Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #2 - Ants Climbing a Tree

Now that we have started on our Chinese New Year meals for 2012, we are on a roll!  Well, it might be a bit premature to really claim to be on a roll since this is only our second meal this week, but I'm going to make the claim anyway because it is our second meal since Sunday and I have at least one more planned for this week (two if I get really ambitious).  So there.  I'm staking my claim.  With this meal I think we have accomplished the two traditional Chinese New Year dishes that I like to make every year - noodles and dumplings.  From here on out I am going to try to make a variety of different proteins (lamb is defrosting in the fridge right now, along with some chicken thighs) and a variety of different preparations.  I know that we tend to make a lot of recipes from our Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks around Chinese New Year, but I am going to try to mix it up a little and throw in at least one Cantonese recipe, one northern Chinese recipe (although I guess the dumplings technically count there), and one Xinjiang-type recipe in with our typical Hunan and Sichuan dishes.  It's go time people.

There were two things that I really liked about this dish.  First and foremost, it was incredibly easy to make.  Literally anyone could make this dish if they had access to the equipment (a wok) and the ingredients (cellophane noodles, ground meat, soy sauce, chicken stock, chili bean paste, oil and scallions).  The only ingredient that might be hard to find is the chili bean paste.  Everything else should be readily available at your neighborhood grocery store.  Second, given how easy it was to make I was impressed by the level and layers of flavor.  The sauce is well balanced between salty and spicy, with a hint of funk from the chili bean paste.  And the cellophane noodles do a wonderful job of absorbing all of that wonderful flavor.  I was worried that they would become overcooked and mushy, but they held up to the cooking process quite well and were glossy and flavorful.  They were also a wee bit slippery so I would recommend wearing dark colors when eating this dish with chopsticks.  I thought we would have enough noodles for leftovers, but it was so tasty that Alex and I scarfed it all down.  We couldn't help ourselves.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chinese New Year Meal #1 - Pork and Napa Cabbage Water Dumplings (Shuijiao) with Daikon Slivers in a Spicy Dressing

Gong Hei Fat Choy!   It took us a little while to get around to it, but we finally made our first Chinese New Year meal!  And it was a very traditional one - dumplings (shuijiao).  Dumplings and daikon, but more on the daikon later.  So before I even start talking about this recipe I have to made an admission.  I totally didn't read the recipe right.  We were supposed to make 32 dumplings total - divide the dough in half and make 16 wrappers from each half.  Instead I made 16 total.  I missed the step of dividing the dough in half.  So each dumpling was roughly the size of an empanada and each wrapper the size of a small tortilla.  They were monster dumplings.  Oops.  The size of our enormous dumplings aside, they were really tasty.  The wrappers were silky.  And maybe a little doughier than they should have been, but again, they were monster dumplings.  The filling had really good flavor and texture.  The dumplings were juicy too, not dry and hockey puck-like.  I was really happy with them.  They only took two-three hours to make from start to finish and made a mess of our entire kitchen, but I thought it was worth it.  Once or twice a year I like to take on an overly ambitious cooking project.  This was mine for the next few months.  And it was a really good one. 

I chose the Daikon Slivers in a Spicy Dressing (Liang Ban Luo Bu Si) as the side because it was simple and didn't need to be cooked.  I wanted a vegetable side dish that would be tasty and refreshing, but not too much trouble to prepare.  I was trying to avoid making smacked cucumbers or Sichuan cucumbers because I feel like we make them too often.  So I decided to go with daikon radish instead.  And in the end, it was the daikon dish that really stood out for me.  I loved the freshness of the cilantro and scallion, added to the hint of sweetness that all offset the spicy, saltiness of the dressing.  And I really enjoyed the crunch of the raw daikon.  Don't get me wrong, the dumplings were delicious.  But they were a lot of trouble to make.  The daikon was equally delicious (albeit in a very different way), and it was relatively easy to throw together.  I could definitely see myself making the daikon again in the future to round out a nice Chinese meal.

