Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Last night Alex and I dined at Marea for the first time.  While the food was amazing, the restaurant itself was something of a mixed bag for me.  First of all, we were the only people there not over the age of 35 and wearing a full suit to dinner.  We were also the only table that quietly drank our $40 bottle of wine, while other tables were yelling about how delicious their magnum of '45 Latour was or how the table was sharing a nice bottle of Cristal with their crudo.  For the record, the table of 6 seated near us probably went through at least $10,000 worth of wine with their dinner, including that bottle of '45 Latour and an '82 Cheval.  All in all, the average patron at Marea last night was so far out of our league it's not even funny.  I wouldn't say that I was uncomfortable dining there, but I will say that as I walked to the bathroom it was an interesting trip through the crowded dining room.  Oh and I saw Jeffrey Steingarten there (author of The Man Who Ate Everything and frequent guest judge on Iron Chef America), so that was kind of fun, but again pointed out just how out of place we were. 

Out of place or not, I was determined to enjoy my meal.  And I did.  And I tried to take pictures, but the lighting was so dim in the corner where we were seated, with weird shadows being thrown across our table, that the pictures are even more terrible than usual.  I refuse to use the flash when taking pictures at a restaurant because it can be so distracting to other diners, plus the plate tends to reflect so much light that the entire dish is washed out.  I also refuse to use my nice DSLR because I find that equally distracting to other diners.  So I tried, but I apologize.  Do not judge the food by the quality of my admittedly terrible photographs.

More after the jump!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)

One of my first experiences with Thai food was a bowl of Tom Kha Gai soup at a restaurant called Tara Thai in Rockville, Maryland back when I was in high school.  It was my first introduction to the use of coconut milk in soup, its sweetness meshing nicely with the savoriness of fish sauce; the brightness of cilantro, lemongrass and lime; and the heat of red curry paste and Thai chilis.  As I started eating more and more Thai food, I realized that many variations of Tom Kha Gai soup are far too sweet and missing the necessary spice and acid to balance out the natural sweetness of the coconut milk.  During my travels in SE Asia I tried Tom Yum soup and realized that Tom Kha Gai soup isn't the only delicious Thai soup out there.  Now when I go out for Thai I tend to alternate between ordering Tom Kha Gai and Tom Yum, depending on my mood, but I still have a special place in my heart for a really nice bowl of Tom Kha Gai soup.

This bowl of Tom Kha Gai soup was really nice and had lots of spice to it to balance the sweetness.  If you don't like spice, I would cut down on the amount of curry paste or on the number of dried Thai chilis.  In the past I have always made the soup with green curry paste instead or red, but we were out of green this time so I decided to use red instead.  In my admittedly limited experience, green curry paste tends to make a soup that is a little more floral and a little less outright spicy.  But both are delicious.  The red curry paste also gives the soup an orange tint, rather than the more traditional milky white broth from the coconut milk.  Strictly speaking, the curry paste isn't necessary, but it does add some extra complexity and some heat to the soup.  If you aren't using the curry paste, you need to use more lemongrass, galangal (or gingern like I used here, although galangal is definitely preferable) and kaffir lime leaves than I used here to give the soup the same depth of flavor.  You will end up with a soup that is in some ways more delicate, not to mention less spicy, than the recipe I have included here.  With the inclusion of the curry paste and the straw mushrooms, this soup almost reminds me of a cross between Tom Kha Gai and the more traditionally spicy Tom Yum soup. 

Recipe after the jump!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup

As far as I am concerned, homemade tomato soup is one of the easiest, most satisfying dishes.  It is also incredibly easy to play with, depending on what exactly you are craving.  Today I wanted a simple creamy tomato soup, rather than anything more complicated.  When I want to complicate things I add fire roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, creme fraiche, buttermilk, crushed red pepper flakes, handfuls of fresh basil, orzo, or slow roasted fresh tomatoes.  But the basics always remain the same - chicken or vegetable stock, canned whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, herbs (generally basil), and s&p.  This afternoon I was out of fresh basil, so I used a combination of fresh thyme and dried basil.  I also wanted the soup to be sweet, creamy and tangy, to pair with my sourdough grilled cheese sandwich.  In order to make the soup a little sweeter, I added more carrots than usual.  Then, to give the soup some tang I added buttermilk.

