Wednesday, February 29, 2012

roll up

There was no way dinner tonight was going to go wrong. Before I had even left the office, Matty texted asking if he should open a bottle of wine. Then he went full sous chef in the kitchen, and we got to laugh together at the horribly misshapen rolls that he put together. I haven't had that much fun in the kitchen in a long time.

We made rolls out of Ottolenghi's Broccoli + Gorgonzola Tart because I was too lazy to a) wait for puff pastry to thaw and b) roll out said puff pastry to make a double crust. And c) blind bake the crust. And d) bake it yet again all filled. What I'm not too lazy for is using ready-made crescent rolls and stuffing them with the deliciously tarragon-y broccoli-leek mixture and rolling them up. Even that was bordering on too much for Matty - he said his man-brain would have taken the entire sheet of crescent roll dough, spread the broccoli over the whole thing and done it up jelly-roll style. I'm a little mad I didn't think of that myself, but individual rolls are just so damn cute!

We each ate way more than our fair share, and the filling I list below probably makes enough to fill three 8-oz. portions of crescent dough, so go ahead and make that little extra if you're planning on serving a crowd (or just discarding your hard work at the gym).

Broccoli + Gorgonzola Rolls
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Makes 16 rolls

2 T. olive oil
3 leeks, quartered, then sliced thinly
1/4 c. chopped chives
1/4 c. chopped tarragon
1 c. half-and-half
1 T. Dijon
12 oz. broccoli florets, finely diced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 8-oz. cans refrigerated crescent rolls
1/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and saute until softened. Add the chives, tarragon, half-and-half and Dijon, and bring to a simmer. Add the broccoli and stir well to combine. Set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Separate each can of crescent rolls along the perforations - you should have 16 triangles. Spoon 1-2 T. of the broccoli mixture onto each triangle, spreading evenly. Roll up carefully. Repeat with the remaining triangles.

4. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve. I paired it with an arugula and tomato salad, tossed with truffle oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

the road to morocco

I troll the food blogs almost every day, and have quite a healthy (healthy big, not necessarily healthy healthy) collection of Recipes to Make Soon on Pinterest, but lately, I've unfortunately not been inspired by the newest recipes. That's not a knock on any fellow bloggers - it's just my palate hasn't been craving what they've been making.

So I tear myself away from my precious Internet and dive into my beloved cookbooks. And as is normally wont to happen when I do is that I find all kinds of recipes I didn't bookmark (literally, not digitally) the first time around. Including this Moroccan Spiced Fettuccine. Be forewarned, this week of food will be heavy on the Ottolenghi.

It was a little too spicy and a little too coriander-heavy for me, so the below recipe includes a half teaspoon less of both cayenne and ground coriander, but overall, this combination of flavors was fantastic. I don't know if this happens to anyone else, but when I read cinnamon in a savory recipe, I automatically think it's sweet because it's so well-associated with pie, but this is no sugary pasta. It's rich from the browned butter and as complex as you think it would be from the huge ingredient list. The mint and parsley add just the right amount of freshness to elevate the dish. I didn't add it this time, but since I've been feeling especially guilty for not eating enough vegetables, I might throw in a couple handfuls of baby spinach to add a little more green to the meal.

To round it out a little more, I roasted chicken breasts (4 4-oz. paillards) for Matty and 6 oz. sliced portobello mushrooms for me in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes and tossed them in with the pasta/butter at the last minute. I imagine this would also be excellent with a variety of other protein - seared scallops on top, or something as assertive as salmon or even steak tossed in.

Moroccan Spiced Fettuccine
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty

1 lb. fettucine
1 t. saffron threads
2 sticks butter
4 T. olive oil
1/2 c. finely chopped shallots
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. chile flakes
1 t. salt
4 T. roughly chopped mint
4 T. roughly chopped parsley

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the fettuccine and saffron threads and cook to al dente.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan big enough to hold the cooked pasta. Add the oil and shallots and cook over medium heat until the shallots are soft and the butter turns slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add all the spices and salt and stir to combine. Set aside.

3. When the pasta is done, drain it and immediately add it to the butter mixture. Toss thoroughly to combine. If desired, add a protein and toss again to combine.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

to cushion the blow

If I had noticed this Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust was from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, I would have bought it when I saw it at Auntie Em's for brunch this morning.