Recipes after the jump!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Chese and Pistachios

    Let's see...  What is there to say about our newest take on beet salad?  We are still in our vegetarian kick, so I wanted to do a hearty salad for dinner with some stracchiatella soup and beet salad sounded like the perfect option.  The funny thing is that we made almost this exact meal (with a slightly different beet salad and homemade chicken stock on the blog almost two years ago).  And in a lot of ways, I preferred that meal - particularly the sweet and spicy candied pecans, the homemade chicken stock for the soup.  I was expecting more sweetness from the roasted beets here, but once I tossed them with the dressing all of that wonderful beet sweetness was obscured.  Granted, grocery store beets in the middle of winter are never quite as sweet as beets are when they are in season, but I tasted the roasted beets before and after adding the dressing so I can definitively say that the dressing definitely masked some of their natural sweetness.  I think beets go wonderfully with goat cheese and this salad was no exception.  The pistachios were an interesting touch as well.  I love roasted salted pepitas with beet salad and candied walnuts or pecans, but I have never tried pistachios.  They are a milder, slightly sweeter alternative, but I might go back to the candied nuts or pepitas. 

    Recipe after the jump!

    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    Soy Sauce Roast Chicken Breasts and Edamame with Meyer Lemon and Chilis

    After a few nights of vegetarian meals, Alex and I are slowly working our way back to eating meat.  Not that I didn't enjoy my vegetarian meals earlier this week - I truly did, but there are only so many dishes I can cook before I want to add meat (or seafood) back into the mix.  All things in moderation, right?  So tonight we made chicken and maybe this weekend we will make some pork.  Actually, I really want to make some dumplings in honor of Chinese New Year so pork is a must.  Yes, I know that I am a bit behind the ball on Chinese New Year this but I can't help it.  I have been busy.  I'm still going to make seven meals worth of Chinese food, but our first Chinese meal (and maybe our second meal too) is going to come this weekend.  

    Anyway, back to tonight's meal.  Alex gets the credit for coming up with this chicken recipe.  We were trying to decide what to do with the chicken breasts I had defrosted and I knew that I wanted to serve a knockoff of an edamame dish we had this past weekend with dinner.  So he decided to come up with some sort of Asian-marinade.  He proposed a soy sauce and mirin marinade and I warned him to be very careful that the chicken didn't burn because of all the sugar in the mirin.  You have to be careful when you marinate chicken (or any other meat) in a marinade with honey, sugar, barbeque sauce, or any other sauce with a decent amount of sugar in it because the sugar burns very easily.  One second you have a nicely browned skin and the next you have cinders.  Alex wanted to stick with the soy and mirin marinade so he modified our usual roast chicken breast recipe to sear it for a less time on the stove top.  And in the end, the chicken was quite tasty and very juicy.  The skin on his chicken breast got a little charred, but mine was perfect (although it would have charred in a matter seconds).  The mirin and sake gave the chicken a nice balanced sweetness and the soy sauce made it savory.  The edamame we tossed with sliced Fresno chilis, Meyer lemon zest and juice.  We had the "house edamame" at a restaurant called Imperia this past weekend where they tossed whole edamame with Fresno chilis, a ton of coarse salt, and what they called "lemon essence."  When the waitress put it down at the table I was totally skeptical, but it was really tasty.  Our version was slightly different than the restaurant version in that it was a lot spicier (the restaurant must have removed the seeds from the chilis) and a little less oily.  In the future I will remove the seeds of the chilis because the heat overpowered the more delicate flavors of the lemon.  One other difference was that we used frozen shelled edamame instead of whole edamame.  All things considered I thought our dinner was a pretty successful experiment. 

    Recipe after the jump!

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    Vietnamese Cabbage and Egg Stir-Fry

    The most apt description I could come up for this dish was "surprisingly pleasant."  It is just so simple and it uses ingredients (like cabbage) that Alex and I don't typically find very exciting.  We made it because I think we need to reboot our digestive tracts with vegetables and healthy food.  So I decided to make this dish, even though it had the potential to be really boring.  There are so few ingredients and none of them sound like they should really have any wow factor.  However, it all works together brilliantly.  The cabbage is nice and sweet, with a little crunch to it.  And the egg somehow makes the whole dish feel and taste creamy, even though there is no cream or dairy whatsoever.  I really didn't think that one egg could have much of an effect on that amount of cabbage, but it really does.  Make sure you do what the recipe says and leave the egg a little custardy for the full effect.  Then you add the freshly ground black pepper for some spice and it's adds another level of flavor.  It is simple, but every element really works together to make for a nice meal served with some steamed rice.  It's not going to win any awards, but it really is good.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Quinoa with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Sauteed Shiitakes

