December 6, 2011

Oh, Stuff It

Stuffed Pasta Shells with Meat Filling

Sadly, I have been so busy that I haven't cooked for myself in a while. I haven't even thought about cooking. I don't think I've even really been in the kitchen much. I usually procrastinate more actually, so it's pretty wild and even amusing to me that I really have been, you know, responsible.

Alas, old habits die hard. In doing what I do best, I'm going to ignore and avoid the many things I should be doing right now to get back in the groove...

November 16, 2011

Livin' on the Veg

Butternut Squash & Cheddar Pudding

Kale appears to be very popular lately. Everyone seems to be on some sort of kale-kick (a good thing) with some creative way of throwing it into their meals or even sneaking it in as a snack. This cruciferous veggie is truly a nutritional powerhouse, so anyway we can get it in, we should.

I am still trying to figure out what I'd like to make for Thanksgiving this year, so I tested this out not only in honor of the currently kale-obsessed or for those that prefer greens, but also for those that think turkey is for the birds. It's one of those dishes that could be a great side dish, but could also be a hearty vegetarian main dish. It also just makes a great, everyday dinner, holiday or no holiday, like the way I am enjoying it now…and enjoying it, I am.

November 10, 2011

This Spud's For You

Rosemary-Roasted Potatoes

Who doesn't love a warm, comforting dish of potatoes? Mashed or smashed, whipped or chunky, skin on or off, baked or fried, it really does not matter, people love them. They pair so nicely with meaty dishes, compliment most vegetables and make the perfect home for fatty drippings or creamy sauces to settle right in.

November 7, 2011

Oh My Gourd

Pumpkin Petits Pots

I realize I posted a pumpkin pie recipe about a month ago. It is a delicious variation on the classic, a recipe I get many requests for and one I do think everyone should try at some point. These adorable little pots of creamy pumpkin are quite tasty too though, and deserve an attempt as well.

November 2, 2011

Sip It. Sip it Good

The Côte d'Azur Cure-All Soup

Well, I finally made it through whatever allergy/cold I woke up with two weekends ago. It could have come about because I was a little run down.  Or, maybe because I'm in contact with more germs than usual these days. Or, maybe it really was the blooming ragweed in this part of the country.

Blooming ragweed.

October 25, 2011

Charlotte's Other Side

White Chocolate Spider Web

I still feel bad about jumping the gun and bypassing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and anything else that is celebrated before New Year's Eve. Well, I did start early with some pumpkin pie, so that should count I guess.

Actually, I am a bit under the weather right now (allergies or something more) and although the soup I threw together in a stuffed up, fog tonight was delicious and hit the spot, I didn't have it in me to photograph or write about. I am deciding, instead, to post a "recipe" from my Tuesday afternoon "cooking" group.

October 21, 2011

Jam Session

Toasts with Chicken-Liver Mousse and Shallot Jam 

"Mommy, that lady just bought liver…chicken liver!"

Indeed I did, kiddo.

This recipe comes from one very folded, dog-eared page in an old Food & Wine magazine. I come across it now and then, usually on sleepless nights, when I am unable to find any of Curtis Stone's Take Home Chef reruns to numb my exhausted, yet restless mind. This recipe is one that intrigued me more for the shallot jam than the liver mousse, but figured I wanted the entire experience.

October 18, 2011

Bake My Day

Chocolate Layer Brownies

When I first became aware of her rags-to-riches story, her drive and ambition to feed her family and turn a love for baking and cooking into a career, I bought Paula Deen's The Lady & Son's Savannah Country Cookbook. The small, spiral-bound book is a collection of family recipes, as well as those also served in her Savannah restaurant of the same name, The Lady & Sons. I used it for a few recipes (I do love pictures though and there are none, so truthfully, I really did not flip through it that often), but it wasn't until my friend Tracy was looking over my cookbook collection one day and exclaimed that her favorite brownie recipe was by Paula Deen, I think from her Southern Cooking Bible. Not only her favorite recipe, she continued, but the easiest. I would now have to add the tastiest and most asked for, after making these brownies for more celebrations, potlucks, birthday parties and holidays than I could ever recall.

The recipe uses three large Symphony candy bars to create the milk chocolate layer in the middle. I still get a kick out of watching other grocery store customers looking over my healthy, pretty clean round-up of food items at the register... until they spy the brilliant, silver foil of these huge, king-size candy bars perched on top of, say, the quinoa or maybe a bag of lentils. Such big, questioning eyes, oh my. You know though, if this was my thing, my vice of sorts, I think it would be far better than a six-pack of Bud or a carton of cigarettes, no?

October 14, 2011

Pig Out

Cote de Porc à la Charcutière
(Pork Chops in a White Wine, Cornichon and Mustard Sauce)

I cannot believe I haven't posted anything on pork chops. I absolutely love them. When I do eat meat, which is probably twice a week, a chop is usually what I choose (unless what I need for this is on sale, or a little bit for that), so I have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe it's because I usually just throw a chop, with a bit pepper and paprika, into some onions on the stove, or cook one up and then reduce down some cream-based sauce with a little dijon mustard. Quick and dirty, really... although quite elegant despite how simple and fast these dishes are to come together.

