Monday, March 30, 2009

mondays deserve flowers

Some happy ranunculus to start off your week. I don't know about you, but I think I deserve flowers just for getting to work on Mondays.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Just a few quick links—my parents are flying up from Florida today for a short visit so I'm busy (excitedly) tidying up the apartment.

Shredded pork shoulder is a great way to feed a big crowd cheaply. The Kitchn has a helpful step-by-step tutorial on how to do it. [via the Kitchn]

Deb's beef empanadas look like perfect dinner party fare--you could also make mini versions, for appetizers. [via Smitten Kitchen]

Two Times food writers create dinners for six people under $50. Frank Bruni acts as if this is an impossible feat, but clearly it's not that hard when you're used to working with a budget. [via NYT]

The newly-redesigned Pithy & Cleaver has a tasty-looking spicy mixed nuts recipe. [via P&C]

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

springing forward (part deux)

So I jumped the gun a little on spring, but who cares when you're eating a strawberry-rhubarb parfait? Alice Waters might give me the stink eye, but she's on my bad list these days anyway. Did anyone catch her on Sixty Minutes the other weekend? Talk about being out of touch.

I saw Alice Waters at a big charity food event about a year ago. The guests attending paid lots and lots of money to eat lots and lots of dainty little hors d'oeuvres made by famous chefs. There were tables full of raw oysters, foie gras, tuna belly, fancy cheeses, locally-raised grass-fed organic pork from such-and-such farm—all very high-end stuff. And there was Alice Waters, tossing a gigantic wooden bowl of mixed greens. Everyone got a little plate of salad and a beatific smile from the lady herself. The salad was just lettuce leaves and nasturtiums on a (recycled) paper plate. But somehow it tasted magical, sprinkled with her fairy dust. Which was precisely her point: that really, really good lettuce can be just as tasty and interesting anything else. Well, almost as tasty. I remember going back to the oyster bar many times that night.

Don't get me wrong, I think Alice Waters is extremely commendable for launching school gardens and being a tireless advocate for local farmers. She helped put local, sustainable food on the map in the U.S., forcing people to actually think about where their dinner comes from. But I think Saint Alice is in need of some Real Talk. Like on the whole Nikes vs. grapes issue. She thinks it's a matter of priorities, of valuing Nikes, or an iPhone, or your daily Frappucino over good, healthy food. I think it's a matter of access. It's nice if you live in bountiful California like she does, but let's say you live in the inner city of Chicago, or North Dakota, and don't have organic grocery stores or farmers markets in your neighborhood. How can you follow her "local, seasonal, organic" mantra? And that's not even taking into consideration how expensive organic food is. Lots of people can't afford grapes or Nikes, perhaps more now than ever before.

To me, the main goal is to make healthier choices. To cook at home more often, to use natural ingredients when possible, to avoid processed foods. I try to buy organic as much as I can, but when I feel a little strapped for cash or money is actually tight, I reach for the broccoli that is cheapest. I even eat--gasp--out of season sometimes. Sometimes you just want pineapple, you know? And I'm not hopping on a plane to Hawaii anytime soon to eat one that's local.

Take this strawberry-rhubarb parfait for example. Sure, it would probably taste better with locally-grown fruit that is in season. It would be better for the environment too, requiring less shipping and carbon emissions, not to mention pesticides. But we all make choices every day. Is eating this dessert healthier than eating some cookies? Yes. Is cooking with fresh ingredients good for you? Yes. When you're held to the standards that Alice Waters and other like-minded food advocates believe in, you can never measure up. But if you try to make the best decisions for yourself and your budget and lifestyle, you usually can't go wrong.

Strawberry-rhubarb parfait
There are endless ways to eat this tangy and sweet fruit compote: over ice cream or plain yogurt, topped with cookies or meringue, baked in a crisp, or simply layered with whipped cream, to name a few.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 bunch rhubarb (about 5-6 stalks), trimmed and washed
1 pint strawberries, washed and cut into quarters

Place the water, lemon, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the the rhubarb and strawberries, stirring until the fruit is evenly coated. Let simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, until it is tender but still holds its shape. Taste and add extra sugar, if necessary. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature. It will thicken slightly.