Use this recipe as a base for your own tomato soup experiments.  Usually when I am making tomato soup for Alex and I, he campaigns for lots of crushed red pepper flakes and sometimes for bacon.  If you want to add crushed red pepper flakes, add them at the very beginning while sauteing your aromatics.  If you want to use bacon, cut it into small pieces and cook in the pot first thing.  Then once the bacon is crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel.  The rendered bacon fat can then be used in place of the evoo to saute your aromatics.  Have fun with it!

Recipe after the jump!

Shrimp Tacos

Every cook has a few easy, reliable and quick meals that they fall back on.  This is one of mine.  Fish and shrimp tacos are one of my favorite dishes, both to eat and to make.  During the summer I make tacos regularly, because they just strike me as the perfect summertime meal with a couple of nice cold beers and some chips and guacamole, or chips and salsa.  Somehow spicy Mexican and summer just seem to go hand-in-hand for me.  But after a week of feasting only on Asian-inspired dishes and in anticipation of some fairly heavy, meaty meals this week, shrimp tacos seemed like the perfect simple foil for the richness of Dinosaur BBQ this evening, and a bacon-centric cooking class we took last night.
I marinate my shrimp for my tacos in a blend of chili powders, cayenne pepper, lime zest, garlic, cinnamon (just a touch for a hint of cinnamon sweetness and aroma), and cumin for smokiness.  Then you have the fattiness of the guacamole with the bite of red onion and jalapeno, and the brightness of the cilantro and the spritz of fresh lime juice.  Delicious - even in winter time.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food on the UWS

When we moved to the UWS I was a little nervous about what I thought was the lack of a real foodie scene on the UWS.  In the past few years the restaurant scene up here has EXPLODED and we have a ton of wonderful dining options.  The most recent addition to the UWS dining scene is Five Napkin Burger, which I can see out the windows of my apartment and have vowed to try soon.  However, what prompted this post is that we finally tried Eighty One this evening.  And we loved it.  The funny thing is that when we were reading the reviews online we almost talked ourselves out of going to Eighty One because some of the reviews were so poor, but I had a coupon from this wonderful site called BlackboardEats for a free glass of champagne and a free scallop ravioli appetizer so we decided to go ahead and try it.  While a lot of reviewers seemed to prefer Dovetail (another UWS restaurant) to Eighty One, we thought that the worst component of our meal at Eighty One tonight was far better than anything we tried at Dovetail.  By the way, that scallop ravioli appetizer (pictured above), which was on the $30.81 three course economy friendly menu was amazing.  It was my favorite thing I have eaten at a restaurant in at least a month, which is saying a lot since I have eaten at quite a few restaurants recently.  The yellow wine sauce that was served with the ravioli was amazingly buttery and savory, but so simple that it let the scallops really shine.  I actually would have licked the bowl if I could have.  As it was, I took a spoon to the remaining broth/foam.  So I took a few pictures of our meal from Eighty One that I am posting here now with the caveat that the lighting was atrocious and I only had my little point and shoot Canon digital Elph with me to take the pictures.  Oh well.

This whole meal got me thinking about my other favorite restaurants and dishes on the UWS, which I decided I had to share.  My favorite UWS picks after the jump!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese Spinach with Oyster Sauce and Roasted Garlic

For our last Chinese New Year meal, I decided to go simple.  We had two pounds of yu choi (Chinese spinach) sitting in the fridge, and a pound of shrimp that I defrosted last night.  Unfortunately, the shrimp wasn't quite defrosted.  But after realizing just how much yu choi we had, we decided that we didn't need the shrimp after all.  And after a week of fairly elaborate and/or heavy meals, it was pretty nice to just sit back and stir-fry some veggies.  We took this recipe from The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, which has become my go-to for easy weeknight Asian meals, and modified it just slightly.