This dish is a favorite as well. It's from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, a well-loved and often used reference of mine. This book is filled with amazing recipes and delicious photographs, but what makes it so much fun is that it genuinely convey's the vulgar, bawdy Tony we all know, and his dirty, foul-mouthed ways. It's so down to earth. I mean, I'm pretty sure you can call Tony down to earth. Who else (besides maybe Gordon Ramsay) is going to yell at you through the pages of a cookbook, screaming "Now pick up your spoon and scrape, you magnificent bastard!" or, ever so sweetly, "If you haven't made béarnaise from scratch before, you will surely @#*$ this sauce up. Don't worry. Just do it again". He definitely keeps it real.

October 12, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green

Crispy Kale Chips

I'm really enjoying the omelette I made just now. Just a nice, relaxed breakfast for dinner I guess, but what I am most excited about and completely savoring are the crispy, crunchy kale pieces I topped it with. I may even go as far as to say they are slightly addictive.

I made a batch of crispy kale a few days ago to bring on a weekend road trip, but kept a little at home for myself too. I've been adding a few large or small pieces to my lunches and dinners, like on top of the simple cannellini bean dish I had last night, but I really like what I am tasting now. The crackly kale mixed with some of the creamy yolk that's escaped its floppy, folded home is such an interesting flavor and texture combination. The ruffled, crumbly leaves really seem to rough up (enhance?) a generally flat (refined?) omelette, in both structure and form, but also in taste.

October 10, 2011

In a Nutshell

Pumpkin Pie with Hazelnuts

The first time I made and tested this pie recipe was after Thanksgiving day a few years ago, when the pie I originally made just didn't have the spunk (or, let's be honest, taste) my family or I was looking for. I kept going between a few recipes, finally ended up using the best of two, along with reviews and comments, and it was just OK. Really, it was nothing special.

This version though, the one I made a few days later when everyone could tolerate food and pie again, got the "oohs" and "ahhs" that I had originally hoped for. My parents were willing taste-testers, but were also probably set on having only a few bites. Instead, it was forkfulls of smooth, airy pumpkin filling, spread on top of a suprising layer of creamy ground hazelnuts, housed in a crispy, pastry crust, one after another. According to both, it was, "So light! So smooth!" and "This would have been perfect on Thanksgiving!"  Yea. Thanks guys.

October 4, 2011

"T" is for Tubers...and Technical Difficulties

Turnip and Celeriac Puree with Seared Scallops

I am beginning to feel a little like Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City (minus the cigarette or popsicle, the gold name plate necklace, or the silk camisole, sorry). I am sitting at my new, snazzy computer, at a desk I finally bought, looking out my bedroom window, just staring and dreaming and thinking and typing. About food no less... but still.

Well, as I said, a new computer has found its way into my life. This due to last week's crashing of my old, itty-bitty Dell Inspiron that got me through graduate school and the past eight years. It had negative memory space left, took me hours to load anything, had crumbs in between the keys and the enter and space bar were almost worn thin, but it was my little buddy. It took me a few days to come to terms with what needed to be done, but here I am, with a sleek new machine (a desktop!) that just makes me want to email, blog, stay connected and on top of things all day long (well, I mean, to a point).

I did have a lot of free time when I was computerless though, and was in the kitchen most nights. I really got into all of the crisp, fresh fall vegetables that are out now, completely seduced by colors and textures and thoughts of big pots stewing away in a warm, spicy smelling apartment. So far, its been the freshly plucked roots and chubby, bulbous tubers that have inspired my dishes and dinners this season. From countless varieties of potatoes to beautiful rutabagas and parsnips, even burdock and taro roots; nothing has disappointed. A single pot of sauteed and simmered vegetables has easily become a bowl of soup one night, a mashed side on the second and ultimately a silky puree with a dribble of cream later in the week. Hearty and warming, nutrient-dense and satisfying, it really hasn't been that difficult saying farewell to summer.

September 14, 2011

Roast with the Most

Top Loin Roast with Garlic-Herb Butter

Once I found the Cooking Channel and the WETA channel here in Washington, D.C., I really just stopped watching any other food channel, network, or shows altogether. It is on these channels that I've found shows taped in Florence and Toronto, old Jacques and Julia episodes, even Jose Andres cooking right here in the District. Celebrity chefs do get their share of the spotlight, but it has been the unknown or little known kitchen stars that have really caught and maintained my attention.

I first watched this roast prepared on one episode of Cook's Country (the televised aspect of Cook's Illustrated). It looked so succulent and juicy that I began keeping a pen and paper near the television so I was prepared for when it aired again (to view the show's recipes on their website you must be a paying member, I didn't trust any of the Google searches I came up with for some reason and I do not have DVR or TiVo). The next few times it aired, I only caught the very end of the episode, to my watering mouth's dismay. I was finally lucky enough (and so ridiculously excited) to have a co-worker log into her husband's Cook's Illustrated account so I could print out recipe after recipe, to my little heart's content.

