Monday, January 31, 2011

getting late


Matty's been out late doing final mixes on the Kingsize record, and while I'm so excited for that record to be shared with the world, the self-pitying me hates eating alone. So I've taken to what may not be the healthiest eating strategy I can employ - snacking when I get home and having dinner with him late, then going immediately to bed. No wonder the Christmas butt isn't going away.

I have two options when it comes to these late dinners - 1) I snack and wait around to whip up something quick, or 2) I snack and spend my entire evening in the kitchen cooking something whose prep time is almost weekend-worthy.

There are perks to both. Since it only took the 30 minutes it takes for him to get home from the Valley for me to make this Cider-Glazed Salmon, I got to spend the rest of the evening being disappointed in the Lakers once again. Woohoo.

The salmon was the opposite, though. The cider imparts just the gentlest sweetness while the fish is being poached, and it's not until it's reduced to the final glaze that it turns into candy-sweet caramel. Matty thought it was too sweet to include in his dinner, but I felt that in the tiniest of doses, it made for a very interesting flavor combination.

Cider-Glazed Salmon
from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life
Serves 4

1 T. butter
1 medium shallot, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 c. fresh unfiltered apple cider
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
Salt
1/2 c. heavy cream

1. In a large, heavy 12" skillet, combine the butter, shallot and cider. Place over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove and discard the shallot.

2. Place the fillets gently in the pan, adjusting the heat so that the liquid just trembles. Spoon a bit of the liquid over them, so that their tops begin to cook. Cover and simmer very gently. The fillets will cook for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. To test for doneness, make a small slit with a paring knife in the thickest part of the fillet: all but the very center of each piece should be opaque. (It will keep cooking after you pull it from the heat). Transfer the cooked salmon to a platter, and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

3. To prepare the glaze, raise the heat under the pan to medium-high, add a pinch of salt, and simmer, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced by about two-thirds. It should be slightly thickened and should just cover the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the cream. Stir well to combine. Return the heat to medium-high and boil, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, until the mixture darkens to a pale golden caramel--like those Brach's Milk Maid caramel candies, if that helps--and is reduced by one-third to one-half.

4. Place the salmon fillets on 4 plates and top each with a spoonful of sauce. It should coat them like a thin, loose glaze. Serve immediately.

Note: If you'd like to make this for only 2 people, halve the amount of salmon, but not the sauce quantities.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

saturday


I love scones. They make me think of tea and being leisurely but still proper. Perfect for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast. Or a busy one full of ticket counts and video shoots.

Whatever your Saturday morning is, it can only be improved by these scones. My friend Todd said they smelled like eggnog, and come this holiday season (or next weekend), I'll be substituting eggnog for the cream in this recipe to kick it into further holiday gear.

The oatmeal makes you feel a little virtuous, especially if you're cheating on your diet. Excellent alone, stupendous with a smear of good butter and homemade preserves. Turn your day into Saturday now!

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes 16 scones

1 large egg
1/2 c. cold buttermilk
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/3 c. old-fashioned oats
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
10 T. butter, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Stir the egg and buttermilk together.

3. Whisk the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter, and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.

4. Pour the egg and buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a fork just until the dough comes together.

5. Gather the dough into two balls and press each into a disk about 3/4" thick. Cut each disk into 8 wedges and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the tops are golden. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

what i want, want, want


Dinner tonight was going to be a very terse dance with time - I had 3 hours to get home from the office, make and eat dinner, and turn back around for a meeting. I contemplated picking up our favorite Thai and calling it a night, but I accidentally glanced at the Stickies I have open with recipes I need to make from my Christmas cookbooks, and my brain couldn't shake the thought of shrimp polpettini.

Yeah. Brilliant, Ngoc. You just said you don't have any time, and then you decide you have to make mini meatballs from scratch. Out of shrimp?! Ding-dong.

Anyway, Practical Self screaming at Dreamy, Wide-Eyed Foodie Self doesn't help anything. DWEFS won this battle, but PS had a good laugh when I freaked out at how soft the shrimp mixture turned out. Making 50 polpettini was not going to be the cakewalk I hoped. I just kept telling myself that this was just like my ricotta gnocchi, and that the sticky, messy trouble of forming these would be balanced out by my reward of having heavenly, fluffy dumplings.

