Friday, December 31, 2010

what are you doing new year's eve

Have I mentioned that we just bought a TV? It is glorious. It's the first TV we've owned since we moved in together 4 1/2 years ago, and it's the first time I've had cable since college. And while football season was three-quarters of the way over by the time we got it, I'm making up for it big time this holiday season by watching every crappy bowl game that's televised (and there are plenty).

Today's crappy bowl game was Matty's alma mater Miami vs. Notre Dame. I wanted Miami to win, not just to be supportive, but to partially avenge USC's loss to ND last month (you know, the one that had me screaming for an hour in the rain).

Despite our spirit, though, Miami couldn't overcome its mistakes, and like the rest of this season, the mantra for today was, "At least the food was good."

I started us off with Tortilla Lime Soup. A couple of us are on the verge of colds, and it was a pretty chilly day - perfect soup scenario. I loved that it was so customizable - I left all of the garnishes out in separate bowls so folks could build their own bowl.

Tortilla Lime Soup
adapted from Soupapalooza

1 large dried New Mexico chile, stemmed and seeded
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 T. vegetable or olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 qt. chicken broth
1 1/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4 oz. cotija cheese, crumbled
roughly broken tortilla chips
1 large lime

1. Break the dried chile into pieces and toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again. Put in a food processor along with the tomatoes and their juice.

2. Heat the oil in a medium (4-qt.) saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the food processor. Process until smooth.

3. Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt. A full T. seemed to be enough for me.

4. Just before serving, add the chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the avocado, cheese and tortilla chips between serving bowls. When the chicken is done, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Pass the lime separately.

And because football isn't complete without red meat, Cuban Frita Sliders. Obviously, I don't use soyrizo because I'm concerned about the amount of meat in my diet, but I really like the flavor and texture of Trader Joe's soyrizo, and it was the perfect addition to these sliders. Not very spicy at all - I added a swipe of Trader Joe's spicy guacamole to it, and found it to be perfect. I may also whip up some Cholula mayo next time I make these as well.

Cuban Frita Sliders
adapted from Bitchin' Camero
Makes 24 sliders.

12 oz. Trader Joe's soyrizo
2 lbs. 85-15 ground beef
24 King's Hawaiian sweet rolls

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove the casing from the soyrizo and discard. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the soyrizo and beef together until they’re evenly distributed, then make small patties that are about 2 inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick. Place them in a large cast-iron pan as you go.

3. Bake the patties until they are done to your liking. Stuff them into Hawaiian rolls with your choice of condiments - mine were pepperjack cheese and guacamole.

And sorry there's no photo for today's dessert, but Key lime pie usually always looks the same, so how about the one over here.

This one was so incredibly easy, I couldn't handle myself. I mean, if you were in a time pinch, you could buy a graham cracker crust, whip up and bake the custard within a half hour, and pop it in the fridge before your beauty sleep. And it's actually good. The crust was a little sweet for me, so I'd take out the sugar completely next time, but other than that, I'm excited for this in my repertoire.

Key Lime Pie
adapted from Epicurious

For crust
5 (5" x 2 1/2") graham crackers, broken into small pieces
1 c. almonds
1/4 c. sugar
4 T. unsalted butter, melted

For filling
2 (14-oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
grated zest of 2 Key limes
1 cup fresh Key lime juice (from about 2 lbs. fresh Key limes)
4 large egg yolks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle. Butter a 9" pie plate.

2. Pulse together graham crackers, almonds, and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in butter. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of pie plate. Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely. (Leave oven on).

3. Gently whisk together filling ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth and pour into crust. Bake until just set in center, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Cool completely (filling will set as it cools). Chill pie, loosely covered, at least a few hours.

And finally, after a full day of football, I popped out to the grocery store for two packages of bacon and whipped up some appetizers for the folks meeting us at the house before we headed out to New Year's Eve dinner. I would have been just as happy making another Julia Child dinner, but we've hosted the last couple of years, and Matty wanted to mix things up this year by going out. I was still going to cook, though, and these Bacon-Wrapped Figs were to-die-for (and a great way to use up figs I've been neglecting in my pantry.

Regular bacon is fine, too, but I thought the peppered stuff was a fun contrast to the sweet, jammy figs.

Bacon-Wrapped Figs
1 lb. Neuske's peppered bacon
36 dried figs

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut each slice of bacon cross-wise into pieces large enough to fit around your figs. Skewer close with a toothpick.

