Tuesday, May 22, 2012

brand new house

So I have a little secret to let you in on. I haven't said a word about it for fear of jinxing it, but I can now say that we have closed on a new house, and we'll have the keys in hand tomorrow morning! We are beyond thrilled and excited, but also fully realize that this is the last nice meal we'll have in a while, and it might actually be the last meal I cook in a while. I've already got terrible guilt about not being able to help in the renovations during the day that will be necessary before we move in, so I'll have to put in my time after work. Don't worry, I've already bookmarked every take-out place within a 5-mile radius, so if nothing else, we'll have a good grasp on the culinary landscape of our new neighborhood by the time we move in.

In the meantime, though, I don't want to detract from this Couscous-Crusted Salmon, a decadent but light dinner for the most casual to the most celebratory occasions. The crisp couscous crust is the perfect foil for the tender, fatty fish. It's different than a regular fish-fry sort of crust - you can almost taste the crunch of each individual grain of couscous. It cooks up in no time flat, too, so you can obsess over 18 shades of white paint chips for the rest of the evening.

Couscous-Crusted Salmon
adapted from Leite's Culinaria
Serves 2

1 c. uncooked couscous
1 c. water
4 T. butter, divided
2 6-oz. salmon filets
salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

1. Bring the water and butter to boil in a small saucepan. When boiling, remove from heat and add couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. When cooked, scoop out about a c. of couscous and spread on a large plate to cool.

2. Generously salt and pepper the salmon. Dip in the salmon in the beaten egg, then in plate of couscous, patting on extra couscous to completely coat the filet. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for a few minutes.

3. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the couscous-coated salmon and sear gently, turning once, until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Serve immediately.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

love in the spring

Friday night red-eye (complete with screaming child - I mean, red-eyes are something you inflict upon yourself, not babies), 2-hour drive outside of Philly, singing and dancing until late in the night, devastating Lakers loss, cheesesteak battle (Pat's beat Ishkabibble's this round) and then the latest flight back home to LA tonight. I don't know which way is up, but I am so filled with love and happiness for my dear, dear college friend Susanna that I could not think of a better way to spend the weekend.

We'll get home around midnight tonight, and to redeem the airport sandwich we had to call dinner, I'm going to splurge on cold pasta leftovers. It's really nice and springy, only slightly decadent with the bit of pancetta, and the one egg making up the sauce. I gave it extra oomph with a filled pasta, but a plain one will work just lovely. Oh, and add the peas - frozen or fresh, nothing is springier.

Pasta with Creamy Leek Pesto
slightly adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 4

3 T. olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, cubed
4 small leeks, trimmed and chopped
1 egg
0.75 oz. fresh parsley
10 oz. tortellini
1 c. frozen peas

1. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is cooked and the leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last minute, add the frozen peas. Reserve 1/4 c. of the pasta cooking liquid, drain and set aside.

3. When the leeks are done, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the egg, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Process until thoroughly combined, but still with some texture. Return to the skillet.

4. Add the pasta and toss quickly and thoroughly to combine. If necessary, thin the sauce with some of the pasta cooking liquid and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Sorry for the hurry-and-go on this post - insanely busy, on a juice cleanse and don't want to dwell on how delicious these ribs were. I heated up some leftovers for Matty yesterday, and I nearly had to cheat. Good thing I still had my Greens #4. *weep*

Fantastic, easy, fast clean-up. What more could you want?

Deviled Ribs
barely adapted from Saveur
Serves 4

3-lb. rack of spare ribs
salt and pepper to taste
3 T. heavy cream
2 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. dried bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season ribs generously with salt and pepper, place in a shallow roasting pan and bake until tender, about 40 minutes. Pork should be at least 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Set aside.

2. Stir together the cream and mustard in a small bowl. Brush evenly over the ribs. Sprinkle the ribs with the bread crumbs.

3. Heat broiler to high. Broil ribs until topping is browned and crusty, about 4 minutes. Flip ribs, and broil until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Cut into individual bones to serve.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

mother, mother

My mother's never been great at planning. She'll tell me about family functions literally the day before and get upset when I already have plans. She'll confirm events months in advance, and then I'll hear through someone else she has to cancel.

Like tonight. My sister and brother-in-law were in town, and I had reservations to one of Mom's favorite restaurants. Found out from Sister yesterday she switched her schedule to work today and wouldn't be home until 8p. Hey, I get work. But I mean, honestly.

But you know, I love her and stuff, so I made her pasta with shrimp and scallops in a tomato cream sauce, and we watched a very tense Lakers Game 7 from the comfort of my parents' house. And even with the basketball stress, and feeling utterly lost in her kitchen (I need a wooden spoon. Where is the measuring cup? Is this the biggest roasting pan you have?), this turned out to be a magnificent meal, and an easy one to boot - even my brain, which may be running out of memory space, is going to bank on this one for easy future company meals.

I call it Penne a la Ngocka. You see what I did there?

Penne a la Ngocka
adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves 8-10

2 lbs. penne
2 T. olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 c. dry vermouth
15 oz. can of tomato sauce
2 c. heavy cream
1 lb. shrimp, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. scallops, cut into bite-sized pieces (or whole if you're using bay scallops)
a handful of fresh basil, chiffonaded
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until onions are translucent and starting to take on color. Add the vermouth and let simmer for 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer.

