Tuesday, March 30, 2010

everything's good about you

Whoo boy, there is not very much left of this delicious (and beautiful, if I do say so myself) Double Broccoli Couscous (I was out of quinoa so used my favorite - Israeli couscous). Literally, one small Pyrex container is left, and the first one to the fridge tomorrow morning wins it for lunch.

We absolutely whipped through this platter. The platter that allegedly serves 4-6. Oh. No. 2. Totally just 2.

I'm just bummed I never considered broccoli pesto before. It is delicious stuff, and what a perfect way to have pesto year round. The recipe definitely makes enough for 2 batches of pesto, so if you have a very small food processor like me, save yourself the trouble of not realizing you overstuffed the machine and end up having to pick out florets halfway through to save for a second whirl. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad to have that second batch, but I could have saved myself some clean-up with just a half-recipe.

Everything else comes together super quickly. However, it can get totally out of hand if you start raiding the fridge for things that might go good with it (i.e., everything). How about some tofu that's been in the fridge for ages (but still within its expiration date)? Slice, press, fry in olive oil. About 4 oz. of canned crab meat leftover from making Crab Falafel? Warm it up by adding to the tofu pan just as the tofu is done. Glorious avocados that I've taken to making sure my kitchen is stocked with at all times? Cube and toss them in. (Side note: I did fully intend to keep this vegetarian, but I needed to use up the crab meat. I do try to fit in one fully vegetarian meal per week - don't tell Matty).

Other delicious add-ins (I said I was glad to have the second batch of pesto): chopped hazelnuts, feta or goat cheese, any other protein you like, maybe cherry tomatoes when it gets warmer. I cannot wait!

Monday, March 29, 2010

get saucy

In the three weeks since I've switched back to omnivore-land, I've been hard-pressed to find a good steak. And while this Tri-Tip w/ Romesco Sauce wasn't the OMG moment I was hoping for (maybe should have *gasp* repeated a recipe and gone with Steak w/ Onion-Blue Cheese Sauce), it was still a pretty tasty meal.

The steak itself was very flavorful, and all I had done to it was truffle salted and peppered it. Matty was not a huge fan of the sauce, but was understanding enough that I had to smear some all over his steak for the sake of blogging. His second helping was sans sauce. :) I thought it was rather tasty if maybe a bit sweet from the tomatoes, and it was perfect for the Jalapeno Latkes - like super fancy ketchup.

A little disappointed in tonight's roasted brussels sprouts - they were a little on the small side and dried up a bit too much in the 500-degree oven I was sharing with the tri-tip. The latkes more than made up for it, though - I subbed regular flour for the matzo meal and used the entire egg instead of just the yolk, but those were the only ingredient changes. I also didn't feel like committing to frying in batches, so I made one large pancake in my 12-inch cast-iron. About 5 minutes on each side until it was a lovely golden brown, and a smidge torn off the edge was crispy and creamy, all in one bite. The jalapenos, well-seeded by this spice wimp, weren't spicy, but lent a nice peppery kick to each bite. File under carbo-riffic solo meals for when Matty's out of town.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

i feel like you wouldn't like me

Happiness is sweet, tender leaves of roasted cabbage drenched in a creamy, runny egg yolk. Some might argue with that statement (and use my horrific photo as proof positive), but for me, this was the perfect post-yoga meal this morning.

I've been in love with roasted cabbage for a hot minute now, and because I didn't want to turn on the oven on this 85-degree spring day, I roasted thin wedges of baby cabbage in my cast-iron pan on the stovetop.

And in a nod to Bon Appetit's Deep-Fried Eggs, which I still intend to make eventually, I topped the cabbage with two over-easy eggs that had been dusted with Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan before they were quickly flipped over.

I loved how light yet sustaining this was. I told Matty about it, and he was rendered speechless, so yay - more for me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

chicken fried

This Chicken Kentuckian can't be beat in terms of quickness and ease of preparation. However, if you're expecting anything even remotely bourbon-flavored, you may have to at least double the bourbon baste.

What you do get perfectly golden chicken for the price of 30 minutes of your time and a couple turns. The light flour coating gives a little crispness to the skin without the heaviness and residual guilt of having "actual" fried chicken. However, if you're missing the guilt, you can have it in the cream sauce that goes all over top of the chicken. Even then, it's a mere cup to 6 pounds of chicken, so do not fret too much.

