Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What you can REALLY do with that nitrous in the whipped cream charger...

I'm a geek.
I'm not a science genius, but I like knowing why and how things work--including cooking.

What I really love is when amazing chefs and science geniuses team up and give FREE lectures.

Check out the Science and Cooking Public Lectures at Harvard!

Better yet, these lectures you can watch in your pjs, smoking jacket, muumuu, etc, from the comfort of your own home.

Watch them...Monday nights at 7: http://video.isites.harvard.edu/liveVideo/liveView.do?name=ScienceCooking

Schedule Here: http://seas.harvard.edu/cooking

Tonight's fantastic lecture featured Harold McGee and Dave Arnold.

Any many thanks to the Hungry Musicologist over at Food, Wine & Song, for the heads up!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

REVIEW: Mission Street Food-Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant

Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable RestaurantMission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Karen Leibowitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, let me start with some full disclosure. I know one of the authors of this phenomenal book. That said, we haven’t seen each other or talked to each other in over twenty years. Karen Leibowitz and I went to elementary school together, and for a short time, even took tennis lessons together. Through the wonders of the internet, and some gentle stalking research, I learned that Karen has been busy—you know, the usual: getting a doctorate while starting a wildly successful restaurant/concept/model for humanity in the meantime. Oh, right. And then there’s this book. And do not be fooled—yes, it has recipes, so one might call it a cookbook. But “cookbook” doesn’t begin to touch this amazingly honest, engaging, inspiring, and creative narrative about two people, their friends, their perseverance, their sheer luck, and the joy to be had in both dreams and realities.

From flatbreads on a food truck to a full-fledged restaurant, Mission Street Food is a tale told in the words of its two heroes, chef Anthony Myint and his wife, Karen Leibowitz. It is the story of a “start-up” like no other, set on the streets (mainly one street) of San Francisco, transforming a “mom-and-pop” Guatemalan snack cart into a thriving and charitable food experience. The authors aren’t shy about sharing the many bumps in the road, but both Myint and Leibowitz write with an enviable sense of humor in the face of each challenge. Leibowitz recalls opening night on the food truck, as a line of people formed down the block:

It had never occurred to us that we might have more than a few customers at a time, so we had no system for organizing orders. On the fly, I decided to give each person a letter, which was a big mistake. A lot of letters sound the same, so I spent the night yelling things like “Order D! D as in Depeche Mode!” It was like taking a free-association test in front of a hundred people. I had no cash register, of course, so I kept ones and fives in my front pockets, tens and twenties in my back pockets—a regular carnie. (Mission Street Food, p. 31).

When Myint and Leibowitz found more permanent facilities for MSF at a “decrepit Chinese joint,” they continued to surmount obstacle after obstacle, all the while creating unique and inspired cuisine, at no profit. One gets a sense the venture was one part grassroots endeavor to two parts spontaneity that would rival 1960s “Happenings.” In amidst the entertaining tales of small victories and near-mishaps, Leibowitz tucks in what ultimately makes this book so very appealing:

When we got home, I felt exhausted to the point of despondency, but I also felt a little bit sentimental. Anthony had become a chef. I had become a restaurant manager/dishwasher. Our friends were pulling for us. We were incompetent. We were successful. Nothing made any sense. I felt really lucky. (Mission Street Food, p. 54).

And truly that’s what this book is about. You need not be a “foodie” or even remotely interested in starting a restaurant in order to enjoy this remarkable project. Myint and Leibowitz are testaments to the value of spirit, energy, friendship, and love. Their story is one of turning dreams into living one’s life to the fullest, rather than waiting for “something to happen.” It is hard not to be inspired by Mission Street Food, and you’ll find yourself smiling and laughing along with the authors. Along the way, you’ll also learn how portion your own steaks from a rib roast, how a CO2 charger might provide 30 seconds of pure joy for your dinner guests, and that jalapeños and snickerdoodles can make excellent bedfellows.

