was lazy
1 tsp black pepper
½ red bell pepper, chopped fine
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 Hatch chilis, seeded and chopped
½ 14 oz. can beans, more or less
Garnishes: 1 hard boiled egg, sliced; juice of ½ a lime, or more to taste; croutons (or, because of my last name, I like to call them Crout-ons); ½ avocado, sliced; crumbled feta cheese.

Put the first 5 ingredients into the food processor. Put half each of the bell pepper and jalapeno in there too.

Pulse until it’s the texture you like. I like it soupy but still with some texture. Add more veggie juice if you want it thinner. Remove to a glass bowl (non-reactive). Stir in the remaining jalapeno, bell pepper and the beans.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two or even overnight. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before servings. Put it into bowls, garnish, and head on in face first.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Peter makes pesto with gusto

Peter has become the doyenne of pesto making, including ones with arugula, parsley, kale, and with basil (the classic). I asked him to document his most recent version. In order to make this a one-dish meal (angel hair pasta with the sauce), we topped it all with some shrimp. Here’s what he submitted:

Specific foods can evoke such powerful memories: I still recall the first time I sampled pasta with basil pesto sauce, for example. One summer night back when I was still in high school in the 1970’s, my dad took the family out for Friday dinner at Pippi’s, a back-in-the-day, family-owned Italian restaurant on Franklin Avenue in Hartford’s South End. In describing that evening’s specials, our waiter was particularly enthusiastic about rigatoni with pesto culled from the owner’s own garden. Pretentious little F.I.T.* that I was, I thought this sounded terribly worldly and sophisticated (basil pesto being to the contrary, like so many Italian classics, simple fare), and ordered it. Knowing how limited my palate actually was, my father sighed, darkly admonished me, “You’re not going to like it,” and ordered a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.

Sure enough, when our entrees arrived, I forced a few forkfuls of my rigatoni before concluding that the pesto sauce, with its vaguely licorice scent and flavor, wasn’t to my liking at all. Without making a fuss, dad handed over his spaghetti to me, polished off my entire portion of rigatoni with pesto with noisy gusto, and life went on.

Fast forward about a decade or so, to a period when both my older sister Susan and I were living in D.C. Like many avid home cooks of at least partial Italian-American descent of that era, Susan was very much in thrall at that juncture to Marcella Hazan, whose “Classic Italian Cookbook” was all the rage for everyone in the U.S. who had aspirations to cook authentic Italian dishes. Susan invited me over to dinner, and served a pasta dressed with Marcella’s “blender pesto” sauce. With a palate more advanced now through daring and persistence, I took one bite, and immediately thought, “I must make this dish.”

And, thanks to Susan presenting me with my own copy of Hazan’s cookbook for my birthday several weeks later, make it I did. I was interested to read that Hazan provided the recipe for blender pesto with some reluctance, writing that the sharp blades of a blender attacked the volatile oils of the basil leaves too violently, resulting in a soupier consistency and a less pungent flavor than making pesto the old-fashioned Italian way, essentially pummeling the basil leaves slowly with a pestle in a large marble mortar. I never would have found the patience to do that in my 20’s even if I’d had a clue as to where in D.C. one could find the right hardware to do so. But I duly noted Marcella’s point: minimal “processing” of the basil leaves was optimal (and, in recent years, it has become a theme song in all cookbooks that, when adding fresh basil leaves to any dish, it is in fact far preferable to stack them, roll them tightly into a “cigar,” and cut them into thin ribbons with the sharpest knife available rather than hack away at them with a butcher’s knife, for exactly the same reason).

Over the years, I’ve gradually tweaked my recipe for basil pesto to a point that pleases me far more than Marcella’s blender concoction. No, I don’t use a mortar and pestle, but I’ve made some significant changes of my own. I like to equate recipes with musical forms, and think of basil pesto as a gem of a chamber choir work, one in which the sections are not subdivided into “soprano I,” “soprano II,” “alto I,” “alto II,” etc., but are all compact and lean. As such, they must all be honed and polished to the point where they all shine, and contribute equally to maximize and compliment one another’s contributions on equal footing. To wit, I found over time that the taste of raw garlic in pesto can hijack the sauce’s flavor, providing a harsh, acrid note that creeps up inexorably. Blanching the garlic for just one minute tames it beautifully

Back to those basil leaves: to achieve the ideal of very minimal processing, I get my freak on by beating the hell out of them with a meat mallet, pretending that the contents of the plastic bag contain some of my favorite nemeses from the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Reseach Council.

