Monday, February 28, 2011

ease up


Last week, I managed to string together 4 days of half-hour gym sessions, and it felt like a reset button. It was pure magic. Of course, I'm writing this in the middle of a 2-day dry spell, and it won't be until Wednesday that I'm able to go again, but I do have the memory of how good that felt to propel me into taking this much-needed time for myself on a more regular basis.

I thought I'd go big with the reset and start a juice cleanse. My friend Allison was a tremendous resource - we spent a lot of Saturday on the phone talking how to prep and what to expect. Most importantly, we talked about ramping down and back up around the cleanse day. I'm not treating the day before the fast as my Last Supper. Nor am I going to have steak for breakfast the day after. Let's do this right, people.

So far dinner on day 1 of ramping down, I made this mainly vegetarian entree of Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta for myself and added sausage on Matty's portion to round out his meal. I say mostly vegetarian because I cooked the sausage in the tomato sauce for both of us - there were enough pots and pans involved in the meal that I couldn't warrant separating my sauce out. Even without the sausage, though, this is a meal that would not disappoint meat-lovers. It is so hearty and rich, you won't feel like you're missing anything. Perfect for a cold night. Would have been excellent with some leafy greens cooked down slowly, but I couldn't find anything that moved me at the farmer's market.

Anyway, the aim is to make this cleanse a monthly thing. I have too much ADD to not be able to chew for more than a day at a time, and no one wants to deal with a HANGRY Ngoc.

Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta
adapted from Leite's Culinaria
Serves 4

jar of pasta sauce
2 hot Italian sausage links
2 14.5-oz. cans borlotti (aka cranberry) beans

For the polenta
4 c. water
1 t. salt
1 c. polenta
4 T. unsalted butter
freshly ground pepper

1. Brown the sausages in a 12-inch skillet. Add the pasta sauce and simmer over low heat while you're making the polenta.

2. Make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring nearly constantly with a long-handled spoon, until the mixture thickens, the grains soften, and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in the butter and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm.

3. Add the beans to the tomato sauce and warm them together over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

4. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well. Slice and serve the sausage over top.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

when it snows


It SNOWED in the Greater Los Angeles area today! SNOWED!

It was actually a gorgeous day in Los Feliz, but there were some nasty clouds over the hill. I reluctantly left the comfort and sunshine of my neighborhood after a search at HK Market did not yield the dried bamboo shoots I needed to make Bun Mang Vit or Duck and Bamboo Shoot Noodle Soup, the first thing I craved when I heard the impossible news of snow in the forecast.

I drove to Van Nuys. Yes, that's almost as unbelievable as snow in Los Angeles. All the way to Van Nuys just to get one ingredient. This soup has been months in the making. I've scoured the city for the bamboo - everything in Thai Town, a couple Seafood City stores, nothing. But the entrance to 99 Ranch led straight down to the aisle where the elusive bamboo lived. I was over the moon. I turned to find the bun noodles I had grown up with - picked a pack of those up. Walked down to find duck quarters, which I used in place of the chicken legs that Andrea's original recipe called for. I couldn't resist. Oh, and in the prepared food section, steamed buns were buy-one-get-one-free. Picked up two, obviously.

I felt like a kid again, tagging along with my dad as he grocery shopped. The only reason I stopped browsing was because I couldn't carry anything else (couldn't find a cart). And I impulse-bought myself a sesame ball for breakfast. That may be reason enough to drive back there, hail or no hail.

And this soup. This glorious soup. It was everything I was craving - a sweet savory broth, toothsome noodles, luxuriously rich bites of duck. The bamboo didn't have the snappy chew from the bowls of my youth that I had been day dreaming about, but the flavor was all there. It made me realize I need bigger soup bowls.

