Friday, January 30, 2009

link-o-rama (super bowl edition)

So: Super Bowl Sunday. Anyone out there doing something this year?

I have to admit I'm not really a fan of the Super Bowl. I don't like football or wings, and sadly, I can't drink beer anymore. Give me the NBA playoffs and a margarita, and I'm totally happy. But football? Meh. You can also keep all those lame million-dollar-a-second commercials and the overhyped halftime show. Although I have to admit Prince was pretty badass a few years ago. Remember that crazy phallic guitar? You can bet money the Boss won't be trotting one of those things out.

Anyway. I could kind of care less about the game, but of course I'm still going to a Super Bowl party like everyone else in the U.S. It's a good excuse to see friends, eat something greasy, and watch all those lame million-dollar-a-second commercials.

If you're going to or throwing a Super Bowl party, it's important to eat something really good. (Especially if, like me, you don't know who's playing. Wait, wait: Pittsburgh and...Phoenix? No, wait: Arizona!) So here's some ideas:

Hot bacon blue cheese dip from Serious Eats [via Serious Eats]

A roundup of Super Bowl-worthy recipes from Bon Ap (lamb and chorizo chili, giant chocolate-toffee cookies, crunchy chili onion rings) [via BA]

And another roundup from Food Network that includes "record-smashing recipes" (ugh) like sliders and Caribbean chicken wings [via FN]

Or, you might want to compromise your friends' arteries and serve the Bacon Explosion that's making the blog rounds [via the NYT]

Some ideas from the Dinner Party archives:
Curried deviled eggs
Guacamole
Sausage rolls
Salami-wrapped Mean Beans
Parmesan-pepper popcorn
Bacon-wrapped parmesan-filled dates
Queso fundido

(Spoiler alert!) I'm making Sassy Radish's chocolate peanut butter crispy bars [via Sassy Radish]

What are you making?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a meal to thaw you out

I know I'm a wimp when it comes to winter, but dang it's been cold.

When I come home from work in the evening, I usually throw off my coat and spend at least fifteen minutes huddling in front of our heating vent like a shivering orphan. (Nice paint job on that thing, huh?)

Needless to say, it doesn't really do the trick. And dinner doesn't make itself. Although sometimes Dan makes dinner. And folks, he's a really good cook. A lot of you leave comments about how lucky he is that I make this or that, but he can put together an impressive meal when the occasion calls. Or when I can't be physically moved away from the heater.

I want to share a great pasta dish he made that, like last week's salmon, is fast and easy enough for a weeknight, but nice enough to feed to your friends. And best of all, it's so spicy it will melt the chill right out of your bones. The first time we ate it, tears welled up in our eyes and foreheads became dotted with beads of sweat, but we forged on and cleaned our plates because it really was very good. Although a bit tongue-scorching.

It's a simple recipe; just pasta tossed with jalapenos, lemon, red onion, and romano cheese. The ingredients aren't too exciting on their own, but when combined, they take on a bright, sunshine-y quality. The jalapeno adds heat, the lemon adds zing, and the sauteed onions add sweetness and a punchy pink hue. The dish almost tastes tropical, but it's adapted from my pal Mario Batali's cookbook Molto Italiano. (Um, we're not really pals. But he did pose for that photo and compliment my shoes.) The recipe calls for red pepper flakes and three jalapenos, but if you don't want to cry through dinner, you can reduce it to one, or add however many peppers you can tolerate.

Hot and spicy dinner

Pasta with lemon, jalapeno, and red onion
Roasted broccoli

Pasta with lemon, jalapeno, and red onion

Dan made this pasta with gluten-free ziti, but you could also use spaghetti or fettucine, as the original recipe calls for. If you want to fancy it up, you could add a pound of chopped, cooked shrimp, or rock shrimp. Or if you want to really gild the lily, you could add about a pound of lump crabmeat. I've done this before and it's really fantastic. But you totally don't have to spend $20 on crab. I'd probably spend it on, oh, lip gloss. Or the phone bill. This pasta is fine just the way it is, as we ate it last week.
(Serves about 4 people)


2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 jalapeno, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced lengthwise
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (parmesan works well too)

Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot; season with salt.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Add the onion and red pepper flakes; saute until translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add jalapenos; saute for 1 minute. Add zest and juice; bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in butter, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until tender. Drain the pasta and toss it with the lemon-pepper mixture. Return to medium heat and stir gently. Add the pecorino and toss quickly. Transfer to a warmed serving platter. Serve immediately with extra cheese.