Read this book for the fantastic photographs. Read this book for the excellent writing and the entertaining story. Read this book for the comic strip on pages 37-44. Read this book for recipes that will challenge and inspire you. But most of all, read this book because chances are, at some point, you’ll need a reminder of your own aspirations and possibilities.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Miscellanea: Sicilian Caramelized Onions and Homemade Pita Chips

Last month, my family came to visit. My father, who has recently been getting back in touch with his Sicilian roots, is a wonderful cook and I'll admit that I've always been a little daunted cooking for people who cook really well. At any rate, we decided to have a barbeque, invited a few close friends, and I cooked...for three days. This was certainly the most cooking in which I have ever engaged for a single event. Because the attendees to our barbeque ran the gamut of dietary concerns and preferences, I wanted variety. And variety there was. The menu (aside from the meat, which we left to my dad to grill):

  • homemade roasted peppers
  • Sicilian caramelized onions
  • homemade pita chips
  • tabbouleh
  • Amish slaw
  • Chorizo salad
  • watermelon and fresh mint salad
To keep this blog post short and sweet, I'll only blog two recipes (the ones that are hyperlinked have been blogged before).

First, the pita chips. My dad wanted to help me in the kitchen (something toward which I am usually averse), but for the sake of father-daughter bonding, I set him up with a bunch of pita bread, a knife, a small bowl of olive oil, and brush. Then I basically followed this recipe. I used whole wheat and regular pitas, and made a batch without parmesan for a dairy-free guest.

The onions are from a cookbook that appears to be out-of-print, or at least no longer available from Amazon (only used). Dad loved them.

Sicilian Caramelized Onions (from Simply Pasta and Italian (Parragon, 2003)--p. 42)
(Serves 4--you'll want to double the recipe if making it for a barbeque)

12oz baby or pickling onions (I used "Pearl" onions)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves, torn into strips
thinly pared peel of 1 lemon, cut into short, thin, sticks
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
4 tbsp red wine vinegar

Soak the onions in a bowl of boiling water--this makes them easier to peel. Using a sharp knife, peel and halve the onions.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the bay leaves and onions to the skillet and cook for 5-6 minutes over med-high heat, or until they are well-browned all over.

Add the lemon peel to the skillet with the sugar and honey. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly caramelized.

Add the red wine vinegar to the skillet (be careful---watch for spitting!). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, or until the onions are tender and the liquid has almost disappeared.

Transfer the onions and serve at once.*

*I served mine chilled...and they are great. This also means you can make them ahead. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Pie for Mikey

This came in over Facebook from Simply Recipes.

It is a beautiful tribute video for Mikey, the husband of Jennifer Perillo

What I love about the video, in addition to the beautiful and touching thoughts from the online food community, is the beauty of the process. For me, there is much comfort to be found in the making of food...food that takes time, commitment, and concentration. This video captures it beautifully.

Grief is also a process, as the saying goes. But it isn't just rhetoric. I just hope Jennifer feels the warmth of community as she cooks in grief's kitchen. And someday, the sun will re-enter the window as she makes Mikey's favorite pie, and she'll know he's smiling as she takes it out of the oven.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Experiments in Granola

Reb's Granola
It is rare when I find something to be outrageously expensive (like a small box of granola for $9) that I decide to go ahead and make my own. I usually just go without. The other morning, however, I was determined to make my own granola because I had a recipe from one of my favorite books (The Craft of Baking), and a whole cabinet full of various nuts and dried fruits which I needed to empty.

Is it hard? No. Is it time consuming? Yes. This explains only a SMALL fraction of the markup, I assure you.

I doctored the recipe a bit, so we can say it is largely based on the original with a few modifications. Anything I modified or added is in italics.

Reb's Granola (based on Karen DeMasco's "Toasted Nut & Honey Granola")

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil*
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinammon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spread coconut on a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl.

In a second bowl, combine oats, hazelnuts, and almonds. Spread mixture on baking sheet (use the same one as for the coconut) and bake for 12-15 minutes. Stir every five minutes.

While toasting oat mixture, in a large bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinammon, and salt.*

Remove oat mixture from oven, and immediately add it to the oil mixture, folding it in with a spatula to combine well. Make sure all the dry ingredients are dampened. Spread this mixture on the baking sheet in an even layer and return it to the oven to bake for 20 mins. At five minute intervals, stir the granola to make sure the granola on the edges spends some time in the middle of the pan. You may need to bake it for longer if your granola is still wet.

Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature on a rack.

Toss cooled granola with cranberries and toasted coconut, and transfer to an airtight container.

*With the first batch I made, I misread the instructions and only used 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil (forgetting the 1/3 cup). This explains why my wet mixture wasn't viscous and instead was glumpy:

This turned out not to be an issue, however. The heat from the freshly toasted granola melted the mixture and it spread fairly evenly throughout the granola when I mixed it. My second batch (see "Variations on a Theme" below), I used the prescribed amount of oil and all the ingredients mixed smoothly. This time, however, it took longer for the granola to "dry" in the oven and I suspect I could use less oil (more than 2 tablespoons, but less than 1/3 cup AND 2 tablespoons).

Variations on a Theme:
Second batch made with pecans and macadamias, subbed maple syrup for honey, and no cinnamon.

It is completely worth the effort (roughly 40-45 minutes of baking and stirring). This may turn into a weekly endeavor.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Scallion & Scape "Chimichurri" & balsamic lamb chops

So, given that I bought a large amount of scallions and scapes at this last week's Union Square Farmer's Market, I thought it rather serendipitous that this recipe from Elly Says Opa! should pop up in my Google Reader feed today! I had lamb shoulder chops on hand, so I figured, why not? I threw together a quick recipe for the chops that would balance the sour/savory qualities of the "chimichurri."
I used about 4 scapes instead of 2, and I had some sort of semi-dried pepper in the fridge, so that got pulverized in the food processor as well.

As for the lamb chops (serves 2):
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 high quality lamb chops (mine were from Stillman's Farm)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

rub chops with salt and sweet paprika on both sides
heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet/pan over medium heat
pan-fry chops until cooked through (about 8 min each side, depending on thickness of chops)
just before the lamb is done, pour 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar over each chop, letting the excess bubble in the pan with the oil.

It was pretty fabulous--the chimichurri was just tangy enough, but didn't completely mask the actual taste of the lamb. You may wish to use less salt or leave it out altogether (on the lamb).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Best Meal I've Ever Had

No, I'm not joking. I've been to a lot of nice restaurants and have had some amazing meals, but while I was in Quebec City a few weeks ago, I had the PERFECT dinner. Where?

Restaurant Initiale

Rather unassuming from the outside, you might walk right by it. My husband had made a reservation there and we were surprised when they told us that 6:30 was the only seating available (this was a Wednesday evening, not at the height of tourist season). We soon found out why.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted graciously by the host, who was an elegant and classy woman whose responsibilities seemed like a cross between a host and a concierge. She showed us to our table and we soon understood that we were to be only one of four couples in the entire room for the rest of the evening. The room was dimly lit, but not so dark that we couldn't see our food, which would have been a tragedy given the presentation of each dish.

We started with lovely cocktails (I had the Kir Cassis) and then they brought out a series of amuses bouches from chef Yvan Lebrun, three for me, three for my spouse. Mine included the lightest mousse I've ever tasted, made with currants and pomegranates. H had white asparagus ice cream (yes, you read that right). WOW--you probably could not have sold me on the idea of asparagus ice cream if it had been on the menu. It was fantastic--delicate and fresh tasting.

Other eccentric but somehow amazing tidbits included asparagus flan and I had a little bit of almond paste topped with a dab of black garlic. I've been to plenty of nouvelle cuisine restaurants where I've had bizarre combinations of food that have tasted...bizarre. At Initiale, EVERYTHING worked.

We each ordered an entrée and a plat principal. We asked that the chef pair a glass of wine with each. H had canette (little duck) with herbs that are native to Québec. Included in his dish were tempura sardines which will change your mind about sardines forever if you think they are just those that come in the can. I had halibut with rhubarb, mushroom gratin, and wild mustard. H's dish was paired with a Laroche Chardonnay and I had a beautiful Sancerre from the Loire Valley.