Matty had requested a quiche for dinner Friday night, and I thought this would be a good variation. However, as I got to reading through the complete instructions, I realized that it was a lot of steps that would take a lot of time. I mean - 10 minutes to make the polenta, 10 to cool it, 15 to cool the crust, 45 to bake and then 20 to cool (40 would be better??). Sounds like a Sunday Supper to me.

So we made do with a cozy soup for Friday's dinner, and I leisurely made this as the Lakers made an embarrassment of themselves in Phoenix tonight. Any time things got too uncomfortable to watch, I'd duck into the kitchen with the excuse that I had to check on it. It's a really good thing we had this comforting tart for dinner afterwards. That thick, hearty polenta crust could cushion the strongest of blows. It was a nice contrast to the light and bright filling. I was afraid the Greek yogurt would be too tart and even thought about adding another egg to the filling to make it more savory, but I'm glad I kept it as is. I'd dial back on the rosemary next time because I personally thought it was a little overwhelming with the other lighter herbs. I also didn't feel like I could taste the Brie, so I'd leave it out and save the calories next time. The original goat cheese called for in the recipe would obviously be a stronger flavor, but Matty's not a fan, so I subbed it out. Maybe some Gruyere next time?

I can't wait to have it again for breakfast tomorrow, as I'm sure ESPN will remind me again of the Lakers debacle while I'm at the gym in the morning.

Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust
adapted ever-so-slightly from The Wednesday Chef

For the crust
2 1/2 c. water
1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 c. medium grind cornmeal
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1/4 t. pepper

For the filling
2 large eggs
1 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 c. thinly sliced green onion, white and light green parts only
2 T. finely chopped parsley
1 T. finely chopped rosemary
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
12 oz. artichoke hearts, quartered (can be canned or frozen)
2 oz. Brie, rind removed
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

1. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the cheese, egg and pepper.

2. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with olive oil. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Set aside for 15 minutes and then pat out an even rim about 3/4 of an inch thick.

3. Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees.

4. Whisk the eggs, yogurt, green onions, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper together until well-combined. Distribute the artichoke hearts evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the Brie on top of the artichokes and pour the yogurt filling evenly over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes, though 40 is better. The tart can be prepared up to one day ahead.

Friday, February 17, 2012

sing sing sing

It's been about 6 months since I took a voice lesson (and that voice lesson was my first since college). So much for last year's New Year's Resolution of working on my voice. I had extra good and secret Resolution-y intentions to try to pick that back up this year, especially since the Metropolitan Master Chorale is singing Mozart's requiem this season. Devastatingly, I've had to withdraw from this concert cycle because work has been my entire life, and I could no longer swing 3-hour rehearsals once a week.

And if I can't do that, I certainly can't add another hour every week for private training. But I do have a few takeaways from that one lovely lesson. Don't be eating no dairy, no spice or anything acidic before you sing! Obviously nothing heavy either. But take away all those things, and whatever meal you come up with sounds hideously boring.

One dish (or bowl, as the case may be) that seems to fit all the above requirements (including the boring bit) is Potato-Leek Soup. But today, I felt like I reached new ground with this one. This soup was so lovely - sweet from the leeks, but creamy and filling from the potatoes. I'd suggest letting it cool for a few minutes before finishing your final seasoning. To be honest, I ended up just giving up on the seasoning because I couldn't taste anything more with all that heat, and I thought I had ended up with boring soup, but as it cooled, it really came into its own.

Of course, I then proceeded to break the cardinal rule of no-dairy with a delicious smoked Gouda grilled cheese sandwich. Good thing I didn't have rehearsal tonight.

Potato-Leek Soup
adapted from David Lebovitz

4 T. olive oil
2 lbs. leeks, trimmed, rinsed and sliced thinly (about 8 c. sliced)
1 1/2 lb. potatoes
6 c. water
2 bay leaves
a lot of salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until tender. Add the potatoes and water. Generously salt and pepper.

2. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaves, and puree the soup. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then add more salt and pepper as necessary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

his and hers

Valentine's Day. I love it. No, you shouldn't need a Hallmark holiday to tell someone you love them - you should do that every day. But a day to tell someone you love them a little extra? I'm in.

(Do I preach this every year? Sorry. But I still mean it).