The pine nuts absolutely must be toasted: all nuts profit from toasting, but pine nuts in particular turn from wallflower status to miniature bombshells if their flavor and aroma are coaxed with gentle browning.

Marcella Hazan contends that rounding off basil pesto’s flavor with a pat of room temperature, unsalted butter is essential, and that a blend of tangy, briny grated Pecorino Romano and earthy, buttery Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses is far superior in a pesto to just the latter, and I agree with her on both counts. Finally, I add a bit of salt and freshly cracked black pepper to my recipe: both are missing from the majority of basil pesto recipes I’ve consulted, but I think just a pinch of salt pumps up the saltiness of the cheeses, and the pepper adds a welcome bass note.

If all this sounds like something the late Phil Hartman’s recurring character of “The Anal-Retentive Chef” on “Saturday Night Live” might have made, and a far cry from the old, “Dump everything in the blender and puree” technique for preparing this classic sauce, I remain unapologetic. The results are well worth the extra effort: you could say that I’ve out-Marcella’ed the famously persnickety Marcella Hazan herself (who absolutely, by the way, should be played in a biopic by Paul Sorvino in drag).

Basil Pesto

(Note: if you wish to freeze this sauce, and you are encouraged to do so, resist the temptation to add the butter and cheese before freezing. Your dairy-free pesto will keep beautifully in the freezer for up to four months, and waiting until it’s fully thawed before adding the butter and cheeses will result in a flavor and texture virtually identical to one that’s perfectly fresh).

--2 cups packed basil leaves;
--2 large, unpeeled cloves garlic;
--1/3 cup pine nuts;
--7 Tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
--1/4 tsp. kosher salt;
--1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
--1 Tbl. unsalted butter, room temperature
--1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
--1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese

1.) Put the basil leaves in a large plastic Zip-Loc bag or similar clear plastic sealable bag, press out all the air you can, and seal. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, beat the crap out of the basil leaves on a flat, sturdy surface until all the basil leaves are bruised, and have turned from bright green to Forest or Loden green in color. Cut open the bag with scissors, and scrape the bruised leaves into bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade.

2.) Bring a small pot of water to a simmering boil. Skewer the unpeeled garlic cloves, and submerge in the simmering water for 1 minute. Run under cold tap water to stop cooking. Peel the cloves, either mince them very finely, or run them through a garlic press, and add to food processor.

3.) Toast the pine nuts in a small, heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium-low heat until very lightly browned and fragrant, which will take just a few minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a paper towl to cool (don’t leave them in the skillet: carry-over cooking, if you do so, may cause them to char, which gives an “off” flavor. (Note: I store all nuts, including pine nuts, in the freezer to maximize their shelf-life. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that pine nuts fresh from the freezer will toast perfectly in my microwave on high in just 2 minutes, 45 seconds. You might want to try this method as well, especially if you have, as I do, a carousel microwave, but it’s even more imperative with this technique to transer the pine nuts to a fresh, cool plate so that residual heat from the one on which you nuke them doesn’t cause them to burn).

4.) Add cooled pine nuts, salt, pepper, and olive oil to contents of food processor. Process for five one-second pulses. Pause to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then process for five additional one-second pulses.

5.) Transfer contents of food processor to a large bowl. Whisk in butter and cheeses.

6.) Pesto will be fairly thick at this point. It’s your choice as to whether you prefer a longer strand pasta (i.e., linguine) or a stubbier cut (rotini, campanelle, gemelli) to enjoy with your pesto sauce, but whatever pasta you choose, a minute or so before the pasta is perfectly al dente, spoon out up to a ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water to whisk it into the pesto before you drain the pasta and add it to the pesto to combine. This final step will loosen the pesto’s consistency, and the starchy pasta water helps the pesto sauce adhere to the pasta.

*F.I.T. = Fairy In Training, a “junior miss,” in-denial version of the fully-formed, more mature F.O.D. (Friend of Dorothy). Cf: the younger version of himself that serves as the protagonist of Simon Doonan’s BBC Series, “Beautiful People.”