September 12, 2011

Slice n' Easy

Zucchini & Red Onion Pizza with Herbed Cheese Spread

Every once in a while, like on a dark, dreary Saturday, I can get a little...manic. I may make, say, six different pizza doughs, three different pie crusts, a quiche, you know, get way ahead of myself, my weeknight dinners, desserts, even holidays. I figure its one-third experimenting, one-third consolidating and one-third procrastination? I like to tell myself that its the ultimate in preparation, but really, 17 pizza doughs, pie crusts and quiches of various flours and textures is meant for the Duggars and all 19 kids and counting, not me.  

Well, after the rain finally stopped and the windows were thrown open, one of those balls of dough would have come in handy this weekend, as John and I decided to crank up the oven and enjoy a long overdue pizza night. During the winter we often had Saturday pizza nights; I would get all the ingredients and pans set up and John would get to work kneading, throwing and cooking up a pie with toppings like burrata cheese from Trader Joe's to fresh squash blossoms from local farmer's markets. No recent manic moments lately on my end (also long overdue though, so stay tuned), therefore we had no dough, so I decided to experiment with a different recipe. We knew the toppings and cheeses we were going to try, but it was the crust we weren't sure about. Thin and crispy, the kind that shatters even as you take hold? Or soft and doughy, with big air bubbles, sliced large and floppy? I realize Jacques Pepin is a frenchman, and perhaps that was our first mistake, but his La Methode recipe looked quick and easy (really all that matters the hungrier one becomes) and we just went with it.

September 7, 2011

Last Call

Shandygaff Beer Cocktail

Besides too many cookbooks and a few boxes of recipes, I have a few old food magazines that have weighed me down over the years, as I've lugged them from state to state, apartment to apartment. Some dog-earred pages feature amazing photographs, some appear to mark mouth-watering dishes, and others are just dated, yet nostalgic, pictures that remind me of Grandma's stuffing or what green bean casseroles and lasagna's used to look like.

I spent a long weekend on Long Beach Island, NJ this past Labor Day, the sort of unofficial end to summer, and toted a few of these magazines with me in the hopes of making a little something from one of them. What transpired was a refreshing beer cocktail along with a juicy, peanuty chicken satay, a supposed favorite of travelers visiting The Flame Tree Restaurant in Muri, Rarotonga, an island in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific (well, according to the October 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine). 

The marinade requires a mix of acidic and savory ingredients, a wonderful way to tenderize and flavor the slivered chicken breasts. The chicken marinates for an hour, while covered in the fridge, and is then skewered and placed on the grill. While on the grill, the skewers begin to give off a sweet, fresh gingery smell; in your mouth, all the flavors come together- the ginger, the peanut, even a subtle hint of garlic-in a well-balanced, bright, tangy mix.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

The peanut sauce was not as thick as those I have made in the past, but was still a delicate, nutty dressing for the chicken. With water and coconut milk called for, it's not heavy, yet provides a light, caramel-colored compliment to not only the chicken, but brown rice, vegtables, or even salad, whatever you choose to serve along with the dish. This makes a great main dish or quite a few appetizer skewers, perfect for easy outdoor grilling. It's also a wonderful introduction to this style of food, if you've never had it.

And to wash it all down? For those of you who have had your fill of beers this summer, sometimes a fun little addition can breathe new life into your standard brew. Herein lies is a two-ingredient beer cocktail called the Shandygaff, a refreshing drink with a bold, spicy bite. Feel free to add more ginger beer if you want more kick.

Indonesian Chicken Satay
(adapted from the October 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine)

*1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
*3/4 cup roasted salted peanuts
*1/2 cup water
*1/2 cup finely chopped onion
*2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
*2 Tbsp. soy sauce
*2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
*2 garlic cloves
*1 tsp. crushed dried pepper
*1 sauce
*1 Tbsp. peanut oil

*1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
*1/4 cup soy sauce
*2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
*2 Tbsp. vegtable oil
*2 Tbsp. grated fresh peeled ginger
*4 tsp. ground coriander
*2 garlic cloves, crushed
*2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswine into 1/4-inch-thick slices

*bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling.

FOR SAUCE: Puree the first ten ingredients in a blender until the mixture is smooth. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-heat. Add sauce and simmer until thickened and reduced to 2 cup, stirring frequently. I found this takes about 6-7 minutes. The mixture also continues to thicken once off the stove and placed in a bowl, as well. This sauce can also be made one day ahead. Just over and refrigerate.

FOR CHICKEN: Combine the first seven ingredients and a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Thread chicken onto soaked swekers. Brush half of the remaining marinade over all the skewers and bring the other half to a simmer over low heat. Grill chicken until cooked through, turning frequently and basting with leftover, simmering marinade, about six minutes total.