Served with some steamed rice, this was a very satisfying light meal.  These stir-fried veggies would be a perfect side dish to almost any Chinese meal.  I would eat it with Chinese roast pork, roast duck, salt and pepper shrimp - just about anything.  It is both sweet and savory.  The roasted garlic is delicious.  Definitely don't skimp on the garlic or the ginger.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Roasted Rice Cakes

Recently Alex showed me a blog called Momofuku for 2 where someone named Steph from Vancouver is making every single recipe in the Momofuku cookbook.  It's very Julie & Julia, but it is unbelievably fabulous.  Steph takes beautiful pictures of the recipes, documenting every step of the cooking process.  It is blogs like hers that make me realize how great an amateur food blog can really be.  And it also makes me wish that I had the free time to cook labor-intensive recipes like that every evening.  If you love food, and you love Momofuku, you really need to check out her blog.  It really is THAT good.

Steph's blog inspired me to finally get off my ass and make David Chang's recipe for Roasted Rice Cakes from the Momofuku cookbook as part of my Chinese New Year all Asian-inspired menu.  However, seeing as I didn't have the time full roast the onions for the recipe, a process which is supposed to take approximately 50 minutes, or to make the Ramen Broth, which requires 4 pounds of chicken and 5 pounds of meaty pork bones plus a ton of other ingredients and takes at least an hour, I made a much lazier/simpler version of the rice cakes.  For me, David Chang's cookbook is a lot like Jean-Georges Vongerichten's.  I love to look at it, but I rarely ever make anything from it.  Chang and Peter Meehan's prose is amazing.  I love reading them babble on just about everything.  But when I take the cookbook off the shelf to try to figure out what to cook for dinner, I almost always have to put it right back on the shelf once I realize that I am missing at least 2-3 ingredients, plus I don't have 3 hours in which to cook dinner.  Oh well.  I love the cookbook anyway.

These Roasted Rice Cakes are heavy and very filling, but very tasty.  They are also sweet enough that I could only eat so much - maybe half to two-thirds of the portion I had originally served myself.  The sauce does have savory notes, but considering the Korean Red Dragon Sauce starts with simple syrup and the rice cakes are tossed with seriously caramelized onions, it would be hard for the savory notes to outweigh the sweet.  If I had made the recipe as written from start to finish there might have been more savoriness to cut the sweetness, so I can't lay the blame at the cookbook's feet.  There's always next time!

Recipes after the jump!

Kalbi and Korean-Style Romaine

So I know I have already posted this recipe for Kalbi (Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs) in My Favorite Recipes of 2009, but I couldn't resist making these kalbi last night as part of my all-Asian Chinese New Year week menu.  I guess that brings the tally to 1 Thai meal, 1 Vietnamese meal, 1 Japanese meal, 2 Chinese meals (one with Japanese influences).  This menu has traveled all over Asia!

What I love most about the kalbi is how sweet and tender they areMarinating your short ribs overnight in the fridge after rubbing them with brown sugar is definitely the way to go.  The Korean-Style Romaine are a lovely accompaniment to the kalbi.  It was slightly spicy and tasted wonderfully of garlic, ginger and sesame oil.  We made both for a dinner party last night and served them with white rice, and store-bought kimchi.  You know your dinner party was a success when you go to clean up at the end of the night and there is absolutely nothing left but bones to throw in the trash.

Recipes after the jump!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pork and Chive Dumplings

When I was at Chapel Hill, my favorite restaurant was a place named Lantern.  It was an upscale Asian restaurant that opened sometime during my junior year.  Years after graduation I came across this recipe for Pork and Chive Dumplings from Andrea Reusing in Gourmet.  I made it a few times, along with the dipping sauce, before putting it together and realizing that it was the same Andrea Reusing who is the chef-owner of Lantern.  Random, but very very cool.  So when I was considering dumpling recipes to serve as a part of my Chinese New Year menu, I had to serve these.

I really enjoy the combination of the ginger, cilantro, and scallions in these dumplings.  They provide it with wonderful flavor.  And it makes a huge difference that you use fatty ground pork, rather than leaner ground pork for your filling.  That will ensure that the dumpling filling remains moist and succulent, rather than drying out.  I also like the addition of sriracha, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.  It's a nice little touch.