Bun Mang Vit / Duck and Bamboo Shoot Noodle Soup
adapted from Viet World Kitchen with inspiration from Ravenous Couple
Serves 4 as a one-dish meal, 6 to 8 as a soup course

5 oz. dried bamboo shoot
4 large duck leg quarters (about 3 lbs. total)
2 T. canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
3 T. fish sauce, plus more to taste
8 c. water
3/4-in. chunk golden rock sugar, plus more to taste
8 dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
8 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed and quartered
8 small scallions, trimmed of upper green part to yield 5-inch lengths
14 oz. dried round bun rice noodles

1. Reconstitute the bamboo: Place dried shoots in a large saucepan and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour, changing the water once or twice. Drain and cut the bamboo and or hand shred it long narrow pieces, about the size of a skinny index finger. Set aside.

2. Trim off excess fat and skin from the duck. Score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern and place, skin-side down in a warm skillet to render some of the fat, about 5 minutes. Flip the duck and heat until it no longer looks raw, about another minute.

3. Heat the oil in a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes, until soft, translucent and sweetly fragrant; as needed, lower the heat slightly to prevent browning. Increase the heat to high and add the duck. Add the fish sauce and continue cooking, stirring for about 1 minute, until a slight syrupy liquid forms at the bottom of the pot.

4. Pour in the water. Bring to a boil, skim and discard the scum, and then add the rock sugar and bamboo shoot. Adjust the heat to simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour, removing the duck about halfway through. During the last 10 minutes, add the shiitake and wood ear mushrooms.

5. Skim off excess fat, if you like. Taste the broth and it should be slightly sweet and rich tasting. Season to taste with additional fish sauce and rock sugar, if necessary. At this point, you can return the duck to the broth and refrigerate until ready to serve.

6. Cook the noodles according to package instructions, and divide evenly among serving bowls. Return the broth to a boil. Add the scallion and cook for about 30 seconds to just soften but retain its bright color. Divide the scallion, mushrooms, bamboo and duck between the bowls and pour broth over. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 21, 2011

i will not weigh you down


Since when was President's Day such a huge deal? I mean, I remember having Lincoln's birthday off from school back in the day, but people had a half-day on Friday! Let's get serious, people.

I did rather enjoy Monday off - no complaints there. And I was quite pleased with everything I was able to accomplish - two loads of laundry, dishes, cleaning out the fridge. Oh and also, a yoga class and two naps.

I had meant to spend the day braising something luscious - the weather was still cold enough, I was able to be home all day to monitor the stove, and how cute would it be for Matty (who didn't have the day off) to come home to, like, a pot roast or something? But then I put a little more thought in it and remembered that since he had rehearsal after dinner (and would be singing in that rehearsal), he wouldn't want anything as heavy as braised meat, and my waistline doesn't need it.

I have well-documented my distaste for salad, but it was starting to look like the best option for dinner. I cracked open a few cookbooks and upon perusal, decided that a rice or grain salad would be a fair enough compromise between a light salad and something that might actually taste good.

Now when I think of rice salad, I think pilaf-like. This Shrimp and Rice Salad was more like a regular salad with some rice on it, but I'll forgive it that fact because of each of the elements of the salad were so delicious.

a) Greens - a nice mix of soft greens, watercress and alfalfa sprouts. Way more interesting than plain ol' lettuce. Add avocado, and I might even consider eating the greens alone.

b) Shrimp - the 2-minute poach is the perfect cooking time. I think shrimp tastes best when it retains a good snap when you bite into it. This was exactly what I wanted.

c) Rice - simply amazing what a little rice vinegar, sugar and sesame seeds can do for plain brown rice. I may never make rice any other way again. I used brown rice, so it took about twice as long as the recipe indicates. Worth it.

d) Dressing - again, amazing what a few ingredients can combine to become. I could have done with a greater presence of ginger over all, so rather than tossing out the ginger in Step 5, I'd throw it in with the shrimp and the dressing and let it all sit while the rest of elements were being prepped.

I served it with Steamed Tofu Ramekins which sounded positively romantic from the cookbook description, but wound up more like space-filler, both for the plate and for our stomachs. It wasn't that exciting for the palate, but we didn't not finish them, either.

