Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cornmeal Cake with Balsamic Strawberries

Happy (belated) Anniversary to me!  This was the cake Alex baked for our anniversary.  I had some wonderful fresh strawberries from the farmers' market that I wanted to bake something with.  I thought about strawberry shortcake, but we have made those several times before.  I was very tempted by this Almond-Oat Strawberry Shortcake, but I wanted to make something new and (more) different.  Then I remembered that awhile back I found a few recipes for cornmeal cakes and cornmeal pound cakes online.  So I took pieces and ideas from a number of recipes to come up with this recipe.  And then I told Alex to make it for me.  Haha.  Thanks hon!  I was originally planning on whipping up some mascarpone with a little vanilla extract to serve with the cake and the macerated strawberries, but I got lazy and decided not to make the additional trip to the grocery store.  I wish I had because the creaminess of the mascarpone would have been wonderful with the cake and berries.  Oh well.  The cake was wonderfully light and not too sweet, which meant that I ate it for breakfast as well as dessert (with and without strawberries).  The texture was somewhat similar to a sponge cake or angel food cake - it was firm and fluffy, rather than crumbly and moist, but not too moist.  It isn't rich and dense like a slice of chocolate cake or carrot cake.  It was a lovely cake with a hint of citrus and a sweet crunchy topping of turbinado sugar.  I love the addition of turbinado sugar on scones, shortcakes and this cake.  It is such a wonderful touch.

Recipe after the jump!

Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup)

Sopa de ajo (aka garlic soup) sounds a little weird right?  I thought so.  I know it's a totally traditional Spanish dish, but I have never been inspired to try it or make it at home.  But we had some stale bread in the apartment and Alex wanted to use it, so I found this Mario Batali recipe online at Serious Eats for sopa de ajo with poached eggs.  I have to admit, the poached eggs were what really sold me on this recipe.  Well, that and the fact that we had everything we needed in the apartment (which is a huge plus on a rainy weeknight).  This soup is simple and very satisfying, with a pleasing richness from the poached egg.  It's the perfect type of soup to eat when you are feeling a little under the weather or when the weather outside just isn't so great.  One note - depending on the type of bread you use you might have to play with the ratio of broth to bread a little - ours got really thick, almost oatmeal-like, because we used a fairly hearty bread (and probably because Alex used more than 1/4 pound on accident).  As far as meals go, it was comforting and tasty.  We served it with a nice salad, and it was a perfect meal for a rainy Tuesday night.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blistered Snap Peas with Mint

After all of my anticipation of our first snap peas of the spring, I have to say that this was not my favorite sugar snap pea recipe.  I was really bummed.  I was so excited for this dish (and for the appearance of sugar snaps at the farmers' market) and it just turned out to be ok.  And when you are expecting awesome things, ok just doesn't cut it.  Blistering the snap peas seemed to mask, rather than enhance the flavor and sweetness of the peas.  I say that it masked the flavor because I had a few raw sugar snaps while trimming them and they were delicious as is - light, fresh and sweet.  And then once I cooked them they lost some of their snap (which is to be expected), but they didn't pick up any additional flavor.  I felt like the lemon evoo just ran right off and didn't provide the sugar snaps with much flavor.  And while I normally love the combination of sugar snaps and mint, I didn't think the mint here did all that much to elevate the dish either.  Maybe I should have stuck to my tried and true Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Radishes, Mint and Ricotta Salata...  I don't know.  But I do know that with the remaining pound of sugar snaps I will be making other (and hopefully more successful) dishes!

Recipe after the jump!