3. Set the figs onto a cooling rack set over a foil-lined, rimmed cookie sheet so the bacon can render while baking. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bacon is done to your liking.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

time is so short

So let's say you're on a flight that lands at 1:00 in the morning. Although the entire flight is fairly smooth, you can't sleep a wink, and just as you've finally found a somewhat comfortable position (hunched over the tray table, resting on a book and your winter jacket), the captain alerts you, via speakers set to 11, that you'll be descending. Frankly, I've never cared. I'll figure out when we're descending when I see the city lights. Anyway, upon your descent, you're greeted with the Winds of 2010, and get thrown about the plane laterally (which I guess is better than vertically). Your very nice friend picks you up, but you don't manage to get into bed until 2:30a or so.

You wake up to your cell phone ringing. That's never good. Apparently, the "Christmas" dinner you confirmed a couple days ago is being moved to a lunch, and just like that, your day becomes 4 hours shorter. It's a good thing you finished crocheting your great-aunt's Christmas present in the airport, but what are you going to do about everything you were going to get done this afternoon, including the dessert you were going to make for dinner?

Enter Crostata della Nonna, aka Best Party Trick Ever. Sure, it still takes about an hour of time, but 50 of those minutes you can spend enjoying the smells of butter and jam coming out of your oven. That is, if you're not using those 50 minutes to scrub yourself of plane stank and try to look presentable enough for normal society. By the way, the tart cools great on your lap on the way to dinner, I mean, lunch.

Crostata della Nonna
from Epicurious

2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. packed grated lemon peel
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. plus 2 T. chilled unsalted butter, diced
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 cup preserves of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend flour, sugar, lemon peel and salt in processor for 10 seconds. Add butter and process until coarse meal forms. Add yolks and egg and process until moist clumps form. Transfer dough to work surface. Gather dough into ball and knead 1 minute.

2. Divide dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Press larger dough piece evenly onto bottom and halfway up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Spread 1 cup preserves in crust. Cut remaining dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll pieces between hands and work surface into pencil-thin ropes. Arrange 6 ropes over preserves, spacing evenly and pressing ends to seal at crust edge; trim extra dough. Arrange remaining 6 ropes in opposite direction, spacing evenly and forming lattice pattern. Press ends to seal at crust edge; trim extra dough.

3. Bake tart until crust is golden brown, piercing with toothpick if bottom crust bubbles, about 50 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

(The photo is of the tart I made for a dinner party with the ladies in the office. I used 3/4 c. of raspberry preserves then. Today's tart had a cup of apricot preserves. I can't wait to make one with some grape preserves, my favorite).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

underneath your clothes

I like cauliflower. I even liked it as a kid. Along with all those crucifers that kids aren't supposed to like. You see, I wasn't chubbers because I didn't like my veggies and ate junk. I was chubbers because I liked everything.

So when I saw this Cauliflower Gratin recipe, and the testimonial that it would sway even the cauli-haters, I was excited. Not that I needed the swaying, but because this recipe must elevate the cauliflower to an even higher pedestal than I already had it on.

And this recipe is good. Rich, creamy, decadent. It was perhaps a bit much with all the Chicken Pot Pie that we also had with dinner - would probably be at its tastiest as a main with a big salad.

But I still had issues with it. As much as it was a wonderfully comforting dish, it didn't really highlight the cauliflower. Between all the eggs, cream and cheese, and the way the texture of the cauliflower softened in all that liquid, you couldn't really tell which bites had cauliflower and which bites were just custard. I was hoping for a recipe that would sway by highlighting the qualities of cauliflower that I love, not just hide it under the flavors that the veggie-averse are comfortable with (i.e. cheese).

For the most bang out of my caloric buck, I would probably just stick to roasting cauliflower to make it the best it can be, but there's always a time and place for a big, gooey gratin, so here's the recipe:

Cauliflower Gratin
from Around My French Table via Leite's Culinaria

butter for the baking dish
1 medium head of cauliflower (about 2 1/2 lbs.)
1/4 lb. bacon, cut crosswise into slender strips
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. whole milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
3 oz. Gruyère, grated

1. Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously butter a 2 1/2-qt. ovenproof dish and place it on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut florets from the cauliflower, leaving about an inch or so of stem. Drop the florets into the boiling water and cook until fork-tender, anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the florets. (Alternatively, you can steam the florets over salted water). Drain and rinse the cauliflower florets under cold running water to cool them and pat them completely dry.