Instead of serving the dumplings with the Lantern dipping sauce, we decided to try out Fuchsia Dunlop's dipping sauce from her "Zhong" Crescent Dumplings recipe in Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan.  Her dipping sauce is sweet and thick, a nice variation on the typical dipping sauce.

Recipes after the jump!

Pan-Fried Tofu with Dark Sweet Soy Sauce

So once upon a time, I was a total tofu skeptic.  No matter how many times I tried it, it never satisfied me.  Then I went to China.  And while there I realized that there were hundreds of different preparations for tofu, as well as several kinds of tofu.  Being the adventurous eater that I am, I tried a few of them.  And then I found out that tofu can actually be really really good.  But every time I tried to make tofu at home, it always ended up being a disappointment.  So I relegated tofu to the category of restaurant-only foods which also includes soft-shell crabs and various other ingredients that I am either too lazy to prepare at home, or for lack of space or proper equipment I cannot prepare at home (e.g. an immersion circulator to sous vide various meats).  There aren't a lot of items in the restaurant-only category, but there are enough to curtail my kitchen experiments somewhat.  Since tofu isn't exactly difficult to prepare I would periodically consider taking it off my personal version of a no-fly list, only to chicken out.  Actually, it wasn't so much that I chickened out, but there just aren't that many must try recipes I came across involving tofu to make me reevaluate my stance.  Then I purchased The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook late last year, and found several tofu recipes that looked very promising.  I decided I had to give tofu another try.  Our first tofu experiment from the cookbook was Jaden's Spicy Korean Tofu Stew.  It was delicious.  After that, tofu was officially back on my kitchen roster.  Without this cookbook, I don't know how long it would have taken me to try tofu again!

Jaden describes this tofu recipe as being ideal for beginners and I think that while beginners would love it, more seasoned tofu eaters would be equally enamored.  The sauce is the perfect mix of salty, sweet and spicy.  The tofu is sliced thin before being pan-fried so that the exterior is nice and crispy, so that gave the dish a wonderful texture.  Jaden lets her tofu fly solo, but I wanted to get a few more fresh ingredients into my lunch so I served the tofu on top of a bed of baby spinach and then drizzled the tofu with the warm sauce, which ended up dressing the spinach as it pooled underneath.  Yum.  It was the perfect healthy midweek lunch!

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Indian-Spiced Rice Pudding

I came across this recipe for rice pudding on Sassy Radish and I just couldn't wait to try it. Strangely enough, the night that I made my Indian Lamb Chops with Curried Cauliflower I actually looked for an Indian-inspired rice pudding recipe. I checked all of my usual sources, but didn't find a recipe that sounded like what I was looking for, so we just had fresh mangoes for dessert.  And then a few days later I came across this recipe and then bookmarked it for sometime in the future.  Luckily, the future is now.  I adapted it a little to use some of the fancy cinnamon I picked up at Kalustyans, because I love cinnamon in rice pudding, but I kept the majority of the recipe as written.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This rice pudding is delicious, subtly spiced and wonderfully sweet.  It is the perfect comforting dessert for a cold snowy day.  I love the perfume of the cardamom and cinnamon as the rice pudding simmers away on the stove.  It made my entire apartment smell luscious.  And since we used Indian spices, I figure it's not too out of the box from the rest of the all Asian-inspired menu for the week of Chinese New Year.  I was going to make my favorite Chinese cookies today, which would have been squarely within the parameters of my menu, but those will have to wait until the weekend so I can pick up more almond flour!

Recipe after the jump!

Red Curry Duck

There are a few things that I consistently order at Thai restaurants - tom kha gai soup, tom yum soup, soft shell crab, and duck in red curry.  I love a nice piece of duck in a nice spicy, yet somewhat sweet curry.  I try to mix it up sometimes, but those are my favorites that I return to time and time again.  Even though I have a serious thing for duck in all of its many forms (Peking duck, Cantonese roast duck, crispy duck, five-spice duck, etc), I rarely cook it at home.  I'm not really sure why that is, because duck is fairly easily available in NYC, but somehow it rarely makes it into my shopping cart.  I really need to fix that.  I also need to make more curries at home, so when the idea struck me to make duck I figured why not go for a Thai curry and kill two birds with one stone.  The recipe for Red Curry Duck is one of the least complicated recipes in my Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges cookbook, but I still had to modify it a lot.  I wasn't about to start pureeing red Thai chilis and fresh pineapple.  As much as I love this cookbook, it really is meant for the restaurant chef and not the home cook.  So I tend to steal ideas and flavor profiles from it, but not cook entire recipes.  This is as close as I have ever come to actually following a Jean-Georges recipe and I'm still not that close at all.