Before dessert came the cheese plate with local and gourmet cheeses including kénogami, chevre, tomme, and gaulois. I was fairly certain I'd be ok if the earth decided to stop rotating right then and there. And then there was dessert: I had flan made with chocolate and pear, and H had brioche melba, with a poached apricot and chocolate ganache with Maldon sea salt. Included was a beignet with maple in a strawberry sauce and a ruby grapefruit mousse.

The portions were perfect--I didn't feel stuffed, just deliriously happy. The service was SUBLIME. Our server asked if I preferred French or English, and when told that I wished to practice my French, spoke to me in French the entire time unless it was really clear I didn't understand. My native-speaking husband sometimes wasn't familiar with some of the more esoteric foods on the menu, so she would explain in English. None of the servers hovered, yet always appeared at the perfect time. At one point I got up to use the restroom (which are beautiful), and out of nowhere one of the servers materialized at the top of the stairs to point the way to the restroom. When I returned, she materialized behind my chair to pull it out for me.

With all of this attention, there was no pretension. Yes, it is elegant and special, but no one was uptight or snobby. The servers were friendly yet never intrusive, and it truly was the most amazing dinner I've ever had. Is it cheap? No. But if you want to have a meal you will likely never forget, and want to experience exemplary service--try it. For me, this restaurant is worth a trip to Quebec City just to eat there. If you are there during the week, you may be able to secure a reservation the same day. If you are planning on a weekend reservation, you'll need to make it a few weeks in advance.

I don't write a lot of restaurant reviews on this blog, but this was too amazing not to share.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer BBQ: Herb-Marinated Pork Loin; Amish Slaw; and Tabbouleh

When it is hot, as it has been for the last several days here in Boston, I tend to avoid turning on the oven as much as possible, and use it as a great excuse to dine outside. I've had several Ina Garten recipes that call for grilling that I end up broiling in the toaster oven due to lack of motivation to fire up the grill. Finally, however, we tried Garten's Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin on the bbq.

It is really very good...especially in the summer when you want a "lighter" meat. I'm not totally sure how I feel about lemon and pork, to be honest...there is a moment of adjustment when I first taste it, but then it is decidedly delicious. I think the fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic, and dijon save it. The lemon sort of "summers up" these more traditional pork seasonings.

Now, looking back at my blog, I can't believe I haven't already blogged my Amish Slaw recipe...it is part of what I call the Summer Salad Marathon (SSM), but I actually make it several times a year. It goes with everything, but I particularly like it with pork (again, there is dijon mustard involved). I'm not a fan of creamy coleslaw, generally speaking, so this is a great alternative. I've adapted the recipe enough to call it my own.

R's Amish Slaw
  • 1 medium head of cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup and I find it makes it too sweet...but if you can adjust the amount of sugar you use to your taste).
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup oil (I use canola...you are going to boil it)

In a large bowl, toss together cabbage, onion, and 1 cup sugar. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, salt, celery seed, 1 tsp sugar, mustard and oil. Bring to a boil, cook for 3 minutes. Cool completely, then pour over cabbage mixture, and toss to coat. Refrigerate overnight for best flavor.

Lastly, I'm on a Mediterranean kick, so I made tabbouleh (pick your own spelling) for the first time. Most recipes are pretty much the same, but I grabbed mine out of this budget "Meze" cookbook I picked up awhile back. You basically just have to be willing to chop a lot. I don't recommend using a food processor, or being careful if you do, particularly with the parsley and mint, because it can pulverize it too much. One of the great aspects of tabbouleh is its texture--the bulgar wheat, with the veggies and the fresh mint and parley (lots of it!).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lamb Persillade & French String Bean Salad

I love lamb. And I've cooked it in almost every form (chops, roasts, kofta...) EXCEPT rack of lamb. I've had this fear, you see, because I always remember the very elaborate crown roast my parents made once for a dinner party long ago. At any rate, now that the school year is over, I decided it was time to get over that.

So, as usual, if I want a recipe I'm almost guaranteed to like, I turn to Ina Garten. Here's Ina's Lamb Persillade recipe (also found in her Barefoot in Paris cookbook).

It truly was easy. I undercooked it a bit much (I like med rare), but the leftovers were fantastic, broiled in the toaster oven. Just cut how many you want to eat for lunch and broil them (if your original rack was rare...otherwise, I'd just heat them).