Shrimp and Rice Salad, Sushi-Style, with Sesame and Avocado
adapted from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook
Serves 2

4 c. water
1 c. thick slices of peeled fresh ginger
1/2 c. plus 1 t. Japanese rice vinegar
1/4 t. salt
1 lb. large shrimp (about 12)
salt to taste
6 T. vegetable oil
1 1/2 t. soy sauce
1/2 t. dark sesame oil
6 T. short-grain rice
1/4 t. sugar
2 t. white sesame seeds
1 c. loosely packed soft greens, such as Boston or red oak lettuce
1 c. loosely packed watercress leaves
2/3 c. alfalfa sprouts
1 avocado

1. Place 4 c. of water in a medium saucepan. Add the slices of ginger, 2 T. of the rice vinegar, and the salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer vigorously (just below a rolling boil) for 20 minutes.

2. While the ginger is simmering, prepare the shrimp: peel them, leaving the tail intact. Make a deep cut to devein them, then spread them open in butterfly fashion, keeping them attached at the tail. Salt them lightly.

3. Prepare the dressing: Place 6 T. of the rice vinegar in a small bowl with the vegetable oil, soy sauce and dark sesame oil. Whisk vigorously until a smooth dressing is formed.

4. When the ginger water has simmered for 20 minutes, turn off the heat. Add the shrimp to the water, and let them sit until just cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp. Let them sit in the dressing bowl. Reserve.

5. Remove the ginger slices from the water still in the pan and discard. Add the rice to the water, bring to a boil, and boil, uncovered, until the rice is just cooked, about 15 minutes (you may need to add a little additional water toward the end). Remove the rice, and toss with the remaining teaspoon of rice vinegar and the sugar.

6. Toast the sesame seeds in a small, ungreased skillet until golden-brown, about 5 minutes, and toss with the rice. Reserve.

7. Wash and dry the salad greens. Toss together the soft greens, watercress leaves and alfalfa sprouts in a large bowl.

8. Divide the salad among 2 dinner plates. On each plate, slice half an avocado and divide the shrimp. Divide the rice among the shrimp. Drizzle the dressing over the avocado slices and the shrimp and serve.

Steamed Tofu Ramekins with Soy Sauce
adapted from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook
Serves 4

1 lb. silken tofu, broken into coarse chunks
4 t. soy sauce
katsuo fumi furikake, to taste

1. Divide the bean curd among 4 ramekins. Drizzle each one with 1 t. of soy sauce. Place on a steamer rack over boiling water and steam until hot, about 3 minutes.

2. Remove from steamer, and sprinkle each ramekin with katsuo fumi furikake. Serve immediately.

And just because I couldn't decide which photo I liked better, here's another from the dinner table:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

cinematic and dramatic, with the perfect ending



I never finished food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream - the last track was just too special to force into the 12-day span I had created.

Since I started, "California Gurls" became the most downloaded song of 2010, "Teenage Dream" and "Firework" joined "California Gurls" at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first female artist in 11 years to have three songs from one album go to #1. The fourth single, "E.T." (featuring Kanye West) is already #3 on iTunes. The album has sold over a million copies in the US alone, with millions more in song downloads. Can you tell I'm proud?

And last weekend, at the Grammys, she performed "Not Like the Movies," one of my favorite songs on the record. That beautiful performance was my inspiration to finally finish the blogging project. I meant to build Valentine's dinner last Monday around this song, but of course, work was what it was, so it wasn't until tonight that we had an official Valentine's.


The "cinematic and dramatic" part was Spicy Lobster Bolognese. This was my Julie & Julia moment. I was planning on getting frozen lobster tails to a) be more cost-efficient, and b) for the higher meat-to-shell ratio. To my dismay and terror, all I could find were live lobsters. Begrudgingly, I asked for two. I put them in the back seat, within view of my rear-view mirror, just in case they planned on busting out.