Rhubarb Ketchup

Spring is here!  That means ramps (which have already come and gone), rhubarb, sugar snap peas, asparagus, strawberries, and other wonderful ingredients.  I just get so excited once fresh spring produce shows up.  And the rhubarb at the farmers' market this week looked GORGEOUS - vibrant red stalks with green leafy tops.  So I bought a couple pounds.  And after the heavenly slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie I had this weekend at a place called The Blue Stove I knew I couldn't compete with their pie, so I decided to go with something savory - a rhubarb ketchup to serve with some skirt steak from Jean-Georges Vongerichten that I found on the Food & Wine websiteOne of the things that drew me to this recipe was that it was an interesting use of an ingredient that up until now I have only used in baking/desserts.  I was looking forward to seeing rhubarb in a more savory context.  And overall I think it was very successful. I thought the tartness and the slight heat of the ketchup really complimented the meatiness of the grilled skirt steak (seasoned simply with s&p). I could also see the ketchup working nicely with some juicy grilled bratwursts - again that contrast of rich, smoky meats with the tart acidity of the ketchup. The recipe says to serve with steaks, pork or veal chops, chicken, onion rings or bratwursts, so I guess you can't go wrong if you serve it with any of those things!I only made a half batch of the recipe, so I still have one pound of rhubarb left for another application.  I'm thinking dessert, but I am going to stay away from pie because I am just going to end up disappointed when my pie isn't as good as The Blue Stove's...  Maybe a cake of some sort?  I have been wanting to make a cornmeal cake or a pound cake for awhile.  And there is this recipe for Rhubarb Country Cake that I saw on Epicurious awhile ago that sounded interesting.  Now I just have to decide what to make!

Recipe after the jump! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sauteed Asparagus with Green Garlic and Fried Eggs

This is the type of meal that I would eat all the time if I were still single or living alone.  And that's exactly what I told Alex while we were eating dinner last night.  I freaking love asparagus and I love eggs.  Any dish that combines those two thing is A-OK with me.  I guess that's no surprise to anyone seeing as we have a number of other recipes on the blog that combine those two things (see Midnight Asparagus with Creamy Eggs and Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Poached Egg and Miso Butter for two quick examples, although I know that there are at least 2 more on the blog off the top of my head).  I just can't help myself when things go together this well!  

This is the perfect mid-week meal because it comes together easily and quickly, and requires minimal prep-work.  Alex and I made it Thursday night after I got home from work around 9 pm and we had it on the table (and eaten) by 9:30.  How easy is it to just fry up a few eggs and serve them on top of some sauteed asparagus?  I am strongly of the belief that many dishes would be improved by the addition of a runny egg or two, but that's another story entirely.  Another plus for this dish is that it can be adapted to use whatever you have in the fridge.  I know I generally don't have access to green garlic, but we had it this time so we used it.  Regular garlic would work just fine!  

As a side note, before you all think I have turned vegetarian on you,  the next few posts will be meaty.  So stay tuned!

Recipe after the jump!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pan-fried Noodles with Senposai and Tofu

It was pretty exciting to be able to eat dinner at home tonight and last (that post is going to have to wait until later).  Work has been crazy enough that I ate at my desk Monday and Tuesday and made Alex meet me for dinner on Wednesday.  So I refused to go out to dinner tonight, even though we didn't seem to have enough ingredients to make a meal.  Every dish I thought of required a trip to the grocery.  And then it occurred to me that I had some Hong Kong style noodles in the fridge so we could make pan-fried noodles.  The only problem with that plan was that we didn't have any proteins defrosted (aside from a skirt steak that I am saving for our attempt at rhubarb ketchup tomorrow), nor did we have our usual cache of canned vegetables for stir-fry.  And then I thought of the tofu, senposai and green garlic (both from the farmers' market) we had in the fridge.  So I decided that we could make a vegetarian pan-fried noodles - fry the tofu to get it nice and crispy and golden brown, stir-fry the senposai with the green garlic and voila!  For a dish that we essentially made up as we went along, it turned out really really well.  I thought the oyster sauce and sugar gave the dish a nice sweet, but savory and rich flavor.  There were a lot of different textures and tastes here that worked really well together.  I was worried that the dish would need a little something extra to give it flavor so I brought out some chili oil and Chinese chili paste, but it really didn't need it.  

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mindy Fox's Peanut Soba, Cabbage and Chicken Salad

This recipe was one of the many I found (and bookmarked) at Serious Eats in the past few weeks.   Until recently I read random reviews and taste tests at Serious Eats, but I never tried out their recipes.  Then I realized that they have some pretty awesome recipes.  Oops.  Take this recipe for instance.  I have never heard of Mindy Fox (and I still don't know who she is), but Serious Eats had two of her recipes on the site, both of which I was really excited to try in the future.  We just happened to get around to making this one first because we made asparagus for lunch yesterday and her other recipe on Serious Eats is for a raw asparagus salad.  That might be a little too much asparagus in one day for Alex.