Serve chicken with brown rice, vegtables or salad, with the peanut sauce alongside.

Shandygaff Cocktail
*6 ounces IPA or Pale Ale
*5 ounces ginger beer

Pour beer in a glass and slowly top off with a ginger beer (ginger beer can be found in any international aisle at the grocery store, I enjoy the Goya brand, but whatever you can find will do. Ginger ale would be a decent substitute, but you won't get the spiciness that this drink is known for.

August 30, 2011

Challah Back

Whole Wheat Challah Bread

Forgive me, my gluten-senstive friends, but I baked some bread over the weekend that you definitly cannot have. I apologive, but I just had the time! I had enough toilet paper, wine and apples to last me through whatever the hurricane brought, my apartment was obnoxiously clean, I already had a chicken roasting in the oven...and I just had the time for some rising action.

I've mentioned before how I am not a baker- still true. Given the choice I would much rather cook than bake, but I am inspired now and then. I'm frequently inspired more by the physical process that goes into baking a loaf of bread, than by the baking and icing of a cake (this is not to say that the making of a cake is not incredibly important- more celebrations than I can think of are commemorated with cake- I mean who doesn't love a nice slice on their birthday?!) I will continue to make and frost cakes indefinitly, but its the live yeast, the kneading and the magical rise of the sticky, elastic dough that just absolutely fascinates me.

August 28, 2011

Emergency Treat

Popped Amaranth Granola

I don't seek out granola or buy it often, but I'm always ready for something that tastes a whole lot better made in my own kitchen than off the grocery store shelf. I now also realize its a handy non-perishable item to have around, say, in the event of a hurricane?

I have granola notes from Martha Stewart, from the Food Network, and from an old roommate's ex-girlfriend. I do mix and match for the most part, but my favorite take on granola is from one of my favorite sites, It uses the grain Amaranth (I found mine at MOM's, but I've seen it at many other organic markets or health food stores) a grain that was first cultivated 8,000 years ago by the Aztecs. It's interesting to work with, especially in this recipe, where you start by roasting the grain in a pan and watch it begin to dance around and pop like popcorn. It has a nutty taste, and is quite crisp, allowing for a very fresh batch of granola.

August 25, 2011

Where's the Beef?

Summer Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

Despite having recently moved within walking distance of some incredible farmers markets here in Alexandria, Virginia, I have sadly never made my way to a single one. Actually, I have even passed a few while driving and have not stopped. No cash handy? No time? No idea. This isn't to say I haven't picked some pears or figs off a tree at Green Valley Farm this summer, or herbs from a garden or two, I've just managed to not find myself at any local markets or stands.

It wasn't until I found one large, chubby ShopRite eggplant in my parent's refrigerator, did the desire to head out and get some farm-fresh produce strike. I had a meat-less, all veggie gratin recipe I wanted to try and that eggplant would come in handy, along with a few fresh, local additions...

August 17, 2011

Pantry Party

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I sometimes say that my very organized pantry and refrigerator are probably just ways to over compensate for the many unorganized areas of my life. Well, if that is actually true, so be it, because I could just rearrange and stare at my perfectly placed and staggered assortment of jars and canisters for hours. Pale pink lentils here, large swirly, spotted beans there...its a beautiful sight. There is actually one productive aspect of all this time spent behind the pantry door and its that I'm always well-aware of what I have or what I need.

Although not much of a baker, two items I still try to always have on hand (and are quite pleasing to the eye, in fact, as I scan and scan and scan...) are homemade vanilla extract and vanilla sugar.

I do some actual baking with the vanilla beans, but also really enjoy using the leftover and remaining fresh beans to make homemade vanilla extract or infuse some store-bought white granulated sugar. I use small glass bottles (small port, dessert or sauternes wine bottles are perfect) and corks I have laying around, and end up with attractive bottles of vanilla extract, ready to use in a few weeks. A mason jar filled with sugar is just as simple, and will be scented and ready to go within just a few days. Use it whenever white sugar is called for, as the subtle hint and nudge of vanilla will compliment most baked goods or treats (think shortbread, sugar or butter cookies, custards, pound cake or just a sprinkling over tarts or pies)

These also make thoughtful, inexpensive gifts for the baker in your life, or maybe the baker you want in your life.

Vanilla Extract
(adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

*1 1/2- 2 cups vodka
*Up to 10 split vanilla beans (I prefer bourbon Madagascar vanilla beans from Olive Nation)

Place the vanilla beans in a tall bottle or jar and cover with the vodka. Cover with up to 1/2 cup more vodka if necessary. Cork or seal and store in a cool, dark spot. Shake every so often. After about six weeks, when dark and fragrant, the extract is ready to use.