I got home, set them on the counter, started the water boiling, and I could swear they were talking to each other. They knew. Did I mention I was terrified? And Matty refused to help me. I grabbed the largest tongs I could find and grabbed the smaller of the two. Just as I was about to drop him in, he twitched. I screamed. Matty came to my rescue, thank heavens. I had so much guilt the rest of the afternoon. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with killing your own food. Never again.

The sauce was delicious - really fresh tasting. I loved the depth the lobster stock added. Even more, I loved having the time to make lobster stock from scratch - how wonderfully relaxing. I was a little sad that there was just the tiniest amount of lobster - the tails on 1 1/4-lb. lobsters don't have that much meat in them. And I think just because it was called a bolognese, I still pictured little bits of ground lobster meat throughout the sauce, even though I knew full well going in that it was a tomato sauce with a few bites of lobster. Anyway, it's a bit sacrilegious to think about grinding lobster, but perhaps it can be done in classy fashion like this shrimp polpettini.

In future, I think I would add scallops, clams, maybe shrimp, to make for a heartier dish. Making do with what I had in the house, I threw in two stuffed sole fillets that came as part of Matty's grandma's Omaha Steaks Christmas package.

Spicy Lobster Bolognese
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir

2 1 1/4 lb. lobsters
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 c. dry white wine
2 T. tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 t. coriander seeds
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 lb. dried spaghetti
salt and pepper to taste

1. Parcook the lobsters to remove their meat. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Boil the lobsters for 5 minutes, then plunge them into the ice water. Once the lobsters have cooled, twist the tails off the bodies, remove the meat from the tails (save the shells), and cut each tail lengthwise into 2 pieces, removing the intestinal tracts. Remove the claw meat by snapping off the little pincers first. Using the back of a heavy chef's knife or good kitchen scissors, crack open the claws and remove the meat in a single piece, again reserving the shells. Remove the knuckle meat, too. Refrigerate the lobster meat until ready to use. Chop the lobster shells into 2-inch pieces for the broth.

2. To make the lobster broth, heat 2 T. of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lobster shells and cook, stirring until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add half of the celery, onion and carrot and cook, stirring until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, tomato paste, bay leaf, coriander seeds and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, add 1 qt. water and simmer, covered and on the lowest possible burner setting, for about 45 minutes.

3. Roast the tomatoes in a 350-degree oven while the broth is simmering.

4. After 45 minutes, remove the larger pieces of shell, and strain the liquid into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer. You should have about 3 c. of broth.

5. To make the pasta sauce, heat the remaining 2 T. oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining celery, onion and carrot, and cook, stirring for a few minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the lobster broth, bring it to a simmer, then add the roasted tomatoes. Simmer the sauce for 15 to 20 minutes to thicken the sauce.

6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cut the reserved lobster meat into large bite-sized pieces. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente. Add the spaghetti and the lobster meat to the sauce. Toss, taste and add more crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for a few more minutes to heat the lobster through and to finish cooking the pasta. Serve immediately.


And "the perfect ending," Espresso Cheesecake. It was like sucking on a coffee bean, in the best way possible. It takes forever - 4 hours in a very low oven, cooling for another hour inside the turned-off oven, cooling completely on a wire rack, and then refrigerating overnight. Never has patience been so well-rewarded.

It's a deep, dark, complex thing. So intensely coffee-flavored, you almost forget you're having cheesecake. To grind the espresso beans, I used the manual grinder Matty uses for his French press - I rather liked the coarser texture and occasional crunch, but a super-fine grind would also be lovely.

Espresso Cheesecake
adapted from Gesine Bullock-Prado's Confections of a Closet Master Baker

For the cookie crust
2 c. chocolate Jo-Jos, processed until very fine
1 stick butter, melted

For the cheese filling
1 1/4 lbs. cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. + 1 T. fresh espresso grounds
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 c. brewed coffee
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 T. flour

1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the crumbs and butter, stirring to coat evenly. Press into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Pat and spread the crumbs evenly over the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. Make the filling: Lower the oven to 200 degrees.

3. Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, and with the whisk attachment, beat on high until smooth. Add the espresso grounds and mix until incorporated.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is completely incorporated. Add the egg yolk, coffee, vanilla and flour. Mix until smooth and all ingredients incorporated.

5. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake in the center of the oven until the center just jiggles a little when shaken (2-4 hours). Turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake inside to cool slowly. Then remove the cheesecake from the oven and set aside to cool completely in the pan.

6. Unmold the cheesecake and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 3 hours before serving.

sweet beginning


I had been meaning to try Susan Feniger's Street for ages. I had heard varying reviews, but it totally seemed up my alley - mostly small bites from a variety of influences - perfect for my palate's ADD.

Thanks to the wonder of social buying, I got an OpenTable Spotlight Deal in my inbox that gave me 50% off dinner. There were no more excuses.

The only thing I knew for sure I wanted was the Kaya Toast, and when it came to the table, it did not disappoint. So many times, the hype kills expectation so quickly, but nothing could kill this. It was perfect. Cute little squares of toast, spread generously with a coconut jam/custard served next to a perfect fried egg. I immediately dunked the toast into the runny yolk. Between the sweet jam, the rich yolk, and the salty bursts from the dark soy sauce, I was in heaven. And it made me feel all nostalgic because when I was a kid, it was all about the over easy egg doused in Maggi sauce. I got home and immediately Googled the recipe.

The coconut jam came up immediately via a Los Angeles Times article. It's not terribly fussy, except for tracking down the pandan leaves (frozen section at Seafood City).

I'm not sure what the pandan does for the flavor, but it was kind of stinky when I strained it out of the coconut milk mixture. Luckily, that stinkiness didn't transfer over taste-wise. I'm not sure I'd bother with that extra step in the future - I'll just keep my coconut custard pure.

And just to add some extra decadence, the bread for this dish is a homemade Hawaiian bread. The beauty of the bread and jam recipes making so much is that for the next week, Kaya Toast is only a fried egg away.

Kaya Toast
adapted from Susan Feniger's Street
Serves 2

4 slices of Hawaiian bread (recipe below)
a few T. of coconut jam (recipe below)
4 eggs
two handfuls of mixed greens
Maggi seasoning
pepper

1. Toast the Hawaiian bread and spread thickly with coconut jam.

2. Fry the eggs, leaving as runny a yolk as you like.

3. Place a handful of salad greens on each plate. Top with the eggs, then season to taste with Maggi and pepper. Serve alongside coconut sandwiches.

Hawaiian Bread
adapted from Cooking Light

1 6-oz can pineapple juice
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 t.)
3 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 c. warm milk (100-110 degrees)
2 eggs
1/3 c. sugar
4 T. butter, melted
1/2 t. salt
cooking spray

1. Place pineapple juice in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 45 seconds or until 100 to 110 degrees. Dissolve yeast in warm pineapple juice; let stand 5 minutes.

2. Place yeast mixture in the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 cup flour to yeast mixture; beat until combined. Add milk, eggs, sugar, butter and salt, beating to combine. Add 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until combined (dough will be very soft and sticky). Beat at medium-low speed 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Lightly coat sides of bowl with cooking spray.

3. Cover bowl with a damp towel. Let dough rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size.

4. Coat 2 9x5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray; dust each pan with 1 T. flour. Divide dough evenly between prepared pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Coconut Jam
from The Los Angeles Times

1 c. coconut milk
1 c. granulated sugar, divided
8 pandan leaves, washed and tied into a knot
1/8 t. kosher salt
3 eggs
3 egg yolks

1. In a small sauce pot, mix together the coconut milk and one-half cup sugar. Stir in the pandan leaves and salt and bring to a boil over high heat, keeping the pandan submerged in the milk as the leaves cook and soften. When the milk has come to a boil, remove from heat and let the mixture steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the pandan leaves from the milk, squeezing any excess liquid from the leaves into the milk. Discard the leaves.