Friday, August 20, 2010


Here's something you don't see every day. These little dumplings, sort of eastern European ravioli, are not something I would make from scratch. As it happens, however, we ate at a wonderful Chinese restaurant (wontons are very pierogi-like), down the strip mall from which is a Ukrainian market. That's where we got the pierogis - a 3-lb. bag (frozen) for $3.99/lb. Generally speaking, about 12 oz. will serve the two of us, so there are at least 3 meals there.

No need for me to post a recipe. All you do is bring a big pot of water to a boil, salt it the way you would for pasta, and put the pierogis in until they float to the top - about 6 minutes. They can be eaten with various condiments, from carmelized onions, to butter, or, in our case a lovely dipping sauce Peter came up with. It included yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic and fresh basil. It was a comforting and satisfying meal.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Indian-style chicken drumsticks

With leftover chard stems and potato salad in the fridge, the choice of protein was yesterday’s question. Answer: a bag of chicken legs in the freezer. So they got thawed and then brined for about 3 hours. I decided on a way to cook them that was novel for me: on the stovetop grill with Indian spices. The package of garam masala from Savory Spice indicated that it is considered a “finishing” spice. So be it. It went on at the end.

Indian-spiced chicken drumsticks
9 drumsticks, skin on
olive oil
ground cumin
black pepper
garam masala

Brine the chicken for 2-3 hours in 3 cups water in which 3 tbsp kosher salt have been dissolved. Rinse and dry.

Cut a ½” deep slit in each side of each leg through the thickest part of the meat. Brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle a couple pinches cumin in the slits and over the legs.

Heat the stovetop grill. Our front and back burners (electric) are different sizes. So I set the front at 5 and the rear at 6. That seems to give me fairly even heat.

Spray the grill with cooking spray. Cook the chicken, turning often, for 30 minutes (if you’re starting at room temperature – highly recommended), or until juices next to the bone are no longer red or pink. After the legs are browned all over, cover them loosely with foil. Apply garam masala when 5 minutes cooking time remains. Let the legs rest for 5 minutes before serving (tented with foil).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The world according to Scooper

This is Scooper, comfortably ensconced in his favorite papa-san chair right next to my computer. He’s 12 now, and happily in good health except for being quite deaf. He never listened to me anyway. I had nothing new to post this morning, so I thought I’d let him be a guest.

The world according to Scooper:
My #1 daddy is generous to let me do a posting on his blog. Heaven knows, he spends plenty of time at it. I love sleeping next to him while he blathers on about his food. I don’t know much about his food as he and #2 daddy, Peter, never give me any of it. I score some dropped bits on the kitchen floor from time to time, and I have to admit it can be some pretty good stuff. I am just as happy to have my 2 squares a day – some Iams kibble and some stuff out of a can. I am not patient when it’s my meal time, and I say so. Back when that other guy, Pupkiss*, was still around, I could sometimes shoulder him out of the way and finish his food too. After a while he got wise to that and ate really, really fast. I don’t know what ever happened to him. Last fall he just wasn’t here anymore, leaving me as an only child, just the way I was before the little interloper came on the scene and began competing with me for the daddys’ affections. I understand there may be a picture of the little bugger down below. By the way, daddy #1 used to whisper in my ear (when I could still hear), “Remember, I’m your #1 daddy.” I don’t even know what that means. I have a good life. I get to sleep on the bed, snuggle in front of the tv with the guys, get petted quite regularly. AND, every day I get to poop! Well, there you have it. Try my recipe if you dare. Best regards, Scooper.

Kibble and squeak

1 handful Iams kibble

2 heaping tbsp Pedigree canned dog food with meat, or chicken

Put these in a bowl and get it on the floor ... right NOW.

*Pupkiss joined our family when Scooper was 1 year old. He was a little guy with strong opinions and a fondness for actually watching television. He developed the scourge of King Charles Spaniels, heart trouble, when he was 9 1/2. We coddled and medicated him for several months until his struggles got so bad we had him euthanized.

Fish tacos

I was once again inspired by Jenn when she posted her fish tacos several days ago. There were several decisions to be made: what kind of fish; how was I going to cook the fish; what other miscellanea would go into the mix; cheese or no cheese. Answers: fish – tempura fried; avocado, sour cream, tomato salsa, lettuce; no cheese.