    I don't know about you but sometimes I crave veggies with a vengeance.  And after a weekend of stuffing my face, all I wanted was something between a salad and a pile of cooked veggies.  This dish fit the bill nicely (and coincidentally was one of the first few recipes that really drew my eye in my new Jean-Georges cookbook).  Quinoa is a lovely healthy grain that Alex and I don't make nearly enough of.  I also feel the same way about shiitake mushrooms (although it's obviously not a grain).  So this dish combined two of my favorite underutilized ingredients in a wonderful way.  I was afraid the dish might be a bit bland, but it was surprisingly tasty.  I really should have known better than to doubt Jean-Georges Vongerichten!  No one component of the dish really stood out for me, but I really enjoyed the combination of woodsy, meaty shiitakes, creamy goat cheese and nutty quinoa. Our goat cheese tasted faintly lemony to me, which I thought was nice.  The flavors are somewhat subtle (with the exception of the sauteed shiitakes which have a really deep and rich flavor to them), but they work together beatuifully.  Toasting the quinoa to make it a little nuttier and give it a little more texture was a great touch.  Hurray for a healthy vegetarian meal!  Over the next few weeks I am definitely planning on a few more healthy vegetarian meals until I atone for all of my recent gluttony.  Vegetables and whole grains, here I come.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Chili-Marinated Skirt Steak Tacos and Green Salsa with Avocado

    Sometimes we get stuck in a rut.  Sometimes we try to mix it up.  This dish came about when I was trying to use one of our cookbooks that we never use - Rosa's New Mexican Table.  I bought the cookbook ages ago at Costco or Sam's Club when I saw that they had the recipe for their homemade guacamole and salsas, plus several other interesting recipes in there.  And then it proceeded to sit on the bookshelf.  For years.  We have our go to cookbooks and the rest tend to get lost in the fray.  In case you were wondering, our go to cookbooks are probably Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients, Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, our two Fuchsia Dunlop cookbooks and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavor.  Runners up probably include The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens and Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans.  We really need to branch out into our other cookbooks more often.  I periodically page through all of the cookbooks that we don't regularly use and pick out recipes that I want to make.  We have tons of recipes on deck from those other books and yet they still don't get made.  Perhaps making at least one recipe from each of our cookbooks should be my goal for this year.  In case you're wondering, we probably have about 30 cookbooks, so that should keep us busy for awhile...

    This salsa recipe came straight out of the cookbook and the taco recipe was inspired by a recipe in the cookbook.  We rarely marinate our skirt steak when we make tacos because it has so much flavor on its own, but every once in awhile I like to mix it up.  Plus we had all of these dried chilis in our pantry that I wanted to use - cascabels, ancho chilis, chipotle chilis, chilis de arbol, etc.  So I got out my blender and decided to whip up some marinade.  In the end, I thought the tacos were good, but not amazing.  The steak by itself was almost overwhelmingly smoky/aggressively flavored with the dried chilis. It wasn't exactly spicy, but it was heavily spiced (if you get what I am saying).  But the coolness and brightness of the salsa went really well with the marinated steak and gave it some much needed acidity (as did the squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end).  And I really thought the creaminess that the avocado gave the salsa was an interesting touch.  Altogether it worked, but it wasn't my favorite skirt steak taco recipe.  I  will probably make the salsa again in the future, but I think the tacos themselves are doomed to be a one time experiment.  It's not the type of salsa that I think would work well as just chips and salsas, but I think it would work well as an accompaniment to any meat dish.  I think the cookbook actually says to serve it with empanadas and other fried food, which sounds like a brilliant pairing.
    Recipes after the jump!

    Penne with Cauliflower and Bacon

    Sorry everyone.  I know I have been a little delinquent.  Again.  But in my defense, last week was a very busy week at work (although we did find time to cook a few meals that I am finally getting around to posting now).  So I'm hoping to get three posts up today - this pasta, some skirt steak tacos, and a yummy quinoa, spinach and mushroom dish.  If you have the time, stay tuned for more posts!

    I'm posting this pasta recipe first because I think of the dishes we have made in the few weeks, this one made me the happiest.  It was a combination of items in our fridge/pantry - leftover homemade Italian-Style Bread Crumbs, pasta, bacon, parsley and cauliflower.  And have I mentioned that I have been obsessed with cauliflower lately?  No?  Well I totally am.  It's delicious.  And I am equally obsessed with those Italian-Style Bread Crumbs.  They are fairly easy to make and make such a difference in your cooking.  Anyway, this pasta was quite tasty and easy to put together, which made me very happy.  We just threw together a bunch of ingredients in the fridge/pantry and voila!  The combination of flavors really worked together nicely.  In each bite you got a little heat from the red pepper flakes, some salty bite from the cheese and the bacon, the wonderful porky flavor of the bacon, and a punch of flavor and texture from the bread crumbs.  Yum.  It was a fantastically hearty, yet delicious dish, one that I will definitely make again in the future. 