I served it with two other Ina Garten recipes: Pasta with Pecorino and Pepper (which may be my all-time favorite easy pasta recipe because it goes with so many other dishes) and her French String Bean Salad (How Easy is That? P. 109), which does not appear to be available online. So I reproduce it without proportions here, because basically all you need to know is that the secret ingredient is fresh dill. :)

French String Bean Salad (from Ina Garten)

  • kosher salt
  • French string beans (haricots verts), both ends trimmed
  • Dijon mustard
  • white wine vinegar (I used and recommend champagne vinegar)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • minced fresh dill
Blanch the beans, dress, and refrigerate, add dill just before serving.
It was delicious and the dressing is versatile enough to use for a regular green salad as well.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Seafood Extravaganza 3: Green Bean and Seared Shrimp Salad with Spicy Curry Vinaigrette

This is the last of my Seafood Extravaganza posts (three total). This one is a lot shorter than the last.

This recipe is, once again, from Barbara Lynch's Stir cookbook. This is a fantastic recipe (not reproduced verbatim here) and next time I'll be a little more liberal with the red curry paste...it was subtle and wonderful, but I'll be happy for a little more kick)

Vinaigrette: chopped shallot, white wine vinegar, Thai red curry paste, grapeseed oil, crème fraîche

Shrimp is lightly sauteed in olive oil, haricots verts are blanched, and hazelnuts are toasted in oven and chopped when cool (skins rubbed off with paper towel after toasting---neat trick!).

Toss everything together with some sliced radishes and cilantro, and the dressing!

Seafood Extravaganza 2: Saffron-Steamed Mussels with Crème Fraîche

One might subtitle this post:
Or, Why Not to Cook When You Don't Feel Well.

It doesn't help that celery, fennel and leeks all begin to look rather alike--especially when cut into matchsticks. But have no fear--this "mistake" actually turned out well in the end...at least for the mussels

While on "Spring Break" which I affectionately refer to as "Break from Teaching, but little else," I've been focusing on going trough my fantastic Stir cookbook by Barbara Lynch. After conquering clams the week before, I felt it was time to try mussels, which, frankly, are more of a pain to clean. I wish I had looked at Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, because I just found a great description of how to clean mussels, but I managed. Mussels have these annoying "beards" that one must remove. I didn't soak the mussels as Garten recommends, and I wonder if this would have made the beard-removal easier. Moreover, half the beard stays IN the mussel, so I ended up removing them after cooking as well.

See the kinds of trouble I get into when I don't teach?

At any rate...one of the reasons I love Barbara Lynch is because she writes things about saffron like this: "I'm not going to be half-assed about it and call for the usual "pinch" or "a few threads." (Stir, 192). She's not kidding. Two teaspoons of saffron threads. I used slightly less than that, which came to about $10 worth of saffron.

So the "mistake" I made was cooking the fennel instead of the leeks and celery. The fennel is supposed to stay raw, combined with tomatoes, celery leaves, olive oil and lemon juice as a little salad-mixture to top the mussels. So, we had a salad mixture comprised of leeks, celery, and the aforementioned ingredients. Not terrible, except that I don't love raw leeks.

The cooked fennel, on the other hand, was lovely in the recipe. In butter and olive oil, I cooked the fennel with chopped garlic. To this I added the crumbled saffron, red pepper flakes, 2 cups of white wine, salt and the cleaned mussels. This sits covered for as long as it takes the little guys to open.

Once opened, I removed the mussels with a slotted spoon and made the sauce: basically reduce the broth in the pot and whisk in crème fraîche, letting it simmer for a bit. Serve the mussels in the bowl and pour the sauce over it. Serve with the salad-mixture on top (either my "version" or hers).

This was fantastic....and even better for lunch the next day! Funky salad-mixture not pictured below:
Note: Due to copyright, I haven't reproduced the recipe, but if you actually read all my prose, you'll get a good sense of it.

