Sunday, October 28, 2012

so much effort

Thanksgiving Test Recipe #2 (well, I guess #3 if you're counting both of the pumpkin macs separately).

I think I knew this was going to be too tedious for Thanksgiving even before I started assembling the mise en place, but I love a challenge, and this was too beautiful to not at least try.

And while I must admit I was having bad kitchen juju tonight (burned the chicken I was serving alongside the crostata), I don't think the crostata was quite worth the effort. The flavor was good, but the puree was a little runny. Perhaps I should have cooked it more before filling the crust, but I was over getting burned by splashes of boiling carrot puree - after all, I was already almost an hour into the process, and just wanted to have some damn dinner.

If looks were everything, though, this would most certainly end up on the Thanksgiving table. Will have to keep looking for another visual stunner. I just can't bear to think about spending this much time dicing, baking, simmering, sautéing - all for one 9-inch side.

Savory Carrot Crostata
Serves 8
slightly adapted from Leite's Culinaria

one frozen pie crust, thawed
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 small onion, diced
1 qt. vegetable broth
4 T. butter
2 egg yolks
1 c. grated Parmesan
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Roll the thawed pie crust out into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line it with aluminum foil, and fill the lined shell with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights, and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the crust is light golden. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

3. Select half the carrots, and slice them into thick coins. Reserve the remaining carrots for the spiral surface of the tart. Place the cut carrots in a large saucepan with the onion, and add just enough broth to cover. Bring the broth to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and gently cook the carrots for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the carrots are very tender and almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

4. Transfer the cooked carrots to a blender and puree until smooth, adding an extra splash of broth if necessary to loosen the mixture just enough to puree it. Transfer the puree to a skillet or sauté pan placed over medium-low heat. Cook briefly, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the puree is thick and any liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 T. of butter. Whisk in the egg yolks and Parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Cut the reserved carrots into thin, uniform coins. Melt 2 T. of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the carrots and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cook the carrots over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, or until they're just tender, moistening them with a splash of broth to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan, if necessary.

6. Spread the carrot puree over the baked tart crust. Arrange the carrot coins on top of the puree in slightly overlapping concentric circles, beginning at the outer edge of the tart, and ending at the very center.

7. Bake the tart for about 20 minutes, until the filling is heated through, and the top is lightly browned. Let cool for 10 minutes, and serve.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I am so excited to be hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Last year, we were in the middle of falling out of escrow on a house so we went out for Turkey day. This year, though, we're firmly settled into our house, and I get to have my holiday back.

So with 4 weeks to go until the big day, it's time to start testing recipes. First up, is pumpkin mac + cheese. I already have one fantastic recipe, but I couldn't resist making them side by side to compare when I saw the version on Spoon Fork Bacon.

Matty liked the original better - it's much cheesier (with twice the cheese), and has the extra perk of being baked to golden-brown deliciousness in the oven. I'm still on the fence. This new recipe has a less grainy consistency that I found more appealing. There's no denying the cheese quotient needs to be upped, but I'm not sure what it was that made it so much less grainy. Was it the simmer factor - in the original, cream and pumpkin puree is simply whisked together cold, while this one cooks on the stovetop for 10 minutes. Maybe it's just because there's less cheese or different cheese. I've got to get to the bottom of this. I can certainly make a smooth bechamel sauce with a different proportion of cheese and then bake the dish.

Looks like there will be another round of pumpkin mac + cheese in the future. I also teased this on my Facebook page, and a friend has already commented she has her own recipe. Round 2, coming up as soon as I recover from this one.

Pumpkin Thyme Mac + Cheese
slightly adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon
Serves 2-4

1 c. milk
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
8 oz. fusilli pasta
1 T. butter
1 1/2 T. flour
1 1/2 T. minced thyme
1 1/2 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 oz. smoked gouda, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Place milk and pumpkin puree in a large saucepan and stir together. Simmer for 10 minutes.

3Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the flour and whisk through until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the thyme. Stir in the cheese until just melted. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir gently to full combine. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

turning thirty

I turned 30 on Thursday. I didn't think I'd have a crisis about it, but I did have a little bit of an internal meltdown Tuesday night. Everything's fabulous - I just freaked out a little.