Luckily, I was right. For the rest of the dish - I didn't feel like fagioli (the original recipe calls for white beans in the sauce), so I just sauteed some Brussels sprouts and tossed in the polpettini and pappardelle with the tiniest bit of pasta water (which by the way, was mostly chicken broth that the polpettini had poached in - go go Gadget flavor boost!). Loved the way all the flavors played with each other - from the lemon zest in the polpettini to the chopped sage and rosemary that went on top.

So thrilling and delicious to be right. And to have time to enjoy it all.

Pappardelle with Shrimp Polpettini + Brussels Sprouts
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 c. panko
1 large egg
3 T. heavy cream
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 c. chicken broth
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered, depending on size
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. chopped fresh sage
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
8 oz. pappardelle

1. Combine shrimp, panko, cream and zest in the bowl of a food processor. Salt and pepper liberally. Form into small meatballs - I got about 50.

2. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and drop in about a quarter of the meatballs. Return to boil and cook until meatballs are pink and float, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a platter and keep warm. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

3. Add water to the pot of chicken stock until you have enough to cook the pasta in. Cook pasta according to package directions.

4. Meanwhile, melt butter with olive oil in a large 12" skillet. Add the garlic and Brussels sprouts and saute until sprouts are golden on the edges. Add meatballs to warm through. When pasta is done, add to the skillet along with the herbs and toss to combine. Add a little of the pasta cooking water if it seems too dry. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 24, 2011

omaha


We're not the type of people who answer our cell phones when we don't recognize the number. But one night last December, Matty decided to take a chance when his phone rang. He must have known somehow. It was a lovely woman who wanted to know when the most convenient time would be to deliver a large package from Omaha Steaks!

The funny thing was, she wouldn't tell us who it was from. And then it's not at all obvious when the package does come - we tore the box apart trying to find the gift message. When we finally did, we had to call Matty's grandma up immediately and thank her for filling our freezer with all kinds of nice treats.

We've actually not gotten into the steaks yet - just the great burgers and today, these cute little chicken breasts. I mean, I don't know the last time I went to the store and found 4 chicken breasts that fit under the 1 lb. mark. Anyway, with a couple of deli fixings that I bought when I went to Gelson's hungry one night, I made this little twist on Chicken Cordon Bleu.

The salty, peppered pastrami was a great contrast to the mild chicken, and while I would have preferred the bite of Swiss, the Muenster still melted down pretty well. I also loved that the combination of the fatty pastrami and the quick, low cooking time yielded chicken that was perfectly moist and flavorful.

Pastrami Cordon Bleu
4 chicken breasts, about 1 lb.
16 thin slices pastrami
4 slices Muenster cheese
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Halve chicken breasts horizontally and lay 2 slices of pastrami on the chicken. Layer on Muenster and remaining pastrami. Fold chicken over and salt and pepper.

3. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

dream come true


I'm trying out this new thing where I don't set my alarm on the weekend. Novel, I know.

It started last weekend. When we woke up, Matty asked if he could take me to The Alcove. Um, yes please and thank you. We're usually breakfast burrito/quesadilla/eggs Benedict kind of people, but we really mixed things up this morning. I ordered their steak salad and added two poached eggs on top - super delicious, and not as weird as it sounds when you think of it as steak and eggs with a salad on the side. Matty had crepes. Really weird. He hardly ever wants sweet breakfast.

He ended up explaining that he had a hare-brained idea when he woke up - French toast made of lemon poppy seed muffins, and thought the berry crepes he ordered would do the trick. Well, damn. I mean, he could have just asked...

So anyway. This whole process probably takes too much time to start in one morning, but it's amazing if you have leftover lemon poppyseed muffins. Since I meant to make this French toast this morning, I started on the muffins last night. Except to make it into neater French toast slices, I baked everything in a loaf pan instead of as individual muffins.

These were decadent. The egg batter made the slices crispy on the outside, but meltingly tender on the inside. Just enough lemon flavor to be distinct, but not enough to be completely weird with all the eggy-ness. Extra good with a little maple syrup, probably out of control with just a little drizzle of lemon icing. I'll let you report back on how it is with icing, though. Not seeing an alarm clock means I wake up a minute before my yoga class starts, foiling yet another trip to the gym. Tomorrow?