Seafood Extravaganza 1: Linguine with Clams, Fennel, Leeks and Saffron

I've been on a seafood kick for the last two weeks, largely due to the fabulous seafood I can buy at the Somerville Winter's Farmers Market. I've never cooked shellfish, and I decided it was time to try. I started with some fresh littleneck clams and used this recipe that I found on Cookthink.
I used gluten-free linguine (because I happened to have some), so it made this already healthy recipe even healthier.

It was very tasty. I'd probably be more generous with the saffron threads next time (see more about that in my next post), and if making it for company, I'd serve it with the clam shells (that I took the time to scrub!). It will make a lovely summer dish as well, followed by some kind of lemony dessert.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winters Farmer Market: Fish with Avocado Relish and Carrot Puree; Rosemary Almond Orzo Pilaf

I will start with a confession.

I don't like avocados. Yes, I am from California, and I do NOT like avocados.

Ok, mash 'em up with lots of spices, lime juice, etc. and call it guacamole and we are all good.

So...why I would make something with avocado for the first time now that it is winter in Massachusetts is beyond me, but this recipe from the March 2011 issue of Real Simple jumped out at me:
Pollock with avocado relish and carrot puree (click link for recipe)

I used these amazing carrots I bought at the Somerville Winters Farmers Market from Winter Moon Farm for the purée. Something about a mixture of kalamata olives and avocado appealed to me--I can handle avocado when it is in smaller chunks--it is the slices that trouble me. I didn't have pollock, but substituted haddock from Jordan Bros Seafood (also purchased at the Somerville Winters Farmers Market).

This recipe was healthy, delicious, and colorful--and would be great for summer. I used the leftover carrot puree as a spread on some baguette (Hi-Rise) with fresh mozzarella from Fiore di Nonno (and a glass of Pinot Grigio) for lunch the following day. Yes, I think I'm definitely ready for summer...
Last night, I made smoked porkchops from Stillman's, which is the sole reason I get to the Farmer's market so early (that and the crowds). They don't have them very often, but when they do, I feel like I've won the lottery. So I picked these up a couple of weeks ago, and then found that the applesauce from Cook's Farm practically jumped into my bag, clearly attracted to those chops. Because the chops have so much flavor from the smoking, I take a very minimalist approach when cooking them--a little bit of olive oil, white pepper, maple syrup and white wine. I don't add any salt (not necessary). I served it with this

Rosemary-Almond Orzo Pilaf
(more or less really this recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 finely chopped onions
  • 1 and 1/2 cups orzo
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 and 1/2 cups water
  • white pepper
  • salt
  • large handful rosemary almonds (from Qs Nuts), coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated parmesan cheese
In a medium saucepan (that has a cover), sauté onions in olive oil until softened. Add the orzo, stirring frequently, until it is golden. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add salt, pepper, almonds, and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover pan, simmering for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Serve and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

I actually like a little liquid left so that it is a creamy pilaf, so I stop cooking it just before the water is totally absorbed. I loved how this came out. The husband felt it needed more salt, so next time I'll probably substitute chicken broth for water.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter Farmer's Market: Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples, Celery and Spiced Walnuts

I have wanted to use a recipe from Barbara Lynch's Stir cookbook, almost as much as I've wanted to go to her restaurant, No. 9 Park. Most of the recipes aren't weeknight-type meals, but this one looked like something I could handle. I bought some great pork chops from Stillman's at the Turkey Farm at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market, along with some apples as well. I'm actually not a big fan of apples with pork chops, usually, but the caramelization did the trick here!

Mmm....caramelized apples...
Due to copyright, I won't give the amounts, but the ingredients are as follows:

Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples, Celery, and Spiced Walnuts
  • grapeseed or canola oil (I used grapeseed)
  • pork chops, about 1 1/2 in thick
  • salt and pepper
  • Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apple (I used the latter)
  • sugar (for caramelizing)
  • unsalted butter (for caramelizing)
  • chopped fresh thyme
  • celery stalks, sliced very thinly on the diagonal
  • whole parsley leaves (1/4 cup...quite a lot--you have to like parsley)
  • fresh lemon juice
  • spiced walnuts
  • Fleur de sel ( I left this out)
Basically, season the chops with the salt and pepper, browning them in a skillet, well-browned on one side (you can let the second side go for a little less time). Then you finish cooking them by putting the skillet in a 350 degree oven. Let them rest before serving. While the pork is finishing, you can caramelize the apples--the trick is to let each side of the apple sit in the sugar/grapeseed oil for long enough. Then you add the butter and swirl it around. Then at the end, toss in the thyme and salt.