3. While the cauliflower is cooking, toss the bacon strips into a heavy skillet, place the skillet over medium heat, and cook just until the bacon is browned but not crisp. Drain and pat dry.

4. Spread the cauliflower in the buttered pan and scatter the bacon over the top.

5. Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the eggs until blended. Slowly whisk in the cream and milk. Season the mixture with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir in about 2/3 of the cheese. Pour the mixture over the cauliflower and bacon, shaking the pan a little so that the liquid settles between the florets. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top.

6. Bake the cauliflower-bacon gratin for about 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top isn’t as brown as you’d like, run the gratin under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

7. The gratin is best just from the oven or warm, although it can be enjoyed at room temperature, just like a quiche. You really should eat the cauliflower-bacon gratin the day it’s made, but if you’ve got leftovers, cover and refrigerate them, then let them come to room temperature or warm briefly and gently in the oven.

Friday, December 24, 2010

worth sharing

I packed in record time for our Christmas trip, and of course, that means I've spent the last 4 days slowly discovering things I've left behind. The latest is the camera cord, so there won't be pictures of this year's mac and cheese extravaganza, but I had to share the text anyway.

***EDIT*** I just realized I could stick my SD card right into my laptop. You learn something new every day. You're welcome.

The stayover from last year's cooking was the Habanero Mac, and while there were many Cabot flavors available at the grocery store, the habanero stuff wasn't there. This year I subbed in a mix of chipotle cheddar and a jalapeno-cayenne cheddar, but unfortunately, it didn't get spicy enough. It was delicious, and the texture was near perfect, but next year, we'll make it a point to track down the habanero cheese.

Ngoc + Matty's Spicy Mac + Cheese, 2010 Edition
2009 Edition here

1 lb. pasta
4 T. butter
1 c. half and half
1 lb. Velveeta, cubed
8 oz. Chipotle Cheddar
8 oz. Jalapeno/Cayenne Cheddar
salt and pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking all the while. Add all cheeses and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add pasta to saucepan and toss to coat. Pour into 13x9 casserole dish and bake in a 350-degree oven until top is browned.

And then, of course, there is always one tin of mac and cheese that we have to fool around with. This year's additions were caramelized onions and bacon. Yes and yes. I really loved what the egg yolks did to the texture - nearly carbonara-like. Unfortunately, we had it in the oven to keep warm, and with all the mania in the kitchen, it unwittingly got baked a second time, so by the time it was served, it was a dried-out mess. I felt bad for everyone else, but was kind of glad we got to sneak a spoonful in the cooking process. Family, I promise it's good when cooked only once!

Mac + Cheese with Bacon + Caramelized Onions
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1 lb. small shells
4 T. salted butter
2 whole medium onions, sliced into half-moons
10 slices bacon, cut into 1/2"-thick lardons
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c. whole milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. grated Gruyere
1/2 c. grated Fontina
1/2 c. Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook macaroni for half the time of the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

3. Fry bacon in a large pot until slightly, but not overly, crispy. Drain on a paper towel.

4. Saute onions in the leftover bacon fat over medium-low heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown and soft. Drain on top of the bacon.

5. Melt 4 T. butter in the same pot. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for 1 minute. Pour in milk, then cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until thick. Reduce heat to low. Add salt & pepper to taste.

6. Beat egg yolks and drizzle 1/4 c. hot mixture into the yolks, stirring constantly. Stir to combine. Pour egg mixture into sauce and cook for another minute.

7. Add cheeses and stir until melted. Add onions and bacon and stir. Taste for seasonings and add more salt if needed. Add cooked macaroni and stir to coat.

8. Pour into a baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until sizzling and hot.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

better than before

I don't think I've ever had homemade chicken pot pie. There were plenty of Banquet frozen pot pies back in my broke-ass, I mean freelance, days, but it could not prepare me for the goodness of this Ina Garten recipe for Cooking Club.

We caused a little bit of stress for ourselves by making a little homemade stock in a brand-new pressure cooker - it would have been unbearably easy with some canned stuff. There's a lot of chopping involved, but the recipe is really straightforward. To save some trouble and an extra pot to wash with blanching the vegetables, we tossed in the carrots raw and added quartered Brussels sprout nubbins from our salad in with the onions towards the end of their saute process.