Lemon Poppy Seed French Toast
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the cake
2/3 c. sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. sour cream
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
2 T. poppy seeds

For the custard
2 eggs
1/2 c. milk

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.

2. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. In another large bowl, whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Stir in the poppy seeds. Pour into loaf pan.

4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

5. While cake is cooling, whisk together eggs and milk for the custard. Pour into a pie plate. After cake has cooled, slice into 3/4-inch slices. Dip each slice into the custard, letting it soak for 30 seconds per side.

6. Melt 2 T. butter in a large nonstick skillet. Fry the soaked cake slices until brown on both sides, about 3 minutes each. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

oh, what a beautiful morning


I've already had quite an exciting morning! Not only was I finally going to be making my first recipe out of A Homemade Life, a book I've adored and wept over for months, it was going to be buckwheat pancakes. And then, when I opened the pantry to pull out the buckwheat flour, I got the surprise of my life when I saw how organized the shelves were.

I had completely forgotten that I had blown through a Sur La Table gift card to purchase a whole set of OXO Pop Containers, and Matty and I went to town on the pantry last weekend. What a lovely feeling of accomplishment, made extra special by the fact that it was a surprise because my brain is like a sieve these days. I made a point to very neatly return the flour to its corner.

And then, just as I was about to pour the batter on the griddle, I got a phone call to man my laptop as Katy's California Dreams Tour was already adding shows. After monitoring that for a minute, it was back to the kitchen and my pancakes.

Delish, I tell you. They manage to be hearty and satisfying while maintaining incredible fluffiness. I added a handful each of dried blueberries and cranberries, and they added just the right amount of sweetness to complement the salted butter I was liberally spreading on each one.

The excitement of this morning won't be topped any time soon. Organization! Buckwheat! Pancakes! Blueberries! Butter! Tour! Whee!

Buckwheat Pancakes
From Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life
Makes 8-10 pancakes

2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. buckwheat flour
2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
3/4 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. plus 2 T. milk
1 large egg, separated
2 T. butter, melted and cooled

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

2. Pour the buttermilk and milk into a medium bowl. Whisk the egg white into the milk mixture. In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the yolk with the melted butter. Whisk the yolk mixture into the milk mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients all at once, and whisk until just combined.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Brush the skillet with oil.

3. Ladle the batter in scant 1/4-cupfuls into the skillet. When the underside of the pancakes is nicely browned and top starts to bubble and look set around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes, flip them. Cook until the second side has browned, 1 to 2 minutes more.

4. Serve warm, with butter and maple syrup.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

keep it simple


Finally wrapping up Sunday's brunch festivities here with the sides: Duck Fat Potatoes and Avocado-Grapefruit Salad. No terribly complicated instructions for either of them, but their simplicity is welcome when preparing a large spread.

For the potatoes, I would be careful to tend properly to them while boiling. I let mine sit a little too long, and when I went to turn them halfway through the baking process, quite a few wedges smooshed. While they were still good, it really ruined my ability to go for the perfect golden-brown wedges I was looking for.

And for the salad, any good balsamic vinegar will do. I was lucky enough to still have some peach balsamic from Beyond the Olive, which perked the salad up with just a little bit of extra sweetness. A very refreshing side that goes as well with eggs for breakfast as burgers for dinner.

Duck Fat Potatoes
2 lbs. potatoes
1/4 c. duck fat

1. Put potatoes in a large pot and fill with water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and continue simmering until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and let cool.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

3. When the potatoes have cooled enough to handle, cut each potato into wedges. Set aside.

4. Melt duck fat in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Toss potatoes in fat, and then put the skillet in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad
2 large grapefruit, supremed
3 large avocadoes, diced
dash of balsamic vinegar

1. Toss grapefruit and avocados in a large bowl. Add balsamic to taste and toss again. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

more than you will need


Forgive the terrible photo! I was in a real hurry to serve this Bacon Bread Pudding, and it smelled so intoxicating, that I didn't even realize I was standing right in front of the light source.

In hindsight, this delightful little treat was a bit of egg overkill served with our Scramble Bar. Both are brunch entrees on their own. I left the cheese out to accommodate a cheese-hater, but if you have no such affliction, toss in about 6 oz. shredded Cheddar. I'd also go heavy on the bacon - there's a lot of bread in there.