You serve the apples on the side, but on top of the pork chop you put a lovely little parsley-celery salad, "barely moistened" with some olive oil and lemon juice, and tossed with the spiced walnuts (see below).

The spiced walnuts are easy and delicious, and you can make an extra batch to toss in with your ordinary salad (I had them in a cole slaw). Walnuts + grapeseed oil + sugar + Cayenne (I substituted Penzey's Cajun Seasoning) + kosher salt (bake on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven from 5-10 minutes and let them cool).

This was a relatively easy meal, with lovely and simple flavors and an elegant presentation. This is a keeper.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Farmer's Market: Marinated Flounder fillets in Ravigote Sauce

I own many cookbooks. I enjoy looking through them and I'm a sucker for good food photography. However, after buying flounder at last week's Somerville Winter Farmer's Market, I discovered that I have a dearth of flounder recipes. It is only since moving to New England that I've been cooking fish regularly, so I'm still sort of shy when it comes to substituting one fish for another in a recipe (ok, except for whitefishes). So, I turned to The Joy of Cooking which remains one of the most inspiring cookbooks of all time and does so without the use of photographs (for me, this is saying a lot).

First challenge was that the flounder is to be marinated in tarragon vinegar. No such vinegar was to be found at the store, so, I try to be resourceful:
With that out of the way (I let the tarragon sit in white wine vinegar for a couple of hours until the vinegar smelled like tarragon (+ vinegar)), I could get going on the sauce.

Ravigote Sauce is an adaptation of Velouté sauce. Usually when I see the words "double boiler" I run in the other direction. And, if that wasn't enough...the JoC calls for "mushroom shavings" in the Velouté. I must have been feeling very ambitious because peel the mushrooms (baby bellas) I did.

Ravigote Sauce (Joy of Cooking, 345)
  • 2 shallots, chopped very fine
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
  • 1 cup Velouté sauce (see below)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chervil (omitted)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped capers (subbed caperberries)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped tarragon
Cook shallots and vinegar rapidly about 3 minutes in a sauce pan, stirring constantly. Add the Velouté sauce to the shallots and simmer about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Cool to lukewarm and add all the herbs.

Velouté Sauce (Joy of Cooking, 344)
In a double boiler,
melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour. When blended, add gradually 2 cups stock (I used fish stock) and stir over low heat until combined and thickened. Add 1/4 cup mushroom peelings.
Simmer in double boiler for 1 hour (I used less time) stirring occasionally. Strain through a sieve and add a pinch of nutmeg and season to taste. Stir occasionally during the cooling process to prevent a crust from forming.

And then finally, there is the fish--the amazing flounder I bought from Jordan Bros. at the Farmers Market:

Marinated Flounder Fillets (Joy of Cooking, 406--paraphrased)
Marinate the fillets in the tarragon vinegar for 10 minutes
Drain and then coat with a mixture of cornmeal, flour (1:1 ratio), salt and pepper. Sauté in melted butter until golden brown (roughly 4 min. each side). Serve with sauce above.

This was quite good! A lot of work (the sauce, not the fish), but a good excuse to use up a lot of the fresh herbs I had lying around. I served it with gnocchi tossed with white truffle oil and parmesan, and a green salad (not pictured).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter Farmer's Market: Potato-Leek Soup

Potato-Leek Soup (The City Tavern Cookbook) and onion & garlic burrata on sunflower bread

I had a lovely morning at the Farmer's Market, enjoying a chance to chat briefly with two fabulous people (hi, Alex and Claire!), and I headed straight for Jordan Bros. Fish upstairs, having enjoyed the scallops I bought last week. This week I bought some flounder (in addition to more scallops), which I will be making tomorrow night. Next to Jordan Bros. were two of my favorite Somerville companies: Taza Chocolate and Fiore di Nonno, so some 80% chocolate and Onion/Garlic burrata jumped into my bag.

