Tuesday, September 27, 2011

two different directions

Today's challenge: take advantage of the amazing weather and fully grill tonight's dinner. But not the traditional all-American barbecue - we're all still burned out on ribs, steaks and burgers from Labor Day.

It was a lot more difficult to find something in my vast reserves of recipe bookmarks than I thought it would be. We rarely grill (we use the smoker much more often), and if we do grill, I leave it up to Matty to take care of. I was at a complete loss. But luckily, I have a lot of favorite blogs, and with the suggestion to go satay or teriyaki, I went Asian with Char Siu.

I mean, Chinese BBQ pork. Back when I did things like go to Panda Express, a two-item combo always meant BBQ pork and orange chicken. Damn it. Now I want orange chicken.

Anyway, this pork was genius. Pure meat candy. The four of us more or less plowed through all 3 lbs. of the stuff. Going with pork butt (rather than pork loin) was the way to go - it was gorgeous and fatty and so perfectly marbled that I'm almost tempted to post a photo of the pieces pre-marinade. I can only imagine the decadence of using pork belly. I'll definitely be trying it as ribs for our next barbecue - just better portability.

I served it with grilled asparagus and Grilled Cilantro Mint Naan, but it was almost a complete disaster. Next time, I'll just serve it with rice. I could see no way of filling a 6-inch round of dough with basically a cilantro-mint pesto, gathering it up, and then rolling the ball back out to a 7-inch round. Pesto went everywhere, no matter how gently I rolled. They became more like dough-y empanadas, which was fine, but wasn't really the point. If you're interested in the recipe, click on the link above, but here's the real deliciousness.

Char Siu Pork
adapted from Serious Eats

1/2 c. hoisin sauce
1/4 c. dry vermouth
2 T. soy sauce
1/4 c. honey
3 lbs. pork butt
1 T.Chinese five-spice powder

1. Combine hoisin sauce, vermouth, soy sauce, and honey in a gallon-sized zipper lock bag.

2. Cut the pork butt into 1/4-lb. pieces (into 12 if you're using 3 lbs.). Sprinkle five-spice powder evenly over each piece. Add pork to bag and mix until evenly coated. Seal bag, transfer to refrigerator, and let ribs marinate at least overnight and up to three nights.

3. Grill on a hot grill for about 15-20 minutes to your desired doneness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

a reason to celebrate

Fall is finally here, and Matty is home from a short East Coast tour. What better way to celebrate than with Braised Short Ribs and Red Wine Chocolate Cake. Right. I can't think of anything else either.

I must apologize for the terrible photos in this post. All the food came out so dark, our lighting is "romantic," and to be completely honest, I'm a bad photographer. But don't let any of that sway you from making either of these immediately.

One of our favorite dishes at Amalfi is their short rib + butternut squash ravioli. I mimicked them by using tiny dried butternut squash ravioli that I had in the pantry, and of course, they didn't nearly replicate the huge squash to pasta ratio of Amalfi's ravioli, they did the trick in bringing out a little extra sweetness in the dish.

The short ribs were the star. I didn't deviate much from Molly Stevens' recipe except to use a hazelnut brown ale rather than a porter. Braised for about 2 1/2 hours this morning, refrigerated and then reheated at 350 degrees for another half hour before dinner, they were near melting point. I loved the maple-rosemary-horseradish glaze - not overwhelmingly sweet, but a pleasant burst when you got a bite. I would have actually preferred more spice from the horseradish - perhaps that spice was removed when I was directed to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the prepared horseradish?

Short Ribs Braised in Hazelnut Ale with Maple-Rosemary Glaze
adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising
Serves 4-6

3 1/2 to 4 lbs. meaty bone-in short ribs
salt and pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. shallots, quartered
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 c. hazelnut ale, or more if neede
1 c. beef stock
one rosemary sprig
2 bay leaves

For the glaze
1/4 c. maple syrup
2 rosemary sprigs
1 T. prepared horseradish

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

2. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the olive oil in a heavy braising pot and add the ribs in a single layer without touching to brown on both sides. Do this in batches, if necessary. Transfer the seared ribs to a platter.