Roasted broccoli
My friend Mindi turned me on to roasted broccoli. It's my favorite way of preparing almost every other vegetable, but I had never thrown broccoli under the broiler. So I gave it a try, and she was right: roasting is way better than boiling. The high heat draws out the broccoli's sweetness and adds a deliciously crispy texture. I especially like all of the little burnt bits at the top of the florets. For extra heat, I sprinkled the stalks with red pepper flakes, but you could omit them.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)

1 large head broccoli, trimmed and cut into florets
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the florets in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on the garlic, red pepper, salt and pepper and toss to coat the florets evenly.
Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli stalks are browned.

Monday, January 26, 2009

my dinner with geronimo


Last Friday, Dan and I had dinner with our friends Megan and Butch. A few days before, Megan touched based with me via email, making sure we were still coming, asking if there were any foods we didn't like to eat, sending directions--the usual pre-dinner party exchange.

Except that there was a P.S. at the end of the email. She wrote: "I don't remember either of you having any issues with animals, which is good because we are now the foster parents for a baby flying squirrel. It's a long story."

I sort of skimmed through the P.S. at first, reading that we were having flying baby squirrel for dinner. (Which we've all thoroughly debated on the comments section of this blog.) Why would Megan serve squirrel for dinner? I know the Times says it's trendy, and you know, times are tough, but that's so not like her. Then I re-read it and having a squirrel for a pet suddenly seemed totally okay. Fantastic, even. Just not on my plate.

So this is how I came to meet Geronimo, the flying squirrel. And also eat Megan's delicious short ribs and mashed potatoes. Geronimo ate a pecan with almost as much relish.


As far as dinner companions go, Geronimo was quite well-behaved. He didn't fly around the room and dive at our heads. (I envisioned many scenarios like this on the walk to their apartment.) Most of the time he stayed in his cage, curled in an oven mitt. When Megan let him out he scurried up and down her arms and legs, even as she moved around the room. Apparently flying squirrels are social creatures, happiest when they're around (or on) people.

When I offered my hand, Geronimo tentatively jumped on it and made a beeline for my hair. Then Butch said something about burrowing and nesting so I put him back down. Quickly. His tiny clawed feet felt creepy, but he was cute in a chipmunky kind of way. (Apologies for the dim photos; I didn't want to blast him away with my flash.)

My point in giving Geronimo so much real estate here is that he was quite the party trick. Almost as fun as playing Wii Fitness after dinner (Verdict: I have the balance skills of a drunken toddler and the body of a 54-year-old in Wii terms. Yikes. But I am "normal" weight. Whew. Someone else had a bad run-in with this at a dinner party recently with much worse results. Sorry, AG.)

But in spite of the eccentric pet and the scarily addictive Wii session, the food was really the highlight of the night. And that's saying a lot. I mean, they have a flying squirrel.


Dinner with Megan & Butch (and Geronimo)
Proscuitto-wrapped dried apricots
Garlic dip with crudite
Arugula with roasted tomatoes and pecorino
Short ribs with mashed potatoes
Deconstructed blueberry crumble

There's a lot to say about this meal. It's a lot of food, but thanks to Megan's leisurely pacing, we had plenty of breathing room in between courses so it didn't feel like a gut bomb. (I even managed to play a sad round of Wii hula-hooping after dinner, which says a lot.) If you haven't had proscuitto-wrapped apricots (and I hadn't) you really should make them. It's a great seasonal twist on the traditional ham-melon combo, which is lovely in summer, but can seem a bit anemic in winter. On to the short ribs...

Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes
Megan's an avid food blog reader and got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. She simplified it quite a bit, but you'd never know. The meat was meltingly tender with lots of lovely little charred bits, and the sauce was deep and flavorful. Megan says she reduced the beef broth in the recipe by about a cup because she wanted a wine-ier taste. She also kept the ribs in the oven for an hour longer than the recipe called for because she wanted them to be a little more tender. I'd say that was a good decision.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

6 beef short ribs, about 14 to 16 ounces each (ask for 3 bone center-cut)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, and 4 whole sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups port
2 1/2 cups hearty red wine
6 cups beef stock (or 5 cups stock, with about 3 1/2 cups wine)
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the short ribs with 1 tablespoon thyme and the cracked black pepper. use your hands to coat the meat well. Cover, and refrigerate overnight. Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, to come to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season them generously on all sides with salt. When you take the ribs out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat a large Dutch oven or a large saute pan, over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in 3 Tbsp. olive oil, and let it get hot and smoking. Place the short ribs in the pan, and sear on all sides. You can do this all at once or in batches. Smitted says to be very thorough, it may take up to 45 minutes. When the ribs are nicely browned, transfer them to a plate to rest.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme springs, and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to caramelize. Add the balsamic vinegar, port, and red wine. Turn the heat up to high, and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Arrange the ribs in the pot, bones standing up, in one layer. (If you used a saute pan for previous steps, transfer the ribs to a braising pan at this point.) Scrape any vegetables that have fallen on the ribs back into the liquid. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours.

To check the meat for doneness, remove the lid and foil, being careful of the escaping steam, and piece a short rib with a paring knife. When the meat is done, it will yield easily to a knife. Let the ribs rest 10 minutes in their juices, and then transfer them to a baking sheet. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Place the short ribs in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to brown.

Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables to extract all the juices. Skim the fat from the sauce and if the broth seems thin, reduce it over medium-high heat to thicken slightly. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve with extra sauce over mashed potatoes.

Horseradish mashed potatoes
Megan says she considering topping the potatoes (a tweaked version from SK via Cooks Illustrated) with fried shallots but decided it was overkill. It would have been a nice touch, but everyone inhaled the potatoes so quickly I don't think it would have made that much of a difference. A few tweaks to this recipe too, mainly using Boars Head horseradish, a nice touch.

2 lbs. potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp. Boars Head creamy horseradish
2/3 cup milk, warmed
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Black pepper

Place the potatoes in large saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender (you should be able to slip a a paring knife into and out of the center of the potatoes easily), about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes. Set a food mill or ricer over now empty but still warm saucepan (you could also use an electric hand-held mixer). Spear the potato with dinner fork, then peel back skin with paring knife. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into rough chunks and drop into hopper of food mill or ricer. Process or rice potatoes into saucepan. Stir in butter and horseradish with a wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in the milk, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

link-o-rama

Happy We-Have-A-New-President Week!

I'm sure, like me, you're all wondering: what did Obama eat post-inauguration? A three course Lincoln-themed lunch of seafood stew, "a brace of American birds," pheasant and duck served with sour cherry chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, and apple-cinnamon sponge cake with sweet cream glacé for dessert. Served with American wines, of course. The recipes can be found here.

If whipping up a brace of birds is too much for a weeknight, why not mix yourself a Baracktail? The drink, from Serious Eats, is a blend of hibiscus syrup, gin, lime, and lots of mint (for a clean start, of course). [via Serious Eats]

Bon Ap has an Inauguration Day dinner that would be perfectly fine any old day, in my book. [via Bon Appetit]

This fascinating story from the LA Times includes mentions of other inauguration menus including James Buchanan's bacchanalian feast of 400 gallons of oysters, 60 saddles of mutton, and eight rounds of beef, James Garfield's 15,000 assorted cakes, James Madison's midnight supper, which is said to have been the debut of ice cream, and Eisenhower's "minority dinner," which included Greek salad, minestrone, and gefilte fish. For serious?? [via the LA Times]

Monday, January 19, 2009

two winter desserts

I never gave much thought to seasonal eating until I moved up north about six years ago. At the time, local, sustainable food was becoming more of a widespread notion, popping up on trendy restaurant menus everywhere (although lots of people like Alice Waters and James Beard had been touting this philosophy for years and years). But what really opened my eyes to the concept of slow food was actually living somewhere that had seasons.

I grew up in South Florida, which is like living in eternal summer. It's lush and green and hot all year round--except in winter, when it's slightly cooler. That's when my parents call me to report that it's a "nippy" 60 degrees and they had to put on sweatshirts. Harumph, I say. Beyond picking strawberries in the spring and eating honeybells in the winter, the year in terms of food always seemed pretty constant to me in Florida. We ate ice cream and barbecued year-round. Sometimes I drank hot chocolate for fun in December, while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Living somewhere tropical is wonderful in a way, but also kind of like Groundhog Day. Nothing ever changes. And then I moved to New York and had my first real taste of spring, fall, and of course, winter.