To make parfaits: Fill a tall glass with layers of whipped cream and the compote. Top with toasted almond slivers, crushed cookies, or a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Monday, March 23, 2009

springing forward

Several years ago, when I was an intern at Southern Living, the magazine's garden editor said, "Spring's about to explode any day now." It was the end of March and the seasons hadn't quite changed yet in Alabama. Being a life-long Floridian (winter who?), I had never experienced spring before, and I thought that was a strange choice of words for something I imagined to be so soft, so delicate, so light. But he was right. Spring does explode. After months and months of bare branches—wham!—the trees are suddenly covered with yellow-green leaves and little blossoms that fall like confetti all over the sidewalk. First comes the shockingly yellow forsythia, then tiny little snowdrops, Easter egg-colored crocuses, then daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and my favorite, cherry blossoms. Now that I've lived through several New York springs, I know how the colors and aromas (and pollen, unfortunately) can be a whack to your senses after winter's bleak cold. The garden editor was spot-on, as he was with everything else nature-related, and I always think of him this time of year.

Spring officially began on Friday, but you wouldn't know it here. It's still kind of grey and chilly and drab outside. (These photos are from last year.) Little green things are just starting to push out of the soil--yesterday I saw a sunny patch of daffodils and almost cried--and tree branches are still dotted with hard, knobby buds. I know change isn't far off, but it feels like spring is really dragging its heels. I have a theory that the dismal state of the economy has made this winter feel even longer and more treacherous. Obviously the return of spring won't help my unemployed friends find jobs or get the stock market to stabilize, but there's something sightly helpful about it mentally. I'd like the illusion of turning a new leaf, at least.

So I'm taking matters into my own hands and moving on. No more roasted vegetables, no more puffy coat. See ya, electric blanket. Last weekend, I wore my lightest jacket (I was a little cold, but whatever) and went to the grocery store, where I grabbed a bunch of skinny, bright green asparagus, radishes, fragrant chives, and some ruby red rhubarb, the first I've seen since last summer. What I made with these ingredients was nothing complicated or especially special, but dinner tasted so good and fresh. It is exactly what I want to eat right now. Hello, spring.

Tuna, asparagus, and new potato salad with chive vinaigrette and fried capers
Do you notice anything missing in the photo? Tuna, perhaps? I was so absorbed in chopping and blanching the veggies that I completely forgot to add the tuna. But this salad (from Bon Appetit's March issue) is so good, I didn't even realize it was missing until I brought our dirty dishes back into the kitchen and noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting there on the counter. D'oh! There's so many delicious little things going on in this salad we didn't even miss it, although the tuna does make it a more substantial meal. Which might keep you from doubling up on dessert. Not that we did that.

A few notes: I love BA, but sometimes its instructions can be a little wonky. I simplified the vegetable and egg cooking process by just keeping one pot of water boiling on the stove, to which I added and removed ingredients. I also dressed the veggies and lettuce in one bowl; so much easier than doing everything separately.
(Serves 4)

For the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
cup Champagne vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. honey
tsp. Dijon mustard
cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad
1 1/2
lbs. thick asparagus, stems peeled (I used thin and skipped the stem peeling step)
1 1/4
lbs. baby red potatoes, halved or quartered
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup capers, drained, patted dry
8 oz. mixed spring greens
16 large radishes, trimmed, very thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
3 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
12 oz. imported tuna packed in oil, drained
Chive blossoms (optional)

For the vinaigrette:

Puree first 5 ingredients in blender until smooth. With machine running, gradually add vegetable oil, then olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad:
Cook asparagus in large skillet of boiling salted water until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan (or large bowl) of ice water to cool. Drain asparagus and pat dry. Keep the water boiling

Place the potatoes and eggs in the boiling water. Cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain and transfer the potatoes and eggs into a large bowl of ice water (use the one for the asparagus but refill with cold water and ice). Let cool 5 minutes then drain. Crack the eggs and remove the shells. Slice into quarters and set aside. Place the potatoes in a large bowl with the radishes and the greens. Add 1/3 cup vinaigrette; toss to coat. Add 1 more tablespoon vinaigrette if dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the capers:
Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add capers and fry until capers are crisp and open like flowers, stirring often, 45 to 60 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer capers to paper towels to drain.