3. Add the onions and carrot to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown and soften.

4. Add 1 1/2 c. of ale and bring to a full boil. Boil for 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve any taste bits cooked onto it. Pour in the stock, bring again to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Return the ribs to the pot, along with any juices released as they sat. Tuck the rosemary sprig and bay leaves in between the ribs. The ribs should be partially submerged in the liquid. (I ended up adding another cup of ale).

5. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the ribs and hangs over the edges of the pot by about an inch. Set the lid securely in place. Slide the pot into the oven and braise at a gentle simmer, turning the ribs every 40 to 45 minutes until fork-tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

6. While the ribs are braising, make the glaze. Combine the maple syrup with the rosemary sprigs in a small saucepan. Heat to a gentle boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover and set aside to infuse for 1 hour. The glaze can be made up to a few days ahead and refrigerated.

7. When the ribs are tender and the meat is pulling away from the bone, you can cool and refrigerate to serve later (just reheat at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes), or if serving immediately, transfer them to a flame-proof baking dish large enough to accommodate them in a single layer. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and arrange them around the ribs. Cover to keep warm.

8. Tilt the braising pot to collect the juices in one end and skim off as much surface fat as you can with a large spoon. If the remaining braising liquid exceeds 1/2 c., bring it to a vigorous simmer over medium-high heat and cook it down, about 10-15 minutes. It should have a syrupy consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

9. Heat the broiler on high. If the glaze has been refrigerated, warm it slightly so that it's pourable. Remove the rosemary sprigs, lightly running your fingers down the length of the sprigs to save every drop of glaze. Remove as much liquid from the horseradish as possible, then stir into the glaze. Brush the glaze on the tops of the short ribs. Pour the reduced braising liquid around (not over) the ribs. Slide the ribs under the broiled and broil until the surface of the ribs develops a shiny, almost caramelized glaze and you can hear them sizzle, about 4 minutes.

10. Transfer the ribs to serving plates. Toss the ravioli in the pan juices and arrange around the ribs. Serve immediately.

And for dessert, what may be my new favorite chocolate cake. I'm generally wary of cocoa cakes - I never find that there is quite enough chocolate flavor, but there was nothing lacking from this one. It was incredibly rich and completely swoon-worthy. Interestingly enough, the wine I used (Newton Claret 2007) made the cake taste like a giant cherry cordial. Of course, that depends on the fruitiness of the wine you use, and I'm excited to try with other red wines to see how they all combine with the chocolate. Coming to mind immediately is the latest syrah from our friend Chris Pierce's Ledbetter Wines - we had the pleasure of tasting it a couple weeks ago, and the chocolate-y notes were divine and would probably push this cake right over the edge.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
from Smitten Kitchen

6 T. butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c. white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 c. red wine
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. + 1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t.salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and spray the interior with a nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate.

4. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

is this all there is

Four games into the season, and the chant of "Well, at least the food was good" has already begun. USC imploded against Arizona State last night, and I left a game watch before the game was over for the first time in, maybe ever.

But damn, the food was really good. We started with Hoagies & Wings wings (as always), Marc's ceviche, Christina's mini eclairs and Elmon's s'mores bars. Well, maybe I was the only one tucking into dessert first, but maybe my belly knew before watching the same that I was going to need to stress-eat in advance of this debacle.

Our entree came in the form of Edna Lewis' Oven Brisket, a recipe I found and shared with my buddy Paul (he says "tempted with") almost 6 months ago. We were on a barbeque kick at the time and were arguing about Dr. Hogly Wogly's vs. any other BBQ joint in LA. Well, actually, Paul was defending Hogly Wogly's briskey against Matty who wasn't a fan of the ribs there - I haven't been to Dr. Hogly Wogly's in years, and the last time I was there, Matty and I were in the early stages of our courtship, so I frankly could have been eating paper as long as it was with him.

