Sunday, October 31, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

I'm not sure what attracted me to this salad, but it seemed like an interesting vegetarian meal.  I figured with the addition of butternut squash the salad would be filling enough to constitute an entire meal.  Generally I require meat of some sort to consider a salad as an entire meal (see my Chicken Soba Salad for a perfect example of what I consider an entree salad), but in this case the butternut squash seemed both entree-worthy and incredibly seasonally appropriate.  The fact that the dressing was a warm cider vinaigrette made it even more seasonal.  Did I mention that it suddenly got really cold in NYC over the weekend?  It is supposed to be a high of 46 degrees tomorrow!  That's crazy!  But it is perfect butternut squash soup weather (supposing of course that we had another squash).

Anyway, this was an interesting salad.  And a very autumnal one.  I liked it and it was very filling, but it verged on being a little too sweet for me.  In the future I will probably cut out the maple syrup while roasting the squash because with the Craisins (which are sweetened), the apple cider (sweetened) and the cider vinegar it got a little cloyingly sweet.  I would definitely make the dressing again, because I really enjoyed it (although it did require more effort than our usual vinaigrettes).  I would also make the salad again, but with a few minor adjustments.

Recipe after the jump!

Edamame Hummus

I'm not sure why dips appeal to me so much, but they really do.  I love anything that you can serve with pita, or spread over slices of baguette.  Unfortunately, some dips (like most spinach and artichoke dips) are full of fat (not to mention dairy, which is bad when you're lactose-intolerant like I am).  So I generally try not to indulge too much, but I just can't stop myself when it comes to hummus.  I love hummus.  And I am always looking for a new and better hummus recipe.  This time I decided to mix it up and make an edamame hummus.  The addition of edamame gave me some trouble in deciding what herbs and spices to mix in - Alex suggested shichimi togarashi, but that just didn't sound right.  In the end I went with more traditional hummus flavors and just used some tahini, lemon juice, parsley and cayenne pepper.  Texturally, edamame hummus is always a little grainier than white bean hummus or traditional hummus.  I think it has something to do with the fiber content, but I'm not a nutritionist so I don't really know.  Anyway, I really liked this hummus.  I think Alex prefers regular hummus, but there was something nice and fresh about the edamame hummus.  It does rather resemble guacamole or some form of avocado mousse, but I can't hold that against it since avocado is quite delicious.

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My newest obsession...

So I have an obsession with and/or addiction to the Schnitzel & Things truck, which parks outside my office in Midtown at least once a week.  This truck, does CRAZY business and it's not uncommon to wait in line for 20 minutes, just to place your order.  And then you wait another 10-15 minutes to pick up your order.  For instance, this morning one of my coworkers and I headed down to the truck just after noon (we'll say we left the office at 12:05 and arrived in line at roughly 12:10 pm).  At 12:41 pm we were still waiting to pick up our order.  And at no times was the number of people waiting in line to order less than twenty or so (some of whom are placing orders for what seems like their entire office).  So we waited.  And waited some more.  By the time you pick up your food 30-40 minutes later you're almost convinced that there is no way that it could possibly be worth waiting for so long.  But it is.  Their pork schnitzel is unbelievable.  Try it with either the spicy sriracha mayo, or the ginger, scallion and garlic relish (I think I might prefer the relish, but my friend prefers the spicy mayo).  And get it with a side of braised sauerkraut (this is a schnitzel truck afterall, how can you pass up the kraut) and the roasted beet and feta salad.  If you get there early enough you should also give the Austrian potato salad a try because it is really good, but they always run out.  I have never tried their chicken or cod schnitzel, but I hear that both are really good too.

For their schedule, you can either check out their blog or sign up for their Twitter feed.  The truck only operates between the hours of 11:30 am and 2 pm, and the line will be long, but it is well worth it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mixed Green Salad with Candied Pecans, Blue Cheese, and Sherry Vinaigrette

So I have to give a shout out here to Susan Spicer for giving me the inspiration for this salad in her Crescent City Cooking cookbook.  We took the inspiration for both the candied pecans and the sherry vinaigrette from her cookbook.  The funny thing was that I had always planned to do a salad with candied pecans and blue cheese, plus our mixed greens from the CSA, it just happened that she had several of the elements I wanted to make in her cookbook.  I had originally wanted to make Thomas Keller's Candied Pecans from his Ad Hoc At Home Cookbook, but the recipe called for you to roast them for 2 hours at a low temperature, and I didn't have the time or the energy for that this evening.  So as I was flipping through Susan Spicer's recipe because I have been wanting to try a few of her vinaigrette recipes, I came across her recipe for Cajun-Spiced Pecans and decided to use it.  And then I decided to make a variation on her Sherry Vinaigrette (minus the capers, which just sounded odd to me).  So I threw together a salad with our mixed greens, some blue cheese, those candied pecans and a sherry vinaigrette.