We ran out of white flour, so what you see in the back is a crust made with whole wheat flour. I liked the way the hearty nuttiness of that crust contrasted with the sweetness of the vegetables in the filling, but the overall consensus was that the white flour crust was preferred.

The broth was quite a bit thinner than the processed pot pies I remember from all those years ago, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It was only slightly thicker than a regular chicken soup, but it was still delightfully comforting, especially with the amazing flaky crust. And with this recipe making quite a bit of filling, it's good to know that the leftovers are equally good with extra pastry baked on top as a pie as it is straight out of a bowl as a soup.

Chicken Pot Pie
adapted from Ina Garten

3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
3 T. olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
5 c. chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 chicken bouillon cubes
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 c. yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 c. medium-diced carrots
1 10-oz package frozen peas (2 cups)
1 1/2 c. frozen small whole onions
1/2 c. minced fresh parsley leaves

For the pastry:
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. baking powder
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/4 lb. cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 c. ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 T. water, for egg wash
flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions and parsley. Mix well.

3. For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

5. Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

i'll never get enough of you

Our Cooking Club (yes I'm capitalizing it because we still don't have an official name) started off Sunday afternoon with this Brussels Sprouts Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette. Actually, we all started with our respective vices (mostly wine and caffeine) just to get through de-leafing 3 pounds worth of Brussels sprouts (we tripled the recipe). That has got to be one of the more time-consuming prep tasks I've ever had to do, but in the end, the salad was completely worth it. Nothing was wasted, either - the nubbins we gave up on were quartered and added to our chicken pot pie (more on that later this week).

This is one of those salads that is nice enough for company, served as a first course, but I could also see myself sitting down to a heaping bowl of this and having the whole thing as my entree. It's so light and lovely, that it's hard to get quite enough.

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
from La Grande Orange Cafe via the Los Angeles Times

Mustard Vinaigrette
2 T. honey
1 1/2 T. champagne vinegar, more as desired
1 T. fresh lemon juice with pulp
1 1/2 t. lemon zest
1 1/2 t. whole grain mustard, more as desired
1 1/2 t. minced garlic
3/4 c. light olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, vinegar, lemon juice, zest, mustard and garlic. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the olive oil until the oil is thoroughly incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and brighten the dressing as desired with a little extra vinegar and mustard. Chill well before using. This makes a generous cup of dressing, more than is needed for this recipe, and will keep for 1 week, covered and refrigerated.

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 T. dried cranberries
1 T. dried blueberries
2 T. toasted whole almonds, preferably California or Spanish Marcona
3 T. mustard vinaigrette
1 oz. Manchego cheese, shaved using a peeler

1. Peel the leaves from the Brussels sprouts, discarding the core. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the Brussels sprouts leaves just until they are a vibrant green and barely tender. Drain immediately and place in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry well. You should have 3 cups of leaves.

2. In a large bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts leaves, cranberries, blueberries, almonds and just enough vinaigrette to lightly moisten.

3. Mound the salad on a plate, and top with the cheese shavings. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

wanna know the trade-off

How do you get a free ride to LAX for a red-eye? You combine all of your friend's favorite flavors into one magnificent pasta dish, pair it with a surprisingly complementary chicken dish you've been meaning to try forever, and end it with a baked Alaska filled with sugar-free hazelnut gelato for his diabetic ass, and you're golden. :)

The dinner was a happy accident. I was perusing through the newest addition to my cookbook collection (courtesy of my co-worker Leah), and when I came to page 60 of the aptly titled I Love Bacon!, I immediately put the book down. I knew I had found a winner.

Nothing that combines pasta, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, hazelnuts and bacon could ever be bad, but the dish could be vastly improved by just a few slight tweaks. I wanted to roast rather than just saute the vegetables, but I upped the amount of Brussels sprouts, and in so doing, overcrowded my skillet. The veggies steamed in the oven rather than roasted and caramelized like I was hoping for. I'd also toss in some more bacon with the extra veggies. A smaller, flatter pasta might also work better. I'm thinking orecchiette next time.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Hazelnuts and Bacon
adapted from I Love Bacon!
Serves 6

1/4 lb. thick-cut bacon, minced
1 sweet onion, diced
24 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
12 oz. diced cauliflower
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. whole hazelnuts
1 lb. penne
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small ovenproof skillet or on a baking sheet, toast the hazelnuts for 10 minutes. Cool, then remove the husks.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside. To the rendered fat, add the onion, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and olive oil. Roast in the 400-degree oven until nicely browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water, salt it and bring it to a boil over high head. Add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.