I only wish I had made something carb-y to serve this chicken and the delightful mushroom cream sauce over. I did have roasted Brussels sprouts, and they happily accepted the sauce, but I think some nice roasted potatoes, some creamy polenta, or even some plain ol' egg noodles would have also been excellent. We definitely had leftovers, so maybe I'll revisit that idea later this week. That is, if I haven't yet indulged in one of my favorite midnight snacks - cold chicken straight out of the fridge. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

i'm fried

Ngoc: "Babe, dinner's ready. I've done all I could."
Matty: "I'm sure it's great."
Ngoc: "We shall see. It's not very pretty, though."
Matty: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And my eye is hungry."

Gems like that aside, dinner was particularly fun this evening. Sort of finger food-y, street food-y, small bites-y fun. I took the recipe for Crabby Falafel Sliders and combined them with the idea from Mini Burgers with Couscous Salad for service.

The falafel comes together very quickly. Just a couple turns in the food processor and a toss in another bowl was all it took. I formed them into balls instead of patties because I thought they'd make a better presentation, and refrigerated them while I prepared our side, Avocado and Zucchini Fries.

I was originally only going to make the avocado version because I already hold dear in my heart unbeatable zucchini fries from Jim's (a shared "small" order made up a full lunch when I was in high school). However, Matty has a long-standing dislike for zucchini, and so it's been my mission to bring him over to the other side. (I don't think I've yet been successful, although I like to think this came close).

Anyway, he was still very suspicious as he bit in, but eventually concluded that nothing fried could taste bad. I guess my quest continues. However, he (and I) were thrilled with the avocado fries. The flavor of the avocado came through even with the thick batter (my usual tempura batter - equal parts flour and pale ale), and the creaminess was a lovely contrast to the crisp coating. It was a bit tricky to get the batter to stay on because the avocado is so slippery, so I think next time, a quick flour coating pre-batter will be necessary.

After these lovelies were fried, I drained them on paper towel-lined plates and kept them warm in a low oven, and turned my attention to the chilled falafel. I snuck a little taste pre-cooking - delicious. I was a little concerned the zest of an entire lemon might be a little overwhelming, but it perfectly balanced the earthiness of the cumin and the chickpeas (and a little citrus never hurt seafood).

I was hoping to get perfectly golden, crusty falafel, but in the end, I got the glop that you see in the photo (or can barely see in the photo - I swear it's on top of that whole-wheat couscous). Mighty tasty glop, but nothing I could really call falafel. I'm sure a really hot deep-fryer would probably turn out what I was looking for, but my half-inch of oil in a cast-iron skillet didn't work so well. Perhaps my heat was not high enough. I had anticipated searing to happen, with me doing a lot of flipping. However, loads of liquid leached out of them, turning my frying into more of a braise. I even heated up another frying pan (empty, no oil) and transferred them over, but almost immediately, braising began anew. I decided to cut my losses and just toss them over the couscous.

Next time, I would also like to try this falafel deconstructed as a salad, i.e. leave the chickpeas nearly whole, toss in crab, cilantro, cumin and lemon zest, eat. Maybe in a lettuce wrap. Anything but the stress of frying again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

super busy

This past week has been absolutely manic. Between waking up early for gym and work and rehearsing on alternate evenings, I feel like Matty and I haven't even seen each other all week. We managed to relax some yesterday before today brought on a new onslaught of obligations.

Item #1 on today's list was my performance with the Metropolitan Master Chorale. This time, I didn't volunteer to bake hundreds of cookies for our post-concert reception, but I did bring a little something for the singers to share: Coca-Cola Cake.

I was initially going to make a Guinness cake as a belated St. Patty's Day treat, especially since I couldn't make one for our Wednesday rehearsal as I had intended, but in what may be the last straw for my local Albertson's, they only had one 6-pack of Guinness left on the shelf, some hoodlum had taken two of the bottles, and the store wouldn't find a way to sell me the remaining 4. So, I left the store in a huff, intending to make do with the limited ingredients already in my kitchen.

Unfortunately, I was missing two key ingredients: buttermilk and marshmallows. Then I remembered I had a little sour cream, and some chocolate-covered marshmallows that our friend Laura had brought by. In a rare improvisational move, I ended up using what was close to about 1/4 cup sour cream and enough extra Coke to hit the 1/2 cup mark (figuring I needed the liquid that would have been the buttermilk), and dicing the marshmallows to mini-size. The sour cream bit seemed to work, but as you can tell from the surface of the cake, the marshmallows kind of clumped together and reformed to their original size. If I have to use pieces again next time, I'd give them a dusting of confectioner's sugar first in an effort to keep them separate.