I decided the only way to feel better would be via a juice cleanse on the last day of my twenties. I like to think that it helped me reset. Either that or I was so hungry, I didn't have time to think about anything else. I definitely haven't looked back since:

Thursday: amazing birthday dinner at Scuola di Pizza
Friday: actually enjoying putting more effort into a Halloween costume than I ever have
Saturday: USC beating Colorado 50-6, and then drinking whiskey with some of my favorite people like I was turning 21 and not 30
Sunday: family dinner featuring Duck Bolognese

I really milked 30 for all it's worth. Back down to reality this week, but still dreaming about the bolognese, not only because it was so incredibly rich and delicious, but because the 2 hours of braising the duck legs in a whole bottle of wine has seared an intoxicating aroma into the kitchen. It was definitely worth the drive out to the 99 Ranch Market in Van Nuys to get duck legs on the cheap. Anyone out there have a more local source for duck legs?

Duck Bolognese
slightly adapted from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
serves 8

3 T. duck fat
3 lbs. duck legs
2 small onions, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 bottle red wine
3 T. tomato paste
1 qt. chicken broth
4 bay leaves
a dash of cinnamon
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
salt, to taste
24 oz. of your favorite pasta

1. Heat a Dutch oven large enough to hold all of the duck in one layer over medium-high heat and add the duck fat. When it melts, add the duck legs and brown them well (I found they browned perfectly in the time it took me to chop the vegetables).

2. When the meat is browned, remove it to a large plate and add the onions, celery and carrots. Cook until the onion is translucent.

3. Add a cup of red wine to the pot, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon until it is clean of the browned bits. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the remaining wine, chicken broth, bay leaves, cinnamon and shiitake mushrooms, and stir well.

4. Add the browned duck legs to the pot, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for at least 2 hours, or until the meat is about to fall off the bone.

5. When the meat is done, remove the duck legs and mushrooms. Roughly chop the duck, slice the mushrooms, and return all to the pot, stirring to combine well. (Here, the original recipe suggests passing the meat through a food mill or pulsing it in a food processor - just depends on the consistency you like). Salt to taste.

6. Serve mixed in and on top of your favorite pasta.

(I just had a mind-blowing thought: serve with gnocchi. Food coma for days, but oh boy).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

keep it light

My proteins-over-greens series continues, as does my quest to continue to eat lighter even when I'm not training for any athletic endeavors. I know it's only been two days in a row, but I'm hopeful.

I think this sauce is going to take me far on that quest. It is absolutely delicious as a marinade and cooked sauce when baked atop halibut (or if your wallet doth protest, tilapia, catfish, any mild white fish, will do), but it's also delicious as a raw-ish (-ish because canned coconut milk doesn't count as raw) dressing. I imagine it would also be a good sauce for shrimp, scallops, maybe even a good steaming liquid for clams.

I used parsley instead of the cilantro called for in the original recipe. Why, you ask?

Because the bottom of this photo is what my parsley looks like. And that "plant" in the middle of the picture is what my cilantro looks like. Coriander, anyone? Because that's all that's left of the cilantro.

Anyway, the parsley was perfect for the sauce. It was fresh and springy (even though LA is still in the fiery pits of summer a good month into the start of fall), but the final product still had a bit of depth and kick from the green onions and jalapeno. I left out the garlic, and I don't think I'd add it in next time - I think the raw garlic bite might be too imbalanced.

Halibut in Coconut-Parsley Sauce
adapted from 101 Cookbooks and Food Network
Serves 2

1 c. parsley leaves, lightly packed
1 c. coconut milk
5 green onions, white and light green parts only
1/2 seeded jalapeno
1 lb. halibut
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a blender, combine the parsley, coconut milk, green onions and jalapeno. Pulse until fairly smooth.

3. Season the halibut to taste and place in an 8x8 baking dish. Pour over about 1 c. of the sauce and turn to coat. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the fish is just opaque in the center and flakes easily. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

stick to the plan

I've started a private food journal, and it's an absolute disaster. I've never been much of a calorie-counter, and now I see why. It's not doing its job of guilting me into eating better - rather, it just makes me want to lie to my food journal. Or rip out that day's page and vow to start fresh the next day.

I'm realizing I need rules to my eating. When I went off the holy trinity of bread, pasta and dairy (while giving myself one cheat day per week to account for college football tailgates), I just didn't touch the stuff. Now that I can do whatever I want, I am. There's no gray area of moderation when it comes to me and Brie. Or mac and cheese. Or a pastrami sandwich.