As I write this, snow is falling softly outside, just barely accumulating on the bare branches outside of our windows. It's lovely to look at, especially from inside our toasty apartment. But I can't lie. I really don't like winter. I'd much rather be barefoot by a pool, drinking a glass of something cold. But I'll suffer wearing a puffy jacket in order to appreciate having the greater awareness of time passing that the seasons bring. And seasonal eating, of course. It's nice to enjoy certain types of food for a limited time only, and then move on to different things at their peak. I remember the blueberries and squash I bought and enjoyed last summer more than any other time I've cooked with them year-round. Food just tastes better when it's supposed to exist, and enjoying it at that specific time makes you really stop and savor what you're eating. Especially warm, comforting winter desserts. You knew I was going to get to the title of this post at some point, didn't you...

Rice pudding with cherries
Ohh, rice pudding. My mom makes such a good one, and this recipe, adapted from the Joy of Cooking, comes pretty close. I love this dessert for its homey simplicity, but it's totally worthy of a special dinner with a little gussying up. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, or chocolate shavings, or grated orange peel. And don't forget the dried cherries--they are the perfect addition to this creamy pudding. I like serving it slightly warm in the winter--not boiling hot, but warm enough so that you can curl your fingers around the bowl and feel the heat.
(Serves about 6 people)

3/4 cup medium or long-grain rice (I like using jasmine rice)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups whole milk (don't use skim for this, but 2 percent is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup chocolate shavings, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, water, and salt. Place on medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, then cover and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add the milk, sugar, and cherries. Cook uncovered for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the pudding is done, the rice and milk should form a thick porridge and the rice should be tender but still have a slight bite. When done, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Serve warm, with chocolate shavings.


Apple crisp with dried cherries
Filled with juicy apples and an aromatic blend of orange zest, nutmeg, and cinnamon, this is a perfect winter dessert. The recipe is a twist on the pear crisp I made awhile back. The filling is pretty flexible; you can substitute pears, or use a combo of apples and pears. You can also omit the cherries or add dried cranberries, although I think the dried cherries add just the right amount of tart contrast to the apples. I've been putting them in everything lately, including straight in my mouth. I brought this dessert to Christmas dinner and it was devoured by everyone. Except Rose, Jennifer and Mark's four-year-old daughter. "I don't even like this," she said, handing back her bowl. Can't please everyone!
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

Topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 cups gluten-free almond flour)
1/2 cup whole almonds with skin (untoasted)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling:
1/2 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

To make the topping, pulse together flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor until the nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and pulse just until blended. Coarsely crumble in a shallow baking pan (I put it in a small bowl) and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 7 filling ingredients in a large bowl; stir to blend. Add apples and lemon juice and toss to blend. Pour filling into an 11 by 7 by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 2-quart baking dish). Crumble the topping over the filling. Bake for about 1 hour, until the topping is golden and juices are bubbling around the sides. Cool before serving and top with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

guest post: soup from a faraway friend


Today's guest post comes from one of my favorite people in the world, my friend Laura. We met in 2003 while working as interns at Southern Living magazine in Birmingham, Alabama. Laura and I felt an immediate kinship amongst the debs and wannabe debs who also entered the internship program, but the deal was sealed when we realized we were both really into food. When we weren't writing or making photocopies, we feasted on BBQ and meat-and-three, drove down to New Orleans for po' boys, and over to the Redneck Rivera (A.K.A., the border between Florida and Alabama) for peel-and-eat shrimp. It was one of the best times in my life. Not to mention highly caloric.

Post-internship, Laura moved to Arkansas and later to Columbia, Missouri, where she lives now. Although we were in Birmingham together for just a handful of months, we'll always share a special Southern-fried bond. I can't count how many times I've wanted to hop a plane to her house so we could make dinner together. The next best thing is having one of her recipes--especially one passed down from her grandmother. It's perfect winter eating and easily feeds a crowd.

“Come on over honey. I’m fixing some Goulash.”