3. In a medium stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and remaining one-half cup sugar. Whisk in the coconut milk mixture to form a custard base.

4. Place the stainless steel bowl over a medium pot of lightly simmering water. Gently cook the custard, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. The final texture should have a thick custard consistency (a trail of the spatula should remain on the surface of the custard for more than 10 seconds).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

cream


It rained yesterday. And it's supposed to rain for the next week. I was armed with soup recipes. I was ready.

When I woke up this morning, it was so bright outside I was sure I had overslept. So much for rain. By the time I got home, though, it had cooled to a windy 50 degrees. Good enough for soup weather.

To break this Creamy Leek + Potato Soup with Bay Scallops down to basics, you're drinking warmed cream. And it is delicious. No joke. Cream cooks the potatoes, and scallops are swirled in at the last minute. I felt so guilty about all that decadence that I grabbed an extra bag of cauliflower at the grocery store, roasted it in some fish sauce, and threw it into the soup.

The chips were pretty tasty, but I wish I had a deep fryer to get them right. I used Black Olive Jam rather than the called-for tapenade because that's what I had, and while the sweetness of the olive jam was interesting, I think I would preferred the salt boost of tapenade. Either way, you can't lose with filled potato chips.

Creamy Leek + Potato Soup with Bay Scallops
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir

For the soup
12 oz. cauliflower cut into florets
1 t. fish sauce
1 T. butter
1 1/2 c. sliced leeks, about 2 large (white parts only)
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper
12 oz. fresh bay scallops
1/4 c. fresh chives
4-6 Greek olives, pitted and cut into slivers

For the chips
1 large russet potato
1 c. peanut oil
2 T. olive jam
salt

1. Toss the cauliflower with the fish sauce. Roast at 450 degrees until browned at the edges.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the cubed potato, cover with the heavy cream, and simmer until the potato is tender and just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with 1 1/2 t. salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and keep the soup warm.

3. Make the chips: With a mandoline, cut the potato into 36 paper-thin slices. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until 300-325 degrees. Spread a little olive jam on half of the slices and top with the other half, pressing to seal. Fry a few at a time until golden brown and crisp, about 1-2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

4. While the chips are draining, add the scallops to the soup. It won't take long to cook through. Add the cauliflower and stir lightly.

5. Divide among 6 bowls and garnish with olive slivers, chives and potato chips. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

it's the spicy streak that makes me want you


I threw out my loaf pan in a rage a couple weeks ago. I was cleaning off more of the coating than the gunk that was left in the pan from something I've already blocked from my memory, so I just chucked it in the trash rather than sweat over the sink any more.

I haven't had time to replace it yet which is unfortunate, because of course, I was too swept away by the thought of this Banana Bread with Chocolate + Crystallized Ginger to remember I was sans loaf pan. So I made it in a standard muffin tin and had enough batter left over to fill 4 ramekins. I'm now about to chuck out the muffin tin for all the ginger and chocolate bits that baked into it since I had run out of cupcake liners. It's a vicious cycle.

While muffins are much more transportable to the epic packing session I'm taking them to, I rather enjoyed the ramekins more because, well, there was more of it in there. I think a larger size (or a loaf) just has a higher ratio of pillowy insides to crusty exterior, and that's key. It's absolute heaven to get a bite of that fluffy banana cake with chunks of melted chocolate - add to that the occasional jolt of spice from the ginger, and you're bordering on perfection.

Banana Bread with Chocolate + Crystallized Ginger
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life

6 T. butter
2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. chocolate chips
1/3 c. finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. mashed bananas (3 large or 4 medium)
1/4 c. well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt
1 t. vanilla extract

1. Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5" loaf pan or muffin tins with cooking spray or butter.

