Friday, December 30, 2011

French Bistro Steaks with Provencal Butter

I had never heard of a hanger steak before studying abroad in France.  And to be perfectly honest, I had no idea what the English translation of "onglet" was until years after my return to the US.  I guess I just wasn't a "foodie" then.  But hanger steak has become one of my favorite steaks to cook.  It's not super expensive and it has a ton of flavor.  The only problem is that it can be a bit harder to find than say flank steak or a ribeye.  But I'm willing to make the effort to search it out because it really is worth it.  This recipe was one that I found in my Ina Garten cookbook some time ago.  It was one of those recipes that kind of sits in the back of your mind for ages until one day you finally think, "gee, there was that one recipe I wanted to try..."  That day finally came for me last week when we had a hanger steak in the fridge and no plans on how to use it.  And we just happened to have all of the ingredients on hand.  Serendipity.  Actually, I had to run out and buy herbes de provence, but we were so close.

Anyway, butter and steaks go together like pb&j.  If you Google "steak" and "butter" you end up with thousands of recipes for cooking steak in butter, or serving steak with a compound butter on top.  This compound butter was an interesting variation on the garlic compound butter, or herb-filled compound butter that you usually see because it incorporated everything but the kitchen sink - garlic, anchovies, capers, herbs and lemon zest.  It was a very interesting flavor combination and it paired well with the meatiness of the hanger steak.  And, like all compound butters, it was easy to make and imparted a lot of flavor.  We served the steak with a simple arugula salad and I thought it was a really, simple nice meal.
Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Butter-Blanched Southern Greens

I love Trader Joe's.  It is one of my favorite grocery stores, partially because they have great frozen meals and great pre-washed and prepared greens.  They also have the happiest, nicest people working there.  This is the first time that we have tried their Southern Greens Blend, which includes mustard greens, turnip greens, collards and spinach.  This is also the first time we have tried our new Jean-Georges cookbook, Home-Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes The recipe almost sounded too simple to be worthwhile.  But blanching greens in butter seemed like an interesting approach and sometimes simple is good, so I decided to give it a try.  I had to cut down on the amount of butter because 12 tbsp for a pound of greens (or 6 tbsp for 1/2 of a pound) seemed like an obscene amount.  So I cut the amount of butter by 2 tbsp for 1/2 lb of greens.  And we used the mixed greens rather than the mustard greens as the recipe called for.

Alex and I were both surprised by the amount of flavor the greens picked up from the butter.  He was worried that the greens were going to be bitter and/or bland, but somehow they weren't.  We were trying to decide just how we would change the recipe, but I'm afraid that adding any additional ingredients would mask the delicate (but rich) flavor of the butter.  We didn't use the optional mustard oil that the recipe called for, but maybe we will try that next time?  Altogether this was a pretty decent first recipe from our new cookbook and a fun new way to cook greens!

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ming Tsai's Classic Shortbread and Five-Spice Shortbread

Shortbread cookies aren't exactly the sexiest of cookies.  Shortbread is a little plain, a little safe, and some might say a little boring.  But they are wonderfully easy to make once you have your dough prepared. I love cookies that come from chilled logs of dough because you don't have to mess around trying to measure out equal sized balls with a tablespoon or get dough stuck all over your hands.  You just wrap the dough in parchment paper, chill it and then slice.  Perfect.  And pretty freaking tasty.  A long time ago I made a recipe for Orange Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate Chips and I was shocked by how tasty those cookies were.  I really need to make them again soon.  I will add them to my list...  Anyway, I decided I needed to try to make some shortbread cookies last week when I was trying to think of holiday baking projects.  And I ended up picking this recipe because I loved how Ming Tsai came up with one base recipe for four batches of dough and then a bunch of variations for each batch.  I wanted to make all four batches the other night, but decided that I would bake two batches and save two for future experiments at a later date.  With these two batches I decided to go with his basic Classic Shortbread and Five-Spice Shortbread recipes.  For the remaining two batches I'm thinking chocolate dipped (maybe with some crushed hazelnuts or some orange zest) and then Ming Tsai's Double Chocolate-Ginger Shortbread.

These cookies were simple and quite delicious.  The cookies weren't as buttery or as flaky as I had anticipated, given how crumbly the dough was.  They also weren't super sweet, but I have never had an intensely sweet shortbread before so I imagine that is pretty typical.  I wish that the flavor of the five-spice had come through a little more on the five-spice shortbread cookies.  The five-spice wasn't adhering very well to the dough.  Perhaps I should have let them warm up a  little more so the spice would adhere better?  I would say that these two batches were good, but not amazing.  We will have to see how the next two batches go.  We should be baking those two batches shortly, so stay tuned!

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts with Butter-Braised Radishes, Kohlrabi and Brussels Sprouts

I have been DYING to make this recipe for a very very long time.  I absolutely LOVE so many of the components - duck is one of my very favorite meats, and brussels sprouts are amazing.  As far as I am concerned, radishes and kohlrabi are okay, but I figured if you butter-braised them they would be amazing too.  And my God were they.    But more on that in a bit.  We took a few shortcuts while cooking the veggies because I was way too lazy to use (and then clean) all of those pans.  I think the recipe as written called for two separate pots of boiling salted water and two saute pans.  And that was just for the veggies.  The duck recipe called for a pan, a bowl, a baking sheet and a cooking rack to go on top of the baking sheet.  If we had used all of the pans Thomas Keller wanted, they would have taken over our entire kitchen.  Actually, I'm not even sure we have that many pans and pots.  And we certainly don't have space on our stove top for that many.  Thomas Keller's recipes are flawless, but they are far from simple.  Believe it or not, this was one of the less labor-intensive recipes.

I am obsessed with this dish.  It never ever would have occurred to me to butter braise radishes and serve it with kohlrabi and brussels sprouts.  I was worried that the kohlrabi and the brussels sprouts would be soggy and flavorless since they were blanched without any seasoning, but they were totally delicious.  And the duck was so good.  The skin was perfectly rendered and the meat was tender and juicy.  We have never rendered the fat out this low and slow before throwing the duck in the oven, but the cooking method worked really well.  The meat was perfectly cooked.  The recipe called for orange zest to be grated over the duck while it marinated, but we didn't have any oranges in the apartment so we just skipped that step.  The next time we make the duck (and there will be a next time), I'll make sure to pic up some oranges so I can see how that affects the flavor.  This was a great hearty and rich winter meal with enough butter to make it feel decadent, but enough veggies to make the dish feel balanced.  I loved it.  Sure it had a ton of steps (and necessitated a lot of clean up), but I thought the end result was well worth it.  Once again, Thomas Keller has proved that he is an absolute genius and I am just a baby in comparison.  And once again I am reminded that we really need to make more recipes from this cookbook ASAP.