Even though she was cooped up in her nursing home room, in my Grandma’s dementia-rattled mind, I was coming over, and she was going to make me a stew. For me, it’s a warm and fitting memory of our final conversation. As mother of four and grandmother of seven, Martha Bruegge was always planning her next meal.

So when I recently found myself with a leftover spiral ham from the holidays, Grandma Bruegge’s recipe wafted into my mind. I left a pot on the stove when my husband invited the guys over to yell at the TV (i.e. watch college football). It’s even better when served with cornbread, or the next day.

Martha Bruegge’s ham & beans
My aunt recommends adding a cube of jamón, or Spanish ham bouillon seasoning, to the soup for extra flavor. If you’d like a thicker soup, add one or two pealed and sliced white potatoes when you add the beans.

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 ham bone
About 4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable stock
3 cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained
Handful of fresh thyme leaves or ½ tsp. of dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups ham, cubed
½ tsp. ground white pepper, to taste

Pour oil into large pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook until onions are translucent. Add the beans, bay leaf and ham bone and enough broth to cover the mixture (except for the bone). Bring to a boil and then simmer on lower heat, covered for 20 minutes and uncovered for another 40 minutes to an hour, until the mixture reaches desired thickness and the broth has been absorbed (while this is cooking, remove and chop the usable ham from your spiral ham because this will take a while). Remove ham bone and discard. Add in dried or fresh thyme leaves, chopped ham and white pepper to taste. Simmer uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

the virtues of staying in

Between December and just a few weeks ago, I went to a lot of holiday parties. There was my office party, Dan's office party, our friend Julie's party, and Martha's hog-fest, not to mention several last-minute invitations to either come over or go out. After a solid month of being social, I really needed to stay in, preferably in sweatpants.

I love the holidays and I love any excuse to be around my friends. But parties in general can be exhausting. The small talk with strangers, the drinking too much to get through the small talk, the nibbling on this and that and never feeling full, and the eventual realization that you're going to feel like hell the next morning because of all that nibbling and drinking. This might sound a little surprising coming someone who loves dinner parties and writes about events for a living, but even I have my limits. And the holidays usually test those limits.

Thankfully, I'm almost always ready to get back on the saddle after a night or two at home. But that time at home needs to be spent in a very specific way. Dinner needs to be good. Like really, really good. I think about what I'd like to eat if I were sitting down in my favorite restaurant and that's what we have for dinner. Luckily I never imagine beef Wellington or baked Alaska.

And then I put on my fuzzy slippers, pour myself a glass of wine and settle in for a cozy night with my cookbooks. Sometimes I make one thing, sometimes a full menu. I chop and dice and saute without looking at the clock, all while listening in to the Knicks game Dan is watching in the other room. It feels solitary and comforting at the same time.


Last weekend, I was really in the mood for roasted chicken and vegetables, the homiest thing I know how to make. Especially when there's snow piled up in your window boxes and it's too cold to make the two-minute walk to the restaurant on the corner. A salad was also in order, and we had some arugula, so I bought a pint of luscious-looking figs and gorgonzola and that was that. Dessert would be easy—rice pudding, roasted chicken's dessert equivalent.

As I was cooking, I thought about the new year and dinner parties, and how even though this menu was sort of thrown together and based upon my spur-of-the-moment cravings, it was entirely company-worthy, if you want to have a few people over for a cozy meal, or just the one person you want to be alone with on a chilly evening.

That said, I realize it's not always possible (or for some, hardly ever possible) to cook a two-hour dinner for yourself. Especially when everyone wants your time, your money, and your energy. It's a total extravagance, I know. But one that's totally worth splurging on. It's not about the food, it's about spending that time with yourself and making exactly what you want to make. Trust me, it will be one of the best meals you'll eat all year.

Saturday night dinner in
Arugula with figs, walnuts, and gorgonzola
Roasted chicken with parsnips and fennel
Rice pudding with cherries

Arugula with figs, walnuts, and gorgonzola
The term "composed salad" sounds extremely fussy, but really, it's just a bunch of ingredients arranged prettily on a plate. It is ideal for dinner parties because the dressing can be served on the side so the salad doesn't get soggy before people actually eat it. I find it really fun to play around with all the different components, placing them like a miniature still life. If you can't find or don't like figs, you could substitute pear or apple slices, but I think the figs are especially elegant.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)


For the salad:
2 to 4 handfuls arugula, washed and dried
1 pint figs, quartered
1/2 cup shelled walnut pieces, toasted
1/4 cup gorgonzola, cut into small pieces (goat cheese or any type of blue cheese would work too)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Place a handful of arugula on each person's plate. Top the greens with the figs, walnuts, and cheese, dividing it equally among the plates. To make the dressing, whisk the vinegar and mustard together in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the dressing on the side or if you're serving the salads right away, drizzle the dressing over the salads.