I'm still trying to figure out what rule to make. Is it a no insert-vice-here until 6p sort of a rule like Mark Bittman gave himself? Or do I want to support Matty's endeavor to eat better as well by doing the reverse of that - get any potential temptations out of the way during the day while I'm at the office?

While I figure that out, we may be doing a lot of these protein-over-greens sort of meals. It's substantial at the same time it's light, and quick as anything to make. My salad mix tonight involved arugula, fennel, peppers and tomatoes from the garden, avocado, and the smallest bit of sage derby cheese. The chicken was skin-on, but wasn't cooked in any additional fat, so I felt pretty good about sticking with my plan, at least for tonight.

Chicken A La Jacques Pepin
from Jacques Pepin via Serious Eats
Serves 4

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste
your favorite salad mix

1. Pat the chicken dry and salt and pepper to taste. Set them skin side down on a cutting board, and make a 1-inch long and 1/2-inch deep incision on either side of the thigh bone.

2. Place the chicken skin side down in a nonstick skillet large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, then turn on the heat to high. When the chicken starts to sizzle, turn the heat to medium and cover the skillet tightly. Cook for about 15-18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into a meaty part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. Serve immediately over your favorite salad.

Monday, October 8, 2012

rules were made to be broken

I don't know who it was who first came up with the rule that cheese and fish shouldn't hang out together, but I'm pretty sure I could convince them to stop being such a killjoy with this Blue Cheese Broiled Salmon.

It's not particularly cheesy at all, but the the sharp tang of the Gorgonzola really work well with the fatty salmon. This flavor combination is also so inspiring that I'm going to try a homemade blue cheese schmear to go with some smoked salmon for brunch this weekend.

But back to dinner - cut all that richness with some spicy arugula and fennel tossed simply with lemon juice and olive oil, and you've got a decadent meal that doesn't weigh you down. This is definitely going on the good-enough-for-company list.

Blue Cheese Broiled Salmon with Mushroom-Fennel-Arugula Salad
adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 2

2 T. olive oil, divided
10 oz. cremini mushrooms
3 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
1 T. butter, softened
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
2 T. lemon juice, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
2 salmon fillets, 1 lb. total
2 oz. arugula
1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. In a medium skillet, heat 1 T. of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden brown, stirring only occasionally. You can leave it alone while you prepare the salmon.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the Gorgonzola, butter, parsley and 1 T. lemon juice to form a thick paste.

4. Lay the salmon fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet. Divide the Gorgonzola paste evenly between the two fillets. Broil for 8 minutes or until done to your liking. If you notice that the cheese is sliding off the fish, "baste" it back on - you're going to want that blue cheese flavor!

5. While the fish is broiling, toss together the mushrooms, arugula and fennel with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

6. Divide the greens between two plates. Plate the fish on top of the greens and serve immediately.

Friday, October 5, 2012

tell me your own politik

This is as political as I'm going to get on this blog. I adore Michelle Obama, and I adore this Cauliflower Mac + Cheese.

I'm not touting this as healthy, but it's certainly healthier than some of my other favorite mac and cheese recipes - recipes that use 3 times as much milk and cheese to create the same sort of delicious creaminess that this dish does.

I was hoping this would actually taste more like cauliflower because I love it so, but even though I roasted it, thinking it would up the flavor, this was more like a I'll-bet-you-can't-guess-there-are-vegetables-in-this sort of a dish.

In any case, I'll certainly be making this again and again. More Obama over the next four years sounds good to me.

Michelle Obama's Cauliflower Mac + Cheese
adapted from Michelle Obama via YumSugar

24 oz. cauliflower florets
olive oil
1 lb. farfalle
1 c. milk
3/4 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 lb. Trader Joe's Parmesan + Gouda, shredded
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. panko

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Toss the cauliflower with a few Tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Spread in one layer on a large cookie sheet and roast until golden-brown in spots, about 20-25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil, and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.

4. When the cauliflower is done, puree it in a food processor with the milk.

5. In a large bowl, combine the puree with the cooked pasta, cheese and parsley, and season to taste. Transfer to a 9-inch square baking dish.

6. In a small bowl, mix the panko with 1 T. olive oil until it resembles wet sand. Sprinkle across the the top of the pasta mixture, then place the dish under the broiler for a few minutes until the top is golden, and the sauce is bubbling.