Fish tacos
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, minced, seeds left in (optional)
2 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
1 garlic clove, minced
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
lettuce leaves
1/2 avocado, sliced
sour cream
1 lb. cod, cut into 1” strips
tempura batter
oil for frying
4 flour tortillas

Start by making a salsa. In a bowl, mix together the first 6 ingredients. If concerned about the heat, remove seeds from the jalapeno.

Place lettuce leaves, avocado and sour cream each in its own small bowl.

Mix the tempura batter according to package directions. I had to adjust the amount of batter mix and water as I had exactly 1 cup of mix. As it was there was enough batter left that we will make shrimp tacos using it tomorrow.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Sprinkle some salt on the fish, dip each piece into the batter, and fry until crisp and lightly browned, about 1 ½ minutes (do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan). When each batch is done, drain on paper towels.

Wrap 4 tortillas in a kitchen towel and microwave 30 seconds. Done! Assemble tacos at the table and chow down.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sausage, ramen, and cheese quiche

Since I’ve had a store bought frozen pie crust on hand for a while, and some Italian sausage from the manager’s special bin, I was in the mood for quiche. One of the good things about a recipe like this (at least for Peter and moi) is that it gives us 2 meals. It could be considered a one-dish meal with starch (crust), protein (eggs and sausage), veggies (kale). We chose to accompany it with a side of green and yellow beans with arugula pesto.

It’s easy to throw this together and you can blind bake the crust any time during the day. I make quiche only once or twice a year and finally feel like I’ve got it down to a routine. From the picture you can barely tell that there is a package of ramen noodles in the quiche. Why? No reason – just seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sausage, ramen and cheese quiche
1 pie crust, thawed if frozen, at room temperature
1 package ramen noodles
4 large eggs, beaten moderately
1 tsp olive oil
2-3 scallions, chopped
½ - ¾ cup left over vegetables (zucchini would be great with this; we used about a cup of kale leaves.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup cooked and crumbled Italian sausage (mild or spicy, your choice)
1 cup grated cheese (you choose the cheese)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Put the crust in a 9" pie plate and crimp the edges. Add a circle of foil and pie weights or beans. Bake for 12 minutes. You might want to cover the edge of the crust with a bit of foil to avoid over browning. Remove weights (carefully!). If there are any cracks in the crust, brush them with some beaten egg. Allow the crust to cool completely.

Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Boil the ramen for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Shake out excess moisture and toss with teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.

In the pan in which you cooked the sausage, cook the scallion and kale for about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the cheese and cream into the eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the crust is cool, evenly spread the sausage, ramen and veggies in the bottom of it. Pour the custard mixture into the crust. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and put it into the oven. Bake 25-35 minutes until the center has just set.

Set aside to rest. Serve warm 0r at room temperature with a salad.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chicken cordon bleu

Lesson learned – I won’t bone chicken legs again any time soon. It’s hard to do even though I’ve done it many times before. But, legs was what we had. The results were fine. I’ve written the recipe using thighs, ‘cause y’all ain’t gonna be bonin’ no legs.

A few days ago one of our favorite culinary companions at blogspot, Jenn, did a recipe for chicken cordon bleu cooked on her grill. That was my inspiration, even though I had no chicken breasts. If breast meat is what’s going to do it for you, go to her blog (click on her name above).

As a bonus, I include a pic of a casserole made from Swiss chard stems (from the garden). I’ve always known the stems are edible but usually threw them out. We have a cookbook by Italian guru Marcella Hazan. The stems are washed, peeled a bit if they are thick, boiled for 10 minutes, then combined with cheese and a few other do-dahs, then baked at 400 for 15 minutes. It was quite delicious. I won’t throw the stems out anymore.

Chicken cordon bleu
4 pieces boneless chicken thighs (skin on, as is my preference)
Deli ham slices
Cheese, your favorite kind
Black pepper
Dried tarragon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

I brined the chicken for several hours and then rinsed it well. Wrap a piece of cheese in a ham slice and roll the chicken around it. Fasten it together with a toothpick.

Season both sides with tarragon and black pepper (and of course salt if you are disobedient and don’t brine). Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a big skillet over medium-high heat (5 on my 1-10 dial). Brown the skin side for 3-4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and reduce the heat by a notch or two. Cover the pan and cook until done, 10-12 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Easier crunchy fried chicken

A while back I posted an America’s Test Kitchen version of super-crunchy fried chicken. There was what I would call a serious flaw in the recipe, which I managed to work around. In the latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated magazine (same folks as test kitchen), the same basic plan is published – but with the flaw fixed. There are two things I especially like about this: the chicken does get very crunchy; it’s done with shallow frying … hence, less oil.