4. When the vegetables are done, add garlic, cream and cooked bacon. Stir, and lower the heat to cook at a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pasta to the vegetables and toss well. Add the hazelnuts and parsley. Toss again and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve hot.

I wanted to add a protein that was more than just the flavoring the bacon did in the pasta dish, so I tried this Melissa Clark recipe I found on Serious Eats. It was such a perfect match for the pasta that I could have tossed everything in together, and no one would have been any the wiser that it was two separate recipes. And while I still shudder when I accidentally bite down on a whole coriander seed, the overall flavor of the dish was well worth working around the seeds.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Apples, Gin and Coriander Seeds
from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite via Serious Eats
Serves 2-3

1 large or 2 small apples
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. white vermouth
1 1/2 t. gin
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro, dill, or parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. whole coriander seeds
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Core the apples and slice as thinly as you can.

2. In a 9 x 13-inch pan, toss all the ingredients except 1 tablespoon cilantro (or dill or parsley). Spread the ingredients out into one layer in the pan. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the apples are softened, about 20 minutes. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon cilantro, dill, or parsley.

And of course, by the end of the meal, I was entirely too frazzled (and cutting it way too close to our departure time), that I forgot photos of the chicken and the baked Alaska. I've still got tweaking to do on the baked Alaska, though, so I'll wait for another post to feature it.

Hey, Greg. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

baby, baby

Baby showers make me nervous. I feel completely out of my element. But I'll take an excuse to make a basket full of scones and to drink Prosecco at three in the afternoon. And, of course, to wish health and happiness to my friend Jessie, and partake in delightful conversation with some of my favorite sopranos and altos. It's not just the Prosecco, I swear.

My contributions to the beautiful spread of tea sandwiches, macaroons and chocolate cake were Jalapeno Pepperjack Scones and Ginger Maple Scones. The ginger-maple ones were proper tea-time treats - crumbly, barely-sweetened dainty things that got just a little pop of attitude from the pockets of heat the crystallized ginger I just couldn't look away from at Whole Foods provided. Perfect spread with just a little apricot preserves.

The pockets of heat from the jalapeno-pepperjack scones were definitely more than just a pop of attitude - I had purposely tried to make every bite as spicy as possible by replacing the cheddar with pepperjack. These are definitely not dainty - more biscuit than scone, they were rich, buttery and flaky.

Ginger Maple Scones
adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Makes 16 scones

1/4 c. maple syrup
6 T. cream
2 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. quinoa flakes (or rolled oats)
1 1/2 T. baking powder
1/2 t. fine grain sea salt
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, diced
11 T. unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees, rack in the top 1/3. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the maple syrup and milk in a small cup, and set aside. Combine the flour, quinoa, baking powder, salt and ginger together in a bowl. Using your hands, smoosh the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles wet sand. Add the maple syrup milk. Mix until the dough just comes together.

3. Divide the dough in half, and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Flatten each half into a disc about 3/4" thick and slice each disc into 8 wedges. Arrange the scones next to one another on the prepared baking sheet - 1/4" distance between each of them. Brush generously with the egg wash. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden along the bottom and tops.

Jalapeno Pepperjack Scones
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 16 scones

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
8 T. cold butter, diced
1/2 c. heavy cream
3 eggs, divided
1/4 lb. pepperjack cheese, diced
2 small jalapeños pepper, minced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small skillet, melt 1/2 T. of butter and sauté the jalapeños in it until soft, about two minutes. Let them cool, then place them in a small bowl with the cheddar cheese and coat them with one tablespoon of the flour. Combine the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Cut in the remaining butter with your hands until the butter bits are pea sized.

2. Lightly whip two of the eggs and cream and add to the flour-butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold mixture until it begins to come together. Add the cheddar-jalapeño mixture to the dough and mix until everything is incorporated.