I picked out the blue cheese at the cheese counter at Zabar's, where I told the lady behind the counter that I wanted a nice blue cheese that was milder than a Roquefort to serve in a salad with candied pecans.  This blue, which was a creamy French blue cheese (I tore off the label so I don't know exactly what type it was, but it was quite creamy, with a nice pungency) was what she recommended.  Alex's complaint with the blue cheese selection was that if you got a big bite of cheese, it really overpowered the other, more subtle flavors of the vinaigrette.  And he was right.  Perhaps a milder blue cheese like gorgonzola, or a Valdeon would be a better option.  Otherwise the salad was really nice - something that you would expect to be served at a neighborhood restaurant.  Actually, with the addition of some fresh or dried fruit (perhaps some figs) and a different blue cheese this would be a very nice restaurant salad.  Not only that, but I think this salad was the perfect accompaniment to the ribeyes Alex picked up at the butcher after work today.  The vinaigrette was really nice - a little tangy from the sherry vinegar, with a pleasant sweetness from the honey.  I also liked the candied pecans, although I really thought that as Cajun-spiced they would have a little more heat to them.  However, I think that had they been super spicy they wouldn't have gone quite as well with the salad, so I guess it was a good thing that they weren't as spicy as I had thought!

P.S.  I know that this is the fourth recipe that I have published today (and the only one that I actually made today), but I have had all of these posts basically tee-ed up to be posted and somehow today I finally had the time (and the motivation) to post all of them.  I would have continued to sit on  a few of the recipes, but God only knows that if I did that I wouldn't get around to posting them for a few more weeks...

Recipe after the jump!

Quasi-Moroccan Turnip Greens and Moroccan Meatloaf

Sadly, this week was the second to last week of our CSA.  And as daunting as the CSA is at times (what in the world am I supposed to do with dandelion greens, a gigantic rutabega, and mystery squash?!), I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience - from Googling said mystery squash, to cooking up various vegetable-driven experiments (some successful, some not so much).  So this Tuesday we ended up with a big bunch of turnip greens and two lonely turnips.  So I immediately started with Epicurious and came across this recipe for Leon O'Neals Turnip Greens.  We were already making a vaguely Moroccan meatloaf, so I figured why not take some inspiration from Leon O'Neal (whomever he is) and blend it with our Moroccan theme and go from there.  So I threw in a little of this, a little of that, and voila - our turnip and turnip greens concoction was done!  And man, it was good - spicy, and shockingly flavorful, I could have eaten an entire plate of the turnips and left behind the meatloaf (not that it wasn't good, but it just couldn't compete and I think that was partially due to the lack of a sauce on top).  Actually, Alex and I polished off all of the turnips and left some of the meatloaf behind, which is mildly shocking.  But the turnips were just so good.  And can I just say that I never thought those words would come out of my mouth?

Recipes after the jump!

Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recently I had the opportunity to go to a business lunch at Marea in NYC.  Everything I ate there was amazing, but one of the things that stuck out the most to me was from the little silver tray of cookies and other mini-treats that they served after the meal.  It was perhaps the most delicious zucchini cake I have ever tasted, topped with a little dollop of cream cheese frosting.  It was so moist and unbelievably delicious.  So I figured I would try to make my own.  Now I know better than to expect that my zucchini cake could ever compare with something I try at a restaurant like Marea.  I am good in the kitchen, but I am not 2 star Michelin Guide good.  And to be honest, neither are most professional chefs.  So it's all good.

I love the spices in this cake.  And then I love the combination of the cake with the slightly citrusy cream cheese frosting.  Then again, I think I would love cream cheese frosting on any type of cake.  My cupcake choices are often dictated by which cupcakes are topped with cream cheese frosting and I firmly believe that Magnolia's red velvet cupcakes would be immensely better if they had cream cheese frosting, rather than buttercream frosting (which I often find to be too sweet and too buttery).  This was my first experiment substituting apple sauce for vegetable oil and it turned out really nicely.  In the past I have always been worried that the flavor of the apple sauce would interfere with the flavor of the cake itself, but in this instance it worked marvelously (although I did think that a few days after being baked the texture of the cake turned a little gummy, which I attributed to the apple sauce).  The cake was very moist and very flavorful.  You can't really taste the zucchini, but the zucchini isn't really the point, is it?  The zucchini is there to fool you into believing that you're being healthy, while inhaling large quantities of delicious cream cheese frosting!  Then again, the zucchini does help to keep the cake moist, plus it makes the cake look so pretty with all of the vibrant green flecks (if you look closely in the picture above you can see some) so it definintely does have its uses.

Recipe after the jump!