2. In a small bowl, microwave the butter until just melted. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.

5. Bake until you get a deep shade of golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (50 minutes to an hour for a loaf, 15 to 18 minutes for muffins). If it seems to browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.

6. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then tip out onto the rack and let cool completely.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

if it takes all night


Late dinner #2 of the week - the Kingsize record is mastered!

I was a little more productive with my time tonight, unlike last Monday, when I spent most of the evening lollygagging in front of the boob tube before whipping up dinner.

I don't generally like bread-making - I have no patience for the proofing process, the long baking time. But since I had a couple hours to kill anyway, I started on Gesine Bullock-Prado's Focaccia. I didn't let it rise for quite as long as the recipe asks - maybe just a little under an hour for each step.

I don't think the abbreviated rise time negatively affected the focaccia. Perhaps it was just slightly less airy than it could have been, but it was still a nice piece of bread. After all the proofing, a quick 30 minutes in the oven yields a whole sheet pan full of homemade rosemary-scented goodness. Excellent dipped in soup that was otherwise too boring to waste bandwidth on, great next to a big plate of pasta, perfect split and stuffed for a simple lunchtime sandwich.

Focaccia
adapted from Gesine Bullock-Prado's Confections of a Closet Master Baker

one 1/4-oz. package active dry yeast
5 c. flour
1/4 c. plus 2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 t. salt
1 T. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. coarse salt

1. Stir together 1 2/3 c. lukewarm (105-110 degrees) water and the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the flour, 1/4 c. of the oil and salt, and beat with the paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms. Replace the paddle with the dough hook and knead at low speed until the dough is soft, smooth and sticky, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat it with oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Generously oil a 15x10-inch baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan and cover it completely with a damp kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm corner of the room until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

6. Stir together the rosemary and remaining 3 T. oil. Make shallow indentations all over the dough with your fingertips, then brush with the rosemary oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the focaccia and bake in the middle of the oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

7. Immediately set a rack over the pan and flip the focaccia onto it, then turn right side up. Serve warm or at warm temperature.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

superstar


This is hands-down the most delicious thing I have ever made. I had a feeling after I made the vegetarian version for last year's Super Bowl. I knew as soon as I took the lid off the food processor and caught a whiff of the dried chile-chocolate-coffee-cumin-star anise-anchovy puree that forms the base of this magnificent chili. It swept me off my feet. If it asked, I'd marry it.

This recipe is not for the faint of heart. The ingredients list is a mile long. The prep alone takes an hour. And it dares you to not dig into it as soon as it starts to simmer, and that delicious steam becomes a conduit for the flavor particles to get to your nose, your heart, and your belly - you know, that growling thing that is absolutely furious it has to wait another 3 hours.

I'm usually a pretty simple chili girl - kidney beans, ground beef, chili powder. And there's a time and a place for that. But when you've got 5 hours to spare, why wouldn't you make your own divinely fragrant chili puree and use it cook down hunks of short rib into tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsels in a broth so complex that you almost feel bad putting something as pedestrian as Fritos on top of it?

And here's the kicker. I FORGOT to put the bourbon in at the end. A) Who am I? and B) How much more delicious could this have been?

The Best Chili Ever
adapted from Serious Eats

1 pound dried dark red kidney beans
salt
4 qt. water
3 whole dried Ancho chiles, seeded, and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/8 ounce)
1 whole dried Arbol chile, seeded, and torn in half
5 lbs. bone-in beef short rib, trimmed of silverskin and excess fat
black pepper
2 T. vegetable oil
1 qt. low-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 whole anchovy filets
2 t. soy sauce
2 T. tomato paste
1 1/2 T. whole cumin seeds, toasted, then ground
1 1/2 t. whole coriander seeds, toasted, then ground
2 whole cloves, toasted and ground
1 star anise, toasted and ground
1 T. extra-finely ground coffee beans
1 oz. chopped unsweetened chocolate
1 large yellow onion, diced fine
1 jalapeƱo, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. dried oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c. cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 c. bourbon

1. Place beans, 3 T. salt, and water in large plastic container or bowl. Allow to soak at room temperature at least 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse soaked beans.