    Recipes after the jump!

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Asian Chicken Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce

    For some reason, chicken salad has been on my mind recently.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I have been playing with a variety of Asian chicken salad recipes in my head - adding ingredients, switching dressings, etc.  I think it's because we have been eating fairly heavy meals recently and this is my body's way of demanding more veggies.  For tonight's chicken salad I decided to go with a somewhat Thai feel.  We made a Vietnamese chicken salad awhile ago and that was really good, so I thought we should try something new.  When I was at Whole Foods earlier I was having trouble deciding whether we should do a Thai-inspired chicken salad with cabbage, bell peppers, carrots and a spicy peanut dressing or a Japanese-inspired chicken salad with edamame, carrots, spinach, soba and a miso-ginger dressing, but I was feeling Thai tonight, so we went that route.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that we ripped off the dressing from a recipe we have made several times in the past - Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce, only I thinned it out a little more than we do for the noodles.  That dressing just stuck in my head once I started thinking about doing a Thai-inspired chicken salad, so I figured that was a sign.

    Dishes like this make me wish we had one of those shredder attachments to more easily/quickly (and more evenly) shred/grate the veggies.  Because that's really the only thing I can think of that I would have changed about the chicken salad.  I thought it was light, fresh, healthy and tasty.  And it had great crunch/texture from all of the crisp veggies.  Actually, I think this could make a great wrap with some baby spinach thrown in.  If we only had some tortillas in the house I would make a wrap for lunch tomorrow!  Since we have enough leftovers to make several wraps, I might have to go pick some up from the grocery store for lunch on Wednesday...

    Recipe after the jump!

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Stir-Fried Mongolian Lamb with Scallions

    As a precursor to things to come, Alex and I have to decided to start slowly ramping up for our week of Chinese New Year meals by cooking one to two Chinese meals per week.  Last week Alex made Red-Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou) and tonight we made this Stir-Fried Mongolian Lamb with Scallions.  This dish was one that I was considering for Chinese New Year, but it didn't quite make the cut.  Rather than forgo making it entirely, I decided to go ahead and make it tonight.

    And as much as I generally like the combination of lamb with scallions, this dish was just ok to me.  I didn't think it was anything special.  I really didn't get the flavor from the Sichuan peppercorns and when I did, I wasn't sure that it actually went with the hoisin mixture.  Actually, I'm fairly certain that it didn't because the flavors didn't seem to meld together for me at all.  The flavor of the lamb was fine - a little gamey, a little savory, a little sweet, but it just didn't do it for me.  I guess if I had to give the dish a letter grade, it would be a solid B/B- (probably the B-, although I hate being that harsh).  If I were to make the recipe again (which I probably won't but if I were), I would throw the scallions in after the hoisin mixture.  I think stir-frying them for 30 seconds is more than enough to soften and mellow them, but leave a little crispness and texture.  Cooking them for the amount of time specified in the recipe was overkill.  Oh and we cut our lamb a little on the large size.  If I were to make this dish again, I would definitely cut the lamb into smaller pieces.  Oops.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta (Shakshuka)

    What do you make when you have no idea what nights you will be home for dinner and don't dare defrost things?  If you are like Alex and I, your options are often Annie's organic mac & cheese (generally whole wheat, but not always), a frozen Trader Joe's tarte d'alsace (aka tarte flambee), pita/flatbread/lavash pizzas or eggs.  Yes, we are just as guilty of relying on prepared foods as the next person.  The wonderful thing about eggs is that they can hang out in the fridge until you want them and they can be made hundreds of different ways.  Sometimes we scramble them, sometimes we bake them, sometimes we fry them, and sometimes we make omelets.  Sometimes we serve them solo or with a salad and sometimes we do the whole breakfast for dinner bit with bacon, etc.  It really just depends on what we have in the fridge/cupboard and how much effort we feel like putting forth.  This time I wanted to put forth a little effort on a recipe that I found a few weeks ago that uses up pantry and fridge staples that we always have in the house - canned whole peeled tomatoes, canned chickpeas, pita, eggs, garlic, onions, jalapeno, feta, parsley and cilantro.  Ok so sometimes we don't have the herbs or the pita, but we have them more often than not. 