3. Divide the dough in half and turn out onto a well-floured surface. Knead gently for less than one minute. Pat each half out to a 3/4- to 1-inch thickness and cut into 8 wedges. Make an egg wash by beating the remaining egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the scones with egg wash and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, December 13, 2010

while we're in between

And so it begins. The onslaught of holiday parties. I've not had a free evening since Thursday night, we've got plans all the way through our red-eye escape from LA on Sunday, and that's just the way I like to celebrate this time of year.

You know how I like to post things as they happen, but because of the schedule and the holidays, I'll slowly be posting recipes from what became an epic cooking weekend, and what holiday gift giving I'll be able to bang out via the kitchen.

So we start with Saturday, which began with some very unsuccessful Christmas shopping, and ended with our friend Monique's birthday party. In between, we thought we better feed ourselves, so made a nice heavy late lunch/light early dinner of Halibut Spring Rolls with Pickled Onions inspired by a recipe from Serious Eats.

I didn't feel like anything quite as substantial as a ciabatta sandwich, so I used rice paper wrappers to make spring rolls instead. Loved the interplay of the mild but well-seasoned fish with the bite and still slight crunch of the onions. This truly was the perfect linner, paired with a new recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts which I apparently was too busy devouring to photograph. The Sriracha-mint dressing the sprouts are meant to be dressed in ended up being a dipping sauce for both them and the spring rolls.

Halibut Spring Rolls with Pickled Onions
adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 2

1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
2 T. rice vinegar
1/2 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
2 T. fish sauce
1/2 lb. halibut fillet, sliced in half crosswise
10 rice paper wrappers
1 large sprig mint

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add the red onions and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

2. In a separate bowl, add the fish sauce and halibut. Toss well, cover with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Dry on paper towels.

3. Place a large skillet set over high heat. When hot, pour in a tablespoon of canola oil and then add the halibut. Sear for 2 minutes on each side.

4. Prepare rice paper according to package directions. Layer in halibut, onions and mint, roll up and dip in sriracha-mint sauce (recipe below).

Sriracha-Mint Dipping Sauce
from White on Rice Couple

4 T. water
2 T. fish sauce
2 T. Sriracha
1/2 T. crushed garlic
2 t. lime juice
1 t. packed brown sugar
1 t. rice vinegar
1/4 c. finely chopped mint

1. Stir all ingredients together. Refrigerate while preparing the rest of the meal for flavors to meld.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

there's no time

I never thought I would ever say it, but I have been too busy to cook. This has been made painfully obvious this week - with the Thanksgiving leftovers finally polished off, the home-cooked meals are far and few between. When nearly every minute of your waking life is spent answering an email, it's difficult to find time to do basic things like keep your fridge stocked and wait for food to cook.

In related news, (and please don't tell anyone), I've worn the same pair of pants for about two weeks. I did change out of them and into something pretty to sing with the Metropolitan Master Chorale this weekend, but they're back on now. No time for laundry, either. Too many emails. Even after I close my computer down for the night, I still hear email pings. I have figured out, though, that the pings are pitched to about an F#, so my crazy may one day be put to good use.

But anyway, I got home at a decent hour last night, swung by the grocery store, and had this delicious soup on the table in about a half hour. It was warm and filling, the richness of the cheese and the brininess of the shellfish balanced out the by the tang of the red wine vinegar. The broth could stand to be a little thicker, so I may add potatoes the next go-around. I also considered using a brown rice as the carb instead of the baguette, and that might be a fun texture as well.

Garlic Soup with Mussels + Clams
adapted from The Wednesday Chef
Serves 2 as an entree

1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 lb. Manila clams, scrubbed
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 c. (2 oz.) grated Gruyere
ground pepper

1. Place the mussels, clams, wine and broth in a large saucepan over moderately high heat. Cover and cook until the shells open, 4 to 6 minutes. Strain the mussels into a colander, collecting the juices in a bowl placed below.

2. Heat the olive oil in the same saucepan over low heat, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until pale gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Do not let brown.

3. Add the mussel juice to the garlic, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat to very low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the mussels and clams from the shells.

4. Remove the soup from the heat. Combine the egg yolk, vinegar and a couple tablespoons of the soup in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a whisk until the mixture gets foamy. Slowly pour the mixture back into the remaining soup, continuing to beat with a whisk.

5. To serve, place a few baguette slices, 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese and some mussels on the bottom of 4 wide soup bowls. Cover with soup and add pepper to taste.