Luckily, despite the substitutions, this cake was still a huge hit. Interestingly enough, I got a lot of guesses as to it being a gingerbread or spice cake. I know Nicole's description speaks to the "spicy flavor" of Coke, but I guess I never noticed. I was just glad it wasn't alarmingly sweet with all the sugar (although I did sub out 1/2 cup white for brown) plus the Coke. I was also too scared of it being too sweet to follow through with the glaze.

Make sure you grease the 13x9 pan well. It's such a delightfully moist and sticky cake that it doesn't separate from the pan very well. Other than that, no complaints!

And after a full day of choral activities, we came home and hosted my sister and her fiance for dinner and a wedding planning session. Since we're all trying to eat healthier and shape up for the wedding (well, at least Sister and I are), I decided to make Chorizo White Bean Baked Fish with some skillet broccoli.

I used soyrizo from Trader Joe's - love the stuff, and you seriously don't even miss the porkiness. I added pasta to make it a heftier meal - after the fish was done, I pulled the fillets out and tossed in about a pound of long pasta pulled from all parts of the pantry. The chorizo, white beans, onions and white wine had, in the oven, become an almost perfect pasta sauce. Just a little more salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and I would have eaten it without the fish. But the fish was the point, and its delicate texture paired perfectly with the slightly spicy carbs.

And even though we all had seconds, it was still light enough that I didn't feel too bad when I had to show my sister the bridesmaid dress we ordered. Score one for the skinny maid of honor!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

you are not what i thought you were

Inspired by this recipe for Orecchiete with Chanterelle, Sage, Walnut + Brown Butter, I threw together similar ingredients with some leftover Duck Confit to make what I was sure was going to be the greatest pasta dish known to humans. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to those expectations, but there were literally bites of pure magic sprinkled between the bites of just okay, and we both had liberal seconds, so I thought I'd share my recipe (and my suggestions for changes) anyway.

Farfalle with Duck Confit, Mushrooms + Hazelnuts
1 lb. farfalle
2 T. olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1/2 lb. chanterelle mushrooms ($39.99/lb at Gelson's. Are you effing joking? Replace with portobellos unless you like the taste of an empty checking account.)
2 large portobellos
3 pieces duck leg confit, shredded or diced
7 oz. arugula (I thought it was a nice contrast to the richness of the rest of the dish. Matty thought it lent a weird sour note. Use spinach for a more neutral flavor.)
2 c. hazelnut pieces

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large pot. Add shallots and cook until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Add duck and warm through. Add a T. of duck fat here if you feel it's necessary (and honestly, why wouldn't it be).

Add arugula to the pot and stir through to wilt. Alternately, you could add to pasta pot in the last few minutes of cooking.

Add drained pasta (and arugula if that's how you chose to cook it) to duck-mushroom mixture. Stir in hazelnut pieces. Serve with Parmesan.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

make up for lost time

This week has been completely insane, and it's hurt my soul to not have been able to cook all week. Boy did I make up for it today, though!

After cancelling on them twice in the last two months, we were finally able to go over to our friends Gabe and Allison's house to make brunch for them and their adorable kids. I had hoped to arrive with Collard Squares via The Wednesday Chef in hand, but a last-minute errand and some poor planning on my part meant I would have to bake the eggs when I got there.

There is one time-consuming step pre-baking that I did manage to do beforehand, though - cooking the collards down. As I was running short on time, I didn't boil them for the suggested hour - it was more like 35-45 minutes. They were tender enough for me - I didn't want to turn them gray or anything, and I wonder if next time, I could just do a quick saute and call it a day. Matty also suggested spinach to cut down on the cooking time. With either option, I'd only be wary of the possible extra liquid it would leach into the dish and throw off both the consistency and baking time.

But honestly, it's not like it's hard work to put a lid on a pot of collards and wait, and for something so delicious, delicious, delicious, I don't know that I would bother changing anything. I'd like to thank the shiitakes, the collards and the gruyere for working together in such perfect harmony to create what is clearly going to be a brunch staple. Do I hear Easter brunch? I hardly think it would be possible to serve this as an appetizer as serving anything so good in so small a serving would be nothing short of rude.