Recipes after the jump!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kruidnoten (aka Alex's Dutch cookies) - Takes 2 and 3

I have been asking Alex to write a guest post on the blog for weeks now about his newest attempts with Kruidnoten.  Last year he made his first batch while I was on vacation with my mom.  They weren't perfect so he wanted to make a few more attempts at refining/perfecting his recipe.  This post is about attempts 2 and 3, both of which he made in the past few weeks.  His first batch of 2011 was from a few weeks ago while I was working around the clock on a deal.  My main complaint about the cookies (which he agreed with) was that the spice blend was too overpowering and perfume-y.  I felt like I was eating potpourri every time I took a bite.  The texture was soft and almost like a peanut butter cookie.  He made the next batch with a few tweaks to the spice blend this past Thursday or Friday.  He wanted the cookies to be spicier - a little peppery, but less aromatic/perfume-y.  According to Alex, the cookies are traditionally fairly hard and spicy.  I guess that is why their name literally means "spice nuts."  You can leave out or change the ratios of spices to suit your own tastes (and your spice cupboard because his final recipe uses everything but the kitchen sink).  Per Alex, some recipes note that you can even just substitute pumpkin pie spices for the speculaas.  Since I know nothing at all about these cookies (except the little that Alex has told me) and I think of the cookies as being similar to gingersnaps, I guess that makes sense.

Rather than making the final batch of cookies hard, he baked them until they were crispy, but with a bit of chewiness remaining.  It was a very pleasant texture, unlike the first batch that was super dry and the second batch that was a little softer.  I have to say that I vastly prefer his last attempt at cooking the cookies far more than the previous two.  The spice blend was better, the texture was better - everything was better.  I would recommend making the cookies small, because the flavor is pretty powerful and one small cookie goes a long way.  The first and second batches were just too big for me.  And Alex is happy enough with his final batch that he's done experimenting.  It looks like he has found the kruidnoten recipe that he will be making at Christmas-time for years to come.

Recipe after the jump!

Pasta al Limone: Pasta with Lemon Sauce

This dish was one that Alex pulled out of a hat (or off the internet) a few nights ago for dinner.  We had been planning on making something else, until we realized that we had run out of one of the major ingredients.  So this was something of a last second substitution.  And as far as last second substitutions go, it wasn't bad.  It wasn't my favorite, but I didn't think it would be.  And maybe that's beside the point.  It was a perfectly fine and better yet, it was very easy to make.  I think I might have preferred basil to the parsley (or maybe a combination of the two).  My one complaint is that once it cooled down a little it tasted a little oily/greasy.  But overall, not a bad dish.  Not an exciting dish, but not a bad one.  I think if I were to make it again I would throw in some fresh asparagus (when it's in season) for some extra freshness and sweetness.

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolate Almond Bark with Sea Salt

I'm not sure if people outside of NYC are familiar with Jacques Torres, but they have this amanzing hot chocolate there that they call Wicked Hot Chocolate.  It is very rich and deeply chocolately, but it has this really nice spice to it.  I personally happen to think that dark chocolate works wonderfully with spice (and salt, but that's another story altogether).  A few months ago I stopped at Jacques Torres with a friend to grab some hot chocolate and my friend told me I had to try this pumpkin seed bark/brittle that they only make around the holidays.  It was amazing - just as good as the hot chocolate!  They paired pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), with some dried cranberries, chocolate, caramel...  It was so good.  And I wanted to make it at home.  But when it came down to it, Alex wasn't a huge fan of the idea of dried cranberries and I was too lazy to try to recreate the recipe from a memory that was several months old.  So I decided to make this Chocolate Almond Bark with Sea Salt instead.  Things in the Boyne appartment often end up a little loosey-goosey like that.  I had this really nice brick (it literally looked like a gold brick) of dark chocolate from L.A. Burdick that I had been saving for future baking experiments and we always have sea salt in the apartment.  The only thing we needed was Marcona almonds (although I'm sure you could substitute hazelnuts and this recipe would still be delicious).  So I swung by Zabars on my way home and we were in business.

Although there were several steps involved, this bark was really easy to make.  You have to really enjoy the combination of dark chocolate and sea salt to like this bark (which I do so I really enjoyed it).  There isn't a lot of sweetness to the chocolate itself and the caramel only provides so much sweetness, so if you are into sweet chocolate barks you will need to combine semisweet and dark chocolate.  I really like the bittersweet taste of dark chocolate so I wouldn't use semisweet, but that's just me.  Make sure to use good-quality dark chocolate.  The recipe calls for it but there are plenty of times when I'm not sure that you could taste the difference.  Since this recipe is so simple and relies so heavily on the flavor of the chocolate itself, you really need to make the effort to track down some high-quality chocolate.  Trust me when I say that it will make all the difference in the world if you do.

Recipe after the jump!

Mesclun Salad with Warm Mushroom Vinaigrette

Like the Dinosaur Kale and Feta Panini, this salad was partially inspired by a dish I saw at inotecca over the weekend.  The funny thing about that is that prior to last weekend Alex and I had never eaten at inotecca before.  And while I enjoyed the meal, it wasn't impressive enough that I thought while dining that I would be drawing so much inspiration from the restaurant.  Even funnier is that I didn't order either of the two items that inspired this salad and the panini.  The table next to us did order the salad and from what I remember from the menu and/or could tell from staring at them, it was a mixed green salad of sorts with roasted mushrooms on top.  I don't think there was any cheese, but I couldn't say for certain.  We had a few cups of the mesclun from the farmers' market left (as well as some cremini mushrooms) and I wanted to make a fun, earthy salad, so adding mushrooms seemed like an interesting idea.  I pan roasted the mushrooms with evoo, garlic, shallots and rosemary and then added a splash of sherry vinegar (plus some more evoo at the end) so that the mushrooms were both a topping and the dressing for the salad.  They were pretty tasty.  Then I shaved on some really nice Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  The one thing that I didn't do and I wish that I had done is to make some homemade croutons.  I think that the buttery flavor and the crunchy texture of the croutons really would have taken this salad to the next level.  As if was, the mushrooms were really lovely and the flavors were good, but it felt like it was lacking a little something.  Lesson learned - next time I will make croutons!

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dinosaur Kale and Feta Panini

As today was my first trip to the farmers' market in quite some time (since the Sunday before Thanksgiving if we're entirely accurate), I got really excited and picked up some fresh bread and some kale with the brilliant idea of making a grilled cheese.  I love grilled cheese and I have been tempted to throw some kale in there for awhile.  This panini was really the combination of a bunch of ideas from several different sources.  The idea of adding kale to a grilled cheese first came from a cashier at Trader Joe's who told me that he puts kale in his mac n cheese.  It seemed like an interesting idea and I have been toying around with the idea of adding squash to my mac n cheese for awhile, so why not add some kale?  But that got me thinking about the combination of kale and cheese. Then one day I was flipping though Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing and I saw that she had a Kale Panini in there with farmers cheese or feta cheese, blanched kale and pickled chilis.  When I had been thinking about a grilled cheese I had been thinking more of a fontina or other creamy cheese that melts really well with something else saltier thrown in to give it a little more flavor, but a panini using feta seemed to make sense.  I think Alex was a little worried by the idea of the kale dominating the cheese (and I was too) so we decided to go with feta because it is assertive enough to hold its own against most ingredients.  And then today we were eating lunch at inoteca and they had a speck, mozzarella and pickled red onion panini.  So Alex threw in the idea of quickly and lazily pickling some shallots and throwing them in our panini for some sweetness and some acidity.  I had originally been planning on sauteing the shallots in with the wilted kale, but that sounded even better.  Alex has been on a roll lately with the suggestions.  I'm not exactly sure what has gotten into him, but I like it!