    What I liked most about this dish was how satisfying if felt - warm and slightly rich (from the runny egg yolks and feta) - while still remaining (relatively) healthy.  It felt like a meal, whereas sometimes a plate full of just eggs (or a vegetarian meal) can leave you craving more.  I also really enjoyed that it was vegetarian.  We really don't cook enough vegetarian meals and when we do, we tend to make pastas or other carb-heavy meals.  The only carbs in this meal were the pitas, but if you were doing the whole carb-free thing you could cut them out.  Anyway, this was a wonderful Middle Eastern deviation from our standard vegetarian meals, one that I could definitely see us making again.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    Red-Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

    Alex has demanded that he receive extensive shout outs and/or praise in this post.  And since the praise is well-deserved, I am inclined to give it to him.  While I was at work yesterday (yes, I know yesterday was a Sunday but such is life) Alex was home vacuuming the apartment and making us a delicious dinner.  He also bought me new ski boots, but that is beside the point.  I love that I can point out a recipe (and generally provide the ingredients or a shopping list) and arrive home from work to glorious smells and homecooked food.  By the time I arrived home the pork had already been braising for about an hour to an hour and a half and the Smacked Cucumbers were prepped.  My husband is pretty awesome. 

    I know this is a bowl of heart attack waiting to happen, but man is it delicious.  This might actually be my favorite pork belly preparation we have tried to make at home.  It just had so much flavor - both sweet and savory, and the texture was perfect - unctuous, but with enough chew to it that you didn't feel like you were eating straight up pork fat (which you were to some degree).  The smacked cucumbers were the perfect accompaniment because they were fresh and acidic, which balanced out the fattiness of the pork belly.  We also served some white rice with the pork, which I highly recommend.  Definitely don't serve a fried rice or anything elaborate with the pork belly - because the dish is so rich, you want the sides to be as simple as possible.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette

    As much as I enjoy the changing of the seasons, there is a part of me that hates winter.  It's not the bitter cold or the snow - I can handle both of those things.  What I really dislike is that it's impossible to get any fresh vegetables in season at the farmers' market.  After a certain point all you can really find in the farmers' market is meat, seafood, baked goods, squash, apples and potatoes.  Oh and mushrooms - those usually stick around for most of the winter too.  But what I really want from the farmers' market is only around in the spring through the fall.  Don't get me wrong, I like squash and I really like apples.  But I miss the variety.  At the farmers' market today the only things that I could find that I wanted were squash and apples.  There were some greens available, but none that I found really appealing.  It didn't help that I was in a hurry so I didn't have a lot of time to poke around the different stalls to see what was available.

    So I picked up this acorn squash and had to figure out what I wanted to do with it.  Luckily I picked out a few squash recipes before deciding on the recipe for Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds that we used for Thanksgiving.  So I decided to make this recipe for dinner tonight.  I have been been struggling while trying to figure out what to serve with this squash for some time now.  Somehow I couldn't get my head around what to serve as the entree.  When I think squash I tend to think Italian food or American food.  But the chili vinaigrette here skews more Latin American/Southeast Asian.  Alex and I couldn't figure out what type of food this squash would pair better with because there aren't any spices or ingredients here to dictate whether the dressing should be Asian or Latin.  We had originally planned to serve it with an Asian noodle dish, but I decided last minute to just make some quick and easy egg tacos to serve with it instead.  Alex says that he preferred this recipe to the Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds that we served for Thanksgiving.  I think I actually preferred the other recipe by a hair.  And I think my preference is largely due to the fact that I just can't figure out what to serve with this squash (which I can admit is a somewhat ridiculous reason).  I also think that the vinaigrette here obscures the natural sweetness of the squash, rather than playing it up.  With all of that said, it was a really interesting and unique play on squash that I thoroughly enjoyed.  We will be making it again - I just don't know what we will be serving it with.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Greek-Spiced Baked Shrimp

    I know that I periodically say that we need to make more Mediterranean food.  I'm not sure why we don't, but when I am menu planning my default is generally Asian, followed by American.  After that I probably start thinking about Italian.  Those defaults are reflected in our cookbook collection.  We have a ton of Asian cookbooks, a decent number of American and Italian cookbooks, and then a smattering of Indian, seafood, etc.  We don't own a single Mediterranean cookbook (if you don't include Italian as Mediterranean).  I guess I should start looking around for a good Mediterranean cookbook to add to our collection.  If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know.