Plate the greens, potatoes, and radishes prettily on plates. Add the eggs, tuna, and asparagus on top. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the tuna. Sprinkle with the fried capers and chive blossoms if you have them (I didn't).

Friday, March 20, 2009

happy spring

I've been under the weather all week and not up for much cooking. Or changing my clothes, but that's another matter. Apologies for the lack of posts—and weekly links. To make up for it, here's a photo I took last weekend of some pretty hyacinth in honor of the first day of spring. Yes, it's officially spring today—in spite of the snow we had this morning in New York. Sigh.

Have a great weekend,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, I've got a post over at Shelterrific on making Irish lamb stew. Even if you're not celebrating (and honestly, who really is?) it's a nice dish for this in-between, can't-decide-if-it's-spring-or-winter weather—here in New York, anyway. It's also a good way to use up any stray root vegetables lying around that you kind of can't face anymore...

Monday, March 16, 2009

what to do with antipasto leftovers

Sometimes after a party you end up with a lot of little edible odds and ends usually left over from the pre-dinner snacks. A handful of olives, the end of a wedge of cheese, a few salami slices. Normally this stuff gets gobbled up the next day around our house, but what if you could make a meal around those leftovers?

A few weeks ago, while racking my brain for some dishes to make this week, I reached for an old copy of Food & Wine containing their 30 best fast dishes. (Thanks again, Mindi for this issue!) I haven't quite made my way through the whole list, but I'm almost there. And I can pretty much guarantee that you really can't go wrong with any of them. It really is a fantastic bunch of recipes, and as promised, they are all pretty quick and easy.

In the story, a photo of a platter of lettuce with a bunch of interesting toppings caught my eye: Nancy Silverton's antipasto salad with bocconcini and green-olive tapenade. It sounded like exactly the thing to eat that night while watching the final game of All-Star weekend. Like an antipasto platter with the illusion of being healthy. Does lettuce ever really healthify anything?

I had to buy a few things like bocconcini and the tapenade but I had a lot of the ingredients already—all pantry staples or dinner party leftovers. You could easily adapt this recipe to use up any other little bites lingering in the fridge: trade out the mozzarella for another type of cheese (feta, maybe?), substitute any fresh herb for the basil, or use whatever meat you may have on hand in place of the salami (proscutto would be great in this).

Antipasto salad
Extra veggies would be a nice (and healthy) addition to this. I threw in a few handfuls of grape tomatoes, but I think next time I'll add some thinly-sliced raw fennel, and maybe a diced green pepper.
(Serves about 4 people)

3 Tbsp. green-olive tapenade from a jar
1/4 cup peperoncini—stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups bocconcini (about 9 ounces)
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small head of iceberg lettuce, halved, cored and finely shredded (I used romaine pre-cut in a bag)
6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced Genoa salami, cut into thin strips
6 basil leaves
1/2 cup olives

In a medium bowl, mix the green-olive tapenade with the peperoncini and 1/4 cup of the oil. Add the bocconcini and toss. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the vinegar, garlic and oregano. Whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the shredded lettuce and salami. Add the marinated bocconcini and half of the dressing and toss well. Transfer the antipasto salad to a large platter. Top with the basil and olives. Drizzle the remaining dressing around the salad and serve at once.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It's been another busy week. This week's links are short but oh so sweet...