My favorite thing about this curry was the bright sweetness of the chunks of pineapple.  The curry itself had a nice flavor, with a nice lingering spiciness to it, although our Thai chilis weren't as hot as I had expected them to be.  I could have done without the carrots, but that is a personal thing since I'm just not a huge fan of cooked carrots.  All things considered, they didn't hurt or help the dish.  The duck itself was fine, although it would have been a little better if it had a little more flavor to it.  Next time we might try this recipe with duck legs so we can simmer them longer in the curry without overcooking them.  Or perhaps we will create more of a spice rub on the duck breasts.  Since this is the first time we have ever tried this recipe, or any variation on it, we will have to tweak it a bit in the coming year to perfect it.  But this was a very good start.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chicken Banh Mi

If you have never had a banh mi, you don't know what you are missing.  Banh mi might possibly be the best sandwiches in the world (although I have recently tried versions of the Cambodian equivalent at both Num Pang and Kampuchea Restaurant here in NYC and they were delicious as well).  They originated in Vietnam and I think they represent a wonderful fusion of French influence and Southeast Asian flavors.  The traditional banh mi I grew up eating was a large French bread like roll with a smear of pork pate, various cold cuts or slices of roasted pork, cilantro, jalapeno, and then pickled daikon and carrots.  When I was younger my mother would drive down to Falls Church, Virginia where they have a large Vietnamese-American population and pick up banh mi by the half dozen for our family.  In recent years the banh mi has exploded on the foodie scene and has been served everywhere from Momofuku Ssam to the Blind Tiger Ale House to more traditional Vietnamese sandwich shops.

Since Alex and I both love banh mi, we couldn't pass up the chance to make banh mi during our all Asian-inspired Chinese New Year week.  We decided to make the Garlicky Oven-Roasted Chicken from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen:  Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavor and serve it in a variation on her banh mi recipe.  Can you tell how much I love this cookbook by the sheer number of times it has showed up on my blog already?

The Garlicky Oven-Roasted Chicken was delicious.  I would make it again anytime.  It was moist and flavorful, even though I substituted bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts for the more naturally flavorful thighs used in Nguyen's recipe.  And when you serve the roast chicken in the banh mi it makes such a wonderful sandwich.  If you build your sandwich together, you get the salty, savory, garlicky flavor from the chicken; the freshness of the cilantro; the spice from the jalapeno; and the coolness of the pickle in every bite.

Recipes after the jump!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mirin-Glazed Salmon and Mint, Scallion Soba Noodles

For evening #2 of my all Asian-inspired Chinese New Year week menu, I decided to go ahead and make some Mirin-Glazed Salmon with some soba noodles.  I guess this is my fully Japanese-inspired meal for the week, whereas I would say last night's noodles were Chinese-inspired, with a dash of Japanese.  Anyway, when I was planning out my menu for this week I noticed that I had some nice wild salmon that has been hanging out in the freezer for awhile and some soba noodles up in the cupboard, so this sounded like a good time to break both of them out.  After tonight I am done with the noodle component of my menu for this week.  This meal also marks the conclusion of my Japanese-inspired portion of the menu.  Now I get to move on to the rest of Asia!

I usually make these soba noodles during the summer.  They make a wonderful cool summer meal or side dish.  But I thought they would provide us with a nice contrast from the rich sweetness of the mirin glaze on the salmon.  The salmon was good, but I think it needs some tweaking.  I am not sure what I will add to it the next time I make it, but it needs something else for contrast - perhaps some acid.  However, while this is not a spectacular meal, it's solid.  It is also quick to prepare and very easy, which counts for a lot.