Anyway, this is obviously not BBQ brisket. And I wasn't about to drag the smoker over to Paul's house for the game to repeat the to-die-for bourbon salt rubbed, smoked brisket Matty did for our Labor Day barbecue. To be honest, given a 3-4 lb. piece of brisket, I wouldn't rush to bake it in the oven again, but for the complete lack of effort the prep involved and the delicious result it yielded, it's not a bad fall-back. The pan juices were fantastically flavorful - I thickened them with a Tablespoon of flour to get a gravy that went perfectly with Paul's horseradish mashed potatoes. I then proceeded to more or less bury my face in my plate since I had already decided I couldn't watch this game any longer.

Wish I could be at next week's tailgate! Hope the food isn't the best thing about the day. :\

Edna Lewis' Oven Brisket
via Leite's Culinaria

3 lbs. brisket
salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. onions, peeled and sliced
3 or 4 whole allspice berries
1 bay leaf

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degres.

2. Pat the meat dry and season it with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the brisket. Sear it well on all sides until well-browned. Place the seared brisket in a heavy ovenproof pot or pan.

3. Add oil and onions and return to medium-highish heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden. Sprinkle the meat with pepper then add the browned onions, allspice, and bay. Cover tightly and transfer to the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 225 degrees and let cook undisturbed for 2 1/2 hours.

4. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board to rest. Spoon off any visible fat from surface of the pan juices and discard the bay leaf. Reduce over medium heat for a few minutes. Taste and season the pan juices with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Slice the brisket and serve with the pan juices.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

you inspire me

I've been chasing the Jogasaki Burrito truck for months. Always, it's been just out of convenience's reach. Tonight, it was more or less on my way home, and I was so excited to finally track it down. But then, just as I was leaving the office, I got into a very spirited food conversation with our IT guy (6 years, and I'm only finding out he's a foodie now), and I just had to get home and cook.

With my apologies and all due respect to Mr. Ottolenghi, I un-vegetarianized this dish of Brussels Sprouts + Tofu. As I was scanning my spice rack, my eye hit upon my bottle of fish sauce before it got to soy sauce, and I just had to have it instead. I'm sure the soy sauce version tastes just as good, but I was hit with a craving for the saltiness that can only come from fish sauce, and was too weak to stay true to the original recipe.

And because Steve and I were talking about roasting vegetables, I decided to give everything a turn in a very hot oven rather than pan-frying each element. I am trying to be better about falling back on to pasta at each meal, so instead of putting everything on top of soba noodles as I'm wont to do with Brussels sprouts and tofu dishes, I turned them into filling for lettuce wraps. And when I ran out of the right size lettuce to make proper wraps, I shredded up the rest of the lettuce and turned it into a big salad with the tofu marinade as dressing.

That marinade is something else. I could have put the sweet chile sauce on crackers and called it dinner, but the addition of sesame oil and fish sauce really put it over the top. It's a bright, sweet contrast to the earthy flavors of the roasted broccoli and mushrooms. I can't wait to put into rotation as a salad dressing in the not-too-distant future.

Brussels Sprouts + Tofu
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty

14 oz. tofu
1 lb. Brussels sprouts
1/2 lb. oyster mushrooms
2 1/2 T. fish sauce, divided
5 T. sesame oil, divided
2 T. sweet chile sauce
1 t. rice vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Dice the tofu into 1-inch cubes and press between two layers of paper towels to extract liquid while you prep the Brussels sprouts and tofu.

2. Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts, and slice the mushrooms into 1-inch pieces. Toss them in a medium bowl with 2 T. fish sauce and 2 T. sesame oil. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet and set aside.

3. In the same bowl, whisk together the remaining fish sauce and sesame oil, the sweet chile sauce and the rice vinegar. Add the tofu cubes and gently toss to coat. Marinate for about 10 minutes and then turn the mixture on to another foil-lined baking sheet.

4. Bake both baking sheets for 20-30 minutes until golden-brown, turning everything once or twice. Serve in lettuce wraps, over soba noodles, or as is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

on a wednesday

I have no brain space for an interesting post, but I do have delicious cake to share with you - Walnut Cake to be exact. It's a good, sturdy cake, and while you wouldn't think sturdy to be the best adjective for cake, it's actually quite the compliment. It's rich from the walnuts, but not so decadent you couldn't have it for breakfast.