When I got home I realized I still had potatoes and leeks from last week's market (Enterprise Farm) that I never cooked, and the leeks still looked fine, so that was the priority for tonight. I wanted to make what is probably an amazing and fantastic potato leek soup from Barbara Lynch (as found in her book, Stir), but a recipe calling for four cups of cream isn't really compatible with my desire to take off holiday pounds or my husband's cholesterol. So, I turned to my good ol' City Tavern Cookbook, and learned, among other things, that marjoram was a common 18th-c herb, even though you rarely see it used today. Thomas Jefferson "grew it in abundance at Monticello," evidently (City Tavern Cookbook, 85). This recipe doesn't call for any cream, so it is broth based and at least psychologically more "healthy" if one ignores the butter and bacon, (*ahem*).

City Tavern's Potato Leek Soup (again, I avoid giving the exact amounts due to copyright)

  • unsalted butter
  • leeks (white part only), chopped
  • chicken stock (yes, yes....I used store bought...)
  • red skinned potatoes (I used a mix of locally grown potatoes including gold and purple)
  • yellow onion
  • chopped lean bacon
  • dried marjoram
  • salt and pepper
I happened to buy smoked bacon from Stillman's at the Farmer's Market and WOW...that was even better in the soup than I had imagined. I trimmed off quite a lot of the fat, and the smokiness actually really did come out in the soup. The marjoram was a fantastic addition.

Confession: I'm not a big soup eater. I also don't enjoy making it that much. But this was so straightforward and tasty, I see myself making this a couple of times each winter.

Finally, I'd like to thank KB over at Prof Who Cooks for the "Stylish Blogger Award." I'm not sure I'm deserving of anything preceded by the word "Stylish," but I'm honored, just the same. I will be sending the award on in the next week or so.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Farmers Market: Sautéed Scallops and Herbed Rice

Somerville, MA is a great city. I love living here, and this year's new Winter Farmer's Market just added to my joy. It runs between now and March, and it has been inspiring to see people trudging out in the cold, ice and snow, to the Armory (yes, the market is inside). This past Saturday, I stocked up on locally grown leeks and potatoes, grabbed some hot Italian sausage from Stillman's, and then ventured upstairs to buy some FRESH FISH from Jordan Brothers Seafood. Yes, that's right: haddock from Gloucester, and scallops from Maine. Not frozen--fresh. When she showed me the scallops I might have cried, just a little. Oh, and I picked up a baguette, brioche, and potato bread.

Scallops don't require a lot of fuss, but are easy to overcook. I pulled out my San Juan Classics Cookbook (San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, not Puerto Rico) and went straight to the shellfish section where I found a recipe for "Sautéed Prawns or Scallops" from Thibert's Crab Market on Fidalgo Island. Due to copyright, I won't reproduce the quantities, but here are the essential ingredients for

Sautéed Scallops
  • fresh scallops--medium to large, dry
  • butter
  • chopped garlic
  • chopped green onions
  • sliced mushrooms (I used babybella)
  • dried tarragon (I substituted fresh because I had it)
  • dry white wine
  • fresh lemon juice
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon wedges to serve
In a nutshell: melt butter, saute garlic, onion, mushrooms and tarragon until softened. Add scallops, sauté for five minutes. Add wine and lemon juice, stir in parsley, simmer to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste!

I served it with Herbed Rice which was loosely inspired by a Herbed Barley recipe that I made for Christmas, from The City Tavern Cookbook .

Herbed Rice
  • basmati rice (follow normal portioning)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • fresh herbs: I used parsley, tarragon, and thyme in a 3:2:1 ratio. It really is to your taste, but I do recommend being sensitive to what you are serving with the rice. The tarragon picked up the tarragon in the scallops, and I wanted just the faintest whisper of thyme, so that it would work with the rice, but not compete with the scallops.
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook the rice according to package directions, putting the 1 tsp of salt in the water. After it is done simmering and the liquid is mostly absorbed, add all the other ingredients and stir through.

Served with a simple green salad, and we had fresh brioche topped with raspberries and brandy for desert.