Vanilla Sugar
(adapted from The Paris Cookbook, by Patricia Wells)

* 4 cups sugar
* Up to 4 fresh or 4 split and used vanilla beans

Pour the sugar into a large jar or airtight container. Push and pack the vanilla beans down into the sugar. Cover and let vanilla infuse the sugar for a few days, or up to a week. Continue to replenish as the sugar is used, and add or replace vanilla beans every few months.

August 15, 2011

Quiche Undressed

Crustless Leek and Mushroom Quiche

This is one of those "kitchen sink" kind of dishes. Sad, limp herbs laying around? Fantastic. Remaining corners of miscellaneous cheeses? Great. Mushrooms about to get soggy or greens that have seen crisper days? Even better. Bread you don't know what to do with? PERFECT.

The quiche gets its structure from pieces of cubed bread spread in a single layer along the bottom and up the sides of a pie dish or circular cake pan. When baked, the inner filling begins to melt and set, holding together the once-thought-useless bread and a lovely crispy crust is formed. More substantial than a frittata, yet light and tender as an omlette. Each bite is cheesy and herby, with just a touch of crust, and delicious regardless of what is thrown in. I decided on mushrooms, leeks and ham, but andouille sausage, pancetta, corn or even shrimp...the possibilities are almost endless. This dish makes a great breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is equally good hot or cold.

So, the naked truth? Your best dressed quiche may actually have no covering at all.

Crustless Leek and Mushroom Quiche

*Half a loaf, or several slices bread (fresh or day old), cut into 1 inch cubes
*3 oz. ham, finely chopped
*1/4-1/2 c. each mushrooms and leeks (or veggies of your choice), chopped
*1 1/2 c. grated cheese (gruyere, mozzerella, chedder, etc.; feel free to add a variety)
*2-3 eggs
*2 Tbsp. milk (sour cream or greek yogurt can also be substituted for 1 of the eggs or milk, to thicken filling
*1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
*additions of your choice (a few chopped sage leaves, a handful of dill or parsley, a few scallions)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread cubed bread in a pie dish or baking pan, about 8 inches in diameter.

In a seperate bowl, whisk all other ingredients. Pour into the baking pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until center is firm and the top is golden.

Let quiche cool for several minutes. Cut into wedges.

August 12, 2011

Good to the Grain


I just wanted to send out a short post for what could be a no-prep, no-cook, minimal-clean-up required salad, perfect for summer picnics, a quick side dish or a light, last-minute supper.

Tabbouleh should mainly consist of parsley or a combination of parsley, basil and mint, along with the grain. Outside of the Middle East it is usually more grain-based, but the herbs should take the lead. This recipe calls for hits of horseradish, chopped baby gherkins, some garlic and a squeeze of lemon to balance out the sharp flavors, but still give it a some zing. Once the olive oil is added and the flavors and ingredients begin to mingle, the salad becomes fresh and zesty. Let it sit for as long as you like (well, use your best judgement on that, of course) as the flavors will continue to become even bolder.

Note: This tabbouleh is made with bulgur, but can also be made with wheat berries, farro, barley, or any other nutty, chewy grain. I am sure brown, long grain or jasmine rice could work in a pinch as well, why not? I recently began using amaranth (a grain with a colorful and very interesting history) and am now curious how that would be, actually. And wait, for the risotto-loving crowd, I bet carnaroli or arborio rice would work nicely. Quinoa would also be a great alternative for those sensitive to gluten.

A change in grain may technically change the name of the dish, but its OK... going against the grain can be fun...


*1 cup bulgur (Bob's Red Mill brand available in most grocery stores)
*2 handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped
*1 handful fresh basil, finely chopped
*1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
*1 small bunch scallions, finely chopped
*1-3 garlic cloves, depending on preference, finely chopped
*1 Tbsp. cocktail gherkins or cornichons, finely chopped (as well as a bit of juice from the jar)
*1 pint firm cherry tomatoes, halved
*6 Tbsp. good olive oil
*2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
*1 Tbsp. horseradish (optional)
*salt and pepper, to taste
(pita bread and pastrami, also optional, to serve)

Put bulgur wheat in large bowl and add enough cold water to cover by an inch. :et stand for 30 minutes, and add a little more water as it is absorbed by the bulgur. Drain, pat or squeeze dry and transfer to a larger, dry bowl.

Chop the parsley, mint and basil together and add to the bulgur. Add the scallions and the next seven ingredients. Cover and let the salad stand for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop.

If using the pita and the pastrami to serve, arrange pastrami around the edge of a serving dish and pile the tabbouleh in the middle. Cover closely with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Serve along with the pita bread.

August 10, 2011

Home Slice

Union Square Cafe's Blueberry Pie
Most of the time I prefer cooking to baking. I enjoy the freedom of not really being all that accurate or precise (mostly becuase neither of these words could describe me, ever). Spoon-pouring and leveling, exact measurements and to-the-second baking times... sometimes that is just no fun. 