We haven't gone out for Valentine's dinner in a very long time. (I was just counting it up, and it's been 8 Valentines. Crazy). Anyway. We haven't gone out for Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day...any day where dining establishments feel it's necessary to celebrate with an overpriced prix-fixe menu. And with me still off the meat wagon until the middle of next month, most of our normal celebration spots wouldn't be appropriate anyway, unless I wanted to make an entire meal of sides (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Matty requested scallops and rice to be part of the meal equation. The thought of just rice horrified me, so I made a quick saffron risotto. I don't know what it was - the saffron? the fact that it was more than the flat white rice I had pictured when Matty first made the request? the extra love from the holiday? - but it was one of the finest risottos I had ever made.

Scallops were easy - just salted, peppered and seared in olive oil. My version of scallops was supposed to come from seared egg tofu (like Andrea, I had also first tasted their magic at Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant), but after a full year of searching, I only learned yesterday that it's only available in one store in the San Gabriel Valley. I made do with similarly-shaped extra soft tofu. It seared up very nicely in olive oil, but was entirely too soft for my taste - the middle still practically oozed out onto the plate. Barring finding egg tofu next time, I think I'd rather buy a block of extra firm tofu and cut circles out of it. Luckily, the roasted broccoli and quartered shiitake mushrooms saved the day - either/both of those would be extra lovely stirred into the risotto at the last minute.

I leave you with the risotto recipe:

Saffron Risotto
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 T. olive oil
1 c. arborio rice
1 t. saffron
4 c. vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in medium saucepan and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until translucent.

2. Add the rice and saffron and stir to combine. Saute for 2 minutes, or until rice starts to become translucent. Add 1/2 c. of the broth, stirring occasionally until all the broth is absorbed. Continue adding stock in this manner until the rice is done. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

midnight special

It's Grammy week, or as I call it, Forget-to-Eat Week. Add in a full moon and an unshakeable bad mood, and you've got a Ngoc that is both crazy and cranky. And last night at midnight, after having had a painfully mediocre attempt at comfort food for lunch and having worked through dinner, I was in spectacular form.

I wanted to get some actual good comfort food for dinner, but I was on auto-pilot and didn't make the right turn for the Brite Spot, none of my Thai or Vietnamese places were still open, and there was no parking by Fred 62. I was out of pasta at the house (the horror!), but it was so late that I couldn't bring myself to do any more driving around. I was going to have to get creative and rustle something up.

I thought about going the simple route and just frying up a couple eggs with toast, but then I remembered a recipe I wanted to experiment with - Thai Omelette. Eggs that are both fluffy and crispy? Yes, please. I was a little concerned about the amount of oil required. I wasn't so much afraid that the eggs would soak up so much oil, but what I would do with the remainder. It seemed a little wasteful.

Luckily, I just saved it and used it again this morning. The omelette was so good that I had to make it again for Matty for breakfast. I seriously thought about making another for myself, despite my brunch plans, but I refrained. There will be plenty of time for omelettes soon. I probably won't use olive oil again - vegetable oil would be a more neutral flavor, but I was out - but the olive oil one might lend itself to a lot of Italian-inspired flavors - maybe a rosemary one, or a sun-dried tomato one, maybe even a pesto one.

Thai Omelette
from She Simmers
Serves 1

3/4 c. vegetable or olive oil
2 eggs
1 T. cornstarch

1. Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet until smoking.

2. While the oil is heating, beat the eggs with the cornstarch until no lumps remain.

3. When the oil is sufficiently hot, hold the bowl about a foot above the skillet and pour in the egg mixture. Fry for 40 seconds, flipping halfway through. Drain on paper towels for a minute, and serve over your choice of carbs.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

super bad

I recognize that no amount of kale is going to scrub my arteries clean after the hit they took from this Spinach Truffle Mac, but hey, it's the Super Bowl, and hey, I tried! (And yes, I am embarrassed by the way the photo looks - you're just going to have to trust that it was brilliant-tasting. I mean, you're not coming here for the photography, are ya?)

The salad of kale, bell pepper, carrot and peanut vinaigrette was a big hit, but I had different expectations, and feel there's a lot more room for experimentation. I was still scarred from the overly sweet stuffing in these eggplant, so I left the brown sugar out of the original recipe. While it gave the salad a nice vinegar-y kick, it didn't really enter the realm of Thai peanut sauce that I thought this dressing was going to. In hindsight, that was probably for the best since we didn't need any extra heaviness, but when I make this salad again as an entree, I will opt for a creamier peanut sauce. Maybe that's just a matter of whisking in some oil and vinegar with store-bought peanut butter - extra perk, no need to clean the food processor!