Even if you don't have a birthday party coming up, these birthday cakes are pretty to look at. Something about them makes me very happy. [via the Kitchn]

Recipes for a D.I.Y. pizza and prosecco party from Bon Appetit [via BA]

I am obsessed with Vietnamese food right now. Might be because Hanco's opened in our neighborhood and I can't stop eating there, but probably because it's so fresh and light--a refreshing change from all this heavy winter food. Luisa over at Wednesday Chef did a rice noodle salad that looks absolutely delectable and dinner party-worthy. [via the Wednesday Chef]

Or if you're still clinging to these last few cold days (and I know a few of you are) Jewels of NY, a food blog I just discovered, has a "last winter supper" of rack of lamb, parsnips in parsley butter, warm cabbage salad, and chocolate pots de crème. I love the photography on this site, simply gorgeous. [via Jewels of NY]

This might only be interesting to me, but I can't get over these shots from Martha Stewart's prop closet. Check out all those cake stands!

Monday, March 9, 2009

chicken liver pâté (you'll like it, I promise)

Chicken livers are one of those foods that either incite "Ew, gross!" or "Oh, yes." I am in the "oh, yes" camp. Especially when they are pureed into a silky, buttery spread.

I had my doubts when I made this for Dan's birthday, as per his request. I wasn't sure if everyone else at dinner would be as game as we are. And if you're not into liver, it's kind of a bad way to start off the night. So we bought some cheese, as a back-up.

After everyone sat down, I put the pâté out on the coffee table with some crackers, a sliced apple, and the cheese. And then I went back in the kitchen to make some drinks. When I came back, there was a major dent in the pâté and almost all of the crackers were gone. And the cheese was relatively untouched. I put out more crackers, and again, they disappeared. Eventually we ran out of crackers so I took the pâté away before people could start digging into it with their fingers. Luckily, this recipe makes a lot, so Dan and I worked on some of the leftovers with celery sticks the next day.

Chicken liver pâté

From the master, Jacques Pépin, via Food & Wine. As fancy as pâté may sound, as the recipe promises, it is simple and very inexpensive to make. One change: I reduced the butter from 1 1/2 sticks to 1/2 a stick. Did it make a difference? No one seemed to notice.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

1/2 lb. chicken liver, well-trimmed
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. thyme leaves, plus an extra pinch
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. Cognac or Scotch (I used Calvados, apple brandy)
Freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the liver, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are barely pink inside, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the liver, onions, and garlic to a food processor and process until coarsely pureed. With the machine on, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, until incorporated. Add the liquor, and season with salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Scrape the pâté into a large ramekin or bowl and sprinkle the extra thyme on top. Press a piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate until firm. Serve chilled with toasted baguette slices, crackers, or apple slices.

Friday, March 6, 2009

mailbag: gluten-free birthday lunch for six?

Hi Lisa,

This weekend my family is coming into town for a birthday celebration for my mother. I'm going to be making a lunch time meal for 6 people. I'd like to be somewhat seasonal if possible (given the limited things available right now!), and to throw in one more hitch, it would also be great if it was gluten-free. Any ideas for a celebratory lunch menu? I'm a little stumped!

Many thanks!


Oh, I feel your pain, Julie. I'm gluten-intolerant, and figuring out what to eat for lunch (let alone feed other people) can be really tough. Most mid-day meals, whether it's brunch or lunch, involve lots of carby goodness: sandwiches, waffles, toast, wraps, grain-based salads, etc. etc. etc. So my standbys are soups, salads, and egg- and rice-based dishes. It's limiting, but also forces me to make healthier choices, even though most of the time I really want that plate of pancakes.

That said, it's totally possible to do a gluten-free lunch that's delicious and seasonal and special, not just healthy. The goal is for no one to say, "Hey! Where's the bread?" and I think I came up with a few menu ideas that will take care of that. Of course, if one of your guests is totally bread-crazy, it never hurts to toast and slice up a baguette and put it in a separate bowl. (People who have severe cases of celiac disease can't do this, but thankfully I can handle gluten in my kitchen without getting sick.) But I can pretty much guarantee that if you have enough interesting stuff for people to eat, they won't miss the bread basket at all.

When I cook, I mainly focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free, although there are a wealth of sites out there focused on adapting recipes for a gluten-free diet. Frankly, I don't feel confident in my gluten-free baked goods yet (gummy chickpea flour pancakes, anyone?), so I try to avoid them when I am cooking for a group. I find that there's less room for error when you cook with ingredients that are already gluten-free, especially when you have the added pressure of entertaining.