    This recipe was one I found online awhile ago.  I believe it was around the time I posted my last resolution to cook Mediterranean food more often.  What I liked best about the dish was the tomato sauce.  It had good flavor and sweetness from the spices and the onions, but wasn't cloying at all.  I really liked the addition of cinnamon and allspice, which gave the sauce a warmth/richness.  We don't typically use cinnamon and allspice in savory dishes (except for say beef rendang), but this dish might inspire me to do it more often.  What I liked least about the dish was that the shrimp itself didn't pick up a huge amount of flavor from the tomato sace - maybe that's why all of the reviews on Epicurious said to marinate the shrimp first.  Oops.  We didn't have time.  When you had bites of shrimp with the tomato sauce on top it was really nice, but when you just had the shrimp by itself it was kind of boring.  We served the shrimp with salad, warm pita and crusty bread (I ate the pita and Alex ate the crusty bread).  I loved dipping the bread through the tomato sauce, so you are definitely going to want to serve something carb-laden on the side to soak up the sauce.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Romaine Salad with Anchovy Dressing and Parmesan

    Sometimes I am completely oblivious.  Take this salad for instance, a Romaine Salad with Anchovy Dressing and Parmesan.  Sounds simple enough.  And tasty.  But as soon as I tasted the dressing I realized that it was essentially homemade caesar dressing - only a little more acidic and a lot less creamy than your standard caesar dressing.  I must have been absolutely spaced out not to realize that romaine, plus anchovies, garlic, evoo and Parm-Reg equals caesar salad.  There I was thinking about how the salad would be the perfect side to a Mediterranean/Greek shrimp dish and I completely missed it.  Oops.  So once I started thinking about it in the context of caesar salad, I couldn't help missing croutons.  Aren't the croutons always the best part of a caesar salad anyway?  Even if this were to be thought of as just a salad and not a caesar salad, I would think it was missing something.  It just needed another element, another texture really, to bring it all together.  If I were to focus on the salad as a caesar salad, I would have to say that I preferred the Bayona Caesar that we made awhile back with arugula and homemade croutons.  That dressing was a bit more complicated and had both Dijon mustard and an egg yolk to make it creamy/thick, a more luxurious-seeming dressing that I greatly appreciate with a caesar salad.  If I were to try to shift my mindset to think of the salad as just another salad and not a caesar salad (which, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that I could) I think I would still prefer another salad.  It's not that the salad was bad.  It wasn't.  It's just that it didn't really stand out for me and I think we have made better.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Honey-Glazed Parsnips

    The first thing that I said to Alex when I took a bite of these parsnips was that this recipe would be the perfect way to sneak parsnips into your child's diet.  Look at me, I'm not even a mom and I'm already planning out various ways to sneak things past (or into) my kids.  Braising the parsnips in fresh orange juice, lime juice, honey and lime makes them sweet and smushy.  And don't most kids love sweet and smushy?  I'm pretty sure I did.  There is no parsnip flavor to throw your kids off - if they like sweet citrus, they should like this dish.  The second thing that I said to Alex was that I wish we had broiled or roasted the parsnip spears for a few seconds to just crisp up the glaze on the exterior for a little texture.  While this dish would probably be ideal for a child, as an adult, I find the parnsips to be a little overwhelmingly sweet and one-note.  Perhaps if we had used the Thai chili instead of a jalapeno the heat would have come through a little more, but that would probably make it a lot less kid-friendly.  Alex and I agreed that these parsnips are best served in moderation - a few spears on a plate alongside a salad and an entree.  Anymore than that (like we had on this plate) is just too much.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Restaurants to Try in 2012 and My Favorite Restaurants of 2011

    I have decided to post this list as a means of forcing myself to do my best to eat at all of the following restaurants in 2012 (and to remind myself of some of the excellent meals I had in 2011).  Some of these restaurants have been on my list of restaurants to try for years and I think it is do or die time.  I have had enough of restaurants lingering on my list of places to try for years and years - this year I am going to be proactive about it.  Most of last year's list is going to be repeated here because the only restaurant I made it to was Graffit (which is now known as Gastroarte).  How sad is that?  I am hereby making a resolution to (try) to knock off approximately one restaurant a month, until I get through all of the restaurants listed here.  I say try because we all know how my personal life goes - one minute I have one and the next second I am working nonstop, which makes trying new restaurants a little hard.  But I am bound and determined to try!

    My restaurants to try for 2012 are:
    1. ABC Kitchen
    2. Red Rooster
    3. Brooklyn Fare (this might be a wish list item because it is almost impossible to get reservations, but I am putting it on here anyway)
    4. Locanda Verde
    5. The Dutch
    6. Tertulia
    7. Torrisi Italian Specialities
    8. Fatty Cue
    9. Empellon
    10. Boulud Sud
    Runners Up:  John Dory Oyster Bar, Eleven Madison Park, Zabb Elee, Sripraphai and Ayada Thai.