Savory Bacon Bread Pudding
adapted from Jayne Rockmill's I Love Bacon!

6 oz. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 c. chopped sage
5 c. day-old ciabatta
6 large eggs
2 c. whole milk
1 T. salt

1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. Place the bacon, sage and bread in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk to form a custard. Whisk in the salt. Pour the custard over the dry ingredients, mix thoroughly and allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes.

4. Pour the mixture into a greased (important!) 4"x8" loaf pan and cover with aluminum foil. Place the loaf pan into a metal roasting pan and pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches three-quarters of the way up the sides of the loaf pan.

5. Bakes in the water bath for 45 minutes. Remove the foil from the loaf pan, and the loaf pan from the water bath and bake for 15 minutes longer to allow the top to brown and the pudding to rise. Cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan, slicing and serving.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

a real good place to start


I love Sundays. Especially football Sundays. Especially playoff football Sundays. Even if the Cowboys aren't involved. Throw in some of my best girls, bottomless mimosas, exchanging presents (yes, we know it's January, but December got crazy) and a Pete Carroll drinking game, and this Sunday became epic.

We started with an omelette bar, which was really a scramble bar because I can't really make a nice omelette to save my life. I made a couple filling options before they got there - not only did this allow for maximum chat time, it also welcomed them with yummy smells.

The Oyster Mushrooms with Cumin were by far my favorite - I love me some cumin. So great and earthy together. Next favorite were the Leeks Braised with Bacon + Thyme because a) bacon, and b) the leeks reduced to sweet, velvety-ness and perfume the eggs with just the faintest onion flavor. I thought I would like the Pepper Braised Broccolini with Arugula best, and while it was good enough, I just don't think I can cook broccolini down that far. I prefer much more texture, and a simple saute with the arugula thrown in at the very last minute would have been better suited for my palate.

P.S. Just now, the mushrooms became an excellent topping for some double-cheeseburgers my best boys threw on the grill for dinner. Sunday, and life, is good.

Oyster Mushrooms with Cumin
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

1/2 lb. oyster mushrooms
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 t. ground cumin

1. Separate the mushrooms and slice them lengthwise into pieces between 1/2 and 1 inch wide.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes over high heat, then add the mushrooms and saute 1 minute more. Reduce the heat to medium-low, season with 1/2 t. salt and some pepper along with the cumin. Cook gently, turning occasionally, until they are tender, about 20 minutes, and browned a bit around the edges.

Braised Leeks with Bacon + Thyme
adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising

6 oz. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
4 lbs. leeks
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut lengthwise in half
salt and pepper
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme
1 c. chicken stock

1. Fry the bacon in a medium skillet set over medium heat until mostly crisp. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Reserve the skillet.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13"x9" baking dish with some of the bacon grease.

3. With a large knife, trim off the root ends of each leek, but do not cut into the base of the leek. If they are particularly tough, peel off one or two of the outer layers. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Wash the leeks thoroughly to remove all the dirt. Shake off the excess water and place the leeks in one layer in the baking dish. Tuck the garlic halves in the dish and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the thyme.

4. Pour off as much fat as you can from the reserved skillet without discarding any bacon drippings. Place over high heat, add the stock and bring to a boil to deglaze the pan, scraping with a wooden spoon. Pour the hot stock over the leeks.

5. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the leeks over and continue braising for another 15 minutes. Scatter the reserved bacon over the leeks and braise for a final 15 minutes.

Pepper Braised Broccolini with Arugula
adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising

1 lb. broccolini
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1/2 c. chicken stock
5 oz. arugula

1. Trim the broccolini and chop into 1-inch pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the broccolini. Saute about 3 minutes, then add the onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt to taste and stir to combine. Saute for another minute.

3. Pour in the stock, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Continue simmering, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the greens are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.

4. Remove the lid, add the arugula, stir, and increase the heat to medium. Simmer until the liquid is mostly evaporated and the arugula is tender, but still retains some bright green. Taste for salt and serve.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

move while you're watching me


This soffrito is supposed to be much cuter and more finely diced. And my poor knife skills aside, it probably would have been, but I wanted to see the Green Bay butt-kicking, so I dragged all of the ingredients, a mise en place bowl, a garbage bowl, my knife and cutting board into the living room and started chopping on the coffee table. It actually worked pretty well - my coffee table is pretty low, so it was actually beneficial to have the extra leverage.