Recipes after the jump!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Udon Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy

Since Chinese New Year is a week away (it falls on February 14 this year), I have decided that we will cook Asian-inspired meals this entire week.  If I were fully Chinese, instead of just being half, I would try to prepare authentic Chinese meals all week, but I think that I can mix it up a little.  Alex claims that even if I were 100% Chinese that I would still cook other cuisines for Chinese New Year, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  So this evening's meal was a true mix of Chinese and Japanese flavors.  I took my inspiration from a recipe for "Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Baby Greens" from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.  Alex and I went through our selection of Chinese and Vietnamese cookbooks and picked out some meals for us to try this week, including homemade pork dumplings (a traditional New Year dish), noodles (another thing traditionally served for Chinese New Year), banh mi (not at all traditional and Vietnamese instead of Chinese, but delicious nonetheless), and a few other surprises.  This soup recipe was one of my picks, but we were missing a few ingredients and I wanted to jazz it up.  Instead of using rice noodles (which we were out of anyway), I wanted to use some udon noodles for a chewier, heartier soup.  I love udon noodles in soup.  And then, since I had already decided to use udon I decided to serve the soups topped with shichimi togarashi ("seven flavor chili pepper") to add another Japanese touch. 

I was a little worried that this soup would be a little boring flavor-wise, but it wasn't at all.  The flavors were both delicate and deeply savory (if I were more pretentious or Japanese I would say umami) at the same time.  Most of the savoriness I attribute to the dried shitake mushrooms, which imparted some serious flavor to the soup.  Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite "vegetarian" soup recipes I have ever made.  I say "vegetarian" because I did use chicken bouillion to make my broth, but you could easily use mushroom or vegetable broth instead.

Recipe after the jump!

Homemade Scallion Pancakes

I love scallion pancakes - love them.  They are delicious.  And usually I buy them frozen down in Chinatown, but after making them in a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education, and realizing that they aren't THAT complicated to make, I figured why not try making them at home.  So here goes.  The recipe we followed at ICE was pretty good, but I made a few small changes, including using sesame oil during the cooking process to give the pancakes more flavor.  While I can't say that I will be doing this often, just because of the time commitment, it's a delicious alternative to the frozen scallion pancakes I almost always have in the freezer.  And as these scallion pancakes are pan-fried instead of deep fried, I somehow feel much better about eating them.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Merguez Lamb Burger on Pita

I was shopping at Bloomingdale's today and we stopped in at FLIP to grab a milkshake.  There was an Eastern Burger with an exotic lamb blend, herbal yogurt dressing and a tandoori onion ring, rolled in naan flatbread.  That got me thinking.  I had been planning on serving a Greek-inspired lamb burger with feta cheese, spinach, red onion and a play on tzatziki sauce, but that Eastern Burger sounded way better.  So after a successful conclusion to our shopping trip, I decided to make a play on a merguez sausage kebob/burger that I would wrap in some nice pita I purchased on Thursday.  But I decided to go ahead and use the spinach and shaved red onion that I had been planning on using with my Greek burger.  And then I made a sauce for the burger with the Greek yogurt I had been saving, mixed with harissa and lemon juice.  So good!  I love burgers, but this recipe is one of my most successful for a first time attempt.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney

There are a vast number of things that I had never attempted to make before, that I have attempted in the past few months.  For instance, I made my first ketchup for this blog (even though it was cranberry ketchup it still counts), and my first cheesecake not long before I started blogging.  This recipe is my very first attempt at chutney!  I had a few Granny Smith apples laying around the apartment that were just begging to be used, and Alex has placed a moratorium on baking (one I broke this past weekend to bake a chocolate Guinness cake and some banana bread), plus he has a crazy prejudice against all desserts containing apples.  Somehow he finds them to be too sweet, but doesn't seem to think that pecan pie is too sweet.  Strange.  Anyway, I started casting about for ideas and then stumbled upon a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread with apple chutney.  Apple chutney, huh?  And then I thought about serving the apple chutney with a pork tenderloin brined in fresh apple cider, salt, water, and spices.  Since the chutney I made has star anise, allspice, cinnamon and ginger, that gave me some ideas to work with for the brine.  Did I mention that I have never brined a pork tenderloin before? 