This pie, adapted from Emily Isaac of the Union Square Cafe in New York City, is actually one of the few desserts I enjoy following each and every step to make. From the way the berries begin to glisten like gemstones as they are heated through and their juices begin to flow, to slicing into the deep beautiful blue stained crust from the berries having bubbled up and over, this is a treat worthy of the little accuracy and steps involved. The consistency and texture of the filling is very smooth due to the heating through of the berries in the beginning, and the taste is delicate and not overly sweet. Its a comforting, homey treat, even if you never did get this at home.

A few notes:

I usually save the juice drained from the berries after cooling in a colander over a bowl. Reduced down, or not even, the excess juice makes a fantastic blueberry syrup for pancakes, to drizzle on breads or cakes, or even in yogurt or over ice cream. I was in Alaska a few years ago and my friend's father served me the most tender steak (reindeer, I think?) with a blueberry sauce, at their family-owned restaurant. The combination of tender meat and juicy, sweet sauce seemed to be made for one another... so perhaps this sauce could accompany your next meaty dinner. Please let me know what you come up with!

Also, sometimes I clean up after several steps, or sometimes I use every dish I own and create quite a hurricane in my small kitchen. This dish may require a few bowls (depending on how far ahead you read or plan). At first glance, or pour, of the simmered berries, it looks like they will somehow stain everything they touch. They stain nothing. I know this firsthand after unsuccessfully using the blueberry juice to dye my Easter eggs last year. The color was the exact opposite of appetizing and came off on my hands. Definitly a no-go for my attempt at local, organic (and somewhat recycled?) easter egg dye.

Union Square Cafe's Blueberry Pie

*2 quarts blueberries
*2 c. sugar + 1 Tbsp. (I use a vanilla sugar I make and always have on hand)
*zest and juice of one large lemon
*5 oz. cornstarch
*pinch salt
*1 whole egg, beaten + 1 Tbsp. water
*1 12 inch pie crust (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rinse the berries and place in a medium pot with one cup of the sugar. Cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring, until juices begin to flow. Remove from heat.

Strain berries in a colander set over a bowl and let cool. Transfer berries to a pie dish or shallow bowl and toss in one cup sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt. Allow the berries to macerate for ten minutes.

Roll out dough to a 12 inch circle and place on top of berries. Trim the edges and crimp with your fingers or a fork. Brush the top with egg and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Let cool.

Pie Crust

*2/3 c. flor
*pinch salt
*1 Tbsp. sugar
*6 Tbsp. chilled butter (or 4 Tbsp butter + 2 Tbsp lard or crisco for an extra crispy crust)
*1 1/2 Tbsp ice cold water

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Drop in 1/2 inch pieces of butter until entire mixture is of pea-size consistency. Add water in droplets while running and run until the dough is pulled together and a ball is formed in the food processor. No kneading is necessary. Wrap the ball of dough in Saran wrap and chill for half an hour before rolling out for use. Great to make ahead and freeze.

August 5, 2011

Perfect Little Pockets

Gauva and Cheese Empanadas

A few years ago I had my first empanada at a potluck lunch (I swear, I attract potlucks. Or maybe they attract me? I just can't seem to get away from them). It was a lightly salted, crispy, pastry pocket with a steamy, sweet and cheesy filling nestled inside. At first, I couldn't place the guava, the first taste that bursts through as you bite into and shatter the outside, or even the cheese. But, hot and gooey, sweet and cheesy... I knew I wanted another and the recipe.

From small Latin-inspired restaurants in New York or here in DC, to Buenos Aires, I've now tasted some amazing empanadas. I have them for breakfast or dessert, with both traditional or unique filling combinations. I'm still waiting for Jose Andres (of DC restaurant fame) to come up with something like a mousse of baby goat and olive empanada. On a stick, dipped in cotton candy. Or gelatin. And you must hang from the ceiling to eat it. (For those who know of him, his creations are inventive.)

Regardless of what I've tasted, near and far, when making them myself I always seem to go back to Emma's traditional recipe. I have lost track of her these days, but I owe her for sharing such a no-fail, very handy recipe. Thank you, Emma! 

Guava and Cheese Empanadas

*1-2 packages of defrosted empanada rounds (I prefer Goya's package of 10, in the frozen section)
*1-2 8oz. packages of cream cheese
*1 large tin or 2 small packages of guava paste (again, I prefer Goya, for the quality and price)
*vegtable oil (or corn or canola- all but olive oil)

Begin by unwrapping and opening all ingredients. The process resembles that of an assembly line...pastry round, guava, cheese...pastry round, guava, cheese. Just a small chunk of both guava and cream cheese  towards one end of the pastry round will do, as you need to be able to fold over pastry, seal it and not worry about the filling oozing out. Sealing requires either a fork pressed all along the edge, or a crimped design using your fingers. Both seal the empanada shut, while also creating a decorative edge. You may want to run some water along the edges for extra reinforcement.