The thing I liked most about this recipe is that it's hearty and filling, but still feels light because of the cabbage and radish salad.  The noodles get a little gummy once you toss them in the peanut sauce, but what do you expect when you use a peanut butter-based sauce?  Peanut butter is gummy by definition and the noodles are starchy, which just gums things up more.  We tried lightly oiling the cooking water for the noodles and then rinsed them well after cooking, but they still have the tendency to form one sticky noodle mass once you toss with the peanut sauce.  Luckily, I have no problem with sticky noodle masses provided that the flavors are good.  And once you toss the noodles with the cabbage salad the lime juice dressing from the cabbage helps to loosen things up a bit.  I guess my other complaint would be how complicated this salad is.  It takes two pots (or one if you cook the noodles in the same pot that the chicken poached in, which is what we did, but you still need to rinse the pot out/wash it between uses), a few mixing bowls, a mandoline (to shred the cabbage and to thinly slice the radishes), a knife, a mini food processor/blender, a colander and so on and so forth.  Because each element is made individually it doubles the amount of work.  However, keeping the cabbage-radish salad and the herbs separate from the noodles until the very end makes the dish feel fresher and lighter.  So I guess the sheer number of dirty dishes is something that you just have to accept and deal with if you want to make the salad.  In the end it is worth it, but it does make cleaning up something of a process. 

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Penne with Spinach and Ricotta

I love fresh ricotta.  And the fresh ricotta we have in the fridge has been begging for another use.  I had various ideas about what to make with the ricotta, but I settled on a simple pasta recipe.  I thought about making gnocchi or gnudi, but then decided to go with a simpler recipe.  I also thought about making some sort of baked pasta with ricotta, but it's too warm to bake pasta right now.  In the end I picked a recipe on Food & Wine from Lidia Bastianich because it looked easy and we had everything we needed, except the spinach and the sage, in the fridge.  I was originally thinking of making up my own pasta recipe using spinach and ricotta with lemon zest, but I decided to try this recipe instead.  The recipe actually called for pappardelle, but we had penne in the cupboard.  So we went with that instead.  

This pasta isn't going to win any awards for being new and original, or unbelievably delicious.  And if all you have is grocery store ricotta I would steer clear.  But with the wonderful fresh ricotta we picked up from the farmer's market it was actually quite good!  The fresh ricotta gave it a very pleasant creaminess and richness and the Parm-Reg gave it some more robust, salty flavor.  I never would have thought to pair fresh sage with baby spinach, scallions and fresh ricotta.  When I think sage I think Thanksgiving or butternut squash.  I don't think fresh ricotta and spinach.  But it worked.  The only problem was that the ricotta didn't cling to the pasta very well so some bites were essentially plain pasta, whereas others were full of spinach and ricotta.  Oh well. 

Recipe after the jump!

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano

I know, I know - I'm posting another asparagus recipe.  Deal with it.  I bought two bunches at the farmer's market today and I couldn't wait to get home and make the first.  I wanted to buy some sugar snap peas too, but they were all gone by the time we got there.  I was very sad.  I bet you are sad too because sugar snap peas would provide at least a little variety.  Since it was pretty hot out today I decided to make a raw asparagus salad for lunch.  Asparagus works wonderfully with lemon and/or Dijon vinaigrette.  I decided to go with a lemon vinaigrette because it sounded fresher and lighter.  We actually made a very similar salad last summer with Pecorino cheese instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano (see Asparagus and Pecorino Salad), but I liked today's salad more.  I thought the buttery flavor and crunch of the toasted pine nuts was a nice touch.  I also liked the addition of the parsley for some additional brightness.  The bright citrus vinaigrette really compliments the grassy sweet flavor of the fresh asparagus.  And then you have the sharp salty flavor of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the buttery pine nuts.  Yum.  It's very simple, but it works.

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry

By the end of May you guys might get a little sick of my asparagus obsession.  I just can't help myself.  And I have another 4-5 recipes that I intend to make before the spring is over.  So I am going to apologize in advance because I'm going to be on an asparagus kick for at least a little while longer.  But I promise to start mixing in a few other veggies once they become available at the farmers' market.  I have been waiting anxiously for sugar snap peas, which one of the vendors assured me would be ready this weekend.  Yay!  But the first few recipes I make will probably include both asparagus and sugar snap peas.  I just can't help myself.  But I promise that I will at least try to mix it up a little in terms of the types of asparagus recipes we make - both in terms of types of cuisine and entrees vs sides vs salads.