But the undeniable star of dinner (well, the vegetarian version, anyway - our friend Jeff grilled up two kinds of ribs that I had to sit far away from to avoid "accidentally" eating), was this mac and cheese. So creamy and rich, stinky (in a good way) from the truffle oil, and just everything bad for you that this Super Sunday should be. Matty likes a crispy top to his mac and cheese, but I'd just as soon scoop this directly from the pan and revel in its lusciousness. Might be nice when serving a larger party to give the option by scooping each serving into a ramekin and broiling the panko-Parmesan topping for anyone who wants one.

Spinach Truffle Mac
adapted from The Beachcomber via the LA Times

1 stick of butter
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
3.5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
6 oz. baby spinach
2 c. heavy cream
12 oz. smoked Gouda, shredded
8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese +1/4 c. for topping
1/4 c. truffle oil
1 lb. pasta (I used rigatoni)
1/4 c. panko

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large, oven-proof pot, melt the butter. Add both kinds of mushrooms and saute, relatively undisturbed, until mushrooms are mostly golden. Add the spinach, and stir through to wilt.

3. Add the cream, Gouda, 8 oz. Parmesan and truffle oil. Stir to melt. Add the cooked pasta, and stir to thoroughly combine.

4. Mix the remaining 1/4 c. Parmesan with the panko and sprinkle the mixture over the pasta. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until topping is golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing
adapted from The Kitchn

2 bunches lacinato kale
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into fine strips
1 large carrot, peeled and trimmed
3/4 c. salted, roasted peanuts, divided
1/3 c. olive oil
1/6 c. apple cider vinegar

1. Fold each leaf of kale in half lengthwise and slice out the center rib. Discard ribs. Roll a stack of the leaves up and slice into very fine ribbons. Wash and rinse thoroughly.

2. Toss the kale with the sliced bell peppers. Create curls from the carrot using a vegetable peeler. Toss with the kale, red pepper, and 1/2 cup of the peanuts.

3. In a food processor, briefly puree the remaining 1/4 cup peanuts, oil, and vinegar until combined, but not completely pureed.

4. Toss the dressing with the slaw and let it sit for at least a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

only meant well

I realize this photo doesn't really do much to explain what I've done here this evening. Yes, I made grilled sandwiches for dinner. No, I probably shouldn't have one day off of a juice cleanse.

I really thought I was doing a good thing - the Artichoke-Basil Spread sounded like a lovely, light thing to have for dinner. But then I thought about adding cheese to it. And unless it's a caprese sandwich, the cheese should probably be melted. And if it's going to be melted, you might as well spread mayo on the outside of the sandwich and make it a grilled cheese sandwich. (I heard that's what The Grilled Cheese Truck does. I've since researched, and they use half butter-half mayo, but I wasn't about to make a butter-mayo spread. I mean, let's not get crazy).

Anyway, with the best of intentions, this could be a very lovely, healthy sandwich. Leave out the mayo in the spread (which really doesn't do terribly much either way for it), pile it onto some whole-grain this-and-that bread, add avocado (OMG - my brain just exploded with a great idea, literally right now - add avocado to the food processor for a super creamy spread), maybe some sprouts, some spicy arugula, a couple slices of heirloom tomato, and you've got a delicious vegan dinner. Or get crazy messy and decadent with 3 slices of Muenster (mine) or go carnivorous with a couple slices of prosciutto in the middle (Matty's).

The spread on its own would make a lovely dip or bruschetta topping. Do you hear me Super Bowl appetizer-seekers?

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Artichoke-Basil Spread
adapted from Serious Eats
Makes 4 sandwiches (with plenty of leftover artichoke spread)

2 14-oz. cans of artichoke hearts, drained
2 oz. basil leaves
4 T. mayonnaise
salt and red pepper flakes to taste
8 slices potato bread
8-12 slices Provolone or Muenster cheese
4-8 slices prosciutto (optional)

1. Combine the artichoke hearts, basil leaves and mayonnaise in the bowl of a food processor. Process until fairly smooth. Salt and red pepper flake to taste. Set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spread a thin layer of mayo on one side of each piece of bread. Layer a slice of cheese on the non-mayo'ed side, top with 1-2 T. of artichoke, add another slice of cheese (or 2 slices of prosciutto), some more artichoke, one last slice of cheese, and a slice of bread (mayo side up).

3. Transfer to the skillet, and grill for a few minutes on each side, until the bread is golden-brown, and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.