Potato Frittata

While I do love making complicated meals, there are some nights when all I want to do is throw something together quickly and eat dinner with a minimum of fuss.  This frittata is perfect for one of those nights where the absolute last thing you want to do is spend hours slaving away in the kitchen.  Served with a nice arugula salad, it makes a perfect meal for lunch or dinner.  The eggs are nice and fluffy, which is a nice textural contrast from the potatoes (which we sauteed until they were softened, but still retained a hint of firmness) and the chives provide lovely oniony flavor.  I don't usually find frittatas to be super filling (and I rarely order them at restaurants because they often come out so dry and flavorless), but the potatoes make the dish heartier and makes it all feel that much more dinner-appropriate.  Because as much as I love breakfast for dinner, sometimes you just need dinner for dinner!

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Napa Valley

During our trip to San Francisco, one of the only non-negotiables for me was a trip to Napa.  I have always wanted to go to Napa and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for Alex and I to go.  So I got on Google and started looking up different wineries and restaurants to hit during our trip.  At first I came up with a list of 6 wineries that sounded interesting, but quickly realized there was no way that we could do 6 wineries in one day.  I suppose if you have a designated driver and only want to do tastings, rather than tours, you could realistically hit 6 wineries in one day, but I really wanted to be able to do some tours and take my time.  So in the end I settled on a tour at Frog's Leap, a tasting at Honig Vineyard and Winery, and a tour at Domaine Chandon.  For the record, the wineries I decided not to visit were Cakebread Cellars, Grgich Hills Estate, and Sterling Vineyards (which I really wish we had been able to visit because I have heard so many wonderful reviews of Sterling, but it was just too far).   So we rented a Zipcar, printed out some directions, and were on our way!

More after the jump!

San Francisco

So Alex and I just returned from San Francisco this weekend and the sad thing is (as exhausted as I was by the 6 hour flight), all I can think about is going back.  The food was AMAZING.  I don't know how you all feel about sourdough, but the sourdough at Boudin (pictured above and below) is justifiably famous.  It had a tang to it that you just don't get when you buy a loaf of sourdough at the grocery store or local bakery.  And not only was it delicious, it was also adorable.  The bakers at Boudin also make sourdough teddy bears, alligators, crabs, etc.  If you look at the next picture you can see the sourdough teddy bears and a crab, plus the head of an alligator on the top of the rack full of delicious bread.  Yum.

And then there is the produce.  We wandered around the farmer's market at the Ferry Building on Saturday morning and the produce there was unbelievable.  They had all sorts of stone fruits, pears, lettuces, radishes, mushrooms (my god those lobster mushrooms were unreal), etc.  I could have wandered around there forever.  And not only was the produce at the farmer's market good, they also had food stalls, including one that served the absolute BEST chilaquiles (pictured below) that I have ever had.  They were spicy, but not too spicy - actually, I would say the level of heat was perfect.  The homemade tortilla chips (they made their own tortillas by hand with an old-school tortilla press, griddled them, and then made them into chips), slathered in the spicy red sauce had just the right amount of sauce so moisten them without turning them mushy.  Then they were topped with onions, crema, and avocado, and served with a side of homemade refried beans and scrambled eggs.  My god I could eat those for breakfast every day.  Alex had a Japanese okonomiyaki pancake (pictured below) topped with sweet soy and a gently (and barely) poached egg, which was also good, but nothing could touch my chilaquiles.  Actually, our friend had a dungeness crabcake sandwich that I would say ran a close second to mine - the crab was sweet and the crabcake had a fabulous consistency, plus the bread they served it on was amazing.  Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of hers.  Oh well.  Also at the Ferry Building I had a chance to try the nduja salami from Boccalone Salumeria (whose sign reads "tasty salted pig parts") and a variety of olive oils from Stonehouse California Olive Oil.  For the record, their Lisbon Lemon evoo was so amazing that I couldn't resist buying a bottle and have already used it to make a wonderful salad dressing.

We also took a trip to Napa to visit several wineries, but more on that later!

More pictures after the jump!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sorry guys...

Once again work (and life) seems to be conspiring against me.  I jam a ton of cooking into the weekend (although two weekends ago I had a bachelorette party so I couldn't even do that), but then the week hits and I am stuck eating dinner at my desk all week long.  And then this weekend Alex and I will be visiting a friend in San Francisco, so I won't have a posting bonanza on Sunday like I usually do.  Oh well.  But I'm sure I will get lots of good posts out of my trip!  We are going to Bouchon Bistro in Yountville on Friday, so I will definitely have something to post about that!  Thomas Keller here we come.  I would have loved to try Ad Hoc after buying (and loving) the cookbook, but they only serve dinner there and we're going to be in Yountville during the afternoon.  Bummer.  Not that Bouchon Bistro isn't going to be totally awesome too.