Using a large, deep frying pan, pour in enough vegtable oil to come about 1/4 or 1/2 the way up the pan. Heated on high and before the oil is smoking, begin to drop in and quickly fry the empanadas. They take about 1-2 minutes per side, flipping when they turn a golden-brown color. Some may open a bit, and some may be darker than others- its OK. Also, try not to crowd the pan (3-4 at once is best) as that will lower the overall heat of the oil and you may not acheive that crispy, crunchy texture.

Gently sprinkle with salt while they are still hot, and let cool on paper towels or brown paper bags to soak up some of the excess oil. These empanadas will last in the fridge for up to a week if properly wrapped up, or frozen, uncooked, for one to two months. An excellent make-ahead dish or to keep frozen for a quick snack, party appetizer, dinner or treat!

August 2, 2011

A Good Reason to Get in the Car

Roadtrip Pita Chips

I'm writing this as I wait for my ride down to the eastern shore of Virginia. I am headed to Machipongo, VA, or, more specifically, to my boyfriend John's, mother's home, the Green Valley Farm Bed & Breakfast, (actually for sale too, if anyone is interested) a special spot I have sadly only passed, but now get the chance to explore for the weekend. (More on the B&B soon.)

For the 4-hour trip down I quickly made some snacky roadtrip food. This is something I think I first threw together while living in Hoboken, NJ, when my roommate and I had friends over to enjoy our quaint, private backyard.

Knowing I had no chips or quick bites on hand, this appetizer came about as it was the first thing I saw in the bread basket and knowing my well-stocked spice cabinet would come in handy. I laugh becuase I use Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic seasoning on these cut-up pita chips, yet, I don't think I have actually used it ever on fish! I happened to read an article one time where this seasoning was used, found and bought it, and it has become my magical pita chip seasoning ever since.

These are not only great in a pinch, but clearly offer peace of mind for the mindful. The pita, oil and seasoning are fresh; the chips have not been sitting in their additives and preservatives to maintain shelf-life in the supermarket for weeks or months on end, and you control the amounts of oil and seasoning to use. Be liberal and generous or let the pita soak in minimal amounts of both before putting in the oven. Either way, you've got a tasty treat worthy of a roadtrip!

Roadtrip Pita Chips

*1 Bag white or whole wheat pita bread, large size
*extra virgin olive oil
*Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Redfish Magic seasoning

Preheat oven to 425º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the pita bread in half, in half again, and then begin to cut in 1 inch triangles, squares, or the shape of your choice. Mine turn out to be isosceles triangles, parallelograms, shapes that have no names, it really doesn't matter.

Drizzle the oil evenly over the pita bread, using your hands or tongs to evenly coat the bread. Generously pour or gently sprinkle the seasoning (or the seasonings of your choice) all over the bread. Mix again with your hands or tongs to evenly coat and put in the oven for 6 1/2 to 7 minutes.

Let the pita chips cool completely before bagging them up or containing them, to prevent them from becoming soggy.

Drive safely while munching and snacking!

July 27, 2011

Chic Chicken

I get really excited when someone mentions the word potluck. I just can't help it. I daydream and zone out. I cant stop thinking about what I am going to make. Most likely because it gives me a chance to scan the bookshelf, flip through old magazines or dip into the bin of overflowing recipes scribbled on just about anything (like the back of a blank patient evaluation form I came across the other day. I'm telling you, I get that excited. I can't think of anything patients? what?).

Chicken Salad Veronique
Despite how absolutely delighted and eager I get, I waited until the last minute to decide what to bring to a potluck not long ago. I think I lost myself in planning and thinking and list-making and spacing out, because suddenly it was Thursday night and nothing actually came out of all that built-up excitement.

I finally decided on an old classic, a tried and true chicken salad. Fresh and satisfying, much more so than anything stuffed between two stale pieces of bread and wrapped in plastic at 7-Eleven or WaWa, this version of Chicken Salad Veronique is adapted from Ina Garten, in Barefoot at Home.

I buy a few more skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts than originally called for to make enough for a small crowd of people. The breasts are dressed with olive oil, thyme or herbs de provence, as well as salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt as this is your chance to really draw out the flavor of the chicken. For extra color and more juicy kickback I throw in red grapes (also keeping with the veronique style, which is a dish prepared using grapes) as well as an apple for texture and extra crunch. A tablespoon of dijon mustard is also a nice addition, making the dish sing a little bit more. Nuts, raisins, the spice or herb of your choice would also add wonderfully to the consistency or overall combination of flavors. This is a forgiving dish; if you overcook the chicken and its a little dry, the mayonnaise, dijon and even a few spoonfuls of the juicy drippings from the pan can help bathe the chicken a bit,while also allowing the flavors to mingle while it sits.

Chicken Salad Veronique

*4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
*Good olive oil
*Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
*1/2 cup good mayonnaise
*1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
*1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
*1 cup green graps (or mix of both green and purple)
*dijon mustard, optional and to taste
*the juicy chicken drippings, optional and to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan. Rub all over with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

When cool, remove the meat from the bones, and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into 3/4-inch dice and place into a bowl. Add mayonnaise, tarragon and rest of ingredients; toss well.