So throw it all together and bingo, bango, you have a panini!  And it was a  really tasty panini if I do say so myself.  I thought the flavors worked really well together.  The feta was salty and creamy (thanks to Andrea Reusing for that idea), the shallots were sweet and punchy, and then the kale was garlicky and savory.  If was just very satisfying.  It had enough of the grilled cheese aspect to it to resemble comfort food, but was sophisticated and complex enough to make it new and exciting.  Plus the addition of the kale made me feel a little less gross afterwards.  As much as I love grilled cheese, sometimes it just sits like a lump in the bottom of your stomach, but this sandwich didn't do that at all.  I think it had a lot to do with the proportions of cheese to kale and the addition of the shallots.  Go team Boyne!

Recipe after the jump!

Mesclun Salad with Apples and Warm Duck Bacon Vinaigrette

After a really long and difficult few weeks at work, I was dying for home cooking.  The months of November and December have been really bad for home-cooked meals (which I'm sure you can figure out just by looking at the scarcity of posts).  We had a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving (and my last home-cooked meal before that was the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving), then I went to Hawaii.  Saturday, December 3 was my next home-cooked meal and the last one before tonight's dinner.  Let's just say that I have been eating a lot of takeout and my body has been seriously craving a return to normalcy.  More specifically, I was dying for some salad and some freshness - a welcome counterpoint to all of the fairly mediocre meals I have been eating at my desk for the past two weeks.  I just really needed some greens.  And what better way to get some greens in my diet than to hit the farmers' market and grab some from Windfall Farms.  Actually when I first walked up to the stand I thought it was 5 lbs of Dirt - the farm at the farmer's market up by us that we hit every Sunday.  The people working there were the same, so maybe the two farms are related in some way?  I don't really know but I know that both stalls have absolutely amazing greens.  I wanted to buy the baby mesclun mix because it was beautiful and combined a bunch of different and delicious greens.  To counteract the slight bitterness of the greens I wanted to do a warm bacon vinaigrette.  Alex had the idea of tossing in some thinly sliced pears, but I didn't think that pears and these particular greens would work well together.  I tend to like pears better with a more tender green.  So we compromised on throwing in some thinly sliced honeycrisp apples to add some crispness and brightness to the dish.

This salad was such a wonderful way to end my 2 week long home-cooked food drought and to celebrate that work should slow down a bit for the rest of the year.  I thought all of the components really worked well together.  The sweetness of the apple was a wonderful touch (good job Alex) and I loved the duck bacon vinaigrette because it had a really nice balance of salty and sweet.  The duck bacon was a little gamier (in a good/interesting way) and a little lighter than pork bacon.  Here's to finally being able to cook and eat dinner at home again!  And here's to more upcoming blog posts...

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Things I love about Hawaii...

My family has been going to Hawaii every few years since I was a junior in college.  There have been a few trips that I haven't made with them, but I think this trip marked my fourth and my parents' seventh trip.  So we have been there a few times and we have our old favorites (Matsumoto's and Fatty's among them), but every time we go we discover new and wonderful places.  This list includes a few of my favorites on Oahu, including Waikiki, Kailua and North Shore.

List (and more pictures) after the break!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Salted Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake

So I know this picture is lame.  The pictures I took of the whole cake were even worse so I'm not even going to bother posting them.  I was in such a rush to get to the event that I was bringing this cake to that I didn't have time to really set up and take some pictures.  And to be perfectly honest, I don't have a very good set-up for taking pictures anyway.  I really need to get a better spotlight so I can take better pictures of our food for the blog.  We can make that my super early New Year's Resolution.  If you want to see good pictures of the cake, you should just go to Martha Stewart's website here and commence drooling immediately.  For more pictures, you can go to The Bitten Word.

You might be curious why I am posting about this cake while in Hawaii.  The reason is that I have been thinking about how delicious it was and couldn't wait until my return to share the love.  It was delicious.  When I read the name of the recipe, I assumed that the caramel itself would be salted and that the sea salt I could see sprinkled on the top of the cake was just, well, the icing on top of the (already salty) cake.  The caramel had a hint of salt to it, but not as much as I had been expecting.  But man, it was delicious.  The cake was very moist, almost a little brownie-like in texture.  And then the caramel soaked into the cake, making it even more moist and delicious.  And the frosting was deeply cocoa-flavored and chocolately.  I really liked that it wasn't as sweet as most frostings are because that level of sweetness totally turns me off (and actually makes my teeth hurt).  But this frosting was just rich and delicious.  You totally have to listen to Martha when she says to let the frosting sit for 30 minutes before frosting the cake.  After we first finished making the frosting I was convinced that it was a total bust because it was more like a ganache than a frosting.  I had no idea that it would set up that much in the 30 minutes (well, in our case it was more like 60 minutes) that it rested.  I guess Martha Stewart really knows what she is talking about, huh?  Anyway, try this cake.  I am totally planning on making it again for some special occasion.  It was amazing.  Mine came out a little lopsided (I guess I need some more practice assembling layer cakes), but so be it.  I will take amazing-tasting cake over pretty, but dry/boring cake any day!

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! Cider-Brined Turkey Breast with Star Anise and Cinnamon, Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm not going to give much commentary because I think I deserve to be able to take Thanksgiving off too, but I wanted to post the menu I served my family (my parents and Alex) for Thanksgiving today before I fly off to Hawaii tomorrow morning!!!!!!  Since there were only four of us, we cooked a whole, bone-in turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  We used the braise from Anita Lo's Cider-Brined Turkey with Star Anise and Cinnamon recipe, but revised the recipe for a whole turkey breast.  From the same issue of Bon Appetit we made the Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds.  We served the turkey and squash (both of which my father assured me were properly traditional and American dishes) with some Momofuku brussels sprouts and homemade cranberry sauce.  Yum.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Asparagus Custard Tart

I wish every season was fresh asparagus season.  I love asparagus.  And as much as I love the concept of eating seasonally, I can't restrain myself from indulging in asparagus year round (provided that the asparagus at the grocery store looks ok).  This time it looked pretty good, so I decided to go ahead and make an asparagus tart recipe from Gourmet for a potluck Fakesgiving dinner (one of those pre-Thanksgivings you have with your friends before you go home to have the real Thanksgiving with your family).  As a side note, I really think of this dish as more of a quiche than a tart, but to each their own.