I got to watch more of the game when the ingredients went into the skillet. All the ingredients go in at once, and then minus a little bit of stirring, it's completely hands-off.

Seared scallops (however pale they are) are always good, but the soffrito was the star. Loved the way the honey balanced the spice factor, and loved how all the vegetables melt with the olive oil to create a really creamy and decadent dish out of only good-for-you ingredients.

Spicy Soffrito
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir

1 large onion, diced
2 small carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, peeled and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. honey
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Vegetables will be very tender.

2. Serve with simply seared scallops or fish.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

girls just want to have lunch


We have this joke at work. It's that I have a tapeworm. Her name is Inchy. Every day at 11:45a on the dot (sometimes earlier), Inchy demands to know what's being done about lunch.

Today, to everyone's disbelief, I forgot to have lunch. I mean, Inchy had a string cheese and a Lindt truffle around 11a, but I had a meeting at 2p, and then, before I knew it, it was 6:30p. Of course, I told Facebook about it, and my friend Acasia had the greatest comment - that meant I get double dinner!

Well, don't mind if I do. This recipe is meant to serve 4. Matty and I destroyed it. How could we not? It was like biting down into a giant piece of fluffy, eggy bread. More substantial and way tastier than a souffle. And those mushrooms, sauteed with just a bit of butter and rosemary were rich without even the addition of cream.

Looking forward to trying a sweet version with sauteed pears instead of mushrooms. Probably the kind of breakfast that could see you through lunch.

Giant Popover with Rosemary Mushrooms
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

1 lb. mixed mushrooms
4 T. butter
4 large eggs
1 c. milk
salt and pepper
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 sprig rosemary, finely minced

1. Slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven with half the butter while you whisk the eggs, milk and 1/2 t. salt together. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. When the butter has melted, brush it around the rim of the skillet, then stir it into the batter. Pour the batter back into the skillet. Set in the center of the oven to bake. In 20 minutes it will have risen dramatically around the edges and be puffed in the center.

3. While it's cooking, melt the remaining butter in a saute pan. When it's hot, add the mushrooms, salt lightly and saute over high heat. Once they begin to give up their juices, reduce the heat to medium and cook the mushrooms until they're tender, about 5 minutes. Season with pepper, then toss with rosemary.

4. Remove the popover from the oven and spoon the mushrooms into the center. Or slice the popover into wedges and spoon the mushrooms over each serving.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

it was so easy


I'm finding it difficult to keep to my New Year's Resolutions. And it's only the 11th!

1. I have not lost 8 pounds. In fact, I've had pasta, pasta, pasta and then bacon in the last week and a half. Almost exclusively.

2-4. I've been to the gym once this year.

5. Have not even been slightly vegan.

6. We haven't been home for dinner enough to warrant joining a CSA.

7...No, too depressing. I can't review everything I haven't done anymore. You lay down the best plans, and then life happens. You beat yourself up for the things you can't do, the things you don't have time to do. Then you get over it, and celebrate the things and moments you do have.

Like making a super low-maintenance dinner of Slow-Roasted Clams with Spicy Tomato Sauce. From ingredients that your love provided even though he hates the grocery store with every fiber of his being. So all you have to do when you do finally get home is toss together the sauce, add the clams on top and watch the stunning Lakers game while dinner makes itself.

Sure, you could steam the clams open on the stovetop in much less time, but then you don't get the lovely roasted sauce, i.e. my life- and time-saver for the next two days as it's enough to cover two dinners' worth of pasta. Oh, and it turns out the $9 bottle of sauvignon blanc bought to cook with - yep, the one with the twist-off cap - is dee-licious. And with the recipe only needing 1/4 c., you've got one more thing in this crazy world to be grateful for.

Slow-Roasted Clams with Spicy Tomato Sauce
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir
Serves 2

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c. dry white wine
3 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
3 T. olive oil
18 littleneck clams, about 3 1/2 lbs.
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a 13"x9" baking dish, toss together the tomatoes, wine, shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Add the clams in a single layer and roast them uncovered until they have opened, about 25 to 35 minutes. Discard any unopened ones.