I baked it in an 8x8 pan so that I could slice it appropriately to share at Metropolitan Master Chorale rehearsal - I was on snack duty tonight. It's always hard to find sharable treats - I didn't feel like brownies, and the right number of cookies would be too time-consuming. As soon as I read that Deb called this cake "Just Because It's Wednesday Night dessert," I felt like this cake chose me.

Rather than a jammy, whipped cream topping that wouldn't travel very well, I speared a raspberry to the top of each square of cake for a little sweetness. Will definitely be trying this again with full jam and cream when the cake only has to travel from stove to table. Also thinking of subbing in cashews for some sweeter richness.

Walnut Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 1/2 oz. walnuts
2/3 c. sugar
8 T. butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Toast the walnuts in a shallow pan for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

2. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.

3. Pulse cooled walnuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped. Add butter and process until combined, then add eggs and vanilla and process until combined. Add flour, baking powder and salt and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.

4. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

one meat ball

Because one cannot live on Hoagies & Wings alone (though one can sure try), I brought Pizza Meatballs to today's USC v. Syracuse tailgate. They were inspired by a contribution to last week's tailgate - pizza-flavored Pringles. And in keeping with that theme, these meatballs don't really taste anything like pizza either, but of course, that's not really the point.

That's not to say they weren't good. They were a bit dense - perhaps that's due to the lack of breadcrumbs? The fact that I took out the shredded mozzarella in the original recipe (but kept the smoked in half the batch) to respect a couple cheese-haters? In any case, I'd try a couple different proportions to get a lighter meatball, but the one that is a keeper is the sun-dried tomato-basil-shallot paste. The perfect flavoring. I'd love to turn into a sauce when I have more time - this time it was jarred marinara.

Pizza Meatballs
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

8 oz smoked mozzarella cheese
2 large shallots, chopped
1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/3 c. packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 T. tomato paste
3/4 t. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
Marinara sauce, warmed, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Dice the smoked mozzarella into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside.

2. In a food processor, pulse the shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, Parmesan, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to a paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the beef and pork and, using a wooden spoon or clean hands, stir until combined. Form into 1 1/4-to-1 1/2-inch meatballs. Insert 1 cube smoked mozzarella into the center of each meatball and form the meat around it, enclosing the cheese.

3. Place the fried meatballs on a baking sheet. Put in the oven and bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly, then serve immediately with marinara sauce, if desired.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

i'm going faster

I'm so behind on posts! This is dinner all the way from September 2. I prefer posting after each meal, but time's gotten the best of me. And sure, I could pretend I had this tonight, but I mean, I don't want to base our relationship on such untruths.

Anyway (and by the way, can I mention how much I hate it when people an "s" to "anyway"), this was the perfect meal for a girl with no time. Everything comes together in about a half hour - and that's only if you want to roast your veggies (saffron cauliflower, in my case). Otherwise, it's more like 5 minutes - nuke the frozen saag paneer (thanks, Trader Joe's), toast the naan (thanks again, Trader Joe's) while you're prepping the salmon, and while the other items cool enough to eat, your salmon is done.

The seasoning is mostly light, even for Indian-inspired cuisine, and all so tasty that you can slam down your meal in mere minutes and there you are, back to work!

Flash-Cooked Curried Salmon
adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 2-4

two 1/2 lb. salmon fillets
2 T. curry powder

1. Cut the salmon fillets in half horizontally to make 4 thinner pieces. Dust each piece with the curry powder and salt on both sides.

2. Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the fillet halves. Cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute on each side. You'll see the opaque pink color salmon turns as it cooks climbing up the sides of the fillets almost as soon as it hits the pan, and the idea is to serve it just a touch rare in the middle. You'll need to cook the fish in batches, but as each will take only 1 to 2 minutes, that shouldn't be much of a problem.

3. Serve immediately, with saffron-roasted cauliflower, sag paneer and garlic naan.

Friday, September 9, 2011

steady on the grind

Pesto is simply the greatest. I'm fully obsessed with it right now.