Anyway, as I am experiencing a momentary lull in my work day, I finally had time to go back through a lot of the emails that I had received over the course of the past week and I realized that there are a lot of new restaurants opening this fall (and a few that opened up this summer) that I am drying to try.  So I thought I would share my list with all of you!  Some of these restaurants are on the UWS, but most are scattered throughout the city.
  1. Graffit (141 West 69th Street) - In the past year the UWS has had a tapas boom with Tangled Vine and Taverna opening in quick succession.  But I for one am really excited about the addition of a new tapas restaurant!
  2. Kin Shop (496 Sixth Avenue at 12th Street) - This West Village Thai restaurant is the sophomore debut of Harold Dieterle, who also owns Perilla.  The pictures I have seen of the restaurant look really great, and I love Perilla so I am super excited.
  3. Red Rooster (310 Lenox Ave at 125th Street) - Soul food by Marcus Samuelsson (who used to be at Aquavit and then at Merkato 55) seems a little counterintuitive as he was born in Ethiopia and then adopted by a Swedish family, but I love me some fried chicken.
  4. The Dutch (131 Sullivan Street) - Andrew Carmellini's new restaurant in Soho.  I still haven't made it to Locanda Verde (more work conspiring against me), but I am bound and determined to visit either or both by the end of 2010.
  5. Ditch Plains (100 W. 82nd Street at Columbus) - I was super sad when Bar Bao closed in this space, but am really looking forward to another restaurant!  I have never been to Landmarc, or the Ditch Plains downtown, but I am hoping that it will be delicious.
  6. Jeffrey's Grocery (172 Waverly Street, at Christopher Street) - So there are three things that I love about this place already (even though I have yet to try it out). First, I walked by the other night and stopped in for a drink and it is just so quaint.  Second, I love raw oysters and there is a raw bar.  Third, I love Joseph Leonard, a restaurant across the street also owned by Gabe Stulman, so I have serious faith that Jeffrey's Grocery will be awesome.
  7. Jalapeno (185 Columbus Avenue, between 68th and 69th Streets) - I love Mexican food and I have found very few Mexican restaurants in the city that I truly enjoy (although The Great Burrito and Cafe Frida on the UWS are quite tasty), so I'm always on the lookout for a new restaurant.
  8. Hill Country Chicken (1123 Broadway at 25th Street) - I know that Hill Country opened their sister friend chicken restaurant a few months ago, but seeing as it opened in the later part of 2010 and I haven't been yet, I am adding it to the list.
  9. Vandaag (103 Second Avenue, between 6th and 7th Streets) - Again, this Northern European restaurant opened up a few months ago, but I haven't made it down there yet.  It sounds like the menu hits Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Belgium for inspiration.  And in addition to the food, the restaurant has an interesting wine and beer list.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pizza with Goat Cheese, Butternut Squash, and Leeks

One of these days I am determined to make my own pizza dough.  I have a Jim Lahey recipe that I earmarked forever ago.  I also have a flatbread recipe and a naan recipe that I want to try to use as a pizza crust.  I just haven't gotten around to making any of them  yet.  Until my motivation really kicks in, I can continue to buy balls of pre-made pizza dough at the grocery store, or even buy my own pre-made crusts.  They also sell pizza dough in those biscuit tubes now.  If you buy one of those tube crusts you don't have to try to roll it into a nice circle - instead all you have to do is unroll the tube of dough and you have a perfect, 3/4-inch thick rectangle of pizza dough.  I have always been a little skeptical of the store-bought, pre-made crusts, but after my recent experiments with the lavash pizzas I thought I might as well give them a try.  I picked up one of the crusts at Zabars the other day and decided to give it a try.  I topped the pizza crust with goat cheese, ricotta, and butternut squash from the CSA. 

So I wasn't a huge fan of the pre-made crust, but I'm spoiled from living in NYC where you can get really amazing pizzas.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am pretty picky about my crusts.  This one just seemed a little doughy.  And no matter what I did, it was either a little too soft, or a little too hard.  There didn't seem to be any compromise with this particular dough.  It lacked the elasticity of fresh dough.  But so long as we ignore the deficiencies of the crust, I really enjoyed the flavors of the pizza - goat cheese, thyme and butternut squash are a lovely combination.  So I will definitely repeat the toppings.  But next time I will either make my own dough, or buy actual dough and not pre-made crusts!

Recipe after the jump!