    More after the jump!

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Chicken with Ginger (La Jiang Men Ji)

    This might be my new favorite chicken stir-fry recipe and I think I am going to use this cooking method when making stir-fries in the future (with a few tweaks).  It is just uber warm and comforting, and gently, rather than aggresively spiced.  I loved how the flavor of the ginger really permeated the dish without overwhelming it.  For me this is the epitome of comfort food.  With that said, I had a few minor comments/complaints.  First, I think you need to hike up the heat a little while stir-frying the chicken initially in order to get the edges to turn golden and begin to caramelize.  Medium heat just wasn't going to do it for us.  Second, be careful when seasoning/salting the dish after you add the stock and begin to simmer because as you reduce the chicken stock mixture it will get saltier and the flavors will be more concetrated.  Don't season it too aggressively in the beginning or it will be overly salty when you finally get around to eating it.  I also wish we had thrown in just a few more scallions for a little more freshness.  Maybe one more sliced scallion would do the trick?

    Anyway, constructive criticisms aside, I loved this dish.  It just made me happy.  I might try making it in the future with a few more veggies thrown in (I'm thinking asparagus and water chestnuts for starters) for some variety.  Or I might try to combine this recipe with my mom's usual stir-fry recipe and see what happens.  Here's to more delicious cooking and kitchen experimentation in 2012!

    Recipe after the jump!

    Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

    This cookie recipe marks my first baking experiment of 2012.  Hurray!  And probably my last baking experiment for awhile because Alex and I have been eating entirely too many cookies recently.  We should at least pretend to be a little healthier.  But I found these Hershey's candy cane kisses that I am absolutely obsessed with so I was desperate to make a cookie with them.  The sad thing is that the gym was where I first encountered these kisses.  So I go there to sweat and lose weight, and instead end up scarfing down Hershey's kisses and daydreaming about cookie recipes.  Ironic, isn't it?

    I originally wanted to do a riff on Peanut Butter Kisses using the candy cane kisses, but ended up making these instead.  The cookie itself is a little brownie like in flavor (with a hint of mint) and crispy/chewy, rather than soft.  I really like them because they are an excellent vehicle for my candy cane kisses.  Plus they look (and taste) really festive and fun!

    Recipe after the jump!

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Smoked Salmon and Egg Tartines

    Growing up my parents would buy bagels and lox for us on random weekend mornings.  I was always so excited when I would come down for breakfast and see the bag of bagels on the counter with cream cheese and lox in the fridge.  Once I moved to NYC all of a sudden bagels with cream cheese and lox became insanely accessible.  And then I discovered that lox and scrambled eggs work really well together too.  I guess I should say thanks to the guys at Barney Greengrass for teaching me that.  I don't know why smoked salmon and eggs work so well together, but they do.  This morning for breakfast I was thinking about making scrambled eggs with some smoked salmon that I picked up from Zabar's, but then I decided that I wanted to make an egg salad with smoked salmon instead. So that's what I did.  I had some fresh dill that I picked up for another recipe and dill is such a natural pairing with salmon so I threw that in.  I don't like too much mayo in my egg salad, so I added in some whole-grain mustard, which I do with every salad, including tuna salad.  You don't want more than a touch of mustard because you don't want the flavor to fight with the flavors of the smoked salmon and the dill, but a little mustard is the perfect touch for me.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Pan-Seared Salmon with Pumpkin Seed-Cilantro Pesto

    I have to admit that Alex and I have been in something of a salmon rut recently.  I know that Tyler Florence's Salt and Pepper Salmon is absolutely delicious, but that is no reason for it to be the only salmon recipe we cook.  You have to mix it up every once in awhile.  When I saw this recipe in the November issue of Bon Appetit I just knew this would be a good addition to our repertoire.  The pumpkin seed-cilantro pesto both compliments and cuts the fattiness of the salmon.  The pesto adds a really fresh and punchy element to the dish, with the flavor of the lime and cilantro.  And the pumpkin seeds give the dish crunch, which contrasts nicely with the silky texture of the salmon.  I would totally serve this salmon dish for guests - I think my parents would enjoy it and it's really easy to make.  It would be a wonderful meal served with this Mache and Avocado Salad with Tortilla Strips and some simple grilled or roasted asparagus.  If you had some pesto leftover you could probably lightly drizzle it over any leftover asparagus (although I probably wouldn't serve the pesto over both the salmon and the asparagus in one meal).