My favorite thing about this tart by far was the crust.  Even without blindbaking it stayed buttery and flaky.  It managed not to get soggy at all.  I was shocked.  And it is even more impressive when you consider that I ate that slice above after it sat in the fridge overnight in a tupperware.  And the crust was still flaky.  The custard itself was nice and creamy and had a really nice, fluffy consistency.  Fluffy sounds weird, but it kind of was.  I thought the asparagus and leek combination was really nice, but I think I would add some grated Gruyere cheese or something to the custard the next time.  I don't want a ton of cheese, but I think a little nutty flavor from the cheese would be a nice touch.  The tart does take a little while to make.  First you have to make the crust, then you have to let it rest, then you have to roll it out and so on and so forth.  I might try the crust and the custard with different vegetable fillings (and cheese).  I wonder how the same recipe would taste with zucchini or spinach.  It also might be delicious with some heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Miso Butter

We originally whipped up this miso butter so we could make the Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Poached Egg & Miso Butter from the Momofuku cookbook.  Then we realized our asparagus wasn't good.  Ugh.  I really hate it when that happens.  So I dug through the fridge for an alternative and came across some wild mushrooms - oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and shiitakes.  I decided to go ahead and roast the mushrooms and serve them on a pool/bed of the miso butter.  I thought that the flavor of the miso butter went really well with the mushrooms.  Roasted mushrooms are a bit nutty and so is the miso butter.  The richness of the miso butter could get a little overwhelming, but the sherry that you cut the miso butter with gives it a nice punch and cut through the hearty flavors of the miso butter and the mushrooms wonderfully.  Given how well this turned out on the fly, I wonder what else the miso butter works with?

Recipe after the jump!

Turkey Cutlets with Brussels Sprouts and Dried Cranberries

This dish reminds me of Thanksgiving.  If I were to cook Thanksgiving for just Alex and I, this is the type of dish I would make.  Actually, for Thanksgiving last year we were pretty elaborate and made Pan-Roasted Squab, Polenta and Broccolini.  I have a problem with making overly elaborate dishes/meals on occasion.  What I love about this dish is that it's a medley of my favorite Thanksgiving ingredients and flavors - turkey, cranberries, sage (which I love in stuffing) and brussels sprouts (which is one of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving sides).  Actually, that's not the only thing I love about this dish.  Equally important is the fact that this is a one pot meal that doesn't taste like a one pot meal.  If I didn't know better, I would think this dish had cooked longer and been more complicated.  The flavors were just so rich, nuanced and delicious.  This would be a great Thanksgiving dish, but I would definitely cook this all fall long.  It's perfectly (and wonderfully) autumnal, plus it's so easy.  It also comes together really quickly - and in one pot (bonus)!  It's a toss up for me between whether I prefer the swordfish or these turkey cutlets, but I think the turkey might win by a hair.  Alex said that he also preferred the turkey, but it wasn't quite as close a call for him.  Both were unexpectedly moist and flavorful, but this dish had the added bonus of the delicious brussels sprouts and cranberry mixture.  Yummy.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sicilian-Style Swordfish

Swordfish is not typically one of my favorite fish(es).  And yes, I know that fishes isn't a word, but I like it so I am going to use it.  Back to swordfish.  Generally it's too meaty and overcooked and dry.  When fully cooked it reminds me of a well-done steak (aka shoe leather).  Gross.  There is nothing good about that.  The key is to cook swordfish like a medium to medium-rare steak.  You want the outside to be nicely (and evenly) seared, but you want the middle to stay a little rare.  Otherwise you end up with a swordfish steak that is roughly the texture of an overcooked pork chop.  But I have wanted to make this dish ever since I saw a variation on it at Eataly.  I couldn't convince anyone to order it with me, but I had such order envy every time I saw someone else order it.  It was just so wonderfully golden-brown and it smelled so wonderful as they cooked it in the kitchen.  Granted, everything smelled wonderful while they cooked it.  We had the luck to sit at the counter so we could watch everything being cooked.  Man that made me hungry.  Since I couldn't get anyone to order the dish at Eataly with me, I decided to make it at home.  Luckily, Dave Pasternack had a similar recipe (or maybe the exact same recipe, but who really knows) in The Young Man & the Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales from Esca.  And yes, I checked to see if the recipe was in the cookbook the second I got home that day.

While most swordfish is kind of blah, this swordfish was very moist and tasty.  With just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on the swordfish, I loved it.  It was fantastic - bright and fresh, with the proper balance of meaty fish to acid to buttery breadcrumbs.  Don't forgo the fresh lemon juice or you will wonder what all the fuss is about.  And you should definitely take the time to make the Italian-Style Bread Crumbs.  They are worth the trouble because they give the swordfish great texture and flavor.  Plus when you make a batch of breadcrumbs you have enough to last you for a little while.  We can usually get at least two dishes out of each batch of bread crumbs and we only make half the recipe.  They are excellent with pasta or as a substitute for regular breadcrumbs in just about any Italian-ish recipe.  The breadcrumbs here helped to preserve the moisture of the swordfish while it cooked, as well as lending it more flavor and texture.  Be careful while cooking the fish because the breadcrumbs burn rather easily if the heat is up too high or if you're just not paying enough attention.  For the record, one side of our fish got a little toasty, but we saved it before it could actually char.  So just keep an eye out.  If you do manage to cook the swordfish without burning the breadcrumbs you will realize something I have known for awhile - Dave Pasternack is a brilliant man.

Recipes after the jump!

Cauliflower Soup with Pecorino Romano and Truffle Oil

Somehow Monday has become the night of white soup.  Last week we made congee and this week, cauliflower soup.  I'm not sure where I got the bee in my bonnet, but I have been wanting to make cauliflower soup for some time now.  I think my obsession with cauliflower soup stemmed from a shot glass full of truffle-scented cauliflower soup that we were served as an amuse bouche at Eighty-One almost two years ago.  It was such a lovely mouthful of soup that I have been thinking about it ever since.  I have had cauliflower soup served as an amuse at other restaurants as well (it seems to be a rather common amuse bouche here in NYC), but none were quite as good as that first one.  Speaking of Eighty-One, I'm still pretty depressed that it closed.  Moving on.  I have been on the lookout for a recipe that looked easy, but flavorful.  I have to say that the truffle oil is what did it for me here.  I love the combination of truffle oil and cauliflower.  And I love bacon with cauliflower.  So it sounded like the best combination of recipes/flavors ever!  But I'm not sure that bacon, cauliflower and truffle oil were the most successful combination in this soup.  The entire soup was imbued with this subtle bacon-y flavor (which I usually love), but thought that it was too much like every other soup we make with bacon in it.  It didn't stand out and didn't work as well with the truffle oil.  It also overpowered the subtle flavor of the cauliflower.  The entire pot of soup just tasted like any really rich, creamy, slightly bacon-y soup.  It could almost have been loaded baked potato soup (or whatever that soup is called), except for the occasional whiff of the truffle oil.  I think if I were to make the soup again I would leave the bacon out entirely and try to coax out more flavor from the cheese and truffle oil.  I would also roast the cauliflower, rather than simmering it in the stock, to intensify the flavor of the cauliflower itself.  I also think that the soup would be improved (both aesthetically and flavor-wise) by the addition of some fresh chives sprinkled on top. 

Sadly, this soup didn't make much of a lasting impression, but it did teach me some valuable lessons about cauliflower soup.  I guess I will have to keep looking for the perfect cauliflower soup recipe - one that can live up to the memory of that cauliflower soup at Eighty-One.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Scones and Pumpkin Buttermilk Biscuits

It occurred to me on Saturday that I hadn't baked anything in some time.  Since fall is finally here I knew exactly what I wanted to bake with!  So I went through the cupboard and found a can of pumpkin puree that I knew was in there (and have been saving).  Then I had to decide what to make.  I originally wanted to make some pumpkin whoopie pies with maple-flavored cream cheese frosting, but I didn't have everything I needed.  I thought about making pumpkin bread, but that seemed a little boring.  So I decided to bake some pumpkin scones and some pumpkin biscuits.  What can I say - I go a little crazy sometimes.  This is what happens when I haven't had time to bake in awhile.  