Roasted chicken
Lots of big-name chefs and food writers say that the true test of a chef is how well he or she can roast a chicken. I don't think roasting a chicken is particularly hard, but when that golden, crinkly-skinned bird emerges from the oven, it makes me feel very accomplished--like I can actually cook. It's excellent dinner party fare and can easily feed a crowd when you add some hearty side dishes like roasted vegetables (just chop them and throw them in the roasting pan with the bird). My recipe is adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe called "roasted chicken with herbs and garlic." Feel free to vary the seasonings; I like to add lemon zest and a quartered lemon in the cavity of the bird.

1 chicken (about 4 to 5 lbs.)
salt
3 Tbsp. melted butter
2 tsp. minced rosemary
2 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 lemon, quartered

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken and place it in a roasting pan. Slip your fingers under the skin of the chicken, and carefully separate the skin from the meat, loosening it all over the bird. This helps keep the skin crispy and allows you to spread seasonings under the skin. Sprinkle liberally with salt, massaging it under the skin, all over the chicken. Place the chicken breast-side up and drizzle with the melted butter so that the bird is evenly coated. In a small bowl, combine all the other ingredients (except the lemon) to make the seasoning mix. Spread the mix over the bird evenly. Insert the lemon pieces into the cavity of the chicken. Place the chicken in the oven and roast for about 50 to 60 minutes. The chicken is done when you insert a knife into the thickest part of the thigh and the chicken juices run clear. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Monday, January 12, 2009

link-o-rama

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions but I do have a few food-focused goals in mind for 2009.

1. Eat more vegetables, preferably two or three vegetarian meals per week.
2. Work on my woeful gluten-free baking skills.
3. Keep blogging! (Speaking of which, who wants to come for dinner?)

Here's a few other forward-thinking links to possibly inspire you in the upcoming months:

Mark Bittman offers suggestions on how to better stock your pantry for the new year (to buy: sherry vinegar, tomato paste in a tube, real parmesan; to toss: dried parsley, canned beans, spray oil) [via the NYT]

If you want to be more eco-conscious, Bon Ap offers "50 Ways to Eat Green" (some tidbits: bison burgers, eco-friendly shopping bags, American cheese)

Want try a new wine beyond your usual red, white, or bubbly? Here's Food & Wine's best new wines for 2009 [via F&W]

Pack better lunches! (A constant challenge for me.) Here's 40 ideas from the LA Times [via LA Times]

And some veggie-friendly recipes:
David Lebovitz makes a delectible-looking spinach cake [via David Lebovitz]

A dinner party-worthy squash and chickpea Moroccan stew from Smitten Kitchen [via SK]

And a great appetizer idea from Pithy & Cleaver: zucchini rolls with garlic ricotta [via Pithy & Cleaver]

Do you have any food resolutions this year?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

mailbag: an easy after-work dinner

Dear Lisa,

How do I whip up a tasty and nutritious meal in 15 minutes for two kids under five, straight after coming home from a full day at work, that my beloved and I can spice up with chilli sauce BUT that our kiddie winks will still love? They seem stuck on plain-pasta-no-sauce or honey toast.


Thanks,
Busy Parent in Park Slope


Dear BPIPS,

Mmm...honey toast. I'm way older than five and that still sounds good to me after a long day at work. Or a bag of chips with a glass of wine and a dill pickle on the side. Or cheese quesadillas for two weeks straight. Or a spoonful of peanut butter (the secret preference of someone whom I may or may not live with).

When the day runs long, it's really hard to find the energy to cook. Add a couple of kids in the mix and I can't even imagine how trying it can be to make something decent for dinner, let alone Friday night post-work dinner guests. Which is rare, I know, but go with me on this.

Here's a menu nice enough to serve company, but fast enough to make and consume while opening the mail, watching the news, putting the kids in their pajamas, and all those other random tasks before going to bed. Just don't forget to chew and swallow; it's really tasty.