The pork tenderloin was delicious.  Very savory, with just a hit of sweetness.  With the brine the flavor actually penetrated to the center of the meat, leaving it all juicy and full of wonderful flavor.  And the savoriness of the meat went wonderfully with the slightly sweet, but also savory chutney and the brussels sprouts.  It was such a wonderful hearty winter meal.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs with Aleppo Pepper

Yogurt-marinated chicken is one of the world's best culinary inventions.  First there was tandoori chicken, delicious if done properly.  Then I started stumbling across other yogurt-marinated chicken recipes from all over the Middle East and India.  This is our new favorite yogurt-based recipe.  The yogurt marinade renders the chicken super moist, and it gives it a nice tangy flavor.  The lemon is nice and bright, plus the pepper gives it some wonderful slightly sweet heat.  It is such a wonderful blend of flavors.  I love trying new things - new seasonings, new cuts of meat, new everything.  That's how we end up with half of the produce in our refrigerator during the summer, and how we accumulated most of the spices in our kitchen cabinet.  And while I considered buying Aleppo pepper just to make this recipe, I decided that it was slightly silly to buy a spice that I had only ever seen once in a recipe.  Plus the alternative works beautifully in this recipe.  So I stick with the dried crushed red pepper (homemade by a family friend and super spicy) or cayenne pepper, plus sweet paprika blend.  I'm not sure how the recipe would taste with the Aleppo pepper, but I can attest to the fact that it is delicious with the substitution.

My favorite way to prepare this dish is to make the marinade while I am cooking dinner the night before, and then allow the chicken to sit in the marinade overnight.  Last night Alex whipped up the marinade while I started on our Hummus with Cinnamon Lamb and I was excited all day just thinking about the yogurt marinating away in our fridge.  But I have tried marinating it for just a few hours and it tastes wonderful that way too. 

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hummus with Cinnamon Lamb (Houmous bil erfeh lahem)

Somehow I have never made hummus before.  I always have it in the fridge and I go through phases where I eat Tribe's jalapeno hummus by the truckload.  I absolutely love spicy hummus - the spicier the better.  Why have plain old hummus when you can spice it up?  

That was the rationale behind trying out this hummus recipe.  It had a fascinating sounding list of spices and ingredients - cinnamon, garlic, red chili flakes, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, parsley, lamb and evoo?  Yum.  And this recipe totally lives up to its promise.  The interplay between the spices and the freshness of the lemon and parsley make for a very unique and seriously delicious mouthful.  This was the first recipe I have ever tried from this cookbook (after literally bookmarking dozens of them to try), and I am totally going back for more.  I love street food!

Recipe after the jump!

Chocolate Guinness Cake

While searching for a chocolate cake recipe, I kept stumbling across glowing references to Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake.  I am usually not a fan of chocolate cake, or chocolate ice cream for that matter.  I often find that chocolate cake doesn't taste at all like chocolate and chocolate ice cream just tastes chalky.  And while I recognize that stouts can be quite chocolate-y and pair wonderfully with some desserts, the thought of making a chocolate cake with Guinness in it sounded a little weird.  But since literally EVERYONE online was raving about the cake and it sounded intriguing I figured I had to try it.  I was almost dissuaded because I could only find recipes with measurements in grams and Celsius, but eventually I stumbled across a copy of the recipe that had been converted into cups and Fahrenheit on the Washington Post website.  Perfect!

The batter of this cake is very dark and rich.  It's also a very wet batter.  This is definitely not a box mix chocolate cake or a devil's food cake.  Nigella described the cake as having a "resonant, ferrous tang" (which in my mind translates to an irony taste), which doesn't sound that great to me.  Luckily, I don't taste any iron in the cake.  I also don't taste the Guinness, but I can't decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  This cake is also a little less moist than I thought it would be, considering how wet the batter was.  Granted, wet batter doesn't always translate into moist cake, but in this instance it really seemed like it would.  But overall, this is a really nice, not too sweet chocolate cake!  Plus the cream cheese icing is delicious - not too sweet, but nice and cream cheesy.

And, this cake really does get better the second day.  I'm not sure how or why that is, but it's true.  It tasted even moister 24 hours after I cooked it than it did 6 hours after.  Go figure.

Recipe after the jump!