On to the menus!

Italian soup lunch
Italian minestrone (lots of ideas on Epicurious)
Winter caprese salad
Cheese board with fruit and gluten-free crackers

Mexican soup lunch
Mexican chicken soup
Pineapple salsa and chips
Cherry tomato-avocado salad
Cinnamon rice pudding or flan (recipes here and here)

Indoor picnic
Basil lemonade
Chilled poached salmon with raita (salmon recipe here)
Potato salad with lemon-tarragon vinaigrette
Winter citrus fruit salad
Flourless chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (you could buy a pint of ice cream and use them to make ice cream sandwiches and win the #1 daughter award)

I could also see doing a nice birthday brunch, maybe with bloody Mary's or mimosas?

Brunch #1
Mushroom-parmesan frittata (or some more ideas from Epicurious)
Roasted potatoes
Bacon or sausage
Big green salad or winter citrus fruit salad
Flourless chocolate cake or deconstructed blackberry crumble

Brunch #2
Scrambled eggs
Grilled asparagus and proscuitto
Sweet potato pancakes
Fruit salad with yogurt

Good luck! And let me know how it goes.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

chocolate hazelnut cake

I made this torta alla gianduia (chocolate hazelnut cake) for Dan's birthday as per his vague request for a dessert with chocolate, coffee, and hazelnuts in it. I presented him with this option or a coffee-butterscotch layer cake, also from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess cookbook (my go-to guide for birthday cakes and other special occasion desserts). He looked up briefly from the Knicks game and chose this one because it was flourless, so I could eat it too. (Aww.) Very sweet of him, but I probably would have given in and had a small slice of the other option. It was really calling my name with its drippy butterscotch and spongy layers. But it wasn't my birthday. And I shouldn't eat flour anyway.

When I originally skimmed this recipe, I assumed the Nutella that Nigella called for was for the thin layer of frosting on top. Only later did I realize that you add an ENTIRE JAR to the cake batter with, uh, a stick of butter, and then make a separate frosting to go on top. Good lord. I almost couldn't bear to do it—it just seemed so unnecessarily over-the-top, so...obscene. But Nigella would want me to, and all of her well-placed curves must come from eating Nutella, so I closed my eyes and dumped the whole jar in the bowl.

In the end, I'm not sure if the Nutella really made a huge difference. The cake was good, but something felt a little lacking to me. I was hoping for more of a pure chocolate flavor, like the flourless chocolate cake I made for Thanksgiving. I think next time I'd go halfway on the Nutella and add more melted dark chocolate to make up for it. Complaints aside, the cake was rich and moist and the ground hazelnuts added a nice texture. I guess I just imagined that Nigella would have helped me produce something more ridiculously decadent. You know, being so ridiculously decadent herself. Next time, I'm going for the butterscotch.

Torta alla gianduia
I made this a mocha cake by adding a ton of instant ground espresso, which you could skip entirely. I can't say the coffee flavor really came through in the cake, but it worked well in the frosting. Another tweak: if you don't like hazelnuts or don't want to pay for them, which I completely understand, I'm sure you could use almonds.
(Serves 6 to 8 people, generously)

For the cake:
6 large eggs, separated
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
1 jar Nutella
1 Tbsp. Frangelico, rum, water, or coffee
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
3 Tbsp. instant espresso powder (if you want a mocha cake)

For the frosting:
4 oz. hazelnuts
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Frangelico rum, water, or coffee
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 Tbsp. instant ground espresso

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan: grease and line with parchment or wax paper (I just greased my nonstick pan and it was fine).

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs whites and salt until stiff but not dry (this means that they will hold their peaks, yet still appear glossy and smooth). In a separate bowl, beat the butter and Nutella together, then add Frangelico (or what you have chosen to use), egg yolks, and ground hazelnuts. Fold in the cooled, melted chocolate, then lighten the mixture with a dollop of egg white, which you can beat in as roughly as you want, before gently folding the rest of them in a third at a time.