Crispy Roasted Chickpeas

The first time I had roasted chickpeas was at Prune in NYC.  I know it sounds like a vaguely strange (and not altogether appetizing) dish, but we finished off the entire dish in seconds and asked for more.  They were unbelievable.  The chickpeas were crispy, salty and totally addictive - the perfect bar snack.  They sort of reminded me of corn nuts, another bar snack that I also love.  I have heard that bar snacks are intentionally salty so that it makes you drink your beer/drink faster and then order more to drink.  How very sneaky.  But unlike most bar snacks, these chickpeas are full of protein and relatively healthy for you.  And they are totally easy to make at home.  All you need is a can of chickpeas, a splash of evoo, s&p and the spice blend of your choice.  As a good Maryland-girl the first spice mix that comes to mind is Old Bay, but if Old Bay just isn't your thing you can use a creole seasoning blend, or a Moroccan spice blend.  For this batch I threw together my own Moroccan spice blend using ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and ginger and then sprinkled it all over the chickpeas fresh out of the oven.  Totally delicious.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bucatini with Brussel Sprouts


Oh brussels sprouts, how I love thee.  Whenever I see brussels sprouts on a menu at a restaurant I have to try them.  It's a compulsion.  Or an obsession.  Take your pick.  My first brussels sprouts experience as an adult (and potentially my first brussels sprouts experience ever because my dad hates them) was the brussels sprouts they serve at Momofuku Ssam.  Their brussels sprouts are tossed with fish sauce, mint Thai chilis, oil, butter, and Rice Krispies (no joke, they really are).  Sometimes they serve cauliflower instead of the brussels sprouts prepared in the same fashion (which is also delicious), but you get the idea.  And then they are either fried (at the restaurant) or cooked in a very hot oven (if you are adapting the recipe to cook at home) until they are nice and nutty and delicious.  Yum.  And then there was this pasta dish with brussels sprouts and sage at Falai that was simply amazing, not to mention the equally amazing brussels sprouts served with apples, creme fraiche and pistachios at Alta.  I have heard that Motorino has a seasonal brussels sprouts pizza that I am dying to try, but I haven't made it there quite yet.  I have been tempted to try making my own pizza with brussels sprouts, but I haven't quite gotten around to it yet because I haven't been able to decide what assortment of other toppings to use.

I wanted the brussels sprouts in this pasta dish to be roasted to enhance their nutty flavor.  I also threw in some walnuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano to amp up the nutty flavor even more.  I wish I had roasted the brussels sprouts just a few minutes longer to really give them some char, but even without that char this was a really nice dish.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lavash Pizza with Arugula and Langoustine

In my last trip to Trader Joe's I picked up a few random ingredients, including some frozen langoustine tails, some lavash (a thin, Middle Eastern flatbread), zucchini, squash, tomatoes, arugula, grated Swiss and gruyere cheese, and brussel sprouts.  So I had to figure out a recipe that would use up at least a few of my random ingredients.  Luckily, the Summer Vegetable Gratin last night used up some of the zucchini and the Roma tomatoes.  So tonight's goal was to use up more of my random Trader Joe's ingredients.  In addition to the langoustine tails, lavash, and grated cheeses I threw in the basil Alex picked up at the store today, plus the last of the Salvatore Bklyn fresh ricotta for good measure.  When I bought the lavash and the shredded cheeses I had originally intended to make an Alsatian tarte flambee (a thin, crispy pizza of sorts, topped with creme fraiche, onions and lardons).  Incidentally, Trader Joe's makes a pretty phenomenal version of the tarte flambee in their frozen foods section.  I picked one of those up too for good measure, but I thought I would try making one of my own as well.  Unfortunately, we were out of creme fraiche and lardons, so I had to improvise.  And this pizza was what I came up with.  It was perhaps the easiest and quickest flatbread pizza ever.  Because the lavash is so thin, it crisps up beautifully, as well as very quickly.

This is the first lavash pizza I have ever made and it was wonderful.  I will definitely be making more lavash pizzas in the future - perhaps a Mediterranean pizza with hummus and feta, and definitely my tarte flambee.  I have to say that the langoustine and arugula combination was a lot more successful that I had thought it would be.  The peppery notes of the arugula contrasted beautifully against the sweetness of the langoustines and prawns.  And then you had the wonderful crunch of the lavash crust.  This pizza definitely needs something to give it a little moisture (e.g. hummus, ricotta, or tomato sauce).  Otherwise it might get a little dry.  But with some ricotta?  Delicious.  And super easy.

Recipe after the jump!

Banana Nutella Bread

During college I studied abroad in France.  And while I was there I discovered the wonderful world of banana nutella crepes.  I blame a combination of those crepes, creamy cheeses, plus the chocolate chip croissants I ate for breakfast at least a few times a week for the 10 pounds I gained while I was there.  Oops.  Somehow French women don't get fat, but Americans living in France do.  But you only live once, right?  So in honor of those banana nutella crepes that I loved so much, I decided to make a banana nutella bread.  Considering I go months without baking, it is interesting that I made both pumpkin bread, and banana bread this week, but the bananas were the perfect level of overripe for bread-making and I was afraid that if I didn't make the bread tonight I would realize on Friday that the bananas had gone from overripe to icky and rotten.  Plus I figured I had plenty of time to prep the banana bread while the Ad Hoc Summer Vegetable Gratin was in the oven for an hour.  It really only takes 5-10 minutes or so to put the bread together from start to finish (assuming that your butter is softened).  And even if your butter isn't softened, there is always the microwave.