Anyway, if you are looking for a nice easy vegetarian stir-fry dish and you enjoy asparagus even half as much as I do, you totally want to make this dish.  Fresh in-season asparagus has a great sweet, slightly grassy flavor that pairs well with the meaty, earthy dried shiitakes.  And the sauce is sweet and savory, and with the asparagus and mushrooms it made for a very interesting combination of flavors.  Because of the meaty flavor of the mushrooms the dish is very satisfying and hearty.  I didn't miss meat at all in this stir-fry.  Served with some white rice it was a wonderful meal.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Shrimp in Spicy Tamarind Sauce

A few days ago Alex made a comment about how long it had been since we made Asian food.  And looking back, it really has been awhile.  We made Negima last month and Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup early last week, but it has been months since we really made Asian food.  Actually, our last little Asian food kick was related to Chinese New Year, which is not surprising.  Now that I am recovering from my salad obsession, we can go back to making more Asian food again.  Exciting, huh?

This shrimp recipe was a great way to break our homecooked Asian embargo.  It was delicious.  I might even go so far as to say that it is one of my favorite shrimp dishes we have ever made on the blog and certainly it is one of the best recipes we have made from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors.  All of the recipes from that particular cookbook are good, but this shrimp was just really high up there for me.  The sauce was a wonderful balance of tartness from the tamarind, spicyness from the Sriracha and sweetness from the shallots and the sugar.  It all just worked so well.  Alex liked the sauce so much that he saved his rice until after he finished his shrimp so he could dump his rice into the sauce and eat it doused in spicy tamarind sauce.  I like my rice to stay separate and distinct from any sauce, but even I considered doing it.  As a bonus, the recipe was totally easy to make!  If I were in the habit of grading recipes I would totally give this one an A+.  I'm not in the habit but I am going to give it an A+ anyway!

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Braised Broccoli Rabe with Olive Tapenade

This has been the perfect weekend, capped off with what I think of as the perfect lunch.  But more on that later.  Someone asked me recently what would I do on the perfect weekend in New York.  My answer was that I would do nothing.  But that is totally deceptive.  By doing "nothing" I mean going to Central Park with Brady and Alex Saturday morning for leash off where we would meet up with friends.  And then we would get coffee before I ran off to the gym.  Saturday afternoon we might go to the Union Square farmers' market or lunch.  Or we would just wander around the city.  Saturday night we would go out for dinner at a fabulous but moderately low key restaurant (no Meatpacking or crazy trendy restaurants for me on Saturday night), followed by a drink with friends.  Sunday morning we would head back to Central Park for leash off, followed by coffee and a jaunt to the farmers' market behind the Museum of Natural History.  After that, we would make lunch at home using some of the wonderful food we picked up at the farmers' market.  Sunday night we would make dinner using more of the fresh produce.  That is my perfect weekend.  Every once in awhile I want to throw in a Broadway show, a food festival, a cooking class, some serious shopping or a big night out with friends.  But for the most part, my perfect weekend is taking advantage of the things that NYC has to offer that I enjoy - Central Park, farmers' markets and delicious restaurants.  This weekend was one of those weekends.  We tried out a great restaurant called Whitehall Bar & Kitchen last night.  They had a fantastic cocktail list with a focus on gin and delicious food.  I highly recommend it.  And then today we made my favorite kind of lazy Sunday lunch cobbled together with fresh bread, fresh produce and other farmers' market finds.  I decided today to pick up some fresh ricotta from the farmers' market and make simple crostini on fresh bread with the ricotta, a drizzle of good quality evoo, sea salt and pepper.  The fresh ricotta was sweet and lush, not as watery as grocery store fresh ricotta.  It would be the perfect ricotta to make cheesecake with or serve with strawberries and balsamic.  And then we braised a gorgeous bunch of broccoli rabe and served it all with some mole salami from Mario Batali's dad's store Salumi Artisan Cured Meats that we picked up at Gastronomie 491. Everything was delicious.

The broccoli rabe was salty and spicy and a good counterpoint to the creamy sweetness of the crostini.  We used a Mario Batali recipe for inspiration, but we improvised a bit.  Our broccoli rabe was young and a lot more tender than the broccoli rabe that you find at the grocery store so I didn't want to braise it for a long time.  And we didn't have small black olives, so Alex suggested throwing in some green olive tapenade.  I also briefly considered adding some red wine to the braising liquid, but decided that I was too lazy to open a whole bottle of red to just use 1-2 tbsp of it.  The broccoli rabe was good, but I'm curious to see how it would taste with actual olives instead of tapenade.  When I checked out the same Mario Batali recipe online I saw that it called for anchovies, as well as olives.  That sounds a little too aggressive for me, but who knows?  Maybe we will try that next time too!