We have two sayings in our house when at the dining table: “It’s a keeper,” and “Restaurant menu.” That’s the restaurant we’d have if we had a restaurant. This one scored on both points.

The actual time frying is not to be done by the clock. Just keep an eye on it and turn it when the color is right. Same with the second side. I was cooking only drumsticks, good-sized ones, and they were done after 12 minutes in the oven. One mistake we made (we were ravenously hungry) was to not let the chicken rest long enough. The coating came off a bit while we were eating it. Next time the resting period will be a full 10 minutes.

I prefer posting my own recipes, but in this case it’s worth sharing as is. I can call this partly my own. I played loosy-goosy with the amounts of spices and well, I think.

Easier crunchy fried chicken (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
1 cup buttermilk, divided
dash hot sauce
1 ½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp cayenne, or to taste
2 lbs. chicken parts, bone in, skin on
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ¾ cups vegetable oil

Whisk ¾ cup buttermilk, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp paprika, and pinch of cayenne together in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and remaining black pepper, ½ tsp garlic powder, and remaining cayenne together in large bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk to flour mixture little by little and mix with fingers until combined and small clumps form. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto pieces to form thick, even coating. Place dredged chicken on large plate, skin side up.

Heat oil in 11-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Place chicken pieces in pan, skin side down. Cook 3-5 minutes until underside is golden brown. Turn pieces and cook additional 2-4 minutes. Transfer chicken to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake chicken to internal temp of 160 for breast and 170 for thighs and legs, 15-20 minutes. (Smaller pieces will cook faster than large ones.) Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wok-smoked red snapper salad

Since discovering the wok-smoking technique, I’ve had fun trying different things. When I finally came to a decision about last night’s dinner, it was while standing at the fish counter at Safeway. They had some fresh whole red snappers – I knew at once what I wanted to do. I would love to have left the head and tail on, but it wouldn’t fit in my basket, so had to remove them. I stuck the head in so as to have the opportunity to enjoy the “cheeks”.

I was concerned that, in order to smoke it evenly, the fish would need turning. That sounded perilous, so I devised a rack of sorts to put in the bamboo basket. I did it by rolling up some aluminum foil into a snake and coiling it under the fish. It worked well enough.


Wok-smoked red snapper salad
1 whole red snapper, about 1.25 lbs.
fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
lemon slices

Make 3 slits on each side of the snapper. Stuff a basil leaf in each slit. Salt and pepper it all over, inside and out.

Stuff the cavity of the fish with lemon slices and basil leaves. Get the smoker going and, when ready, put in the fish. Smoke for about 25 minutes until cooked through (cut a slit next to the backbone and have a peek). Serve hot, or allow it to cool and top a salad with it (as we did after skinning and deboning).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Honey, lemon and oregano pork chops

I am so grateful for the wonderful inspiration I get from reading recipes on the blogs I follow. I mentioned once before that if I don’t comment on sweet things and baked goods, it’s simply because I don’t eat sweets (well, only rarely) and I don’t bake.

On Thursday, Jenn posted an excellent pork chop recipe. She didn’t have mint and substituted oregano – a good choice. I had basil (are you tired of me bragging about the garden?), which I chose to sub for the mint, then changed my mind and stuck with oregano. A word about my pork chops. I don’t remember how they were labeled (what cut, that is) because we bought them several weeks ago in a huge “value pack.” I divided them by 5 and froze the packages. Three of them are pictured below. They look pretty good as is, but trust me, they required a lot of trimming. After that and bone removal what was left was best for a quick sauté. That didn’t necessitate any change in marination.

The recipe is pretty much as Jenn posted it. I altered the amounts a bit to account for the amount of pork I had. In the end the taste was lemony with only the merest hint of sweetness from the honey. Here’s a pic of my favorite kitchen uni-tasker, a lime squeezer. It works with lemons if you cut the lemon into quarters to make it fit. It squeezes out some of the lemon pulp which I scraped into the marinade.
I’m in the limerick mood again.