Pour into the prepared pan and cook for 40 minutes or until the cake's beginning to come away at the sides, then let cool on rack.

As the cake bakes, toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until the nuts are golden brown in parts, shake the pan so they don't burn. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely. Make the frosting: in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, add the cream, liquor or water, and chopped chocolate and heat gently. Once the chocolate's melted, take the pan off the heat and whisk until it reaches the right consistency to ice just the top of the cake. Unmold the cooled cake carefully, leaving it on the base as it will be too difficult to get such a damp cake off in one piece. Ice the top with the chocolate icing, and top with the whole, toasted hazelnuts. Serve with whipped cream.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

a birthday dinner for daniel

Last Friday was Daniel's birthday. And all last week, I asked him what he wanted me to make for his birthday dinner. He told me he wanted lobster thermidor, his silly, pat response any time I ask him what he wants to eat and he doesn't have any ideas. "You don't even know what that is!" I said. "No, but it sounds fancy," he said, running into the other room before I could ask him again.

Dan doesn't like to be the center of attention, even if it's just a birthday dinner involving four close friends in our living room. So the idea of a menu specifically designed in his honor made him a little uncomfortable. But if you can't eat what you want on your birthday, then what's the point, really? (Although, technically, we had a really nice dinner out at Kefi on his actual birthday. This was a day-after-party.)

After much prodding and gentle nagging (he acted as if I was trying to plan his last meal), he threw me a few bones. They were slightly vague bones, but whatever. He wanted chicken liver pâté, some sort of cheese, short ribs with a mashed vegetable other than potatoes, and a dessert that involved coffee, hazelnuts, and whipped cream. "I know you don't like whipped cream, but I like whipped cream," he said, somewhat apologetically. Darling, it's your birthday. I just thanked him and reached for my cookbooks.

A birthday dinner for Daniel
Rosemary-lemon soda (and vodka gimlets)
Chicken liver pâté
Cheese and crackers
Salad a la Julie Bissell
Short ribs with dijon mustard
Celery root puree
Torta alla gianduia
(chocolate hazelnut cake)

It ended up being a really fun night. One that made me wake up smiling the next day, even though there was a scary amount of dirty dishes piled up everywhere. We consumed an impressive amount of drinks, laughed so loudly that I am sure the neighbors were annoyed, Colin P. Delaney regaled us with his salty jokes and tales of workplace harassment, Kanye West performed on Storytellers in the background, a friend from far away called with birthday greetings and good news (it's a girl!), and we ate. A lot. Without even giving it much thought, Dan managed to put together a pretty great menu.

After one more bottle of wine, car services were called, coats were put back on, and Dan and I were left alone, once again wishing that we could somehow mandate that our friends always live in the same city as us, wherever that may be in the not-so-distant future. Because the end of birthdays celebrated like this is almost impossible to imagine.

Salad a la Julie Bissell
I didn't get a chance to ask Julie for this recipe, but it had dandelion greens, watercress, cherry tomatoes, fennel, red onion, and a snappy vinaigrette. It was so pretty I had to show you.

Braised short ribs with dijon mustard
Looking for a short rib recipe is like looking for a chicken recipe. There are thousands, and most sound pretty much the same. My goal was to find a recipe that didn't have a grocery list of ingredients and didn't need to cook all day long--although a long, slow cooking time is the key to good short ribs. This recipe, from Gourmet, required about three hours of cooking time, which seemed ideal. I got everything in the oven before our friends arrived, and the meat simmered as we ate snacks and hung out. But what this mindless simmering The combination of red wine, mustard, tomatoes is way more than the sum of its parts. The sauce was rich and wine-y, cut with a little bit of acidity from the mustard. I can't believe I made something this good on the first try.
(Serves about 6 people)

1 bottle dry red wine (I used Merlot)
5 lbs. beef short ribs (also called flanken)
10 shallots, trimmed, halved if large
olive oil
3 Tbsp. coarse-grain Dijon mustard, or to taste (I used non-grainy dijon)
1 can whole plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
1 clove garlic, sliced thin

Boil wine in a 2-quart heavy saucepan until reduced to about 1 cup. While the wine is reducing, pat ribs dry and cut crosswise into 1-rib pieces (each about 2 1/2 inches long). Season well with salt and pepper.