4. Add the shrimp and scallops and cook until the shrimp is opaque. Add the cooked pasta and stir to thoroughly combine. Add the basil, salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Of course, that wasn't all - we started with a Smoked Oyster Pate, aka Best Party Trick Ever. It is just stunning how mindless it is to put together for such great flavor reward. My friend Marcela and I were just talking about smoked oysters last night, so I'm glad I had this recipe bookmarked and had the occasion to make it to satisfy the immediate craving I had from just talking about them.

Upon first tasting it, I thought there should be much more oyster flavor, and I mentally made a note to suggest here that you add another 3 oz. of oysters. When we got to my parents', and I set to work on the pasta, I set the pate out for everyone else, and by the time we were setting the table, I got to ask Matty what he thought of it and whether it needed more oysters. To my surprise, he said no, but when I finally got a taste, I had to agree with him. To truly get the flavor, I'd suggest refrigerating it for a half hour or so, and then letting it come to room temperature before serving.

Sorry there's no photo. Frankly, I forgot, but while this is tasty, it is not at all cute. So actually, you're welcome.

Smoked Oyster Pate
adapted from Food52
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

8 oz. cream cheese
6 oz. canned smoked oysters, drained
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
4 T. sliced green onions, white and some green parts
crackers or baguette for serving

1. Combine the cream cheese and oysters in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth.

2. Remove the oyster mixture to a medium bowl. Add the Worcestershire and green onions, and stir to thoroughly combine. Let sit for flavors to marry and serve room temperature.

Friday, May 4, 2012

just eat a hamburger

My dear friend Paul Tweeted this morning from the New Orleans Jazz Fest to inquire about the best burger in New Orleans. I don't have the most experience with food in New Orleans, and it's certainly been a few years since I've been there, but I vividly remember the blissful food coma I was in after visiting Port of Call, so I suggested he make a stop there. I can't wait to read the review on his blog to see if my memory serves correctly.

The only problem with reading/replying to that Tweet was that I couldn't shake the idea of burgers for dinner the rest of the day. And what goes better with watching Game 3 than burgers?

I was initially inspired by a chicken burger recipe from Rachael Ray (yes, Rachael Ray) that included golden brown mushroom pieces right in the patty. But guys, it's the playoffs. We don't do chicken burgers in the playoffs. So I just subbed ground beef instead, and cooked the mushrooms in bacon fat. Paul has a term - "stealth bacon" - that refers to using bacon right in the grind of the burger, but I felt this small bit of bacon fat made it even more stealth, and that, plus the addition of the depth of flavor provided by the mushrooms, makes you look like even more of a genius.

Bacon-Mushroom Burgers
inspired by Rachael Ray
serves 4

6 slices bacon, cut in half lengthwise
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
3.5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
salt and pepper

1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until golden brown and crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve the fat in the pan.

2. Add all of the mushrooms and saute until all the liquid they release is evaporated, and mushroom pieces are golden brown in spots. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

3. Add the ground beef, salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly with your hands to combine, then form into 4 patties.

4. Cook patties until done to your liking - on the grill, in a cast-iron pan, etc. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

cut the mustard

It's been over a week since I've had time for any cooking, so when I finally got a chance to tonight, I was going to make something that allowed me to do all the fun stuff - chopping tons of veggies and stirring, stirring, stirring risotto. 

Well, actually, none of those fall into my fun list, but they do fall into the mindless, peaceful tasks list, and these days, that counts as fun in my book.

It's jambalaya meets risotto. I'm not sure the sauce was very mustardy, but it still had a good amount of heat, especially with the andouille. Except this wasn't the excellent andouille I would normally get from European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen - I couldn't be bothered to drive the opposite way across town tonight. I went to Gelson's to pick up all my fixings, and to my utter surprise, they had andouille. It was only when I got home that I realized the stuff I had picked up was fully-cooked andouille-style chicken sausage. I would, of course, use real andouille the next time, but this was surprising good for grocery store chicken sausage. 

Andouille Sausage + Shrimp Risotto with Creole Mustard Sauce
adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 c. arborio rice
2 T. vegetable oil, divided
1/2 lb. peeled, deveined shrimp
8 oz. jar of Eastern oysters, drained
salt and pepper
1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into 3/4-inch slices
1 large onion, large dice
1 large red bell pepper, large dice
5 1/2 c. vegetable broth, divided
5 T. Creole mustard
2 t. red wine vinegar

1. Heat 1 T. oil in a medium saucepan. When shimmering, add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Toast for two minutes until somewhat translucent and golden in spots.

2. Add a total of 4-4 1/2 c. of broth, 1 c. at a time, stirring until broth is absorbed before adding more.

3. Meanwhile, heat 1 T. oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage pieces, and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl.

4. Salt and pepper the shrimp and oysters. Add them to the skillet and cook until the shrimp are just opaque in the center, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage.

5. Add the onion and bell pepper to the skillet, and saute until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, mustard and vinegar, and stir until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Return the sausage, shrimp and oysters to skillet, and simmer until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Fold into the risotto and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.