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Toasted Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Parsley

I had never heard of Israeli couscous until I moved to NYC.  I feel like I say that a lot.  Don't get me wrong, I have always been an adventurous eater and my parents exposed me to all kinds of foods growing up, but somehow we skipped right over Middle Eastern (with the exception of gyro, kebobs, shirazi salad, souvlaki and baklava) and African cuisines.  So I really missed out on Israeli couscous entirely until New York.  I think I had regular couscous for the first time in a tagine in France at an Algerian/Moroccan restaurant (at least I assumed it was one of those, although it could have been Tunisian or any other Arabic Maghreb country but there are a ton of Algerians and Moroccans in France).  But I had never heard of Israeli couscous until I went on my first shopping trip to Kalustyans.  And then I discovered that I loved it.  Because the grains are so much larger than regular couscous it does take longer to cook, but I think it's worth it.  Texturally Israeli couscous is similar to fregola or pasta.  According to Wikipedia, Israeli couscous is actually pasta so that makes sense.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite Israeli couscous recipes.  I enjoy the flavor of the cinnamon and the buttery crunch of the toasted pine nuts.  I think the couscous works wonderfully with merguez sausage or grilled chicken.  All in all, it's a fun side dish to have in your repertoire.

Recipe after the jump!

Oeufs en Cocotte with Ramps

I love eggs.  I don't know why, but I really do.  My love affair with eggs is the reason that I love brunch so much.  I never order French toast at brunch and I rarely order pancakes (except for the macadamia nut pancakes at Boots & Kimo's in Hawaii - yum).  I order eggs - eggs benedict, baked eggs, fried eggs, etc.  I just love eggs.  So every weekend that Alex and I spend in NYC without brunch plans or visitors, I try to make eggs.  I generally can't convince him to go out to brunch with me so I bring brunch to us.  Usually I scramble the eggs but a few weekends ago I wanted to bake them to make use of the ramps I had picked up.  Baked eggs (or oeufs en cocotte if you're going to be all French about it) just feel so much more luxurious and indulgent than scrambled eggs.  When you cook the croutons in the eggs they soak up some of the eggs and crème fraîche and get all yummy, but retain some of their crunchy texture.  The croutons are my favorite part.  The ramps didn't provide as much flavor as I thought they would.  I really thought their flavor would pervade the dish, but it didn't.  That isn't to say that the flavor of the ramps disappeared entirely, but it certainly wasn't the dominant flavor here.  I tasted the tangy flavor of the crème fraîche and the creamy richness of the egg yolks, combined with the crunch and salty flavor of the croutons.  I'm not complaining.  It was just surprising because in the other dishes we have made with ramps the flavor has been much more distinct.  But as far as lazy weekend brunches at home go, this was a nice one.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Seared Scallops with Salsa Verde

Alex and I rarely cook scallops.  I know that is hard to believe given that we made these Moroccan-Spiced Scallops with Lentils back in March, but I think that the last time we made scallops prior to that was back in January 2011 when we made this Scallops with Cilantro Sauce and Asian Slaw.  And prior to that...  Well who knows when we made scallops prior to that.  My problem with scallops is that I never like them as much when I cook them at home as I do when I order them at a restaurant.  Esca has amazing scallops - particularly their scallop crudo with just a touch of evoo and sea salt.  Amazing.  But that's beside the point.  Scallops aren't hard to cook at home, but they are incredibly easy to overcook.  And when you overcook scallops they turn into tough little hockey pucks.  No one likes eating hockey pucks.  Some of our scallops were verging on hockey puck territory, but that's what happens when you have scallops of such varying sizes and aren't watching them as carefully as you should.  As far as the salsa verde goes, the flavors were very fresh and clean.  I thought the lemon, evoo, parsley made for a fresh bright and lovely meal.  I'm still certain that I have had better scallops at restaurants, but these weren't bad at all.  I definitely preferred them to the Moroccan-Spiced Scallops and Lentils.

Recipe after the jump!