    Recipe after the jump!

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    St John's Eve Pasta

    As you can see, there has been something of a blog post backlog of late.  I only managed a paltry 11 posts in December (which I believe is a new all-time low).  Work was insane and with the holidays and everything it was hard to find the time.  So I am now on a pace to post 4 recipes in one day, some of which we made yesterday or Friday and some of which we made today.  This pasta for instance was today's lunch.  For some reason I have been wanting to make this recipe for a long time.  I'm not sure what drew me to the recipe - it's a fairly basic recipe with tomato sauce and an anchovy-breadcrumb-almond topping.  Actually, I know exactly what drew me to this recipe - it's a Batali.  The man knows his pasta.  When I decided that I wanted pasta for lunch I immediately thought of this recipe.  The name just sounds festive, which seemed appropriate for New Year's Day.  According to my research the dish is traditionally eaten on June 24 - St. John's Eve, but since when has tradition ever stopped me?

    Sometimes a single element really makes a dish.  In this case, the anchovy-breadcrumb-almond topping was it.  If gave the dish amazing texture and a lot of salty, nutty flavor.  I know that the process of toasting the breadcrumbs and almonds is a little tiresome, but the end result is more than worth it.  Without the breadcrumb mixture I'm sure the pasta would have been fine (if perhaps a little boring), but with the topping it was a total revelation.  I had no idea that almonds and pasta went together so well. 

    Recipe after the jump!

    Sweet Potato and Kimchi Pancakes

    The genesis behind this dish was that I wanted to make sweet potatoes latkes.  I'm not sure why I wanted to make sweet potato latkes, but I did.  I guess it stems from the latkes I had the other night at a friend's apartment on the last night of Hanukkah.  I tend to forget just how much I like latkes until I stumble across them somewhere.  So I started looking for recipes for sweet potato latkes online and found this recipe instead by Andrea Reusing.  Andrea is the chef at my all time favorite restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC - a place called Lantern Restaurant.  Sweet potato pancakes with kimchi?  Sounds delicious to me.  They're not exactly latkes, but that's ok.  Because they are super delicious.  The flavors of the sweet potatoes and the kimchi work brilliantly together.  My only complaint about the pancakes was that the batter was wet enough that it was pretty difficult to get the pancakes nice and crispy.  The texture was a little soggy.  Plus you had to be really gentle with the pancakes while forming and flipping them because the batter was so wet.  But on the plus side, I really don't think the flavor of the pancakes themselves could have been improved at all.  They were a little sweet and a little spicy, with great balance and freshness.  The sweetness and slight acidity of the Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce really worked with the pancakes.  Pancakes and latkes both suffer from an inherent heaviness and doughiness, but somehow these pancakes avoided that trap.  Man I have to go back to Chapel Hill to eat at Lantern Restaurant again.    Andrea Reusing really knows her stuff.

    Recipe after the jump!

    Ming Tsai's Double Chocolate-Ginger Shortbread

    Happy New Year!  And what better way to celebrate 2012 than with a baked good?  A group of friends came over last night to celebrate so I decided to bake my remaining two logs of butter shortbread cookie dough.  I knew I was going to make these Double Chocolate-Ginger Shortbread cookies, but I also wanted to make chocolate-dipped shortbread.  Sadly, I ran out of time to make the chocolate-dipped shortbread, so we ended up with one batch of plain and one batch of Double Chocolate-Ginger Shortbread.  I had the same problem with these cookies that I had with the Five-Spice Shortbread - the topping just doesn't stick very well.  But I got around that by sprinkling the chocolate-ginger mixture on top of the cookies before putting them in the oven (after dipping them individually in the mixture).  Another problem I had with the cookies was that it was almost impossible to get all of the ingredients in the chocolate-ginger mixture evenly distributed (both in the mixture itself and on the cookies).  Some cookies had a lot of chocolate and no ginger, others were a little more balanced, whereas some were so loaded down with ginger that they were almost harsh.  I think that if I make these cookies again, I will mix the chocolate-ginger mixture into the dough, rather than using it as a topping.  I think that will leave you with a more even distribution.  Alex said that the plain shortbread cookies are still his favorite, followed by the Five-Spice Shortbread.  I thought both of those were really good, but I thought the flavors were really good too.  I liked the candied ginger element a lot.  I just have to play with it a bit to perfect it...

    Recipe after the jump!