I had a nice package of pork
And wanting to not be a dork,
I trimmed them
And cut them
To a size I could eat with a spork.

Honey, lemon and oregano pork chops
1 lb. pork cutlets, chops, or some such thing
1.5 tbsp honey
zest from 1 lemon
1.5 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Trim and cut up the pork as necessary depending on the cut. Place in a resealable bag. Combine all remaining ingredients (except butter) and pour over the pork. Marinate in the fridge for a few hours.
Heat a skillet over medium heat (4 on my 1-10 dial). Add butter to the pan. When it’s melted, add the pork pieces and sauté, turning a couple of times, until just barely pink in the center.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Israeli couscous shrimp salad

What we have here is a box o’ leftovers. Didn’t have my camera with me last night.

We took a picnic to friends in Central City, CO yesterday. The occasion was for us to attend the opera, starring Emily Pulley (a long-time friend), and re-une with her and other friends. I debated for quite a while as to what to make. I settled on a cold salad with Israeli couscous (a particular favorite of mine) with shrimp and fresh beans from our garden.

I prepared everything in advance, but did not do final assembly until just before suppertime. (You know how pasta sucks up everything in its path.) I’ve mentioned castelvetrano olives before. They are bright green and only lightly marinated in a brine. I find their taste exquisite. I get them at Whole Foods’ salad bar. Another good find at Whole Foods is their house brand ("365") of feta cheese.

The couscous comes in varied packaging. I used two 6.3 oz. boxes so as to be sure to have enough for 5 people. I prepared everything 1 day ahead, but didn’t toss it all together until right before serving. The amount of green and yellow beans you use is completely negotiable. I had about a handful of each. Same with the roasted red pepper.

I adore Israeli couscous because of its mouth feel. Somehow the little balls of goodness make a salad like this seem light and refreshing.

I dressed this with a citrus dressing (lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, olive oil), but a person could dress it with just about anything.

Israeli couscous shrimp salad
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, cooked and chilled
12.5 oz. Israeli couscous, cooked according to package
1/2 celery, finely diced, with some leaves if possible
1-2 cups yellow wax beans
1-2 cups green beans
2 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
roasted red pepper
12 castelvetrano olives (or other olives), pitted and halved
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

When the couscous is cooked, rinse it under cold water, drain it well, and toss it with a little olive oil to prevent its sticking together.

Steam the beans 15-20 minutes (older beans obviously take longer). Rinse them under cold water and drain. Cut them into 1” pieces. If making ahead, mix the beans together with the celery, olives, roasted red pepper and scallions and store in the fridge until ready to use. Keep the feta separate until ready to toss together.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spatch-cocked chicken

This is a recipe I’ve posted before (last Feb.). However, I am blessed with considerably more followers now, and this is such a good way (and easy) to cook a chicken. And I seasoned the chicken differently this time. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t brine the chicken. You know what? It was fine. I think the use of a free-range organic bird contributed to the excellent outcome.

Spatch-cocked chicken
3 ½ - 4 lb. free-range chicken, backbone and wing tips removed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
paprika (optional)
black pepper
1 or 2 tsp dried tarragon (optional)

To remove the backbone, simply cut along it with a heavy knife or a pair of poultry shears. You have to do a little finagling when you get to the neck area, but there’s a path through there. Just be patient and be careful. Throw the back into the freezer and save for stock later.

If using tarragon (or another herb), loosen the skin from the breast and leg area and sprinkle a small amount directly on the meat. It doesn’t take much.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position.

Heat the butter and oil over medium heat (4 on my 1-10 dial) in a heavy-bottomed skillet that is large enough for the bird to fit. Sprinkle the chicken all over with a salt and ground pepper to taste, and paprika if you wish.

Put the bird into the pan skin side down. Cover with a piece of foil and weight it. I use my teakettle with some water in it. Brown the chicken for about 8 minutes. Check after 5 to be sure it’s not over-browning.

Turn the chicken skin side up. Sprinkle with some more tarragon and place the skillet in the oven uncovered. Roast until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast (at the neck end). Check the thigh for the same temp. The roasting should take about 20-25 minutes, although I didn’t watch the clock real closely, just my temp probe.

Let the chicken rest on the countertop (not in the pan) for 10 minutes before serving.

Blog Archive

Tuesday Tag-Along

Tuesday Tag-Along

Foodie BlogRoll