Fast weeknight dinner
Grilled salmon
Cucumber-yogurt sauce
Rice and peas
Slapdash chocolate pudding
or Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
or ice cream straight out of the pint (the best way)


Grilled salmon with cucumber-yogurt sauce
Don't like salmon? Any firm, fairly thick fish filet will work for this. (Think: plump piece of cod, not paper-thin filet of tilapia). Kiddies don't like fish? This sauce goes nicely with lamb, chicken breasts, or shrimp skewers, which will cook in no time at all.
(Serves 4)

For the sauce:
1 5 oz. container plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage 2 percent)
1 lemon
1/2 medium-sized cucumber, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. mint or parsley (or 1 Tbsp. each), chopped
salt and pepper

For the salmon:
4 salmon steaks with skin, or one large filet cut into four portions
olive oil
salt and pepper

To make the sauce, combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl and mix until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the salmon, coat a large saute or grill pan with olive oil and heat over to medium-high heat. When the pan is hot (a drop of water should sizzle on the pan) place your fish skin-side down on the pan. Cook for about five minutes, or until the skin becomes crispy, but before it starts to smoke. Flip over and cook on the other side, for about three minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The fish is done when you can lightly flake it apart with a fork or knife in the thickest part of the filet. Top with yogurt sauce and serve with rice and peas.

Rice and peas
I don't even think a recipe is needed for this. Just chuck some frozen peas in the pot when you're making rice. Add butter and salt. Eat. Fast.

1 cup basmati, jasmine, or plain white rice
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tbsp. butter
salt

Make rice according to package directions. See above.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

hog heaven

Most people dream of winning the lottery. My dream is to win a porchetta, like my friend Martha. Although a million bucks stuffed inside the pig would be a nice bonus.


If I were ever-so-lucky to hit the porcine jackpot, I'd do exactly what Martha did: have all my friends over for a day-long feast, preferably New Year's Day. Because when you've got that much pork on your hands, you have to spread the wealth around. And because there's no better way to kick off 2009 than with a plate full of tender, succulent roasted meat. And mac and cheese and roasted beet salad and bourbon balls and a glass of pomegranate punch.


As the party got more and more crowded the food (and booze) kept coming. I wanted to relay the entire menu here, but every time I turned around, another another bowl of salad, or box of candy, or wedge of cheese appeared on the table. There is something to be said about starting off the new year surrounded by so much bounty and so many happy people--old friends reuniting, friends-of-friends meeting for the first time, and little kids darting in and out of the room. It was quite a lovely scene and hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

Pomegranate and cranberry bellinis
Mid-way through the party, this punchbowl was practically drained. I definitely drank my share, but surprisingly, I didn't fall down on the floor. The great thing about this big-batch bellini (other than its prettiness) is that it's incredibly light and drinkable. The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis via O magazine. Martha says she made a few adjustments, mainly adding a bag of fresh cranberries to the simple syrup, then straining them out after the berries popped. To make the oh-so-retro ice ring, Martha froze water in a bundt pan. She recommends scattering fruit or flowers or something in the ice ring prior to freezing for a fancier effect, adding that the ring also also keeps the ice from melting too quickly. Very smart!
(Serves about 8 to 12 people)

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bag fresh cranberries
1 cup ice
1 1/4 cups pomegranate juice, chilled
1 cup cranberry juice, chilled
1 (750 ml) bottle Prosecco, chilled
2 limes thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh mint
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Make the simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and cranberries in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and the cranberries have popped. Take pan off heat and allow syrup to cool. Strain the syrup through a mesh sieve to remove the cranberries and reserve the syrup. You can throw away the berries.

Place ice (or your ice mold) in a 6- to 8-cup capacity punch bowl. Add the cranberry syrup, pomegranate juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well. Slowly pour in the Prosecco. Garnish with lime slices, mint sprigs, and pomegranate seeds, and serve. As an alternative to serving in a punch bowl, make Bellini mixture in a 6- to 8-cup pitcher. Divide pomegranate seeds between 12 champagne flutes, add 1 slice of lime and 1 sprig of mint to each glass, and pour Bellini mixture into each.