Out of these two recipes, both Alex and I preferred the scones.  I thought the combination of spices really worked and it came through very clearly, without being overpowering.  I also thought the crumb was nice - soft and crumbly, without being dry.  And I liked the crunchy sweetness of the turbinado sugar topping.  I think that bittersweet chocolate is perfect for these scones.  The bittersweet chocolate gave the scones a really nice deep, chocolatey flavor that worked really well with the pumpkin and the spices.  Semisweet chocolate would work too I guess, but I don't think I would use milk (or white) chocolate because it would be too sweet.  The biscuits couldn't seem to decide if they were supposed to be sweet or savory.  Topped with butter and honey they were pretty good, but we thought they needed more salt to both accentuate and balance out the sweetness of the honey and sugar in the biscuit batter.  And I thought the texture wasn't as flaky as I would have liked.  They almost seemed a little doughy and heavy in the centers, rather than flaky and light.  I'm thinking that I might not have mixed the batter as evenly as I could have.  Oops.  The blog where I found the recipe suggested serving them with butter, some bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.  That might be enough to really make me love the biscuits, but I'm not there just yet.

Recipes after the jump!

Sauteed Greens with Cannellini Beans

Have you ever eaten a dish that was so healthy that it left you feeling like you needed to eat a candy bar to balance it out?  This dish felt that way to me.  It was good, but just eating a gigantic plate of sauteed greens and beans left me with a serious jones for something fattening and unhealthy.  I bought a gigantic bunch of kale at the farmers' market today and decided that for lunch I would either make a soup with it or simply saute it up with some canned beans (either cannelini or garbonzo since that is all we typically have in the house).  I ended up going the saute route since it was  simpler and quicker.  I briefly considered making some quinoa and serving the sauteed veggies on top of a bed of quinoa, but I got lazy.  I wish I had because then I think the dish would have been a little more satisfying.  The flavors were good and I enjoyed the dish, it just left me wanting more - more meat, more fat, more carb, more something.  I think that adding some red onions and some quinoa would have satisfied my need for more something by adding more flavors, textures and some healthy grains.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mint-Marinated Shrimp with Tabbouleh, Tomatoes and Feta

Somehow this week has turned into a Mediterranean fiesta.  Can you even say that?  Who knows.  I am saying it anyway.  But thus far this week I have posted Grilled Branzino with Ladolemono and Lamb Souvlaki Sandwiches with Tzatziki Sauce.  Including this dish, this is more Mediterranean food than I think we have ever made in such a short span.  Look at us mixing things up!  I'm fairly proud of myself - make that ourselves since Alex helped me cook the souvlaki and the branzino.  But I get to take most of the credit for picking out/making up the recipes.  This recipe was one that I stumbled across last week while looking for some new shrimp recipes.  We make a lot of shrimp (we probably cook almost as much shrimp as we do chicken) and I am always interested in finding new healthy, shrimp recipes.  This particular recipe appealed to me because it was a different flavor profile from our usual dishes and involved a new ingredient that I had never cooked with before - bulgur.  I know that bulgur is traditionally used for tabbouleh (or tabouli or however you spell it), but when I have made tabbouleh in the past we have used other grains like quinoa.  But it's always fun to try new things.  And now that I have bulgur I have to figure out other uses for it, which is even more fun!

Alex particularly enjoyed this dish.  I thought it was nice and fresh.  I particularly liked the tabbouleh salad, although I thought the shrimp didn't absorb quite as much lemon flavor as I would have liked.  That might be due to the fact that we only marinated the shrimp for 15 minutes, rather than the 30 that the recipe specified, but I just don't know if marinating the pre-cooked shrimp for an extra 15 minutes would really have resulted in much additional flavor.  But roasting the shrimp definitely intensified the flavors of the shrimp themselves, which I think is a good thing.  Actually, I think it would be a fabulous cold picnic dish.  I feel like I say that fairly often, but this dish really would be.  It would be just as good served cold as it would room temperature and it's a wonderful alternative to pasta salad or chicken salad.

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken Congee

Most Cantonese people I know think of congee as comfort food.  Up until last night I thought of congee as old people food.  When I was a child I hated anything that was the consistency of gruel or porridge.  I couldn't stand oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, or congee.  I was convinced that all of those things tasted like wet cardboard and were just gross.  But then I went off to college and discovered that I actually liked grits.  And then about two years ago I discovered that I really like oatmeal.  I have to make a disclaimer when stating that I like oatmeal.  I like my oatmeal flavored with brown sugar and topped with lots of fruit.  So it's not like I inhale bowls of plain oatmeal every day for breakfast.  Now that I know that I actually like oatmeal and grits when they have some flavor, I decided to go back and try congee again.  But I wanted to make my own so I knew exactly what went in it and I could make it flavorful enough to override my initial dislike.  So I poached some chicken breasts with ginger and scallions to start a stock and then took a shortcut to making real stock by adding some chicken bouillon.  In my defense, I didn't have the time to make a real stock, or the quantity of chicken parts.  Then I slightly undercooked my congee so that my rice wasn't as gruel-like and mushy as the congee that I remembered from growing up.  I also took another shortcut before cooking the rice of rinsing it and soaking it.  Rinsing the rice helps to remove the extra starch (so that it wasn't quite as crazily thick) and soaking the rice helps it to cook faster.  What resulted was a really flavorful and comforting bowl of chicken congee that I would be happy to eat any day.  It was the perfect sick food - warm, lightly seasoned with ginger and scallion, and hearty.  I served my congee with scallions, cilantro, fried shallots and sesame oil for garnish (basically the same things that I garnish my Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup with).  I know that other people use different garnishes, but that was what I wanted (and what we had in the apartment) so that was what we used.  And since it was delicious, that is probably what I will stick with in the future.

Hurray for discovering foods that I didn't think that I liked, but actually like quite a bit, and that I can make good congee at home for myself!  Maybe I will try out my recipe on my mom sometime and see if it gets her approval.  If she likes it then I know I have a winner on my hands!

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lamb Souvlaki Sandwiches with Tzatziki Sauce

I periodically tell Alex that we need to make more Mediterranean food.  Asian cuisine is our go-to, and failing that we end up making "American" food or Italian food.  Rarely do we make Mediterranean food, which is something that I really want to change for a number of reasons.  First, I love Mediterranean flavors - lemon, oregano, olive oil, olives, garlic, tart yogurts, etc.  The flavors are so simple and yet so satisfying and delicious.  I also love how healthy the diet is overall.  And while lamb isn't exactly as healthy as say, tofu, it is an indulgence that I enjoy from time-to-time and is totally fine when eaten in moderation.  I might try the recipe with chicken or pork in the future, as healthier alternatives to lamb, but we used lamb this time because I picked up some leg of lamb the other day with souvlaki in mind as the end goal.  I actually picked up several pounds of leg of lamb because there are several lamb recipes that I have been wanting to make, but haven't gotten around to because leg of lamb tends to be pretty pricey in NYC.