It's my favorite way to use up the various herbs and bags of nuts that I have lying about the house. And when I'm fried, like I was last week, buying a jarful from just about anywhere and throwing it with pasta is just about the easiest thing you can do for dinner.

I made this extra special with a little cream and butter and some deliciously fresh heirloom tomatoes. The brightness of the tomatoes cut the richness of the sauce, but it was still quite decadent.

Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce
adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves 3-4

12 oz. pasta
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
7 oz. prepared pesto
1/4 lb. heirloom cherry tomatoes, quartered

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain to a colander.

2. In the same pasta pot, melt the butter, then add the cream and pesto. Stir to combine.

3. Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly. Add the tomatoes and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

And then there are days when I try to get a little more creative. I had a bit of lobster and scallop left over from my cousin's wedding last weekend, so I went with a slightly more Asian bent to tonight's dinner. I liked the idea of a peanut sauce, but didn't want that aggressive of a flavor, so I chose cashews. I was out of basil, so went with cilantro.

It didn't come out quite as I expected - not bad by any stretch of the imagination, actually quite good - but it wasn't what I had quite envisioned. I expected the cashews to come out much creamier, but that may require an overnight soak. I think if I try this next time, I'd go for a cashew cream consistency barely flecked with cilantro, but then if I had done that tonight, it wouldn't really have fit in this pesto-themed post. :)

Cilantro-Cashew Pesto Pasta
Serves 2

8 oz. linguine
2 c. packed cilantro leaves
2/3 c. raw cashews
2/3 c. olive oil
8 oz. assorted cooked seafood

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cilantro and cashews and process into a paste. With the machine running, add the olive oil and process until combined.

3. Add the pesto and seafood to the drained pasta. Toss thoroughly to coat. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 5, 2011

one trick pony but he turns that trick with pride

How is it Labor Day? Where did summer go? I think most of it happened while I was answering emails, but knowing that doesn't ease the shock of the fact that it's September, and this was only our second barbecue of the summer (the first being way back on Memorial Day).

It's certainly not going to feel like summer's over weather-wise, though. Triple digits, thank you very much. I may die.

There was no way in hell I was going to add any heat to the un-air-conditioned house, so I resolved to not turn on the oven for my desserts. That proved to be easy because I got on a real popsicle bender, bought a mold on Amazon and paid more in shipping than the mold itself cost to get it here in time for the weekend.

I decided to make it slightly difficult by ruling out any recipes that required the stovetop as well - that meant simple syrups were out. Anything that required me to cook down fruit before pureeing was also out. I think that ended up being for the best - nothing but the freshest summer fruit sweetened gently, and not cloyingly with syrup.

So basically: Add all ingredients in the jar of a blender and puree until smooth. Pour in the popsicle molds and freeze until solid. All these make 10-15 popsicles depending on the size of your molds and how full you fill them.

The variations:

Watermelon Limeade Popsicles
1 lb. watermelon chunks
1/2 c. sparking limeade
2 large mint leaves

Classic, icy popsicle. Super refreshing. Froze in such a pretty pattern, although I'm not sure why the heavy watermelon solids didn't freeze at the bottom of the mold (i.e. top of the pop), but hey, whatever.

Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles
adapted from Orangette
2 c. Greek yogurt
2 c. raspberries
1/2 c. sugar

I imagine these to be equally good with any type of berry substituted in for the raspberries. I imagine Rainier cherries (if I ever have the patience to pit them first) would be delicious as well as gorgeous.

Peach Longan Popsicles
adapted from Canelle et Vanille
2 white peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
15 fresh longans, peeled and pitted
2 c. Greek yogurt
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. almond extract

And of course, the ones that made my eyes roll back into my head weren't visually stunning - nothing beige photographs well, plus there were melting issues so the popsicles didn't come out of their molds with patterns as well-defined as the two above. Plus, I was too busy eating them to photograph them.

The longans add a barely perceptible depth to the popsicles - if you can't find them (or fresh lychees), just skip. The brown sugar and almond extract do the same trick. Would probably also be good with maple or agave syrup as the sweetener.

I'll be eating the leftover popsicles all week pretending it's still summer.