Heat a dry 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot, then brown ribs well in 3 batches on all sides, about 8 minutes for each batch. Transfer browned ribs with tongs to a bowl.

Reduce heat to moderate. Coat the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of olive oil. Add the shallots and brown them well in fat remaining in pot, stirring. Transfer with a slotted spoon to another bowl.

Stir wine and mustard into the juices in the pot. Add ribs and simmer, covered, about 1 3/4 hours.

Gently stir in shallots and tomatoes and continue to simmer, covered, without stirring, until meat is very tender, about 40 minutes. Carefully transfer ribs, shallots, and tomatoes to a platter and skim off any fat from cooking season sauce with salt, pepper, and mustard to taste and pour over ribs.

Celery root puree
This was not only my first time cooking short ribs, it was my first time working with celery roots. They are kind of a shabby, bland-looking vegetable on the outside, but when peeled, cubed, and simmered in a warm bath of milk, as in this recipe by Dorie Greenspan, they take on a luxuriously silky texture and delicate celery flavor. I think they were the sleeper hit of the night.
(Serves about 6 people)

3 cups whole milk
3 cups water
1 Tbsp. salt
2 large celery roots (about 2 1/2 lbs. total), peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 medium russet potato, peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 small onion, peeled, quartered
5 Tbsp. butter, cut into 5 pieces
Ground white pepper

Bring milk, water, and salt just to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat. Add celery root cubes, potato cubes, and onion quarters; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, discarding cooking liquid.

Combine vegetables and butter in processor and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Transfer celery root puree to bowl. (The celery root puree can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm in the microwave or oven before serving.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

winter caprese salad

I forgot to post the recipe for the salad I made at the interminable risotto dinner. Unlike the main course, this salad is super fast to throw together. You can do all the prep work as the tomatoes roast in the oven.

Caprese salad is one of my favorite things to eat, but in the winter, nice tomatoes and super-fresh basil are hard to come by. Always looking for an excuse to consume fresh mozzarella, I don't let this stop me. I just make the winterized version of the salad from Mario Batali's cookbook Molto Mario.

The salad is comprised of the usual suspects: mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, but the ingredients are used in a slightly different way. The tomatoes get roasted, which is a good way to bring out their sweetness even when they're sort of anemic-looking. I amp up the flavor even more by using cherry or grape tomatoes, which are pretty flavorful year-round. Basil can also be found in grocery stores any time of year, but it's hard to beat the fragrant stuff you get in the summer. However, whizzing it up in a blender to make pesto heightens the flavor and helps make the most of what you've got. It's not a bad way to dine until warmer days arrive again.

Winter caprese salad
I made a few tweaks to this dish, mainly roasting my tomatoes differently. Mario recommends cooking them low and slow, two hours at 200 degrees. Which I'm sure yields sweet and tender results, but I don't have the time. My way, this dish is done in about 30 minutes. And it's still really, really delicious.
(Serves 4 people)

For the salad:
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and left whole (I used multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes because they looked pretty and were on sale, but whatever you can find is fine)
Olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lb. fresh mozzarella or burrata (mozz's milky cousin)

For the pesto:
3 handfuls of basil leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts, plus 1/4 cup extra, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place your cherry tomatoes in a large cookie sheet or baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss until the tomatoes are evenly coated. Roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are burst and blistered, with a few dark spots. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

To make the pesto: in a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Pulse until slightly pureed. Pour in the olive oil gradually, pulsing with each addition until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt. Taste as you go, making sure it's balanced. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator.

Slice your mozzarella or burrata--you can do long slices, or 1-inch size pieces. Arrange the cheese on your salad plates. Spoon the cooled tomatoes over the cheese, evenly distributing them between each plate. Add the pesto over the tomatoes and cheese. Top with a sprinkle of roasted pine nuts and some freshly-ground black pepper.


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