Since lamb (and all red meat with the potential exception of bison) isn't exactly super healthy, Alex and I made a resolution about a month ago to only eat it at restaurants or on the weekend.  No cooking red meat during the week.  But we broke our resolution this time because we had guests coming for the weekend and I really wanted to make my souvlaki.  Oops.  In order to lighten this sandwich up, we used multigrain flatbreads and added chopped up baby spinach, tomatoes and onions.  We also used nonfat Greek yogurt to make the tzatziki, rather than the whole-fat variety.  I find that when you make tzatziki with nonfat yogurt instead of whole-fat, it is a little thinner and less creamy.  Since we were using the tzatziki as the sauce for our sandwich and not a dip that was supposed to stand alone it was absolutely fine that it was a little thinner.  The end result was that the dish wasn't as heavy (or detrimental to your health) as it could have been, while still retaining a lot of flavor.  The rosemary and garlic in the marinade made the apartment smell delicious while we pan-roasted the lamb, and marinating the lamb overnight gave it really nice flavor.  I'm glad I stuck to my guns on this one because it was a really nice and satisfying meal.  Maybe I will try it out with pork next time, but then again, maybe not...

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grilled Branzino with Ladolemono and Sauteed Spinach with Garlic

I was craving a really fresh and light meal for dinner tonight.  While I was at Fairway trying to figure out dinner I was immediately drawn to the whole branzino.  So I had the fishmonger clean and scale two branzinos for me and brought them home.  My original plan was to stuff the branzino with herbs and lemon slices, and then serve drizzled with some really nice evoo and lemon juice (kind of like this Whole-Roasted Rainbow Trout we made about a year ago).  Then I remembered this recipe from my Bon Appetit and decided to make that instead.  For the record, I don't know if they have new writers at Bon Appetit or what, but they had really fantastic issues all summer long.  I haven't made any of the recipes from the September through November issues, but I really need to because we made a number of very successful meals with recipes from the June through August issues!  This branzino was yet another successful dish.  I was worried that the fish wouldn't have enough flavor, but branzino is such a mild fish that it really worked.  The ladolemono (essentially a lemon vinaigrette made with equal parts lemon juice and evoo) and dried Greek oregano gave it more than enough flavor.  It had a lot of zing and freshness from the lemon, countered by the buttery evoo and the fragrant oregano.  And then the fish was very moist and perfectly cooked.  This recipe was definitely a keeper and I can't wait to try it with an actual grill to get that extra element of flavor.  We served the branzino with a very simple sauteed spinach with garlic and lemon juice - fresh and healthy, but flavorful.

Recipes after the jump!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chipotle Meatballs

Alex has proposed a challenge - one whole week of cooking where we are not allowed to use any recipes and have to come up with everything all on our own.  It's going to be a tough challenge, but I am game.  But it can't be this week because I have already planned out all of our meals for the week!  Whatever week we end up picking for our challenge, I will let you guys know in advance.  Or at least I will let you know which dishes are part of the challenge.  And it might end up taking more than a week - I think I am going to adapt the challenge a little to do seven meals that are uniquely ours, even if it takes two weeks. 

For this week we are still using recipes that I picked out from other websites, cookbooks, magazines, etc, like this one from Simply Recipes.  The reason I wanted to make this recipe (aside from the fact that it sounds delicious) is that it would use up the ground pork in the freezer and the remaining chipotles in adobo and crushed tomatoes that we used to make our Smoky Shrimp, Hominy and Tortilla Soup.  It also had the added benefit of using up our remaining scallions and a half of an onion we had in the fridge.  Sometimes things just work out and it's wonderful.  And everything worked out with this recipe - it used up random ingredients in the fridge and it was really tasty.  We served it over brown rice and I thought it was delicious.  We were both a little worried that the flavor of the chipotles would completely overwhelm the flavor of the meatballs themselves but between the bacon and the ground pork the meatballs were porky enough to stand up to the spicy, smoky flavor of the chipotles.  Considering that they were only briefly simmered/tossed in the sauce, they soaked up a surprising amount of flavor while retaining their integrity.  I thought served over brown rice they were a fun variation on your typical Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs.  And who doesn't love a good spaghetti and meatballs?

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cumin Seed Roasted Cauliflower with Yogurt

In case you couldn't tell, I am still clearly in the midst of my cauliflower obsession.  But this is our last cauliflower dish for the week.  I think.  I try to plan out all of my meals for the week over the weekend, but I rarely stick to my plan.  Sometimes I just can't find an ingredient and end up scrapping or revamping a dish.  Sometimes I end up picking up some random ingredients that I have to cook ASAP that bump another dish off the menu.  And then sometimes work comes up and messes up my plans.  This week I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do towards the end of the week, but everything came together really well.  I picked up a bunch of nice fish at Citarella on Tuesday and I really wanted to cook some of it.  So we had the striped bass on Tuesday and on Friday we cooked up some Salt and Pepper Salmon to go with this cauliflower.  I had originally intended for this cauliflower dish to go with a nice bowl of stracciatella soup, but since we made Smoky Shrimp, Hominy and Tortilla Soup on Thursday and I bought those nice organic salmon fillets we went with the salmon instead.

This recipe came from one of the cooking blogs that I read regularly - Smitten Kitchen.  The blog always has beautiful pictures and wonderful recipes.  This recipe was featured recently and I knew I had to make it because it incorporated a lot of flavors that I know work together well.  I really liked this cauliflower dish just like I thought I would.  It had a lot of interesting flavors that worked together very nicely.  I wouldn't say that it was my favorite cauliflower dish that we have ever made, but if I had to give it a letter grade I would give it at A-. I told Alex that this was the type of dish that if I happened to have the ingredients in the apartment (or if I happened to be at the grocery store conceptualizing dinner and picking up a few necessary things) I would be excited and happy to make it again, but I might not make a special trip to the grocery store to pick up ingredients specifically for it.  I think that make sense.  It made sense in my head.

Recipe after the jump!

Smoky Shrimp, Hominy and Tortilla Soup

I have had many bowls of chicken tortilla soup over the years, but I have never come across shrimp tortilla soup.  So when I saw this recipe for Shrimp, Hominy and Tortilla Soup I was intrigued.  I love tortilla soup and I love making soups with hominy in them.  Whenever I make chicken chili or chicken tortilla soup I throw in a can of hominy for kicks.  The hominy gives the soup body without feeling quite as heavy or starchy as potatoes or as dense as beans.  If you haven't noticed before, I am not a huge fan of beans.  I try to eat them and enjoy them because they are so healthy, but for the most part I don't want them anywhere near my food.  I do like white beans and every once in awhile I surprise myself by liking black beans.