July 13, 2011

Blogs require more than one post!

So, soon after I posted my first post I continued to fiddle around, made a few dishes, wrote up a few things to include...but just never posted. And then about a million things got in the way- number one being my motivation.

Its funny becuase I've talked about writing a blog  forever (mostly becuase all I talk about is food and cooking and I figured I would soon need an entirely new audience secondary to completely tiring out or boring my first audience to tears) and the minute my first post goes up...bam, it takes me over a month to post anything else!

Another reason I wanted to do this was becuase it would hold me accountable. Accountable for documenting and photographing the dishes I make (or WAS making) as well as to keep up with and make the many things I see in magazines, online, that I tear out of the newspaper, or that scribble down qucickly.
Well, anyway...I AM BACK . Even if this is just for me and my closest confidants to I am...AGAIN.

Beef Tenderloin with Picon Cheese

What I have pictured here is a dish I decided to make this past friday night. It is adapted from Jose Andres' Made in Spain television series and cookbook. It was a fun dish to prepare. I would normally use white wine or stock to deglaze, but this calls for cider. I think the cider, shallots and cheese really gave the sauce (which was already a beautiful creamy, silky addition to the meat) a bit more bite.

While shopping, I did go for the filet mignon, but a cheaper blue cheese. There are a few lovely cheese shops in the Alexandria area where I live, as well as in DC, but I ended up going with a Danish blue (right from the grocery store). Jose calls for a Spanish blue called Picon. This dish turned out well, so I will probably end up attempting to find Picon, or another spanish blue, at some point...but perhaps then I will go with a cheaper cut of meat? I guess that all depends on who's coming for dinner!

Also, please forgive the pictures-  from the placement and size of the chives to the amount of sauce- we were deleriously famished and I just quickly snapped a few shots. ENJOY!

Beef Tenderloin with Picon Cheese
* 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* 1 lb. beef tenderloin
* 3 garlic cloves, peeled
* 1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
* 2 fresh thyme sprigs
* 1/4 Sidra (a Spanish cider, or any hard cider)
* 1/2 c. heavy cream
* 2 oz. Picon, or any good quality blue cheese
* sea salt to taste
* chopped chives, for garnish

Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large ovenproof skillet over high heat, heat oil until smoking. Add beef tenderloin and sear for 2 minutes on all sides. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 10 more minutes (or until meat registers at 130 degrees on meat thermometer, for medium-rare). Transfer tenderloins to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm.

Return pan to stove and heat over medium-high heat. Gently crush garlic cloves and add to pan juices, along with the springs of thyme and sliced shallots. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the hard cider, as well as 2 Tbsp of water to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cream and 1 oz. of the blue cheese. Stir to melt cheese, as well as to thicken the sauce. Remove pan from the heat.

Slice the beef tenderloin into 1/2 inch thick medallions, or arrange as you please. Season with salt and pepper and spoon the creamy blue cheese sauce over and arond the beef. Crumble the remaining blue cheese on top of the beef, and garnish with chopped chives. Serves 4.

May 31, 2011

The Neighbors Wonder About the Smells Above

I am pretty sure the people in the next apartment building just saw me lick my plate. Much like in my old apartment building I guess, when I'd eat outside on my balcony and about seven dramatic licks got my rather large, square plates pretty clean. No restraint? No manners? I think its more like I know I won't eat again until breakfast, so why not get every last bit of it in when I can! Its OK though, because I also think the first dish, in my first blog post ever, should be lick-my-plate worthy.

Tarragon Chicken Paillard

This dish came about as a result of several nights of talking out loud (to myself out on that same balcony I was licking my plate on), and I think the result is worth writing about. With just a small amount of butter and very few additions, the chicken remains moist and juicy, despite its thin appearance. Tarragon is also one of my favorite herbs to cook with; its sweet, licorice scent and flavor make your home smell so inviting. It is subtle, but it gives the chicken a light, almost sweet taste.

Besides turning out to be an elegant weeknight meal, this dish is beyond easy. Five ingredients if you count good salt and freshly ground pepper, and eight minutes total cooking time. As long as you can handle pouring a glass of wine while prepping and waiting for the oven to reach 475 degrees and then the invigorating smell of the tarragon while roasting, I think you've got a delicious go-to meal.

Tarragon Chicken Paillard
* 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
* 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
* 2 Tbsp flour (any works well, feel free to experiment)
* 3 Tbsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped (or about 1/3 Tbsp dried)
* salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Brush or the dip the chicken in the melted butter and then season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat chicken breasts with flour, shaking off the excess. I like to sprinkle both sides with a little tarragon before going into the oven for that incredibly sweet smell. Place prepped chicken on a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, four minutes per side, or until very lightly golden in color. I enjoy this with steamed baby spinach and some leftover tarragon or fresh greens, and maybe some brown rice. Serves 2 very happy, very relaxed (barely any prep, barely any clean-up!) people.