I'm not sure what it is that I love about banana bread (and all quick breads really).  They just make me really happy.  This one in particular is lovely - super  moist, with nice banana flavor and just a hint of nutella.  If you want the nutella flavor to be more pronounced, just add a little more to the batter while baking it.  I wanted this to be banana bread with a little nutella, rather than the reverse, so I only added 1/2 of a cup.  This is a banana bread that any child (and any adult) will love.  I certainly do.
Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fig, Prosciutto and Ricotta Crostini

With all of the fresh figs I purchased from Eataly yesterday I knew I had to do something else with them.  Luckily I had also picked up some nice crusty bread, some 18-month aged Prosciutto di Parma, and some fresh ricotta from Salvatore Bklyn (which in my opinion makes the best fresh ricotta you can find in NYC).  So I threw together these crostini.  There is no real recipe, instead you just toast some fresh bread, then slather it with fresh ricotta and top with arugula, prosciutto and quartered figs.  Then you drizzle honey over the top and season with freshly ground black pepper and just a touch of salt.  Since there is no cooking involved and very few ingredients, it is pretty important to get the very best prosciutto, ricotta and figs that you can.  I'll be honest and admit that our honey came straight out of a honey bear squeeze bottle and the arugula was the kind you buy pre-washed in bags at the grocery store.  If you're not a pork lover or you don't like arugula, you can feel free to omit the prosciutto and the arugula and just serve crostini topped with ricotta, figs, honey, s&p.  Or you can just play around with a variety of ingredients until you find a combination that suits you. 

Ad Hoc's Summer Vegetable Gratin

A vegetable gratin might just be the lamest sounding dish ever.  Usually gratins are used to drench veggies and starches in loads of cream and cheese so that unsuspecting kids will chow down.  Don't get me wrong - a well-made potato gratin can be delicious, if a little heavy.  And let's be honest, if it weren't for this recipe being created by Thomas Keller, I wouldn't have given it a second look.  But seeing as it is a Thomas Keller recipe and I just bought his Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, how could I fail to give it a try?  You will have to excuse me for being a little late to the party as it's now early October, and not summer.  But better late than never, especially seeing as the farmer's markets are still full of eggplant, thyme and tomatoes.

I think this was the first time that I have ever heard Alex get excited about a vegetarian recipe and well he should.  Like all Keller recipes, this one was very precise and required a number of individual steps and a long prep/cooking time.  I adapted the recipe a little to suit myself (although I didn't really do anything to simplify it), including alternating the veggies in layers around the gratin dish, rather than having individual rows of eggplant, then zucchini, then tomato and then squash.  I guess I took more of a Ratatouille approach with the alternating rounds of tomato, zucchini, eggplant and squash.  I figured that way you would or at least could get all of the vegetables layered together in a single bite.  And isn't that better than having one row of the gratin that is only tomato or only squash?  I thought so.  In the future I probably won't bother broiling the gratin at the end to brown the bread crumbs because our gas oven has a broiler that is permanently set to kill.  We barely put the gratin in there for 2 minutes 6-inches away from the heat source and it was verging on burnt.  Bad broiler.  Anyway, after about 70 minutes the vegetables were cooked perfectly - fork tender, but not so tender that they were falling apart.  The lemon thyme and Parmigiano-Reggiano gave the vegetables serious flavor, and the panko mixture gave the dish a wonderful texture.  The dish isn't exactly a quick and easy supper, but it is a lovely vegetarian meal that doesn't leave you wanting meat (or carbs), which I consider to be a huge success.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Figgy Roast Chicken

So I know that we had chicken breasts last night and I really hate to repeat my proteins, but we had dinner plans canceled at the last minute this evening and the only thing defrosted was more chicken.  Otherwise we had a random assortment of vegetables (but not enough of anything to build a meal around) and some half-frozen ground bison.  And did I mention that it was pouring outside?  We definitely weren't going back out to the grocery store for anything new.  And I was totally sick of restaurant food because we have eaten so much of it lately.  So chicken it was.  Luckily I visited Eataly earlier today during my lunch break and picked up a whole bunch of random gourmet ingredients, including some figs.  And we had some fresh lemon thyme in the apartment from the farmer's market.  So this was what we threw together - roast chicken with garlic, thyme and fresh figs.

I'm not certain that you could taste the figs and the garlic in the chicken itself, but the chicken was wonderfully moist regardless.  And then in the pan juices you could definitely taste the garlic and taste the sticky sweetness of the figs.  Dip some bread in it and spoon a little of the juices over the chicken.  You won't be sorry.  All this chicken needed to make it the perfect meal was a nice, fresh and peppery arugula salad.  Unfortunately we were out of arugula, but even without the salad it was a very nice meal.