This recipe had a really great flavor to it and a nice balance of ingredients.  It's also really nice because it can be made with staples in your pantry.  Most people might not consider hominy or chipotles to be pantry staples, but we almost always have them in the pantry.  Sometimes we run out and forget to restock, but we keep them on hand in most normal circumstances.  The same goes for shrimp, cilantro and tortillas.  Using homemade chicken stock would obviously be awesome if I had some, but boxed stock still gives the soup a lot of flavor.  Don't forget to squeeze in the lime juice and the tortilla strips to the soup, because they make all the difference in terms of flavor and texture.  Actually, the tortilla strips were the only thing in the dish that really disappointed me.  Air drying them like that was super easy and you ended up with fairly crispy tortilla strips, but the tortilla strips lacked any real flavor.  I would prefer to fry them up like we did with our Mache and Avocado Salad with Tortilla Strips for the same (or slightly better) crunch and more flavor.  I say slightly better crunch because by frying the tortilla strips you get the real crispness of a chip, whereas by air drying them they feel crispy, but a little stale.  Even with the slightly disappointing tortilla strips, I thought the soup overall was very successful.  I would definitely make it again and I might try using almost the same recipe with rotisserie chicken instead of shrimp for a variation on the recipe.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Peppered Tuna and Hoisin Dipping Sauce with Asian Cucumber Salad

Alex and I made a trip out to Costco today and stumbled upon some thick cut amazing tuna steaks.  They were beautiful.  So we decided to pick some tuna steaks up and make them for dinner!  This has been a very seafood week for us - striped bass one night, then shrimp, then salmon last night and now tuna.  Up until now the shrimp was my favorite dish, but this tuna has supplanted it as my favorite.  Everything about the dish just works.  The recipe was supposed to come with Asian guacamole instead of an Asian cucumber salad, but it is foul outside (wintry mix in late October is not my friend) and we didn't want to go pick up avocados.  We picked up some Persian cucumbers today while we were at Costco and I think cucumbers go really well with seared tuna.  I briefly considered doing asparagus instead, but decided that cucumbers would be the better choice.  So we went with cucumbers and I was not disappointed with our choice at all.  It was fabulous.  The cool and vinegary cucumbers were the perfect contrast to the warmth and spice of the Sichuan peppercorns and star anise of the tuna, and the richness of the hoisin dipping sauce.  Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by the cucumbers.  Sometimes cucumber salads are so lightly flavored that they are forgettable and only really work when served as an accompaniment to a really flavorful meal.  While the cucumbers were a great compliment because they were refreshing and didn't compete with the flavors of the tuna, they were also tasty enough that they stood on their own.  They were really good.  I would definitely make them again, with or without the tuna.  And I definitely plan on making the tuna again.  Maybe next time we will make the Asian guacamole that Susan Spicer intended to go with the dish.  I think if we fried up some dumpling wrappers as if they were tortilla chips to eat with the guacamole that would be pretty fabulous.  This was a really excellent meal - one of my favorites that we have made recently.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grilled Striped Bass with Indian-Spiced Tomato Salad

Until earlier this year I had never really heard of Floyd Cardoz.  I vaguely knew he was a chef in NYC, but I didn't know where or what kind of food he cooked.  Then he competed on Top Chef Masters (and won) and all of a sudden my interest was really piqued.  Unfortunately I never got to experience his food at Tabla, but I was pretty excited when I found out that he was participating in Meatopia 2011.  His roasted kid goat dish there did not disappoint.  I can't wait until I can try his dishes in an actual restaurant.  Luckily for those of us who live in NYC, Floyd will be heading up Danny Meyer's upcoming North End Grill (originally scheduled to open around the end of the year, but I have no idea when it will actually open).  Until then, I found this recipe online and decided that it sounded interesting.  

And guess what - it was really interesting.  I thought the combination of herbs (rosemary and basil) and spices (coriander and black peppercorns) was totally unique.  Heirloom tomatoes and basil are a natural pairing, but to add toasted coriander, peppercorns and fresh ginger was a different touch that lent some warmth and spice.  I really enjoyed it.  And I thought that the combination of the moist, white fish and the spiced heirloom tomato salad was really wonderful.  I was worried that the flavor of the rosemary would be a little overwhelming, but since there was so little rosemary and most of it didn't adhere to the fish you only had a hint of rosemary flavor.  My only complaint was that grilling the striped bass in a grill pan didn't crisp up the skin as much as I wanted.  In the future I would sear the bass in a skillet like we did with our Seared Sea Bass with Pan-Roasted Cauliflower to get some seriously tasty, crispy skin.  In my opinion flaccid fish skin is just gross.  In order for fish skin (whether the fish is salmon, bass, etc) to be palatable, it has to be really crispy.  Maybe if we had been using an actual grill this would have worked out better, but until we have access to one of those (and even after we have access) I am going to go ahead and pan-roast/sear our fish in a pan rather than a grill pan.  This is a really nice summery dish and it was a really nice/inventive way to use up some of the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.

Recipe after the jump!

Butternut Squash and Radicchio Pasta

I wasn't going to post about this recipe because I didn't think it was particularly successful, but Alex told me that I should go ahead and post it anyway.  So here I am posting about a recipe with very little to say.  My biggest complaint with this pasta was the radicchio.  Its bitterness is totally overpowering.  In every bite that contained even the smallest speck of radicchio I couldn't taste the sweetness of the butternut squash, the saltiness of the cheese or the buttery toasted pine nuts.  Nor could I taste the sage, which I think is the perfect herb accompaniment to butternut squash.  It was just bitter.  If I were a bigger fan of radicchio I would be a much bigger fan of the dish.  If you are a fan of radicchio then you will (probably) be a bigger fan of this dish than I was.  And that's all I really have to say about that...

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Five-Spice Pork Lettuce Wraps

Once again, this meal was dictacted by the random assortment of ingredients in our fridge/cupboard.  I originally bought the butter lettuce for a Jicama, Radish and Pepita Salad, but then our jicama went bad.  So I was stuck with a thing of really nice butter lettuce from Whole Foods that I needed to use.  We had defrosted the ground pork to make our Spicy Long Beans with Sausage and Mushrooms, which required only 2 oz of ground pork when we had to defrost roughly 3/4 of a pound.  So we had about 1/2 a pound of ground pork to use in addition to the lettuce.  I was originally going to make some sort of Vietnamese pork meatballs for our lettuce wraps, but I got lazy and decided to just saute the ground pork instead.  I added some water chestnuts because I noticed that we had several cans when cleaning out the pantry the other day and wanted to use one up.  Plus I love the crunch that the water chestnuts imparts.  The carrots, cucumbers and cilantro are typical banh mi toppings that I decided to throw on for garnish and added freshness (although I decided not to pickle them), whereas the cashews were there for some more texture and salt.  I'm a big believer that almost every Southeast Asian dish is better off with a healthy squeeze of lime juice and a dollop of sriracha so we served those with the dish as well.

This dish really needs a healthy squeeze of lime juice to make it all come together and pop.  When you get that lime flavor it really comes to life.  Without the lime it is a little boring, but with the lime you can really taste the slightly sweet, floral qualities of the five-spice and the sweetness of the brown sugar.  Add a little dollop of sriracha and you have the heat and acidity of the sriracha, the sweetness of the sugar, the warmth of the five-spice and the sweet tartness of the limes.  Yum.  I seriously considered squeezing two tablespoons of lime juice or so over the entire bowl of pork filling before serving, but I think that in the end being able to customize your wrap is one of the best parts so I served the lime wedges on the side.  Just don't be stingy on the limes or you might be a little disappointed in the filling.  Also, don't buy unsalted cashews on accident like I did because that's just a total bummer when you bite in expecting that salty crunch and instead you just get crunch.  It's very sad.