We also had Cinnamon Bun Pancakes, but frankly, I was obsessing over the collard squares too much to really pay them any attention. They did smell great - a tablespoon of cinnamon will do that. And the kids really seemed to enjoy them, especially their oldest, Piper, who enthusiastically helped herself to another pancake as soon as she was done with her first. She did not have the same distraction with the eggs as I did - she was wholly unconvinced that anything having to do with vegetables could be tasty. :)

On the way back from Gabe and Allison's, we stopped to visit my friend Anne, who'd been laid up in bed for a few days, to drop off some Apple Cider Muffins. I wasn't 5 minutes from her place before she texted, "All of us just devoured half the muffins! Awesome!" Sweet.

One note: do peel the apples. I was lazy, and thought I could use the excuse of adding nutritional value by keeping the peels on, but they really hold up the grating process. Just take the 30 seconds to run a vegetable peeler over them, and you'll make up that time grating.

I don't recall seeing how many muffins the recipe yielded, but I made 12 this morning, and had enough to make a short of sheet cake in an 8"x8" pan for dessert tonight/breakfast tomorrow morning.

And for the grand finale, Duck Confit for dinner with duck legs ordered from our new neighbors, McCall's Meat and Fish. This was supposed to be the vegetarian-breaker, but since I broke on a weeknight, it had to wait until tonight.

I nearly swooned with delight within the first 5 minutes of searing the duck on the stovetop. The smell was absolutely divine. I managed to get the first batch (4 legs) rendered in about 10 minutes, and moved on to the last 4. In the same amount of time, I managed to overbrown the legs. Hard to say if the heat was on just a little higher than the first batch or if the residual heat in the cast iron pan from the first batch affected it that much, but next time, I would take care to wipe out the pan before adding another batch.

To be real, this was more roast duck legs than actual confit - they're covered in foil for 2 of the 3 hours of oven time to keep from drying out, but they're not by any means covered in their own fat and set to simmer. Regardless of what they're called, they are melt-in-your-mouth amazing, moist without being greasy, and are just that much more enjoyable when you consider you didn't have to shell out extra money to buy all the duck fat required for real confit. Unfortunately, because they can't be refrigerated in that fat, I doubt they'll keep for as long as confit normally does, but a) that's an excuse to eat as much as quickly as possible, and b) I already have plans for the leftovers. Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, March 8, 2010

back to the egg

In my first full day back to omnivore-land, I wanted to celebrate the thing I missed most over the last seven weeks - the incredible, edible egg. When I saw this Creamy Pesto recipe, I immediately slapped it on to tonight's menu.

I halved the recipe because there wouldn't be any point in having leftovers - I didn't think the eggy sauce would keep and translate well the next day. However, after I tossed in the pasta and tasted for seasoning, I still felt like it could be creamier. I didn't expect anything as decadent as carbonara, even though this is very similar to carbonara in technique, but I was still looking for something a little richer. In went another egg yolk, and what came out was a dish that is destined to be a staple in this house.

It was fresh; it was rich. I loved the sharp spicy notes of the raw garlic. Add a little Parmesan to a serving, and it almost feels like everything you need in the entire world is right on the plate in front of you. And that's not even including the seared scallops and skillet broccoli next to it.

Adding to all that joy is how quickly everything came together - start the water boiling, and by the time the last bit of olive oil makes it down the feed tube, you'll have just about perfectly cooked angel hair pasta. And while I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't have leftovers, I was comforted by the fact that I could make this again without much more effort than reheating leftovers (and the fact that the sheer volume of what I did eat tonight will last me for quite a little while).

Spaghetti with Creamy Pesto
adapted from The Paupered Chef
Serves 4

6 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. salt
4 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves
6 T. olive oil
6 egg yolks
1 lb. spaghetti or other long pasta
additional salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan

1. In a food processor, puree the garlic, salt, and basil until everything is chopped very finely. Add the egg yolks and pulse a few times to combine, then add the oil little-by-little with the machine on until everything comes together into a thick sauce. Turn the sauce out into a serving bowl.

2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salty water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve a good cup or so of the pasta cooking water and drain the noodles. Add them to the serving bowl and toss immediately to coat. Add pasta water as needed, little by little and tossing, to achieve a creamy texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

in the end

I'm ending my vegetarian foray the way I came - with Mark Bittman. (Well, technically, I've got one more day, but I'm not cooking tomorrow). Wow, and I just realized it poured on Day 1 as well. Weird.

Anyway, tonight's dinner was Pasta with Chestnut Cream. I'm sure it would be immensely more delicious if you roasted your own chestnuts, but frankly, that was too much of a pain to do, so I used canned chestnuts in water. Not too shabby.