4. Serve with crusty bed for sopping up the sauce. Any leftover sauce can be stored for a few extra days and served over pasta. Call that pasta arrabbiata.

Monday, January 10, 2011

it's been much too long


Pretty, huh? Well, in the middle of all this, I had to take a phone call from a pop star and let it overcook a little. Matty kindly said it was just on the edge of being too dry, while I was pretty sure it was definitely too dry. Oh well. At least there was an interesting BCS Championship Game to watch. Oh wait. That's not true either.

I'm sure if you give this dish the attention it deserves, it's brilliant. I mean, bacon, parsnips and golden-brown roast chicken. And will you indulge me and allow me to share something weird? I love the smell of parsnips. Like carrots, but gentler. If I developed a perfume, it would have notes of parsnip in it. So pretty.

Anyway. I'd give it a go with chicken thighs next time - they're just slightly more forgiving in the overcook department.

Chicken Breasts Braised with Hard Cider + Parsnips
from Molly Stevens' All About Braising

2 t. extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 oz.), cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 3 lbs. total)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large shallot, minced (about 3 T.)
2 1/2 c. hard cider (still or bubbly)
1 T. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 lb. parsnips, peeled, any woody core removed and cut into sticks about 3 inches by 1/2 inch

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Crisping the bacon: Combine the oil and bacon in a large deep lidded skilled or shallow braising pan (4-quart capacity is ideal). Heat over medium heat, stirring a few times, until the bacon renders most of its fat and is just crisp, about 6 minutes. With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Set the pan aside.

3. Browning the chicken: Rinse the chicken breasts under cool running water and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. (Be sure to dry the chicken thoroughly, or it won't brown properly and will threaten to stick to the pan during searing.) Pour off and discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and rendered bacon fat from the pan. Heat the remaining fat over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper. Place them skin side down in the pan and brown, without disturbing, for a few minutes. Then peek underneath by lifting the edge of the chicken with a pair of tongs to see if the skin is crisp and bronzed. Once the skin is nicely browned, about 4 to 5 minutes, turn with tongs and brown the other side as well, another 4 to 5 minutes. If the breasts are extremely plump, stand them on the wide rounded edge, leaning them against the sides of the pan or holding them upright with the tongs, and brown this edge, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate or tray to catch the juices, and set aside.

4. The aromatics and braising liquid: Add the shallot to the pan, still over medium-high heat, and let it sizzle, stirring, for a minute. It will brown quickly - be careful not to let it burn. Quickly pour in 2 c. of the hard cider to deglaze, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve the browned bits that will flavor the sauce. Let the cider boil to reduce down to about 1/2 c., 10 to 15 minutes. Add the rosemary and the remaining 1/2 c. cider and boil down again until there's about 3/4 c. total, another 6 to 8 minutes. The cider won't become thick, but you will be concentrating the combined flavors of fruit, bacon drippings, chicken drippings, and rosemary in the process.

5. The braise: Add the parsnips and season with generous grindings of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the bacon over the parsnips, and arrange the chicken pieces on top, skin side down. Cover with parchment paper, pressing down so that the paper nearly rests on the chicken pieces and hangs over the sides of the pan by about an inch, and set the lid in place. Slide the pan onto a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. After 25 minutes, turn the chicken pieces, and check the liquid. If it is simmering too ferociously, lower the oven temperature 10 or 15 degrees. Continue braising until the meat at the thickest part of the breast is cooked through when you make a small incision with a knife, another 20 to 25 minutes.

6. The finish: Transfer the chicken to a good-looking platter or serving dish. Spear a few parsnips gently with the tip of a sharp knife, and if they are tender throughout, remove them with a slotted spoon and arrange them alongside the chicken. If they are not yet tender, leave them in the pan. Degrease the sauce as necessary by skimming the surface with a large spoon, and then taste. If the sauce tastes a bit weak and/or if the parsnips are not tender, set the pan over medium-high heat and simmer until the parsnips are easily pierced but not falling apart and the sauce has a concentrated, sweet flavor, 5 to 8 minutes. You want the sauce to be thicker than stock, but not thick enough to coat a spoon. Taste for salt and pepper. if you haven't already, scoop out the parsnips and arrange them around the chicken. Ladle the sauce over the chicken and parsnips.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

i will wait for you


I really scored at Christmas this year. I had not one, not two, but three cookbooks under the tree! The bounty included Barbara Lynch's Stir, a book I had been lusting after since it's release and subsequent inclusion into everyone's Top Cookbooks of 2009 list.