Recipe after the jump!

Mesclun and Ricotta Salata on Grilled Garlic Toasts

So this dish is a little random.  We ended up making it after I bought some really pretty mesclun blend from 5 lbs of Dirt at the farmer's market.  I know I have blathered on about them before so I am not going to do so again, but anyway, I had these gorgeous greens (with a pretty orange edible flower that I'm pretty sure I didn't eat) and I didn't want to do a plain salad.  I wanted something a little more fun.  And these crostini sounded fun/interesting.  Now I'm not sure that this needed to be eaten as a crostini.  I think I would have been just as happy with the dish (and it certainly would have been easier to eat) if the salad component had been served as a salad with the garlic toasts on the side.  Because what kept happening is that I would pick up my crostini to take a bite and everything would fall off - especially the little heirloom cherry tomatoes.  So I would end up having to eat the mesclun, tomatoes and ricotta salata off the plate with a fork every other bite.  In my mind, if you're having to do that you might as well just keep the salad on the plate and fork up a bite of salad, followed by a bite of bread, and so on and so forth.  With all that said, I thought this was a really nice side or starter.  It was light and fresh and it gave me another recipe to showcase the beautiful greens and some of the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cauliflower and Feta Omelet

I'm going through a bit of a cauliflower phase right now.  Every time I go to the farmers' market I end up picking up some more cauliflower, or I have to talk myself out of doing so.   I keep waiting for broccoflower/Romanesco broccoli to show up but I never see it.  A few weeks ago one of the vendors there told me they should have it in 2 weeks, but no such luck.  So I picked up another head of cauliflower today and we decided to use some of it today for this omelet, but save some later for roasting.  The reason we made this omelet tonight is that one of our best friends was visiting for the weekend and we gorged ourselves all weekend on Asian food - ramen, soba, yakitori and Fatty Crab.  We also had bagels, lots of cookies and chocolate.  I needed to reboot my system with some veggies and I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  So we made an omelet with the cauliflower, plus some parsley and free-range eggs, all of which came from the farmers' market.

This omelet is really easy and really filling.  It also cooks up in a flash.  Neither Alex nor I was particularly hungry this evening for dinner so we shared the omelet and that was plenty for both of us.  We were originally going to make a beet salad with it, but once we ate the omelet we decided to save the beets for tomorrow night.  Since the omelet is so simple, you really have to like the ingredients that go into it.  If you're not a fan of cauliflower, feta or parsley, don't bother.  You could try it with another type of cheese - maybe some romano cheese that you grate into the omelet while it is setting, rather than just sprinkling it over the top once you remove it from the pan.  Or you could season the cauliflower with some garlic and smoked paprika and take it a more Spanish direction with manchego.  There are a lot of options if you want to adapt the recipe to your own preferences.  I thought that sometimes the feta overwhelmed the rest of the dish, whereas Alex found the parsley a little overwhelming.  Both ingredients have pretty intense flavors so if you get a big old bite full of parsley or feta it can be a fairly serious jolt.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think if I make the omelet again I will probably play with the proportions a little and try different cheeses and/or herbs.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli

This dish represents everything that I love about Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa).  She makes the best simple variations on classic dishes that I have ever seen.  None of her recipes are earth-shattering or particularly inventive, but they are the types of recipes that you love to make and eat at home.  And I don't mean to be insulting when I say that her recipes aren't earth-shattering or inventive.  It's like she takes the recipes that you know and love - like cheese grits, biscuits and steak sandwiches, and just makes them that much better with a few tweaks here and there.  She really is just that good.  I used to scoff at her show on Food Network because it all seemed so boring, but I can admit now that I was totally wrong to do so.  There is nothing wrong with cooking really simple, but delicious food.  Those two adjectives are not mutually exclusive.  Take this broccoli for instance.  There's nothing groundbreaking about it - you roast it with evoo, s&p and then top it with lemon zest, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil.  Done.  Simple, right?  And yes.  It is very simple.  But it is also very very good.  It's the type of dish I can see myself eating years from now with my grandkids (which really is years and years away since I don't have kids yet and don't plan on having them anytime soon), loving it just as much then as I do now.  I might try a few tweaks here and there (like adding a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes), but I think I will always return to her base recipes.  Ina Garten writes the type of recipes that you would never outgrow because she doesn't buy into all the gimmicks and trends like most younger chefs.  Her recipes never call for things like sous-vide or immersion circulators.  Nor does she throw together terribly random combinations of ingredients that somehow work together and yet make you question the sanity of the chef behind the dish.  Instead she relies on simple techniques (like oven roasting) and great ingredients and creates really delicious dishes that anyone can make at home, no matter their skill level.  And you have to respect that.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Grilled Treviso (Radicchio) with Balsamic Vinaigrette

When I was conceiving of tonight's meal I knew I wanted to make our usual roast chicken, but I didn't want to do an arugula salad with it.  I wanted something a little more seasonal - a little different.  So I decided to "grill" up some Treviso radicchio.  I say "grill" because we don't have a grill here in NYC.  Instead I seasoned the radicchio with evoo, s&p and cooked it on the stove top in our grill pan.  Cooking it in the grill pan rather than on a grill means that you miss out on the smokey flavor of the grill, but you get a similar caramelization.  Cooking the radicchio mellows some of the bitterness and the balsamic offsets that natural bitterness nicely.  You really need to use a nice aged balsamic here or it will be more acidic than sweet.  Radicchio still isn't one of my favorite lettuces or veggies and I still prefer a simple arugula salad overall, but this was a really nice change and very seasonal.  The flavor of the grilled radicchio and the balsamic seemed so perfectly autumnal to me.

Recipe after the jump!

Ginger-Cilantro Rice

I love rice.  Even if I didn't love rice, we would eat it all the time in our apartment because Alex is verging on obsessive about rice.  He has eaten big bowls of plain buttered rice before.  Just rice with a little butter, s&p.  That's it.  I'm telling you, he's crazy about his rice.  Because I'm not quite that crazy, this isn't plain buttered rice.  Instead this is a fancy rice tossed with a ginger-cilantro-scallion sesame oil mixture.  I guess the lesson learned is that Alex goes plain and homey, I go fancy.  I really wanted this rice to go with the Miso-Marinated Chilean Sea Bass.  I originally wanted to make brown rice, but I thought that it would be fun to serve the sea bass with a more flavorful/interesting alternative.  I wish there had been a more balanced flavor profile to this rice.  The flavor and aroma of the sesame oil was a little overwhelming.  And it almost tasted a little bitter or acrid.  I assume that is from the sesame oil because there weren't any other ingredients in the rice that could result in that bitter flavor.  I wanted this rice to have more of the flavor of the herbs and less of the sesame oil.  So if I were to make it again I would cut the amount of sesame oil in half.  You could taste the ginger, but not the cilantro or the scallion and those were the ingredients that I really wanted to taste.

Recipe after the jump!