P.S.  The picture wasn't our finest effort.  I threw some thyme on the plate and handed it off to Alex to take pictures thinking that he would arrange the thyme artistically around the plate before he took pictures.  Not so much.  I really should know better by now.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Squid Ink Pasta with Seppia (aka Cuttlefish)

A few months ago I went on a shopping trip to Chelsea Market, where I picked up some frozen seppia (aka cuttlefish).  The cuttlefish has been sitting in the freezer ever since.  Then this weekend Alex and I decided that it was time to figure out what to do with our cuttlefish.  Originally we were talking about making fideos with cuttlefish, but we didn't have any seppia ink for the fideos.  And fideos (like risotto and paella) can be somewhat laborious.  Then we started talking about various other dishes we could make.  Alex found an interesting recipe for stuffed seppia, but we didn't have all of the ingredients.  Then I started looking at various pasta and risotto recipes, but most called for seppia ink.  So we made a recipe up.  Shocking, I know.

I have been sitting on this post now for a few weeks because I just haven't had the time to go back and actually post it.  And then once I had the time, I forgot all about this post and moved on to new recipes and posts.  So now it has probably been... 2-3 weeks since we made this pasta, which means that all of my immediate impressions from eating the dish are now long gone.  But Alex and I agree that the pasta was a solid B (my initial thought was B-, but I think I was being overly harsh).  It wasn't something I would order at a restaurant, but it was a pretty good first attempt at making sepia, especially since we were entirely winging it.  I liked the heat from the red pepper flakes, but I almost always like heat.  As you can see in the picture, the sauce was pretty thin and just barely coated the pasta.  I tend to like my pastas very lightly sauced, but if you want more sauce you need to double the amount of pasta sauce and add another dollop of white wine.  The next time I buy seppia, I am going to make sure to buy the ink as well because I think it would have made all the difference if I could have used the ink to make a sauce, rather than relying on dried squid ink spaghetti and canned tomato sauce.

Recipe after the jump!

Ginger Fried Rice

I have been eying this recipe for Ginger Fried Rice from Jean-Georges Vongerichten for ages.  The picture in his Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges cookbook is simply stunning.  But as with most recipes in his cookbook, the ingredient list for the fried rice was a little intimidating.  Rendered chicken fat is not something I often keep around the apartment.  But then I saw Mark Bittman's adaptation of the recipe on his blog, and I decided I no longer had any excuse for not giving the fried rice a shot at home.  Granted, this is the world's most complicated and precise recipe for fried rice, but both Jean-Georges (a man whose restaurants I have dined at numerous times and loved) and Mark Bittman assure me that the extra steps are "absolutely worth the effort."  Well ok then!

So yes.  I have to jump on the bandwagon and admit that the extra steps are completely and utterly worth the effort.  The crispy ginger and garlic bits are delicious, as is the yolk from the fried egg, which oozes so beautifully all over the rice.  It is so simple, but so very good.  This fried rice was the star of the day.  It doesn't look like much, but looks can be very deceiving because it is absolutely delicious.

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken (Skewers) with Honey and Turmeric

I don't know about you, but I consider chicken breasts to be the most versatile thing in the world to cook.  You can do just about anything with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and absolutely anything is possible - any type of cuisine, any cooking method, and any assortment of ingredients.  It's fabulous.  I think that this versatility comes with a price.  How often do you eat a chicken dish based on boneless, skinless chicken breasts that really blows your mind?  Not that often.  I know some people prefer chicken thighs to chicken breasts because dark meat has more flavor than white meat, and also more fat so they don't dry out.  But I really only enjoy chicken thighs in certain preparations.  I think that the extra fattiness of the dark meat just doesn't work sometimes.  It just seems greasy to me.  I know my aversion to dark meat chicken doesn't make any sense because I really like duck, which is just as greasy (if not more greasy) as chicken thighs/legs.  But I just don't like dark meat chicken.  What can I say?  I'm picky about certain things.

So this chicken has a nice mild spice to it.  The spice level was the first thing that Alex commented on.  It has just enough Korean red pepper flakes to give it a hint of heat.  That heat balances out nicely with the sweetness imparted by the honey and OJ in the marinade.  I wish that the ginger had a slightly more pronounced flavor, but that's just me.  I also wish that the chicken had a little more depth of flavor to it.  I'm not sure what I would add to give it another layer of flavor.  The skewers were supposed to be grilled, which would have imparted some smokiness to the chicken, which would have been wonderful, but grilling isn't an option for us here in NYC.  Aside from the smokey flavor, I'm not sure what else I would want to add here to kick the chicken up a notch.  Alex thinks that the smokiness from the grill would really make the chicken taste that much more delicious and I am inclined to agree with him, although I think that there are probably other ways that would be equally successful.  All in all, I give it a solid B.

Recipe after the jump!