It had been living on my Amazon wish list all year. Meanwhile, I had bookmarked Serious Eats' version of her Bolognese Sauce, after I developed an obsession for Lasagna Bolognese. Now, I don't know where my mind was, but it wasn't until I ripped open the wrapping on Christmas Day that I realized the bolognese on the cover of Stir is the same bolognese I was waiting to make.

Today, it happened. I got to spend a good half hour to myself, quietly chopping for the mise en place, and for that simple joy, I'm already grateful to the recipe. And then comes all the glorious smells, layering upon each other as the pieces come together to make a gorgeous, husky sauce. I had hoped to use the meat mixture from the book (veal, pork and lamb), but my first grocery stop only had beef and pork. I asked for a lb. of each, planning to make a stop for lamb, but the butcher made my decision for me as he packed in 1 1/2 lbs. of each. Next time.

I was a little scared at first that I had added too much liver. Lacking a kitchen scale, I had done my best to eyeball 10 oz. out of a 1 1/2-lb. container. And when I started tasting at the 2-hour mark, I thought I had overdone it. I like liver. Not everyone else likes liver. But miraculously, once the sauce hit the 5-hour mark, and I had tossed in about a T. of sugar to help balance the earthiness, it was perfect.

Butcher Shop Bolognese
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir
Makes about 10 cups

2 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
10 oz. chicken livers, trimmed and finely chopped
1/2 c. chopped sage
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
1 750 ml bottle dry red wine
3 c. chicken broth
2 14 1/2-oz. cans chopped tomatoes
1 c. chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
sugar, salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the chicken livers and sage , season with with a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until livers lose their red color.

2. Add the ground meat in batches, letting it brown a little before adding more. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring, until no red or pink color remains. Add the wine, increase the heat to high and boil, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps of meat, until the wine is almost gone. Add the broth, tomatoes and basil. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer; you should see an occasional bubble, but not a boil. Cook, uncovered until the sauce is think, dark and rich. Stir in the cream and simmer for at least another 10 minutes to heat it through.

And the perfect balance to all that (also good with Cheese Risotto) was a chopped winter salad of butter lettuce, radicchio and fennel, dressed with my new favorite, and another Barbara Lynch winner:

Creamy Parmesan Dressing
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir

1 egg yolk
1 T. whole-grain mustard
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. white wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar until well combined. Slowly add the olive oil in a thin, steady drizzle until the oil is completely incorporated and the dressing looks emulsified. Whisk in the grated cheese.

Monday, January 3, 2011

worth it


So I know I'm supposed to be doing things like losing 10 lbs. and going to yoga and spin classes, but frankly, I'm not in the mood yet. First of all, it's cold. Food that helps you lose weight does not taste good when the weather's bad.

But the main reason I'm holding off on the gym and doing things like making Cheese Risotto is that I hate how packed the gym is at the beginning of January. It's hard to hate on my fellow Resolutioners, but I'm going to go ahead and be selfish, and complain about how it messes with my schedule. I don't have that much time in the mornings as it is, and having to wait for a machine really screws up my day. Given the choice between tapping my foot impatiently/giving the elliptical-ers death glares and eating risotto/adding an extra hour and a half to my food coma, I choose the latter.

And this risotto is completely worth the calories. Actually, it's not even that horrible, health-wise. There are only 2 oz. of cheese and 1/3 c. of cream - compare that to the the pound of cheese and quart of milk minimum in any good mac and cheese recipe. I would even go as far as to say I would choose this over mac and cheese. Love the interplay between the simultaneously chewy and creamy rice with the ridiculously luscious cheese sauce.

Definitely go out of your way to find the Mimolette. The substitutions, Gouda and Edam, are easier to find, but I can't imagine they'd make a comparable product. The Mimolette has this great funk that kind of mimics the flavor of truffles. Definitely worth the splurge. Gym, I'll see you next week.