The chestnut creams ends up pretty thick, so you definitely want to save yourself plenty of pasta water to thin it out. And maybe I didn't have enough pasta water, because once it cooled, it kind of clumped up a bit. It's definitely a "serve immediately" kind of dish. I added a few ribbons of chard that I had in the fridge, and topped Matty's portion with some quickly sauteed shrimp, liberally doused in salt and pepper. I think having something to go with this pasta is key. It's got a pleasant flavor, but it's not like a pasta alfredo and able to stand on its own. It's a nice canvas, but definitely needs something to create more interest.

On the side was Parmesan Garlic Bread that was simply divine. It hurts my heart to think about how much butter I ingested with it, but hey, it's cold and raining, and it's the right thing to do. I used two pieces of ciabattini, halved, and after baking them wrapped in foil in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, I stuck them under the broiler until they were nicely browned. I liked the crispness, but I also really enjoyed the gooey centers - next time, I'll keep them in their foil packets for the full twenty minutes the recipe suggested for a nice soft garlic bread.

Friday, March 5, 2010

hope you like it

I feel like it's been a long time since I baked. I mean, I've made brownies a couple times, but they almost felt like cheating - melting butter in the microwave, stirring everything else in with a wooden spoon, pouring it into a baking pan and sticking in the oven. I miss having a production involving multiple bowls, flour on the counter and the whir of an electric mixer.

Our friend Laura's birthday was perfect occasion to put the Kitchen-Aid back into action. Add to that the fact that she wasn't feeling well, and I was more motivated than ever to find a nice decadent treat to keep her company while resting.

Enter Halfway Cookies. They sounded perfect. Basically a butter cookie bottom, a layer of melted chocolate (I added the remainder of a bag of Heath bar bits as well) and a brown sugar meringue. It smelled amazing baking up - what's not to love about butter, chocolate and brown sugar baking away in the oven. I nearly forgot I was still on the no-egg thing when I was trimming the pieces I would package for Laura.

A few notes:

- I've made a brown sugar meringue before, and I felt it took extra long to get the whites to peaks when I put both the whites and the sugar in together, so this time, I whipped the whites first, got them to slightly less than soft peaks, and then slowly spooned in the sugar. This may also have helped them form a distinct layer above the chocolate - Nemmie said her meringue baked right into the cookie.

- I think those little caramel droplets came from covering the cookies before we went to bed, and before they were completely cool last night.

Happy birthday, Laura! I'm sorry I wasn't able to quality-control them first, but hope you enjoyed them!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

roll with it

This is Rolled Chard with Tofu and Fermented Black Beans. No, that's not usually the kind of recipe name that calls out to me. I'll tell you what is, though. Rolled Kale with Feta and Olives. And while I read through that master recipe and drooled a bit, I couldn't justify such a cheese-heavy dish a mere day from having lasagna. I also had tofu that hadn't yet inspired me hanging out in the fridge, so variation time it was.

When I first told Matty what we were having, he managed to force out a pained, "That sounds delicious," but whether or not it was a direct consequence of his lowered expectations, we both actually enjoyed the dish. We did both agree that we would change one point of technique - instead of adding the beans and sake separately, I would whisk them together next time in order to better distribute all the flavors. As you can see, the beans clumped a bit, and even though there was plenty of tofu and greens to potentially balance everything out, some bites were particularly overwhelming. I would even consider upping the amount of sake (maybe to a cup) to mellow the dish out even more.

I served them over Lemon Quinoa - just a cup of dry quinoa prepared according to the package instructions, cooled slightly then flavored with 1 t. lemon zest and 2 t. lemon juice. Really helped to cut the pungency of the black beans. Still not a dish you should prepare for people you don't know very well. It's also probably not something you should bring to work the next day for lunch either. Just saying. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

another layer

Not much to report here as, basically, I just layered leftover Mushroom Bourguignon and Ratatouille with noodles, ricotta and fresh mozzarella and called it Leftovers Lasagna. Any order you like. Add some tomato sauce if you feel things are a little dry. 400-degree oven for 30 minutes. Yes.

However, I do think I've found a new way to prepare vegetables. Like last night's Cauliflower Steaks, I just seared broccoli florets in smoking hot olive oil, let them sit for about 3 minutes, flipped them as best I could, and let them sit for another 3 minutes. They came out with nice brown edges, but still-crisp, bright green stems. Matty said they were particularly good, and he already likes my roasted broccoli.

I ate way too much of both, and I have to report for jury duty at 7:30a, so I'm a little surprised I've stayed awake long enough to type even this much. Good night, friends.