Spaghetti con la Sarde

Sardines are one of the few ingredients that just sound gross, kind of like anchovies.  They bring to mind slimy, icky little fish.  But both (while not visually appealing) can be quite delicious if prepared correctly.  Anyway, I saw this recipe in Molto Gusto awhile ago and figured we had to try it.  You can buy tins of really nice sardines at most gourmet grocery stores (including Whole Foods) nowadays, and I picked up a tin not too long ago without really having any idea what I wanted to do with it.  Once I saw this recipe I decided it sounded like the perfect recipe to use those sardines.

The first thing Alex said when he tried the pasta was that it was "good and... interesting."  He's right in that it is a very interesting combination of flavors.  Who has ever heard of combining fennel, fennel seeds, fennel fronds, orange zest, sardines and bread crumbs?  The second thing he said (which I also agreed with) was that the pasta wasn't as flavorful as we had thought it would be.  With that amount of fennel in it, I really expected some serious anise flavor, but the fennel flavor was really mild.  Perhaps if I had added the optional fennel pollen, it would have seriously upped the level of anise flavor?  I don't know.  I also didn't think that you could taste the sardines as much as I wanted to.  Perhaps the fault is due to the fact that we used whole wheat spaghetti, which I find requires more aggressive seasoning and more in your face flavors to really make it shine.  I thought that the fennel (which I actually worried would be overpowering) and the sardines would provide tons of flavor, but the flavor combination was more subtle than I had envisioned.  Once thing that I did love about the recipe was the addition of the fresh bread crumbs, toasted in evoo.  Generally I am far too lazy to bother making fresh bread crumbs, making due with panko or Progresso Italian-flavored bread crumbs, but in this case I think that fresh bread crumbs were well worth the effort.

Recipe after the jump!

Arugula with Tomato Raisins

I know that I have talked before about how much I love arugula salad.  But you can only eat so many plain arugula salads, or arugula salads with a little ricotta salata before you start wanting to mix things up a little.  Last week I was reading Sam Sifton's review of Del Posto in the NY Times and I came across an arugula salad that was described as "a tangle of Italian arugula and dots of tomato raisins that are worth almost literally their weight in gold."  And I was like "wait a second!  I think that I have that recipe at home!"  So I went home and checked Molto Gusto  and there it was - a recipe for Arugula with Tomato Raisins.  So obviously I decided to make it for lunch today as a side for some Spaghetti con la Sarde (which incidentally also comes from Molto Gusto).  As you can see, it has been a very Mario Batali Molto Gusto kind of day.  
Anyway, as far as this salad goes - those tomato raisins were awesome.  I'm not sure if I would say that they were "worth almost literally their weight in gold," but they were wonderfully flavorful and a fun addition to a simple arugula salad.  Roasting the grape tomatoes makes them very sweet and a little crunchy.  Be careful not to overdress the arugula or the entire salad gets a little soggy and the lemon vinaigrette obscures the taste of the wonderful tomato raisins.  But if you like arugula salads, you have to try this the next time you have a few extra hours to make the tomatoes!

Recipe after the jump!

Snickerdoodle Blondies

So I have to apologize for my extended absence.  Work got really busy, then I got sick, then I was out of town...  Yadayadayada.  But I promise to be better in the future!  And as my first post for my newer and better self, blondies!

I have come to the conclusion that it's a bad thing when your coworkers know you bake.  Once they know you bake, people periodically start hinting that it has been awhile since you last brought in some baked goods.  *Hint*hint.*  Not that I mind baking brownies, cookies, and blondies for my friends at work.  I actually really enjoy baking from time to time.  It's just that I rarely have the time (and more importantly, the motivation) to bust out the stand mixer, measuring cups, etc.  The last time I brought something in to work I brought in brownies.  The time before that I brought in cookies.  So I decided that this time I would bring in blondies.  I started looking at different blondie recipes and realized that there are a few popular blondie recipes.  First, there are the blondies with chocolate chips and nuts (and sometimes dried fruits).  Then there are the Brewer's Blondies from Baked, which include malted milk powder and Whoppers.  They sounded really interesting, but where do you even buy malted milk powder?  Lastly, I found a bunch of Snickerdoodle blondie recipes.    I thought the Snickerdoodle blondies sounded like they had some potential, and would be very different from the Samoa Blondies that I made a few months ago.  So I took a fairly standard base blondie recipe and added the spices that generally go into snickerdoodles - cinnamon and nutmeg.  And then of course I had to make the cinnamon-sugar topping because that's the best part about snickerdoodles.

These blondies are rich.  And sweet.  And a little dense.  But if you like those traits in a dessert, then you will love them.  Because I used dark brown sugar instead of light, they have a hint of molasses and a darker caramel to them than I was expecting.  Generally I feel like the difference between dark brown and light brown sugar in baked goods isn't this distinct, but here it really is.  These aren't my favorite blondies that I have ever made, but they were certainly interesting.  And my coworkers certainly seemed to like them!

Recipe after the jump!