Cheese Risotto
from Barbara Lynch's Stir

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced (about 1/3 c.)
1 c. Arborio rice
1/4 c. dry white wine
4 c. chicken broth
2 oz. Mimolette cheese, finely grated
2 T. butter
1/3 c. heavy cream, whipped to medium peaks
salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute to toast the grains slightly.

2. Add the wine and cook until it is almost absorbed. Add about 1 c. of the broth and cook, stirring every minute or two, until almost all of the broth has been absorbed. Continue cooking, adding more broth, and stirring in this manner until the risotto is creamy and al dente, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Add the butter and the cheese. Stir briskly to incorporate and melt the cheese. Fold in the whipped cream, taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

dolla, dolla bills, y'all


Ah, New Year's. Despite two dry, dirty martinis and three glasses of champagne, I woke up this morning just rarin' to go. Apparently, I've still got it.

I guess Michigan State didn't feel the same way, but there were plenty other games (and pizza) to keep us glued to the TV until well past dinner time. Once I finally pried myself from the couch, I attacked the kitchen for some nice, cozy soup.

"They" say there are certain foods you should eat (or avoid) on New Year's Day to influence how your year goes. To bring about a prosperous year, you should have beans (coin-like) and greens (cash-like). I don't generally believe in such madness, but hey, it can't hurt, right? Especially when it's as easy and tasty as this:

White Bean Soup with Black Kale + Savoy Cabbage
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

1 c. dried Great Northern beans, soaked overnight
salt and pepper
1 large onion, finely diced
2 leeks, white parts only, diced
1 bunch black kale, the leaves stripped from the stems and slivered
1 small Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored, and chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, minced or pounded with a pinch of salt
1/2 c. chopped parsley
2 T. olive oil
1 qt. vegetable stock

1. Drain the soaked beans, then put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 t. salt, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

2. While the beans are cooking, chop all the vegetables. Rinse the leeks, kale, and cabbage, but don’t dry them.

3. Warm 2 T. of the oil in a heavy wide skillet. Add the onion and leeks and cook over medium-low heat until the onion is soft but not browned, about 12 minutes. Add the kale, cabbage, garlic, parsley, and 2 t. salt. Cook with the heat on low, stirring often until volume is greatly reduced, about 15 minutes.

4. When the beans are done, add them, along with a quart of vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

And to further the trend of doing-things-everyone-else-is-doing-on-New-Years, here's my list of New Year's resolutions. This is more for me to keep myself accountable than anything actually interesting for you all to read, so if you came for the food, feel free to skip. :)

11 in '11
1. Lose 8 pounds
Only because that's how many I gained over the holidays.

2. Go to yoga more often than last year
I love yoga so much. But Sunday mornings got really busy, and I've averaged 2 months between classes towards the latter half of last year. I'll have a few Groupons, Living Socials and Fresh Guides to keep me on track for at least the first few months of this year.

3. Start going to spin classes
Well, after all the football is over, and it doesn't conflict with the class.

4. Swim
I've got 2 years before I do the triathlon for my 30th birthday, but I should remind myself how to swim now.

5. Eat at least one vegan meal per day
I did the "vegetarian before dinner" thing for most of last year, so this shouldn't be too difficult. I just think some of my pants would fit better with less cheese. This recipe counts!

6. Join a CSA
And when Matty threatens to leave me if I make one more thing with zucchini in it, maybe switch to just going to farmers markets regularly.

7. Start Saturday/Sunday Suppers
I got Molly Stevens' All About Braising for Christmas, and short of wanting to Julie & Julia the whole thing, I'd like to make something that takes all day, and enjoy it in the company of friends one night per weekend.

8. Learn to knit
My aunt taught me to knit and crochet when I was in middle school. I went gangbusters on it for a while, dropped it for a long time, and then recently went gangbusters again. Except during summer - snuggling yarn in the summer is not my idea of a good time. When I went back to the needle arts, I was able to pick up crocheting with a short online refresher course. Unfortunately, things have not been as easy on the knitting front. I've managed to cast on, but go no further. Need human intervention.

9. Look into voice lessons
I want to get actual training and improve my sight-singing, but actually following through may be out of budget.

10. Keep $0 balance on my credit cards
As in don't spend money I don't have. As in don't use credit cards.

11. Take more pictures
Of people. Not just food. :)