2. Add dried chiles to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to smoke. Remove chiles to small bowl and set aside.

3. Season short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. Add oil to Dutch oven and heat over high heat until smoking. Add half of short ribs and brown well on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes total, reducing heat if fat begins to smoke excessively or meat begins to burn. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining short ribs, browning them in fat remaining in Dutch oven. Allow short ribs to cool at room temperature.

4. Meanwhile, return Dutch Oven to medium-high heat and add 1 c. chicken broth, using flat wooden spoon or stiff spatula to scrape browned bits off of bottom of pan. Reduce heat until chicken broth is at a bare simmer, add toasted chiles to liquid and cook until chiles have softened and liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer chiles and liquid to blender, add anchovy, soy sauce, tomato paste, ground spices, coffee and chocolate, and blend at high speed, scraping down sides as necessary, until completely smooth puree is formed, about 2 minutes. Set chile puree aside.

5. Trim meat from short ribs bones and hand-chop into rough, 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch pieces (finer or larger, if you prefer), reserving bones separately. Add any accumulated meat juices to chili puree.

6. Heat 4 T. vegetable oil in large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add fresh chiles, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chile puree and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot until chile mixture begins to fry and leaves a coating on bottom of pan, 2 to 4 minutes. Add chicken stock, chopped beef, beef bones and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting, and cook, with cover slightly ajar, for 1 hour. Add crushed tomatoes, cider vinegar, and beans, and cook with cover slightly ajar until beans and beef are tender and broth is rich and lightly thickened, 2 to 3 1/2 hours longer, adding water if necessary to keep beans and meat mostly submerged (a little protrusion is ok).

7. Using tongs, remove and discard bay leaves and bones. Any excess meat still attached to the bones can be removed, chopped, and added back to the chili. Add bourbon and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Season to taste with kosher salt, ground black pepper, and additional vinegar.

8. Serve immediately, or for best flavor, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight, or up to 1 week in sealed container. Reheat, and serve with desired garnishes.


And even though I let the Fritos slide in, I couldn't accompany this chili with just any ol' cornbread (even though I seriously considered Molly Wizenberg's Custard-Filled Cornbread - will save that for the leftovers).

Not unlike cornbread, but different enough that you know it's special, this nutty, rich flatbread/cake creation was only improved by the mound of cheese melted on it. However, I would gladly have it plain, perhaps just dipped in a little olive oil, next to a nice big salad.

Farinata Grilled Cheese
adapted from Local Lemons
For each farinata:
2 c. chickpea flour
4 t. salt
1 1/2 c. water
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. finely chopped sage

For filling:
3 c. shredded cheese

1. Combine chickpea flour and salt in a large bowl. While whisking, slowly add water and olive oil. Add sage. Whisk until smooth. Let sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven while it’s preheating.

3. Remove skillet and drizzle in a little olive oil to coat. Add chickpea batter and smooth over with a spatula. Cook for 15-20 minutes. The top will be lightly browned, and when you insert a fork it will emerge dry.

4. Repeat Steps 1-3 for the second farinata.

5. Pile the cheese on top of one, and top with the other. Cook over medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes. Flip, and cook for an additional 7 minutes. Occasionally check to make sure farinata isn’t burning. When finished, slice into 36 pieces (6x6) and serve immediately.

Friday, February 4, 2011

simply the best


Just a little hello and how are ya.

Barbara Lynch's Bolognese layered in this Lasagna, subbing a pound of fresh mozzarella where the bechamel was = The World's Best Lasagna Bolognese.

Just dropped frozen slices of this off for my dear friend Paul, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, and while I did want him to have something easy to nuke while he had limited use of his arm, I did consider, for the briefest of seconds, sneaking a slice back in my purse with me. Well, I'm really not that much of an ass, but it is very good.