Bourbon balls
My contribution to the spread. These highly boozy confections are a typical treat around the holidays in the South, particularly in Charleston. And there's no better authority on low country food than the Lee brothers, Matt and Ted Lee. I used their recipe from Men's Vogue, but made a few tweaks, mainly upping the bourbon and nixing the cayenne pepper. I'm sure the spice is a delicious addition but I wanted a more traditional flavor: chocolate, vanilla, with a hint of cinnamon and lots of heat from the bourbon.
(Makes about 30 balls)

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons sorghum syrup (or cane syrup, molasses, or honey)
10 oz. vanilla wafers (about 60)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

In a large bowl, sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar and the cocoa, cayenne, mace, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the bourbon and sorghum syrup until well blended. Stir the bourbon syrup into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the mixture is a dark, glossy paste. In a food processor, pulse the vanilla wafers to fine crumbs, about ten 5-second pulses. Mix the crumbs with the pecans. Stir the pecan and cookie mixture into the cocoa mixture until it becomes consistently doughy and workable, about 2 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls between your palms. Roll each ball in the remaining confectioners' sugar and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Refrigerate in a container with a tight-fitting lid, with a sheet of waxed paper between each layer of bourbon balls, not more than 4 days.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

keeping it simple


Living in New York around New Year's Eve is weird. Getting off the subway in Midtown early last week, I wove around crowds even larger than usual and noticed the cops setting up a wall of metal barricades. Nothing says fun like barricades, right?

Around 11:30 PM on New Year's Eve, I was watching Dick Clark--er, Ryan Seacrest's--New Year's Rockin' Eve at my neighbor Caledonia's apartment. This insanely cheery and blonde "correspondent" was asking people if it was their first time in Times Square for the ball drop. And all the people (clad in 2009 eyeglasses, of course), said, yes it was, and asked for various shout-outs to their friends and mommas back home. Someone at the party remarked, "Of course it's their first time. Once you've done Times Square, you never want to go back again."

Well put. I prefer to hunker down in our warm apartment, listen to some of my favorite albums from the past year (Estelle, Lil' Wayne, My Morning Jacket), and pick at a large cheese plate and some roasted vegetables.


Then head downstairs to a party at Caledonia's to play a round of Apples to Apples (Have you ever played this? It's great.) and drink coquitos until Dick Clark's wife comes on and gives him a shaky kiss, which is sad and creepy and sentimental to watch. And makes me reach for another coquito.




Coquito
A coquito is a traditional Puerto Rican holiday drink that tastes like a cross between egg nog and a pina colada. Which means it tastes awesome. This recipe, from the Food Network, seems pretty close to Caledonia's method. Just throw it all in a blender and chill before serving.
(Makes 6 glasses)
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
2 egg yolks (Caledonia omitted these)
2 cups fresh coconut milk or 1 15 oz. can coconut milk (Caledonia used Coco Lopez, which is cream of coconut)
Pinch salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup Puerto Rican white rum
Ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a blender and process for 3 minutes at high speed until frothy. Store in the refrigerator and serve chilled, dusted with a little cinnamon.


Roasted vegetable plate
Friends, I want to start a crudite revolution. No more raw carrot sticks or dried out cauliflower florets. Why not take those vegetables and roast them? It takes a little longer and the veggies won't pair with blue cheese if that's what you're going for (by all means, serve those celery sticks raw) but it's not that much harder than making a regular crudite plate. And so much tastier!


3 to 4 roastable vegetables (ideas: carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, fennel, cherry tomatoes, squash, broccoli, asparagus, etc.)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, additional seasonings

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut up your vegetables into bite-sized pieces. You can roast them all together or separately, if you want them to each have their own flavorings. If you're roasting them in one large batch, place the veggies in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Toss until coated and add salt and pepper and any additional seasonings like dried herbs (like oregano, rosemary, or thyme) or ground spices (nutmeg, cumin, or paprika). Place the veggies on a cookie sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until they start to brown. You can serve them warm or let them come to room temperature.

If you'd like to season your vegetables individually (curry powder on the cauliflower, nutmeg on the carrots), toss them in olive oil and seasonings separately, then wrap them in large sheets of foil, making a packet. Place each packet on a cookie sheet and roast for about 20 minutes. Be careful opening the packet because it will release steam. You can serve the vegetables warm or let them come to room temperature.

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